This Date's Issues:
2127 • 2128
Johnson's Russia List
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1 April 1998
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Claire Gordon: Russia's Regions.
2. The Moscow Tribune: John Helmer, MINNOWS AND SHARKS.
3. Peter Budzilovich: Tzar is right.
4. Reuters: Alastair Macdonald, Yeltsin's youthful new PM faces
first Duma test.
5. Moscow Times: David McHugh, Deputies Demand Talks on Premier.
6. Reuters: Daniel Bases, Speculation the rule in Russian markets -
7. Reuters: Gareth Jones, Russia unions to stage protest despite new
8. The Guardian (UK): James Meek, Disenchanted Ukraine lurches to
the left in poll.
9. The Electronic Telegraph: Alan Philps, Convicted criminal is
elected mayor of Russia's third city.
10. New York Times: Michael Gordon, Russia Struggles With Massive
11. Julie Moffett (RFE/RL): Russia: Proposed Legislation Threatens
Free Speech On Internet.
12. AP: US Gen. Optimistic on Russia Treaty.]
Date: Tue, 31 Mar 1998
From: "C.E. GORDON" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Russia's Regions
I would be grateful if you would post the following announcement on
your daily e-mail service should you think it is appropriate.
Thank you in advance,
>A bibliography of resources on Russia's Regions has been established
>at the University of Leeds under the auspices of the Leverhulme
>Trust-funded project 'Exploring Patterns of Political Change in
>Russia's Regions'. The bibliography can be accessed via the Leeds
>University Centre for Russian, Eurasian and Central European Studies'
>web page: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/lucreces. It will be updated on a
>regular basis. Any additions should be sent to Claire Gordon at
Dr. Claire Gordon
Department of Politics
University of Leeds
Leeds LS2 9JT
Date: Tue, 31 Mar 1998
From: email@example.com (John Helmer)
Subject: Minnows and sharks
>From The Moscow Tribune, April 1, 1998
MINNOWS AND SHARKS
Rapacity is a constant in the animal world, but in the human one it goes in
and out of fashion.
Ever since Charles Darwin first proposed his "Origin of the Species", there
have been people who liken themselves to fanged beasts, at least to justify
their success at accumulating wealth by ripping it from others. This
application of social biology is a long way from Darwin. But Vladimir Potanin,
Boris Berezovsky, Anatoly Chubais, and the authors of the Financial Times
don't seem to mind that.
That is, so long as their version of biological evolution stops with them,
and with their bank accounts. It's when nastier creatures swing
unexpectedly out of the trees that these Darwinists suddenly call for human
rights, action by the Procurator-General, cuts in oil excise duties, IMF
structural adjustment loans, and other measures to quieten the jungle down.
A few years ago, Konrad Lorenz, an Anglo-German biologist, set himself
the task of experimenting with biological factors like these. If people
behaved like animals, he wanted to know if they had any choice in the matter.
Biological evolution is what happens after generations of free choice
have happened, and genes, brains, nervous systems are pre-programmed.
In an experiment that deserves to be famous, Lorenz decided
to find out what causes minnow fish to swim together in shoals. In theory,
little fish who stay together have a better chance of surviving predators.
The biological question is what guides the minnow to do this.
So one day the professor reached into his tank, drew out a single fish,
and put him on the operating table. There he managed to cauterize
the minnow's brain without doing any harm to the rest of him.
After recuperation, Lorenz put the marked fish back into the tank with his
fellows, and watched what would happen next.
What Lorenz knew, but the other minnows didn't realize, is that the
marked fish no longer had the biological capacity to follow the
rest of the shoal. He was brainless, but, so to speak, free. What
happened was a marvel, according to Lorenz. The fish with their brains
intact continued to swim together as a shoal. Only now there was one
minnow who had no direction-finder, no shoal responder. In minnow
terms, he was mad, but the others didn't know it. As the marked
fish swam aimlessly, the others fell in behind him. The shoal was
now following a leader who was following nothing.
Lorenz warned against drawing human parallels. So do I. This isn't pseudo-
biology, and you shouldn't go jumping to conclusions about the Kremlin,
the Duma, or any of those other tanks where Russia's political fish, the
minnows and the sharks, swim about.
Date: Tue, 31 Mar 1998
From: "Peter N. Budzilovich" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Tzar is right
I would not bother to reply to abusive attempts by John Helmer to
hide his ignorance if not for fear that his lecturing on grammar might
mislead some of your readers (see 2125, item #3). You see, MY Webster,
gives three listings for the disputed word: "czar," "tsar," and "tzar."
While all these appear to be equally valid, Webster's preference seems
to be with the "czar." Interestingly, my Netscape 4 speller challenged
Mr. Helmer's spelling -- "tsar" -- but not the other two, suggesting as
a replacement the term "tzar."
Thank you. Peter Budzilovich.
Yeltsin's youthful new PM faces first Duma test
By Alastair Macdonald
MOSCOW, April 1 (Reuters) - Boris Yeltsin's 35-year-old nominee for Russian
prime minister faces a first test on Wednesday of parliament's resolve to
thwart his appointment.
The opposition-dominated State Duma or lower house will debate a wide-ranging
motion proposed by a broad spectrum of political groups calling on the
president to suspend Sergei Kiriyenko's nomination pending all-party
The acting premier himself will continue meetings with Duma factions,
explaining his plans ahead of a confirmation hearing in the house due on
Friday. It is the first of three possible debates on the premiership before a
constitutional clause would be triggered that could mean new parliamentary
The Communists and other key groups say they will not accept the technocratic
former energy minister, whom the president plucked from relative obscurity
last week after sacking veteran prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and his
Opposition politicians say Kiriyenko is too inexperienced and suspect he will
not change his predecessor's liberal policies in the two years before the next
But Yeltsin warns he will go through with his constitutional duty to dissolve
the Duma and call parliamentary elections if it rejects Kiriyenko three times
and opposition leaders have taken care not to paint themselves into a corner
over the vote.
Wednesday's debate is on a non-binding appeal to the president. Some form of
demand seems likely. But the Kremlin has already indicated it will turn a deaf
ear, standing by Yeltsin's constitutional prerogative to name his own prime
Some opposition leaders have said that if Yeltsin refuses to summon ``round-
table talks'' according to a formula used to make peace with parliament in the
past, then Kiriyenko will be rejected by the chamber on Friday.
Even the pro-Yeltsin party Our Home is Russia, second in the Duma after the
Communists, has yet to declare in his favour. The party led by Chernomyrdin,
who has said he will run for president in 2000, will only make up its mind on
Further confusing the issue, liberal opposition group Yabloko, led by Grigory
Yavlinsky, has roundly criticised the way Yeltsin has exercised his vast
personal powers and is pressing for fuller discussions on a new government.
Yet the party has welcomed Kiriyenko, who has pledged to press on with market
reforms and, hailing from provincial Nizhny Novgorod, is seen as free of ties
to big business interests.
Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said after a meeting with leaders of two
allied parties, the Agrarians and People's Power, that all three groups had
agreed on Tuesday to recommend their members vote against Kiriyenko on Friday.
Combined they have 212 seats in the 450-seat house, 14 short of a majority.
Yet the Agrarian leader was quoted as saying after a meeting that he would
advise his 35 members to abstain on Friday.
Few expect an early resolution to the political rows.
Aware of that and apparently keen to quash uncertainty in key posts, Yeltsin
reappointed Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov and Foreign Minister Yevgeny
Primakov on Tuesday.
The maximum three Duma votes on confirming a prime minister could take
weeks. A day of protest organised by trade unions on April 9 could stiffen the
resolve of the opposition.
The Duma has a history of obstructing Yeltsin until a final showdown, when it
has gone for a face-saving compromise to avoid early elections. The next Duma
polls are not due until December 1999.
Some suggest Yeltsin could withdraw Kiriyenko in favour of a new face before
the third vote. But the boyish acting premier, who speaks in the Federation
Council upper house on Wednesday, has grown in stature in the Russian media
over the past week.
April 1, 1998
Deputies Demand Talks on Premier
By David McHugh
Opposition lawmakers laid the groundwork Tuesday for a confrontation
with President Boris Yeltsin over Sergei Kiriyenko's nomination for
prime minister, threatening to drag out the confirmation process.
State Duma leaders put a resolution on Wednesday's agenda that called on
Yeltsin to withdraw the nomination and agree to consultations with the
opposition. Otherwise, said Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, the vote
that had been expected Friday in the parliament's lower house would be
Another potential obstacle to Kiriyenko's confirmation arose when a
German newspaper, Berliner Zeitung, published a report Monday saying
Kiriyenko had attended a weeklong Scientology seminar when he was a bank
executive in Nizhny Novgorod, and encouraged other bank employees to
The Russian Orthodox Church and nationalist politicians have taken a
stern attitude toward what they regard as foreign sects seeking to
convert Russians. Scientology has attained the status of a religion in
the United States, but is considered a money-making sect in some
The Berliner Zeitung story, quoting a cult expert in Nizhny Novgorod,
reported that Kiriyenko had said he appreciated the "clarity" of
Scientology's teaching. Later, the article reported, Kiriyenko said he
did not want to have anything more to do with Scientology.
The Russian Constitution requires the Duma to take up the nomination
within a week. Zyuganov said the Duma would fulfill the legal
requirement simply by discussing the nomination Friday.
"We may take as long as we think necessary" for a vote, Zyuganov said.
Speaker Gennady Seleznyov, a Communist, called for Yeltsin to convene a
round table for Thursday involving both the Duma and the Federation
Council, the upper house. He said Yeltsin's refusal would provoke a
Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky repeated Yeltsin's demand
that the Duma move quickly to approve Kiriyenko. "The faster we overcome
the crisis, the faster we will approach the solution of economic tasks
and guarantee economic growth this year," the spokesman said. "This is
the main aim the president pursues."
But the Duma's tough stance may be a way of saving face by holding out
for concessions, if only minimal ones. If the Duma turns down Yeltsin's
nominee three times, the chamber is dissolved, and new elections are
held.And that is not what most deputies want, said Vladimir Prybylovsky,
who tracks Duma politics at the Panorama think tank.
"Zyuganov needs to save face, he needs to make some attempts, but then
he'll simply approve Kiriyenko on the third vote," said Prybylovsky.
"Perhaps the president will give them some minor concessions, or just
promises. They'll give up quickly."
Prybylovsky pointed to the Duma's cave-in on the March 4 budget vote,
when deputies gave the government wide authority to cut spending. The
Communists do not want early elections, because they might lose seats to
more radical leftist groups critical of the Communists' course of tacit
cooperation with the government, he said.
Kiriyenko met with leading Communists on Tuesday and expressed the
desire for further talks. "My meeting with members of the Communist
Party were productive and altered the atmosphere of our conversation,"
Also Tuesday, Yeltsin made it clear that he intends to reappoint Finance
Minister Mikhail Zadornov, Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Defense
Minister Igor Sergeyev, who all held those jobs in the government he
dismissed March 23, and to keep acting Interior Minister Sergei
Yeltsin said Tuesday that he had signed decrees reappointing Zadornov
and Primakov, but he had to be corrected by spokesman Sergei
Yastrzhembsky, who pointed out that no appointments could be made until
after a prime minister has been confirmed. But, said Yastrzhembsky,
Yeltsin's statement was a clear indication of his intentions.
"In such a highlighted form, the president made it clearly understood
that he is confident that Primakov and Zadornov will be part of the new
Cabinet of Ministers, as well as Sergei Stepashin, who was appointed
acting interior minister Monday, and acting Defense Minister Igor
Sergeyev," Yastrzhembsky was quoted as saying by Interfax.
BLOB: The Russian Prosecutor General's office has extended for another
three months the investigation of book royalties paid to five government
officials, Interfax reported.
The original six-month term for the investigation, started by the Moscow
Prosecutor's Office on October 1, runs out Wednesday, Deputy Prosecutor
General Mikhail Katyshev was quoted as saying by Interfax on Tuesday.
The Moscow Prosecutor's Office is probing a payment of $100,000 to the
former minister in charge of privatization, Alfred Kokh, for one book,
and payments of $450,000 each to the co-authors of a second book: Kokh,
former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais, Kremlin Deputy Chief
of Staff Alexander Kazakov, Kokh's replacement Maxim Boiko and former
bankruptcy service chief Pyotr Mostovoi.
In both cases, the money came from firms connected to Uneximbank, which
won several big privatization auctions. Neither book has been published.
Speculation the rule in Russian markets - Kolesnikov
By Daniel Bases
HARRIMAN, N.Y., March 31 (Reuters) - The Russian stock market remains a
speculative place for investors more used to making a quick profit rather than
functioning as an engine for economic growth, said a top Russia stock market
``I assess the Russian market so far as purely speculative,'' Alexander
Kolesnikov, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Federal Commission for the
Securities Markets told Reuters in an interview.
While attending the 21st annual Arden House conference on American-Russian
Relations, hosted by Columbia and Harvard Universities, Kolesnikov lamented
that money continues to be made in the markets mostly by people interested in
short-term gains, not to fuel economic growth.
``I don't think right now money from financial markets moves into production
yet, it is a place where people still believe, money (invested) into the
market will automatically make money'' Kolesnikov said.
``While we have a taxation system that is currently operating in the way
in Russia, this is the way things are going to operate,'' he said with
In addition to short term foreign investments made into Russia to turn a
profit, he said the use of the markets by criminal elements to further their
business interests is a growing danger.
The ``dirty money'' from illegal businesses, such as drugs and prostitution,
put to work in the financial markets is being withdrawn and used to build up
those criminal infrastructures, Kolesnikov warned.
Kolesnikov said that despite the governments' awareness of the dangers
involved, there didn't seem to be much offered in the way of stopping the
``Therefore we only in theory are thinking about control of this financing
right now. There are not many methods by which to fight it right now,'' he
Speculating, Kolesnikov said one strategy for battling this problem might be
to have investors declare sources of income and cracking the tight contacts
between players in the markets.
``It is all theory, more of my thoughts, rather than practical application of
policy,'' he warned.
Despite the problems with oversight of capital flows, Kolesnikov did
some diminishing risks in his prepared statement, which he titled, ``Making
Russia Safe for Investment.''
Neither political nor economic risk are seen as a major problem for investors
in the Russia markets by Kolesnikov
Kolesnikov played down concerns of political risks saying ``there are no
forces involved in Russia that can turn it 180 degrees from where it is now.
Neither does economic risk erode his confidence.
``Inflation is under control, interest rates are going down in the government
bond market, and the stock market is going up with more viability and
opportunity,'' he declared.
However, even Kolesnikov points out, the stock market faces stiff competition
from the debt markets.
``Investment appetites for the government bond market crave the 30 to 40
percent returns, while developing corporations return five or six percent on
The problems created by the general downsizing of the military remain but
Kolesnikov reminded the conference participants that the financial factors
were being addressed with the issuance of special bonds.
``But by selling these bonds to pay for and clean up the problem of the
military, don't you just create another problem with financing somewhere
else?,'' asked Marshall Goldman, associate director of Harvard's Davis Center
for Russian Studies.
Although he didn't answer the question directly, Kolesnikov cited as an
example the bonds issued to pay for pensioners social needs, and did not
Another top concern for Russia's number two market regulator, is the
manipulation of stock prices, and the lack of an effective system to penalize
``There is no way of enforcing the law against violators,'' he admitted.
The commission has the most leverage to protect investors before a stock or
secondary offering makes it to the markets.
Thirty percent of filings for stock listings are rejected, but once a company
is listed, it is difficult for the Russian Federal Commission for the
Securities Markets to remove it, he said.
Kolesnikov, however, was eager to point out some successes in protecting
investor rights. He pointed specifically to the case of Sidanco, one of the
largest Russian oil producers.
The commission, on February 17, stopped Sidanco from issuing a convertible
bond to controlling shareholders which would have severely diluted the market
value and power of minority investors.
Sidanco is one victory, but it helps ease the immense distrust felt by small
Russian investors in the power of controlling forces over the Russian market.
``We are given the authority to press criminal charges, but there is another
problem. We don't have any intermediate steps to stop a violator and have
limited powers once the shares are issued,'' he commented.
Except for a special law covering the Moscow region, ``There is no
that stops violators, and we think they should be prosecuted on a federal
Russia unions to stage protest despite new cabinet
By Gareth Jones
MOSCOW, March 31 (Reuters) - Russian trade unions vowed on Tuesday to press on
with a day of nationwide protests against chronic wage arrears despite
President Boris Yeltsin's sacking of his cabinet, in part for its failure to
tackle the issue.
Union leaders predicted that millions of Russians would take part in the
9 protests and said the new government must be judged by its determination to
clear the huge wage backlog.
``Wage arrears are the most serious social problem facing our country today
and are the main source of social tensions,'' Mikhail Shmakov, head of the
Federation of Independent Trade Unions, told a news conference.
He said wage arrears totalled 57 billion redenominated roubles ($9.5 billion)
by early February, exceeding a previous all-time record of 55 billion roubles
($9.2 billion) last summer.
Millions of state sector employees, including teachers, doctors and army
officers, often have to wait months to receive salaries already severely
devalued by years of high inflation.
Poor tax collection and mountains of debt between enterprises account for
of the backlog, economists say.
Yeltsin last week singled out wage arrears as one of the major failures of
Viktor Chernomyrdin's outgoing government and has urged his new prime
minister-designate, the youthful technocrat Sergei Kiriyenko, to make the
issue a top priority.
Shmakov said Yeltsin had acted wisely in dismissing the government, which he
said had proved completely incapable of tackling Russia's deep-seated economic
and social problems.
``Yeltsin's bold decision...helped lower tensions (ahead of the April 9
protests)...but it has in no way affected our determination to mount a full-
scale day of action,'' he said.
Asked about the trade unions' view of the little-known Kiriyenko, a
controversial appointment that must still be approved by parliament, Shmakov
sounded a cautious note.
``For now we have nothing against Kiriyenko. The president has the right to
propose his candidate for the premiership and the State Duma (lower chamber)
has the right to approve or reject him,'' Shmakov said.
``We are ready to work with any prime minister who is prepared to tackle the
problems (of wage arrears),'' he added.
He said union leaders would hold talks with Kiriyenko, parliamentary leaders
and other officials in the days ahead.
``Our aim, perhaps unlike some political parties, is not the fall of the
government but the implementation of measures to tackle wage arrears and other
social problems,'' he said.
Shmakov said the April 9 protests would involve all branches of the Russian
economy across the vast country's 11 time zones and would rival in size and
scale a similar day of action staged on March 27, 1997.
Union leaders claimed at that time that 20 million people had taken part in
the protests but the Interior Ministry put the figure at closer to two
Shmakov acknowledged that the level of trade union activity had dropped over
recent months but he attributed the fall not to any improvement in the
economic situation but to a growing sense of hopelessness among Russia's
``Without a change of economic course, growing unbelief and confused rage
could bring unpredictable consequences,'' he said.
Mikhail Nogaitsev, a senior Moscow union official, told reporters his members
were planning to picket the White House, headquarters of the federal
Workers in Moscow mostly receive their wages on time but Nogaitsev said they
wanted to show solidarity with their comrades in areas adjacent to the
Shamkov said the unions also sought an increase in the minimum wage and new
labour legislation to protect workers' rights and wanted Yeltsin to appoint a
union official as labour minister in the new cabinet.
The Guardian (UK)
1 April 1998
[for personal use only]
Disenchanted Ukraine lurches to the left in poll
By James Meek in Moscow
The Ukrainian president, Leonid Kuchma, insisted yesterday that he would
continue market reforms despite a strong vote for Communists and their
socialist allies in parliamentary elections which left them just short
of an absolute majority.
One pro-government paper in Kiev headlined its report "Red Dawn?" after
the country's 38 million voters, oppressed by poverty, corruption and a
wages crisis in which workers are owed £2 billion in back-pay, gave the
four leftwing parties an overall 42 per cent of the vote.
The lion's share, 26 per cent, went to the Communists, who oppose
privatisation, the sale of land and Ukraine's increasingly close
relationship with the West. They believe in a planned economy, regret
the break-up of the USSR and want closer ties with their fellow
ex-Soviet East Slavs in neighbouring Russia and Belarus.
Despite the left's triumph, effectively a shout of anger from the
electorate at the failure of seven years of half-hearted reform and
economic decline under Mr Kuchma and his predecessor, Leonid Kravchuk,
the president said there would be no return to Soviet economic methods.
Final results were not due until late last night but the Communists and
two smaller socialist parties looked likely to pick up around 190 seats
in the 450-seat legislature, the Verkhovna Rada.
Mr Kuchma's hopes of getting any reformist legislation through the Rada
rest on a wedge of smaller nationalist, pro-government and centrist
parties and 114 non-aligned "independents", many of whom are
Petro Symonenko, the Communist leader, said he wanted radical changes to
Ukraine's new constitution, to abolish the presidency and to let the
biggest party in parliament form the government. He called for
"rapprochement" with Russia and Belarus.
His success was welcomed by Russian Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov,
who dreams of reuniting the East Slavs as a prelude to recreating the
Soviet Union. "In Russia, people are increasingly disappointed in
democratic parties and movements. The same process is under way in
Ukraine," he said.
The election was a disaster for Ukrainian nationalists and centrists,
who went to the polls fragmented into dozens of parties. The nationalist
standard bearer, Rukh, scraped into second place with less than nine per
cent of the vote and was beaten by Communists in some of its old Kiev
One surprise was the strong showing of the Green Party, which looks set
to win around 20 seats. The Chernobyl disaster has given Ukrainians a
special concern about the environment but few commentators believe this
party is as green as it looks. The number of bankers in its ranks and
its expensive advertising campaign suggest it is largely a commercial
Millions of Ukrainians died as a result of the Russian civil war, forced
collectivisation and state-inspired famine. Yet the left's electorate
today sees in the Communists not the Bolshevik ideologues of Lenin's
time or Stalin's butchers but the meagre certainties of the three
decades when the USSR was ruled by Ukrainians: Nikita Khrushchev and
Mr Kuchma, a former missile factory boss from Brezhnev's home town of
Dnepropetrovsk, has won democratic credentials and delayed reform since
election in 1994 by trying to work with parliament rather than without
it, as other post-Soviet leaders, in Russia and Central Asia, have done.
But shortly before the election the IMF and the World Bank suspended
huge loan programmes, accusing the Kuchma government of bad faith.
The Electronic Telegraph
1 April 1998
[for personal use only]
Convicted criminal is elected mayor of Russia's third city
By Alan Philps in Moscow
VOTERS in Russia's third city, Nizhny Novgorod, once considered the
vanguard of economic reform, have dealt a blow to the political elite by
electing a twice-convicted criminal as mayor.
Andrei Klimentyev, a nightclub owner known as "the Pimple", was
sentenced in 1982 to eight years in jail for fraud and selling
pornographic videos, and recently served an 18-month sentence for
embezzling £1.5 million of a state loan. He polled 34 per cent of the
vote, beating by two points the current incumbent, a lawyer. The Kremlin
immediately sought to challenge the result, which marks a serious blow
to the Volga city's prestige.
Under the governorship of Boris Nemtsov, now deputy prime minister in
the Russian government, the city was a beacon of reform in the stagnant
provinces. Lady Thatcher and John Major went there, and it was chosen as
the site for an experiment to turn Soviet-style collective farms into
modern agricultural businesses.
But the people of Nizhny Novgorod took delight in overturning the city's
good reputation. One woman, asked why she voted for Mr Klimentyev, said:
"To spite them all." The Kremlin said that President Yeltsin was
"alarmed and deeply concerned" at the result. Alexander Ivanchenko,
chairman of the Central Electoral Commission, called for the vote to be
cancelled, saying Mr Klimentyev had bought votes.
The new mayor responded: "Who is going to declare the vote invalid? I'm
the boss here now." The mayor never tried to smarten himself up,
realising a gangster is a stronger pull at the polls than his grey,
careerist rivals. All politicians and the police are widely seen as
corrupt, greedy and selfish, while criminals are able to project a Robin
Hood image. During his campaign, Mr Klimentyev promised to open three
groceries where pensioners could buy cut-price chicken legs, pig's
hearts and salo, or salted pork fat, a peasant delicacy that is washed
down with vodka.
The city's go-ahead image is very important for the Kremlin, and Mr
Yeltsin has used it as a source of new blood for his administration. It
is the home of Mr Nemtsov and the new acting prime minister, Sergei
Kiriyenko. But the successful image is superficial. Wages in many
factories are delayed for months, and the defence plants lay idle.
New York Times
March 31, 1998
[for personal use only]
Russia Struggles With Massive Identity Crisis
By MICHAEL R. GORDON
MOSCOW -- Russia is in search of a "national idea" that can define its
essence and inspire its citizens. But so far the struggle for a
post-Soviet identity has been a grandiose exercise in conflict and
Russia's new national anthem has no words because nobody can agree on
what it should say. Politicians are still squabbling over its tricolor
flag. A government commission expressly set up last summer to develop a
"national idea" came up empty-handed.
The country's unsettled mood is best expressed by a series of
provocative questions that mysteriously began appearing last year on
billboards and trolley buses: "What's going on?" "How much more can we
take?" and, especially unnerving, "How will it all end?"
It turned out the questions were advertisements for a magazine
promotion, but by then they had already led to a nationwide debate and
been denounced by irate politicians, who apparently feared they were
hitting too close to the mark.
Disputes over the nature of the Russian soul have dominated Russian life
for centuries. Countless bottles of vodka have been drained as Russian
intellectuals debated the identity of a nation that extends from Europe
to Asia, embraces hundreds of nationalities and has endured war, famine
and the self-induced wounds of despotism.
But the question of Russia's national purpose has acquired a fresh
urgency as the nation struggles to redefine itself after the collapse of
the Soviet empire, which provided so much of its identity and mission
for this century.
The Yeltsin government would like to have a concept, slogan or sound
bite to mobilize the public and counter the Communists, who while a
minority at least have an ideology to attract their faithful.
But if the Kremlin has a compelling vision of what lies at the end of
Russia's long, hard road from socialism, it has not convinced ordinary
The task has proved so elusive that a commission President Boris Yeltsin
created last year to produce the "national idea" soon became a national
joke. Georgy Satarov, the panel's chairman and a Yeltsin aide, sought to
justify the commission's failure to articulate an idea by echoing the
new-age mantra that the journey is the destination.
As Satarov put it in August, "It is not just the national idea which is
important, but also the process of finding it."
This is not to say that Russia is without a rough sense of direction.
Few expect Russia to go back to the old Soviet days of a planned
economy, repression and a one-party Communist state.
The Russian Orthodox Church has reemerged as a power in Russian society
and a semi-official organization. Nationalism and Slavic pride are
important factors in the nation's political life.
But none of this seems to add up to a vision for the new Russian state.
Religion and ethnicity are not a sufficient foundation because Russia
has 20 ethnic republics dominated by Tartars, Muslims and others.
Nationalism only goes so far. Russia used to find glory in ruling a vast
empire and dominating its neighbors. But Russian imperialism is not only
politically incorrect, it is beyond the means of the financially
And the Yeltsin government's pro-capitalist economic views are too murky
to serve as a rallying cry.
Boris Nemtsov, Yeltsin's reform-minded deputy, has called for a crusade
to build a "people's capitalism" and break the grip of the small clique
of bankers and financiers on the Russian economy. For a while, pundits
speculated that this crusade might become the long-sought national idea.
But Yeltsin has reshuffled personnel and policies so much -- like his
abrupt dismissal of the Cabinet last week -- that nobody is quite sure
whether he is determined to challenge the oligarchy or protect it. And
since everyone from reformers to corrupt businessmen claim they are
building "capitalism," the term has almost lost its meaning.
"Ordinary Russians do not understand what it means," said Tatyana
Tolstaya, one of Russia's most notable contemporary writers. "What they
see are the rich seizing power. They have a fatalistic approach and hate
everyone in power."
The lack of a unifying vision and the decentralization of power toward
Russia's far-flung regions has eroded any sense of common identity.
According to a recent study by Jerry Hough of Duke University, the
number of young ethnic Russians who think of Russia as their motherland
is declining. A growing, though still not dominant, group now defines a
province or local region as its homeland.
In the absence of a clear national vision, much of the struggle over
Russia's purpose has been fought over heraldry, banners and monuments.
According to Russia's constitution, the nation's anthem, symbol and flag
must be approved by the Parliament. But the Communists who dominate the
Parliament do not want Russia's white, blue and red flag. They do not
want the new anthem with its music by Glinka. And they do not want the
two-headed eagle, which hails from Russia's pre-revolutionary past. They
want the old Soviet anthem, the red flag and the hammer and sickle.
Even though the symbols of the new Russian state have never received the
legislature's blessing, the Yeltsin government uses them anyway, as do
Not that they do not require some instruction. When Moscow celebrated
its 850th anniversary last September, the police went around rehanging
some of the Russian flags that bedecked the city. Some Muscovites,
unaware that the white stripe is supposed to be at the top, had hung the
flag upside down.
Even the authorities have made gross mistakes. When the Central Bank
first printed the 500,000-ruble note depicting the ancient Solovetsky
monastery on an island in the northern White Sea, it showed the
monastery without crosses and cupolas, as it was during Soviet times
when it served as one of Stalin's most notorious prisons. Instead of
celebrating religion, Russia's most important financial institution
inadvertently commemorated the Gulag.
Since nobody can agree on what the new symbols should be, it is hardly
surprising that they cannot agree on what to do with the old ones.
Lenin's embalmed body remains on display in Red Square because Russians
cannot decide whether the founder of the Soviet state should be removed
from his place of honor and buried. Russians did, however, rebuff a
proposal by the grandson of one of the former Communist leaders to take
Lenin's corpse on a world tour and use it to make a quick buck.
Virtually every city and town has a statue to Lenin. It has been easier
to leave them in place than to fight over whether they should be taken
And when Soviet symbols have been removed, the authorities have
sometimes been loath to destroy them. One of the most vivid images of
the fall of the Soviet state came when a giant crane rumbled to the
entrance of the KGB headquarters and hauled away the statue of Feliks
Dzerzhinsky, the first head of the Soviet secret police.
That statue, however, was not destroyed. It was moved to a less
conspicuous location behind the Central House of Artists near Gorky Park
Holidays are a headache. Russia has a new Independence Day -- June 12 --
but it lacks the patriotic fervor of the Fourth of July in the United
States or Bastille Day in France. It commemorates the day Russia
declared itself a sovereign state, an act that hastened the
disintegration of the Soviet Union, which most Russians deeply regret.
For Russians, it is simply a day off.
During Soviet times, Russians commemorated the Bolshevik Revolution on
Nov. 7 and 8. That holiday still exists, although now it lasts only one
day and has been renamed a "Day of Reconciliation and Consent."
Undeterred by the politicians' failure to define a national vision,
Russian newspapers have jumped into the fray.
Last year, Rossiskaya Gazeta, a government-owned newspaper, awarded a
prize to an official from Vologda, a town north of Moscow, for his
proposal. He received five million rubles -- about $830 -- for
recommending that the national idea be found in "the concern for the
Fatherland" and the rejection of the "money-oriented mentality of the
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, a paper owned by Boris Berezovksy, an influential
tycoon, was more cynical and closer to the hearts of many Russians.
Its editor, Vitaliy Tretyakov, wrote: "For some it is, 'Get rich!' For
others, 'Survive!' For many the two slogans are united -- 'Get rich to
While self-conscious efforts to frame a national idea have failed, some
less serious campaigns, like the magazine promotion by the Kommersant
publishing house, have succeeded in capturing the nation's anxiety.
The disturbing questions -- such as "Who's in charge?" "What's about the
money?" "Who's the boss?" "How will it all end?" -- appeared without
warning in public places and were broadcast on television. The plan was
to follow up with a later series of advertisements, telling Russians the
answers could be found in Kommersant's line of news magazines.
The politicians, who apparently felt that the debate over Russia's
future should be framed in anodyne platitudes rather than baffling
questions, were not amused.
In Moscow, Mayor Yuri Luzhkov would not allow the questions to be
splashed across the city's trolley buses until his aides were assured
that they were not part of a campaign to undermine his power.
The city of Novosibirsk went further and pressed to have the questions
taken down. A billboard asking "Who's the boss?," posted near the
Novosibirsk regional council, was soon removed.
Nikita Golovanov, the 45-year-old advertising executive who designed the
magazine campaign, said the uproar was understandable.
"It was kind of a hooligan idea, but in terms of people's feelings it
hit the mark," he said. "This is what people talk about most -- that in
the current situation you can expect just about anything. There could be
a putsch. And nobody knows which financial powers are really behind a
"So when people see questions like 'Who is in charge?' they find it very
disturbing," he said. "And you can imagine the reaction of people in
power who themselves do not know the answer."
Russia: Proposed Legislation Threatens Free Speech On Internet
By Julie Moffett
Washington, 31 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- An advocate for free speech on the
Internet says proposed amendments on mass media law currently being
discussed in the Russian Duma could prevent individuals in that country
from openly expressing opinions on the world's largest computer network.
Raafat Toss, an attorney for the Global Internet Liberty Campaign, a
U.S.-based, non-profit organization devoted to free speech on the
Internet, told RFE/RL that the proposed amendments would require
messages and materials distributed via computer networks to be included
in the Russian legal definition of mass media.
Toss says if the amendments are adopted, it would force any publisher of
electronic information to register and obtain a license with the
government. In other words, the new mass media law would put people who
have a home page on the Internet or send electronic newsletters in the
same category as television and radio broadcasters.
As a result, says Toss, people under 18 years of age, foreigners,
persons who own more than ten percent of foreign capital, or a
corporation where 30 percent of employees are foreigners would be
forbidden from publishing any "mass media" in Russia, if the circulation
is more than 1,000.
Additionally, Toss says these people would then be forced to go through
the same complex, bureaucratic procedure that owners of television and
radio stations must complete.
Moreover, says Toss, the proposed $1,000 fee for registration will
certainly "chill" free expression on the Internet. Violators of the new
law, adds Toss, are also subject to fines and may even have their
Says Toss: "The registration process as well as the exorbitant fees and
fines would unduly burden and ultimately censor speech and expression;
people would refrain from voicing their opinions. Coupled with the
accompanying sanctions, the individual rights that are enshrined in
international treaties and in the Russian constitution itself would be
turned into empty rhetoric."
Toss says he strongly believes the Internet is not and should not be
considered a part of the mass media. Instead, he says, it should be
considered "the medium of the masses."
Says Toss: "Like no other medium before, and unlike the mass media, the
Internet has the power to democratize speech; and it allows individuals
the power to express their ideas and opinions directly to a global
audience, while allowing them access to other ideas, opinions, and
information to which that may not otherwise have access. And unlike the
mass media, it empowers individuals with the ability to reach millions
of other individuals."
Toss says that if the Russian Duma adopts the proposed changes to the
media law it would be a serious blow for democracy.
Says Toss: "It wasn't too long ago that people in Russia had to register
their typewriters. So, it would basically be a step back for Russia
toward regulating speech, rather than being a model for online freedom."
Not everyone supports the proposed changes. At least one Russian Duma
deputy, Yuri Nestorov, has offered an amendment excluding mention of
"computer information" from the bill.
Other Russian Internet users have devoted entire web pages to the issue,
outlining the proposed changes in the law and inviting comment from
US Gen. Optimistic on Russia Treaty
31 March 1998
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Air Force general in charge of America's nuclear weapons
is predicting that Russia will ratify the START II arms control treaty within
``I'm optimistic, that as early as June or July, we will have START II
ratified,'' said Gen. Eugene Habiger, commander in chief of the U.S. Strategic
The four-star general recently hosted his Russian counterpart, Gen. Col.
Vladimir Yakovlev, on a tour of U.S. nuclear weapons bases. The Russian was
quoted during the tour as saying he believed his nation would approve the
treaty sometime this year.
The Duma, Russia's parliament, must act on the pact. It has been ratified by
the U.S. Senate.
The treaty was signed by the leaders of the two countries in 1993. It would
cut the strategic nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia in half by
the year 2003.
The U.S. Senate ratified it in 1996, but the Duma so far has refused to give
the same approval.
Habiger, in remarks to a group of defense writers, said he believed action
would be taken on the treaty because many of the Russian's nuclear missiles
``will have to run out of service life'' within a short period of time, and
would be disposed of anyway.