Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Fight over Alphabets Heating Up in Kyrgyzstan

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 25 – Kyrgyzstan has become the latest post-Soviet country where a struggle has broken out between those who want to shift from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet in order to become more integrated with the Turkic and international community and those who oppose such a change, at least partially because of Moscow’s opposition.

            Earlier this year, Kanybek Imanaliyev, a deputy in the Kyrgyzstan parliament, came out strongly in favor of having his country shift from the Cyrillic (Russian) script to the Latin alphaet  as Azerbaijan,  Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan has done and as Kazakhstan has announced plans to do the same (zanoza.kg/doc/355638).

            Since that time, the issue has attracted some attention in the Bishkek media, but there is clear evidence that it is an idea that many Kyrgyz believe is one whose time has come.  The clearest evidence of that is the passionate opposition President Almazbek Atambayev has expressed to such a step (zanoza.kg/doc/360590 and zanoza.kg/doc/355638).

                Atambayev says that “if in the period of good-neighborly relations between Turkey and the Soviet Union, the peoples of Turkestan shifted from the Arabic script to the Latin one in the 1930s, then after the cooling of diplomatic ties, there was a sharp turn [away from the Latin alphabet] to the Cyrillic one.”

            As a result of each of these changes, he continues, “our peoples have lost unique portions of our written literature and history and even the possibility for simple people to read and understand that which their ancestors wrote, sometimes even their fathers and grandfathers in Arabic and Latin script.”

            Any break “from an earlier alphabet means a break with the past of the people In Central Asia,” this has now happened several times.  Now, since 1991, “history is again repeating itself but already in reverse,” with Turkic countries shifting away from the Cyrillic script to the Latin alphabet.

            The arguments people make for this shift keep changing, Atambayev says, and they are now all convincing.  Alphabets alone don’t determine economic outcomes, and they won’t guarantee closer relations with one or another country.  But changing them not only cuts people off from their pasts but also from those with whom they have had close ties

            Many aren’t thinking, he argues, that if Kyrgyzstan shifts to the Latin script, it will lead to a break with “our brothers living in the Russian Federation. Do we want to forget about Tatars, Bashkirs, Altais, Khakases and many others?  Because they will be using the Cyrillic script into the future.”

            According to the Kyrgyzstan president, “a gradual transition to the Latin script will not unite but rather separate our peoples. And in fact, this transition under the influence of the ideas of pan-Turkism continues the ‘divide and rule’ method which has been used against our peoples both in the Russian Empire and in the USSR.”

Moscow Finally Focusing on Ethnic Russians of Lithuania, Klaipeda Party Figure Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 25 – The ethnic Russian minority in Lithuania – some 4.8 percent of the population of that Baltic country – has seldom attracted much attention from Moscow, a marked contrast to Russian propaganda efforts in Latvia and Estonia. But now, activists in the community say that is finally beginning to change.

            Such a development if true is especially worrisome given that it is coming on the eve of the Zapad-2017 military exercises in Belarus, when Russia will be introducing massive forces in that country and may want to promote problems elsewhere to cover what some fear may be a move toward regime change in Minsk.

            Consequently, the reports of the leadership of the Union of Ethnic Russians of Lithuania, a marginal group at best most of the time, may now be far more significant. At the very least they deserve to be noted as an indication that the Putin regime is prepared to play a Russian ethnic card in Lithuania even if that card is far from having the highest face value.

            (That other minority groups, including the Poles and the Belarusians, may be more important targets for Russian efforts in Lithuania was recently suggested by another Russian commentator. For a discussion of his remarks and what they may mean for Vilnius, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/07/there-may-be-ethnic-card-to-be-played.html.)

            Vyacheslav Titov, president of the Klaipeda section of the Union of Ethnic Russians of Lithuania and a deputy in the local council, told Denis Lepsky of the Rubaltic portal Moscow bears some of the blame for the resurgence of “aggressive Russophobia” and attempts at the rewriting of the history of World War II (rubaltic.ru/article/politika-i-obshchestvo/25072017-soyuz-russkikh-litvy-rossiya-dolzhna-zhestko-reagirovat-na-vypady-rusofobii/).

            “For long years,” Titov continues, “Russia did not block the transformation of the Baltic region into ‘a preserve of cultural Nazism’ and ignored this process.”  Had it responded sooner and more harshly, many of the worst features of this trend might have been avoided, the Russian activist says.
            He continues: “In my view, the Russian Federation should more harshly defend the truth and not allow the falsification of historical events. Today, alas, we do not see an adequate and sharp reaction to attempts by the Baltic establishment to change and rewrite history” of the second world war.

            “We, the ethnic Russian residents of the Baltic region, have been living in this milieu already 25 years. We are constantly being told that we are the guilty ones who occupied” Lithuania and her neighbors, Titov says.  And the ethnic Russians of the region have waited for Moscow to come to the defense of truth and of their community.

            Now, he continues, there is reason for optimism, even celebration.  “I’m pleased,” he says, “that Russia now is undertaking efforts to put everything in its proper place, to provide information support and to enlighten people. [As a result,] this theme isn’t being ignored in the media If earlier, nothing was done, today we finally see that Russia has begun to react.”

            It would have been better, Titov says, if Moscow had done so earlier, but the adage better late than never applies. 

Two New Signs Russians are Ceasing to Trust the Kremlin’s Messages

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 25 – In a lead article today, the editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta say that for the first time fewer than half of all Russians say they trust government TV in large part because the economy and its problems are the primary focus of Russians in their everyday lives but the last thing the media attend to (ng.ru/editorial/2017-07-25/2_7036_red.html).

            And in a Rosbalt commentary, Lyudmila Semenova, a specialist on art, says that Russians are standing in line, often for long hours, to view the relics of saints at least in part because having something to believe in is important to them and “they no longer have any faith in the government” (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2017/07/24/1633097.html).

            These are the latest indications that despite the self-confidence Vladimir Putin projects about the trust and support he believes he has among the Russian people, in fact, as the economic crisis deepens and ever more Russian citizens are forced to confront declines in their standard of living, their faith in him and what his propagandists say is ebbing away.

            The editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta point out that surveys of Russian public opinion now present “a paradoxical picture.” On the one hand, they find that Russians are agitated “above all by economic problems.” But on the other, when Russians are asked what they want to see in the media, Russians say they are interested in economic issues least of all.

            There are several possible explanations for this divergence, the editors say. Russians may simply want to see something different in the media than they see in their daily lives. Or the media may not have figured out how to cover such things in an interesting way. Or “government propaganda may form the information agenda for Russians.

            But in addition, the editors say, Russians indicate now that they trust the media much less than they used to.  “About 40 percent of Russians” are now certain that the media isn’t objective, nearly twice as many as said this three years ago. And as a result, “the share of those who call the Russian media objective is only seven percent more than the share who have the opposite view.”

            And as for television, the most important “mass informer” of the population, a June poll found “for the first time” that trust in its broadcasts had fallen before “the red line” of 50 percent of the population. In all earlier years, more than half of the Russian people trusted television; now, fewer than half do.

            In her commentary, Semenova suggests that Russians are ready to stand in line to see the relics of Orthodox saints because they want some form of entertainment and can’t afford anything else or because they hope that the relics will provide them with some relief from this or that problem they are suffering with.

            But there is another reason which may be even more important, the specialist on art says.  When the government doesn’t support the population and can’t even come up with an image of “a bright future,” Russians begin to search for some basis independently – and in this case, by turning to religion.”

            Consequently, while the authorities may continue to issue optimistic reports and upbeat television stories, “part of the people will stand in lines for many hours to view the remains of imported saints Some because they sincerely believe that this will bring them help, but some simply because that’s what ‘everyone is doing.’”