Monday, September 18, 2017

Three Reasons Putin Should Be Worried about an Ufa Meeting in Defense of the Bashkir Language

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 18 – On Saturday, two thousand Bashkirs, including activists from the Bashkort national organization and the Congress of the Bashkir People, demonstrated in their republic capital in defense of their national language and in defiance of local officials who tried to block them from assembling. 

            Artur Asafyev of Radio Liberty’s Tatar-Bashkir Service, reports that those assembled carried portraits of some of the most well-known Bashkirs in history, including Zaki Velidi, and the activists who addressed them primarily in Bashkir and demanded that the study of the national language be obligatory in republic schools (

            Prominent among the participants were instructors in the Bashkir language who shared their anger about official investigations into whether pupils were being allowed to opt out of the study of the national language.  They said that the authorities were cutting back sharply in the number of teachers of Bashkir in the republic.

            According to Asafyev, “practically every one of those speaking called for the retirement of republic head Rsutem Khamitov as well as of Bashkir education minister Gulnaz Shafikova, whom the activists blame for the critical situation in which the Bashkir language finds itself today.

            Alfiya Uzyanbayeva from the Urals region told the group that “the policies of Rustem Khamitov are leading to a split in society. We already have constantly see this Kremlin ‘Bashperson’ and have reached conclusions about his policy of ethnocide and the destruction of culture, education, cadres, and the media.”

            “Where is our Bashkir satellite TV channel?” she asked. “We don’t have BST; we have KhST,” with the “Kh” standing for Khamitov.  Bashkirs may be down now, but they are not out. And they will struggle for change because “we need our own Bashkir khan,” not some hireling of Moscow.

            Uzyanbayeva and other speakers called for the expansion in the use of Bashkir in government offices on an equal basis with Russian.  “Our cause is just!” they declared. Moreover, “we have nowhere to retreat – this is our Motherland!  We will defend and preserve the Bashkir language for eternity!” 

            As the meeting was concluding, the police moved in and tried to arrest the leading speakers. But others in the crowd blocked their way, and no arrests were made at the scene. Later, however, it became known that police had gone to the homes of some of them, detained them briefly and then let them go.

            Normally, few would pay much attention to a demonstration of any kind in Ufa. But this one was different and merits comment because it contains three clear warnings to Vladimir Putin that the Kremlin leader will ignore only at his peril.

            First, Putin’s tilt toward Russian and against the non-Russian languages is exactly the kind of issue that can unite non-Russians as almost nothing else can. It thus guarantees that unless he moderates his course, there will be ever more protests like the one in normally quiescent Bashkortostan – and these demonstrations will be ever more radical.

            Second, this trend will be marked by two other things as well, both of which threaten the stability of the Russian Federation.  On the one hand, they will increasingly pit the ethnic Russians against non-Russians in the republics; and on the other, they will divide the nationalists in the population from republic officials who owe their jobs to the Kremlin.

            The first will ensure that there will be more clashes between Russians and non-Russians, the very thing all Soviet and post-Soviet leaders until Putin have tried to prevent; and the second will guarantee that local officials will increasingly lose control of the situation and have to choose between Moscow and their own people.

            Some, of course, will choose Moscow; but not all, and the ones who don’t will give the center the kind of challenge it has not seen since the early 1990s. But both the one and the other will make the country less stable.

            And third, while the discourse of these protests will begin with language and the need to defend native tongues, it will not end with that. As the Bashkirs said in Ufa, they have “nowhere to retreat” because their Motherland as they define it is at risk. That could lead to a new kind of parade of sovereignties, exactly the outcome Putin takes pride in having prevented up to now.


‘Clowns for War’ in St. Petersburg Make Fun of Putin’s Aggressive Militarism

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 18 – In an action yesterday explicitly timed to coincide with the start of the Zapad-2017 military exercise, a group of anti-war activists dressed as clowns made their point by satirizing Vladimir Putin’s focus on enemies and war to the neglect of the needs of the Russian people at home.

            On the decks of the Avrora battleship whose guns signaled the start of the Bolshevik revolution, the activists declared that “it is unjust that schools, hospitals and pensioners still have some support while for the money being spent on them, we could hold military exercise and then kill!”  (

“It isn’t important,” they continued, “who the enemy is; it is only important that war is something joyous!” The demonstrators carried placards reading “We need enemies,” “We need traditional values” and “imaginary enemies,” “A clown state,” and “I didn’t serve, I’m not a clown” (

According to local television which covered the action, the clowns were quickly driven off the ship. No one was arrested but the guardians of public order seemed especially concerned that there be no photographs. Nonetheless, many have been posted online ( and

Can Forrest Gump Defeat Russian Propaganda in Belarus?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 18 – Sometimes the simultaneous appearance of two stories apparently unrelated sheds light on issues more clearly than either of them does on its own. That is the case of two stories today from Belarus, one about Moscow’s promotion of Russophile books in that country and the other about the release of a Belarusian version of “Forrest Gump.”

            Nasha Niva has investigated how money from the Kremlin has passed through the CIS-EMO, an apparently innocuous organization that stands for the Commonwealth of Independent States – Election Monitoring Organization, money to support books for Belarusians promoting pro-Russian attitudes (

            The CIS-EMO ostensibly was to be the counterpart of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, but its real purpose is to promote pro-Russian attitudes in former Soviet republics.  It has attracted attention for books like Human Rights Violations in Lithuania and The New Europe of Vladimir Putin (with Marie Le Pen on the cover).

            Since 2013, this organization has been headed by Aleksandr Bedritsky of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISI).  Among the books with a Belarusian dimension it has released since then are Belarusian Nationalism Against the Russian World, BSSR and Weestern Belorussia, and The White Guard of White Rus, all of which are in Russian. 

            The CIS-EMO organization gets its money from the Russian state budget via grants for “the development of a humanitarian foundation of Russian-Belorussian integration and the countering of falsification of history.” Last year, it received some 500,000 rubles or about 45,000 US dollars (

                The Russian propaganda books are distributed in part for free but also sold in several Russian Orthodox Church bookstores in Belarus.  How many people read or are influenced by them is unknown, the Belarusian paper suggests. Also unknown is the number of Belarusians who are ready to accept their message. 

            But this weekend, a competing message will be offered in the Moskva Theater in Minsk when the Belarusian-dubbed version of the American film “Forrest Gump” will be shown to what are expected to be large and enthusiastic audiences who will demonstrate their interest by paying for tickets (

                Indeed, in what is a kind of competition between the Zelig-like American film star and the kind of stick propaganda figures in books like The White Guard of White Rus, there is very little question as to who is going to win.