Saturday, June 6, 2020

Yakutsk Mayor Speaks Out for Shaman and Against Revival of Punitive Use of Psychiatry

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 3 – After a Russian court ordered Aleksandr Gabyshev forcibly confined and treated in a psychiatric facility, Yakutsk mayor Sardana Avksentiyeva posted on her Instagram account a denunciation of this action, declaring that it represented a dangerous return to the punitive use of psychiatry by officials against opponents.

            She said that it was not for her to decide whether Gabyshev was a shaman or not – various people have various opinions on that – but “the absolute majority of us” don’t like such actions because they open the way to the use of drugs and other techniques to punish people and change their minds (

            Avktsentiyeva, an opposition politician known for speaking her mind, added that she was not empowered to interfere in the activities of medical institutions, the police or the courts; but at the same time, she pointed out that she had taken an oath “to preserve the rights and freedoms of man and citizen.”

            This is the latest twist in the long-running story of the shaman who promised to walk to Moscow and “exorcise” the evil spirt that Vladimir Putin embodies.  Instead of treating him as a marginal figure, Moscow officials have pursued and persecuted him as if he were someone who directly threatened Putin and themselves.

            By acting in this way, they may prove to be right: By attracting such public support as a declaration by the mayor of the capital of the Republic of Sakha, Gabyshev may be a threat not directly as some at the center thought but indirectly as the trigger for growing concern about the behavior of the powers that be.

            If officials even at the local and republic level cease to be afraid to speak against what the Moscow regime is doing – and in the case of the shaman, they have every reason to do so – that will undermine the authority of those inside the ring road.  And quite possibly, it may open the way to forcing out those who no longer seem capable of rational actions or reversing course.

Politicization of Russian Population Now Working Against Putin, Gallyamov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 3 – Ever more Russians have become politicized because their expectations for their lives have been dashed, expectations that Vladimir Putin helped to raise by seizing Crimea but then dashed, Abbas Gallyamov says. And the collapse of oil prices and the onset of the pandemic have caused them to look to a political solution to their problems.

            Russians now understand that in the system as it is, ten prime ministers or 100 governors can be changed, and nothing will happen. The only change that matters is one at the top, the commentator says. Putin has taught them that but insisted there is no one else except him. But people are now so angry that they may turn to someone else (

            Now, polls show Russians no longer trust Putin and thus are ready to consider an alternative especially in the wake of Putin’s constitutional ploy to allow him to serve forever. Given how bad things have become for most Russians in recent years, ever fewer of them are prepared to tolerate what that would likely mean for their own lives.

            As everyone should remember from the end of Soviet times, when the population matures to the point that it demands participation in politics, “nothing can stop it.” Various tactics can be tried but in the end, “no one will be able to do so.” People around Putin are beginning to understand this, although it is unclear whether the Kremlin leader does himself.

            Putin is caught between an increasingly hostile and politicized Russian population and his fears that any successor will be pressured by the West to hand him over to an international court for judgment about his actions in Georgia, Ukraine and elsewhere, Abbasov continues. As a result, he is frozen into inaction even refusing to take steps that might save him.

            Almost all of Russian society regardless of ethnicity wants decentralization. People outside the ring road are tired of having no rights relative to Moscow, and more of them have concluded that the people at the center are bleeding them dry. They are willing to listen to those who make that point politically.

            “Overall,” Abbasov says, “federalism is inevitable” in Russia, however much the Kremlin doesn’t want it. But the longer and harder the center resists it, the greater the risk that it will trigger the disintegration of the country, just as was the case with the Soviets at the end of the 1980s.

            But one should not make the mistake that Moscow’s decision to give powers to the regions during the pandemic was a step in this direction. It was instead a solution to administrative tasks, allowing the imposition of unpopular measures without the risk of triggering an economic collapse or a political explosion.

            Putin expects that he can wind this all up “without political consequences.” The regions in his mind will simply give everything back and “humbly return power to Moscow.” At least some in the Kremlin understand that regional leaders do not want to do this and are trying to figure out what to do.

            Abbasov says that he is convinced that Putin will use force to achieve this end, believing that it will work for him now as it has in the past. But he may be wrong. He controls the force structures only as long as he has a popular base. Once he loses that, the Kremlin leader will become the hostage of the force structures rather than their boss.

            And in such a situation, where the population has turned against Putin, the possibilities for radical change in some direction increase, with the outcomes not only for Putin and his regime but for the Russian people and their future increasingly uncertain. 

Tatars Across the World Mobilize to Save Kazan’s Institute of History

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 3 – When word spread last month that Kazan might liquidate the Marjani Institute of History by stripping it of its independent status, combining it with the Tatarstan Institute of Archaeology, and ousting its intellectual leader, Rafael Khakimov, a prominent advocate of greater autonomy for Tatarstan, Tatars around the world sprang into action.

            Scholars at the institute and beyond its doors published an open letter to Tatarstsan President Rustam Minnikhanov urging him not to move against the Institute ( Fifteen hundred Tatars signed an online petition requesting the same (президенту-республики-татарстан-рустаму-минниханову-в-поддержку-академической-свободы-и-сохранения-института-истории-им-ш-марджани-ан-рт). And the institute itself issued an appeal (татаровед.рф/news/485).

            In the words of Khakimov, “Tatars from all corners of the world wrote letters in defense of the Institute” even though the World Congress of Tatars, hobbled by pandemic restrictions, was not in a position to play an active role.  The upshot of all this, something that highlights the importance of the diaspora for Kazan, is that the Institute has been saved.

            The Tatarstan presidential administration has told Khakimov that the Institute will retain its independent status, Khakimov will give up the directorship to his deputy Radikh Salikhov, until a new director can be elected, but that the current director will become the academic leader of the Institute (

            In short, the Institute will remain the generator of ideas about autonomy and federalism it has been since its founding in 1996 and Khakimov will be its intellectual leader. Moscow likely wanted him out, but final decision was Kazan’s and not Moscow’s as some had earlier thought (