Saturday, November 30, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Balkar Land Seizures Threaten to Split Two North Caucasian Republics

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 30 – Illegal seizures of land by Balkar activists in Khasanya and Belaya Rechka threatens the existence of both Kabardino-Balkaria (KBR) and Karachayevo-Cherkessia (KChR) by raising the spectre of a Karachayevo-Balkar Republic and as a result of a Circassian one – the Kabards and the Cherkess are sub-groups of that nation – as well.
            Given rural overpopulation, a complex ethnic mix, and Russian laws that are not easily applied to local conditions, the North Caucasus has long been the site of disputes over the control of land. But the potential of the current seizures to reorder political arrangements in the region to trigger more inter-ethnic violence could at a minimum force Moscow to send in more troops.

            It may be difficult to imagine that something so small as the seizure of several fields by local activists could have that effect, experts say, but consideration of the context shows why such conclusions are justified ( and

            Aslan Beshto, a Circassian activist whose people would at least initially be the losers in any such reordering of the borders in the North Caucasus, provides a commentary about this complex situation. His article is cast as a response to another by Muradin Rakhayev, a Balkar leader

            Illegal land seizures by Balkars near Nalchik, Beshto writes, may seem justified and elicit a certain sympathy given the problems of that nation. But anyone who examines the background of these actions will be concerned given both what has been happening and what “shadowy players” like Balkar nationalists and Turkey have as their ultimate goals.

            For the last 20 years “at a minimum,” Beshto says, the Balkars have “cultivated the ethnic myth that all the present-day territory of Kabardino-Balkaria is the immemorial land of the Balkars” and that lands that should be under their control have been handed to others, such as the Kabards, by outsiders.

            But everyone needs to understand that “the very same problems which exist” in Belaya Rechka exist as well in all municipalities both of the republic and of the country as a whole.”  If current arrangements are overturned by illegal actions in one place, that can easily trigger other illegal actions elsewhere.

            If one turns to the archives, Beshto continues, one finds that the Balkars actually seized what were historically Kabard lands. But that is not something the Balkars care to acknowledge now.  Instead, at the end of last summer, the “Vestnik Balkarii” published a declaration saying that the “Kabard people in general has no rights” to make any claim to these lands.

            As a Circassian, Beshto says, he has encountered “such manifestations of nationalism constantly,” most disturbingly in a declaration also last summer of the Council of Elders of the Balkar People which declared that “the next step” for the group should be “the establishment of a Karachayevo-Balkar (Alan) Republic” in place of the bi-national KBR and KChR.

            “If that were to happen,” the Circassian activist continues, “then the division of Kabardino-Balkaria would occur” along the borders of the existing municipalities, with all the impact that would have on neighboring areas, including the KChR.

            Beshto suggests that standing behind the Balkars is Turkey with its plans for a Greater Turan and that the Balkars, a Turkic people, have been able to invoke Russian law to justify what they are doing even though the specific law on local administration was drawn up with an eye to parts of Russia not suffering from overpopulation and a shortage of land.

            “By some miracle and thanks to the wisdom” of Gennady Khloponin, the presidential plenipotentiary for the area, Beshto says, the current crisis may have passed, but he argues that the authorities have been too inclined to make concessions to the Balkars in the past and that as a result the Balkars are increasing their demands.

            That leaves Khloponin and Moscow with few good choices: if the Russian authorities continue to give in to the Balkars, the Circassians will mobilize to oppose them, but if the Russians don’t, Moscow will have to use force to restrain the Balkars and that will only exacerbate their national feelings.

            In short, the complex administrative-territorial system that Stalin created and  left behind him, one that requires high levels of coercion to maintain, remains a poison pill for Moscow in the North Caucasus in the first instance but ultimately in other regions of the Russian Federation as well.

Window on Eurasia: Up to Four Percent of Novosibirsk Residents Said HIV Infected

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 30 – As many as four percent of the  residents of Novosibirsk Oblast are estimated to be HIV infected and thus likely to develop AIDS, a rate approaching those found in some sub-Saharan African countries and one that constitutes a major health emergency in the Russian Federation as a whole, public health officials in that Siberian region say.

            But as bad as the situation is in Novosibirsk oblast, it is even worse in Irkutsk and Kemerovo Oblasts and is only slightly better in the Altay Kray and Tomsk Oblast, all of which are within the boundaries of the Siberian Federal District. Beyond that district, the situation in Sverdlovsk and Samara Oblasts are also worrisome (

            Not only is this a public health disaster, but the high costs of treating those with HIV/AIDS means that it is a major burden on the Russian budget. A simple calculation based on the figures provided in this article suggests that Moscow is spending upwards of 300 million US dollars per year on HIV/AIDS medication in Novosibirsk Oblast alone.

            Natalya Shulgina, a Novosibirsk specialist on HIV/AIDS, says that the number infected is not only high but rising, the result of more widespread diagnostics, on the one hand, but also of high levels of tuberculosis, which weaken the body’s ability to fight off the infection, and the spread of drug abuse by which the infection is spread, on the other.

            The first case of HIV/AIDS in Novosibirsk was identified in1990 in a man who had been infected during a trip to Mozambique. He died in 1995.  By the end of the 1990s, there were a total of 308 diagnoses of the disease there, Shulgina said, most of whom had contracted it by the sharing of needles for injection of illegal drugs. 

.           But over the last decade, she continued, the disease has spread beyond that high risk group.  One measure of this change: in 200, only two to three percent of those diagnosed with HIV were working; now, 33 percent of them are.

Treatment is available but it is very expensive, Shulgina continued.  The cost per patient per month ranges from 200,000 to 300,000 rubles (6000 to 10,000 US dollars) a month and more if the individual is suffering from additional diseases.  It is paid by the federal government exclusively, she added. Novosibirsk is currently treating 4,000 cases.

The medicines are effective, she pointed out. Before they were available, someone infected with HIV could expect to live on average only five to ten years.  Now, with therapy, such an individual could expect to live 20 to 25 years. The medicines have also allowed doctors to ensure that HIV-infected mothers do not pass on the disease. A decade ago, 30 to 50 percent of children born to HIV-infected mothers had HIV; now, the figure is 1.5-3.0 percent.

The biggest problem those with HIV have is the public stigma of the disease.  Many are afraid to tell anyone that they have the disease or even be checked to see if they do.  As a result, they remain untreated and more likely to pass it on to others.  The situation in this regard is improving, activists say, but the numbers in Novosibirsk are an indication of how much more needs to be done.

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Penal Institutions Said Breeding Grounds for Islamist Radicalism

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 30 – Only 1100 of the 560,000 inmates of Russia’s prison camps are serving time for Islamist extremism, but increasingly this small group along with Islamists who have been convicted of crimes is spreading its radical message to many confined for other crimes, a phenomenon Russian commentators are calling “prison Islamization.”

            Lastwek, Valery Trofimov, head of the Russian penitentiary system, said that while  radicals of all kinds, including Russian nationalists, are using the prisons as “universities,” the Islamists “represent a threat not only because they are able to effectively spread their ideology to other Muslim convicts but also draw into their ranks prisoners of other faiths” (

            At present, he said, penal officials are engaged in prophylactic work with 426 prisoners, a 40 percent increase from a year earlier and a trend reflecting the general increase in the number of inmates convicted of crimes arising from “political, ideological, racial, national or religious hatred.” Their numbers have roughly doubled since 2009.

            Within the Russian corrective labor camp system, Trofimov said, there are now 279 Islamic communities which unite soe 10,600 Muslims. There are 51 mosques in operation, and three more are being built. There are 228 Muslim prayer room, and there are more than 85 Muslim courses in which “more than 7800” inmates are enrolled.

            Trofimov added that he and his Russian colleagues are currently studying the work of officials in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt and Iran concerning the “rehabilitation” of Islamic fundamentalists, including the plans of these countries to set up “centers for the rehabilitation of radicals.”

            The FSIN director’s report was delivered to an All-Russian Conference on Countering the Dissemination of Radicalism in Places of Detention, a meeting that its organizers put together because of three fears: the spread of radicalism among prisoners, the combination of religious fanaticism and ordinary crime, and high rates of recidism among prisoners (

            At the meeting, Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, laid particular stress on what he said was “the serious threat” that radicalism and ordinary criminality are “fusing” in ways that make countering both more difficult and require the joint efforts of state structures and civil society (

            Roman Silantyev, a specialist on Islam at the Moscow State Linguistics University, said that what is especially troubling is that there is now no good way to identify Islamist radicals who have been convicted of other crimes. He suggested that prosecutors or judges be required to note any radical ties of those they convict (

            Maksim Shevchenko, director of the Center for Strategic Research on Religion and Politics, argued that the best way to deal with extremists under detention is to “recognize them as political prisoners and keep them not in separate cells but in special institutions here the authorities could work” with them (

            And Anatoly Rudy, Trofimov’s deputy, said that the prison system has already adopted three strategies in dealing with the problem of the spread of radicalism in general and Islamism in particular. First, it has turned to representatives of traditional Islam to serve as instructrs.  Second, it has redoubled efforts to confiscate and destroy radical literature. And third, it has isolated “the most active” radicals.

            But other commentators, including Dzhannat Sergey Markus, a Muslim broadcaster, suggested that there is very little the authorities can really hope to achieve: the nature of imprisonment itself makes a turning to Islam even in its most radical forms an attractive option for those incarcerated, as international experience shows (

Friday, November 29, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russian Nationalism Can and Must Be Democratic, Krylov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 29 – If Russians regain their confidence in the future, one that involves more than sitting at home and watching television as the Putin regime wants them to, their nationalism can and must be democratic, tolerant, and European, according to the leader of that country’s unregistered National Democratic Party.

                In a wide-ranging interview with Yuri Solomonov, editor of “NG-Stsenarii, published this week, Konstantin Krylov discusses the history of Russian nationalism, the ways in which that movement has been distorted and misunderstood, and why a successful Russian nationalism must be both democratic and liberal (

            Krylov, who graduated from the philosophy faculty of Moscow State University, says that Russian nationalism “in the course of the last century arose several times,” and each time it was suppressed, a pattern that has distorted Russian nationalism and Russians’s understanding of nationalism.

            It arose in the years before the 1917 revolution, he continues, and “even had serious chances for victory during World War I, when the national revolutions had already swept through Eastern Europe.” But that positive development was broken off by the Bolsheviks who viewed Russian nationalism as an enemy.

            Indeed, after the revolution, there is no reason to speak about Russian nationalism at all. Stalin did not support it despite what many think.  The nature of his regime “excluded” that possibility.  “But in the 1960s, at the time of Khrushchev’s thaw, there appeared politically concerned citizens of liberal views.” 

            The circles they formed “could not but be anti-Soviet,” but tragically, it was also “infected by the most serious form of Russophobia,” not least of all as a result of KGB penetration. Instead of blaming Marxism and Soviet power for what had gone wrong, these people blamed the chief victim of the Soviet sytem, the ethnic Russian majority.

             That trend in intellectual circles was reinforced, Krylov says, by the Soviet stte which dealt with Russian dissents “much more harshly” than it did with liberals.  The “only well-known Russian dissent who was officially recognize as a Russian nationalist and who as a result won world-wide fame was Solzhenitsyn.”

            The current generation of Russian liberals has “completely inherited Russophobia as the foundation of its ideology. If an individual doesn’t show hatred to Russians, then he simply won’t be admitted to the ‘liberal’ club.” And Krylov continues, that is especially the case if he is himself an ethnic Russian.

            “As a result, these people strictl speaking have long ceased to be liberals and dmeocrats if they ever were.” They oppose genuine elections because the population might not vote their way since “they are sincerely convinced that the Russian people even two hundred years fom now will not become European.”

            “For them,” Krylov argues, “the Russians are ‘white Negroes,’ who will never become a civilized people.”

In reality, he continues, “the ‘non-European nature’ of Russia is explained by banal poverty and national oppression.” When people say you can’t compare Tuscany and Pskov, Krylov says, he wanted to respond: “Give Pskov Oblast as much money as Tuscany has and then compare the two.”

To say this is not to say that ethnic Russians do not have problems. “Happily, the Russian people is not an invalid. [Its] situation is better: the people have hands, [but unfortunately] they are tied up.”  What is “surprising,” Krylov continues, is that having been subject to state oppression “already 100 years, the people haven’t entirely lost their best qualities.”

The current government of the Russian Fedeation does not understand this reality, he says.  But “the current regime of administration is approaching its final stage.”  At the strt of the Putin era, “the population was offered some inspiring” if not especially clever” ideas, “but now there is only one idea left.”

In simplest terms, this idea can be expressed by the slogan “One must sit at home!” in front of the television tuned to the First Chanel with a bottle of beer.” That is all the Putin regime offers Russians now, Krylov says.

To understand where the Russian national movement is now, he argues, one must understand the history of “the ‘Russian party’ of Soviet times,” a group that is commonly assumed to have been nationalist but in fact was simply an effort by the authorities to redirect protest attitudes that it couldn’t suppress. 

That should be obvious, Krylov says, because “for a Russian nationalist to be a Stalinist” is just as “impossible” as for Jews to be for Hitler, but the Soviets and the liberals succeeded in presenting Russian nationalism as exactly that kind of combination, completely ignoring the fact that “nationalism arises when people begin to distinguish the nation and the state.”

            Krylov argues that Russian nationalists can and must be democratic because the overwhelming majority of the country consists of Russians.  Supporting a dictatorship is “a breeding ground for aggressive minorities” or for those who are without hope.  Russians who support a dictatorship do so because they want everyone to live equally badly.

            “Russians must be free, rich and have power in their own country,” Krylov says.  And everyone needs to recognize that this does not mean that they will ignore the rights of minorities. No one benefits from that. Indeed, he concludes, those Russians who do oppress minorities hurt themselves in the first instance.