Wednesday, April 25, 2018

‘Kiev’ Becomes Kyiv for the US Government – Finally


Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 25 – The US State Department office responsible for nomenclature has directed that from now on, US government agencies will refer to the capital of Ukraine as Kyiv, as it is transliterated from the Ukrainian, rather than Kiev, as transliterated from the Russian, a small change with potentially far reaching consequences. 

            Kyiv’s Delovaya stolitsa newspaper reports this change today (dsnews.ua/society/bolshe-ne-kiev-amerikanskie-gosuchrezhdeniya-budut-pisat-stolitsu-25042018095300) citing a report by the Voice of America’s Ukrainian Service (ukrainian.voanews.com/a/a-49-2006-10-21-voa2-86831492/219982.html).

            State Department representative Tom Casey said the change was being made so that the name used by the US government would correspond to the one “Ukrainians and other international organizations employ” and that the shift “is not political.”  But, of course, it is, and in a double sense.

            On the one hand, it is a mark of respect for Ukrainians and the Ukrainian language.  And on the other, it is one more indication that Washington and the West more generally will approach Ukraine not through Moscow and its putative “Russian world” but directly and in Ukrainian.

            In the 26 years since the demise of the USSR, the United States and some other Western countries have all too often continued to view Ukraine and other countries in the region through a Russian lens, often sending more diplomats who speak Russian than speak the national languages because there are more of the former than the latter and because officials say the elites in these countries still speak Russian.

            That has always been insulting; and it has sometimes led to horrors as when Western embassies have had to rely on “foreign service nationals” who do speak the national languages but who sometimes are under pressure from the governments of their countries for reporting on developments not reported as well or even at all in the Russian-language media.

            The change for Ukraine’s capital is a welcome sign that this is changing. One can only hope it will quickly be extended to other toponyms not only in that country but elsewhere as well.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Fearing Emergence of Pacifist Attitudes, Kremlin Cracks Down on All Anti-War Groups


Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 24 – Unlike during the first Chechen war or the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there have been no demonstrations against the war in Syria, the result of the Kremlin’s promotion of militarism, its suppression of unfavorable news, and its crackdown on groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses that might have led them, Ivan Preobrazhensky says. 
            “Having chosen military actions as an acceptable instrument for resolving foreign and domestic political tasks,” the political analyst says, “the Russian authorities see in anti-war movements one of the main threats to their policy” and have conducted “a struggle with them in all spheres of the life of society” (ridl.io/ru/война-есть-пацифизма-нет/).
            Soviet peace committees were disbanded in the 1990s or transformed into organizations with a very different purpose, Preobrazhensky says. And “over the last four years, all ‘traditional’ human rights anti-war organizations such as the Soldiers’ Mothers Committees have suffered,” accused of being foreign agents or otherwise harassed. 
            Over the same period, he continues, the authorities came down hard on the Jehovah’s Witnesses, “the most actively anti-war religious organization” in the country and one whose followers “already in the Soviet period were well-known for the fact that they preferred to go to prison than to serve in the military.”
            Given polls showing Russians overwhelmingly support military moves and even want their relatives to serve in the military, all of these actions might seem unnecessary. But in addition to the objections about military spending by systemic liberals like Aleksey Kudrin and Aleksey Navalny, there is “great potential” for the emergence of a pacifist movement.
                The reason for that conclusion, Preobrazhensky says, is that “despite the clearly articulated militarist demand of society and the growth of the army’s popularity, there exist deep social phobias,” first and foremost about the possibility of a big war, which 75 percent of Russians tell pollsters say they fear for themselves and their children.
            “Thus,” he says, “a growth in losses in real military conflicts and especially the appearance of new ones could unexpectedly lead to changes in attitudes in society. But this is [only] a potential.  For the time being, talk about war works only to frighten the population which is cut off from information” from abroad about the real situation.
            And yet another indication that the Kremlin is worried about such a shift is its increasing proclivity to discuss relatively small conflicts as harbingers of a third world war, something that puts any public discussion of the merits of the current actions of the Russian government beyond the range of the acceptable, Preobrazhensky suggests.

How Bad are Things in Russia? An Entire Russian Village Wants to Join Kazakhstan


Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 24 – Tens of thousands of ordinary Russians have voted with their feet in response to the deteriorating conditions in their homeland and moved abroad, but the residents of a Russian village in Omsk Oblast have another idea: they want the border between Russia and Kazakhstan redrawn so that they will no longer be part of the former but rather part of the latter.

            The village, Dubanovka, is situated approximately 140 kilometers from the city of Omsk, Anton Zakharov of Radio Liberty reports. “The last 17 are unpaved: one can only go on them when there is a freeze or a dry spell.” Residents joke, he says, that portion of the highway is where “civilization ends together with the road” (ru.krymr.com/a/29188964.html).

                “We don’t have any roads or a store or a school or water or in general anything. They’ve thrown us here to our fate,” local people say; and so a group of them have appealed to the Russian authorities to transfer their village from Russian control to that of Kazakhstan.  The leader of the movement says he’s sure the situation there “won’t be worse” and might be better.

            There are about 50 houses in the village, and the children have to travel 17 kilometers to school. Postal service is irregular, and emergency services are late if they bother to come at all.  Getting out from under this Russian fate thus looks attractive, Zakharov reports, but few villagers expect it will happen.

            They’ve asked Russian officials for help but have been ignored, and since the 1990s, they haven’t been able to cross into Kazakhstan because the border is under lock and key. Improving the road to the oblast center would be a good thing, the villagers say; but being under different kinds of rulers would be even better.

            At least, that is what the residents of Dubanovka have been driven to believe.