Monday, February 28, 2005

Comparing a five-kopeck coin to a salted cucumber

Masha Gessen’s column in The Moscow Times was devoted to yet another pathetic attempt of pro-government activists to start yet another youth organization – a real ‘blue baby’ as an obstetrician would say. There’s really not much to write about if not for a little scandal that involves dipping into dirty snow Ilya Yashin, the leader of liberal Yabloko party’s blue baby. The base to Masha’s emotionally charged accusations is the first passage of the story:
Imagine for a minute that in some country other than Russia -- say, in the
United States, or in Britain -- there appeared a political organization that
called itself "Us." Not U.S. as in the United States, not Us as in Us Magazine,
but Us as in "us vs. them." Imagine further that this is an organization that
supports, and is evidently supported by, the country's current government. Now
imagine the hue and cry, the outrage of all the righteous people who argue that
an organization that openly divides its own country into those who are "us" and
those who are "them" is despicable -- and a government that supports and even
inspires the use of the rhetoric of war against its own citizens is
I don’t find any ‘rhetoric of war’ in the word ‘nashi’ (‘us’). It’s more like: we’re fans of Dinamo soccer team – we’re ‘nashi’ vs. fans of Spartak. Or cosmonauts are ‘nashi’ vs. astronauts are Americans. Masha’s interpretation of the word is far-fetched for any Russian native speaker.
I’m sure when an American reader would imagine for a minute that in the US there appeared such a political organization, she or he would be terrified and shocked but I don’t find any sound ground for comparing Russia with the US. What was the reason? Do they belong to the same culture? Perhaps both countries are equal economically? Or they are equal democratically? Or citizens of the US like to compare themselves to Russians? Or vice versa? There’s a good old Russian saying: “Don’t compare a five-kopeck coin to a salted cucumber”. Or better: “Сравнил жопу с пальцем!”
Masha’s story looses all its pathos if only we compare Russia with ‘comparable’ countries. “Imagine for a moment that in some country other than Russia – say, in Burma, or in Venezuela, or in Brazil, or in Ukraine…” The most obvious answer to this call is “So what?”

Sunday, February 27, 2005

New Pankratov's Article

Here's a new article by Pankratov "Absolute Ass-lund". No one writes better better about 'Harvard androids' specializing in Russia.
Kirill Pankratov is one of my favorite analysts writing about Russian affairs as viewed by Russians. The fact that he's not a professional analyst but, as far as I know, a researcher in physics, only make his articles better. He is a guy not poisoned by any kind of ideology - communist or liberal democratic. Just common sense and the ability to think logically.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Izvestia's coverage of Beslan

Neeka blogging from Neeka’s Backlog wrote: “Sadly, Izvestia's previous editor, Raf Shakirov, was forced to resign in September 2004, after devoting the whole P1 to a huge photo of the horror in Beslan.” I read Neeka’s blog and I really like it but in case with this remark I think Neeka, being a journalist herself albeit a young one, had to give more consideration to the matter. Fist, she had to see these photographs personally. Second, she had to ask the opinion of the journalists who worked with Raf (aka ‘Mini Hitler’) at Izvestia. For all my friends who work at Izvestia the day of Rafik’s resignation is like another birthday of the newspaper. Sadly, too many professionals were forced out during that period.
Although a lot of American and European newspapers mentioned these photographs they never published them. There is a good reason behind the decision. Such photos by all formal standards are considered child pornography. In the US and many European countries simply keeping these photos at a computer’s hard drive would be enough to be accused of pedophilia. Maybe photos with naked boys and girls are considered porn only when children are alive? Maybe if they are dead and mutilated it’s ok? I don’t think so.
Needless to say Raf didn’t care that the parents were strongly against publishing the photos. Raf's obsession with publishing photos with severed heads and hands, intestines, splashed brains has nothing to do with journalism.
Last but not least. Izvestia is an independent newspaper and has nothing to do with the state. Raf was fired not by Putin but by Potanin. I were the owner of Izvestia I would do the same.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

What's the problem with Russians? We are not Greenskins.

I always notice that Europeans and Americans are so tactful and considerate when they make generalizations about culture and lifestyles of different races or nations. Somehow Russians are treated differently. There is a simple acid test. When reading about Russia and Russians replace the word “Russian” with “Jew” or “Arab” or “African”. How about phrases like these – “Jews are not ready for democracy”, “Afro-Americans are lazy because they were slaves for so long”, “Japanese really don’t want to be free because they still long to be ruled by a good emperor”, “Ages of opium smoking (meaning vodka drinking) made Chinese unpredictably aggressive”, “Should we believe that Indians want to be the part of the Western civilization?”, “Expansionism is in the Arab DNA”. All these phrases sound very racist. Considerate and educated people never dare to say anything like this even if they do believe in it. It’s taboo. Anyway such generalizations are quite permissible when it comes to discussing Russians. Why?
I believe the answer is simple – because Russians are not Greenskins. If Russians had distinct greenish color of the skin things would be different. For example, Latvia and Estonia would have a lot of problems – why residents with green skin are not allowed to vote and are considered aliens? When black people in South Africa were considered ‘non citizens’ that was called apartheid? Why do you discriminate Greenskins? Nobody would ask stupid questions like should we treat Greenskins as Europeans? Do greenskins belong to the Western civilization? In cultural terms Greenskins are as different from Europeans as Chinese or Indians. Now for many Americans it would be racist to say that Russians are rude because they don’t smile or Russians like to wear black clothes because they are not free. Greenskins don’t smile for the very same reason why Afro-American don’t smile. Greenskins like dark clothes for the very same reason why Japanese like kimonos. If you feel like you’re a social anthropologist you can mark cultural peculiarities of Greenskins’ way of life but you are not supposed to generalize about its causes, like vodka, oppression, barbarism, lack of education, slavishness, bad DNA, xenophobia, hate of freedom, filthiness, etc.
I have a good advice for ex-pat Americans who are blogging from Russia of how mad they are about those horrible Russians and their terrible lifestyles. Try to imagine that people around you are actually Chinese (or Greenskins) and you will feel much better.
So far Russians do have problems because they are treated like ill-bred and ill-mannered Europeans. “Russians are exactly like we are, but they are not well educated and are not taught good manners, because of Communists (slavery, vodka, xenophobia, aggressiveness, rudeness, etc.) Teach them manners and soon they become exemplary members of the Western civilization. Forget about it, guys! Greenskin civilization is a distinct civilization of itself.

Friday, February 18, 2005

What Putin did wrong in Yukos case

More news from the revolutionary Ukraine. The BBC News reports: Ukraine revisits state sell-offs.

The new President, Viktor Yushchenko, has said a "limited" list of companies is
being drawn up. But on Wednesday Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said the
government was planning to renationalize 3,000 firms. The government says many
privatized firms were sold to allies of the last administration at rock-bottom
One of the jilted bidders, Netherlands-based group LNM, said it
welcomed the possibility that the mill might be back on the market. "If the
original privatization is annulled and a new tender issued, then we would look
at it with great interest," a spokesman told BBC News.

Now I don’t get it. It took Putin two years to renationalize Yukos because he wanted the process to be (or to look) formally legal and justified. Actually it wasn’t too difficult as Yukos most probably took a crash course at Enron on how to “optimize” taxes using thousands of faked oil traders. At the same time Yukos was given to Khororkovsky in 1996 through ‘loans for shares’ scheme that was (and is) totally illegal. That was a 100% robbery of the state property covered by Yeltsin. In comparison Krivorizhstal was (at least formally) privatized legally. Now what’s wrong with foreign investors? In case with Yukos they are outraged but in case with Krivorizhstal they are happy. Next time when Putin wants to nationalize another big fat oil company he has to wear an orange scarf and bring a crowd of students. No need for fig-leaves like laws.
Probably the “revolutionary” governments are judged by other standards. It looks like Europe and the US love democracy so much that they are content to give revolutionary troops three days to pillage the city as long as they are “democratic”. Maxim Sokolov was right when he said that every revolution (American, French, communist or anti-communists) after the victory starts with “privatizing” property of evil counter-revolutionaries (Brits, aristocracy, Jews, communists). And only when the revolutionary troops bring back property stolen by the previous government to their heats’ content they decide that it’s time to switch from the laws of revolution to ordinary laws.
That’s where Putin went wrong. He and Yeltsin made a grave mistake. In 2000 Boris had to fire Putin and name some disgusting, unpopular, sleazy and thievish guy as his beloved successor. Mr. Berezovsky could play that role perfectly. Of course, Mr.Berezovsky had to “win” the elections in the second round. Then the process goes by a traditional scenario. The Birch Revolution wins and Putin, being proclaimed by all democracy loving nations as a true democrat, can announce next day that Yukos, Sibneft, Norilsky Nikel, Severstal and a thousand of other companies are renationalized. That’s simple. Unfortunately Putin wasn’t that smart enough in 2000. Actually not everything is lost yet. New presidential elections are due in 2008.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Dividing Chechnya into several parts?

Andy posted some interesting thoughts about my remarks about peaceful solutions for Chechnya. I have to comment about the idea of dividing Chechnya into several states.

Chechens often say: “I’m with Chechnya against Russia. I’m with my teip against
Chechnya. I’m with my family against my teip. I’m with my brother against my
family. I’m against my brother.”
Is it possible to bring peace to Chechnya by dividing it into several parts? I don’t think so. The structure of the Chechen society doesn’t permit establishing a stable nation state in the present-day meaning of the word. Modern nation states are characterized by more stability inside its borders in comparison with more unstable relations with outside neighbors. The US and Mexico can live as perfect states side by side but making Mexico a new state would bring too much chaos. The Chechen society consists of several mighty clans that include more than a hundred teips. And every teip in its own turn can include hundreds of families. The most stable element in the Chechen society is teip but it’s unimaginable to establish a hundred independent countries each averaging from 500 to 40 000 people. It’s unimaginable in the modern world but only two hundreds years ago two thirds of the world’s population was living that way. The Medieval Europe was nothing but a bunch of such “countries” and that was quite natural. Present-day Afghanistan is nothing but a loose “union” of dozens of different clans with a symbolic president at the head. (Does anyone really believe in democratic elections in Afghanistan?) The same could be said about many African countries.
In the times of the USSR Chechnya was also such a “union” of family clans but they managed to keep stability. The Soviet officials turned the blind eye on this as long as Chechens pretended to follow all Soviet rituals. Chechens pretended to be exemplary Soviet citizens and Moscow pretended they didn’t notice that Chechnya was ruled according to medieval laws of the mountains. The first Chechen War (1994-1996) destroyed this culture when, for example, elders of the clan were supreme judge or when vendettas were mostly settled by negotiations. I strongly doubt that old traditions would return to Chechnya. So the old medieval system of checks and balances between clans is non-existent, but stability could be found only within any given clan. There’s no way to build a nation state out of Chechnya and there’s also no way to make an Afghanistan-type “union”. Chechnya de facto independance in 1996-1999 proved it without doubt.
No hope. No future. No light at the end of the tunnel.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Agenda for Peace Negotiations in Chechnya?

‘The Christian Science Monitor’ published an article “Calm before the Chechen storm?
Rebels urge Russia to peace talks before Feb. 22 cease-fire deadline” by Fred Weir. The usual stuff about Chechnya:

“Few see much hope of ending the Chechen war, now well into its sixth year,
unless there is a political breakthrough that sees the Kremlin, the separatist
rebels, and pro-Moscow Chechen forces sit down together to seek a settlement.
<…> "If our Kremlin opponents are reasonable, this war will end at the
negotiating table," he told the Moscow daily Kommersant, in a rare interview
published Monday. "If not, blood will continue to be spilled for a long time but
we will reject any moral responsibility for this continued madness." <…>
Mr. Basayev declared: "We are planning more Beslan-type operations in future
because we are forced to do so."

Now there is just one question that is never (!) discussed in articles like that – what should be the agenda of the peace negotiations everyone is forcing the Russian government into? Ok. Maskhadov and Putin sit down together at the negotiation table. The goal is clear and simple – to stop the war. Now I would like to think consider different scenarios that would help to reach this goal.
1. Remove all troops and make Chechnya independent. Will this bring peace? First, if we believe that in Chechnya there are different fractions of separatists, like ‘moderate’ Maskhadov and ‘radical’ Basayev then it’s evident that they will start a war between each other. That’s simply because ‘democratic’ Maskhadov should arrest Basayev to try him for his terrorist attacks in Beslan and Dubrovka (Moscow)? Or wouldn’t he? If Maskhadov leaves Basayev and his bandits in peace then it could only mean that he supports the worst forms of terrorism when innocent children are murdered in the name of “freedom”? Will Basayev surrender himself when Russian troops leave? Or commit a suicide? Or becomes a monk? I doubt it strongly. The most obvious answer – Basayev will try to get power and make Chechnya a fundamentalist Islam “republic” – a safe heaven for bin Laden and al Quada. So, a new bloody war will start. Second, will Kadyrov clan agree to pass the power in Chechnya to Maskhadov? No matter what newspapers say, the Kadyrovs is not just a group of pro-Kremlin collaborators. It’s a very big clan that includes hundreds of families related to each other. During the first Chechnya war (1994-1996) the Russian government didn’t want any clan to rule Chechnya. This time they changed their minds. What does it mean? There will be another war – between Kadyrov clan and Maskhadov clan (or clans) – and against Basayev bandits as well.
2. Chechnya stays within Russian borders and gets a lot of autonomy. Maskhadov always says that it’s absolutely unacceptable but let’s imagine that he compromises. So what? Chechnya already has a lot of autonomy, like no other region in the RF. The only difference is that this autonomy is enjoyed only by Kadyrov clan and they will never ever surrender. The moment Maskhadov becomes the head of Chechnya, Kadyrov’s guys turn into “freedom fighters”. Next moment the journalists from the CSM would demand that Putin should start peace negotiations with 'moderate' Kadyrov to stop the war. Is it possible that Maskhadov and Kadyrov make peace? The answer is – never ever. The only peaceful solution in this case means dividing region into something like Eastern Chechnya (Kadyrov), Western Chechnya (Maskhadov) and Northern Chechnya (to the North of the Terek River) that is strongly against both guys.
Not matter how responsible Chechen negotiators will be they will never manage to pacify terrorists, disarm fundamentalists, and guarantee the security of Chechnya regions. In 1996 Maskhadov promised that from now on Chechnya would be an example of peace and stability. Two years later it became the second largest (after Afghanistan) terrorists training center.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Who poisoned Yushchenko?

Who was interested in poisoning Yushchenko? This is the wrong question. An interest in poisoning Yushchenko can only have some kind of a manic who finds special pleasure in poisoning people. The better question is ‘Who was interested in poisoning Yushchenko to death?’ This way we can speculate about motives of Kuchma or Yanukovich or Putin but again this question is not quite correct. It’s not correct to ask it first because Yushchenko is not dead but alive.
When we try to think logically we should start from the status quo. Today the President of Ukraine is an ill and suffering from poison man who most probably would spend months in different European and American clinic. This way the first question should be: “Who was interested to make Yushchenko an ill and physically weak person?” And only when we find no reasonable answers to this question can we say: “What if the aim of poisoning was not making Yushchenko sick? What if conspirators wanted to kill Yushchenko but he survived? Who was interested in his death?”
As far as I can see all journalists, politicians, analysts and experts ask only the second question and give no attention to the first one as if there could be absolutely no people interested in weak but alive President. The answer is simple – it’s Yulia Timoshenko. She already gained a lot from Yushchenko sickness and she will definitely gain much more:
1. Poisoning made Yushchenko a martyr and helped him get more votes.
2. Poisoning made Yushchenko weak and he had to rely on Timoshenko who made most important decisions during the election campaign.
3. Timoshenko became a VP and with a wick and sick President she gets all the presidential powers while the President himself will spend months abroad.
Yulia Timoshenko already showed that she doesn’t like to be anyone’s sidekick. She will not be satisfied until she gets all the power.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Common Sense and FSB Conspiracy

On February, 2 ‘The Guardian’ published an article ‘Asylum decision suggests that US patience with Putin is wearing thin’ by Simon Tisdall. The US granted granted political asylum to Alyona Morozov last month. “Ms Morozov accused Russia's secret services of involvement in a series of apartment block bombings in Moscow and elsewhere in September 1999 which killed 246 people. <…> Chechen separatists were officially blamed for the attacks. <…> The independent television station NTV reported on the eve of the March 2000 election that police had detected FSB agents allegedly planting another bomb in apartments in Ryazan two weeks after the attacks. <…> The FSB claimed its agents were conducting a security exercise.”
Now what surprises me in such accusations is the lack of reality check. I read about this FSB conspiracy dozens of times and I know a lot of people who sincerely believe in the secret plot and dismiss the idea about a security exercise.
OK, let us imagine a situation like this. A flight school at a god-forgotten American town, like Wichita, Kansas. September, 25, 2000 – two weeks after 9/11. A couple of Arabs with Saudi passports show up at a local flight school and say: “We wanna learn to take off and to fly a Boeing. We don’t need to learn how to land.” So guys from the flight school immediately call 911 and police officers promptly discover that the “Arabs” are actually FBI agents from local Wichita station who on their own initiative conduct a ‘security exercise’ to learn if citizens are alert enough. Now there are two possible conclusions to be made from this story: (1) 9/11 is an FBI plot to boost the popularity of George Bush or (2) FBI agents in Wichita, KS are morons. I personally think that the second conclusion is more probable. Somehow in case with FSB agents in Ryazan common sense doesn’t work.
I remember quite well what was the general atmosphere in Russia after Moscow and Volgodonsk apartment bombings. To say that people all over the country were paranoid and hysterical is to say nothing. Residents organized into patrols that 24 hours a day surveyed all cars close to their buildings, they checked id’s of everyone who entered and left their building. Above all – sacks with sugar was a taboo. Police was doing nothing but responding to hundreds of calls about suspicious people carrying sacks with sugar. Although in Russia a sack is the most popular bulk package for sugar, wholesalers started packing sugar into boxes.
So in the midst of this paranoia a car stops at an apartment building in Ryazan about fifty feet away from a patrol of alert citizens. The number plates of the car are ‘disguised’ by sheets of paper. Two suspiciously looking guys and a woman wearing ‘hijab’ (!) get out of the car and start doing what? Right! Unloading sacks with sugar into the basement of the building… The police soon discovered that the car belong to the local FSB station and ‘terrorists’ are actually Ryazan locals hired for this ‘special case’. FSB Chief Patrushev said that ‘citizens’ alertness check’ was an initiative of Ryazan FSB station that wasn’t exactly ‘smart’. The fact that inside sacks there was sugar with hexogen only says that Ryazan FSB officers are not just morons but big time morons.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Leo Tolstoy and Chechnya War

On January, 29 Financial Times published an article by Michael Church ‘A Thistle in Russia’s Side’. The author reviews a book called ‘The Russian Conquest of the Caucasus’, by English journalist John F. Baddeley that was written a 100 years ago and finds a lot of similarities between Chechen-Russian wars of the 19th century and modern day Chechnya conflict. I don’t want to analyze this article as it strikes me as very shallow and biased but there is one passage there that is worth special attention.
Mr. Church writes about a famous story by Leo Tolstoy ‘Hadji Murat’: “Tolstoy's heart was with the ordinary Chechens… He lets us get to know the inhabitants and breathe the peaceful air of a Chechen village, then shows what the Russians do in a morning of carefree violence with fire, bayonet, and gun: they also make a point of fouling the mosque. The survivors, writes Tolstoy, "experienced feelings stronger than hatred. It was the refusal to recognise these Russian dogs as people. And the desire for their destruction, like the desire for the destruction of rats, poisonous spiders and wolves, was just as natural a feeling as the feeling of self-preservation."
This is the sixth time when I find this passage about ‘Russian as dogs and rats’ in articles and books about Chechnya and every time the author, who cites these words, uses them as an example that Tolstoy liked and felt sympathy towards Chechens. This is rightly so but exactly here in ‘Hadji Murat’ Tolstoy uses these words to illustrate the idea – the moment Chechens started feeling that killing Russians is the same as killing rats or poisonous spiders, they committed moral suicide. They become rats and spiders themselves. They loose the right to be named humans.
I would like to stress it again – Tolstoy was a true Christian and he is known not only for his great novels but also for his belief in non-violence when facing oppression. Tolstoy’s ‘Hadji Murat’ is actually a story of how a person starts believing that all Russians are dogs and then how he gradually becomes a dog himself.
This idea in ‘Hadji Murat’ is so simple that I wonder why journalists like Michael Church do not recognize it. Just make a simple acid test: replace words ‘Russians’ with ‘Jews’ and ‘Chechens’ with ‘Palestinians’. How about this passage: “After what the Israeli Army did in the Palestinian refugee camp X. the survivors experienced feelings stronger than hatred. It was the refusal to recognise these Jewish dogs as people.” Sounds disgusting, doesn’t it?
“Did Vladimir Putin not read Hadji Murat at school? It's not too late”, - writes Mr. Church but I would recommend Mr. Church to read Hadji Murat himself. If he reads it with open eyes and mind not biased by russophobic ideas he would realize that Beslan was not a tragic exception but quite a predictable episode. The moment you start treating people of any nationality – no matter if they are Chechens, Russians, Jews or Navajos – as dogs and spiders, you become a moral corpse, a zombie that can only kill, kill and kill.