Monday, March 31, 2008

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tibet: 1959 and Today - 2

The official website of the Central Tibetan Administration presents a constantly updated series of newsflashes, official press releases and other reports and materials, including statements by the Dalai Lama.

See also in this blog: Tibet: 1959 and Today

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Back to the Past

Haaretz points to a disturbing resurgence of anti-Semitism in Russia.

Armed Clashes in Chechnya

Reuters reports on a renewal of fighting in southern Chechnya:
Five security officers, three separatists and a passer-by were killed during the gun battle in the Urus-Martanovskiy district just after 10:00 pm Moscow time (3 p.m. EDT) on Wednesday night, Interfax reported.

"A group of 10 to 15 militants were discovered in a wood on the outskirts of the village of Alkhazurovo... An armed clash took place with law-enforcement officers," a security source was quoted as saying by Interfax.

The local resident was shot dead by escaping separatists when they fired on his car, while two other passengers were injured, agencies reported.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Spotlight on Russia

News of an upcoming event, Spotlight on Russia, at the Royal United Services Institute in London on May 14, organized by the Chechnya Peace Forum.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Missing the Point

Two-thirds of the way through an assessment of the U.S. missile defence shield as "Russia's Red Herring" in negotiations with a Washington administration that is sometimes seen as slow to put two and two together where foreign policy issues - particularly Russia-related ones - are concerned, Robert Amsterdam writes:
Washington's failure to respond positively to Putin's unprecedented security cooperation following 9/11 will go down as the greatest wasted opportunity in recent history.
One wonders whether Washington - or indeed any other Western government professing to uphold the values of democracy and human rights - could have responded positively to "security" initiatives by a regime that engendered the documented massacres committed by its armed forces in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, and - it now seems probable - the 1999 apartment bombings in Russia which killed several hundred innocent civilians and served as a pretext for the opening of the second Russian military campaign in Chechnya.

Monday, March 17, 2008

In Search of an Opposition

We don’t need “political experts” and “political technology specialists”, not economists and not politicians in the traditional sense of the word. We need intelligent, daring and extremely well-meaning leaders who instead of loud opposition noises, can create a decisive, calm, persistent and unwavering protest and not allow it to slip out from the tradition of the great peaceful Eastern European victories over despotism, to not allow bloodshed and the brown-shirt plague. This is incredibly difficult. It is much harder in Russia than it was in Poland or Czechoslovakia, harder even than in Ukraine.

Sergei Kovalev, in an open letter to Vladimir Putin

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Cross of Shame

A Serb group plans to build a huge, illuminated cross on a hill from which Serb artillery shelled Sarajevo during the 1992-96 Bosnia war, AP reports:
On Wednesday, the Sarajevo Association of War Victims criticized the plan to build the cross, calling it shameful to build the memorial in a location from which the Serb artillery pounded the city, killing thousands of people. The association issued a statement calling the planned monument a "provocation for the citizens of Sarajevo."

"It is an illegal, immoral and shameful act, especially because it will be erected in memory of Serb soldiers who kept the city under siege, committing crimes for which their commanders have received long prison sentences at The Hague Tribunal," the group said.

The association said it will urge Bosnia's international administrator, Slovak diplomat Miroslav Lajcak, to bar the cross on the ground that it could threaten the country's peace.

Sarajevo's mayor, Semiha Borovac, said the monument would enrage people in Sarajevo.

"This is not contributing to reconciliation. It is not in the tradition of Sarajevo to build such monuments. We build churches. ... But this I cannot support," she said in an interview.

Anti-Semitism on the Rise

CNN, on a new report from the U.S. State Department:
Today, more than 60 years after the Holocaust, anti-Semitism is not just a fact of history, it is a current event," the report says.

The report -- called Contemporary Global Anti-Semitism and given to Congress on Thursday -- is dedicated to the memory of the late U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, a survivor of the Holocaust, the extermination of 6 million Jews during World War II.

The report details physical acts of anti-Semitism, such as attacks, property damage, and cemetery desecration. It also lists manifestations such as conspiracy theories concerning Jews, Holocaust denial, anti-Zionism and the demonization of Israel.

"Over much of the past decade, U.S. embassies worldwide have noted an increase in anti-Semitic incidents, such as attacks on Jewish people, property, community institutions, and religious facilities," the report says.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

All of Europe

"It was in these halls that a colleague turned to me amidst a MEP’s speech about the mass deportations in her country. Why can’t you people forget about the past and think of the future? he asked.

"It is perhaps uncomfortable to hear but while we all know the history of Europe we know also that that Europe is actually only a part of Europe, as the great historian of Europe Norman Davies has so effectively shown.

"For the history of Europe includes the history of all of Europe, with all of its glory and woes. We are today the inheritors of the Europe of Bismarck’s social reforms as well as of the Salazar regime. Of the world's first constitutional democracy as well as the repressions of brutal internal security services."
Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, speaking in Strasbourg.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The natives can do it

Firmly in the spirit of Neville Chamberlain, a former British ambassador to Moscow expresses sentiments that are quite openly reactionary - a real throwback to the 1930s - in a Financial Times op-ed piece entitled Let the Russians Sort Out Russia:
Although Russians today do not enjoy our kind of democracy, they do enjoy an unprecedented, if precarious, degree of personal prosperity, of access to information, of freedom to travel and even - within limits - to express their views. To argue that they cannot go on to construct their own version of democracy is a kind of racism. It may take decades, even generations; the construction of democracy always does. But if the Indians can do it, so can the Russians.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


In the IHT, John Vinocur takes a look at the U.S. Presidential candidates' policies on Europe and Russia, and concludes that there is not much likelihood of Europe and the U.S. seeing eye to eye on these issues for a while, at any rate. In particular, of Senator McCain, who is about to embark on a tour of European capitals, he notes that
the membership list for the League of Democracies he promises to create in his first term doesn't include Russia. He also wants the G-8 group of industrial powers to exclude Russia from its summits.

That's a lot to digest for a nervous and hardly united EU where any American representing foreign policy firmness can be quickly caricatured as a Donald Rumsfeld - whose strategy McCain abhorred.

Even in France, where the Sarkozy line six months ago was all about Russia's "brutality," McCain may now hear concern for Russian "sensibilities," and that, in Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's words, Moscow must now "have the place that belongs to it."

All of this comes down to more, much more, American-European divergence.

If Europeans want to label McCain as the next postulant for a trouble-making White House, they ought to hear Hillary Clinton on how George Bush gave Putin's confrontational policies "a free pass." Or Barack Obama's put-down of "anti-American posturing from European allies that enjoy the blanket of our protection."

Feel familiar? Whoever the new president, whatever the New Europe, the evidence says you've been here before.
Hat tip: Leopoldo

Monday, March 10, 2008

Smart Finns

In the Wall Street Journal, Ellen Gamerman asks from Helsinki, Finland: What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?
The academic prowess of Finland's students has lured educators from more than 50 countries in recent years to learn the country's secret, including an official from the U.S. Department of Education. What they find is simple but not easy: well-trained teachers and responsible children. Early on, kids do a lot without adults hovering. And teachers create lessons to fit their students. "We don't have oil or other riches. Knowledge is the thing Finnish people have," says Hannele Frantsi, a school principal.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Age of Assassins

In the Times, Oleg Gordievsky reviews a new book by Yuri Felshtinsky and Vladimir Pribylovsky. Entitled The Age of Assassins: the Rise and Rise of Vladimir Putin, it traces the Russian leader's career since 1975, but is also effectively a history of Russia over the past 17 years. From the review's conclusion:
The authors state that it should have become obvious by now that Russia's Government “would henceforth be run and be controlled by people who hated America and Western Europe, who had no experience in building anything, who acted in secrecy while belonging to an organisation of which - as with the Gestapo in Nazi Germany - not a single good word can be said in its defence”. It is difficult to disagree with this judgment.

Oligarchs in trouble

In the JC, Yuri Felshtinsky writes about Why the Kremlin wants its oligarchs Jewish. Excerpt:
It is true that Jewish businessmen are crucial for modern Russia in a way Jewish Russians never were under Communism. But that does not mean they are indispensable. The main rule for an oligarch is that you do what the Kremlin tells you. If you cross the line and try to take a piece of pie from Kremlin, you end up like Khodorkovsky, Berezovsky, Patarkatsishvili, etc. Russia is a free country, so the choice is yours.

The Russian Finans magazine wrote two weeks ago that there are now more than 101 billionaires in Russia. Many of them are not Jewish. That the Kremlin has at last allowed commercial power to be entrusted to Russians rather than to Russian Jews is a sign that they must have found a satisfactory way of stopping businessmen from becoming too powerful without having to resort to assassinations, as in the late nineties. The Kremlin clearly no longer needs Jewish businessmen; so what they once needed to give, they are now taking away again.

Friday, March 07, 2008

About Bout

As Andean leaders head for a summit dominated by the stridently anti-American gesture politics of Hugo Chavez, one of the real instigators of the current crisis is in police captivity:
[Viktor] Bout, charged in New York with conspiring to sell weapons worth millions of dollars to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, faces up to 10 years in jail if found guilty in Thailand.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Russian bomber buzzes US carrier - again


For the second time in less than a month, a Russian bomber flew over the aircraft carrier "U.S.S. Nimitz" on March 5, news agencies reported. The plane was then intercepted by U.S. F/A-18 jet fighters, which escorted it out of the area off the Korean coast, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 1 and 13, 2008). Reuters quoted unnamed U.S. military officials in Washington as saying that they do not consider the plane, which flew 610 meters above the ship, "a threat or concern." Following the previous such incident, some U.S. officials on a panel of experts argued that the Russian action was legal and "normal." Most of the experts agreed, however, that it is "not a good idea" to buzz an aircraft carrier. The Russian daily "Komsomolskaya pravda" wrote on February 13 that such incidents can often lead to unforeseen consequences, even if the pilot's actions are in keeping with accepted international practice. In Moscow on March 6, Air Force Colonel General Yury Solovyov, who is in charge of the capital's air defenses, said that those aircraft will be "modernized" by 2011 so that "they will remain technically and tactically superior to NATO planes," Interfax reported. PM

See also: Russian bomber buzzes U.S. carrier

Origins of Hatred

In January, Jeffrey Goldberg reviewed a new book by the German scholar and author Matthias Küntzel on the roots of modern Muslim anti-Semitism for the New York Times, pointing out that although Küntzel sometimes overreaches himself in the book, and tends towards oversimplification, some of his insights and analyses are truly worthy of reflection. In particular,
The Muslim Brotherhood, Küntzel goes on, was a crucial distributor of Arabic translations of “Mein Kampf” and the “Protocols.” Across the Arab world, he states, Nazi methods and ideology whipped up anti-Zionist fervor, and the effects of this concerted campaign are still being felt today.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Medvedev the Bear

Robert Service, writing about the bearishness of Mr Medvedev (medved' is the Russian word for a bear):
The chances are surely slim that Medvedev is a closet liberal. The evidence suggests that the pessimists are nearer the mark. It is true that Medvedev has spoken warmly about democracy. At the world economic forum at Davos last year he noted that the most successful economies are underpinned by fair elections and impartial justice. He talks a good talk. His face is bland and smiling – he looks like a former member of a 1980s boyband. At only 42 he seems to bring a fresh approach to public policy.

In reality the future Russian president belongs to a ruthless ruling group. Like Putin he comes from St Petersburg, and their association has been long and close. Medvedev trained as a lawyer and put his expertise at the Kremlin’s disposal at a time when Putin was hammering his enemies into the ground.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Racist Russia

Paul Goble writes in his Window on Eurasia blog about the fateful consequences of officially sponsored xenophobia and racism in Russia,summarizing an article in the current issue of Novaya Gazeta by the Russian journalist Natalya Mursaliyeva:
Aleksandr Asmolov, a psychology professor at Moscow State University, told her that as a result of the attitudes the authorities have expressed and thus sanctioned, prejudice has overwhelmed reason and Russia now finds itself in a situation in which those who engage in “lynch law” are turned into heroes.

Because of that, he continued, the country is becoming “a closed society,” one in which tolerance for other groups is viewed not as a public and private virtue but rather as a limitation on the rights of the majority. And the spread of that attitude in recent years, Asmolov suggested, has put the country on “a suicidal path.”

Vyacheslav Sharov, a social psychologist and psychotherapist, supported that view. He told Mursaliyeva that until officials change their public messages, “xenophobes of all kinds will receive from [the current comments] a signal of approval,” a sense that attacking migrants is something that the authorities actually welcome.

Moreover, he continued, the behavior of such xenophobic individuals and groups is one that can be called “fascism” or even “terrorism” because its victims often are not those guilty of any crimes at all but rather innocent bystanders who are only ethnically similar to those the xenophobes blame for their problems.

But the most damning comments about this trend and Putin’s responsibility for it were offered by Lev Gudkov of the Levada Analytic Center. Although arguing that no one index measures all aspects of xenophobia, he said the rapidly growing support for the idea of “Russia for the Russians” as indicative of the problem.

“Before Putin,” the current high level of public backing for that idea simply “did not exist.” At the same time, however, Gudkov carefully noted that Putin and his team had not so much created something out of nothing but rather had made use of “mass prejudices” to generate support for themselves and their policies.

Unfortunately, in playing to the worst in the population rather than the best, he continued, Putin and his command had encouraged many xenophobic Russians to assume that their attitudes were entirely justified. And that in turn has not only intensified these feelings among those who already had them but led more to adopt them as well.

Many officials, he continued, have an interest in ensuring that migrants are kept in a position of fear. Such a situation pays “its own dividends.” And as to officials in the “law enforcement organs,” there, Gudkov said, “the level of xenophobia and hostility [to non-Russians] is stronger and greater than in any other sphere.

All this promotes the notion among Russians that their nation is “always right,” that others are trying to diminish it, and that attacks on representatives of these “others” are thus justified and even backed by the authorities themselves. “They don’t respect us,” Russians say; “we have to show them who is boss.”

Gudkov noted that research shows that “the propaganda of racism” of this kind is increasing, with ever more Russians concluding that “the superiority of the titular nationalism has risen to the status of an official rule of behavior.” This rule is as yet “unwritten,” he continued, but it has been accepted at the highest levels.”

Mursaliyeva concludes with the following observation: “The genie of xenophobia has escaped the bottle” during Putin’s administration, but it might still be controlled if the new president changed the messages he sends to his countrymen about how they should behave.

But if that does not happen, she argues, the future is truly frightening. As anyone who has examined what happens when governments play to the racism of the crowd knows, such regimes quickly find themselves prisoners of the very monster they have allowed to emerge.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Weimar Russia

Interviewed in the Moscow Times, Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves has discussed the current political and social climate in Russia:
"There is a mentality of being stabbed in the back that reminds me of the Weimar republic... The Weimar mentality ... is so similar that I really hope that we do not go off in the wrong direction," he said, speaking by telephone from the Estonian capital, Tallinn.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

With Bush in Africa

Travelling through Africa with President George W. Bush for Time, Bob Geldof sees and hears the genuinely good qualities of the U.S. leader, as well as the things that are possibly not so good:
I have always heard that Bush mangles language and I've laughed at the satires of his diction. He shrugs them off, but I think he's sensitive about it. He has some verbal tics, but in public and with me he speaks fluently and in wonderful aphorisms, like:

"Stop coming to Africa feeling guilty. Come with love and feeling confident for its future."

"When we see hunger we feed them. Not to spread our influence, but because they're hungry."

"U.S. solutions should not be imposed on African leaders."

"Africa has changed since I've become President. Not because of me, but because of African leaders."

Torturing the Innocent

Although one wonders whether the presence of the Guantánamo Bay Prison did not, in fact, deter other 9/11s that might have occurred in its absence, the points raised by Jeremy Putley in his Online Review discussion of the issues do give one pause for thought. In particular, one remembers Bush's endorsement of Putin...
Of course, the United States is not the only country that uses torture. It is endemic in the Russian penal system, and in China's; both the largest country in the world and the most populous torture their own citizens. But the conduct of the US is the saddest case of a nation corrupted, because it is no longer that "shining city on a hill" that once represented a standard for the world to emulate; and because it is the US leadership itself that has seen fit to depart so radically from America's core values.

On the evidence provided by Andy Worthington and the other authoritative books referred to here, the judgment has to be that the US over-reacted to the events of 9/11. Quite apart from the perverse decision to go to war in Iraq, what other verdict could there be, considering its adoption of torture as a method of punishment, and torture as a technique for the gathering of faulty intelligence?