Friday, December 15, 2017

Suggestion Buryats Should Identify as ‘a Society’ Rather than ‘a Nation’ Sharply Criticized

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 15 – Yevgeniya Baltatarova, a Buryat journalist, says Buryats should stop calling themselves a people or a nation and instead identify as a society because that will “solve many problems” since it does not have any “nationalistic” coloration and can embrace everyone in the republic (

            Because the enormous implications of such a change – it would at least implicitly suggest that Buryats or any other group making this change could not make claims to the right of national self-determination – it has drawn a sharp rejoinder from Lari Ilishkin, a Kalmyk journalist (

            Such an idea is “not new,” he says. First, the Soviets tried to replace “ethnic identity with the ephemeral ‘Soviet community of people’” because they “sincerely supposed that rejecting ‘national’ terms would automatically close off discussion of many issues, including a priori and to the end unresolved inter-ethnic ones.”

            That effort at the all-union level was echoed in the 1970s by calls to identify the peoples in the union republics not by the nationality of the titular nation but rather by a new, non- or super-ethnic identification, replacing for explain Kazakhs with Kazakhstantsy.  But the effort at both levels collapsed as the Soviet government weakened and ultimately collapsed.

            Now, at the all-Russian level, Vladimir Putin supported by Academician Valery Tishov wants to have all the residents of the Russian Federation identify not as ethnic Russians or ethnic Tatars but rather by the non-ethnic term, Rossiyane, one devoid of ethnic content and dubbed a civic nation.

            Baltatarov’s proposal represents a reprise of what happened in the USSR almost 50 years ago when calls for a non-ethnic Soviet identity began to spread downward to the union republics where some also wanted a non-ethnic civic identity to be predominant. But as Ilishkin points out, the consequences of accepting such a shift now are if anything even worse.

            He cites the argument of Moscow political analyst Maksim Shevchenko who has written that “Russia today stands before a choice of the path of its further development” and who insists that there are “only two such paths.”

            The first, Shevchenko argues, is to follow the Western model with the state being replaced by “a corporation” and “’the people’ and ‘the nation simply being an extra headache for those who are making money” because they represent a challenge to the conformism and uniformity of consumer societies.

            The other, he continues, traces its origins to “the heritage of Chingiz Khan,” for whom “religion, people and state all have a place” and who with the strengthening of each and the cooperation of all lead to mutual enrichment and the flourishing of the population.

            “In order to make Buryatia a strong and attractive place,” Ilishkin says, “one need not be ashamed of one’s national identity and be concerned about offending someone or being offended.” Instead by celebrating one’s own people and recognizing the right of others to celebrate theirs, integration into something bigger becomes possible.

            Efforts like those proposed by Baltatarova prevent that, and they have another negative consequence as well, he continues. They can promote the rise of nationalism among part of the people as a response to the denigration and even dismissal of their identities and traditions by others.

            “A strong state and an improved standard of living are the guarantors of the preservation of the interethnic accord that has been achieved,” Ilishkin concludes. “Not some change of terms. The sad experience of the world in this regard stands before our eyes. Why should we repeat the mistakes of others?

Ulyukayev Verdict Sends ‘Three Signals’ to Three Russian Audiences, Moscow Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 15 – Some Russian commentators consider the eight-year sentence handed down against Aleksey Ulyukayev for corruption excessive; others believe that it was the least the government, having brought serious charges against a sitting minister, could do at a time when voters want to see someone high up convicted and put behind bars.

            But most of the discussion of the case today is about what it portends for the future of Russia under Vladimir Putin and especially the messages it sends to various segments of the population.  Dmitry Abzalov, head of the Moscow Center for Strategic Communications, argues it sends “three signals to three audiences” (

                This case has “three target audiences,” he says. The first are the voters. For them fighting corruption is “extremely important.” Convicting and giving a real jail sentence to a sitting minister is a way of telling them that the Putin regime is committed to rooting out corruption no matter how high up it goes.

            The second audience and message, Abzalov continues, are the country’s bureaucrats who have been given to understand that “despite all their preferences and regalia, they are being watched with regard to corruption,” or at least its most virulent forms.  The conviction of Ulyukayev serves notice no one is above having charges brought if the Kremlin decides to do so.

            And the third target audience, he says, “are businessmen and entrepreneurs.”  They are being told that this case “does not have any relationship to a bet on the siloviki in their relations with the entrepreneurs,” that the regime isn’t going after all business and opposed to all modernization. Otherwise far more people around Ulyukayev would have been charged.

                The Ulyukayev case, he suggests, “is a high point in the anti-corruption campaign.” What will really matter is the final disposition of his case which the former minister will be appealing.  But given that there will be an election campaign until March, nothing is likely to be resolved before that time. Indeed, no one in the power vertical will want to take up such a hot potato.

            “In thee final analysis,” Abzalov says, “the Ulyukayev case will have a positive impact on the president’s election campaign.”  It shows that the Kremlin will not always protect those viewed as its own and that “an official is really going to sit in prison,” something many have wanted to see in other cases as well.

The Red Star, One of the Most Mythologized Soviet Symbols, Marks Its Centenary Today

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 15 – “The five-pointed red star, one of the symbols of communism, the Russian army and the Kremlin, is celebrating its 100th anniversary today, Dmitry Lyskov of Vzglyad reports, noting that it is still surrounded by controversy as many Russians consider it to this day to be “an emblem of Satanists and Masons.”

            Given the ongoing controversy about allegations that the killing of the Imperial Family was a ritual murder, a subject Lyskov has also explored (, his comments about the history and meaning of the red star are particularly intriguing now (

            The idea that the red star is a satanic symbol has circulated in post-Soviet Russia for a long time. In 2014, for example, LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky asked the defense ministry to look into its continued use because, he said, the five-pointed red star for “certain Orthodox” Russians “is associated with satanic symbols.”

            Several Russian Orthodox writers have gone further. One argued that “nothing reflects so clearly the anti-Christian and satanic essence of bolshevism as its symbols,” including the red star ( And another argued the red star is “at one and the same time masonic and satanic” as well as Jewish given that “the most important task of masonry is the destruction of Christianity” (

            But Lyskov says that this is more than a little much given the history of the appearance of the red star in 1917.  Had it contained all the meanings these authors say, one would have expected the leaders of the anti-Bolshevik movement to use it as a mobilizing tool against Red forces.  The fact is that they didn’t. 

            Indeed, many White officers wore on their uniforms stars of the same shape because those had been introduced into the tsarist military in 1827 by Nicholas I who was copying French uniforms of the time of Napoleon. They thus had no reason to view the red star as anti-Christian, satanic or masonic.

            Moreover, as many Russians knew, the five-pointed star had a long history as a Christian symbol, tracing its origins to the pre-Christian Pythagoreans but enshrined in Christian symbolism and even informing the works of perhaps the greatest Russian icon painter Andrey Rublov.

            Efforts to transform the star into an anti-Christian symbol appear to have their origins in the work of Louis Constant, a nineteenth century French promoter of the occult, but as Lyskov points out, “it isn’t completely clear how such an odious figure could serve as an authority for a believer.”

            It is true, the Vzglyad writer says, that there were some in the White Russian emigration in the 1920s and 1930s who did talk about “the occult roots of Bolshevism” and who linked that to what they saw as a Jewish conspiracy against Russia and Christianity.  But such people remained extremely marginal even when they were supported by the Nazis.

            Soviet citizens knew little of this or of the actual history of the red star. But when the sluice gates of information were opened during perestroika, Russians were exposed to all kinds of information, some reliable but some not; and they often had great difficulty in distinguishing the one from the other.

            “In our atheistic society, had had ideas both about religion and the pre-revolutionary past that had been distorted by communist ideology, even the most improbable notions fell on fertile ground, up to and including satanic treatments of a two centuries-old army symbol which they began to call ‘the Bolshevik star.’”

            And on the basis of a common anti-communism, these ideas penetrated and combined in a “paradoxical” way with those of Russian Orthodoxy, completely confusing the situation. And some Orthodox radicals even began insisting that overcoming communism requires the elimination of all red stars (

            The actual history of the appearance of the red star is still clouded in much mystery and dispute, Lyskov says; but it appears that it originated with Red military commanders who viewed the star as a sign of the army and acceptable as long as it was red, the color of the revolution, and featuring a hammer and sickle.  

            No one at the outset of the Soviet period had any intention of interjecting “any mystical, occult or anti-Christian meanings in the new symbol of the new army; and the Bolsheviks did not come up with anything fundamentally new in this area that represented a complete break with the history and culture of the country.”

            “But in order to understand this,” the journalist concludes, “one must know one’s history.” And for Russians, there are now as there have been in the past real problems in that regard.