Sunday, December 30, 2012

Window on Eurasia: If Kremlin Closes ‘Zvezda Povolzhya,’ Publisher Says He’ll Open Another Paper

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 30 – Russian officials have told Rashit Akhmetov, the publisher of the independent newspaper “Zvezda Povolzhya” that he must stop publishing “extremist” articles or face the closure of that paper. But Akhmetov has told RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service that if his paper is closed, he will simply open another one.

            In his interview, Akhmetov said that the article Moscow didn’t like was published several months ago, and it is strange that it took “so long” for officials to take notice of it.  The whole is “murky,” and it appears that “a certain directive” must have come down from Moscow above to move against the independent paper (

“If the officials issue another warning” to him, the publisher said, “they can simply close ‘Zvezda Povolzhya’ down. If that happens, however, I will launch another publication to be called ‘Tatarskaya Pravda’ or ‘Tatarskaya Svoboda.’ We have a lot of readers; perhaps we can move completely online” – the paper is already available on the web at   

Akhmetov acknowledged that the articles he has published are justified because “many problems remain unnoticed these days; they are just not discussed in the official media.  In such a situation, it is very important to provide a venue for all views on any particular problem” rather than seek to impose a single line.

Despite what the Kremlin appears to believe, the Tatarstan publisher continued, “failure to discuss such problems could lead to inter-ethnic conflicts.”  Thus, the goal of “Zvezda Povolzhya” is “to provide space for all viewpoints – Tatars, Russian nationalists, communists, liberals, pro-government types – all can express their views on our pages.”

“That is the essence of a free press,” Akhmetov said, and “we are not going to back down.”

Unfortunately, he continued, recent events show that there is “a fear of criticism,” and he noted that pressure on him “coincide with attacks on the Tatarstan law calling for a transition to the Latin script.”  In fact, Akhmedov said, this is no “coincidence.”  As dissatisfaction among the population grows, Moscow tries to “silence it with such primitive measures.”

            Akhmedov expanded on his argument in a leading article in “Zvezda Povolzhya” on Friday. Entitling it “A Foretaste,” the publisher argued that Vladimir Putin’s plan to suppress the non-Russian republics puts the Russian Federation on a most dangerous course, one that could lead to the end of the country (

            At his recent press conference, Putin responded to a question from Tatarstan journalist Dina Gazaliyeva about the possibility of “liquidating” the republics. (“Of course, both the question and the response were prepared in advance,” Akhmetov notes.) And Putin’s response shows how “the algorithm of gubernizatia” has been defined.

            Putin said that “if the republics themselves made such a request about a decision of their own legislative organ or after the holding of a referendum, then such decisions were possible.”  But “what republic will go first in such a voluntary ‘parade of gubernizatsias’? One can only guess.”

            What one can be certain of, Akhmetov says, is that the such a drive to do away with the republics will result in a rise in inter-ethnic tensions, provoke “the growth of protest attitudes among the national movements in the republics, and then lead to the disintegration of Russia.” Given that, such a proposal cannot be understood “from the point of view of good sense.

            But “the liquidation of the republics is an idee fixe of the Moscow leadership [because] it has a paranoid fear of possible separatism.” But Putin and those around him are promoting an idea that will lead to precisely what they say they most fear and oppose.

             “Putin has said,” Akhmetov continues, “that the collapse of the USSR was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”  But that collapse, whatever Putin believes “was not an accident.” It was “an iron necessity, and Yeltsin’s contribution was that this disintegration occurred peacefully.”

            The USSR could have suffered the same fate as Yugoslavia, the Tatarstan publisher says, because “socialism as a totalitarian system over a short period drove into the underground with the help of repression all inter-ethnic and inter-religious contradictions,” and they failing re-emerged “having built up their enormous destructive potential.”

            Today, Akhmetov continues, “the slogan ‘Russia for the [ethnic] Russians is being used for the growth of patriotic attitudes and the ideological ‘cementing’ of ‘the state-forming people.’”  But given that “more than 50 percent of the country consists of mixed families … this slogan is extraordinarily dangerous for the Russian Federation.”

            “In the 21st century, Russia cannot exist except as a federation; otherwise, it will break apart as a result of the growth of internal tensions.” The slogan “Russia for the Russians” will break apart the Russian state “machine” and is “just as unrealizable and unnatural as the slogan ‘Russia for Men Only’ with a demand for resettling all women beyond [its] borders.”

Putin’s approach to the republics reflects his KGB background and the conviction that “all problems can be solved” by repression. That is what another KGB officer in power,Yuri Andropov, thought, and “many strange things in Putin’s behavior are explicable by the professional hyper-suspiciousness of KGB operatives.”

Akhmetov argues that “the special services in principle are not capable of carrying out processes of economic modernization or even more the democratization of society; the function of the special services is protection and security … They seek to minimize the risks” by choking off information and being “suspicious of everything and everything.”

They seek to keep control over everything, and thus it is obvious, Akhmetov says, that “the Brezhnev style of administration as all the same objectively for acceptable for the USSR than the Andropov style which could give birth only to short spasmatic breakthroughs and then inevitably lead to major systemic mistakes.”

Putin’s plan to “liquidate” the republics is “the result of the professional inclination of the force structures toward decisions which are simple or which appear simple. No person, no problem, Stalin said. No republics, no problems,” Putin appears to believe.  But things won’t end there either in terms of repression or disintegration.

Stalin “in his paranoia planned to resettle even the Ukrainians to Siberia. He didn’t trust them.” But one has the impression that “Stalin experienced a mystical fear of the Tatars and that was hardly accidental.” Perhaps “it means that there is in the Tatar people an internal mystical energy, which will yet show itself in the history of humanity,” Akhmetov concludes.

Akhmetov’s article has already attracted numerous posts on the “Zvezda Povolzhya” site. Two are especially suggestive.  One writer notes that “the conversion of the non-Russian peoples into ‘manure for the flowering of the Russian people,’ as Petr Stolypin put it, is a typical Russian nationality policy.”

“In the framework of a Russian state, the natural fate of the Tatars and other non-Russians peoples is to be the object of assimilation and colonial exploitation. The only salvation is to be found in the struggle for national independence; there are no other [acceptable] variants.”

A second writer recalled that Sergey Shakhray had noted that Andropov “gave the order to prepare a plan for the liquidation of the republics in the USSR.  He was concerned by the survival of the national elites. [But] in the USSR at that time, the [ethnic] Russians formed less than fifty percent of the population.”

Andropov’s plan was prepared over the course of four months, but “with the coming to power of Chernenko, it was put off.  Putin [today] is simply reviving the Andropov plan.” But it would be well for everyone to remember that “had this plan begun to be realized, the USSR would have fallen apart ten years earlier than it did.”

NOTE: I would like to thank Rim Gilfanov, director of RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service, for providing me with the translation of his service’s interview with Akhmetov.

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