Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Kazan Court Asked to Declare Imamov’s ‘Hidden History of the Tatars’ Extremist

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 18 – Next week, on August 26,  the Tatarstan Supreme Court will take up in closed session a case which seeks to declare extremist Vakhit Imamov’s 1993 study of the Russian occupation of Tatarstan in the 16th and 17th centuries, an action directed not only at him but at the Tatar national movement in the republic and in emigration. 

            The Russian-language book (Kazan, 1993, 80 pages; full text available at was extremely popular at the time and had been slated to appear in the Tatar writer’s collected works; but the suit has led the publisher to suspend publication of those.

            Vakhitov says that he believes that the suit which the writer describes as completely absurd and which ostensibly has been brought by “a certain Reshitsky,” in fact was launched by the powers that be who don’t want to offend current sensibilities in Moscow (

            The book contains terms like “’Russian yoke’” and “’colonizers,’” he says, words that those behind the suit don’t like.  It is entirely possible that if his book is declared extremist for such expressions, soon the authorities in Kazan and Moscow will try to declare “the declaration on sovereignty” extremist too (

            As such, this case is a bellwether in terms of official attitudes toward the Tatars and their history.  But it is also directed against very specific leaders of the Tatar national movement. The book itself was published in 1993 with the backing of Naberezhny Chelny businessmen Rinat, Rafis and Nafis Kashapov.

            Rafis Kashapov after spending three years in prison for opposing Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea has received political asylum from Great Britain and now carries on his political activities from abroad. Attacking a book he backed is another way of attacking him.

            The All-Tatar Public Center (VTOTs) has denounced the suit as absurd and called on the Tatarstan Supreme Court to reject the very idea of banning such a book, pointing out that doing so violates not only Russian laws but the principles of European institutions as well (

Moscow Protest Language Much Simpler than in 2011, Indicating Things are Now More Serious, Turkova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 18 – Kseniya Turkova, a Snob journalist who tracks changes in popular usage, says that the slogans and memes of those taking part in the Moscow protests in recent weeks are very different than those which demonstrators employed in the last major wave of protests in 2011-2012.

            Then, she says, there was a creativity and playfulness that have now largely disappeared, an indication that a far broader range of people is taking part and that the situation is becoming much more serious because the protesters want slogans that anyone and everyone can understand and march behind (

            She gives the following examples from the streets of Moscow now:

·         “Choose”

·         “Grisha” – now a generate name for policemen working against the crowds

·         “Allow” – not only the registration of candidates but protests on their behalf

·         “Zimbabwe” – from Mayor Sergey Sobyanin’s remark that “we don’t live in Zimbabwe”

·         “Cosmonauts” – a term for OMON officers with enormous helmets

·         “Lyubov on the couch” – a reference to how Lyubov Sobol was arrested

·         “Mass disorders”

·         “Moscow specters” – a reference to voters who signed petitions whose existence the authorities denied

·         “#Theydispersedtheprotest” – a hashtag for effort to “de-anonymize” the police; often shortened simply to “deanon.”

·         “A stroll” – an ironic description of protests in which people are detained when they shouldn’t be

·         “The pudding is past its sell date” – a comment on the authorities’ approaches

·         “Things have gotten better” – with an extra letter inserted to suggest they haven’t

·         “Register”

·         “’Self-Nominated’ United Russia candidates – government approved candidates who hide that fact

·         “Celebritization of Protest” – a reference to the appearance at the protests of celebrities and an indication that the powers that be have lost the propaganda war

·         “Sobol” – another reference to Lyubov Sobol but suggesting far more people are involved than the authorities think

·         “Agree” – a verb that is used about all issues before the powers that be

·         “Your sons” – officials suggested that Muscovites shouldn’t fight with the police because they are “your sons,” something many in the crowd rejected as impossible in their cases

·         “Shashlyk festival” or “meat beat” – terms that have evolved rapidly from being a description of those who are too satisfied to take part in the protests or who think that everything is find and that they can continue as they have up to now

Russia’s Pseudo-Parties Failing but Kremlin has No Good Alternative, Shaburov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 18 – Russia has no political parties “in the full sense of that term,” Aleksey Shaburov says; and so it is not surprising that once again officials and commentators in Moscow have been discussing what should be done with these organizations to ensure that they or some replacement can fulfill the tasks the Kremlin has set for them.

            The Yekaterinburg commentator says the latest discussions have been triggered by the mass protests over the Moscow city council elections, protests which show that “the current party system cannot cope with its task – shifting the dissatisfaction of people into a legal and systemic channel which does not harm the foundation of the political order.”

            Those protests, he has, have taken on greater importance because of the ratings of the parties the Levada Center has been reporting. Although the ratings of the three opposition systemic parties have changed little, the number of people ready to vote for any of them has fallen sharply (

            In thinking about what might be done to change that, Shaburov continues, one must not forget that “in Russia there are no political parties in the full sense of this word. There are a number of organizations which present themselves as parties and which are used to distribute mandates in representative organs of power.” 

            “Until recently,” he says, “such a construction was completely satisfactory to both the powers and the party bosses who were able to extract not a few benefits from this system.” And neither of these groups would have been talking about any need for change except for “a number of objective processes no one is able to cope.”

            According to Shaburov, “the parties cannot prevent protests, stop them or direct them into a secure channel. Obviously, if this occurred during some more serous crisis, the entire party system would simply dissolve and the powers that be aren’t satisfied with this,” especially given how much money they have spent on these entities.

            Moreover, the leaders of the three systemic opposition parties are aging; and there are no obvious replacements.  Gennady Zyuganov will be 77 in 1921; Vladimir Zhirinovsky, 75; and Sergey Mironov, 68; and there are simply no obvious replacements for any of them waiting in the wings. Any new batch might be even more ineffective than these three.

            And there is the problem of time: there is hardly enough time to change things before the 2021 Duma vote or even before 2024 presidential one when the leaders of these parties if they are still around will have to play some role in the elections, Shaburov continues.  Time then is working against any change.

            “In principle,” the commentator says, there are three possible changes available; but none of them is a good one from the point of view of the Kremlin.   First, the Kremlin could orchestrate a change in leaders despite the shortage of time but that would likely reduce the utility of the parties still further.

            Second, it could “create new parties” either by combining some of the existing ones or carving out new ones.  But such new entities would likely be even less attractive and effective than the existing ones which at least have been operating for 20 years.

            And third, Shaburov continues, the Kremlin could “reduce to a minimum the role of the parties in elections” by doing away with party lists and shifting to single-member district elections.  Such a shift could easily backfire on the powers that be as the Moscow city council elections have shown.

            There is, of course, the fourth alternative: do nothing now and put off any decisions until after the Duma elections or even later.  That may be the least bad option, Shaburov suggests. It is certainly the most consistent with the current approach of the Putin regime faced with the problems that it is.

            “The crisis of political parties,” he concludes, “is only a constituent part of the crisis of the political system put in place in Russia about ten years ago. And as long as the system as a whole remains unchanged, to do something with the parties in particular will be impossible.” But the powers that be don’t want that and don’t even know what they might put in its place.