Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The High Price of Putin’s Sochi Olympiad Keeps on Growing



Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 22 – Vladimir Putin’s Sochi Olympiad was by all accounts the most expensive such competition in history, costing by some estimates more than 50 billion US dollars. But while the world has looked away, the real costs of that public relations spectacular have continued to grow and in ways far more serious than can be measured by money alone.

            According to a report by three Krasnodar journalists which appeared in yesterday’s Kommersant, the failure of officials to check for infestations of a particular kind of moth in wood imported for Sochi Olympic construction now means that the entire region is at risk of losing possibly forever its unique stands of a rare tree (kommersant.ru/doc/3389734).

                The Colchid boxwood (Buxus colchica) had been growing in what is now southern Russia, Abkhazia, Georgia and portions of Turkey for more than 1.8 million years.  Ecologists say it played a key role in regulating the chemistry of the water supply there and thus helped keep alive a variety of plants and animals.   

            But because of official greed and incompetence and the push to build infrastructure for Putin’s Olympiad at any cost, these trees are being killed off throughout the region a moth that came to Western Europe from China in 2006, one that EU countries have successfully countered, but that jumped to the North Caucasus beginning in 2012.

            In only five years, stands of this ancient tree have been left “at the edge of complete disappearance,” according to Kommersant. Greed and a desire to show progress on a Kremlin-backed project is largely to blame for the death of many and the dying off of the rest, Boris Tuniyev, a Sochi ecologist says

                Especially unfortunate is the fact that the subtropical climate of the region where Putin chose to organize a winter Olympics gives the moths that eat the boxwoods greater chance opportunities to do their destructive work. Elsewhere, these moths may have only one generation per year; but in the North Caucasus, they have as many as four. 

            Moreover, experts say – and they warned about this five years ago – the moths in question have no natural enemies in the Caucasus. Consequently, as they have multiplied, they have been able to eat the leaves of the boxwood and kill it with few chances that they can be stopped without human intervention.

            But that hasn’t happened in an effective way, environmental activists say, because “in this case, legislation designed to protect the environment has interfered with nature.” Russian laws block the use of chemical pesticides in protected areas, and so no one in the North Caucasus has been able to legally use them against the boxwood-destroying moths.

            People in the region have complained and asked for an exemption, but officials have simply folded their hands and said there is nothing they can do.  This situation is further worsened by the fact that there are several countries and regions involved and little coordination among them. Killing the moths one place won’t stop them if they flourish elsewhere.

            Despairing of being able to save the boxwoods in the wild, activists and government scientists are now trying to raise new trees in greenhouses where they can prevent the moths from doing their worst.  But that is a long-term strategy and one that will do little to stem the rising costs of the Putin Games.

            “Even if they are able to save the boxwood” in this way, one expert points out, that “won’t correct the harm to nature already inflicted.” Moreover, the boxwood “grows very very slowly. In 70 years, it increases in height only by two or three meters.” One will have to wait 500 years to see the trees at the same height many of them were before the Olympiad.

            “Neither we nor our children will have see boxwood forests again,” he says. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Putin Drops the People from Uvarov's Russian Nationalist Trinity

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 21 – Russian nationalists of almost all stripes have taken as their touchstone Count Sergey Uvarov’s classical trinity, “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and People.” But now Vladimir Putin has defined the unity of Russian nationality in a new way, one that drops the third element and leaves Russia as “Orthodoxy plus State Power.”

            Speaking in Russian-occupied Crimea on Friday, the Kremlin leader argued that Russians now sould make Khersones “a Russian ‘mecca,’” because it was there, in his view, that “the strengthening of the centralized Russian state began,” even though there had been other Russian state projects elsewhere such as Novgorod (kremlin.ru/events/president/news/55365).

            “Here is the ideological basis for the unification of the Slavic tribes into a single Rusisan nation and the strengthening of a single national Russian state on the basis of several components, including a common market, a common language, a common faith, and the power of the prince.”

            According to Putin, “these are the four main components which led generally speaking to the establishment of a relatively contemporary by the measures of the times of a contemporary unified national Russian state and the establishment in its essential featues of the Russian nation as such.”

                Many commentators have pointed out just how historically inaccurate Putin’s words about Khersones are – see, for example, Andrey Kurayev’s remarks at rosbalt.ru/posts/2017/08/21/1639964.html -- but Russian analyst Andrey Illarionov makes an important point about what Putin’s words say about his understanding of Russia and its nation.

            “The Putin ideological formula of ‘a single national Russian state’ looks like a common faith and the power of the prince, that is, ‘Orthodoxy plus Autocracy.’”  The third element of Uvarov’s trinity – the people – is for the current Kremlin leader “completely superfluous” and thus has been dropped (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5999C0004A233).

            Such a statist approach precludes the development of modern nationalism among Russians and means either that they will break out of Putin’s ideological straightjacket or find themselves stunted for yet another century or more while other nations based precisely on the people rather than the state or religion alone will be able to move forward. 

Anger at Kremlin’s Nationality Policies Bubbles Up at Turkic Cultural Event



Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 21 – For the first time in 20 years, the Turkic-language peoples assembled last week to share their common cultures; but the event became an occasion for sharp exchanges between those from Moscow who want to elevate the Russian language and a common civic Russian identity above all others and those who want to defend their nations.

            The meeting was organized by Moscow and Chuvash officials with the explicit purpose of promoting cultural links among the more than 12 million people in Russia who speak closely related Turkic languages, but it rapidly became something more, an indication that the Turks of Russia, long divided by Moscow, may be uniting to defend their common culture.

            And while there is a long road between expressions of anger at Moscow and of friendship among the Turkic peoples to political unity, this meeting served notice that the Russian authorities cannot count on their past divide-and-rule policies to keep these peoples and their eleven republics apart and thus easier targets for the Kremlin.

Moscow’s policies and hopes were presented by Vladimir Zorin, a prominent Russian ethnographer, who began by admitting Moscow’s nationality policy is “often criticized” for being either about festivals or the suppression of conflicts and suggesting that it must focus on “everything in between as well” (idelreal.org/a/turki-rossii-chuvashia/28688104.html).
            Asked whether meetings like last weekend’s might lead to greater divisions among the peoples of Russia and particularly between large linguistic communities like the Slavic, the Finno-Ugric and Turkic peoples, Zorin insisted that was not possible: “we already from the times of the formation of the state have lived together.”

            “We all together are today solving a two-in-one task: the formation of an all-Russian civic unity and the ethno-cultural development of all peoples who populate our country.”  According to Zorin, “the term ‘civic Russian nation’ ‘does not in any case contradict or reduce the meaning of the nation as an ethnos.”

            He added that he “very much likes the expression that Russia is a nation of nations. It objectively reflects the current moment.” But if the Moscow ethnographer likes it, many of the participants suggested that the promotion of a civic Russian nation is “the beginning of the end” of the country.

            Alfinur Dibayeva from Orenburg asked “How can we all be joined together if we are different nations? I am against this. Each nation has its own traditions, its own customs, its own language. The variant ‘nation of nations’ is absolutely inappropriate. In the Russian nation, all our nations will be dissolved.”

            “I  am not against Russia and am not opposed to be a civic Russian. But I am against one nation. I am a Tatar and will be a Tatar. I will always represent the Tatar nation,” she said. “But how will I teach Tatar if we will all have a Russian nation? What will be the national language” in that event?

            According to her, “we have lived in a fraternal fashion and will do so in the future without a civic Russian nation,” however much some people want that.  Indeed, she continued, “the civic Russian nation is the very same thing that the Soviet people was: we are turning back to the past and thus may repeat the fate of the Soviet Union.” [stress supplied]

            Elvira Khasanova, a Nogay from Astrakhan, said that from what she can see, Moscow is “afraid that each nation will defend its rights and its sovereignty. But why shouldn’t this be the case? Now the self-consciousness of peoples has become higher and they want to acquire sovereignty.”

            What then will remain of Russia? “Only ‘the Golden ring’?”

            The Nogays, she pointed out, have not been allowed to organize “their own sovereign territory. We have a Nogay autonomous district in Daghestan but it isn’t allowed to unit with the Astrakhan Nogays.” Moscow today is continuing the oppression of the Nogay people that dates to Catherine’s times.

            But today, she added, “the Nogays have the resources in order to form a Nogay Republic within the Russian Federation.”