Nalchik has rightly dominated the news this week. But a lot of other newsworthy events have occurred. Here is the brief weekly rundown of some of things that I found interesting.
—In Voronezh, a Peruvian student was a killed and two other foreign students were injured in an attack by skinheads. In response, 200 Voronezh students rallied this week to denounce racism and xenophobia. This is just coming over Interfax: on Friday, a group of skinheads recently attacked a group of Muslim prayer house in Sergiyev Posad in Moscow and brutally beat up leader of the local Muslim organization Arsan Sadriyev.
—It seems that the U.S. government is trying to save face after being thrown out of Uzbekistan. As I reported last week, Condi Rice dropped Uzbekistan from her Central Asian trip. Now she says that the U.S. doesn’t need those bases anyway and bases in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan can pick up the slack. She also vowed to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov that the U.S. won’t seek to build more bases in Central Asia. This all may be true, but the fact of the matter is that U.S. may not need a military base, but it won’t refuse one either. Now it seems that the new Kyrgyz government is questioning the necessity of a U.S. base in its country.
—Corporate criminal Mikhail Khordokovsky and his partner Platon Lebedev were sent to prison this week to serve their eight year sentences for fraud and tax evasion. The past few weeks have further revealed the State’s heavy handedness when dealing with them. Khodokovsky’s appeal was thrown out. His lawyer’s offices were raided by the Moscow police. There is speculation that more charges will be filed against him. There are charges that prison guards mistreated Lebedev. Interfax is reporting that a source from Khodokovsky family says that he will be sent to Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Region and Lebedev will be in Chita Oblast. Russian officials have denied this news, saying that both will serve their term in a prison around Moscow.
—Russian Profile has an interesting article about Russians and sex. Though Russia has been bombarded with images of sex since the collapse of the Soviet Union, they still remain in dark when it concerns sex education. A recent survey revealed these facts about Russians and sex:
“The 2003 Durex global sex survey, which interviewed over 150,000 people in 34 countries, reveals some startling facts about Russian sexuality. Out of all the countries surveyed, Russia had the highest percentage of respondents who said they would sleep with a new partner on the first night (39 percent) and Russians were more likely than any other nationality to have had sex with their best friend’s partner (18 percent). Russia was also the country with the lowest average age of first sexual contact.”
So Russians are doing it and doing it a lot. However, sex education continues to be seen as too controversial to be taught in schools. This has led to many Russians to go on believing in a number of rather dangerous myths:
“A survey of over 4,000 young Russians from 10 Russian regions, undertaken by Focus-Media Foundation in February, found that only 33 percent of sexually active respondents had always used condoms for sex over the preceding six months. Twenty-two percent did not realize that unprotected oral sex carries a risk, and over a quarter agreed that “if a person is fated to contract HIV, a condom won’t help.” The survey also revealed that 95 percent of young Russians felt they would like to know more about safe sex. With as many as 1 million Russians estimated to be HIV positive, simply ignoring sex education does not really seem like an option.”
Further, the article notes that while Russia remains a very homophobia society, things are changing according to Dmitry Gubin, editor-in-chief of FHM Russia. He points to the emergence of the Russian “metrosexual” and the opening of more gay clubs as a positive indication. As if we didn’t have enough metrosexuals here in Los Angeles . . .
—Finally, Russia Profile has reprinted an interview from Novaya Gazeta with Alexei Levinson from the Levada Center Polling Agency on the issue of Russian civil society. The question of civil society is a long standing one. Many historians blame the rise of revolutionary politics and the Bolshevik revolution on the lack of a liberal civil society in late 19th century Russia. I personally don’t subscribe to this idea of the Russian sonderweg, but the issue persists to inform how people think about Russian political society now. Some of Levinson’s more interesting comments is the following. When asked if “civil society” is merely a phantom, he had this to say:
“The civil society people dreamed of 10-15 years ago doesn’t exist in Russia today. We’re seeing an entirely different process: a passive society which may simply be termed “the population” is generating interest groups that bear some resemblance to civil society structures. But this process isn’t following the paths known from the history of other countries. In Russia, the first societal groups to emerge and take shape have been those known as criminal structures. They became aware of their goals and formulated them, and now they are pursuing those goals politically, sometimes even via parliamentary channels.
The people believe that the big organized crime groups have their own laws and abide by them. “Look, there’s more order in organized crime than in the bureaucracy” – that’s an opinion I’ve heard hundreds of times from poll respondents.”
Not much, it seems, has changed in post-Soviet Russia from the mafia governance the Communist Party provided in Soviet Russia. Such a view doesn’t give much comfort to those hoping, no, praying for a liberal Russia.