Monday, May 10, 2021

Ten Victory Day Stories that Didn’t Make Headlines in Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 9 – Russian government media focused almost exclusively on the Victory Day parade in Moscow’s Red Square and Vladimir Putin’s speech. But many other things were going on this Victory Day that may say as much about Russia and where it is headed than the official proceedings.  Below are ten such stories which didn’t get much attention.

 

1.      Putin Talks War but Russians Call for Peace. An activist in Yaroslavl staged an individual picket to proclaim that “war is not an occasion for pride” and that what the world needs is peace (7x7-journal.ru/news/2021/05/09/yaroslavskij-aktivist-v-den-pobedy-provel-piket-protiv-populyarizacii-vojny). Other activists in Volgograd which was renamed Stalingrad for the day called for an end to Russian aggression against Ukraine (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/363738/).

2.      Russia Gave Its Veterans Less than Any Post-Soviet State and Refused to Give One Veteran Behind on Taxes Anything. A survey of what post-Soviet countries are giving veterans this Victory Day found that Russia, far from the poorest, is giving the least; and there is a report that officials haven’t given at least one of them anything if the veteran is behind on taxes (newizv.ru/news/society/09-05-2021/vyplaty-veteranam-ko-dnyu-pobedy-v-stranah-byvshego-sssr-v-rossii-dali-menshe-vseh and club-rf.ru/16/news/59173).

3.      Military Vehicle in Kemerovo Parade Burns and Fire Extinguisher Doesn’t Work. A military car taking part in the Victory Day parade in Kemerovo partially burned, but the drivers were unable to contain the fire as the fire extinguisher didn’t work (znak.com/2021-05-09/v_kemerovo_na_parade_zagorelas_voennaya_tehnika_potushili_tryapochkoy).

4.      Vladivostok Journalist Ignores Veteran when Governor Shows Up. For all the talk that on Victory Day, veterans are the most people, a journalist in Vladivostok shows that isn’t true. When the regional governor showed up, she interrupted her interview with a veteran and turned her attention to Governor Olge Kozhemyako (znak.com/2021-05-09/vo_vladivostoke_zhurnalistka_prervala_rech_veterana_na_parade_uvidev_gubernatora).

5.      Vladivostok Officials Decorate Parade Route with Banners that Look Like Japanese Battle Flag. Russians in the far eastern port of Vladivostok were angered by banners that looked suspiciously like Japanese battle flags given that the USSR at least at the very end of the war was fighting Tokyo (sibreal.org/a/31242692.html).

6.      This Victory Day Highlights Moscow’s Isolation in Former Soviet Space. In past Victory Days, leaders from many post-Soviet states came to Moscow to appear with Russian leaders. This time, only Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon joined Putin (ehorussia.com/new/node/23418). Putin responded by greeting all the CIS governments and the peoples of Georgia and Ukraine but not their governments (ritmeurasia.org/news--2021-05-09--putin-pozdravil-s-dnem-pobedy-strany-sng-i-narody-gruzii-i-ukrainy-54549).

7.      Hackers Attack Immoral Regiment Portal. The Immortal Regiment website suffered three denial of service attacks and six web attacks during Victory Day (mbk-news.appspot.com/news/polk-dudos/).

8.      Many Upset that Putin Again Covers Over the Lenin Mausoleum During Parade. Given the centrality of the Soviet Union in the war effort that Putin talks about constantly, many had expected him not to put up screens to hide Lenin’s mausoleum this year as he has done in years past. But despite these hopes, once again, the Kremlin hid the mausoleum from public view (realtribune.ru/patriotizm-pod-faneroj-pochemu-putin-skryvaet-mavzolej-lenina).

9.      Victory Belongs to Veterans Not Putin. Numerous Russian bloggers say that Victory Day belongs to the veterans and must not be “privatized” into anyone’s hands and that above all “it is not a victory of Putin’s (realtribune.ru/den-pobedy-prinadlezhit-veteranam-ego-nelzya-privatizirovat and svoboda.org/a/31246510.html).

10.  Because of Pandemic, Most Parades Were Seen by Most Russians Only on TV. Because of the pandemic, most Russians watched parades this year only on television. The only people who got to see them live were those who marched in them and senior officials, along with a sprinkling of veterans, in reviewing stands (ura.news/news/1052484101).

Putin’s Victory Day Speech Departed from Earlier Ones in Four Key Ways

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 9 – The Victory Day celebrations and the speeches leaders give generally conform to longstanding patterns. Until this year, Vladimir Putin followed those patterns, but this year, Sergey Dianov of the URA news agency says that he departed from those traditions, something that in and of itself highlights changes in his message to Russians and the world.

            First of all, the URA journalist says, his speech was longer than usual; and for him, it was the longest speech he has delivered on Victory Day since becoming president, almost ten percent longer than last year’s for example. The Kremlin leader had a lot to say, and he took his time doing so (ura.news/articles/1036282289).

            Second, there was a dramatic change in rhetoric. In the past, and even in the wake of the Crimean Anschluss which sparked new tensions with the West, Putin used the speech to thank Western countries like the UK, France and the US “for their contribution to Victory.” This time, however, he stressed that “the Soviet Union had to oppose German aggression on its own.”

            Third, while in the past, Putin spoke among what he saw as present-day threats, he typically chose one challenge rather than catalogued a whole list. From 2002 to 2005, he focused on terrorism; in 2006 to 2007, he spoke on extremism; in 2012-2013, he talked about foreign interference; in 2015, he focused on efforts to create a unipolar world; and in 2019, he talked about distortions in the historical record.

            This time around, he spoke instead about “a multiplicity of problems,” something that contributed to his speech’s greater length but that in fact reflected a kind of summing up of all the issues he has complained about over the last 20 years.

            And fourth, after talking about foreign threats in the past, Putin “every time mentioned the readiness of Russia for international cooperation.” But this time, he didn’t. Instead, he laid stress on the need to defend Russia’s national interests on its own rather than seek to address problems by cooperating with others.

Russia Should Reach Herd Immunity by the Fall, Health Minister Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 9 – Given current levels of infection and rates of immunization, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko says, Russia should reach herd immunity by the fall, the most optimistic thing any Moscow official could come up with about the pandemic on this Victory Day (regnum.ru/news/3264117.html).

            Russian government officials announced they had registered 8419 new cases of infection and 334 new deaths from the coronavirus over the last 24 hours, as the pandemic continued to ebb and flow over the country, hitting major urban and port facilities hardest (t.me/COVID2019_official/2915 and regnum.ru/news/society/3258922.html).\

            Moscow officials attempted to play down a report in the German media that talks with Berlin about German purchases of the Sputnik-5 vaccine have collapsed. According to those in the Russian capital, the talks continue and reports to the contrary are part of a Western disinformation campaign (regnum.ru/news/3264601.html).

            They also stressed that interest in Russian vaccines, including Sputnik-Lite, continues to be strong, although they conceded that hopes Westerners would travel to Russia to get shots they couldn’t get at home haven’t worked out (regnum.ru/news/3264234.html and vedomosti.ru/society/articles/2021/05/08/868980-u-vaktsinnogo-turizma-net-perspektivi).

            Even over the holidays, Russian officials in the regions are working hard to come up with schemes to get people to be immunized. In Khabarovsk Kray, they are handing out eggs to pensioners who choose to get the shots, an indication of problems far beyond just the coronavirus (sibreal.org/a/31229242.html).

            And Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said that despite all the demands on the government’s budget during the pandemic year, he had been able to keep spending in line and had in fact added 121 billion rubles (1.7 billion US dollars) to the government’s reserve (sobkorr.org/news/6097700850E25.html).

            That may please some budget hawks in the Kremlin but it means that the government had the funds to pay for far more assistance to the population than it provided, something that will not be lost on the hard-hit Russian people.

Russian Officials Give Veterans Stale Gingerbread, Empty Promises and Flashy Cards Rather than Real Help

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – Victory Day is supposed to center on remembering what those who fought for the Soviet Union did decades ago and on honoring the thinning ranks of the veterans of that conflict with special treatment. But a survey finds that officials instead are giving these aging men stale gingerbread, empty promises, and cards rather than real help.

            Viktor Kuznetsov, 89, of Yaroslavl Oblast asked for help in building a trench so his house wouldn’t flood. Officials ignored his request except to send him a package of stale gingerbread, something which they later had to apologize for (currenttime.tv/a/russia-veterans-second-world-war/31243141.html).

            He had to dig the trench himself.

            Aleksandr Varlamov, 96, lives in Vladikavkaz. He expected that the government would live up to its promises last year and give him a car. But when he asked when that is going to happen, he was given the runaround, with each set of officials blaming others for the fact that he still has no automobile.

            But what has infuriated him this year in particular is that these same officials sent him a cheap but showy card thanking him for his services even as he has seen in the news that “700 people in Moscow, officials, receive 100 million rubles (1.4 million US dollars) a year and 101 receive 600 million (900,000 US dollars).”

            This is what we fought for, he asks bitterly. “We lived in the Land of the Soviets, all wealth belonged to the people, but now it belongs to some individuals.”

            And Vladimir Zaytsev, 89, who lives in Yekaterinburg, says that he considers himself well off and doesn’t ask anyone for help. But he is upset about one thing: Putin’s arranging to remain in office forever despite the Constitution. According to the veteran, his time is up and he should leave.

            “Several years ago,” Current Time TV reports, “many of these men still considered it an honor to personally take part in the Victory Parades in their cities. But now, as a result of coronavirus restrictions, the veterans can see these celebrations only on television or via the Internet.”

‘Unifying Two Poor Regions Only Doubles Poverty,’ Birobidzhan Residents React to Latest Amalgamation Idea

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – When Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin called for amalgamating Russia’s regions two weeks ago, he specifically urged combining the Jewish Autonomous Oblast with Khabarovsk Kray (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/04/deputy-prime-minister-wants-to-replace.html).

            Now, Valeriya Fedorenko, a journalist from Novaya gazeta, has surveyed opinion in that oblast, summing up reaction  with two statements: “Marat, ir zent falsh,” Yiddish for “Marat, you are wrong,” and “uniting one poor region with another poor region doubles poverty” (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/05/08/marat-yr-z-nt-palsh-marat-ty-neprav).

            If the intensity of the negative reaction from officials who would lose their position is not unexpected – see Governor Rostislav Goldsheyn’s at eao.ru/gubernator/press-sluzhba-gubernatora-soobshchaet/gubernator-evreyskoy-avtonomnoy-oblasti-rostislav-goldshteyn-kommentiruya-slova-vitse-premera-marata/ -- that of others was far greater.

            Birobidzhan is poor. Its capital doesn’t even have a civilian airport, and travelling to and from it takes many hours by train or car. But the residents of the oblast resent having someone far away who knows nothing of their situation making decisions for them and believing that they’d be better off as a small part of some other region.

            Efraim Kolpak, the rabbi of one of the region’s two synagogues, says that there are more Jews in his region than the census counts even though the community is small. Unfortunately, he continues, in many parts of Russia, Jews still conceal their ethnic and religious identity; but in Birobidzhan, a much smaller share of them feel compelled to do so.

            Few outside of Russia know about the Jewish communities in other Russian cities, Kolpak adds, but everyone around the world knows about Birobidzhan – and its survival is thus important to the survival of Jewish identity in Russia. And the Jews of Birobidzhan have often made this point. (See gazetaeao.ru/argumenty-protiv-prisoedineniya-eao-k-chemu-libo/.)

            Valery Gurevich, an economist in the oblast, says that joining the two regions together won’t solve any of their problems and will harm Jewish identity. There are far more Jews even in Birobidzhan than the census shows. As the Odessa saying has it, when the last Jew leaves, he will be told goodbye by a thousand others.

            According to the 1989 census, there were 8800 Jews in Birobidzhan, but 25,000 then left, a figure that means the census is nonsense. That is how it has always been in Russia with regard to the Jews. People say one thing in public and another in private. In Birobidzhan that has been true too but less so than elsewhere.

            Gurevich says that instead of coming up with amalgamation ideas, Moscow should first ask Khabarovsh residents how they would feel about absorbing the “Jewish” oblast. They probably don’t want it any more than the people of Birobidzhan want to be absorbed by that region.

            And Vyacheslav Belyakov, a local political scientist, says that Khusnullin’s proposal is “not very correct” because it ignores how much unifying the two federal subjects would cost and how the money Moscow would spend on that could be far better spent on helping the people in both.

            Moscow officials don’t want to recognize that the larger the territory under a single administration, the worse its governance will be, perhaps because they would then have to focus on the issue of the world’s largest country being governed from a single center, their own urban center.

            “From the center it may seem that the fewer the number of regions, the simpler … But in reality, the good practice of present-day administration comes via decentralization and consists in the development of local self-administration. And amalgamation and centralization leads yet again to worse governance under contemporary conditions.” (stress in the original)

Sunday, May 9, 2021

May 9, 1945, ‘Best Day in Soviet History,’ Being Drained of Reasons It Was, Gozman Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – “May 9, 1945, was the best day in the history of the USSR,” Leonid Gozman says. That’s why “Stalin prohibited celebrating it: he was afraid of those who won the victory.” But with the departure of those who did, the Russian government has elevated it to the most important holiday of the year by gutting it of its real meaning.

            Unlike most of the holidays the Kremlin wants Russians to mark, May 9th is different, the opposition politician and commentator says. Those who fought in the war or had family members who did – and that means almost all Russians – know what the war meant and what they hoped for with the victory (echo.msk.ru/blog/leonid_gozman/2835020-echo/).

            Gozman says that his relatives “hated parades and fanfare because they passed through that nightmare.” And had anyone said in 1945, “we can do this again!” it is fairly certain that someone would have shot him. That is not what the Soviet people expected from the victory. They not only hoped for peace but for a better life. Tragically, they didn’t get those.

            The Putin regime for 20 years has been engaging in the crime of rewriting history, eliminating most of it because it doesn’t fit with what the Kremlin wants people to know. They’ve reduced Victory to a cartoon, one in which the Soviet Union did everything and there was no Normandy, Africa or lendlease.

            The powers don’t want the Russian people to remember the realities of the war or the realities of their hopes after it. The first would undercut its own aggressive intentions; the second would threaten its hold on power.  And so it has taken a genuine holiday and made it into a fake; and the real reasons May 9, 1945, was the best day in Soviet history are being forgotten.

            Those who lived through them are passing from the scene; and those who didn’t are being fed a pack of lies that serves Putin and his cronies but not the Russian people, their country, or history itself.  The real holiday is holy and must be remembered. Putin’s ersatz one is an abomination and an embarrassment. 

Current Wave of Repression in Russia about Elections Not about Regime Change, Ananyev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – The current wave of intensified repression reflects an underlying problem the Putin regime has but even more the Kremlin’s short-term concerns about the upcoming elections where things could go badly wrong for the ruling United Russia, Maksim Ananyev says. But despite that, the regime can survive a long time even without massive electoral support.

            In an interview with Radio Liberty’s Valentin Baryshnikov, the Melbourne-based Russian political economist says that the regime is turning to repression and propaganda because it can no longer count on economic growth to generate popular support but that the current wave of repression is about the elections and not a major turning point (svoboda.org/a/31244107.html).

            “Elections are extremely important” even in authoritarian countries like Rusisa, Ananyev says. They are a means for those who have power to remind everyone about who is in power and that it is far better to be with those in power than against them. And the Kremlin’s targeting of the media and especially the Internet only underlines that.

            The Australia-based analyst says that the Kremlin is very much afraid that between now and the election, an expose like the ones the opposition has launched against Medvedev and Putin in the past could appear and send United Russia’s ratings plummeting. After the anti-Medvedev film appeared, the Russian leader’s standing fell 10 percent. Putin is worried that could happen again.

            To prevent it, the Kremlin leader is not only moving against opposition groups which might produce such a film – hence the attacks on Navalny and his staffs – but also on the Internet because that is the way such a film might be disseminated to a mass audience under current conditions in Russia.

             In a related move, the Kremlin is seeking to sideline potentially charismatic opposition figures, most prominently Navalny, of course, but also others of lesser magnitude so that if the election has to be falsified for the powers to win, they won’t be as likely to face protests as they would if the loser as a result of their actions had charisma.

            All this works to keep the Putin regime in power, Ananyev continues. But there are two things to keep in mind. On the one hand, some of what he is doing may not be necessary as he has the resources to remain in power for a long time even without the popular support that a managed election could provide.

            But on the other, “authoritarian regimes are mortal. More than that, they are suddenly mortal.” That is, they may collapse as a result of some small thing they mishandle or don’t see coming.