Staunton, December 25 -- The flood of news stories from a country as large, diverse and strange as the Russian Federation often appears to be is far too large for anyone to keep up with. But there needs to be a way to mark those which can’t be discussed in detail but which are too indicative of broader developments to ignore.
Consequently, Windows on Eurasia will present a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the sixteenth such compilation. It is only suggestive and far from complete – indeed, this week once again, one could have put out such a listing every day -- but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest.
1. A Christmas Tree for the Putin Era. Charter 97 has posted a picture of what is truly symbolic of the Putin era: a Christmas tree decorated not with lights and ornaments but rather wrapped in barbed wire (charter97.org/ru/news/2015/12/19/183513/).
Orwell’s ‘1984’ One of Top Ten Sellers in Russian Book Market in 2015. Russians purchased more copies of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “1984,” in 2015 than all but a handful of other books. Some may have bought it because of its warnings about what happens when big media trumps everything else; others in contrast may have seen it as a road map for their future under Vladimir Putin (meduza.io/news/2015/12/23/v-top-10-samyh-populyarnyh-knig-v-rossii-popal-dzhordzh-oruell
4. United Russia Deputy Says Studying Foreign Languages ‘Harmful.’ In another indication of what Putin’s “Russian world” means, Irina Yarovaya says studying foreign languages is “harmful” (facebook.com/PartiyaNarodnoySvobody/photos/a.314957628686321.1073741828.314941655354585/513586322156783/?type=3&theater).
5. Evenk Reindeer Herder Shoots and Kills Drunken Gazprom Agents Invading His Land A member of one of the numerically small peoples of the Russian North has shot and killed two Gazprom agents who were violating his space, a reminder if one is needed that small peoples have options even against the most powerful company in Russia (vesti.ru/doc.html?id=2701727, echo.msk.ru/news/1682396-echo.html and grani.ru/Events/m.247255.html).
6. When There is No Money for Food or Heat, Build a Church, Arkhangelsk Governor Says. People in Russia’s regions are running out of money for food, healthcare, orphans, heat and other basic needs, but the governor of one region says that building a Russian Orthodox church must have priority over all these other concerns (dvinaland.com/4881).
7. Russians Cutting Back Plans for New Years’ Celebrations. As the economic crisis deepens, Russians are cutting back not just their travel plans for the upcoming holiday but also spending on celebratory meals and drinks. Faced with rising prices and falling incomes, they tell journalists they won’t be doing as much this year as in any recent one (echo.msk.ru/news/1680216-echo.html).
8. Is There a Bright Side to Official Indifference and Neglect? The failure of Russian officials to take care of basic needs such as highway repair is leading some Russians to take action on their own, a development that some observers say could become the basis for increased civic activism or even the rise of the first flowerings of civil society (newizv.ru/society/2015-12-22/232510-don-kihoty-nashego-dvora.html).
9. Another Restriction on Public Activism: No Demonstrations During Church Fasts. Officials in one Russian region have come up with another way to block protests. They say that there can be no demonstrations during church fasts because such things would disturb the faithful (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=567914E1E3A4F).
10. 40 Percent of Russian Men Don’t Live to Current Retirement Age. As Russian officials debate raising the retirement age to help cope with demographic problems, there is another one they have tended to neglect: At present 40 percent of ethnic Russian men don’t live to the current retirement age, a horrific number but one that in fact is a slight improvement on a decade ago (ng.ru/economics/2015-12-21/4_pensia.html).
11. A New Russian ‘Secret’ Weapon? A picture has been posted on Facebook of what its authors say is a new “secret” Russian weapon: a car on which guns are mounted being pulled by horses (facebook.com/nashacanada/photos/a.509413365742598.132225.509387469078521/1227112733972654/?type=3&theater).
12. Russian Prisoner Doused with Really Cold Water. Not only has the Russian Duma given the siloviki the right to shoot at crowds, but Russian police are coming up with new ways to brutalize those under arrest. In one place, the police have doused those detained with icy water as a way of extracting confessions or simply inflicting pain (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=56751B74B6916).
13. Presidential Grants Go to Russian Orthodox Church and Eurasianist Ideologues. The Kremlin has sent a clear signal concerning its ideological priorities: Most presidential grants to public organizations this year have gone to groups affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate and the Eurasianist movement (grani.ru/Society/ngo/m.247152.html).
And five more from countries neighboring Russia:
14. No More Soviet Champagne in Ukraine. Ukrainian officials have moved to ban “Sovetskoye” champagne, long a staple of celebrations in that country (forum-msk.org/material/news/11247493.html). They have also suggested that Father Frost is a legacy of Soviet communism and therefore should be ignored as well (forum-msk.org/material/news/11244562.html). On a more serious note, Ukrainians now remember the two years when they didn’t mark the New Years’ holiday: during the terror famine of the early 1930s (nv.ua/opinion/bogomolets/est-li-u-ljudej-korni-86980.html).
15. Tajikistan, Having ‘Killed Father Frost,’ Now Bans Christmas Trees. Dushanbe prohibited the appearance of Father Frost three years ago; now it has declared that no one must put up a Christmas tree (islamsng.com/tjk/news/10166 and rus.ozodi.org/content/article/27435309.html).
16. Belarusians Angry that Russian Propaganda Replacing Belarusian Books. Some Belarusians are upset that bookstores in their capital city have replaced Belarusian language materials with Russian language propaganda (charter97.org/ru/news/2015/12/18/183439/).
17. Moscow Says It Must have a Say on Ukraine-EU Visa Free Regime. In an indication of just how imperialistic the Russian authorities now are, Moscow says it should have a voice and even a veto on plans to have a visa free regime between Ukraine and the European Union (oinfo.ua/politic/1119047_MID-Rossii-trebuet-soglasovat-RF-bezvizoviy.html).
18. Some Latvians Fear a President Trump Would Give Baltics Back to Putin. Some Latvians are afraid that if Donald Trump were to become US president, he would give Latvia and its two Baltic neighbors back to Russia as a present to his friend Vladimir Putin (webkamerton.ru/2015/12/v-latvii-schitayut-chto-tramp-podarit-putinu-pribaltiku/).