The Eighty Percent: Defending Ethnic Russians in Russia

Ahtem Chiygoz, a member of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars who has spent the last year and a half in jail on trumped-up charges of "organizing rioting" and "destruction of property." Photo courtesy of 112 UA and RFE/RL
Ahtem Chiygoz, a member of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People who has spent the last year and a half in jail on trumped-up charges of “organizing rioting” and “destruction of property.” Photo courtesy of 112 UA and RFE/RL. See the second article, below, for details

FADN Called on to Protect Ethnic Russians
Irina Nagornykh
Kommersant
July 27, 2016

Nine percent of Russian citizens feel they are discriminated against ethnically. In some regions, for example, Tuva, such citizens constitute as many as twenty-six percent, and they hail from the Russian-speaking population. These figures were arrived at by pollsters commissioned by the Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs (FADN), Igor Barinov, the agency’s head, said yesterday at the Terra Scientia camp. Barinov promised to protect the ethnic Russian population in such regions, and said next year the agency planned to earmark 170 million rubles [approx. 2.3 million euros] on grants for projects in the field of interethnic relations.

Barinov cited the results of a сlassified Georating survey conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) while speaking to young people at the Terra Scientia Russian Education Youth Forum on the Klyazma River on the last day of a session that brought together young experts in the field of interethnic relations. According to Barinov, the poll was conducted in June at the FADN’s behest. Pollsters discovered that, on average nationwide, nine percent of the population experienced ethnic discrimination. In certain regions, however, such as Karachay-Cherkessia and Tuva, the situation was more tense. In Tuva, twenty-six percent of citizens complained of ethnic discrimination.

According to Barinov, the number coincided with the number of Russian speakers resident in Tuva, which means we can assume it was this segment of the population who felt they were ethnically discriminated against. Barinov was asked who would protect the interests of ethnic Russians. According to some young people in the audience, ethnic Russian were not as well organized in defending their interests as other ethnic groups in Russia. Barinov cited the fact that 115 million ethnic Russians resided in the Russian Federation, which constituted eighty percent of the country’s population, and in places where the ethnic Russian population predominated, as in Central Russia, this assistance was social and economic in nature. But in regions like Karachay-Cherkessia and Tuva, he promised to protect ethnic Russians.

“We have the authority,” he stressed.

Responding to the same question, Magomedsalam Magomedov, who oversees ethnic relations in the presidential administration, said the “Russian people’s historical mission [was] to unite Russia’s ethnic groups,” and the outcome was the “emergence of a unique civilization whose national leader is President Vladimir Putin.”

“None of the ethnic groups in Russia can feel good if the Russian people feels bad,” concluded to Mr. Magomedov.

According to Barinov, next year the FADN plans to allocate around 170 million rubles on grants for projects in the field of ethnic relations.

“If everything is okay with the budget. We’re at the head of the Finance Ministry’s queue,” he added, reminding the audience that the FADN is awaiting the transfer of the part of the Federally Targeted Program for developing Crimea that concerns the rehabilitation of ethnic groups repressed during Soviet times.

Campers will receive several grants in the amounts of 300,000, 200,000, and 100,000 rubles to support existing interethnic policy projects in the country’s regions from the camp’s organizers: the Russian Federal Public Chamber, Rosmolodezh (Russian Federal Agency for Youth Affairs), and the presidential administration’s Office for Domestic Policy. Moreover, the FADN plans to summarized suggestions made by the campers on concepts for celebrating National Unity Day (November 4), including the brand Russian Braid, which would weave together all the peoples of Russia, comics about different ethnic groups on buses, video clips in airports, and the project Travel with Purpose, which would involve ethnic youth exchange tourism. Session participants plan to appeal to the present not to limit the celebrations to one day a war, but to declare an entire “year of national unity.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up

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Who Is Ahtem Chiygoz? The Story of a Crimean Tatar Political Prisoner
Ehor Vasylyev
112 UA
July 29, 2016

A Case That Will Last for Years
Ahtem Chiygoz was arrested on January 29, 2015, as part of the so-called February 26 case. That day he went to the State Investigative Committee in Crimea for questioning, and in the evening the illegitimate Kyiv District Court of Simferopol sentenced him to three months in police custody.

Chiygoz was charged under Article 212.1 of Criminal Code of the Russian Federation: organization of riots accompanied by violence and destruction of property.

Russia accuses activists of being involved in the “riots” on February 26, 2014, which arose near the Crimean parliament during two rallies, one held by the supporters of Ukraine’s territorial integrity , another, by activists of the party Russian Unity.

Since Chiygoz’s arrest, the Crimean courts have been periodically extending his time in police custody. (The last time it was extended until October 8, 2016.)

From March 8 to March 11, 2016, Chiygoz was a hostage: a so-called judge of the Crimean Supreme Court, Galina Redko, arbitrarily (extrajudicially) extended his time in jail.

In addition to Chiygoz, other Crimean Tatars have been charged with involvement in the “riots”: Ali Asanov, Mustafa Degermendzhi, Eskender Kantemirov, Arsene Yunusov, and Eskender Emirvaliev.

The first two have been in police custody for over a year. Another two men, Eskender Nebiev and Talat Yunusov, have already been convicted and sentenced to probation.

In February 2016, two years after the events, the court decided to re-investigate the case. Chiygoz, Asanov, and Degermendzhi were forced to remain in custody.

On July 20, the preliminary hearing began, but it was closed to the public. The Supreme Court of Crimea proposed to divide the case and try Chiygoz separately from the other defendants.

“There are 80 injured parties and witnesses: the case could drag on for years. The court usually questions one or two witnesses a day,” says one of Chiygoz’s lawyers, Emil Kurbedinov.

An Alien Land
Russian prosecutors accuse Ahtem Chiygoz of acts carried out in Ukraine by a Ukrainian citizen against other Ukrainian citizens. Russian prosecutors have prosecuted only Crimean Tatars.

The prosecution is trying to assert the right of the Russian justice system to react to the February 26 rally, which was allegedly directed against Russian interests. The prosecutor general says Russian Unity had a special permit for holding a rally, while the Mejlis did not have such a document.

In addition to violence during the riots, Chiygoz is accused of destruction of property.

“Unidentified Crimean Tatars rushed into the Crimean Parliament, damaged and destroyed its property in the amount of 9,730 rubles,” claims one of the court documents. However, a few hours after the incident, armed Russians occupied the Crimean Parliament and also damaged property.

Why Chiygoz?
“Ahtem Chiygoz at first took a moderately radical position. The prosecutor’s office called him a man ‘in charge of the Mejlis power bloc.’ In winter 2014, he openly expressed the quite radical position that we should not recognize anything,” noted First Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis Nariman Jalal.

In fact, Chiygoz’s position coincides with the opinion of Ilmi Umerov, who is known as an experienced, fairly moderate politician. Ilmi Umerov is quite close to Chiygoz. They both belong to the Bakhchisarai wing of the Mejlis.

“In 2014, we organized many pickets, along the roads, near the military units. Ahtem was actively involved in organizing these events,” says Umerov.

Chiygoz was warned about avoiding “extremist activity,” and some people even complained about him to the Russian FSB. However, Chiygoz did not stop his work, and a month before his arrest, he attended a meeting between Crimean leaders Mustafa Dzhemilev and Refat Chubarov and Ukrainian President Poroshenko.

In 2014, the two Crimean Tatar leaders, Dzhemilev and Chubarov, were not allowed entry to Crimea.

“Chubarov had five deputies, and Ahtem was the main one,” Umerov explains.

Dzhemilev and Chubarov were refused entry to Crimea as a part of a Russian plan. The Mejlis should be headed by a collaborator. Ahtem Chiygoz was the main obstacle to implementing this plan.

“The Russians believed that Chiygoz encouraged them to rebel. That was why they decided to remove him. At the same time, Chiygoz has been a ‘show’ victim: do not stick your heads out, otherwise your fate will be the same,” stresses Nariman Jalal.

But the plans to co-opt the Mejlis have failed.

“It was a miscalculation. They thought Chiygoz was a kind of central link. They failed to realize the majority of the members of the Mejlis took the same position as Chiygoz; they did not want to be co-opted,” adds the First Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis.

Chiygoz called upon all Crimean Tatars to harshly boycott compatriots who collaborated with the occupying power.

“Different challenges have befallen our people. And we deal with them with honor! No one can break us with prisons or camps! We are not afraid of searches and arrests! We cannot be fooled by puppets! Crimea will never be without the Crimean Tatars,” Chiygoz has written from prison.

And his name is etched in gold in the history of Crimea.

The original of this article was published, in Russian, by Ukrainska Pravda. I have lightly edited the heavily abridged English translation, above, to make it more readable. TRR

Ivan Ovsyannikov: Unity in a Vacuum

Kirov Square, Petrograd, October 28, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader
Kirov Square, Petrograd, October 28, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader

Unity in a Vacuum
Ivan Ovsyannikov
November 4, 2015
anticapitalist.ru

All holidays are rituals of unity, and it is hard to imagine society functioning without them. November 4, however, is a truly odd day, whose originators ask us to experience unity for its own sake. It reflects the emptiness of official ideology, which claims the role of a national idea.

National Unity Day (Den’ narodnogo edinstva) will never be a truly popular, grassroots holiday. Whatever our attitude to living holidays like International Women’s Day (March 8) or Victory Day (May 9), despite the vulgarity surrounding them and the distortions of their original meaning, they are still bound up with significant societal needs: honoring wives, mothers, and heroic forebears. The sense of unity experienced by millions of people at tables laden with champagne and Olivier salad is maybe illusory but it is not groundless. But who besides thuggish nationalists is capable of feeling the narcissistic pleasure of “unity” as such, especially since it is totally unclear what we are called on to rally around?

The search for a national idea in post-Soviet Russia has resembled the quest for the philosopher’s stone, and has been just as fruitless. According to the Russian Constitution, the sovereign power in the Russian state is “its multinational people,” who are usually designated by the semi-bureaucratic term rossiyane [citizens of Russia, as opposed to russkie, ethnic Russians]. And yet multiculturalism (the coexistence of different ethnic traditions within a single society) is considered a dirty word, and federalism has finally been shunted aside by the vision of Empire. Promotion of ethnic nationalism, “Russianness,” and its concomitant Russian Orthodoxy, the official “spiritual bond,” has led to the fact that Chechens, Dagestanis, and Buryats, for example, are often not regarded as “citizens of multinational Russia,” but as suspicious foreigners like the migrant workers from the once-fraternal former Soviet republics.

However, as it flirts with Russian ethnic nationalism, which has served it well in Ukraine, the regime at the same time fears its devastating consequences for empire. While reacting morbidly to the most innocent speeches about federalization, the Kremlin also prevents the holding of the so-called Russian Marches. The regime’s rhetoric contains an explosive ambiguity. On the one hand, the regime constantly tells us about the “Russian world,” thus stoking ethnic chauvinism. On the other, it talks about the country’s multinational people and the danger of nationalism.

When they invented a holiday to replace November 7 (Revolution Day), the Kremlin’s ideologues deliberately chose the vaguest phrasing possible: “national unity”  or “popular unity” [narodnoe edinstvo]. But what is “the people” [narod] today? The word is hardly equivalent to “nation” or “ethnic group.” In pre-Revolutionary Russia, the word denoted all the non-privileged classes, the “simple folk,” especially the peasants. The people was distinguished from educated society by its special (unique and authentic) way of thinking and living, as well as its perennial disempowerment and oppression. In other words, it was more a class and cultural notion than an ethnic or official legal concept.

Later, a new supranational identity, the Soviet people [sovetskii narod], was constructed. We can argue whether it was a reality or the stillborn offspring of communist propaganda. However, this concept cannot be denied its logical shapeliness. The Soviet people was the unity of working people, freed from the yoke of the past and headed towards a post-capitalist future. Unqiue, authentic tradition gave way to Soviet society’s social authenticity and uniqueness. It had overthrown tsarism and capitalism, successfully defended its independence in the fight against fascism, and was proud of its unprecedented historical mission.

In post-Soviet Russia, however, there are no longer any communal peasants or builders of communism. Russia has no monolithic ethnic foundation or alternative social project that it could show to the world and itself. All that can be said about our society it that it is post-Soviet. But there can be no “post-Soviet” people. The mutilated shards of the imperialist, Soviet, and westernized mindsets have generated a postmodernist mishmash that a disoriented and atomized populace gags on and vomits out. It is not the nation or the people but the unscrupulous regime, which has no other purpose than self-reproduction, that is only the glue binding this stagnant society, a society bereft of guideposts. The November 4 holiday is a vacuum into which the ruling class gazes, a void that will eventually swallow it.

 Translated by the Russian Reader