Thursday, May 24, 2018

Marx is Back in the Kremlin -- But It’s Groucho Not Karl

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 24 – Responding to questions about reports that recent Russian rocket tests had failed, Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov used words that Aleksandr Golts say should be “inscribed in granite.” Specifically, Peskov declared “Listen to Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin and believe him.”

            That formula which recalls the immortal Grouch Marx’ classic repost “Who are you going to believe: me or your own eyes?” and, if accepted, the Moscow commentator points out, precludes “in principle any attempt at the analysis of official information” (

            When one is talking about things like secret missile tests, Golts says, “the ordinary person by definition doesn’t’ have any information. He can believe either his beloved president or a hostile television channel.” Andin such a situation, he is likely to choose the former as reported by Moscow television because it doesn’t disturb his “spiritual calm.”

              Only the most ill-disposed will recall that the Russian military does not have a perfect track record in informing either the president or the Russian people and that “in fact, before our eyes, the military is creating a parallel reality, a different world for Vladimir Putin and for the people living under it.”

            In that world, the Moscow commentator says, “all tests of exotic arms are successful, helicopters destroy terrorists, intelligence supplies interested persons of absolutely reliable information about the evil connections of Washington with terrorism, and anti-aircraft weapons created 40 years ago are able to intercept present-day American rockets.”

            There’s just “one problem,” he continues. “In order to carry out such a massive campaign of mass disinformation, one must cerate a super-ministry to conduct it. It must control and direct information which an infinite number of state agencies and committees report. If it doesn’t do this, then confusion about its own lies is inevitable.”

            Not long ago, Golts reminds, “specialists at the Gaidar Institute using official data noted that the growth in the supply to the Russian army of contemporary weapons in 2017 had fallen more than ten times in comparison with 2016 – even though the state defense program was declared to have been completely fulfilled!”

            There is of course a way out of this problem: the Soviet variant which “did not give any information at all.  But if that way is chosen, Golts says, there will be little “to frighten enemies and inspire fellow citizens. Thus, only one thing remains: to require citizens to believe V.V. Putin under the threat of criminal punishment.”

                “Have no doubt,” Golts says, “that a corresponding law will be submitted to the State duma in the near future.”

Putin Backs Down in Face of United Opposition of Non-Russians

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 24 – In domestic affairs as in foreign ones, Vladimir Putin advances confidently until he is confronted by a unified opposition.  That has just happened in the case of his proposed law keeping Russian a compulsory subject in schools while making all non-Russian languages, including those of the non-Russian republics, voluntary and thus at risk.

            The Presidential Administration has just concluded a conference at which it was announced that the language of the draft measure enshrining Putin’s Ufa declaration of last summer will be revised in order to reflect the views of both supporters and opponents (

            That represents a significant but far from final victory for the non-Russian republics. At the very least, it puts off the adoption of a law that would have further weakened their position in the political system.  But it also highlights the way in which their unity can stop Moscow in its tracks and gives them more time to fight this measure. 

            The Kremlin meeting included representatives of the Presidential Administration’s nationality policy department, its section for internal politics, representatives of United Russia, the head of the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs, as well as representatives from Tatarstan, Chechnya, Daghestan, and Kabardino-Balkaria.

            Aleksandr Sidyakin, a Duma deputy from Tatarstan, told Kazan news outlets that his “worse fears had not been confirmed.”  Instead, officials of the Presidential Adminisstration had expressed a willingness to negotiate with Kazan and the other non-Russian capitals about the measure – including its key provision making the study of non-Russian languages voluntary.

            “We are concerned,” he continued, “that Tatar would pass from the obligatory part of the curriculum into the voluntary,” and the discussion in Moscow raises the possibility that this will not happen.

            Indeed, he said, the measure will now be revised “so that at the time of its first reading in the State Duma there will not be any matters of dispute.”  If that is so and if the non-Russians maintain their united position in opposition to Putin’s notion, then Moscow will have to sacrifice something that Putin declared was his policy. 

            To underscore that Kazan remains united against making the study of Tatar a voluntary subject, today, all 77 deputies of the State Council of Tatarstan who were present in the hall “voted against” what Putin has been pushing (

            This is not only the largest victory, albeit again not a final one, the non-Russians have won in Putin’s time; but it is a model of how the non-Russians can and must work against the Russianizing and Russifying policies that have been the hallmark of Putin’s administration.

             But at the same time, it represents the kind of retreat which Russian nationalists and imperialists will find hard to accept; and they are certain to launch some kind of counter attack in the coming days, although if Putin has truly decided that it is the better part of wisdom to retreat, they are more likely to remain angry than be victorious. 

Russian Language Under Assault and in Retreat at Home and Abroad

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 24 – A major reason why Vladimir Putin is pushing so hard to advance the Russian language at the expense of non-Russians ones is that the Russian language is under assault and in retreat at the level of society both inside the Russian Federation and in other countries as well.

            As even Moscow commentators acknowledge, far fewer people speak Russian now than did at the end of Soviet times, and the prospects for the language are anything but bright even inside the country where the government is able to compel people to study it let alone in the former Soviet republics or further afield.

            This week alone has brought seven reports which indicate that the flow of events is moving against the Russian language. They include:

·         Chuvash activists are dropping the Russian names that were imposed on them in the past in favor of Chuvash ones even as they fight to maintain Chuvash instruction in that Middle Volga republic’s schools (

·         Ossetians too are increasingly changing from Russian-style names to Ossetian ones and are among the leaders in the North Caucasus of the resistance to Putin’s proposed law making Russian compulsory but non-Russian languages voluntary (

·         In Tajikistan, the country’s foreign minister has changed his name from one that sounds Russian and follows Russian spelling rules to one that is completely Tajik in its origins (

·         The government of Kazakhstan has announced plans to promote the Kazakhization of society in order to achieve a situation in which all Kazakh officials and 95 percent of the population of that formerly bilingual republic will speak Kazakh within a decade or so (

·         The Belarusian government is promoting the use of Belarusian in publications directed at and used by that country’s armed services, an especially remarkable development given Belarus’ status as a member of a union state with Russia and the strong Russian-language traditions of its security services (

·         Russian commentators and politicians are increasingly apocalyptic about the decision of the Republic of Latvia to close Russian-language schools in that country and ensure that all graduates are fluent in the national language, a goal Riga is far closer to achieving than many are ready to admit (

·         And the Moldovan Supreme Court appears set on May 31 to rule against the current status of the Russian language in that country, thus reducing pressure on students there to learn it and allowing them time to learn Western languages like English. As in Latvia, Russians are predicting a political disaster if the court acts as expected ( and