Archive for May, 2009


Nationalists: the unknown Russian third way

APTOPIX RUSSIA NATIONALIST MARCHNationalists in Russia are more influent than in any other country in the world.  If the current government is often depicted as nationalist and many Russia United are true and strong nationalists, hardcore nationalists are currently allied to Gary Kasparov’s liberal United Civil Front.

What the ????? Well, from a western point of view, it is totally irrelevant and to some extent scandalous. But Kasparov is a fine strategist and knows better about Russian political reality.

His liberal/democratic party can’t face by itself the strong United Russia. He needed to create a broad coalition, which might not make sense for US journalists, but which gives all of these parties a way to express what they have in common: a denunciation of Putin’s politics.


I have pasted below an article from the Independant, depicting Russian hardline nationalists and their leader Aleexander Belov:

There have been a number of threats to Russia’s security in recent years, from Chechen terrorism to the country’s worrying demographic decline. But according to sources close to the Russian security services, what the authorities fear most in these times of economic crisis is the very thing that many Russians see as the country’s saviour – nationalism. Amid a dizzying array of May Day marches, featuring various groups from across the political spectrum, all eyes were on the nationalists. They gathered around a metro station in north Moscow, as well as in other cities across the country, calling for all immigrants to be deported and a “Russia for the Russians”. In the event, the Moscow meeting passed off peacefully; police arrested a few demonstrators for the possession of knives, and the rest dispersed without incident. But with a huge migrant population, poverty and unemployment among locals, and with the high oil prices that fuelled the economic boom of the past few years a fast-receding memory, many feel the time for Russia’s nationalists to take the political initiative is coming soon. Then there’s Alexander Belov, Moscow’s answer to the BNP’s Nick Griffin. Dressed in a sharp black suit, the light of a Bluetooth receptor constantly winking over his left ear, he fingers a set of Orthodox Christian prayer beads and sips a freshly squeezed orange juice, looking like one of the thousands of well-to-do businessmen who have made decent money as Russia boomed over the past decade. But as well as being successful in the construction industry, Mr Belov is also Russia’s most famous racist. He believes that the time for the nationalists to take the limelight is coming soon. “What I want is very simple,” he says, in a quiet and measured voice. “I don’t want parts of Moscow to be ghettos. This city is already full of places where Russians aren’t welcome, and it’s unacceptable. This is a Russian city and should remain that way.” An erudite and self-assured man who heads a group of skinheads with a reputation for violence, he leads the Movement Against Illegal Immigration – the DPNI, as it’s known by its Russian initials – one of Russia’s largest far-right groups. One of its main policies is that Russia should introduce a visa regime for migrants from the former Soviet republics, sending most of the millions of Gastarbeiters (Russians use the German term to refer to guest-workers) back home. Talking to Mr Belov and his DPNI associates is alarming. One minute they are complaining that the Russian government is corrupt, and that under Vladimir Putin civil society has been muffled and the people should be given more chance to express their democratic will (words that could come straight from the mouths of liberal opposition politicians such as the former chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov). The next minute, they are suddenly talking about cleansing Moscow of anyone who doesn’t have white skin, and ranking races according to their “cultural level”. “Migrants should only be allowed if they are in the interests of society; if they have a particular skill that no locals possess, which is very unusual,” says Viktor Yakushev, a giant man with a shaven head, who claims to have two higher degrees and is the DPNI’s chief ideologue. “There’s no denying the fact that different races have different cultural levels. You just have to look at how many black people are in prison in America, and that’s after all these years of positive discrimination. Here, take Azerbaijan, for example, from where we have a lot of migrants. The society is feudal. They are unsophisticated people; they don’t understand European civilisation.” The rhetoric is unpleasant, but it finds resonance among great swathes of Russian society, which is notoriously racist towards anyone with non-Slavic features. These xenophobic leanings can manifest themselves in an ugly and tasteless way, such as the tanning salons that employ African students to stand outside wearing grass skirts and holding signs that read: “I got my tan here.” There is also a more sinister side to Russian racism, as evidenced by the multitude of attacks on immigrants in Moscow and across Russia. According to Alexander Brod, the director of the Moscow Bureau of Human Rights and one of Russia’s leading anti-racism campaigners, racist attacks have risen fourfold in the past five years, and may increase more sharply as the economic crisis deepens. His organisation monitors hate crimes in the country, keeping a log on its website that makes for scary reading. For one randomly selected week in April, the data shows that a Tajik citizen was murdered, citizens of Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan were attacked, graves were vandalised at a Jewish cemetery, and a swastika was found freshly painted on to the wall of an apartment block. In 2008, there were 293 racist attacks, according to official statistics, including 122 deaths, but as Mr Brod points out, those that make it to the record are just the tip of the iceberg. Given that many migrant workers are in Russia illegally, they are afraid to report attacks, and indeed many see the police as more of a threat than the skinheads. Nobody knows how many attacks there really are, but most immigrants have stories of being threatened, at the very least, during their time in Russia. Russia has more than 10 million immigrants by some estimates, giving it the second-largest immigrant population in the world, after the United States. Most of them are from the impoverished former Soviet republics of central Asia and the Caucasus, who come to Russia to earn cash to send to their families back home. Now, with the financial crisis bringing Russia’s economic boom to a grinding halt, hundreds of thousands of migrant labourers who were the engine behind the construction frenzy that overtook Moscow and other Russian cities find themselves out of work. At the same time, unemployment and anger are on the rise among ethnic Russians. Analysts say it could be a dangerous combination, and people such as Mr Belov believe their moment is nigh. He has come to the interview straight from a hearing in a court case, where he stands accused of inciting racial hatred and faces up to a year and a half in prison if convicted. It seems to be one of many signs that the Russian authorities, who for a long time have at the very least turned a blind eye to nationalist movements, are beginning to get worried. Whereas the DPNI and groups such as the Slavic Union used to have powerful backers among members of Russia’s Duma, and according to rumours, even within the presidential administration, it now seems that the word has gone out that the nationalists should be muffled. While nationalist posturing towards the West and Nato is a mainstay of Russian foreign policy, there is now a growing realisation that nationalism within the country could be a dangerous force if it gets out of control. “There is mass unemployment in the country, and the economic crisis is getting worse,” Mr Belov says. “The authorities are scared of people who find a common language with the masses and tell the truth.” He claims that he preaches an ideology of non-violence: “By trying to sideline me, they will only promote a real wave of violence,” he says. “I’ve heard from sources in the Moscow FSB [Federal Security Service] that they have been told that in this time of economic crisis, nationalism is a bigger threat to national security than terrorism,” says Andrei Soldatov, one of the leading experts on the Russian security services. A recent mockumentary film called Russia 88, which so far has failed to find a cinema chain in Russia willing to show it, highlights the issue. Shot using grainy footage from handheld cameras, the film follows a group of Russian skinheads as they beat up immigrants in the metro and on the street. The skinheads are played by actors, says the director, Pavel Bardin, but all the neo-Nazi clothing and paraphernalia was bought from real Russian online shops, many of the words are taken from internet forums, and the on-street vox pop, where many people are seen voicing racist statements and declaring that “Russia is for the Russians”, is real. While genuine neo-Nazis will remain on the periphery and never gain widespread popularity in a country that still feels immense pride in its role in the defeat of fascism during the Second World War, the casual racism and hatred of immigrants that could provoke a nationalist uprising are certainly there in abundance. Indeed, some surveys show that up to 60 per cent of Russians agree with the slogan “Russia for the Russians”, the catchphrase of Russian nationalists. “There is no legal way for people to express their dislike for immigrants,” Mr Yakushev says. “This means there will be increasing street violence. There will be killings and bombs.” The latest attempts by the authorities to silence people like Mr Belov are overdue, but are unlikely to be effective, rights campaigners say. “Racism is like a dragon, where you cut off one head and another simply grows back in its place,” Mr Brod says. “The authorities are trying to fight xenophobia with punitive measures, but the only way to do it properly is to combine this with solutions to the root causes of nationalism – poverty, unemployment, and young people who have no prospects.”


Gay rights in Russia!!!

gayA very interesting article about gay rights in Russia… Not much to comment about. A sad reality.

I’ll write a post soon about these nationalists who are quite powerful, and strangely enough allied to the pro-western liberal Kasparov. To be continued…


United Russia can’t trust its own people anymore

ph2009042602855Who said that Putin’s United Russia was a mockery of democracy? Certainly not Anton Chumachenko, a first time party’s running candidate who denied … his own victory!!!

I’m an old man. I’ve seen many elections, many decent politicians, but I have to admit this is the first time I ever witness such an example of political integrity. But the kid is young, only 23, and he has plenty of time to learn political cynism…

It is funny though it appears in Putin’s very party and I’m sure some folks at the Kremlin did not appreciate this move which dramatically ennlightens government  electoral manipulations.

Chumachenko does not care. “I don’t want to begin my political career with a cynical mockery of rights, laws and morality”, he said after denying his own victory at a local legislative election in St-Petersburg.

Please find below extracts of a Washington Post article about this story:

ST. PETERSBURG — In a country where complaints of vote-rigging are common — and commonly ignored — Anton Chumachenko’s stands out: The authorities say he won an election, but he insists he lost.

A first-time candidate for office and a member of Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party, Chumachenko won a seat on a local legislative council in St. Petersburg last month. Three weeks later, he publicly renounced his own victory, expressing disgust that votes had been falsified in his favor.

“I don’t need this kind of victory!” the recent college graduate wrote in an open letter to residents. “I don’t want to begin my political career with a cynical mockery of rights, laws and morality.”

Chumachenko’s stand took authorities by surprise and caused an uproar, challenging the nation’s crooked electoral system in a way no member of the opposition could. But it also stunned the government’s critics, many of whom could hardly believe that a young man who came of age in Putin’s Russia might choose idealism over the cynicism that pervades politics here today.

Chumachenko, a mid-level manager in a local hotel firm, seemed like a reliable United Russia man when he began campaigning for a seat on the municipal council of St. Petersburg’s Morskoy district. He had been a member of the party since 2006, when he joined its fiercely pro-Kremlin youth wing, the Young Guard, and he was running on a ticket with four other United Russia candidates.

In a recent interview, he exhibited that youthful mix of earnestness and ambition so familiar in official Washington. The skinny 23-year-old with thick, arched eyebrows, a dark two-button suit and a degree in public relations said it was a “childhood dream” to seek office, adding that he hoped to fix roads, organize street patrols to fight crime and make St. Petersburg a more attractive tourist destination.

As for his selection of a political party, Chumachenko said he didn’t have much choice. “I understood that only this political party would give me the power and opportunities to change things,” he said. “If I worked with any other party, it would be just words, and I think it’s better to do something than just criticize.”

A Work in Progress

As president and now as prime minister, Putin has worked to weaken Russia’s opposition parties while concentrating power in United Russia, whose members hold the vast majority of the nation’s elected posts, including more than two-thirds of the seats in parliament.

But the ruling party established in 2001 remains a work in progress. It has struggled in particular to contain infighting in municipal elections, one of the few remaining venues for open political competition in Russia.

In St. Petersburg, for example, Chumachenko’s ticket was backed by a prominent city legislator, while its main competition in the March 1 election was another United Russia team endorsed by the Morskoy district chief. There was also a slate of opposition and independent candidates campaigning against government plans to build a highway and port in the neighborhood, which lies on an island in the Neva River.

The hotly contested race produced a high turnout, exceeding 35 percent of the voters in some areas, compared with about 10 percent in past years. Each slate of candidates sent observers to the polling stations to watch as residents cast ballots and election workers counted them.

At the end of the night, after the observers called in results, Chumachenko added the figures and realized he had lost, placing sixth in a race in which the top five vote-getters won seats. The four others on his United Russia ticket prevailed, along with one of the opposition candidates, Boris Vishnevsky, a leader of the pro-democracy Yabloko party.


Putin and the FSB: Big brother is Watching you

fsb-bw1I consider the Putin/FSB relation as one of the most interesting myths of today’s Russia.

I guess this show the great charisma of Putin who has been able to make believe to the whole world that he heads and perfectly controls the scariest organization: the FSB (formerly known as the even scarier KGB)

 As any myth, it is  very convenient to give a single globalizing explanation to situations that can hardly be linked to each others.

Let me explain my point. I’ve lived in Russia for years and I tend to believe that the FSB power is highly over-rated in Western medias.

It reminds me a bit of the last years of the soviet era, when American journalists and politicians scared the hell out of Americans on Soviet stength and military greatness. It took them years to realize that the so-called military greatness was nothing but a “paper tiger” as would Mao say.

I believe that today’s FSB is a little bit in this type of situation. They undoubtedly have a great know-how in intellligence and “counter-terrorism” technics.

But let be honnest, they have very little means and therefore they are unable to realize the huge and disgusting work the KGB did under Stalin’s rule.

Moreover, it is also very convennient to believe that Putin perfectly controls the FSB. As in any organization, there are struggles and tensions among the FSB.

People like Sechin for instance also have a huge influence among FSB top officials. Greater than Putin’s? I don’t think so, but great enough to be able to send contradictory messages and orders.