Stephen Kotkin, a Princeton historian and author of a new biography of Joseph Stalin, sees similarities in the former Soviet dictator’s leadership style and that of Russia’s incumbent strongman, Vladimir Putin.
Speaking at the Open Society Foundations in New York on January 15, Kotkin acknowledged some of the parallels between Stalin and Putin that have been pointed out by reviewers of his recently released book. “We are not talking about a figure on the scale of Stalin,” Kotkin stressed, referring to Putin. But “there’s an uncanny resonance in some of the history.” [Editor’s note: EurasiaNet.org operates under the auspices of OSF].
Stalin’s image has enjoyed a revival in recent years in Russia. During the January 15 discussion, Kotkin listed four factors that made Stalin’s ruthless dictatorship possible: geopolitics, institutions, ideas, and personality. He then noted modern-day parallels in two of those areas – institutional structure and ideology.
“You have a country [Russia] that has a special role in history. At the very least, it needs to play a leading role in the world … and that makes it very difficult for them to integrate with other countries,” Kotkin said. “The second piece that’s uncanny is they [Russians] are constantly struggling for a strong state, and they end up building a personalized regime.”
According to Kotkin, two ideological tenets provide a foundation for Russian exceptionalism today -- anti-Americanism and social conservativism. “Conservative nationalism is a full package of ideas,” one that is eagerly reinforced through textbooks and media, Kotkin said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to use religion to advance an expansionist agenda. But an increasing number of believers in Ukraine appear to be rejecting the notion that Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church are the defenders of the true faith.
When Russia enacted a ban barring Americans from adopting children from its orphanages in 2012, analysts pointed out that the country’s disabled children in state institutions would suffer the most.
A report distributed by Human Rights Watch, titled “Abandoned by the State: Violence, Neglect, and Isolation for Children with Disabilities in Russian Orphanages,” documents how the worst-case scenario for disabled children is coming to pass. About one-third of all kids with disabilities in Russia are living in so-called closed institutions, where they endure neglect and harsh conditions, according to the report.
Speaking at an event at the Open Society Foundations (OSF) –New York on January 7, the report’s principal researcher, Andrea Mazzarino, stressed that while changes are happening concerning disability rights, federal-level goals are being enacted slowly and unevenly throughout Russia. As a result, many disabled children in orphanages continue to waste away with limited or virtually no contact with the outside world. [Editor’s note: EurasiaNet.org operates under the auspices of OSF].
The report comes with five pages of recommendations: Mazzarino emphasized that Russia should strive to abolish all forms of institutionalization for children. “Our position is just that institutions should be closed,” she stated.
Almost a century ago, amid the civil warfare that erupted following the collapse of the tsarist empire, a Ukrainian army led by Nestor Makhno marched under the banner, “anarchy is the mother of order.” These days, as a conflict simmers in eastern Ukraine, some Ukrainian entrepreneurs are embracing a far different motto: military necessity is the mother of market invention.
Ukrainians head to the polls on October 26 to vote for a new parliament. How the voting goes in the strife-torn east could go a long way toward determining whether the elections infuse enough political will into the system that Ukraine can start fulfilling the promise of the Maidan movement.
As news trickled out of Taijkistan on July 22 that the government was releasing, albeit with some restrictions, international scholar Alexander Sodiqov after five weeks in jail, a group of scholars and activists gathered at New York University to discuss the long-term effects of his detention. The case, panelists cautioned, could signal on-going trouble for academic freedom for scholars focusing on Tajikistan.
Sodiqov, a political science doctoral student at the University of Toronto and a Tajik national, first traveled to his home country in June as part of a University of Exeter (UK) research project on conflict management strategies. He was detained in Khorog on June 16, before being brought to the intelligence agency headquarters in Dushanbe, where he remained until July 22, accused of espionage.
“Tajikistan was never a no-go area for academic research,” commented John Heathershaw, a lecturer at the University of Exeter who was working with Sodiqov at the time of his arrest. “Alex’s detention is unprecedented… and it sent a message that research is under threat in Tajikistan.”
Sodiqov and others have vehemently denied any connection to espionage, which Heathershaw called “simply untrue.” Disseminating his story and his denials, however, has proved a challenge in Tajikistan, where pro-government media dominate.
“The region thrives on conspiracy theories. Having knowledge – having data – is extremely threatening to these governments,” Alexander Cooley, a political science professor focusing on Central Asia at New York’s Barnard College, affirmed. “Alexander’s detention has had an effect: it’s going to deter research. It’s making this muddled environment even worse.”
Russian legislators are tripping over themselves to tighten rules on dual citizenship after President Vladimir Putin hinted at a need for stricter oversight.
On March 31, Russia’s State Duma agreed to consider not one, but three separate bills covering dual citizenship held by Russians. The new measures, if adopted, would impose various criminal penalties on some Russian citizens who fail to disclose that they share loyalty with another country. Two bills submitted by deputies from Vladimir Zhirinovksy’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia would impose punishments of up to 300,000 rubles (around $8,500) and up to three years imprisonment for citizens who fail to disclose that they have adopted dual-nationality within 30 days of becoming a citizen of another state. The bill does not appear to address how to deal with those who already hold dual citizenship.
A milder bill, proposed by a deputy from the Just Russia faction in the Duma, would cover only state employees and some employees who work for state-owned entities.
The Russian constitution explicitly permits dual citizenship, while stating that “a citizen of the Russian Federation in possession of other citizenship will be considered by the Russian Federation only as a subject of the Russian Federation, with the exception of cases subject to pre-agreed international treaties of the Russian Federation or federal law.” The only two such exceptions apply to Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
A non-profit alliance co-founded by organizations including the Agha Khan Foundation, USAID and Ashoka, is aiming to promote social entrepreneurship in Central Asia.
On February 11, the Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship presented its initial report, “Mapping Social Entrepreneurship in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan,” in New York. A second presentation, featuring the report’s author, Myrza Karimov, will take place February 12 in Washington, DC.
“There is no incentive from the government [to promote social entrepreneurship], that’s our biggest problem,” stated Karimov in New York, a pair of felt dolls made by women in Kyrgyzstan's Naryn province resting in front of him. “There is a lack of legislation. If you want to do this kind of work, you pay the same taxes as a for-profit company.”
The project defines “social entrepreneurship” as any venture, whether it is for- or non-profit, that prioritizes social change above earnings. One problem with adopting the model in Central Asia, Karimov said, is the region's lack of experience and understanding of this kind of hybrid thinking.
“People say they are an NGO, or they say they are in small business, even if part of what they are doing is social entrepreneurship,” said George Khalaf, director of Synergos, an organization coordinating the initiative.
As a first step, the alliance is focusing on Kyrgystan and Tajikistan, examining practices and problems in what are Central Asia’s two poorest states. In Kyrgyzstan’s case, the country’s dependence on foreign aid constitutes a hurdle for social entrepreneurship, said Karimov, a former employee of USAID. He cited 15,000 NGO's registered in his home country, with only some 150 still operating, and only a dozen or so operating in a self-sustainable manner.