This Date's Issues: 3269 •
Johnson's Russia List
4 May 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. RFE/RL: Floriana Fossato, Dacha Season Begins -- Some Plant Potatoes,
Others Fly South.
2. Reuters: Russia's ties with West likely to worsen - IISS.
3. Harvard PONARS panel on Russian views on Kosovo.
4. J. Barkley Rosser, Jr.: Re New book by Montes and Popov.
5. Nina Khrushcheva/EastWest Institute: Russia and World: A New Deal.
6. Toronto Sun: Matthew Fisher, The bear in dove's clothing.
7. Reuters: Primakov Welcomes "Objective" Press Criticism.
8. Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Political Rumor-Mongering by Media Deplored.
9. Interfax: Luzhkov Says Russia Must Stop Kowtowing to IMF.
10. Itar-Tass: Zyuganov Says Latest IMF Demands 'Unrealistic'
11. Evgenii Velikhov Talks to The Russia Journal.
12. Kennan Institute meeting report: Kathleen Smith on Commemorative
Holidays in Post-Soviet Russia.]
Russia: Dacha Season Begins -- Some Plant Potatoes, Others Fly South
By Floriana Fossato
Despite Russia's continuing economic crisis, Muscovites appear determined
to flee the city to take advantage of an unusually long May Day holiday
break this year. On Friday (April 30), in advance of the holiday, our
Moscow correspondent explored the particular importance of the holiday for
residents of the capital this year
Moscow, 3 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Nadezhda Sergeeva is busy packing. This
evening, loaded with bags and rucksacks full of seeds, plants and
detergents, she will board a crammed suburban train at the busy
Yaroslavsky station. She will head north of Moscow, to her dacha in
Semkhoz, some 90 kilometers away.
Sergeeva notes that May Day is now officially called the Day of Peace and
Labor, but says: "That changes nothing for me." She says like previous
years, she will use the long break to plant potatoes, carrots and flowers
and clean her summer house after the winter.
The May break has traditionally marked the start of the dacha season in
Russia and this year is no exception.
Sergeeva says: "You cannot realize how important it is for my family to be
able to count on the fruits and vegetables we produce in our little plot."
Her official salary as a construction engineer in a building company does
not reach one thousand rubles per month (some $40 at the current exchange
rate of 24 rubles to the dollar).
This year, May 1 falls on a Saturday but the holiday will run through
Tuesday, May 4. For most, however, the break will last even longer, as
Labor day traditionally bridges with May 9, Victory Day in Russia. And, as
the celebration this year follows on a Sunday, the government generously
announced that Monday, May 10, will be a public holiday, too.
Most schools and offices will be closed and the political scene seemingly
will be empty. Many State Duma deputies have already left Moscow and will
reconvene only on May 12, when they will start debating the impeachment of
President Boris Yeltsin.
Even Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov will spend the coming May break at his
country residence outside Moscow. But Primakov, who is already in the
countryside, is unlikely to tend his garden. His spokeswoman, Tatyana
Aristarkhova, said he will continue medical treatment for a back problem
until May 4, when he returns to Moscow for a working meeting.
This holiday largesse in a country experiencing a dire economic crisis may
seem strange, but it makes a lot of sense for most Russians.
Work at the summer house is not the only option. For Oleg Volkov, a
35-year-old computer specialist, "this is a generational thing." His
parents, he says, will be at the dacha, but he prefers to spend nearly all
his monthly $700 salary to get on a plane and fly to Italy on a $500 tour.
Tour operators at Griphon travel, a Moscow travel agency, say that all the
planes for popular destinations such as Italy or Cyprus are fully booked on
May 1 and May 10.
A spokeswoman at Griphon told our correspondent: "It is mainly Aeroflot
flights, which are cheaper, but also Alitalia flights are fully booked.
Yes, the country is in a terrible economic crisis, but a holiday is a
holiday and now plane tickets are cheaper than ever."
A return ticket to Milan on Aeroflot is currently $280, while the cheapest
Aeroflot return ticket to New York these days runs at $430.
This is, indeed, a bargain, but for Tamara and Anna Aleksandrov, two Moscow
pensioner sisters over 70 years of age, it seems like a distant dream.
Tamara Aleksandrov says she lives with her sister so that they can help
each other with their combined pensions.
The two sisters have a little more than one thousand rubles ($40) per month
to share and they spend most of their money in medicines. Anna says she
and her sister will spend the May holidays at home watching television.
Meanwhile, the traditional May Day demonstrations are still planned, with
trade unions tomorrow expected to urge the government to increase wages by
Three major demonstrations are scheduled to take place in the capital,
organized separately by trade unions, the Communist party and by the
radical leftist Working Unions.
Trade Union leader Mikhail Shmakov says demonstrations have been organized
across Russia. He said thousands of people are expected to join.
"The events linked to the financial crisis of August 17 of last year led to
the fact that salaries nominally remained at the same level, but the
consumer purchasing-power -- which means real salaries -- fell twice,
because inflation rose ... and salaries were not increased."
Sergeeva seems skeptical about the May demonstrations. She says: "the state
is broke and we all know it." She concluded that "planting potatoes is far
wiser than marching at demonstrations."
Russia's ties with West likely to worsen - IISS
By David Ljunggren
LONDON, May 4 (Reuters) - Russia's relations with the West are sure to worsen
in the coming year as nationalists seek to make political capital from the
country's economic crisis, a leading London-based think-tank said on Tuesday.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said Russia had to
balance its anger at NATO air strikes against old ally Serbia with its desire
for more International Monetary Fund (IMF) aid to help stabilise its
``This is a sure formula for a recrudescence of nationalist fervour,'' the
think-tank said in its Strategic Survey for 1998/99.
``With an increase in nationalist feeling, Russia's relations with the West
are sure to decay; that will ensure that, for Russia, the coming year is
grimmer than the one just past.''
This is especially true if Western governments take a closer look at the
spiralling corruption inside Russia and began questioning the worth of
large-scale aid, the survey said.
``The mismanagement, profligacy and corruption demonstrated by the Russian
elite have exceeded anything seen in southeast Asia. Unlike even Suharto's
Indonesia, the country has defaulted on its debts, and risks becoming a
financial outcast,'' it said.
The good news for the West is that the financial crisis -- which erupted last
August after Moscow devalued the rouble by 30 percent -- has reduced Russia
as security threat, according to the survey.
It said that, despite the likely deterioration in ties, the poor state of
Russia's armed forces means Moscow is unlikely to pose much of a security
threat to mainland Europe.
``Financial constraints have clearly impeded the modernisation of Russia's
military capabilities,'' it said, adding that with one exception Moscow has
not deployed a new major weapons system for several years.
``It is hard to see a Russia that cannot impose its will on Chechnya as a
major threat to countries that lie between its borders and NATO states.
``The result is a real peace dividend for Europeans and indeed for nearly all
of Russia's neighbours.''
The IISS said the West could also take comfort from the fact that fears of
uncontrolled nuclear proliferation seemed to have been exaggerated.
``Having allowed Russia to fail, it has been a pleasant surprise, so far,
that there has been no sudden outflow of 'loose nukes' and 'loose
scientists','' it said.
``The biggest danger, however, is not strategic but political -- that
economic hardship fosters the popularity of xenophobic nationalist
politicians, prone to foreign policy obstructionism. But even this nightmare
scenario seems remote.''
The IISS said President Boris Yeltsin's efforts to create a stable
post-Soviet economy had clearly failed and unless Moscow did more to resolve
the economic crisis, Russia could slowly start falling apart.
``There are fears that the president's failure to exercise his authority to
implement urgently needed economic policies will further weaken Russia,
exacerbating the crisis and leading to the federal government losing control
throughout Russia's 89 federal entities,'' it said.
Date: Sun, 2 May 1999
From: Erin Powers <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Russian views on Kosovo
PONARS has organized a panel on Russian views on Kosovo May 6 at Harvard.
Info is on our website at
in case your Boston-area subscribers are interested...
Erin R. Powers
Program on New Approaches to Russian Security (PONARS
Davis Center for Russian Studies * Harvard University
Cambridge, MA 02138
tel: (617) 496-3426 * (617) 495-8319
program website: http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~ponars
Date: Mon, 3 May 1999
From: "J. Barkley Rosser, Jr." <email@example.com>
Subject: New book by Montes and Popov
I wish to respond to the message sent by
Manuel F. Montes describing his new book with
Vladimir Popov on the Asian and Russian financial
crises. Of course the description may not reflect what
is actually in the book. But if it does it is problematic
to say the least.
They apparently dismiss such factors as budget
deficits, falling oil prices, the Asian virus, and corruption
in Russia as factors in the financial crisis. All blame is
placed on an overvalued ruble. Now, I do not wish to
bog the JRL down in a technical discussion of international
financial economic theory, but I must note that the claim
that the ruble was overvalued presumes some measure of
what the true value was. Standard economic theory suggests
that an equilibrium value depends on such things as relative
price levels, interest rates, and exogenous financial flows.
Well, the fact is that virtually all of these can be affected by
exactly the kinds of factors that Montes and Popov apparently
reject. Thus, high budget deficits can exacerbate inflation
and thus put price levels out of line. Falling oil prices reduced
the value of exports and thus damaged the trade balance of
Russia, thus putting pressure on the ruble to be devalued. High
levels of corruption led to exogenous outflows of financial
capital to other countries, also putting downward pressure on
the ruble. Certainly the Asian virus raised questions about the
solvency of many nations' debt arrangements and the GKOs of
Russia had a reputation as being questionably managed and
not in good shape.
In short, referring to an "overvalued ruble" as an explanation
is no explanation. It simply raises the question as to why it was
overvalued. The answer to that leads exactly to the kinds of
explanations that Montes and Popov seek to dismiss.
J. Barkley Rosser, Jr.
Professor of Economics
James Madison University
Harrisonburg, VA 22807 USA
Date: Mon, 3 May 1999
From: Natasha Randall <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: from Nina Khrushcheva
Please include this information in your daily briefs.
Russia and World: A New Deal, a policy recommendation paper published in
March 1999, is the result of a three-year, multinational, and
multifaceted EastWest Institute's project on "Russia's Total Security
Environment" which brings together Russian and Western security experts
to address the most pressing security issues in
and around Russia today. Drawing on the research of more than fifty
policy analysts, project leaders Dag Hartelius, EWI Vice President for
European Security, and Alexei Arbatov, Deputy Chairman of the Duma
Defense Committee, present a catalog of recommendations for policy
makers that form the basis of a "new deal." To download please go to
European Security publications at http://www.iews.org
>From Nina Khrushcheva, EWI Director of Communications and Special
May 3, 1999
The bear in dove's clothing
By MATTHEW FISHER (74511.357@CompuServe.com)
Sun's Columnist at Large
MOSCOW -- What would a war involving the United States be if Jesse Jackson
wasn't out in left field freelancing for the release of American PoWs in
the enemy's capital?
Far less predictable, but far more welcome than Jackson's mission to
Belgrade last Friday was Viktor Chernomyrdin's quick diplomatic blitz from
Moscow to Bonn to Rome to Belgrade.
Talking to Serbia has proven almost impossible since NATO began its bombing
campaign to save Kosovo 40 days ago. Not that it was much easier talking
with the Serbs about Kosovo before that.
But the Serbs still speak to the Russians, whom they regard as brother
Slavs and brothers in Orthodoxy.
Russia took itself out of the peace brokering business early in the bombing
campaign when President Boris Yeltsin, Prime Minister Evgeni Primakov and
foreign minister Igor Ivanov seemed to threaten nuclear Armageddon if NATO
persisted in its war against Serbia.
But Russia has taken a softer, more pragmatic approach in recent days,
presenting itself as perhaps the only possible go-between for Serbia, NATO
and the UN. With little else cooking on the diplomatic front and Belgrade
apparently unmoved by the immense damage being wrought by NATO warplanes,
the West has tentatively accepted Russia's overtures.
Perhaps the biggest reason Chernomyrdin got the nod over Primakov, who
spent much of his working life overseas as a journalist and sometime spy,
is that, as he has done so many times before, Yeltsin was keeping everyone
in and near the Kremlin off-balance, to enhance his own precarious position.
At first glance, Chernomyrdin does not seem to be a good choice to carry a
peace torch. The stolid former gas executive has little background in
international affairs and was humiliated when he tried to become prime
minister again last fall.
But Chernomyrdin is a wily survivor who has the trust of average Russians.
While he was prime minister he managed to forge a fair working relationship
with U.S. Vice President Al Gore. He also didn't compromise himself with
hysterical remarks about Serbia and Kosovo and the Russian Black Sea fleet
sailing into the Adriatic to confront NATO like Primakov did.
Only way to stop the bombing
The sense one gets from western diplomats and from reading between the
lines here is that while Chernomyrdin dislikes what NATO is doing as much
as his countrymen, he is willing to take the alliance's stark, dog-eared
five-point peace plan to Belgrade because he understands the only way to
stop the bombing is for the Serbs to accept most or all of it.
One of the subtexts, but an important one if it is not wishful western
thinking, is that Chernomyrdin will make Serbia aware that while Russia's
sympathies are with them, it will not sabotage its own brittle relations
with the West by always taking Serbia's side.
If this is true it would put the Yeltsin government out of step with the
Russian people, not that that has ever mattered much before. Every corner
of Russian society is fantastically pro-Serbian and anti-American just now.
But this has as much or more to do with anger and humiliation at the loss
of international prestige when the U.S. won the Cold War as it does with
fraternal feelings for the Serbs.
A professor from Moscow State University told me with the utmost sincerity
and certainty last week that not one of the 700,000 Albanian refugees who
had left Kosovo did so because they had been threatened by Serbian security
forces. She said they had fled the terror created by NATO bombs.
An encyclopedia salesman who knocked on the door a few days ago stated
bluntly that Kosovo was proof the U.S. favoured Muslims over Christians.
A Moscow doctor who had studied medicine in Sweden, France, Italy and the
U.S. declared the only reason for NATO's war against Serbia was that the
U.S. wanted to build new military bases across southeastern Europe so it
could keep Russia penned in and poor.
President Yeltsin summed up Russia's raw feelings about what was happening
in the Balkans when he told UN Secretary General Kofi Annan last Thursday
that "either law and order will be restored or lawlessness and the
unlimited force of one country will rule the world."
Such statements have led western hawks to have grave doubts about Russia's
ability to act as an honest broker.
This is hardly an ideal situation, but for the foreseeable future, Russian
participation offers the only hope to bring the war over Kosovo to an end.
Primakov Welcomes "Objective" Press Criticism
MOSCOW, May. 03, 1999 -- (Reuters) Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov
praised the work of journalists in comments quoted on Monday and said his
government welcomed "objective criticism" by the mass media.
Primakov, a conservative-minded former intelligence chief, has been
criticized by President Boris Yeltsin and some sections of the media in the
past for being too sensitive to criticism.
"Few of us could get by without the press," Primakov said in remarks
broadcast by NTV commercial television on Monday to mark International Day
of Press Freedom.
"I have been accused of saying careless things, of not reading the
newspapers and watching television programs. This, of course, is not true.
I read and watch (TV)," he said.
"I would like to wish all journalists objectivity in their coverage of
events and an end to pre-programmed bias. Believe me, we (the government)
will be very grateful for objective criticism because this definitely
helps us in our work."
He added that he was appalled by the number of journalists killed around
the world every year in the course of their work.
Yeltsin, who is known to be jealous of his prime minister's rising
popularity, recently chided Primakov, 69, over his relationship with
Russia's mass media.
"I teach him (Primakov) to get used to this (criticism)," Yeltsin said. "Is
the government ideal? No. Then what's the point in taking offence."
Yeltsin's authority has been badly eroded by Russia's economic crisis and
by recurring health problems. But the 68-year-old president has pledged to
defend media freedoms in the face of a Communist resurgence.
Earlier this year Yeltsin vetoed a Communist-inspired motion which would
have established supervisory councils at key television channels. The
councils would have the power to ban programs they deemed morally or
Political Rumor-Mongering by Media Deplored
30 April 1999
[translation for personal use only]
Article by Mikhail Kirsanov under the "What Are People Talking
About?" rubric: "And This Rumor Is From 'Competent Sources'"
Have you noticed that the entire field of
information in our vast country is now limited to what Boris Abramovich
[Berezovskiy], Yuriy Ilich [Skuratov], Anatoliy Borisovich [Chubays],
Gennadiy Andreyevich [Zyuganov], or Vladimir Volfovich [Zhirinovskiy]
have said or done?
Why is this? Well, it is very simple. Nowadays, there are countless
parties, just as there are countless television channels. Consequently,
each channel has its own party, if by party we mean political and
financial groups struggling for power and influence. But there is only
one power. How can it be seized, or how can one become an influential
figure? By never giving the current rulers any peace. By discrediting all
their actions in public opinion. And by presenting events in an
unobjective light, in a way that benefits one group or another.
Let me give you the very latest example. The president has appointed
Russian Minister of Internal Affairs S. Stepashin as first vice premier.
Simply reporting the presidential edict and congratulating S. Stepashin
on his new position is not for us. That would be too banal and boring. So
forecasters, "informed sources close to circles," and so forth are
inundating their poor viewers and readers with the latest helping of
anticipated upheavals. The newly appointed first vice premier has felt
compelled to publicly deny claims that Boris Yeltsin has him in mind as a
"prime minister in waiting." "This subject was not discussed either
during my meeting with the president or in my conversation with the
premier," S. Stepashin explained to journalists. However, this response
is unlikely to satisfy those who are already vividly painting the
dismissal of Primakov and the entire cabinet, the dissolution of the
State Duma, a state of emergency, and a ban on the Communist Party!
Is Stepashin not enough for you? In that case, N. Aksenenko has come
along at just the right time. The president recently had a meeting with
his minister of railways. Surely the president should have meetings with
his ministers? Come on! Surely you must realize that, if Stepashin is not
going to be made prime minister instead of Primakov, then Aksenenko
definitely will be! So now this new "sensation" is doing the rounds on
our television screens and in our newspapers. The result is that N.
Aksenenko is having to say to every journalist he meets: "Personnel
issues were not discussed at my meeting with Russian President Boris
Yeltsin on Tuesday [27 April], and Boris Nikolayevich did not offer me
any position in the government." But who will believe this response when,
from morning until late at night, every television channel and every
newspaper has Communists and democrats, deputies and oligarchs,
politicians and political analysts earnestly and emotionally, "pained on
the people's behalf," commenting on and preparing the latest scenario for
the development of events in Russia after the (possible?!) departure of
the present government?
Who exactly is so eager to see Primakov's government (which enjoys the
trust of society, the Duma, and, ultimately, the president) resign? Or
the Duma broken up just six months before the elections? Or all the power
structures bled white by the leapfrogging of personnel, rather than
rolling up our sleeves and dragging the economy out of the quagmire of
crisis? Probably only those who, as the old song goes, "sometime,
somewhere" unexpectedly find themselves faced with the need to answer
before the law and by the law.
In conclusion, I have one last question which I would address to
everyone, that is bankers who own newspapers and television channels,
important economic leaders, and simply intelligent professionals who know
their field. Would you be able to work efficiently and normally if you
had people on all sides buzzing in your ear about your resignation from
morning till night?
Luzhkov Says Russia Must Stop Kowtowing to IMF
MOSCOW, May 1 (Interfax-Moscow) -- Moscow Mayor
Yuri Luzhkov spok critically of Russia's following guidelines of the
International Monetary Fund at a rally in Moscow Saturday. "It's time
Russia stopped kneeling down in front of the IMF," Luzhkov, the
Fatherland movement leader, said. "We must end dancing attendance on the
IMF," which tells "us what to do in our economy," he said. The IMF
requirements for "raising tariffs on vodka," hiking excises on gasoline
and adjusting value-added tax are unacceptable, he said. Russia must
pursue an independent economic policy regardless of the IMF, he said.
Luzhkov reiterated his criticism of "wild, robbing" privatization in
Russia. Those who implemented it will be "prosecuted for these crimes,"
Zyuganov Says Latest IMF Demands 'Unrealistic'
By ITAR-TASS correspondent Ivan Novikov
Moscow, 30 Apr -- The Communist faction in the
State Duma will consider all proposals from the IMF "on the basis of a
realistic assessment of the situation in the country and the task of
providing support to our citizens and manufacturers", Gennadiy Zyuganov
has said. "It is from this point of view that we shall study any proposals
the International Monetary Fund," the Communist Party of the Russian
Federation leader said at a news conference today.
Referring, in particular, to the IMF's proposal to raise oil excise duties,
Zyuganov asserted that this would see food prices rise by approximately
40 percent and put "another 10 million people" below the poverty line.
In Zyuganov's opinion, the IMF "is not sufficiently well-informed about
what is happening in Russia and for this reason is making unrealistic
The Russia Journal
May 4, 1999
"Luzhkov is a Man of Action"
Evgenii Velikhov Talks to The Russia Journal
Academician Evgenii Velikhov, a specialist in the field of plasma physics
and controllable nuclear fusion, has contributed to the development of gas
lasers and the creation of pioneering magneto-hydrodynamic high capacity
But the prominent scientist combines his work as a research physicist with
directing a large research center. He also finds time to engage in politics.
Velikhov was among the first to arrive at Chernobyl in 1986 to take part in
the cleaning up of the nuclear reactor explosion there. He now considers
that the accident acquired the character of an international catastrophe
not as much because of the radioactive pollution the accident emitted as
the wrongheaded and ignorant action the Soviet regime took after the blast.
Velikhov became full member of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences in 1974 at
the age of 39. In addition to numerous Russian awards, Velikhov has won the
American Physics Society's Scillard Prize and a prize from the Science and
World International Federation of Scientists.
Velikhov's career as a manager has been no less successful. He became head
of the Kurchatov Institute of Nuclear Energy in 1988. In 1993, the
institute acquired the prestigious status of national research center
thanks to Velikhov's efforts. In addition, Velikhov is chief executive and
initiator of an international program set up to create an experimental
nuclear fusion reactor.
Velikhov was a people's deputy during the late Soviet era. He recently
joined the ranks of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov's Otechestvo movement and
rumor has it that he enjoys special influence with the mayor.
In his interview with The Russia Journal, Velikhov discusses nuclear
energy, the prospects of international cooperation and, of course, politics.
Russia Journal: This interview coincides with the 13th anniversary of the
Chernobyl disaster. TRJ
Evgenii Velikhov is respected not only by scientists but also by
businessmen and politicians.
Evgenii Velikhov: Yes, although you have to realize that there are a lot of
other important issues at the moment.
RJ: In nuclear energy?
EV: Yes, and in other areas. The main issue for us today is to keep our
nuclear power stations operating efficiently and safely. We have to
concentrate on the facilities we have, because there won't be any
investment in the foreseeable future. We keep the country supplied with
cheap energy all year round, even when no one pays us. If everyone were to
start paying, we'd have the money to spend on security, modernization and
development. We don't have the money, but nor are we neglecting these
areas. We put a lot of emphasis on international cooperation. At the
moment, we're working on a high temperature, helium-cooled reactor. This is
the new generation of reactors, safe and environmentally friendly, and
we're working with the USA, France, Japan and other countries on this
RJ: Still, people can't forget Chernobyl, and it's a weighty argument
against nuclear energy, especially here in Russia.
EV: We've learnt a lot from Chernobyl, and our nuclear industry has shown
some good results. No one says, for example, how in Armenia, after the 1988
earthquake, the only power station still working was a nuclear power
station. That was an old station, at the end of its service life, but it
saved thousands of lives. How would people have lived without light and
heat? How would rescuers have been able to do their job? But there was
immense pressure to close the station, Elena Bonner came...
RJ: Andrei Sakharov's wife?
EV: Yes, she and Sakharov both came to Armenia. There was all this outcry
about Moscow carrying out a policy of genocide against the Armenian people.
RJ: And Sakharov said that too?
EV: Probably, he was influenced by her. Different people threatened the
director of the station and even his children. We had plans to modernize
the station, we were going to work with American companies. But we had to
give in and close the station. That was when the Armenian people began to
suffer. How can you live in town in winter without electricity and warmth.
We could have built a solar- or wind- power station back then, I said we
should, but where were all the 'greens' then, why didn't they come and help
Armenia when there was still a chance?
RJ: The nuclear power station in Lithuania has also had a lot of bad
EV: It's a similar situation - accusations of genocide - such a big power
station for such a small country and so on. But because most of Lithuania's
energy is nuclear, its air is cleaner than in Germany or England. That's
the conclusion of studies carried out by an independent group.
RJ: The more reactors in the world, the more acute the problem of what to
do with nuclear waste.
EV: It's the most urgent issue to be addressed. We have a lot of nuclear
waste, not just from power stations, but from submarines too. The attitude
was that by the time we'd have to deal with the problem, we'd have the
money to find solutions. Now the time has come, and we haven't got the
money. We've got to do something with the spent fuel; we've got to clean up
irradiated territory too. That radioactive pollution is the legacy of the
military program, not the energy industry. Of course, there was the
Chernobyl disaster, but its consequences, especially in Russia, are
exaggerated. It's not radiation that's the real tragedy, but the terrible
social and economic consequences. Our tragedy is that in Russia, people are
still more or less treated as serfs. The state has always tried to look
after everyone, and at the same time stopped them from taking initiative
and being able to look after themselves.
RJ: Talking about initiative, is it true that attempts were made to
privatize nuclear power stations at the beginning of the '90s?
EV: The idea was to carry out a demonopolisation of Nuclear industry in a
way it was being done with the aviation industry and shipbuilding and
RJ: You were one of the people who fought those proposals.
EV: Yes, there were some others too; Mikhailov [former atomic energy
minister], Adamov [current atomic energy minister], they both supported our
fight. Our main argument was that this industry is all about nuclear
weapons, nuclear safety, power stations, and it isn't in private hands
anywhere. Well, maybe in France, but France is a stable country. In our
conditions, it's just unthinkable to privatize the nuclear industry.
RJ: And the government listened to you then?
EV: Yes, at that time. Yeltsin supported us too on issues regarding the
Academy of Sciences and the Space Agency. I also managed to convince him
that we couldn't just hand over the Arctic shelf to some consortium like we
did with Sakhalin. We have to ensure that whoever develops the shelf will
provide work for our industry, in particular, for the defense industry.
That's why Ros-shelf was set up. My logic is simple: We need the West
because we need investment. We need the market, and the market is in Asia.
We need to sit down together...
RJ: Who exactly?
EV: Russia, the market - India, China, Asia, and the investors, that is,
the West and the Japanese. We have to reach an agreement. We've got the
natural resources, the West has the capital. The market is there, and we
have to spread the jobs around. With Ros-shelf, we're hoping to clinch a
good deal, we have all the relevant laws.
RJ: What's the situation like now with international cooperation in the
EV: The best example is the international thermonuclear reactor project.
Our contribution is intellectual rather than financial. We're still leading
the project; the initial idea was ours.
RJ: And who will actually implement the project?
EV: We need to take a decision on that. As often happens, the USA was
enthusiastic at first, but now they're hesitating. Officially, Russia,
Europe, and Japan are carrying out the project. We've been working
successfully with the Americans, though, on nuclear waste storage. Here, we
also need an international program, the issue is too big for one country
alone. We've been accused of wanting to turn Russia into a dump for nuclear
waste, but that's not true. We want different countries to build treatment
and storage facilities, and see who comes up with the best solutions.
RJ: Turning to politics, what impact could events in the Balkans have on
EV: I hope that, ultimately, common sense will prevail and a political
solution will be found. I also hope that both we, and the Americans will be
able to see beyond these events. Just remember that we were already working
together on the thermonuclear reactor at the time of Brezhnev and Nixon. So
many things have happened since then: the war in Afghanistan, Ronald Reagan
calling the Soviet Union the 'evil empire.' I don't see any reason why we
won't be able to continue working together as we have done. Of course, our
interests and America's diverge at times, but we need each other if we are
to solve the global issues facing us.
RJ: Such as?
EV: Nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear arms in general, and then, after the
Asian crisis, there's the whole issue of energy supplies.
RJ: Going back to the Balkans, do you think Milosevic will back down, or
will NATO pull out?
EV: I don't have any liking for Milosevic. I don't like what's happening
either to the Albanians or to the Serbs. There's no sense in going on about
our Orthodox ties either, it's a dangerous attitude. Religion and
nationality are individual things, not a basis for whom to support. I
consider myself Russian, but if I were to look at myself through, say,
Hitler's eyes, I could be anything you want, a Tatar, no doubt. The lives
of both Christians and Muslims must be respected. Of course, it's all very
complicated, and as the writer Aleksei Tolstoi said, "You can't chase
people into paradise with a stick." But the Americans are trying to decide
everything from Washington without a clear idea of what's going on.
RJ: What do you think about the sceptics who say that working with the USA
is just opening the door to all our secrets?
EV: The thing with secrecy is that if you make everything secret, it's like
making nothing secret. You pay for it in the end. I've been working at the
Kurchatov Institute for 40 years now. We've had international projects
going all that time, and no one has stolen any of our secrets.
RJ: It seems that the biggest threat to nuclear safety in Russia today is
unpaid wages and falling living standards.
EV: If the technicians are always worrying about what they and their
families are going to live on, it doesn't make for a good atmosphere at
work. We don't need any subsidies or loans, we just need our people to be
paid the wages they've worked for.
RJ: That means solving the non-payments problem.
EV: Yes, the problem is that our free-marketeers - Gaidar, Chubais and so
on - had the theory but not the practice. It's like with a vegetable
garden, if you don't work in it, you get no vegetables, only weeds. If you
just leave the market to take care of itself, you get monopolies, criminals
and corrupt officials. We can't just pull everything out by the roots,
either, like the communists suggest. We need to work.
RJ: And you think that Yuri Luzhkov is the man who could oversee that work?
EV: He's proved himself a man of action. Of course, there are always
grounds for criticism, but I just don't see any other suitable candidate at
the moment. That's why I joined "Otechestvo" (Fatherland - Luzhkov's
RJ: Some say that he consults with you almost every day on various issues.
EV: No one consults with me, Gorbachev didn't; Yeltsin doesn't. If I
sometimes get a chance to meet with Luzhkov, that's a good thing, but it's
not often. And my involvement in Otechestvo is only at local level.
RJ: Does Luzhkov listen to you?
EV: Yes, more than Gorbachev or Yeltsin. Of course, he also wants to be
running the show. They all do, but Luzhkov has experience at the head of a
whole, complex system. I've been running the Kurchatov Institute for the
last 10 years, and I know how complicated that is. And you can't compare an
institute to the city of Moscow. Moscow is like a state in itself, and
Luzhkov has proven that he can survive and obtain results.
RJ: What are the main differences between Yeltsin, Gorbachev, and Luzhkov?
EV: Yeltsin and Gorbachev are political animals, Luzhkov puts the emphasis
more on economics. The question is, who will join him. Though he has plenty
of people behind him, he prefers to rely on individuals; while Yeltsin, he
likes to choose a whole team.
RJ: On the basis of personal likes and dislikes.
EV: He had a limited choice. Another thing is that we've forgotten our
history. We had a centrist movement once, the pre-revolutionary Cadet
Party, and we're coming back to that now. On the political spectrum, what
we'll have is the far right and the far left, and we'll have the centrists
in the middle, outside class and group interests. And it's they who will
get Russia back on its feet. The idea of a strong state is a good
foundation. We've tried to go from 'Marx to Sachs,' and all we have to show
for it is a big mess. Now we have to give the market room to grow; get rid
of the weeds - water the seeds.
RJ: It's no secret that Luzhkov is a contender for the presidency. He's got
that old Russian authoritarian streak in him, though.
EV: We need a lot of strong will. We haven't yet developed truly democratic
institutions. Look at the upcoming Duma elections, what's going to happen
there? We have all these imported election technologies, but it's doubtful
that the right people will get into the Duma. There's too much at stake,
too much of a fight for power. We need a democratic leader, and here,
Luzhkov stands out because he has experience and achievements to his name.
As for the future, I think that just as tsars and emperors have become a
thing of the past, so presidents will someday go the same way.
RJ: So Russia could become a real parliamentary democracy?
EV: Yes, though not yet. We can't achieve anything through revolution, only
through gradual change. We have to take the constitution we have, the laws
we have, and change them slowly. I think Luzhkov could do that. The whole
process will take decades, though.
RJ: You think Luzhkov would be able resist the temptation of power? The
present constitution gives the president so much power, after all.
EV: It's important that he have convinced democrats backing him, it's the
team that can nudge a leader in the right direction.
RJ: Flattery is a good test. How does he stand up, in your opinion?
EV: He's very democratic in manner. But then, so were others earlier. What
counts is that he listens to people.
RJ: Does he handle criticism well?
EV: I haven't got a lot of experience with him, but what I say, he listens
to; and when I raised criticism at the Otechestvo congress, my points were
given due consideration.
RJ: Are there any other politicians in Russia whose ideas you like?
EV: I've always had a liking for Yavlinskii, but he doesn't have Luzhkov's
experience. A union between them would be a positive thing, though. Almost
everyone can make some contribution, I think - though Zhirinovskii, he's
rather an original character. Lebed could make a contribution, but not on
RJ: So, you think a union between Yavlinskii and Luzhkov would be possible?
EV: I think it would be natural. I think we'll see new names on the horizon
Commemorative Holidays in Post-Soviet Russia
By Allison Abrams
"Inventing Holidays in the New Russia: Holidays and National Identity"
(March 8, 1999) Lecture at the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson
International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C.
"Commemorative holidays are often mobilized by governments and interest
groups in attempts to cultivate myths of legitimacy and foster solidarity.
As these needs change in the present, so too do the form and content of the
holidays themselves," remarked Kathleen Smith, Assistant Professor,
Department of Government, Hamilton College, and Title VIII-Supported
Research Scholar, Kennan Institute. Smith also noted that commemorative
holidays are particularly attractive at times of political change because
they give authorities a chance to found a symbolic base or establish new
rituals with which to create a supportive context for new institutions and
practices. In her lecture at the Kennan Institute on 8 March 1999, Smith
examined the role of holidays in Russia under the newly democratic
government by evaluating one old (Soviet) holiday, one newly created
holiday, and one revised holiday.
The commemoration of the October Revolution of 1917 on November 7th was the
first major holiday of the old regime to fall after the failed coup of
1991. Despite the fact that President Yeltsin banned the communist party on
the eve of this anniversary, November 7th remained an official holiday,
although there were no official steps taken to mark this day, Smith noted.
Instead "dueling rituals" occurred--communist loyalists gathered at the
Lenin monument in Moscow's Oktyabr'skaya square cheering anti-Gorbachev and
anti-Yeltsin speeches, while liberals mourned the victims of communism by
marching from the Lubyanka to the former site of the Church of Christ the
In the following years, remarked Smith, while no one denied the
significance of this date, there was also no consensus on the form of its
commemoration. In 1996, Yeltsin attempted a pluralist approach by renaming
the holiday the "Day of Reconciliation and Accord," recognizing victims (of
all political persuasions) of revolution, civil war, and political
repressions in an attempt to create a unifying holiday. This uncritical
perspective, which ignored the contradictions inherent in celebrating the
revolution in this manner, was not received well by either the communists
or liberals, stated Smith. Thus, communists have continued to mark November
7th with meetings and marches and the democratic celebrations--without
support from the state--have died off.
Smith cited Russian Independence Day, which honors the declaration of state
sovereignty on June 12, 1990, as an example of a newly created holiday.
However, similar to November 7th, June 12th almost immediately became a
holiday of controversial status as it is also marks the first presidential
election in Russia--a day of victory for Boris Yeltsin. Those who lobbied
to make this an official holiday, and not just a non-working day, were met
with considerable opposition from communists and many others who viewed the
day as a personal anniversary for Yeltsin, instead of a national holiday.
The second problem with Russian Independence Day has been the Russian
public's unfamiliarity with the date's significance--the vote for
sovereignty in the Supreme Soviet being much more dramatic for the Russian
deputies, than for Russian citizens.
However, despite these difficulties, in 1994 Yeltsin elevated the day to
the status of an official national holiday of the Russian Federation. In
1997, he attempted to assuage continued public disdain for the holiday by
renaming it "Russia Day" to commemorate the nation's entire history, thus
stripping the date of June 12th of its meaning entirely. In addition to the
date's lack of significance, Russia Day also lacks a coherent set of
rituals, Smith remarked. Festivities have not been established on a
national level, allowing Russian citizens little opportunity for
participation. The government itself has admitted that Russia Day will be
nothing more than a day off from work until it is marked by customs and
traditions, added Smith.
Victory Day, the anniversary of the May 9th victory in World War II and
largely considered to be the most popular holiday in Russia, was originally
greeted with a laissez faire attitude by the Yeltsin administration. There
were no military parades or official state ceremonies, causing veterans and
communists to complain that the day was not being given enough attention.
Victory Day became another highly contested holiday with dueling
celebrations: the nationalist and communist opposition organized parades
for veterans, while liberals gathered in parks and held various
festivities. In 1995 Yeltsin-- acknowledging the lack of popular patriotism
and enthusiasm for the current regime--revised this holiday by recreating a
military parade similar to those under Soviet times, but at the same time
placed the holiday within a new narrative, Smith argued. Yeltsin and the
liberal media were careful to promote a new version of the World War II
victory from an anti-Stalinist perspective--the Russian people won the war
in spite of Stalin, not because of him. However, Smith noted, it is still
unclear as to whether this new view has been embraced.
Smith concluded that the democratic government needs a more aggressive
stance toward commemorative holidays to create a new genealogy of the
regime. The government has been unable to evoke positive feelings of
community or collective memory either around old, now partisan holidays or
around new, non-participatory celebrations. As for the future, Smith
suggested that if the current government continues to fail to create
unifying commemorative occasions, religious holidays and popular secular
holidays, such as Women's Day, will dominate the calendar.
Allison Abrams is assistant editor at the Kennan Institute of Advanced
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