Sunday, April 23, 2017

Police Clash with Population in Birobidzhan as National Guard Moves Against Protest Organizer

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 23 – Masked members of Putin’s National Guard on Friday broke into the home of Ivan Prokhodtsev, an entrepreneur who has organized protests against the Birobidzhan authorities, and then engaged in fistfights with some of his employees who came to his defense after the guard shuttered their factory.

            Not surprisingly, the authorities in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast have charged Prokhodtsev with fraud and charged those who came to defense with violating the orders of the police, but reports from the scene, thousands of kilometers from Moscow, suggest that what happened there could be described as a police riot.

            At the very least, it shows what the National Guard thinks it can get away with if it is acting outside of Moscow. And that in turn highlights the growing importance of the Internet and especially regional Internet outlets in exposing what the powers that be are doing given that government media in Moscow won’t mention such incidents or will distort them.

            In this case, the very best report is from the Far East News portal, which described the incident under the following title “Mass Disorders in Birobidzhan Caused by the Armed ‘Seizure of Entrepreneur Ivan Prokhodtsev” ( Moscow outlets that have reported this have clearly relied on that source (  and

Latin Script Making Inroads Even in Belarus and Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 23 – Russian commentators have reacted hysterically to the decisions of Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan to follow the other Turkic republics of the former Soviet space and shift from the Cyrillic-based alphabets Moscow imposed on them in the 1930s to Latin scripts in order to integrate with the Turkic and Western worlds.

            The process of making such transitions, as the experience of those countries shows, is both complicated and expensive, with many people finding it difficult to learn a new alphabet and some choosing not to read as much if publications are in it rather than the one they have been used to.

            But the desire to escape the Soviet past and Moscow’s continuing influence by making a shift away from Cyrillic is powerful and not limited to the Turkic countries.  Some Tajiks seek to go back to the Persido-Arabic script, and even in Belarus where Alyaksandr Lukashenka has said it won’t happen, the Latin script is increasingly making inroads.

            There Belarusian in the Latin script not only appears on the signs of shops but even officially at railroad stations, where the process of Belarusianization has led to Latinization in place of the Cyrillic the Soviets had imposed (

            And despite Russian laws specifying that all official languages in Russia must be in Cyrillic, a law adopted to block Tatarstan from following the path of its Turkic counterparts, interest in the Latin script remains high. In Kazan, for example, scholars use it; and the Karelians have managed to retain their Latin script since their language is not a “government” one.

            The Karelian case is interesting because the Karels are currently the only indigenous people of the Russian Federation who use the Latin script. It was officially adopted in 1989, and in 2007, the republic government declared that it was the script to be used for all dialects of Karelian – allowing Moscow to keep it from becoming an official language of the republic.

            But more significant are developments in Belarus and discussions in Ukraine. Historically, Belarusian was written in both Cyrillic and Latin script. The latter predominated in Western Belarus and in the Belarusian emigration, but from the end of Soviet times, Belarusian publications in the Latin script returned to Belarus itself.

            In 2000, Minsk ordered that all geographic names in the republic be transliterated into the Latin script.  And Belarusian railways and the subway system in Minsk itself began using the Latin script rather than the Cyrillic one for the names of stations. Perhaps because of this, discussions about Latinization have even broken out in Ukraine which lacks a Latin script past.

            Belarusian linguist Vintsuk Vecherka says that the choice of alphabet is a choice of civilization.  “The Russian and then the Soviet empire held under its power peoples of various civilizational identities and sought to unify them including via the alphabet.” But the peoples who were subjected to that process never forgot their pasts.

            Now, “the world of Latin letters is the space of information and information technology … [and] a bridge to other languages which use the Latin script,” he says. The Kremlin fears it and is doing what it can to suppress any discussion about the spread of the Latin scrip to places like Tuva and Buryatia. 

            Vecherka doesn’t expect Belarusian to make a complete break with Cyrillic, at least not any time soon.  But he does believe that despite Lukashenka’s promises and Moscow’s threats, Belarusians will soon be using the two scripts at the same time, something that will help Belarus escape the Russian world and rejoin the international one.

Truckers Strike Could Easily Spread to Other Sectors of Daghestan’s Economy, Economist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 23 – The rapidly deteriorating economic situation in Daghestan is not only one of the causes of the truckers’ strike but means that it would be “entirely logical” for it to spread to other sectors of the economy who are suffering from the efforts of officials and their allies to extract more money from others, according to Denis Sokolov.

            Indeed, the RAMSCON economist says, the long-haul truckers have highlighted a problem almost all sectors of the economy not only in that North Caucasian republic but elsewhere in Russia as well: the worsening of the economy is prompting the political class to seek ever new sources of money for itself (

            And the strikers are calling attention to something else that may be even more serious for the regime – the complete breakdown in the distinction between legal methods of extracting taxes and fees from workers and illegal ones including demands for bribes because both now have come to be viewed as an increasingly unacceptable cost of doing business in Russia today.

            As Sokolov puts it, “discussions are no longer about which taxes are official and what are ‘grey’ or ‘white’ arrangements but about the principle of the cost of conducting this or that business.  Judging from the activity of the protests, it is clear that the appearance of the Plato system has critically increased the costs of the transportation of goods.”

            That increase is hurting not only the drivers who are expected to pay it out of their incomes but also logistics companies who do not want to hire drivers who aren’t registered with the government – the vast majority are – but can no longer afford the demands for more pay from drivers being squeezed by Moscow.

            And consequently, the Kavkaz-Uzel news agency reports, an increasing number of logistics companies are now fully in sympathy with the striking long-haul drivers, a potential political breakthrough because these companies have more clout with officials than do individual drivers or even the dispersed strike actions.

            But the news agency underlines what may ultimately matter more to the Kremlin: the drivers demands are now increasingly seen as part and parcel of the struggle against regime corruption not only by themselves but by political groups in Daghestan and elsewhere that have made the fight against corruption the centerpiece of their political action.

            And as statistics show, there is enormous interest among Russians in the corruption of their elites.  As of Friday, Aleksey Navalny’s film about corruption had been viewed by nearly 20 million people online, while the anti-Navalny clip comparing him to Hitler had drawn only slightly more than two million (