Saturday, April 30, 2016

Easter Becomes Latest Official Excuse to Limit Freedom of Assembly in Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 30 – As Sofya Mokhova points out in a Rosbalt commentary, Russian officials have come up with a variety of excuses to deny Russians their constitutional right to peaceably assemble.  Some of them may be rational; others are clearly not; and some especially in the case of occupied Crimea are “exotic.”

            But this year, the coincidence of May Day and Easter has opened the way for Russian officials to deploy not only all their usual justifications for preventing those the regime doesn’t like from marching or meeting but also a new one: marches and meetings, they say, could prevent Russians from attending Orthodox services.

            Mokhorova writes that the proclivity of Russian officials to find “ever more means of refusing to agree to protest actions” suggests that the country is proceeding along the path toward a police state” in which only pro-government marches and meetings will be tolerated (

                Among the methods the authorities use in refusing to give permission to opposition groups are scheduling pro-government activities at the same time and place, claiming that a given place is being repaired, suggesting that the group will violate laws on promoting this or that banned idea, and pointing to mistakes in applications.

            Sometimes the excuses reach truly amazing heights, Mokhrova says. In Barnaul, officials refused to allow a demonstration that planned to use dolls to make its point. They said only people could do that.  And in occupied Crimea, the Russian authorities have pointed to the risk of the spread of African swine flu in denying marches.

            But this year, Russian officials are using the coincidence of May Day and Easter to refuse to give permission for demonstrations almost certainly because they fear that these events could lead to serious protests but ostensibly because they want to ensure that all Russians who want to attend Orthodox Easter services will be able to (

            Rosbalt journalist Dmitry Remizov says that officials in numerous regions have invoked Easter services as a reason not to allow May Day demonstrations, thus making them “’more holy than the pope’” given that the Moscow Patriarchate’s press service has said that it doesn’t see a problem with celebrating both on the same day.

            Vadim Abdurrakhmanov, a KPRF leader in the Khanty-Mansiisk AO, says that Easter services are just an excuse. In fact, he argues, “the powers that be are afraid because they know what the economic and political situation in the country is.” People want to protest and May Day is a traditional occasion to do so.

            Andrey Korablyev, a member of the Union of the Militant Godless in Tyumen, is even blunter: officials will use anything including Easter to prevent people from meeting and marching.  No May Day demonstrations will prevent Russians who want to from going to church given that the former last only a half an hour or so and the others go on all day.

            Anna Ochkina, head of the Moscow IGSO Center for Social Analysis, says that the way the authorities are using Easter as an excuse is “very strange” because most of the people who attend May Day demonstrations don’t go to church and vice versa, although it is possible that the authorities really don’t understand.

            They probably think, she says, that “the Russian people are entirely part of the church” and that May Day demonstrations would interfere with their attendance. But if they do, Ochkina concludes, this only shows “once again” that “the authorities do not know the people which they are trying to govern.”

Russia’s ‘Christian Culture’ Precludes Business as Usual with West, Lavrov Says

Paul Goble
Staunton, April 30 – Having threatened Stockholm with unspecified military responses if Sweden joins NATO, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says in an interview with “Dagens Nyheter” that Russia’s “Christian culture” makes it impossible for Moscow to continue to pursue “business as usual” with the West.

Such an approach, the Russian diplomat continues, is “absolutely impossible because this business ‘as usual’ as it is understood in the West, in the EU and in NATO means only one thing: that we all should and must above all become like they are” ( and

And the West’s “everything is permitted” approach “contradicts the fundamental bases of our culture, which is based on the Orthodox religion, on Christianity,” Lavrov continues.

In other comments, he says, Russia will depend on itself alone, something that “thanks to God, the Lord and our ancestors,” his country has sufficient resources to be self-sufficient.  It will no longer depend on purchases abroad, an approach that Lavrov is Russia’s “strategic course.”

He insists that “this does not mean isolation, and when ‘Western partners’ decide to return to normal behavior” – presumably a reference to an end of sanctions, “this will give additional chances for growth and the development of cooperation … but on all essential things, we will now depend only on ourselves.”

Moscow’s Failure to React to Tajikistan’s De-Russification Said Reflection of Larger Problems

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 30 – Neither Russian officials in Moscow nor the Russian embassy in Dushanbe have reacted to the latest efforts by Tajikistan to de-Russianize that country, although as Andrey Serenko points out, if Ukraine were doing the same thing, there would be widespread expressions of Russian outrage.

            In part, this is a reflection of “the cynical quality of the double standards of Russian policy in the post-Soviet space,” the political analyst writes on the Fergana portal, with Moscow always keeping track of the removal of Lenin statues in Ukraine but ignoring far more radical de-Sovietization and de-Russification elsewhere (

            But in part, it reflects something a much larger development: Moscow’s loss of influence over the media in Central Asia, a loss that has occurred because Russian officials have proved incapable of working effectively with journalists there and thus have conceded defeat without much of a fight, according to the Regnum news agency (

            Serenko notes that the Tajiks took down the last memorial to Lenin in their country already eight years ago and that last December they dismantled the 24-meter-high monument to Soviet power. If Ukraine had done this, the Russian media which have accused Kyiv of fascism, but “in the case with Tajikistan, there has been the silence of the grave.”

            Nor was there any Russian official reaction to the renaming of streets in the Tajikistan capital, to the elimination of all Russian-language signs and memorials, to the reduction of the number of hours of Russian language in the schools, to the requirement that Tajiks use their national language in contacts with officials, and to de-Russianizing their names.

            This last step and the absence of Russian reaction is especially troubling, Serenko says, because it means that ethnic Russians like the Ivanovs, Petrovs or Sidorovs who are Tajikistan citizens must either give up their Russian names or become “de facto second class people orthographically.”

            “The pragmatism of Russian policy in the near abroad, which is built on corrupt ties and personal accords with narrow ruling groups and which ignores real work with public opinion in the republics of the former USSR has already led to its collapse in Ukraine,” Serenko says. If Moscow continues this approach, it is going to lose its influence elsewhere as well.

            In an article on the Regnum news portal, Yevgeny Kim quotes Mikhail Petrushkov, the former representative of Central Asia in the World Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriots says this reflects the inability or unwillingness of Russian officials in the embassies in Central Asia to work with the media in order to ensure that Russian themes reach a broad audience.

            According to Petrushkov, who lives in Tajikistan, the Russian embassy in Dushanbe has been anything but helpful to the local Russian community there and at the same time doesn’t take kindly to any criticism of its shortcomings which have contributed to Russia’s “surrender of positions” to anti-Russian and pro-Western outlets since 1991.

            “In Tajikistan now,” he continues, “there is not a single pro-Russian media outlet which gives the audience Moscow’s positions.”  And even those that sometimes publish pro-Moscow information also carry things like interviews with the Ukrainian ambassador who is anything but polite about Russia.

            This has consequences for Russia’s standing in Tajikistan, Petrushkov says. The older generation still has warm feelings for Russia and Russians, but the younger one “already does not see Russia as a friend.”  More needs to be done with television – there is only one Russian channel – and with the Internet.

            And it has to be careful about how it presents things. When Russians talk about the advantages of Eurasian integration, they also need to point up “the minuses” involved because “the worst thing of all is when expectations are raised and later are proved to be false,” Petrushkov continues.