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June 24, 2011
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Blogging is changing Russia. Russia’s blogosphere is no longer just an parallel world of private opinions. It has become an active instrument of social activism and people’s journalism influencing media and politics. The power of blogging however becomes a platitude of the promoters of democracy and a free internet, if we don’t pierce through language barriers and read what people in other countries write about and genuinely try to understand the diversity of opinions that flourishes in freedom. Freedom is after all not always synonymous with democracy or pro western opinions.

Each week we’ll bring you an overview of the most memorable topics and discussions on the Runet. This week we’ll look at ethnic tensions in and around football stadiums, reactions to the plane crash near Petrozavosk and PARNAS failed attempt to register as a political party.

Ethnic bananas

At a football match between Dagestani club Andzhi and Krylia Sovetov from Samara, an Andzhi fan threw a banana at Brazilian player Roberto Carlos. Carlos left the pitch in protest. All was caught on camera (video below). The banana thrower has been identified and may face criminal charges on the basis of the notorious 282 clause covering a.o. ‘incitement of ethnic hatred’. The incident comes after a heated week in which fans of clubs from Russia’s central, predominantly ethnic Russian, regions threatened to boycott matches against clubs from Northern Caucasus. The reactions in the blogosphere may tell us a great deal about the lingering tensions in multiethnic Russia, which by the way are not so different from those in many other nations.

Blogger Maksim: ‘These developments are simply disgusting. For two matches in a row Andzhi fans brought Ichkerian flags (of an independent greater Chechnya) to Moscow stadiums, but the ‘fighters against extremism’ keep silent. Andzhi players make obscene gestures to Moscow fans, the trainer of their team hurls swearwords at the opposing team and shows no sign of embarrassment afterwards. Nothing has been undertaken. It’s being treated as the normal course of things, even though the fan clubs have repeatedly raised these issues. The banana incident is indeed flagrant, and such practice should stop immediately. But after the banana incident all repent immediately and the Russian ‘Foshists’ [sic] are caught The incident is not treated as a matter of football (heated, emotional sports). no, the bastard has to be found. And what’s next? 282 for a banana?  Well…. that would be interesting.’

My interpretation: Russian racism often flourishes in reaction to actions of the multiethnic state that are considered racially political correct. In Soviet times Russian nationalists complained of the central funding for non Russian languages and culture. These days the enormous financial flows of money sent to Chechnya evoke similar anger. In this light it may not be unimportant to note that the huge investments made into football clubs from Northern Caucasus are irritating the fans of the central Russian clubs. At the time of the banana incident Andzhi was leading Krylia by 0-3.

With regard to the aspect of law enforcement, Russian nationalists assert that the federal multiethnic state has more concern for keeping its minorities aboard, than for the rights and honor of its ethnic majority. Their opinion is disputable of course, but at large the majority of Russian nationalists see themselves as tolerant and civil, while other ethnicities are aggressive and rude.

Eduard Limonov gives a slightly different Greater-Russian spin. Russians, Tatars, Bashkirs, Ukrainians, Yews, all are welcome in to play in Russian clubs, but foreigners …. ‘If on our soil no players are born, that are as good as the players from Europe or other parts of the world, let it be. But to buy foreign players for money, that is deceit and prostitution, the indulgence of prostitution even. Our clubs should only have players born on our soil. Then there will be no more banana’s.’ Again, it seems to me that the frustration isn’t so much with foreign players, as with jealousy caused by the recent explosion of financial means for the clubs from the Northern Caucasus.

Another much heard joke, ridiculing the alleged political correctness of the multiethnic authorities/law enforcement, is the prediction that Russia’s main sanitary official, Onishenko, the person recently banning EU vegetables and now meat, will now announce a ban on banana’s.

Plane crash: human error or industry fail?

A Tupolov plane crashed near Petrozavosk killing 44 people. As often after disasters in Russia bloggers and the media focus on the help and assistance provided by bystanders and especially the alleged lack thereof.  After the bombing at Domodedovo airport for example, much criticism was hurled at taxi drivers raising prices. Its interesting to think about what this says about the socio-psychological state of Russian society (or the media in general), but i’ll leave the conclusions to the reader.

Many bloggers profess their anger with this cynicism. Vadim for example notes how a priest who rushed in to help the victims, contradicts media statements about bystanders doing nothing to help, but only film dying people in the debris. Other blog posts focus on heroes too.

The other discussion concerns the placing of blame for the disaster. Was it a human error committed by the pilot, or is the Russian aviation sector to blame? A worker at a plant making aircraft motors: ‘The truth is that people are knowingly flying in coffins and their lives are not as much in the hands of the pilots as it is in the hands of His Majesty of Chance and Luck. It is terrible to say, but people flying with Russian air sector are wittingly doomed. … The cause of the deficiency of the Russian aircraft industry is to be found in the greed of its Russian management. The main problem is the quality of the parts.  … Every year pricing is cut, when these managers lower the standards under which these parts are produced. They think that this leads to a growth of labour production, but it of course leads not to a quantitative leap forward, but a qualitative leap backward.’

An airport employee has a different opinion. ‘A plane crash is almost always the result of the overestimation of the might and capabilities of those of us who work in the sky and on the ground. And all of us that work in aviation, should always remember that we’re responsible for the people who place their trust in us.’

Don’t give up PARNAS!

The oppositionist PARNAS movement has been denied its first attempt to registration as a political party, which would have permitted the movement to participate in parliamentary and presidential elections. By voice of one of its leaders, Boris Nemtsov, the movement will not apply for a second time, this despite presidents Medvedev’s advice to do so. Discussions therefore evolve around the question whether the movement or part of its leaders truly intended to participate in electoral politics, or that they prefer to remain on the sidelines.

The former grey cardinal of the Kremlin under Yeltsin’s 2nd and Putin 1st presidencies and liberal leaning power broker, Voloshin tweets: “They never expected to get registered and therefore simply presented a number (of members), not caring about quality.’

Indeed if we read the official letter from the Ministry of Justice (available a. o. here on Yashin’s blog) the Ministry found 79 persons, who legally cannot be considered members, since they are under age, deceased or incarcerated. As Yashin notes 79 ‘dead souls’ on 46.148 members ‘should’ have fallen within a reasonable margin of error. After all, the 45.000 members should suffice.

But there is more. One of the persons who presented as the regional leader of the movement in the Penza Oblast, has according to the Ministry, denied his involvement in the movement. This is a serious argument. Evil play, however, cannot be ruled out. Nemtsov has suggested that several activists were pressured into withdrawing their support.

The other argument of the Ministry of Justice concerns the procedures for rotation of leadership. The devil is in the details. The movement’s statutes do for certain describe how party leadership will rotate each year. The Ministries letter, however, refers to the rotation and procedures for election and dismissal of the movement’s federal political council and the leadership in regional departments. Because of the legal complicity of the matter, it’s difficult to asses whether the Ministries arguments are truly valid. The official letter does stipulate that the decision can be challenged in court.

The prevailing critique at the Ministries decision is exemplified by blogger Kutuzov: “There is no need to talk about violations of the law, about ‘dead souls’. That is all just nonsense. The law on parties is so stupid, that one can always find violations, by everyone. In the cases of parties like Right Cause, Yabloko and Just Russia, these violations have been simply ignored.”

My thoughts: When the law is unclear, decisions will be interpreted as ‘political’. However to clarify the law, citizens need to proceed. Since recently, new legislation requires state officials to give a complete motivation of denial of requests and applications by citizens. This is to prevent the continuous ‘invention’ of new arguments, when mistakes in an earlier application have been remedied. The law, however, is never enough. Precedents are needed.

I bet these particular ‘opposition’ figures will not give up on their media campaigns. So why not also continue the legal struggle? Do you really want to change your country for the better? Do the hard work bottom up and stop dreaming about what you could do top-down when power would be handed to you.