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February 27 2014

Chechen Dictator and Russian Nationalist NOT Taking Over Ukraine

A Yin and Yang of Russian trollitics, Leader of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov and nationalist blogger Egor Prosvirnin. Unlikely bedfellows. Images remixed by author.

Yin and Yang of Russian trollitics, highly unlikely bedfellows Leader of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov and nationalist blogger Egor Prosvirnin. Images remixed by author.

Time and time again Russian Internet users and Russophone mass media prove that they will fall for any hoax, no matter how bizarre or unbelievable. It's not as if it is the first time someone took the fake Twitter account of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov for the real thing. @KadirovRussia [ru] was started before the real Kadyrov joined Twitter and quickly gained a following. These days, however, almost everyone is aware that although Kadyrov does tweet at his own account, @rkadyrov [ru], he mainly uses it to link to his favorite social networking platform, Instagram [Global Voices report].

Nevertheless, multiple bloggers, forum users, and online media outlets were taken for a ride with a recent tweet by @KadirovRussia:

Prosvirnin and I are riding the “friendship train” to support Russians in Crimea.

Crimea is a primarily Russophone region of Ukraine currently protesting the change of power in Kiev. Crimeans are afraid that nationalist Ukrainians will infringe on their culture, and many Russians share their fear, stoked as it is my mainstream Russian media. A beach paradise not far from where the Sochi Winter Games took place, it is also home to a Russian naval base, and is currently a pressure cooker of ethnic tension between Russians, Ukrainians, and Crimean Tartars. Not a day passes that there aren't rumors of Russia deploying troops or Kiev sending its own militia to the region. The most recent development [ru] is that armed men have occupied a regional administration building and hung Russian flags from it.

In this climate the announcement that the gruff Chechen leader has joined causes with nationalist blogger Egor Prosvirnin (of Sputnik & Pogrom fame), who has been vocally advocating for Crimean independence [ru] for the past several days, fell on fertile ground. Never mind that Prosvirnin harshly mocks and lambastes Kadyrov, the news was reported by several Ukrainian outlets, including Ukrainian Komsomolskaya Pravda [cache], Obozrevatel [ru], and Korrespondent [cache], with commentary noting the increasingly violent climate in Crimea. Kadyrov's alleged involvement must have been particularly troubling — it was the Chechen “Vostok” Battalion that was in the lead during Russia's 2008 armed conflict with Georgia over the breakaway province of Abkhazia.

Prosvirnin himself was amused with the confusion, writing [ru]:

Разбудили звонком с НТВ, спросив, правда ли мы с Кадыровым едем в Крым. Спросонья ступил и сказал, что они там совсем что ли ебу дались, и уже повесив трубку понял, что НАДО БЫЛО ВСЕ ПОДТВЕРДИТЬ.

Was woken up with a call from NTV, asking if its true that Kadyrov and I are going to Crimea. I was still dozy and stupidly said that they were out of their f*cking mind, but as I hung up I realized that I SHOULD HAVE CONFIRMED EVERYTHING.

He said that the news might have scared the Crimean Tartars who are currently against any talk of secession. Later he also joked [ru] that Kadyrov has agreed to take charge of the western Ukrainian province of Lviv.

Chechen “Vostok” Batallion troops at a Crimean beach, or what it might look like if they were. Images remixed by author.

Meanwhile, the real Kadyrov has actually sounded off about Ukraine [ru] on his Instagram account:

Получаем информацию, что у проживающих в этой стране соотечественников появились серьезные проблемы с сохранностью бизнеса и личной безопасностью. Мы никогда не претендовали на чужое, но и своё защитим. Следует четко осознавать, что не дадим в обиду чеченцев и других россиян, где бы они не находились.

We have received information that our countrymen living in that country are having serious problems with safety of their businesses and personal safety. We have never wanted what isn't ours, but we will protect our own. It needs to be clearly understood, that we won't let Chechens and other Russians come to harm, wherever they may be.

A troubling statement — perhaps more troubling than any fake news of rapprochement with Russian nationalists.

February 26 2014

The Russian Familiarity Yanukovich's Fabulous Palace

Yanukovich's presidential palace, where dreams came true. (And then crashed back to Earth.) Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

Yanukovich's presidential palace, where dreams came true. (And then crashed back to Earth.) Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

When Viktor Yanukovich fled Kiev last week, he left home in a hurry. The crowds of ordinary civilians and journalists who later flooded the abandoned presidential palace, on the other hand, took their time, marveling at an opulence even Yanukovich's sharpest critics found shocking. When the first visitors arrived, they encountered a skeleton crew of guards, who actually led journalists on a tour of the property, inviting them to take photographs [ru] in order to “reveal how Ukraine's President lives.”

Popular Russian photo-blogger Ilya Varlamov gained access to the grounds, photographing various sights on the 140-hectare property. There was a private zoo filled with animals both domesticated and exotic. The garage hosted a collection of expensive classic cars. Docked at the shore of a private lake, a galleon served as a restaurant. And, of course, there was a private golf course. Ukrainians piled into the mansion to see their taxpayer money at work. An open invitation [ru] went out over Twitter inviting people to come and see the palace with their own eyes. 

Yanukovich's floating 19th hole. The galleon restaurant.

Curiously, the Russian blogosphere’s response was largely muted. Russians, admittedly, are already familiar with examples of their own politicians’ wealth and bad taste, as photos of their residences regularly leak onto the Internet. Vladimir Yakunin, president of the state-run company Russian Railways, starred in such a scandal last year, when anti-corruption blogger Alexey Navalny published materials [ru] on Yakunin's 70-hectare property outside of Moscow.

With this history in mind, one of Varlamov’s readers joked that Yakunin must envy Yanukovich's bigger mansion:

Ни в коем случае не показывайте эти кадры Якунину.

Don't see these photos to Yakunin.

Another Russian blogger, Oleg Kozyrev, reminded reader about a remark by Vladimir Putin in 2008, when he referred to himself as a galley slave.

Теперь понятно, что Путин имел в виду, когда говорил, что он раб на галерах. Вот галера Януковича

Now it is clear what Putin had in mind when he said that he is a galley slave. Here is Yakunin’s galley.

Lenta.ru journalist Andrey Kozenko tweeted:

Generally speaking, after seeing photographs of the residence, [I have to say]: all embezzlers have horrible taste.

Long lines to gaze upon Yanukovich's riches.

Journalist Alexander Plushev observed on Twitter:

I wonder how many of our people [Muscovites] would go to Novo-Ogarevo [Putin’s residence outside of Moscow]. (Let’s just say, if the appropriate circumstances arose.)

Vladimir Varfolomeev jokingly replied:

Hold on now—are they already taking reservations for tours? Damn. Once again, I've missed everything while on vacation.

Andrey Davidov offered the following novel solution:

You could create an electronic queue management system.

February 25 2014

Tajik Court Fines Journalist for Calling Docile Intellectuals ‘Shit’

A court in Tajikistan has found a local journalist guilty of “insulting” three state-appointed intellectuals and ordered that she pay them 30,000 somoni (over 6,000 US dollars) in “moral damage”. The court has also ruled that Asia-Plus, one of the country's few independent newspapers, must apologize for publishing the “insulting” content.

Olga Tutubalina. Image from her Facebook page, used with permission.

Olga Tutubalina. Image from her Facebook page, used with permission.

Olga Tutubalina, an editor and columnist of Asia-Plus, wrote a column [ru] in May 2013, criticizing the members of the intelligentsia for their “cozy relationship” with the government of President Emomali Rahmon. In that column, Tutubalina quoted the first Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin who had once referred to intellectuals in the service of the state as “shit”. 

A number of state-appointed members of the intelligentsia and creative unions then chose to feel insulted. Shortly after Tutubalina wrote her column, three individuals, the Academy of Science, and unions of writers, artists, composers, and architects filed a joint lawsuit against the journalist. On February 25, after almost a year-long trial, a court in Dushanbe ruled in their favor.

The initial reaction to the verdict among Twitter users was one of shock, disbelief, and anger.

News: The court has ruled in “Intelligentsia vs. Asia-Plus”

The United States Embassy in Dushanbe has issued a brief statement criticizing the verdict. US Envoy tweeted:

Shame on Tajikistan! Shame on its entire judicial system! Shame on all that shit which watched Tutubalina's trial in silence.

It is clear that Olga [Tutubalina] is being drowned. But there is one advantage: we now know for sure who shit is [in the country]. The court has confirmed it.

Overall, there is little doubt among social media users in Tajikistan that the journalists's trial was part of a broader campaign to silence critical journalists and independent media. Few netizens believe that the court's verdict was fair or impartial. After all, judges in Tajikistan are frequently compared to prostitutes catering to those in power.

From Kiev to Moscow: Russia's Tired Protest Antics

Tires (for burning on barricades) in the shape of the Olympic symbol. Anonymous image found online.

Car tires (used for burning on barricades during Ukraine's Maidan protests) in the shape of the Olympic symbol. Anonymous image found online.

With the Sochi Olympics over, it is back to business as usual in Russia — futile protests for the opposition, reactionary repression for the government. On Monday, February 24, 2014 Moscow's Zamoskvoretsky Court sentenced eight political activists to several years in prison for participating in a May 6, 2012 riot near the centrally located Bolotnaya Square. The actual sentences in the “Bolotanaya Case” vary, from two years and seven months for Artem Savelov to four years for Sergey Krivov. Alexandra Duhanina, the only female defendant left after an earlier amnesty that freed Maria Baronova, received a suspended sentence of 3 years and 3 months.

An image showing the Bolotnaya prisoners and their sentences. Anonymous image found online.

An image showing the Bolotnaya prisoners and their sentences. Anonymous image found online.

The sentencing took place this Monday, rather than last Friday as was originally planned [ru], likely to keep from spoiling the Olympic closing ceremony with untoward headlines. Even though it was a week-day, hundreds of people showed up to the court building, and later to Manezhnaya Square, to protest against the court case, which many view as rigged and political in nature. Some of these protesters seemed to have been inspired by the revolution in neighboring Ukraine, where violent street action helped the opposition reach their political goals. Specifically, several people tweeted about the need to bring car tires to the protest — either a defiant gesture referring to the mounds of tires burned by protesters on Kiev barricades, or a call to build barricades of their own.

Ilya Azar, a reporter at Lenta.ru, was the first one to call for “tires at Manezhka,” tweeting:

не забудьте каждый взять с собой на Манежку хотя бы одну автомобильную покрышку

everyone, don't forget to take at least one car tire with you to Manezhka

He later deleted his tweet, perhaps rightly fearing that it could be construed as a call to violence by the humorless Kremlin, but not before people made screenshots [ru]. Others [ru] picked up on this call to action, one Twitter user also calling [ru] for empty bottles, gasoline and motor oil (Molotov cocktail ingredients), another using Aesopian language to avoid charges of extremism:

I need help! Around Manezhka I got a flat tire. Everyone who is coming, please bring a spare, it could be old or without the rim.

A few people heeded these calls, one of them Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot fame, who was apparently arrested while carrying one [ru]. Tolokonnikova later tweeted from a police van, describing [ru] her detention as “rough.”

A man getting arrested on Manezhnaya Square, holding a car tire. Grani.ru.

Indeed, the Moscow police reacted swiftly and ruthlessly, dispersing the protest and detaining several hundred people, among them putative opposition leader Alexey Navalny [ru], according [ru] to tweets [ru] by protesters. Some also described [ru] the police action as “unusually” brutal and impatient. Pro-Kremlin writer Eduard Bagirov tweeted [ru] that this was because of the Ukrainian angle; post-Maidan the riot police have a “moral right” to “execute” protesters, he maintains.

A burning Kiev barricade photoshopped to look like a Google

A burning Kiev barricade photoshopped to look like a Google “doodle.” The protesters are holding car tires. Anonymous image found online.

Yulia Arkhipova, an economics student who recently got into a Twitter flame war [Global Voices report] with radio talk-show host Vladimir Solovyev for being pro-Maidan, wrote [ru] a scathing criticism of the tire-debacle, arguing that the Russian opposition is adopting the trappings of Ukrainian protests without their spirit:

В России оппозиция насмотрелась на Майдан и теперь играет в ролевые игры. К Замоскворецкому суду приносят российский флаг, поют российский гимн. Протестующие кричат “Банду гэть!” и называют ОМОНовцев Беркутом.

In Russia the opposition has seen the Maidan and is now role-playing. They bring the Russian flag to the Zamoskvoretsky court, they sing the Russian anthem. The protesters yell “Down with the thieves” [in Ukrainian] and call the riot police “Berkut.”

Sure, that might look like the Maidan, she writes, but what these protesters lack is the willingness to quit their jobs and the commitment to stand in the cold for months at a time. Thus, what worked in Kiev, is unlikely to work in Moscow.

Meanwhile, the Bolotnaya Square prisoners will do hard time, although human rights defender Pavel Chikov hopes [ru] that the sentences are low enough that they might soon be released on parole, considering how much time they've already spent in jail. It remains to be seen if these eight men and women will become a mascot for the protest movement or a successful deterrent against it.

February 24 2014

“We Are Not an Anomaly or Disease”: Gay Bloggers Speak Up in Tajikistan

Tajikistan, a conservative Central Asian nation where over 95 percent of people are Muslims, has been described as “hell for gays”. However, social media is increasingly enabling the members of the country's LGBT community to argue against homophobic attitudes. 

There has recently been a string of media stories and blog posts about LGBT issues in Tajikistan. In late January, Radio Ozodi (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Tajik service) published a story about gays in the country, in Russian and Tajik. Then, in early February, Russian-language weekly Avicenna published [ru] a material about the first sex-change surgery in the country. These stories have drawn hundreds of comments, mainly homophobic in nature, with many comments suggesting that homosexuality is a “psychiatric” disease or “deadly sin”.

The debate has since shifted to social networks and the blogosphere. Gay rights blogger Drugoi [Different] reposted stories by Radio Ozodi and Avicenna on Blogiston.tj, triggering multiple reactions and counter-posts. Below is a brief overview of the debate that has taken place on the blog.

Responding to Drugoi's post [ru] about the closeted life of homosexuals in Tajikistan, Ant commented [ru]:

Эти люди прокляты Богом

These people have been cursed by God.

Rustam Gulov wrote [ru]:

давайте вещи называть своими именами – “гомосексуализм” – это слово придумано не для “науки”, а для продвижения этой мерзости! как и “сексуальные меньшинства”, “гей”.

на самом деле есть самые нормальные и прямые понятия – пидараст, гомик, педик, содомит, ку…е, в конце концов!

и нечего их защищать! вслед за ними голову поднимут зоофилы, потом некрофилы всякие, а потом глядишь о своих “правах” вовсю будут горланить педофилы!

Let's call a spade a spade. “Homosexuality” is not a “scientific” word; it has been invented for the promotion of this filth! the same goes for words such as “sexual minorities” and “gay”.

In reality, there are more direct and ordinary words – pidarast, gomik, pedik, sodomit, [kunte] [Russian and Tajik pejorative terms equivalent to English "faggot"].

They should not be defended! They pave the way for zoophiles, all sorts of necrophiles, and even pedophiles!

Mir Aziz agreed [ru]:

Вот именно Рустам Ака нечего этим психам помогать !!! Их вообще нужно истреблять , чтоби остальние прежде чем вступить в эту хрень подумали своей башкой которая им не для красоты дано !

Exactly, Rustam. We should not help these psychopaths!!! They should be eradicated so that other people think twice before becoming part of this filth!

Emir responded [ru]:

Мир Азиз, а башка Вам для чего нужна? Для насилия? или для фашистских призывов??? Думайте головой, вы в открытую призывайте к дискриминации, насилию прежде всего Людей!..

Mir Aziz, and why do you need the head? For violence? Or perhaps for fascist slogans??? Think about it, you are calling  openly for discrimination and violence against other human beings!..

Another reader added [ru]:

я понимаю вашу позицию, ребята, и даже почти во всем с вами согласен. но есть такая проблема. геи у нас есть, они живут в нашем обществе и скрывают свою ориентацию. многих заставляют жениться, и они делают еще и своих жен несчастными. что делать с такими людьми? не совсем ведь человечно заставлять их всю жизнь молчать и скрывать правду от окружающих. 

I understand where you stand, guys, and I agree with most of what you say. But the problem is there. We have gay [men], they are part of our society and they hide their [sexual] orientation. Many of them are forced to get married, which makes their wives unhappy, too. What should we do with people like that? It is not very humane to force them to remain silent and hide the truth from everyone for the rest of their lives. 

Drugoi responded [ru] to criticisms:

Вы все слишком агрессивно настроены. Гомосексуализм уже тысячи лет запрещали и преследовали. За это долгое время было предусмотрено уголовное наказание. Неужели для вас не урок то, что все это ничего не изменило? Некоторые люди рождаются с другой сексуальной ориентацией и этого не изменишь. А “психологи”, называющие гомосексуализм психическим недугом, кретины-недоучки.

You are all too aggressive. Homosexuality has been banned and persecuted for thousands of years. There was even criminal persecution of homosexuals. Isn't the fact that all this persecution has not changed anything a good lesson for you? Some people are born with a different sexual orientation, and this cannot be changed. As for “psychologists” that call homosexuality a psychiatric disease, they are poorly-educated idiots.

Some netizens suggested that homosexuals should not be considered part of Tajik society. Firdavs wrote [tj]: 

Мардум илтимос калимахои Точик ва Точикистон набьерен вакте ки дар бораи педико сухбат меравад. Онхо точик нестану аз точикистон не. Магар хар як хайвона точик гуем мо?

People, please, do not use the words “Tajik” and “Tajikistan” when you talk about faggots. They are neither Tajiks nor from Tajikistan. Should we call every animal Tajik?

Benom agreed [tj]:

Man Firdavs kati 100% roziam. In kunteho tojik neand. Ino odam ham neand.

I [fully] support Firdavs. Those faggots are not Tajik. They are not human beings, either.

A group of netizens has condemned the very discussion about gay issues in Tajikistan. Under Radio Ozodi's story, for example, several readers asked the editors to remove the material from the website in order to “save the image” of the country. On Blogiston.tj, Vali ibn Vali said [tj]:

Hamin bahsoya bas kuneton, bacho! Gomiko hamash haroman. Va agar kase tarafoshona megiradu ghamashona mehurad unam harom hisob meshad. 

Stop these discussions, guys! Faggots are all haram [sinful, unclean]. When someone supports them or cares for them, this person is also considered haram.

Responding to more criticisms and suggestions that gays should “keep it to themselves” and seek psychiatric treatment, Drugoi wrote [ru]:

Вы поймите, что мы существуем, мы не аномалия или болезнь, мы такие же люди, как и вы все. И мы имеем право на достойную жизнь.

You should understand that we exist; we are not an anomaly or disease; we are human beings just like you. And we have the right to a dignified life.

Big, Bad Bullies of the Russian Media

The bullies of the Russian media. Dmitri Kiselyov, left, and Vladimir Solovyov, right. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

The bullies of the Russian media. Dmitri Kiselyov, left, and Vladimir Solovyov, right. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

The media environment in Russia is not good right now. Readers of RuNet Echo are already familiar with the high-profile attacks on TV Rain, Russia’s only independent television channel, as well as legal threats against Echo of Moscow, the country’s most popular radio station, and Alexey Navalny, Russia’s most famous political blogger. All of these cases involved some utterance published online that politicians and conservative media figures deemed offensively unpatriotic. TV Rain ran a poll asking viewers to assess abandoning Leningrad to the Nazis in World War II; Echo of Moscow published an article by Victor Shenderovich, comparing aspects of the Sochi Olympics with the 1936 Berlin Games; and Navalny made a cryptic joke about an assassinated judge in Ukraine, quipping that the same might await Russian judges.

While Russians can debate how offensive they find TV Rain, Shenderovich, or Navalny, beyond dispute is the prominence of the TV station and these two men in Russian politics. In that regard, for all the senselessness of modern Russia’s witch-hunt against supposed “traitors,” a certain logic guided the process of targeting persons and institutions.

Last week, the logic seemed to break down, when popular Russian TV and radio journalist Vladimir Solovyov dedicated an entire radio show [ru] to dissecting and denouncing the Maidan-supportive tweets of a handful of students from Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. (See Sultan Suleimanov’s detailed report on this scandal, in Russian.) Yulia Arkhipova suffered the brunt of Solovyov’s attacks, villified (in absentia) for being a homosexual-loving Ukrainian citizen.

Solovyov appears to have learned of Arkhipova thanks to Vitalii Milonov, the St. Petersburg city councilman infamous for launching Russia’s original legal crackdown on “gay propaganda” in 2011. Milonov engaged Arkhipova a day before Solovyov’s radio show, mocking her concerns about wounded protesters in Kiev [ru] and holding up her ‘misplaced’ worry as an example of Russian higher education’s failings. When Arkhipova later taunted Solovyov, writing [ru] on Twitter that “specially for him” she had dawned traditional Ukrainian clothes and cradled her Russian passport in her pocket, Solovyov responded by saying [ru] that her “soul remains rotten,” despite the wardrobe change.

Why did Solovyov hound a group of unknown university students over a few Ukraine-related tweets? Arkhipova herself theorized that Dmitri Kiselyov—a recently promoted, pro-Kremlin journalist who regularly shocks liberal society with assaults on the Russian opposition—has raised the bar for loyalty in the Russian mediasphere. Solovyov has long been a Putin-supportive polemicist, but his regular antics pale in comparison to Kiselyov’s, who made Milonov look like Harvey Milk, when (in 2012 on national TV) Kiselyov angrily championed burning the hearts of gay car accident victims. Popular journalism and public debate in the era of Kiselyov have become wildly sensitive to the two main tropes of Russian liberalism: criticism of the Kremlin and praise for the West.

While Solovyov may have been upping the ante by taking the good fight to twenty-somethings on Twitter, the larger objective was of course the Higher School of Economics, which Milonov has condemned [ru] as a “nest of liberalism.” In other words, the logic guiding Russian reactionaries may not have disappeared after all.

In the meantime, “Vyshka” (as the university is known colloquially) has done its best to remain above the fray in this controversy. On February 21, 2014, the school’s Facebook page published a note [ru] calling Solovyov’s behavior a “provocation.” The post also included a photograph of Mark Twain, with the quotation: “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

Image posted to Vyshka's Facebook page.

Ukrainian Revolution Rattles Russian Nationalists

Photoshopped image of politician Yulia Timoshenko, released from jail by the opposition controlled Ukrainian parliament. Many view her as a strong candidate in the coming presidential elections. Anonymous image found online.

Photoshopped image of politician Yulia Timoshenko, recently released from jail by the opposition controlled Ukrainian parliament. Many view her as a strong candidate in the coming presidential elections. Anonymous image found online.

Remarkably, it is now a fait accompli that the Ukrainian opposition has taken control of the country's political process. President Yanukovich's fall from power was in no small part due to the radical nationalists who made up the core of the street activists standing opposite Ukrainian riot police for the last three months. Nationalist parties like Svoboda, and radical organizations like the “Right Sector” (see this early YouTube video [ru] of Right Sector leader Yarosh talking about taking the fight to “Ukrainian” lands in Russia) contributed to the eventual victory of the Maidan movement, and now appear to be in a unique position to influence Ukrainian policy making.

At least this is what Russian nationalists fear — not only that the new Ukraine will look towards the West, rather than Russia, but that the Russian speaking population in Ukraine will come under attack from radicals who will attempt to “derussify” them. The prominence of Ukrainian nationalists in the opposition movement gives fodder to these fears. A Russian radio-host Ilias Mercury, for example, tweeted about statements previously made by leader of the Svoboda party Oleh Tyahnibok:

Tyahnibok declared that the Russian language in Ukraine will be made illegal. Clear?

and 

Tyahnibok declared that Russians living in Ukraine will be made “non-citizens of Ukraine.” Clear?

It doesn't matter if such policies will ever come to pass. The very thought of them scares nationalists who feel that Russian-speaking Ukrainians are also Russian.

Some Russians blame Yanukovich for this turn of events. Blogger and publicist Egor Holmogorov wrote [ru] recently that:

Судьба Януковича – великолепный урок всем мелким тиранам, предающим русских. Он мог бы сделать русский язык государственным и править опираясь на русскую половину, которая постепенно стала бы русским большинством. Он предпочел прямо противоположный путь.

Yanukovich's fate is a great lesson for petty tyrants who betray Russians. He could have made the Russian language an official state language and rule relying on the Russian half of the country, which over time would become a Russian majority. He chose an exactly opposite approach.

This language map by Kiev National Linguistic University shows the split between Russian speaking east and Ukrainian speaking west.

This language map by Kiev National Linguistic University shows the split between Russian speaking east and Ukrainian speaking west.

In general, language appears to be a major point of contention for nationalists on both sides. In the past couple of days the new opposition controlled Rada has passed several laws, one of which was to repeal of an older law that gave Russian the status of a secondary official language in Ukraine. This led nationalist philosopher and founder of the National Democratic party Konstantin Krylov to proclaim [ru] the new regime “anti-Russian.” Krylov claims that such laws diminish political freedoms and Ukraine, and calls for new policy that would allow Ukrainians to easily acquire Russian citizenship, if they so choose.

Nationalist publication Sputnik & Pogrom also commented on the law repeal, saying [ru] that it fits with their predictions of increased nationalism in Ukraine in the case of an opposition win. S&P also criticized Alexey Navalny for supporting the Ukrainian opposition movement, as it seems contrary to his claims of looking out for the interests of Russians. S&P also published an address to “all Ukrainian Russians,” [ru] in which they call on them to self-organize and create “Russian national organizations,” because, “that's the only way to create a European Ukraine.”

Conservative publicist and radio-show host Dmitry Olshansky, on the other hand, made a more emotional appeal [ru]:

Можно себе представить, что было бы, если бы не было 1941 года, и существовали бы те, кого убили, и их потомки, – а Рада отменила бы идиш в качестве регионального языка.

You can imagine what would happen, if there was no 1941, and all of those who had died and their descendants would now be alive – and the Rada took away the regional status of Yiddish.

Truly, Russian nationalists are vehemently against any kind of ethnic discrimination — unless, of course, they get to be in charge.

Reposted byepimetheus epimetheus

February 22 2014

Pro-Maidan Video Goes Viral Thanks to Pavel Durov, Russia's Zuckerberg

Screen capture from

Screen capture from “Fear Is Not Real.” YouTube.

Pavel Durov, the creator of Russia's most popular online social network, Vkontakte, is an unusual man. Young and fabulously wealthy (he made nearly half a billion dollars [ru] last month divesting from VK), Durov has something of a mixed reputation. In December 2011, he gained a reputation for defending civil rights, when he publicly defied a police request to delete certain Vkontakte groups formed in opposition to United Russia, the country's dominant political party. Early last year, however, Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia's best established anti-regime newspapers, revealed evidence that Durov may have cooperated with the authorities in more subtle ways. In the last year, Durov has been at the center of a shareholders conflict with United Capital Partners, an investment group that bought 48% of Vkontakte in April 2013. Last month, Durov sold his remaining 12% in the company to a close ally of Alisher Usmanov, preserving Mail.ru Group's majority control.

While he's no longer a part-owner in the website, Durov remains Vkontakte's CEO. That arrangement might not last much longer. Indeed, there is widespread speculation in Russia that Durov will soon be forced out of the company entirely. Durov has fought hard to remain at Vkontakte, but his recent divestment suggests he may finally be acquiescing. (Losing his creation undoubtedly costs him some sleep, but Durov can now toss and turn on a bed of 420 million dollars, thanks to the stock sale.) 

Besides selling off his shares, Durov did something else recently that could signify his impatience with keeping himself in the good graces of Russia's powerful. On February 20, 2014, Durov republished an evocative two-minute video featuring combat footage from Kiev, narrated in a dramatic male voice cheering on demonstrators. The video is thoroughly pro-Maidan, challenging protesters to overcome the fear of battle and encouraging them to continue resisting. At the time of this writing, Durov's post has almost 32 thousand views and over 17 thousand “likes.”

Given the political climate in Russia now, Durov's willingness to stake such an unabashedly pro-opposition position on the Ukraine crisis is rather astounding. Durov leads a multi-billion-dollar company—the “Facebook of the Russian Internet”—where an unpredictable competition between two investment tycoons will decide his future. Outside Vkontakte, Russian politicians have been on a spree of attacks against anyone who promotes “extremism” (read: any kind of support for Ukraine's opposition). As I've documented in past Global Voices posts, there have been assaults on television and radio stations, websites, and individuals—sometimes for behavior as innocuous as a bad joke. Is Durov's daring a show of open defiance? 

The video: “Fear Is Not Real”

Artist Alexander Makedonskiy originally authored the video that Durov published on Vkontakte. YouTube hosts the clip, as well, on Makedonskiy's channel and other accounts. The commentary in the video is a curious mix of dialogue from two Hollywood movies: the 2013 film After Earth, starring Will Smith, and the 2006 movie Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone's sixth and final Rocky installment. (The scenes harvested for the narration include father-and-son moments from each film, and the speech Rocky delivers to the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission, when he tries to renew his boxing license.)

What follows is a transcription [ru] of the “Fear Is Not Real” Maidan video, with the original English text from the two films mentioned above. The video itself, with English subtitles, can be viewed below.

Страха в реальности нет!
Страх живет в одном закоулке в наших мыслях о будущим.
Страх это плод нашего во брожения.
Он заставляет нас боятся того чего нет! И вероятно не будет ни-ког-да!
Это ж чистое безумия.
Ты только пойми меня правильно!
Опасность это реальный факт, но страх это твой выбор!
Я скажу то что для тебя не новость. Мир не такой солнечный и приветливый.
Это очень опасная и жесткая места.
Если толька дашь слабину, он опрокинет с такой сили тебя что больше уже не встанешь!
Не ты, не я не кто на свете не бьет так сильно как жизнь!
Совсем не важно как ты ударишь , а важно какой держишь удар.
Как двигаешься в перед будешь идти иди если с испугай не свернешь!
Толька так побеждают!
Если знаешь чего ты стоишь?! Иди бери свое!
Но будь готов удары держат!
А ни плакаться и говорит ” я нечего не добился из-за его из-за нее и из-за кого-то. Так делает трусы а ты не трус!!! Быт этого не может!
Если человек сам хочет за что то драться, хочет добиваться своего, кто правы остановит его?! А может кому-то из вас тоже чего-то хотелось.?! Чего-то о чем мечтал, чего-то не обычного. А его не дают “нет” говорят и точка.
Кто имеют права так говорит “кто?” Ни кто !
Человек сам решает в какую сторону ему повернуть. Права каждого быт именно тем кем он захочет быт!

Fear is not real.
The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future.
It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist.
That is near insanity.
Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice.
Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.
It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it.
You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.
But it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.
How much you can take and keep moving forward.
That’s how winning is done!  
Now if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth!
But you gotta be willing to take the hits.
And not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody!
Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that! 
Because if you’re willing to go through all the battling you've got to go through to get where you wanna get—who’s got the right to stop you? Maybe some of you guys got something you never finished, something you really want to do, something you never said to somebody—something!—and you’re told “No,” even after you pay your dues?
Who’s got the right to tell you that? Who? Nobody!
It’s your right to listen to your gut. It ain’t nobody’s right to say “No” after you earned the right to be where you want to be and do what you want to do.

February 21 2014

Tajikistan's Tastiest Blogs

Tajik plov. Image from vk.com/taomtj, used with permission.

Tajik plov. Image from vk.com/taomtj, used with permission.

There are three blogs in Tajikistan that are a must read for anyone interested in Tajik cuisine.

Tajik Restaurant [Tarabkhonai Tojiki] [tj] shares cook-it-yourself videos and recipes of popular Tajik dishes. Suhailo's Cooking Diary [Daftari pukhtu-pazhoi Suhailo] [tj] teaches its readers to bake pastries popular in the country. Finally, Osh Khona [ru] offers detailed reviews of the best places to eat plov in Tajikistan. 

There is also the Tajikistan Cuisine [Taomhoi millii Tojikiston] [ru] public page on VKontakte, where hundreds of users share yummy recipes, pictures, and videos.

Warning: when you access these sources, be prepared to see much, much meat as Tajik cuisine is not for vegetarians.

Kyrgyz MPs Explain Themselves Over a Prayer Room in Parliament

The recent opening of an Islamic prayer room in the Kyrgyz parliament has triggered a heated online debate about the boundaries between the state and religion in the Central Asian country. Responding to criticisms, MPs designed and circulated among journalists and bloggers a six-page document suggesting that prayer houses in parliament or government buildings were common across countries.

Kloop.kg provides [tj] the full text of the document, claiming that it is the “first time” that the country's parliamentarians make such an effort to explain themselves publicly.

Russian Politicians Stick to Their Guns as Ukraine Burns

Ukraine's Trade Union House, headquarters of the protesters burns

February 19, 2014. Ukraine's Trade Union House, headquarters of the protesters burns as violence intensifies. Photo CC 3.0.

As the political situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate, and reports of fatalities grow, Russian politicians have been voicing their opinions on the crisis. Somewhat predictably, opinions on who is to blame for the worst political violence to grip Europe this century were sharply divided between government and opposition figures. Several members of Russia's ruling United Russia party sharply criticised the protesters and the West for the disturbances.

Deputy Alexey Pushkov, head of the Duma's foreign affairs committee, blamed Western pressure on Ukraine's government. Referencing the 2004 ‘Orange Revolution,’ Pushkov tweeted:

With their pressure on Ukraine's authorities, and attempts to pass off chaos as democracy, the West has opened the path to radicals, and now in Kiev there's Orange anarchy.

Deputy Robert Shlegel, who has long been an outspoken critic of American policy, sarcastically tweeted [ru] about US President Barack Obama's call for the Ukrainian army to exercise “restraint.”

Obama making demands of Ukraine's army. :-O Barack Husseinovich! Aren't you ashamed of yourself, once again you're digging yourself a hole with your colonial worldview.

Another prominent United Russia deputy, Sergey Zheleznyak, went on Facebook to voice his full support [ru] for the Ukrainian government's violent crackdown.

Совершенно очевидно, что с бандитами, взявшими в руки оружие, не может быть никакого перемирия, это не политическая сила, с которой имеет смысл вести переговоры, а преступники, которых нужно срочно выявлять, арестовывать и привлекать к уголовной ответственности! При вооруженном сопротивления преступников, угрожающих жизни и здоровью – уничтожать их без сожаления!

It's perfectly obvious that there can't be any sort of reconciliation with bandits who have taken up arms. This isn't a political force, with whom there's sense in holding discussions, these are criminals who need to be identified, arrested and brought to criminal responsibility! During an armed confrontation, criminals who threaten life and limb need to be eliminated without pity!

Russia's more liberal-minded politicians were less critical of the protesters. Ilya Ponomaryov, a member of the opposition party ‘A Just Russia,’ wrote rather ambivalently in his LiveJournal [ru].

я полностью поддерживаю право народа на восстание, считаю события в Киеве именно народным восстанием, но скорблю, что причиной этого восстания является манипуляция общественным мнением со стороны недобросовестных политиков со всех сторон. Преследуемая людьми цель – ложная, и люди со временем это поймут, но много позже, когда пролитой кровью воспользуются проходимцы.

I fully support the right of the people to rise up. I consider the events in Kiev such a people's uprising, but regret that the reason for this uprising is the manipulation of public opinion on the part of cynical politicians on both sides. The goal people are striving for is a lie and people in time they will get this, but only much later, only after the schemers have exploited the bloodbath.

Fellow party-member Dmitry Gudkov, one of the most outspoken oppositionists sitting in the Duma, was more openly critical of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Yanukovych has to quickly announce early presidential elections and carry out constitutional reforms or prepare himself for a meeting with Gaddafi.

United Russia has thrown its full support behind Yanukovych and is unlikely to be swayed in its opinion by mountaining casualties, which it blames ultimately on a combination of Western interference and far-right elements. Similarly, for Russia's opposition politicians, the bloodshed in Ukraine is a clear example of the dangers of corruption and an unwillingness for reform. For Russia's politicians, the battle lines over Ukraine have already been drawn, and now there can be no compromise. 

February 20 2014

Russians Eye Ukrainian Turmoil with Hope, Fear

Iron Maiden's

Heavy metal band Iron Maiden's mascot “Eddie the Head” gets a Ukrainian restyling in this meme. Anonymous image found online.

The latest development in a long running stand-off between the Ukrainian government and opposition, deadly clashes between protesters and riot police erupted near Kiev's Independence Square on Tuesday, February 18. As events unfolded, authorities halted the city subways, barricaded roads, and blocked a major opposition TV channel,  Channel 5 Ukraine [Ukr]. According to recent numbers as many as twenty-five protesters and police have died in the violence, over 200 people have been hospitalized, and over 1,000 have been otherwise injured. The numbers also include journalists and bystanders.

Russian bloggers have been carefully observing these events, so much so that many Russian Internet users have lost interest [Global Voices report] in the Sochi Winter Games in favor of protests on the Maidan. Positive commentary ranges from expressing sympathy for the protesters to demanding that Russia not meddle in Ukrainian internal affairs. At the same time pro-Kremlin bloggers and state-sponsored Russian media outlets have lambasted the protesters as extremists. 

As usual, members of the Russian opposition gave some vicarious analysis of the situation. Journalist Sergei Smirnov, formerly a member of the radical and banned National Bolshevik party, tweeted:

Seriously, 13 wounded armed cops equals urban warfare. That is, this means the opposition has several times more wounded.

Opposition politician Boris Nemtsov made the same comparison, lamenting the violence [ru]:

В Киеве продолжаются уличные бои. 9 убитых. 7- гражданских и два милиционера. И все потому что Янукович цепляется за власть и не хочет объявить досрочные выборы.

Urban warfare is continuing in Kiev. 9 killed. 7 civilians and 2 policemen. And all because [President] Yanukovich is hanging on to power and doesn't want to announce snap elections.

Vladimir Milov's second in command at DemVybor party, Kirill Shulika wrote [ru]:

Виноват, естественно, Янукович со своим маниакальным желанием удержать у власти группировку донецких бандитов. Да, можно говорить о вине оппозиции, но есть президент, который просто обязан не допускать этого. А если он уже не в состоянии контролировать ситуацию, ему надо уходить.

Of course Yanukovich is to blame, with his maniacal desire to maintain power for a group of Donetsk bandits. Yes, one can also fault the opposition, but there is a president who simply cannot not allow this [violence]. And if he can no longer control the situation, he should leave.

Some Ukrainians also tweeted in Russian. Singer Oleksandra Koltsova tweeted about the much-discussed split between Ukraine's Russian speaking East and EU-oriented West:

People in the east aren't “for Yanukovich.” They've also been robbed. They are also ready to trade him in for a better candidate, but they need concrete proposals and different faces [in the opposition leadership.]

In the end, though, RuNet discussions of the Ukrainian “problem” should remain online discussions, thinks Russian writer Maxim Kantor [ru]:

Началась украинская гражданская война. [...] Россия не должна участвовать в этой войне. Сегодняшнее украинское правительство дискредитировано, и его призыв о помощи (если будет) нельзя рассматривать как призыв народа. А народ ни о чем не просил.

The Ukrainian civil war has begun. [...] Russia should not participate in this war. The current Ukrainian government has lost credibility, and its call for help (if it happens) should not be seen as the voice of the people. And the people themselves haven't asked for anything.

Vladimir Putin, who reportedly ignored a recent phone-call from President Yanukovich, seems to be on same page.

“They Fell Our Souls and Memory”: Felling of Trees Draws Anger in Tajikistan

Whenever the authorities in Dushanbe launch a new redevelopment project or simply repair a road, they start by felling trees. Over the last decade, Tajikistan's capital has lost thousands of trees, mainly decades-old sycamores. The big trees once lined Dushanbe's major walkways and roads, providing much-needed shade in the city where summer temperatures often reach 40 degrees Celsius. In an apparent attempt to give the capital a more “modern” look, municipal authorities are replacing the felled sycamores with ornamental trees and small conifers.

The felling of trees has accelerated since mid-2013 as the authorities launched a major redevelopment effort in central Dushanbe. This has angered many social media users who feel that decades-old trees are an important part of the city's outlook and its ecosystem. 

Sobir Kurbanov, one of the individuals affected by the development, wrote [ru] on the Facebook page “Ya Dushanbinec” [I am a Dushanbe Resident] on December 15:

[Не]когда тенистая и красивая, украшенная высокими чинарами улица Чехова полностью уничтожена дорожными строителями. Специальную технику даже завезли. Ни одного дерева не пожалели, все вырубили под молчаливое согласие жителей столицы. Никто даже не пытался выражать несогласие. Когда там закончат однозначно приступят к парку вокруг оперки и вырубят все деревья у прилегающих улиц вокруг оперки, и так далее. А последним аккордом станет уничтожение деревьев по проспекту и улице Рудаки. И тогда превратится наш город в пустыню с широкими новыми улицами. Не дай Аллах мэрии города решить начать ремонт улицы там где вы живете, хотя всех это коснется рано или поздно…

Road workers have fully destroyed the once shady and beautiful Chekhov Street [in central Dushanbe], which was once lined by high sycamore trees. They used the special equipment [to fell the trees]. They didn't pity a single tree; they cut each and every tree with a silent consent of people living in the capital. There was not a single attempt to resist that. When they finish their job [on the Chekhov Street], they will certainly start felling trees in the park surrounding the [Opera and Ballet Theater] and will cut all the trees along streets adjacent to the theater. Their last move will be to fell all trees along the Rudaki avenue. This will turn our city into a desert with new and broad roads. God save you from the city mayor's office deciding to repair a road on your street, although this will affect all of us sooner or later.

Chekhov Street in Dushanbe after all the sycamores that lined it were cut. Image by Shah Mardon, used with permission.

Chekhov Street in Dushanbe after all the sycamores that lined it were cut. Image by Shah Mardon, used with permission.

Chekhov Street in Dushanbe after all the sycamores that lined it were cut. Image by Shah Mardon, used with permission.

Image by Shah Mardon, used with permission.

Artyom Geivandov commented [ru] angrily:

Вот дэбилы! Они хотят превратить Душанбе в пустыню?!

Such idiots! Do they want to turn Dushanbe into a desert?!

Chekhov Street is not the only part of central Dushanbe affected by redevelopment and deforestation. Parvina Ibodova writes [ru] about a similar situation affecting another neighborhood in the city:

…месяц назад к нам (ул.Турсунзаде, напротив роддома №1) пришли ответственные лица Хукумата и сказали, что будут обустраивать наш двор, то есть будут строить спорт и детскую площадку.радости нашей не было предела. но потом, как и водится, пришло огорчение. для того что б построить эти прелести, оказалось нужно было вырубить все наши деревья, чинары, которым по 25-35 лет. мы пытались предотвратить это, ходили и в мэрию города и к председателю нашего района. потом они приходили к нам, ругались, доказывали и т.д. но они говорят одно “Это Генплан и ничего не изменить”… 

мы даже решили отказаться от этих планов у нас до дворе, что б спасти деревья, но…дошло до того, что в минувшую субботу кроме всех чиновников и работников, переворачивающих наш двор с ног на голову, также направил наряд милиции человек 10-12) что мы не мешали рубить деревья…

…about a month ago representatives from the [Dushanbe mayor's office] came to our neighborhood (Tursunzade Street, across the First Maternity Hospital) to tell us that they were going to redevelop our yard and build a new athletic field and a playground there. we were happy. but the happiness was gone soon. it turned out that in order to build all those facilities, they had to fell all our trees, the sycamores that were between 25 and 35 years old. we tried to prevent them from doing so. we went to talk to the mayor's office [and other officials]. then, they came to talk to us, argued with us, tried to prove their point… they all said one thing, “This is part of the General City [Reconstruction] Plan. Nothing can be changed”…

we decided to protect the trees in our yard. but last Saturday, in addition to all the officials and workers rebuilding our yard, they sent a group of police officers (10 to 12 persons) to prevent us from interfering with the felling of trees… 

Image by Parvina Ibodova, used with permission.

Sycamores cut on Tursunzade Street in Dushanbe. Image by Parvina Ibodova, used with permission.

Image by Parvina Ibodova, used with permission.

Image by Parvina Ibodova, used with permission.

Contributing to the discussion on Facebook, Said Negmatulloyev suggested [ru] a way to stop the felling of trees:

Если посадить один саженец, то будет больше на одно дерево. 
Если посадить одного лесоруба, рубящего незаконно, то будет больше на сотню деревьев. 
А если посадить одного чиновника, позволяющего рубить деревья незаконно — будет больше на тысячи деревьев. 
Сажайте правильно!

If you plant one sapling tree, the number of trees in the world will increase by one.
If you put in jail one lumberjack cutting trees illegally, the number of trees will increase by one hundred.
And if you put in jail one official who allows others to cut trees illegally, the number of trees will increase by thousands.
Plant [put in jail] the right way!

[Note: word play here; Russian word "sazhat'" means both "to plant" and "to put in jail"]

Russian Chronicles of Tajikistan blog suggests [ru] that the felling of trees is part of a much broader project by the authorities aimed at remodeling the country and its citizenry:

А ведь это не просто преображение одной отдельной улицы. Посмотрите на ландшафт Душанбе в общем, на то, как он изменился за последнее десятилетие. Город лишили его гордости – тысяч чинар, которые когда-то дарили душанбинцам летнюю прохладу и свежий воздух.

Что у нас остается? Остается уродливый город, ни чем не отличающийся от других городов бывшего Советского Союза. Да, есть много новых помпезных зданий, наляпанных китайцами многоэтажек – но все это не красит город. Старые здания, благодаря которым Душанбе был уютным местом, тоже под снос. В завершение ко всему переименовали все улицы…

Новые памятники, новые названия, безликая архитектура…

This is not just a transformation of a single street. Look at the landscape of Dushanbe and the way it has changed over the last decade. The city has been deprived of its pride, thousands of sycamore trees that used to provide the residents of Dushanbe with fresh air and summer shade.

What do we have left? We have an ugly city that is no different from other cities of the former Soviet Union. Yes, there are many new and pompous buildings, multi-storey houses [built] by the Chinese – but these do not adorn the city. The old buildings that made Dushanbe such a cozy place are also being demolished. On top of this, they have renamed all the streets…

New monuments, new names, faceless architecture…

The blog adds [ru]:

Они не просто вырубают чинары. Они не просто меняют ландшафт города. Они лишают Душанбе его души. Они хотят поменять нас, сделать из нас других людей, с другими идеями и ценностями. Они лепят из нас, как из глины, новых людей нового Таджикистана. А все, что осталось от того Таджикистана, который мы знали и любили, они выжигают каленым железом.

Вырубая чинары, они вырубают наши души и память. Они вырубают старый добрый Таджикистан.

They do not just fell the sycamores. They do not just alter the city's landscape. They deprive Dushanbe of its soul. They want to change us, turn us into a different kind of people, with a different set of ideas and values. They are molding us, as if we were clay, into a new people of a new Tajikistan. And they root out mercilessly all that is left from the Tajikistan we used to know and love.

By felling sycamore trees, they fell our souls and memory. They fell the good old Tajikistan.

February 19 2014

Soviet-era Monuments and Slogans in Tajik Capital “Should Stay”

Over the last two decades, the authorities in Dushanbe have dismantled most of the Soviet-era monuments and huge political slogans on rooftops which had all been an important feature of the cityscape before 1991. However, as Radio Ozodi reports [tj], Tajikistan's capital has preserved a handful of Soviet statues, slogans, and signs [see all photos].

Blogger writing on Russian Chronicles of Tajikistan suggests [ru] that these “remnants” of the Soviet period should stay:

I believe that all these symbols, monuments, bas-reliefs, and signs should be preserved. More than that, we need to take a good care of them and ensure their proper maintenance. It is not about some kind of nostalgia or love for the Soviet past. No. It is more about the fact that all these “remnants” of the Soviet epoch could become important tourist attractions.

The blogger also proposes to keep signs with the Soviet-era street names in the capital and place the monuments that have been dismantled in museums.

And under Ozodi's story, Mansur comments [tj]:

The symbols and signs left from the USSR should not be taken down, for they are important historical evidence reminding us of our great past…

The President That Could Not Stand His “Stan”

President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbaev wants to rename his country Kazak Yeli (Kazakh People), dropping a “stan” suffix synonymous with obscurity, human rights abuses, post-Soviet corruption and Borat. 

According to the “Leader of the Nation”, one of the many titles the 22-year president has had bestowed on him by a pliant political elite, such a shift will change international perceptions of the country and distance it from its poorer, less secure stan-ending neighbors.

During a working visit to Atyrau last week, the president was quoted as saying [ru]: 

В названии нашей страны есть окончание «стан», как и у других государств Центральной Азии. В то же время иностранцы проявляют интерес к Монголии, население которой составляет всего два миллиона человек, при этом в ее названии отсутствует окончание «стан». Возможно, надо рассмотреть со временем вопрос перехода на название нашей страны «Қазақ елі», но прежде следует обязательно обсудить это с народом

In our country's name, there is this ‘stan’ ending which other Central Asian nations have as well. But, for instance, foreigners show interest in Mongolia, whose population is just two million people, but whose name lacks the ‘stan’ ending. Probably, we ought to consider with time the issue of adopting Kazak Yeli as the name of our country, but before that, we definitely need to discuss this with the people.

But discussing things with the people is not Nazarbayev's speciality. In June Last year Global Voices reported on an innovative online reaction to state attempts to increase the pension age for women, a move that came as a nasty shock to female citizens. Last week the country announced a 19% devaluation in its national currency, the tenge – another unpleasant surprise to the average Kazakhstani. Small protests against the devaluation have resulted in arrests.

Changing to Kazakh Eli on the stamps will certainly cost money.  Moreover, in light of Kazakhstan's recent decision to devalue the national currency, the stamp will be worth less than it was before.

Changing “Kazakhstan” to “Kazakh Eli” on postage stamps will certainly cost public money. Moreover, in light of Kazakhstan's recent decision to devalue the national currency, the stamp will be worth less than it was previously (Wiki Commons).

Territorially Central Asia's largest republic, Kazakhstan is rich in oil. The country has consistently been the subject of human rights organizations’ criticisms, with Human Rights Watch recently accusing president Nursultan Nazarbaev’s regime of torture, censorship, and the persecution of political opponents. (Less serious accusations may now emerge from Mongolia, a country Kazakhstan almost borders, and one whose population is actually closer to 3 million people than 2 million.)

Nazarbayev has spent a sizable cut of the country's oil wealth on improving the country's image, especially in the wake of the 2006 release of British-American mockumentary/comedy Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The movie, which was filmed in Romania, enjoyed massive commercial success in the West, portraying Kazakhstan as a country where people drink horse urine and where national pastimes include rape, incest and shooting dogs. The film also highlighted the republic's sibling rivalry with another notorious stan, Uzbekistan. One of Kazakhstan's most famous image-makers has been former British Prime Minister Tony Blair

A done deal?

To listen to politicians in the country's weak parliament, one might think the “Kazak Yeli” public discussion referenced by Nazarbayev had already taken place. One MP in the Kazakh Majlis, Jumatay Aliev, said [ru] the president and the people's voice were one: 

 Если что-то президент говорит, он опирается уже на сложившееся мнение. Народ этого хочет, и мы должны идти к этому, иначе нельзя. Это желание народа.

If president says something, he bases on the existing opinion of people…People want it, and we need to move to that direction, otherwise it is impossible. This is the will of people.

Commenting under the article quoting Aliev, kzp-astn begged to differ [ru]:

Откуда вы берете это – “Народ этого хочет”? Кого то конкретно спрашивали? Меня, тебя, твоих родителей, братьев, сестер, может кого то из ваших коллег? Может сосед ваш пришел и сказал, мое мнение спросили я ответил что согласен! Лично я против переименования, и все мои знакомые тоже против!

Where do you get this – “People want it”? Did they ask anybody specifically? Me, you, your parents, brothers, sisters, maybe some of your colleagues?  Perhaps, your neighbor came and said he had been asked for an opinion and had agreed! I personally am against renaming, and all my acquaintances are as well!

Another user of popular Russian-language social network VKontakte Artur Pilipets, tried [ru] to get a feel for the suggested name:

-Откуда ты?
-С Казах ели.
-Где это???
-В Казахстане.

- Where are you from?

- From Kazak Yeli.

- Where is it???

- In Kazakhstan.

While regional commentator @randomdijit tweeted mischievously:

@pashab05 went further, offering new names for Uzbekistan, based on the stage name for President Islam Karimov's pop star daughter, and Kyrgyzstan, based on the country's Manas epos:

Humor aside, the re-brand proposal earned a mixed reaction from the person on the street when Radio Free Europe's Kazakh service  began Nazarbayev's promised public discussion on the dictator's behalf. Some people saw the need to dump “stan” but didn't think Kazak Yeli had much of a ring, while a Russian-speaking citizen objected to Kazak Yeli on the grounds that it further emphasized one nationality in this multinational Central Asian state.

Mostly, support for the change has come from patriots who see it as an opportunity to make a clean brake from the Soviet Union. One netizen, Саят (Sayat) led the rallying cry [kz]:

Шет елдіктер Стан дегенін талай естігенім бар. Қашанғы Стан боламыз , ойланайық ағайын . Алға Қазақ елі!

I heard many times foreigners calling us Stan. For how long shall we remain Stan, let us come to our senses, gentlemen. Forward, Kazakh people [Kazak Yeli]!

This post is part of the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

February 18 2014

To Hell with the Games: Russians Turn from Sochi to Ukraine

A woman in Kiev reacts to the sight of two dead bodies (protesters killed in the violence). 18 February 2014. Screenshot from YouTube.

A woman in Kiev reacts to the sight of two dead bodies (protesters killed in the violence). 18 February 2014. Screenshot from YouTube.

Before the Sochi Winter Games kicked off less than two weeks ago, yours truly told US News & World Report that unrest in Ukraine might divert the attention of Russian Internet users from the Olympics. Today, after a relative lull, violence returned to Kiev’s streets, causing a dramatic shift in RuNet activity. Indeed, the images coming out of Ukraine depict something like a civil war.

While the news from Kiev is making headlines globally, comparative Twitter analytics demonstrate that today’s events in Ukraine galvanize Russian speakers to a degree distinct from the rest of the world. Indeed, in the last 24 hours on Twitter, Russian users’ interest in Ukraine has surpassed their attention on the Olympics. This reverses a trend in place since February 2, 2014, several days before even the opening ceremony, when Russians last tweeted more about Kiev than Sochi.

The trend among Anglophone Twitter users over the last month is similar, but interest in Sochi has always dominated. Even today, with Ukraine in flames, tweets about Kiev are just over half the more than 200 thousand tweets about the Winter Games.

While it’s no surprise that Internet users are drawn to the revolutionary display in Kiev, it is remarkable that the host of the Winter Olympics seems to have lost its home audience to a foreign event.

Russian-language tweets (click to enlarge):

Russian-language tweets about “maidan” or “kiev” (orange) versus tweets about “sochi” or the “olympics” (blue).

Russian-language tweets about “maidan” or “kiev” (orange) versus tweets about “sochi” or the “olympics” (blue).

English-language tweets (click to enlarge):

English-language tweets about “maidan” or “kiev” or “euromaidan” or

English-language tweets about “maidan” or “kiev” or “euromaidan” (orange) versus tweets about “sochi” or the “olympics” (blue).

February 16 2014

The Hilarity of Murder Among Russians

Alexey Navalny (left) and Irina Yarovaya (right). Images from Wikimedia commons.

Alexey Navalny (left) and Irina Yarovaya (right). Images from Wikimedia commons.

Where do you draw the line between a joke and a death threat? That question has been on Russians’ minds this week, after a controversial tweet [ru] by famed blogger and opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who described the assassination [ru] of a judge in Ukraine as a “greeting card” to judges in Russia. The murder victim, Aleksandr Lobodenko, was responsible for sentencing several protesters convicted of rioting in Ukraine’s Poltava region, leading police to believe the killing was politically motivated.

Duma deputy Irina Yarovaya quickly branded [ru] Navalny’s tweet “extremist,” interpreting it literally. Navalny’s message, she claimed, “not only mocks a man’s death, but transmits a positive attitude about murder.” Other state officials soon chimed in. Kirill Kabanov, a member of the President’s Council on Human Rights, implied that he believes Navalny was joking, but warned that some of his readers might misunderstand, saying, “Navalny has a pretty big group of fans, who aren’t always evenly balanced, and some of them might see [the tweet] as a call to action.” Georgy Fedorov, a member of Russia’s Civic Chamber, accused</a> [ru] Navalny of being a thug disguised as an activist, calling the tweet “reckless” and “twisted.”</p> <p>A day after his “greeting card” tweet, Navalny <a href=" http:="">responded [ru] to the backlash, addressing only Yarovaya. Changing the topic entirely, he pummeled Yarovaya for hiding a luxurious Moscow apartment in her daughter’s name. Indeed, Navalny first blogged about the secret accommodations nearly a year ago, in March 2013, when he republished [ru] findings by an opposition-leaning newspaper. At the time, Yarovaya denied the accusation, calling it “a dirty insinuation.” This week, Navalny presented on his blog a copy of a real estate title in the name of Yarovaya’s daughter for a four-bedroom apartment in a posh area of Moscow.

Navalny offered to delete his tweet about the Ukrainian judge’s murder, if Yarovaya could clarify how her daughter, at 18-years-old, managed to buy property worth an estimated three million dollars. Comedically undeterred, Navalny even offered, in the event of an explanation from Yarovaya, to compose a new tweet, “calling on people never to kill on-the-take judges or corrupt deputies.”

Navalny’s sarcasm has always been a major feature of his persona. Particularly before he became one of the political opposition’s most prominent figures, Navalny’s public image was foremost associated with his blogging. Though he rarely responds to comments on LiveJournal these days, and his blog posts now are heavier in information than opinion, Navalny’s voice online is still consistently snide and disparaging. This is not to say he’s meaner than most using the Internet, but Navalny’s manner distinctly remains a blogger’s style.

How else can we explain why Navalny considers it appropriate to issue a mock death threat to judges throughout Russia? In a year that has kicked off to multiple harsh reactions by authorities in response to ‘offensive utterances,’ Navalny is clearly advertising his fearlessness about pushing the bounds of free speech. Others elsewhere in Russia have responded with similar resolve (or stubbornness, depending on your point of view), when accused of speaking irresponsibly. TV Rain may have apologized and canceled a program, after it caught hell for a survey about abandoning Leningrad to the Nazis, but the station’s management refused to fire anyone. Victor Shenderovich, who enraged many by noting uncomfortable similarities between Russian and fascist Olympians, has stuck to his guns and defended himself against critics who say he crossed a line.

Navalny may very well think he’s rallying behind the country’s beleaguered and besieged civil society. His choice of resistance—turning a man’s killing into a jab at Russia’s own admittedly hated judges—may have been in poor taste, but Navalny is far from the only opposition member who’s alluded to prospects for Ukrainian-style unrest in Russia. Making this stand with a joke, however (and then refusing to defend it directly), suggests that Navalny and his generation have room to mature.

February 15 2014

Blood on the Ice, Fury on the Tubes

Vladimir Putin sees all of your shenanigans.

Vladimir Putin sees all of your shenanigans. Image mixed by Kevin Rothrock and Andrey Tselikov.

Drama is never far behind when the Russian and the USA national hockey teams meet on the ice. The latest match-up at the Sochi Olympics, where US won 3-2 in a series of shootouts, was no different. While Americans celebrated, Russian fans were incensed by what they view as an unfair loss — late in the game the Russians scored a third goal that was nullified by the referees according to IHF rules, because one of the US goal-posts was slightly dislodged. Arguably it was this call that cost the Russians their victory.

“There was a goal! Even we saw it.” says a Russian cosmonaut. Anonymous image found online.

The goal's position was so slightly out of kilter that most people watching the game did not notice it. Confusion over the reasons for nullification quickly turned to anger and conspiracy theories, fed by the fact that the referee was an American national. The Twitter account of the liberal cable channel Rain-TV tweeted:

By the way, the referee who didn't count the third puck in the American goal, because the American goalie moved the goal-post, is also American

The implication here being that while the IOC maintains that judges “don't have nationalities,” the American referee somehow chose to overlook the Russian goal to help “his” team. In a way, the outrage has united Russians from opposite sides of the political spectrum like few other things have in the past. Pro-Kremlin MP Maria Kozhevnikova also tweeted [ru] that the American goalie moved the post himself, while opposition MP Dmitry Gudkov couldn't believe that the referee is American, calling the fact “crazy [ru].” Nationalist publication Sputnik & Pogrom noted that in a way, the game reflects Russia's weakness on the international arena [ru] — first the Russians let Americans judge their game, and then they complain about the results, rather than questioning the entire setup.

Some chose to vent their frustration with outgoing US ambassador Michael McFaul, who was cheering the US team on Twitter. After McFaul tweeted “Victory!”, someone replied

@McFaul the American referee cheated, when he nullified the goal. Is this a national trait ?

To which McFaul responded with an exasperated “Come on man!” McFaul's defensiveness showed when he took seriously an obviously jocular tweet that was parodying the conspiracy theorists:

Ive seen it all now! RT@vdzyubenko The DC bosses and @McFaul stole our victory ))

Russia is still in the running for hockey gold, although the going will get harder now. And in the end, blaming the referee is a time honored tradition in both countries. Let's hope that Vladimir Putin, a hockey fan, doesn't take this loss as seriously as some memes imagine:

Putin over-reacts to Russia's hockey loss.

Putin over-reacts to Russia's hockey loss.

February 14 2014

Kazakhstan Gets Its First Medal in Sochi

Kazakhstan got its first-ever Olympic medal in figure skating, with Denis Ten taking the bronze in Sochi today. Ten finished third in men's figure skating, behind Patrick Chan of Canada and Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. With this bronze, Kazakhstan has become the first Central Asian nation to win a medal at the Sochi Olympics so far.

Here are some of the initial reactions to Ten's medal on Twitter:

Hooray! Congratulations to @Tenis_Den and the entire Kazakhstan on this bronze!

Ten! Our first medal! Hooray!

Denis!!!! Kazakhstan!!!! )))))) Well-done!!! I am wordless.

Kazakhstan is triumphant! Finally! #patriot #Kazakhstan

We are proud of Denis Ten) Thanks a lot! We believe that only gold [medals] will come in future. Go Kazakhstan!

Well-done, Denis Ten. Kazakhstan is proud of you!!!

Congratulations on your big victory! Third place is a big victory. Thanks from all of Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan took bronze in figure skating!!! I am sooo happy that I can't believe myself))) This is what the Motherland means!)

So, we have the first medal! Who comes next? #GoKazakhstan

Congratulations to Kazakhstan on its first medal… Well-done, Denis… We believed in you))))

Kazakhstan is not sleeping! Kazakhstan is celebrating and feeling triumphant! Good that it is Saturday tomorrow.

I didn't watch [Ten's] victory today, but thanks to Instagram and Twitter, I can feel the happiness that has united all of Kazakhstan.

Borat references

Many reactions from Twitter users outside the country have included references to Borat, a 2006 mockumentary comedy film that introduced millions of people around the world to Kazakhstan.

Despite Bans, Central Asians Observe Valentine's Day

Central Asian countries have a special relationship with Valentine's Day. While some nations in the region embrace the holiday that has become popular in recent years, other countries ban or try to replace it with more “authentic” local celebrations.

Global Voices has reported about social media debates related to Valentine's Day in Tajikistan, where one third of people celebrate the holiday according to a recent survey. Below is a brief overview of how Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan have observed February 14 this year.

Kazakhstan

The authorities in Kazakhstan are generally much more tolerant towards new holidays and traditions than their neighbors in the region. Kazakhs are free to celebrate Valentine's Day as they wish. As in many other countries, however, social media users argue about whether the holiday should be celebrated. Responding to frequent portrayals of Valentine's Day as a holiday that contradicts Islam, blogger Ainura Rai asserts [ru] that the holiday has a “secular character” and, therefore, does not run against any religious conviction. Another blogger, Kuanushbek Zhakparov, agrees that “the day of love” is a secular holiday but contends [ru] that Valentine's Day is an “evil” capitalist phenomenon promoted by companies that make money by selling cards, flowers, and other love-themed products. Other bloggers discuss [ru] inexpensive gifts that people could give their loved ones on February 14.

Meanwhile, in the northern Kazakh city of Kostanai, traffic police has used the holiday as an opportunity to improve its image among drivers:

In Kostanai, police officers presented drivers with Valentine's Day Cards.

An unusual group of police officers was on duty at the Abay Avenue, near TSUM, today. Drivers did not expect such a surprise from police officers.

On the Day of Love, [police officers] gave drivers Valentine's Day Cards and gifts from insurance companies.

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan has joined the list of “enemies of Valentine's Day” this year. Tursunbai Bakir uulu, a member of Kyrgyz parliament (who has been calling for a ban on Valentine's Day for several years now) recently called February 14 a “holiday from the devil”. The authorities in the southern city of Osh have banned the observance of Valentine's Day in schools, arguing that the “holiday of love is a bad influence on children’s morality.” Education officials have suggested that schoolchildren should instead observe the Family Day on February 15.

This has not stopped young Kyrgyzstanis from celebrating, however. Blogger Bektour Iskender reports [ru] that students in several school in Osh did organize Valentine's Day events. Similar events were held in many schools and universities across the country. On kloop.kg, blogger Darya Solovyova shares [ru] gift ideas for Valentine's Day.

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan has been more aggressive than its neighbors in trying to root out celebrations of Valentine's Day. For several years now, the country's authorities have been trying to convince people to celebrate February 14 as the birthday of Mohammed Zahiriddin Babur, the Uzbek people's “great ancestor”. 

The birthday of Zahiriddin Muhammad Babur is celebrated today.

This year, the authorities have stepped up their campaign against Valentine's Day. Officials at a number of universities in the country have forced students to sign contracts affirming that they will not observe “the day of love”. A traditional February 14 concert by a popular Uzbek pop singer has been cancelled. In many mosques throughout Uzbekistan, mullahs have denounced Valentine's Day during Friday sermons as a “harmful holiday that contradicts both Islam and local traditions”.

Despite these restrictions, however, some people in Uzbekistan have celebrated Valentine's Day. On Facebook and Odnoklassniki, many Uzbekistani users congratulated their followers or shared love-themed images and electronic cards. 

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