Thursday, September 23, 2021

With Elections Over, Russians Again Focusing on Pandemic

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 21 – With the three days of elections now over, Russians are again focusing on the pandemic at least from what one can tell from the media which devoted much less attention to it in the days preceding and during the vote. Coverage today focuses on three things: rising infections, increasing restrictions, and questions about Putin’s self-isolation.

            In Moscow city and oblast, infections are up, although that may simply reflect election-related delays in reporting at least in the case of the city. The numbers in the oblast appear to be part of a longer-range trend. In any case, these infections were contracted before and not during the vote (t.me/COVID2019_official/3583 and regnum.ru/news/3376869.html).

            Moscow schools have restored the mandatory mask requirement, while schools elsewhere have done that or even shifted to distance learning or other restrictive measures (regnum.ru/news/3376561.html, regnum.ru/news/3376966.html, regnum.ru/news/3376835.html and regnum.ru/news/3376383.html).

            But perhaps the most striking development is this: Putin’s self-isolation is raising questions about the social responsibility of those around him and thus about their competence to make decisions not only about their own health and that of the president but about the country more generally (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2021/09/20/1922153.html).

            The pandemic continued to ebb and flow across the country, with Russian officials reporting that they had registered 19,179 new cases of infection and 812 new deaths over the last 24 hours (t.me/COVID2019_official/3578 and regnum.ru/news/society/3369923.html). They also reported that the delta strain is now dominant in Russia (regnum.ru/news/3376355.html).      Vladimir Putin for his part sent a message to a meeting on the economy declaring that the Russian economy has now fully recovered from the consequences of the pandemic, despite continuing reports by government agencies and not just independent observers of difficulties and declines (regnum.ru/news/3377151.html).

            Meanwhile, in other pandemic-related developments in Russia today,

·         Officials said that Russia has now restored air links with Spain, Slovaki, Iraq and Kenya (regnum.ru/news/3376283.html).

·         Many restaurants have been forced to close because of the pandemic but new ones with different business plans, including take-out, are emerging to take their places (newizv.ru/news/economy/21-09-2021/pandemiya-restorannogo-biznesa-odni-zakrylis-drugie-tolko-uchatsya).

·         And reported cases of gender discrimination in Russian workplaces have declined so much over the last two years that a Superjob analysis concludes that the pandemic has defeated that longstanding problem and crime (superjob.ru/research/articles/113069/uspehami-v-borbe-s-gendernoj-diskriminaciej-na-rynke-truda-my-obyazany-koronavirusu/).

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Next Generation of Russians Will Be More Anti-Western than Current One, Chesnokov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 20 – “If present trends continue,” Edvard Chesnokov says, “the next generation of Russian rulers will be even more anti-Western than the present one,” the result of the West’s double standards when it comes to Russia and recognition by Russia’s rulers that they must stand up to such pressure.

            The Komsomolskaya pravda special correspondent says this represents a repeat of what happened at the end of the 1930s when the Soviets celebrated the centenary of Pushkin’s death even as they continued to promote communism around the world (rubaltic.ru/article/politika-i-obshchestvo/20210920-pridut-zlye-russkie-novye-lidery-rossii-budut-po-nastoyashchemu-antizapadnymi/).

            That is “exactly what happens when we are on the brink of destruction, and there is no other way out but to promote the Russification of Russia,” something that will inevitably produce ever-more anti-Russian attitudes among not only Russian leaders but also the Russian population as a whole.

            Indeed, Chesnokov suggests, the population is likely to lead rather than follow in this respect because too many members of the top elite are still infected with communist-era faith in friendship of the peoples or with the idea that international cooperation is not only desirable but possible in the world as it exists today.

            As this occurs, Moscow will expand on something that constitutes its “real strength,” its ability to appeal abroad to those on the left and those on the right. The former always recall Russia’s cultural greatness and the Leninist principles of nationality policy, while the right likes its cultural conservative.

            To carry out this new vision, Chesnokov says, Moscow should adopt a much tougher stance against those who take anti-Russian positions and it should consider reviving institutions like the Communist University of National Minorities of the West (KUNMZ) which trained foreign cadres to help promote Moscow’s policies.

            That is an intriguing idea and one that is especially important because it suggests yet another way the re-Stalinization of Moscow’s approach is likely to lead to the restoration of similar institutions to play up ideological divides in Western countries. 

Widespread but Illegal Discrimination against Those with Mental or Physical Limitations Sparks Outrage in Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 20 – A horrific case in Volgograd has led to discussions on the Internet involving hundreds of Russians about the widespread but entirely illegal discrimination visited by restaurants, stores, and recreation facilities in the Russian Federation, and attention to this problem is forcing prosecutors to move more quickly to punish those responsible.

            Cases of discrimination against people with mental and physical limitations are frequent, Yevgeniya Semyonova says in the current issue of SovershennoSekretno; but their impact is usually limited. Individuals complain and sometimes the authorities do intervene to enforce the law (sovsekretno.ru/articles/nepravilnyy-rebenok/).

            But a recent case has touched a nerve, and the Internet has allowed the parents of an 14-year-old autistic child to reach thousands, many of whom have reacted with outrage and demanded that the authorities do their job and protect the most defenseless members of Russian society.

            The parents of 14-year-old Damir drove 500 kilometers from Astrakhan to Volgograd just so their son could visit an aquapark there. Damir loves the water, and psychologists say playing in it is not only relaxing but helps the autistic to deal with their problems. So everything seemed set for a wonderful outing.

            But on arrival, Damir and his parents faced problems. There was no parking nearby as there is supposed to be for those with special needs. And then when the three of them reached the entrance kiosk, they were turned down because the clerks said that an autistic child could be a threat to others or to himself.

            The parents pointed out that this was absurd and that they were there with Damir to make sure that nothing of the kind could happen. But the situation escalated. Park managers backed up their clerk, and the parents used their cellphone to record a video of all that was taking place to keep their child from the water.

            The parents then posted that video online along with an explanation of what had happened and turned to prosecutors. The waterpark management refused to back down although it did offer as an alternative a place in a room where Damir could be isolated from the rest of those visiting the facility.

            Prosecutors have not yet indicated what they will do, but an investigation is proceeding, pushed along by hundreds if not thousands of supportive comments by Russians who have seen the video clip. And the upshot in this case is this: the aquapark has supposedly closed “for renovations;” but many believe it is because it has destroyed its reputation as a result of this case.

Kremlin Can Deal with Protest Voting and Boycotts but Not Indifference, Luchikhin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 20 – If one views Russian elections not as some opportunity to affect political outcomes but as a measure of where society is relative to the state, Dmitry Luchikhin says, then one can see that the authorities are fully capable of dealing with protest voting and boycotts but now with growing indifference on the part of the population to the entire game.

            Protest voting, boycotts, and even demonstrations after the voting are all part of this game, the Bratsk commentator says. But indifference isn’t. It reduces the process to meaninglessness, something the powers can’t cope with (newizv.ru/comment/dmitriy-luchihin/20-09-2021/v-vyborah-dlya-vlasti-strashnee-vsego-ne-protest-i-ne-boykot-a-polnoe-bezrazlichie).

            Luchikhin argues that mounting indifference toward elections among the population is something that highlights the extent to which the entire situation is passing out of the control of the authorities if not now then eventually. And he adds that that is a danger that now looms in Russia in the wake of the Duma election.

            Opting out of such political arrangements parallels opting out of vaccination demands by the state, he suggests. It is a way of making a claim for the value of the individual against the state. In Western countries, elections still matter to a degree, although there too people are increasingly choosing extra-political ways in response.

            In Russia, Luchikhin says, where elections have been reduced to ritual, the process of opting out is further advanced, with ever more Russians viewing them as meaningless and therefore unworthy of respect. They may take part because it is easier to do so than not, but they no longer take even their own actions seriously.

            When all is said and done, the Bratsk writer says, that is likely to define Russia’s future far more than those few who are still passionately involved either as supporters of the Putin regime or as its most committed opponents. This combat of minorities will continue, but the population will seek new ways of going its own way.

 

‘Teaching for the Test’ Plagues Russian Educational System but Gives Kremlin Obedient Population, Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 19 – Making a country’s educational system compatible with its economic and political situation is always difficult. If schools produce too many educated but free-thinking people, they may become a problem, failing to find existing jobs and becoming a reservoir for dissidence.

            But if the schools produce too few educated people and reduce themselves to producing graduates who will fit in with existing arrangements economic and political, there is a great risk that those countries will stagnate because there won’t be cadres who will produce breakthroughs in the economy or political system.

            Finding the proper balance between these two dangers has never been easy, but it has become more difficult in recent times because parents and officials have demanded that advancement in the system be governed by “objective” tests rather than the subjective judgment of teachers or anyone else.

            The result has been an increasing tendency to “teach for the test,” a problem that has plagued Western educational systems and that has now so infected the Russian educational structures that they are in crisis, with students who are capable of passing the multi-choice tests not capable of independent thought or judgment.

            A recent case in Moscow has highlighted this tragedy. An eight-year-old girl has passed the Unified State Examination and qualified to become a psychology student at Moscow State University even though her parents concede that she has never read Pushkin’s “Yevgeny Onegin.”

            Not surprisingly, many Russians are scandalized by this, but Oleg Ivanov, a commentator for Svobodnaya pressa, argues that this is the entirely natural result of the imposition of the Unified State Examination system in 2001 and the subsequent degradation of the educational system in Russia (svpressa.ru/blogs/article/309842/).

            The powers that be are apparently pleased with a system that produces people who can answer multi-choice questions but don’t have the intellectual training and critical thinking that are needed to make progress because the country’s rulers are happier and more secure with graduates who lack those kinds of skills.

            The Unified Examination System was sold as a means of overcoming corruption. It hasn’t done that: well-off or well-connected parents are still able to navigate their way around it. But what it has done is reduce schooling to teaching for the test from the earliest grades. And the experience of other countries shows how harmful that can be.

            “A system of education, the goal of which is taking a test, develops not critical thinking but a ‘computer-like’ kind. It doesn’t prepare students with a broad point of view, but people who narrowly focus” on the “correct” answers. And not just on tests but in life more broadly. Such people aren’t a threat to the regime but they are to Russian development.

            According to Ivanov, “a thinking individual to a certain degree represents a threat to the state.” The authorities can’t be sure what he or she might do. And so they are more than willing to marginalize or even dispense with altogether such people in order to maintain stability in the short term even at the cost of longer-term degradation.

            The commentator says it is “still not too late” to reverse course, but with each passing year, it becomes more difficult because those who are the products of such degraded educations will be the ones making decisions about education in the future.

Latinization of Ukrainian and Belarusian Threatens Moscow’s Ability to Address Russia’s Demographic Crisis, Khavich Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 20 – If Ukraine and Belarus shift from the Cyrillic-based alphabets they now use to Latin scripts, they will not only inflict a symbolic wound to the Russian world but threaten Moscow’s ability to address Russia’s demographic crisis by reducing the number of Ukrainians and Belarusians who could reidentify as Russians, Oleg Khavich says.

            The recent call by Aleksey Danilov, secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, for Ukraine to Latinize its alphabet and make English rather than Russian the second state language of the country has sparked an angry reaction in Moscow and among Russians in Ukraine.

            But the reaction has generally been limited to Russian suggestions that such moves are a symbolic move intended to reduce Russian influence and curry favor with the West which many Russians believe is behind this proposal. They have not talked about what may be Moscow’s greatest real concern: demography.

            Now, Oleg Khavich, a pro-Moscow Ukrainian scholar, argues that the real reason for opposing moves toward Latinization is that if Ukraine and Belarus do make that shift, Russia will no longer be able to get people from these places to reidentify as Russians and thereby solve Russia’s demographic problems (lenta.ru/articles/2021/09/20/kirillitsa/).

            According to him, if Ukrainians and Belarusians use the Latin script, they will find it easier not to learn Russian and, not knowing Russian, they will be less available for recruitment to the Russian nation. Because of demographic problems, Russia needs them to be available for such an ethnic shift.

            On the one hand, this simply reflects an extension of Vladimir Putin’s notion that Ukrainians and Russians are one nation. But on the other, it underscores that they are not and that if Ukrainians stop learning Russian because they stop using Cyrillic, they will be even more separate, exactly what the advocates of Latinization hope for.

            But what makes this argument significant is that it explains why Moscow is going to pull out all the stops to try to block Latinization in Ukraine and to slow or even reverse moves toward Latinization in Belarus, moves that have not attracted as much attention but that show how Latinization is a process than a one-time event.

            As Khavich points out, Belarusian nominally is still written in Cyrillic; but over the past two decades, Minsk under Alyaksandr Lukashenka has taken steps to increase the importance of the Latin script in ways that Moscow has so far failed to take note. The Belarusian authorities have called for toponyms to be transliterated from Belarusian into Cyrillic via the Latin script.

            As a result of this, Belarusian is being Latinized to a significant degree, the Ukrainian writer says. And “since 2014” when Moscow occupied Crimea, “this process has accelerated.” Indeed in 2018, Vintsyk Vyachorka, a Latinization supporter, said that “Belarusian will soon be recognized as having two alphabets, including at the international level.”

            It is entirely possible that the Ukrainian government will follow the Belarusian lead, promoting a kind of “soft” Latinization that Moscow may find even more difficult to block than a “hard” move that Moscow almost certainly would try to mobilize ethnic Russians in Ukraine and people in the West against.

            And with time, this soft variant could open the way to a hard one, and Russia could lose not only part of its Russian world but also and even more important a key source from which people could be assimilated into the Russian nation and thus address Moscow’s mounting demographic problems. 

 

 

Russia has Yet Another Columbine and FSB Moves Quickly to Suppress Coverage

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 20 – Russia has suffered another deadly school shooting, with features similar to those of the 1999 Columbine shooting in the US, a linkage that commentators and others in Russia inevitably make. The commonalities are striking, but there is one major difference: in Russia, unlike in the US, the authorities try to suppress information about them.

            Today, a law student at Perm State University opened fire killing six and wounding more than 20. He posted a declaration online subsequently taken down saying that he hated himself but wanted to get rid of all those who block his way. And it has been determined that he had the weapon he used completely legally (meduza.io/feature/2021/09/20/vooruzhennyy-student-napal-na-permskiy-gosuniversitet-est-pogibshie-i-ranenye, znak.com/2021-09-20/permskiy_strelok_pered_napadeniem_na_vuz_ostavil_manifest_i_podrobnoe_opisanie_podgotovki and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/05/russia-now-has-not-only-columbines-but.html).

            Moreover, as Russian commentators have pointed out, there is another commonality: After each such act of violence, people are angry, politicians pledge action, but it quickly becomes apparent that when lone shooters are involved, there is far less the powers that be can do than they and their populations would like to believe (publizist.ru/blogs/113683/40834/- and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/05/after-kazan-school-shooting-much-talk.html).     

All these things resemble what happened in Colorado and other American states, but there is already one major difference: the Russian authorities are doing everything they can to throw a blanket of silence over the incident with Perm students being told not to talk to journalists and even to remove references to their university affiliation from online identities.

            University officials say this is necessary because the Russian security service, the FSB, is now handling the case and that it rather than the media is where the incident should be examined and the guilty party or parties brought to justice (dailystorm.ru/news/fsb-zapretila-studentam-rasprostranyat-informaciyu-o-permskom-strelke).

            Another unfortunate development is that Russians are not the only ones who immediately link any shooting in that country to Columbine. Many Western journalists follow the same pattern reinforcing the idea that school shootings are a uniquely American problem that has spread to others, precisely the view the Kremlin undoubtedly hopes its population will take (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/05/school-shootings-in-russia-not-as.html).

            In fact, Russia now has had numerous “Columbines.” The exact number is unknown because the authorities suppress information about them, but it is large and growing as more Russians acquire guns and suffer the alienation and anger from economic and social problems (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/05/russia-now-has-not-only-columbines-but.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/12/russians-using-guns-ever-more-often-to.html).