One Solution: Demolition

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Sculptor Salavat Shcherbakov putting the final touches on his monument to weapons designer Mikhail Kalashnikov. Photo courtesy of Valery Sharifulin/TASS

Sergey Abashin
Facebook
September 19, 2017

Everything about the new monument in Moscow is disgusting. Once again, it is huge, and it shows us a non-military man holding a rifle. As an obvious symbol of militarism, it looks savage in the downtown of a major city. And then there is the very man the monument commemorates, who besides giving his surname to a lucrative arms brands apparently did nothing else for his country, let alone for a city in which he never lived.

Debates are underway about what to do with monuments when the context in which we view them has changed. Should we demolish them? We are not obliged to destroy them: we could move them to places where their symbolic baggage vanishes. Or would it be better to recode monuments where they stand by building something around them and thus imparting a new meaning to them? In my opinion, we have no choice in this case. There is no way to remedy this abomination. It can only be demolished.

Sergey Abashin is British Petroleum Professor of Migration Studies at the European University in St. Petersburg. His most recent book is Sovetskii kishlak: Mezhdu kolonializmom i modernizatsiei [The Soviet Central Asian village: between colonialism and modernization], Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2015. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Moscow To Unveil Statue Of AK-47 Inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov
Tom Balmforth
RFE/RL
September 18, 2017

75AC53AB-0E8F-47DE-BC13-452E78BD5FBF_w1023_r1_sThe 7.5-meter tall statue to Mikhail Kalashnikov, which stands on a northern intersection of the Garden Ring around central Moscow.

MOSCOW — After several false starts and some grumbling from locals, a prominent statue of a gun-toting Mikhail Kalashnikov, designer of one of the world’s most ubiquitous weapons of war, is set to be unveiled in an official ceremony in the Russian capital on September 19.

The 7.5-meter metal likeness — still covered in plastic — features Kalashnikov cradling his eponymous AK-47 assault rifle and looking west down the Garden Ring that loops around central Moscow.

The statue was hoisted onto its plinth over the weekend beside a new business center.

A second metalwork sculpture, of St. George slaying a dragon with a spear tipped with a rifle sight with AK-47 written on it, stands nearby.

The Kalashnikov statues’ sculptor, Salavat Shcherbakov, is also the artist behind a towering 17-meter statue of Prince Vladimir the Great that was erected — amid controversy — outside the Kremlin in November at a ceremony attended by President Vladimir Putin.

A4E87823-7F31-405E-A58C-7FE440CBDC33_w650_r0_sRussian sculptor Salavat Shcherbakov presents a model for a monument to Mikhail Kalashnikov, Russian designer of the AK-47 assault rifle, at his workshop in Moscow on November 10, 2016.

Shcherbakov told TASS news agency that the rifle was added to his original plan for the Kalashnikov statue because people might not recognize him without his signature contribution to the Soviet Army.

“So we dared to include the rifle after all,” Shcherbakov said.

Other prominent statues in the vicinity include statues to poets Alexander Pushkin and Vladimir Mayakovsky.

Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky presented plans to Putin for the Kalashnikov statue in September 2016 during a tour of the Kalashnikov arms manufacturer, headquartered in Izhevsk, the capital of the republic of Udmurtia.

The project was backed by the Russian Military-Historic Society, which is chaired by Medinsky and Rostec, the state weapons and technology conglomerate run by powerful Putin ally Sergei Chemezov.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, Medinsky, Chemezov, and Kalashnikov’s daughter, Yelena Kalashnikova, were expected to attend the unveiling ceremony on September 19.

The statue was originally meant to be unveiled on January 21, marking the day in 1948 when Soviet Defense Minister Dmitry Ustinov signed a decree ordering the construction of an experimental batch of Kalashnikov rifles.

But the ceremony was moved because of inclement weather to May 8, ahead of Victory Day, and then to September 19, Gunmaker Day.

Not everyone is on board with the project.

7926FEAF-D770-479A-84A0-0FB57CC87D96_w650_r0_sMikhail Kalashnikov with one of his fabled assault rifles in 2006.

Veronika Dolina, a local resident, posted a photograph of an apparent protester at the still-shrouded Kalashnikov statue holding a sign that said, “No to weapons, no to war.” She wrote: “Man at Kalashnikov pedestal. Humble hero, no posing.”

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“No to weapons, no to war.” Photo courtesy of Veronika Dolina/Facebook

Resident Natalya Seina told 360, a local media outlet, “This is not artistic, to put it mildly. This is trash. It’s loathsome.” She also noted how Kalashnikov had lived his life in Izhevsk, not Moscow, unlike playwright Anton Chekhov and poet Aleksandr Pleshchev. “These are probably more worthy people than the creator of a rifle.”

There are estimated to be as many as 200 million Kalashnikov rifles around the world —prompting one expert to label it “the Coca-Cola of small arms” — and they are manufactured in dozens of countries.

Mikhail Kalashnikov died in 2013 at the age of 94.

Eighteen Years Down the Drain

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“RT in Russian @RT_russian. Central Elections Commmission: Election of Putin will take place in March 2018, ru.rt.com/7a7j.”

Sergey Abashin
Facebook
September 13, 2017

They say that today the time the leader has spent in office has drawn even with Brezhnev’s eighteen years in power. Eighteen years. Of course, it’s a relative figure, since Putin spent six months in the role of prime minister under Yeltstin and another four years as prime minister under Medvedev. But we realize that these premierships can actually be included in the overall Putinist period in Russian history.

Many people remember the Brezhnev period with nostalgia, arguing it was the Soviet golden age, when the country’s standard of living and power undoubtedly grew. Many people think something similar about Putin’s time in office, and not without grounds, of course, if we look at GDP figures, numbers of privately owned cars, and numbers of rockets launched in Syria.

But the Putin and Brezhnev periods have been similar in another respect. Beyond the superficial prosperity, these eighteen-year periods were and have been times of political and moral degradation at home. They were decades the country lost as stepping stones into the future, in terms of establishing a (post)modern society capable of changing and progressing painlessly. The Brezhnevian stagnation inevitably led to a colossal crisis and, ultimately, collapse. I don’t know what the outcome of the Putinist stagnation will be, but we can say for sure there are new troubles ahead for the country, troubles whose growing signs we observe daily.

Sergey Abashin is British Petroleum Professor of Migration Studies at the European University in St. Petersburg. His most recent book is Sovetskii kishlak: Mezhdu kolonializmom i modernizatsiei [The Soviet Central Asian village: between colonialism and modernization], Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2015. Thanks to Mark Teeter for the spotting the “blooper” on RT in Russian’s Twitter feed. Translated by the Russian Reader

Sergey Abashin: Reading about Migrant Workers

Central Asian migrant workers queueing to obtain work “patents” at the Russian Interior Ministry’s migrant workers processing center on Red Textile Worker Street in central Petersburg, March 10, 2017. Photo by TRR

Sergey Abashin
Facebook
March 19, 2017

Very few people are interested in reading about migrant workers in Russia. True, many people readily believe the myths and repeat them, but they don’t want to get to the bottom of things, even if you hand them the data on a silver platter. This apathetic attitude to figures and facts is also typical of how migration is regarded.

I wrote yesterday [see below] about the trends in the numbers of migrant workers from the Central Asian countries in Russia for 2014–2016. Let me remind you that the number of Kyrgyz nationals first fell and then began to grow, exceeding the previous highs by 10%. The figure is now about 0.6 million people. (I am rounding up). The number of Tajik nationals has decreased by 15–25% and has been at the same level, about 0.9 million people, for over a year, while the number of Uzbek nationals has decreased by 30–40%, to 1.5 million people.

Now let us look at the data on remittances, all the more since the Central Bank of Russia has published the final figures for 2016. In 2016, private remittances from Russia to Kyrgyzstan amounted to slightly more than $1.7 billion, which is 17% less than during the peak year of 2013, but 26% more than in 2015. Meaning that, along with an increase in the number of migrants, the amount of remittances has grown quickly as well, even at a faster pace. Remittances to Tajikistan amounted to slightly more than $1.9 billion in 2016, which is 54% less than the peak year of 2013. The amounts have been continuing to fall, although this drop has slowed as the number of migrant workers has stabilized. Remittances to Uzbekistan were slightly more than $2.7 billion in 2016, which is 59% less than in the peak year of 2013. Meaning the largest drop in the number of migrants has led to the largest drop in remittances.

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Sergey Abashin
Facebook
March 18, 2017

Data on the number of foreign nationals living and working in Russia has not been made public since April 2016, when the Federal Migration Service was disbanded. But this does not mean there is no such data. The figures exist, and they become available from time to time. For example, an article published in RBC [on March 16, 2017] supplies some data as of February 1, 2017. What follows from the figures?

The number of Kyrgyz nationals has increased since February 2016 by 5.6%, and since February 2015 by 8.9%, and amounts to 593,760 people.

The number of Tajik nationals increased by 0.7% over the past year, and by 13.3% over two years, and amounts to 866,679 people.

The number of Uzbek nationals has decreased over the past year by 15.2%, and by 31.7% over two years, and now amounts to 1,513,694 people.

So we see three different trends. After Kyrgyzstan joined the Eurasian Economic Community [now, the Eurasian Economic Union], the number of its nationals in Russia has continued to grown. After a decline of 15–20%, the number of Tajik nationals has stabilized, while the number of Uzbek nationals has fallen by 30–40%.

There are slightly less than a total of 3 million people from Central Asia living and working in Russia. (I did not take Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan into account. If I had, the figure would have come to about 3.6 million people.)

Sergey Abashin is British Petroleum Professor of Migration Studies at the European University in Saint Petersburg. His most recent book is Sovetskii kishlak: Mezhdu kolonializmom i modernizatsiei [The Soviet Central Asian village: between colonialism and modernization], Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2015. Translation and photo by the Russian Reader.

Whataboutism as State Policy

Portrait of Omar Kipar, a Nogai man, circa 1900. Courtesy of Wikipedia and the Russian Museum of Ethnography

Sergey Abashin
Facebook
October 1, 2016

The Russian authorities do not like remembering and commemorating events that darken and cast doubt on the beatific picture of the country’s past, meaning conquests, mass murders, deportations, and so on. Not only the authorities but also many people who consider themselves intellectuals, thoughtful and knowledgeable people, avert their eyes and turn up their nose when they are reminded of such events. Why stir up problems? they say.

Another argument is that “there” (which usually means “the west”) things were much worse or no better at any rate. That is right, both the fact that memory has often been used to fuel conflict and political rivalry, and that things were no better “there.” But does this mean we should forget history, forget its difficult and controversial chapters, engage in censorship or self-censorship? Would that really help us solve our current problems in the here and now? Would such a simple trick help us feel that we and our history are “righter” than other countries and their histories?

On October 1, 1783, Suvorov defeated rebellious Nogai troops who had refused to abide by the decision to resettle them and their families from the Black Sea region to the Urals. Many of the Nogais who were not killed in battle or hunted down and killed were forced to scatter across the steppes and mountains, to escape to the Ottoman Empire. Thus, one of the most powerful nomadic powers to exist in what is now Russia perished.

Sergey Abashin is British Petroleum Professor of Migration Studies at the European University in Saint Petersburg. His most recent book is Sovetskii kishlak: Mezhdu kolonializmom i modernizatsiei [The Soviet Central Asian village: between colonialism and modernization], Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2015. Translated by the Russian Reader

La vie de l’esprit en Russie

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Sergey Abashin
Facebook
March 27, 2016

A really well-known Russian scholar receives a monthly salary of eighteen thousand rubles ($270) at an academic institute. It goes without saying that he is able to earn money on the side in different ways. The only question is the meaning of such salaries. What do they signify? What does the state say to the scholar by paying him a salary like this?

Sergey Abashin is British Petroleum Professor of Migration Studies at the European University in Saint Petersburg. His most recent book is Sovetskii kishlak: Mezhdu kolonializmom i modernizatsiei [The Soviet Central Asian village: between colonialism and modernization], Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2015. Translated by the Russian Reader. Photograph courtesy of New Point de View

Two Years Later

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“Miss Koktebel recommends avoiding UV rays by wearing a hat, since you don’t have any other clothing.”

Sergey Abashin
Facebook
March 16, 2016

Now, two years later, it is clear the annexation of Crimea has had only negative consequences for Russia. Crimea set off a chain reaction that gave rise to the war in eastern Ukraine (which would never had happened if not for the annexation) and, later, the military action in Syria, leaving thousands of people killed and producing hundred of thousands of refugees. Ukraine, Russia’s closest neighbor, has been made an enemy for years to come. Nobody in the world has publicly supported the annexation. In fact, most countries in the world have condemned it. Russia has been excluded from a number of international organizations and clubs, where its voice is no longer taken into account, meaning a huge blow has been dealt to the country’s image and its international status. The sanctions have greatly exacerbated the economic crisis, which has hit the quality of life in Russia hard. The number of poor people has increased, investments have decreased, and future prospects have worsened. The annexation has opened the way for the rise of hysteria and aggression and a political clampdown at home. This has had a devastating effect on culture, human relations, and human rights, and has generated all the conditions for Russia’s political self-destruction. The negative consequences are so numerous that it will be difficult to turn the situation in a positive direction. If the annexation continues, however, these negative effects will continue to grow. In terms of Russia’s interests, it was definitely a rash, mistaken, and criminal move.

Sergey Abashin is British Petroleum Professor of Migration Studies at the European University in Saint Petersburg. His most recent book is Sovetskii kishlak: Mezhdu kolonializmom i modernizatsiei [The Soviet Central Asian village: between colonialism and modernization], Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2015. Translated by the Russian Reader

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A man with a Russian flag greets armed men in military fatigues blocking access to a Ukrainian border guards base not far from the village of Perevalne near Simferopol on March 3, 2014. Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images

EU urges more countries to impose sanctions on Russia over Crimea
Robin Emmott and Dmitry Solovyov
Reuters
March 18, 2016

BRUSSELS/MOSCOW (Reuters) – The European Union called on Friday for more countries to impose sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula two years ago, but the Kremlin said Crimea was Russian land and its status non-negotiable.

In a statement issued on the anniversary of the formal absorption of Crimea into Russia, the 28-nation EU said it was very worried about Moscow’s military build-up in the region.

The EU also said it would maintain sanctions that ban European companies from investing in Russian Black Sea oil and gas exploration.

“The European Union remains committed to fully implementing its non-recognition policy, including through restrictive measures,” the European Council, which represents EU governments, said in its statement. “The EU calls again on U.N. member states to consider similar non-recognition measures.”

The Kremlin responded by saying the issue of Crimea could not be “a matter of negotiations or international contacts”.

“Our position is known: this is a region of the Russian Federation. Russia has not discussed and will never discuss its regions with anyone,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a teleconference with reporters.

“In this case we should treat with respect the expression of the will of Crimean residents and the decision which was taken two years ago,” he said.

Peskov was referring to Crimea’s referendum on secession from Ukraine in March 2014, which was followed by a formal request from the local parliament to the Russian Federation to admit it as a new subject with the status of a republic.

On Friday Putin will visit the construction site of a bridge being built to Crimea across the Kerch Strait to connect the Russian mainland with the peninsula, Peskov added.

NATO and the EU are concerned by Russia’s military build-up in Crimea, which they say is part of a strategy to set up defensive zones of influence with surface-to-air missile batteries and anti-ship missiles.

As well as the EU, the United States, Japan and other major economies including Australia and Canada have also imposed sanctions on Russia over Crimea, but others including China and Brazil have avoided direct criticism of Moscow.

The 28-nation EU imposed its Crimea sanctions in July 2014 and then tightened them in December 2014, banning EU citizens from buying or financing companies in Crimea, whose annexation has prompted the worst East-West stand-off since the Cold War.

After Russia’s annexation of Crimea, an armed separatist revolt erupted in mainly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine that Kiev and its Western backers said was fueled and funded by Moscow. Russia denies the charges.

Images, above, courtesy of the Daily Mail and Al Jazeera America 

Captives of the Caucasus?

"Captives of the Caucasus: #Kadyrov Is a Russian Patriot." A mash-up by Anatoly Veitsenfeld of a famous scene from the beloved Soviet comedy  film Kidnapping, Caucasian Style (Leonid Gaidai, 1967) and the recent social media campaign by pro-Kremlin celebrities, photographed holding pieces of paper with this message printed on it. Thanks to Comrade EM for the heads-up
“Captives of the Caucasus: #Kadyrov Is a Russian Patriot.” A mash-up by Anatoly Veitsenfeld of a famous scene from the beloved Soviet comedy Kidnapping, Caucasian Style (Leonid Gaidai, 1967) and the recent social media campaign by pro-Kremlin celebrities, who have been photographed holding pieces of paper with this message printed on it. Thanks to Comrade EM for the heads-up.

Sergey Abashin
Facebook
January 22, 2016

Everyone has been getting drawn into the virtual fight with Kadyrov. I, too, have been outraged by what has been said and done in Chechnya. But I am afraid of certain hasty generalizations that have already begun to take shape amongst the “opposition” (by which I also mean a certain detachment from the authorities, not necessarily confrontation with them).

First, it is shortsighted to turn the fight against the, so to speak, Kadyrovshchina into a fight with the Chechens. This is the principle of collective guilt all over again. We are falling into the same trap without solving the problems but only aggravating them. Kadyrov does not represent all Chechens. There are many people opposed to him, both moderate liberals and more aggressive radicals. The majority of people simply live their local lives and keep their mouths shut. They are occasionally dragged off to pro-Kadyrov rallies and forced to hold placards and shout slogans, but that does not mean they are ardent Kadyrov supporters. We just need to keep this in mind.

Second, the current regime in Chechnya is not something “Islamic,” “Caucasian,” “Asian,” and so forth, epithets that many liberals have been quick to pin on it, thus reproducing the white man’s colonial language. The Kadyrovshchina is a projection of the regime in the Kremlin. The Kremlin created it, the Kremlin has financed it, the Kremlin controls it, and one of the reasons it has done this has been to divert attention from itself. The current Putin regime and the Kadyrov regime, as part of the former, are not some kind of “Asian backwardness.” They are the peculiar system that emerged in the wake of Soviet modernization, with all its illusions, unfulfilled projects, traumas, and its incapacity for recycling this legacy in the post-Soviet period. As a consequence, we see a strange modern archaism or peripheralization.

Third, jettisoning Chechnya and punishing the Chechens can hardly solve the problem. Where we would jettison them? How would we punish them? We need to change the regime in the Kremlin, to establish a whole new regime in Russia, to create new development programs or programs for overcoming peripheralization, and as part of these programs think about how the former borderlands, colonies, and Third World can be included in this development, rather than building a wall they will beat against until they smash it.

Sergey Abashin is British Petroleum Professor of Migration Studies at the European University in Saint Petersburg. His most recent book is Sovetskii kishlak: Mezhdu kolonializmom i modernizatsiei [The Soviet Central Asian village: between colonialism and modernization], Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2015. Translated by the Russian Reader