Thursday, August 17, 2017

‘Crimea is Ours but Novosibirsk Oblast Maybe Not So Much,’ Some Russians Fear



Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 17 – Journalists often refer to August as “the silly season” because stories that wouldn’t normally pass muster are published in the absence of other news, but sometimes these otherwise neglected stories can at least in part shed light on larger issues and thus deserve attention.

            For the last week, the Russian media, electronic and otherwise, has been filled with stories about the drying out of a lake on the Russian-Kazakhstan border, with  some saying that Moscow has ceded a few hectares of territory to Astana, others denying that, and still others saying everything will return to normal when the rainy season come again.

            Among them are those at kasparov.ru/material.php?id=599475D40AEBD, ej.ru/?a=note&id=31452, and  regnum.ru/news/society/2310718.html). But far and away the most comprehensive is a report by Novosibirsk journalist Pyotr Manyakin (meduza.io/feature/2017/08/17/gde-nahoditsya-granitsa-nikto-ne-ponimaet).

            Last Thursday, local Russian officials on the border posted online a report saying that the drying out of Lake Sladkoye on the Russian-Kazakhstan border meant that as of now, it is completely part of the territory of Kazakhstan. But the notion that Russia had ceded any land to anyone was so abhorrent that soon that statement was taken down and disowned.

            But not quickly enough to avoid sparking controversy. More senior Russian officials denied that any transfer had occurred. However, the FSB made it worse by issuing a statement saying that the lake had been divided between the two countries earlier. That of course implied that any change in the waterline would change the border.

            Kazakhstan’s embassy in Moscow insisted that there had been no change in the border, but then Russia’s natural resources minister Sergey Donskoy said that everything would go back to normal when the lake fills up with new rain water, again implying but not saying that the border had somehow been shifted.

            Russia and Kazakhstan have been working on the demarcation of their border since 2005, and Russians are sensitive to any “gift” of Russian land to anyone, especially after Moscow ceded several hundred hectares to China a few years ago.  But the present case highlights something that few recognize.

            Unlike most countries, Russia in many cases still defines its borders external and internal not by designating lines from one point defined by latitude and longitude to another point similarly defined but rather in terms of named objects and their size, thus opening the way to disputes if the size of a body of water shifts.

            Over the last two decades, Moscow has moved from this traditional way to the more internationally accepted one; but people who live along borders often still think in terms of mountains, lakes or rivers rather than latitude and longitude. That appears to be what has happened in this case.

            But post-Soviet borders remain so sensitive to Russians for other reasons as well, including the unhappiness of many of them with the demise of the USSR and the rise of real borders where there were once unimportant administrative ones that any such report can be counted on to generate controversy.

            Indeed, as one Russian politician, Dmitry Gudkov, put it on his Facebook page, “Crimea is ours but Novosibirsk already isn’t so much. Lake Sladkoye had been in Russia but now it has become part of Kazakhstan,” leading him to ask why there isn’t even more anger in Moscow about this (facebook.com/dgudkov/posts/1647452328629534).

‘There was Always Toilet Paper in the Soviet Union but Only for the Privileged’



Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 17 – Many foreigners and indeed many Russians believe to this day that there was no toilet paper in the USSR until sometime near the end of that state, but in fact, as a debate that has broken out on the Internet suggests, “there was always toilet paper in the Soviet Union but only for the privileged.”


                Asked by The Question whether it is true that “in the USSR, toilet paper appeared only in 1969?” the q-and-a portal reproduced some of the answers it received:

·         A Russian student too young to have had direct experience wrote in that “the production of toilet paper in the USSR began only in 1968” at a plan in Leningrad oblast which made use of two English machines.  Its production initially attracted “zero interest” from Soviet consumers because they “simply didn’t know how it was supposed to be used.” And “only after a massive ad campaign” did purchases take off and turn toilet paper in the USSR into a “deficit” good for which people stood in lines for hours.

·         Another visitor the site, Ksyusha Krapiva, 46, confirmed this, but she said that during her childhood, newspapers continued to be used because there was no toilet paper in the restrooms of Soviet schools.

·         A third visitor, Vladislav Shikhov, said that while it was true that toilet paper wasn’t available in many places, it had always been produced. According to him, it was listed in a 1956 list of products Soviet firms were manufacturing. It was thus available to some Soviet citizens even if it wasn’t to most.

·         And a fourth visitor, journalist Aleksandr Budris, suggested that toilet paper production had an even longer history. He noted at that a Lithuanian factory had begun producing toilet paper in 1923.  But as the portal’s editors pointed out, Lithuania wasn’t part of the Soviet Union then.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Brezhnev-Era Origins of Putin Elite Root of Russia’s Misfortunes, Krasheninnikov Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 16 – “The true root” of Russia’s misfortunes now, Fyodor Krasheninnikov says, is that Vladimir Putin and his entourage were formed as personalities in the Brezhnev era,” frightened by the excesses of democracy in the 1990s, and have been able since then to exclude from politics “all sincere and ideologically committed people.”

            Because of their success in shutting down social lifts, the Yekaterinburg political analyst says, Russia is now ruled by “the very same people who at the end of the 1970s portrayed themselves as convinced communists, in the 1980s as supporters of perestroika and new thinking, in the mid-1990s as ‘experienced businessmen,’ and then as preservers of ‘everything good that was in the USSR” (snob.ru/selected/entry/127983).

            But because of this constant change in public position, these people in fact have come to believe in “nothing besides power and money,” Krasheninnikov says.  “They do not believe in sincerity or conviction or in volunteers or in honest elections. They live with the conviction that people go to meetings only if they are collected in buses or mobilized at work” and are paid.

            They assume that people get involved in politics “only from selfishness because it never comes into their heads the stupid though that some enter politics for the public good and sacrifice their personal wealth and take risks for their convictions. They in general never took risks about anything” – and they assume everyone else is just like them.

            “Worst of all,” the analyst continues, their experiences of politics in Russia in the 1990s has led them to form a false picture of the way the world is organized not only within Russia’s borders but abroad. “Everywhere,” they assume, “politics is exactly the same: no one anywhere believes in anything [and] all elections are lies.”

            According to Krasheninnikov, “the cynicism and unprincipledness of the late Soviet elite are what has transformed democracy in Russia into a pathetic farce.”  Until those formed in the Soviet period leave the scene, this situation will continue and Russia’s prospects for the future will remain bleak.

            “The main less from all this,” he says, is that “one should never entrust the construction of a new system to those were educated in the old one, who not simply passed through the school of state cynicism and hypocrisy but even became successes in it: these are the most horrific people of all.”