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Radio Free Europe

30th March 2005

Dear All

Received from Andrew Cook

Best wishes
Ute

Dear Ute

Each day I receive by e-mail, free of charge, an update on news from Russia
from
Radio Free Europe.

I thought other members might be interested in this, and have thus forwarded
today's bulletin to you, in case you saw fit to circulate it.

Today's end note on:

"WINDOW ON EURASIA: THE NOVGOROD ALTERNATIVE"

was particularly interesting.

Subscription details are at the foot of the message.

With best wishes

Andrew

(Dr Andrew Cook
University of Westminster)

——- Forwarded message follows ——-

RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
___________________________________________________________
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 9, No. 59, Part I, 30 March 2005

A daily report of developments in Eastern and Southeastern Europe,
Russia, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Southwestern Asia, and the Middle
East prepared by the staff of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

This is Part I, a compilation of news concerning Russia,
Transcaucasus, and Central Asia. Part II, which covers Eastern and
Southeastern Europe, and Part III, which covers Southwestern Asia and
the Middle East, are distributed simultaneously as separate
documents.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Headlines, Part I

* FORMER YUKOS OFFICIAL SENTENCED TO 20 YEARS IN PRISON

* SURVEY FINDS RISING DISSATISFACTION WITH STATE OF THE ECONOMY

* GEORGIA UNVEILS PEACE PROPOSAL FOR SOUTH OSSETIA

END NOTE: THE NOVGOROD ALTERNATIVE
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

RUSSIA

FORMER YUKOS OFFICIAL SENTENCED TO 20 YEARS IN PRISON. Former Yukos
security chief Aleksei Pichugin was sentenced on 30 March to 20 years
in prison for murder and attempted murder, Russian media reported
(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2005). Pichugin's lawyers maintained
there were numerous violations of the defendant's rights during the
course of the closed-door trial and said they will appeal the
conviction to the Supreme Court, Interfax reported. They maintain
that the case against Pichugin was contrived in order to put pressure
on former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii. "This was a politically
motivated trial," Yukos press spokesman Aleksandr Shadrin told the
news agency. "If the court had been objective, the case would have
been dismissed on the first day." RC

PROSECUTOR ASKS FOR 10 YEARS FOR KHODORKOVSKII, LEBEDEV… Dmitrii
Shokhin, state prosecutor in the case against former Yukos CEO
Khodorkovskii and Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev, on 29 March asked
a Moscow court to convict the defendants and sentence them each to 10
years in prison, Interfax and RIA-Novosti reported. Shokhin asked for
a 5 1/2-year suspended sentence for the third defendant, former Volna
General Director Andrei Krainov. Khodorkovskii and Lebedev are
accused of tax evasion and embezzlement; they maintain their
innocence. Lebedev was arrested in July 2003, while Khodorkovskii was
arrested in October 2003. Speaking at his trial last month,
Khodorkovskii called the charges against him "fantasies and
conjectures" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2005). JAC

…AS STATE SEEKS 18 BILLION RUBLES FROM THEM. The tax organs of
Russia and Moscow on 30 March asked Moscow's Meshchanskii Raion court
for 17.8 billion rubles ($593 million) in damages from Khodorkovskii
and Lebedev, Russian media reported. ITAR-TASS reported that the
authorities have filed the civil suit in order to recover back taxes
and losses from the alleged illegal use of shell companies by the
defendants. Representatives of the tax authorities told the court
that the defendants created companies that gave the illusion of
working in the oil sector merely to avoid taxes. They said these
companies failed to meet their obligations to invest in local
economies, did not carry out any real commercial activity, and were
usually headed by managers who did not even reside in the regions
where the companies were based. The court adjourned until 1 April,
when defense lawyers are expected to make their opening remarks. RC

SURVEY FINDS RISING DISSATISFACTION WITH STATE OF THE ECONOMY. In a
survey conducted in March of 1,500 people in more than 100 cities and
towns, ROMIR found that 51 percent of respondents consider the state
of the Russian economy to be mediocre and 37 percent consider it
poor, romir.ru reported on 29 March. The percentage that considers
the economy mediocre or poor has risen compared to polls conducted in
July 2004 and December 2004. Residents of the Southern and Volga
federal districts were the most pessimistic, with 43 percent and 42
percent, respectively, saying the economy is a poor state. Those in
the Northwest Federal District were the most bullish, with 15 percent
of respondents describing the economy as either good or very good.
According to Federal Labor and Employment Service Director Maksim
Topilin on 29 March, the cities of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and
Nizhnii Novgorod have the lowest unemployment rates in Russia,
RIA-Novosti reported. The unemployment rate has reached 23.1 percent
in the southern republic of Ingushetia, well above the national
average. JAC

PUTIN RAISES PENSIONS FOR VETERANS AGAIN, AS WWII CELEBRATION COMES
WITH A BIG PRICE TAG. President Vladimir Putin announced on 29 March
that he will sign a decree which as of 1 May will raise pensions for
World War II veterans by either 1,000 rubles ($36) or 500 rubles a
month, depending on eligibility, RTR reported. Also on 29 March,
Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov said the federal government
has earmarked around 6 billion rubles for the May celebration of the
60th anniversary of the end of the war, not including social payments
to veterans, lenta.ru reported. Part of the expenditures will be to
cover travel expenses of veterans from the Baltic and CIS countries.
JAC

DAILY COMPARES BASHKORTOSTAN WITH KYRGYZSTAN… About 20,000 people
participated in a demonstration in Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan,
on 26 March to demand the resignation of Bashkortostan President
Murtaza Rakhimov, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 28 March. The
demonstration was part of a continuing series of protests aimed at
forcing Rakhimov out (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2004).
Protestors carried signs lamenting violations of human rights and
demanding compensation for the victims of a controversial December
police operation in Blagoveshchensk, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL
Newsline," 24 February 2004). According to the daily, a bloc of eight
political parties — including the Communist Party, Yabloko,
Motherland, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), Rus, and
the Union of Tatars of Bashkortostan — organized the protest. The
next major protest calling for Rakhimov's resignation is planned for
16 April. The daily drew parallels between Bashkortostan and
Kyrgyzstan, concluding that Kyrgyzstan was the "weakest link in
Central Asia" and "Bashkortostan, judging by everything, is the
weakest link in Russia." JAC

…WHILE ANOTHER PREDICTS BORDER WARS. "Novye izvestiya" reported on
29 March that "experts" are predicting that outstanding disputes over
administrative borders between Russian regions threaten the security
of the Russian Federation. Dmitrii Oreshkin of the Merkator Group
told the newspaper: "I think that in coming years, territorial
disputes will only become aggravated. Moreover, this is a purely
cartographic problem of where to put a pipeline or where an oblast
ends. [But] the absence of quality maps today is very much
interfering with life." According to the daily, border disputes are
currently flaring up in Siberia, for example, between Krasnoyarsk
Krai and Khakasia. With the pending unification of Krasnoyarsk Krai
with the Taimyr and Evenk autonomous okrugs, officials in Krasnoyarsk
are eager to resolve the controversial question of its border with
Khakasia. There are two villages that krai officials say are
administratively part of their territory, but they are surrounded by
land belonging to Khakasia. According to maps of Russia, the villages
do not exist. The adult residents have resident permits that say they
live in Krasnoyarsk Krai, and they vote in krai elections. According
to the daily, this example is not unique. JAC

UNIFIED RUSSIA LOSES ONE… The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party
finished in second place in the 27 March legislative elections in
Amur Oblast, according to preliminary results posted on the oblast
election commission's website. According to Ekho Moskvy on 28 March,
Unified Russia, which received 16.3 percent of the vote, lost half of
its voters compared with its showing in the December 2003 State Duma
election. Another loser in the race was the LDPR, which garnered 3.6
percent and failed to enter the assembly. The surprise winner was a
coalition of the Party of Life and Yabloko called We Support the
Development of Amur. The bloc got 17.7 percent of the vote, compared
with 13.5 percent voting "against all" candidates, 13.2 percent for
the Communist Party, 12.7 percent for the Union of Rightist Forces,
and 8.32 percent for the Party of Pensioners. According to "Vremya
novostei" on 29 March, the Amur Oblast results represent the first
loss for Unified Russia in a regional parliamentary election held
under the new party-list rules. JAC

…AND WINS ONE. In Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug's regional
parliamentary elections also held on 27 March, Unified Russia got an
impressive majority of 60.2 percent, according to the okrug election
commission's website. The option "against all" candidates finished
second, with 14.2 percent of the vote. Motherland finished third with
11.3 percent, and the Communist Party got 7.1 percent. According to
Ekho Moskvy, Unified Russia got 15 percent more votes than it
received locally in the December 2003 State Duma elections — which
is the exact percentage of votes the LDPR had in the 2003 vote. The
LDPR did not participate in the 27 March race. Local Motherland
branch member Arkadii Kurtiyan told "Kommersant-Daily" on 29 March
that his party did exceptionally well considering it established
itself in the region just two months ago. JAC

DEPUTIES IN THE STATE DUMA GET INTO FISTFIGHT OVER YAMALO-NENETS
ELECTION RESULTS. About 15 State Duma deputies from the LDPR,
including party leader and Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii,
assaulted deputies of the Motherland faction on the floor of the Duma
on 30 March in a dispute over the Yamalo-Nenets elections, ITAR-TASS
and other Russian media reported. Interfax reported that Zhirinovskii
attempted to strike Motherland deputy faction head Andrei Savelev,
but the latter was able to fend him off. During the disturbance,
which was not shown on the chamber's closed-circuit television and
which lasted about five minutes, Speaker Boris Gryzlov repeatedly
called on deputies to come to order and return to their seats. After
leaving the chamber, Zhirinovskii refused to speak to reporters,
RIA-Novosti reported, except to say that he is certain that he will
be blamed for the incident. Motherland said they will ask the Duma to
strip Zhirinovskii of his post as deputy speaker. Following the
incident, LDPR deputies left the chamber in protest of the
Yamalo-Nenets results. The party called for the resignation of okrug
Governor Yurii Neelov, for the election results to be annulled, and
for the local election commission to be disbanded. Zhirinovskii told
deputies that if the elections are not annulled, there will be mass
demonstrations in the okrug. "Do we want another Kyrgyzstan with
elections like these?" he asked. RC

OFFICIALS DENY REPORT OF CHECHEN KILLING. Konstantin Krivorotov, a
senior investigator with the Prosecutor-General's Office, has denied
that Musa Yusupov, the owner of the house in Tolstoi-Yurt where
Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov was killed on 8 March, is dead,
www.kavkaznet reported on 26 March, quoting lenta.ru (see "RFE/RL
Newsline," 25 March 2005). Krivorotov said Yusupov was taken into
custody together with three associates of Maskhadov and has been
charged with abetting terrorism. Grozny police chief Ali Arsanakuev
similarly told Interfax on 29 March that reports that Yusupov's body
had been found have not been confirmed. LF

TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

JAPAN ADVANCES LOAN FOR CONSTRUCTION OF ARMENIAN THERMAL POWER PLANT.
Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisian and officials from the Japan
Bank for International Cooperation signed an agreement in Yerevan on
29 March under which Japan will make available $150 million to
finance construction of a modern gas-fired thermal-power plant, AFP
and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The new plant, to be
completed within four years, is intended to replace the obsolete
Hrazdan thermal-power plant, and its generating costs will be far
lower. Movsisian made clear, however, that the new plant cannot be
regarded as a substitute for the Medzamor nuclear-power station,
which generates up to 40 percent of Armenia's electricity. LF

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER REVIEWS KARABAKH PEACE PROCESS. Vartan
Oskanian addressed the Armenian parliament on 29 March, the first day
of a two-day hearing on the Karabakh conflict and the current stage
of talks aimed at resolving it, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian
Service reported. Referring to repeated violations in recent weeks of
the cease-fire agreement signed 11 years ago, Oskanian said
Azerbaijan has moved its troops forward, closer to Armenian
positions, which suggests that "maybe they have a serious intention
to start military actions." If Azerbaijan attacks, Oskanian
continued, "the Armenian Army is ready to give an adequate response."
Oskanian reaffirmed Yerevan's commitment to resolving the conflict
peacefully, through negotiations, stressing that such a settlement
cannot be imposed on the conflict parties from outside and must
result from honest, open, and realistic talks between Armenia,
Azerbaijan, and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Oskanian
further argued that the international community should drop its
insistence that the principle of territorial integrity takes
precedence over the right to self-determination. LF

AZERBAIJANI COURT REJECTS RELEASED OPPOSITIONISTS' APPEAL.
Azerbaijan's Supreme Court rejected on 29 March an appeal by seven
prominent opposition politicians jailed last October for their
imputed role in the unrest in Baku that followed the October 2003
presidential elections, Turan reported. The seven men were pardoned
earlier this month by President Ilham Aliyev and released from jail
(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2005), but the court declined to
annul their original convictions on charges of conspiring to provoke
mass disorder. LF

PROSECUTOR GENERAL'S OFFICE DENIES SUSPECT ARRESTED IN MURDER OF
AZERBAIJANI JOURNALIST. Eldar Medjidov, who is the senior prosecutor
in charge of the investigation into the 2 March murder of Elmar
Huseinov, editor of the opposition journal "Monitor," rejected on 30
March as untrue media reports that a suspect in that case has been
arrested, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 March 2005).
The online daily zerkalo.az reported on 30 March that an Azerbaijani
from Georgia has been detained in connection with the killing, and
that an unknown number of other suspects are still being sought,
including some Chechens. LF

AZERBAIJANI OMBUDSMAN SLAMS ENDEMIC CORRUPTION. In her annual report
to parliament, delivered on 25 March, Elmira Suleimanova deplored the
fact that corruption in Azerbaijan "has become the norm," and
government officials routinely solicit bribes, Turan and zerkalo.az
reported on 26 March. She said her office received 6,300 complaints
in 2004, a 70 percent increase over the previous year. Suleimanova
also admitted that "we cannot say that freedom of speech in
guaranteed in Azerbaijan," and she condemned the murder of "Monitor"
editor Huseinov as directed against media freedom and political
stability. LF

ARRESTED AZERBAIJANI POLICE OFFICIAL ATTEMPTS SUICIDE. Hadji Mamedov,
who reportedly headed a group within the Interior Ministry that is
suspected of several high-profile murders and abductions (see "RFE/RL
Newsline," 11, 14, and 24 March 2005), tried but failed on 24 March
to commit suicide while in detention, Turan reported on 25 March
citing ANS television. LF

GEORGIA UNVEILS PEACE PROPOSAL FOR SOUTH OSSETIA. Details of the
Georgian government's proposal for resolving the conflict with South
Ossetia were posted on 29 March on the website of the Georgian
president (http://www.president/gov/ge/article1.asp?idarticle=269),
Caucasus Press reported. The text is similar to the offer unveiled by
President Mikheil Saakashvili in his January address to the
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (see "RFE/RL
Newsline," 27 January 2005 and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 28 January
2005). It offers South Ossetia autonomous status within Georgia, the
right to elect its "head" (he is not designated "president") and
parliament, and representation within the Georgian parliament. It
provides for the use in South Ossetia of Ossetian as well as "the
state language" (meaning Georgian, which few Ossetians speak), and
gives the South Ossetian leadership jurisdiction over education. It
further promises financial compensation to Ossetian families for
damages and losses sustained during the hostilities of 1990-92 and
payment of pensions arrears since 1991. The Georgian government
pledges to restore the region's infrastructure, provide support for
private business, and "consider" establishing a special economic zone
in South Ossetia. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi
Khaindrava told Caucasus Press on 29 March the South Ossetian
leadership has not yet responded to that offer, but he expressed
confidence they will accept it as "there is no other solution," and
"Georgia cannot offer more than this." South Ossetian President
Eduard Kokoity rejected Saakashvili's January offer of "broad
autonomy" the day it was made. LF

GEORGIA, U.S. SIGN NEW MILITARY TRAINING AGREEMENT. Senior Georgian
and U.S. military officials signed an agreement in Tbilisi on 29
March under which Washington will fund a further two-year training
program for the Georgian armed forces, Caucasus Press reported. The
$65 million Sustainment Stability Operations Program will provide
further training for the 11th Brigade and a complete training program
for two battalions of the 21st brigade, a total of some 2,060 men. It
complements the "Train and Equip" program implemented between
2000-04. LF

BANNED KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY LOOKS TO RE-FORM… In an appeal
published on 29 March in the online newspaper "Navigator," members of
the liquidated opposition party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (see
"RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2005) announced the formation of a new
party: Alga, Kazakhstan! (Onward, Kazakhstan!). The signatories, who
include exiled opposition leader and former DVK chairman Asylbek
Kozhakhmetov, wrote that the new party will follow democratic
principles while struggling for power "through all legitimate means,
no matter how illegally they may act against us." The appeal speaks
out in favor of a "socially responsible state" and promises to
preserve "the best traditions of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan." DK

…AS OPPOSITION URGES POLITICAL DIALOGUE. Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, the
presumptive opposition candidate in Kazakhstan's 2006 presidential
elections, told a news conference in Almaty on 29 March that
President Nursultan Nazarbaev should engage in direct dialogue with
the opposition in light of recent events in Kyrgyzstan,
Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Speaking on behalf of the bloc For a
Just Kazakhstan, Tuyakbai called for "face-to-face dialogue." Noting
that "the blatant violation of electoral legislation" is one of the
catalysts of "velvet revolution," Tuyakbai stressed that "all
responsible political forces…should take steps to ensure that the
forthcoming presidential elections be prepared and carried out in
such a way that no one can doubt the veracity of citizens' voting."
DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SAYS RESIGNATION POSSIBLE IF GUARANTEES PROVIDED. In
an interview with Russia's ORT on 29 March, ousted President Askar
Akaev said he would be willing to resign the presidency. But he
immediately qualified the statement, saying, "If I will be given
appropriate guarantees, and if this will be in full accord with
Kyrgyzstan's acting legislation." Akaev, who is currently residing
near Moscow, had indicated in an earlier statement that he saw no
reason to resign, akipress.org reported the same day. Akaev told ORT
that he is ready for dialogue, but only with the new parliament and
its newly elected speaker, Omurbek Tekebaev, which he called the sole
legitimate authority in the country. Insisting that he remains the
legitimate president, Akaev admitted that he is not preparing to make
use of his powers, calling himself "a realist." Akaev stressed, as he
did in an interview to "Ekho Moskvy" the same day, that his final
order to the interior minister before departing was not to use force
under any circumstances. Speaker Tekebaev said he is willing to
conduct talks with Akaev if parliament gives its approval, ORT
reported. DK

'OLD' KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DISSOLVES ITSELF… The upper house of
Kyrgyzstan's outgoing parliament dissolved itself on 29 March,
RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Deputies described the move, which
clears the way for the newly seated parliament to work, as the sole
legislature, as a necessary compromise to restore stability. Acting
Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev and Constitutional Court Chairwoman
Cholpon Baekova took part in the session. About 100 people held a
protest outside the building demanding the dissolution of the new
parliament and the holding of new parliamentary elections. DK

…AS COURT BEGINS TO REVIEW ELECTION DISPUTES. A new winner has
emerged in parliamentary district 11, a constituency located in
Bishkek, after a Bishkek court ruled to annul voting results at two
polling stations in the district, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported.
The court agreed with Karabai Karabekov, the losing candidate who
filed suit, that significant fraud occurred at the two polling
stations. Results from the remaining 14 polling stations in the
district left Karabekov the winner. He overtook the candidate who had
initially triumphed, Olga Bezborodova, former editor of the newspaper
"Vechernii Bishkek" and a member of the pro-Akaev party Alga,
Kyrgyzstan! Bezborodova now plans to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Kyrgyzstan was divided into 75 electoral districts for the 27
February parliamentary elections; at present, the outcomes of up to
20 races are disputed. The Central Election Commission has ruled that
new elections will be held in 13 constituencies, although no dates
have been set. DK

LEADERS OF NEW KYRGYZ POLITICAL BLOC CONDEMN 'COUP.' At a press
conference in Bishkek on 29 March, former Emergency Situations
Minister Temirbek Akmataliev and former Interior Minister Keneshbek
Dushebaev denounced the events of 24 March as a coup and said its
organizers should be called to account, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service
reported. The two, who on 28 March formed a political movement called
Akyykat (Justice), called for a state commission to investigate the
circumstances of the "anti-constitutional regime change on 24 March."
They stated that Askar Akaev remains the legitimate president of
Kyrgyzstan and urged him to return home and address the people,
saying he should resign only if he feels that such a step is
necessary. Dushebaev and Akmataliev, who announced on 28 March that
he plans to seek the presidency in 26 June elections, warned that
protests could begin if their demands for an investigation are not
met by 31 March. DK

KYRGYZ PROSECUTOR-GENERAL ANNOUNCES DISCOVERY OF SECRET PRESIDENTIAL
'DIARIES.' Acting Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov announced on
29 March that documents have been discovered in government offices
confirming official support for pro-government candidates in recent
parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The
documents allegedly include a diary by ousted President Akaev
detailing financial contributions to the campaigns of specific
candidates. An investigation of the materials is planned. DK

NEW KYRGYZ FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS POLICY PRIORITIES REMAIN UNCHANGED.
In an interview with Italy's "Corriere della Sera" on 29 March,
acting Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva said the recent changes in
Kyrgyzstan will not affect the country's foreign policy. She said
Kyrgyzstan "will remain a close ally of Russia," adding that "at the
same time we will develop our relations with the United States and
with Europe." Both Russia and the United States have military bases
in Kyrgyzstan, and Otunbaeva stressed, "The military bases on our
soil are crucial for us in light of our neighbors' instability." She
added, "We do not want the United States and Russia to enter into
competition with one another on our soil." Otunbaeva also stated that
while relations with other Central Asian countries will continue
"with no repercussions," she hopes that her country's neighbors
follow Kyrgyzstan's path in establishing a higher level of democracy.
DK

KYRGYZSTAN TO PARTICIPATE IN MILITARY EXERCISES IN TAJIKISTAN.
Lieutenant General Vasilii Zavgorodnii, first deputy chief of the
Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), told Interfax-AVN on
29 March that Kyrgyzstan will take part in the CSTO's Rubezh 2005
military exercises in Tajikistan on 2-6 April. Colonel Askar Japarov,
deputy chief of staff of Kyrgyzstan's armed forces, told ITAR-TASS,
"We've already sent a unit of 25 crack troops and two MI-8
helicopters there." The exercises, which will involve around 1,000
troops from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan, were to
have been held in Kyrgyzstan on 29 March-2 April. DK

END NOTE

WINDOW ON EURASIA: THE NOVGOROD ALTERNATIVE

By Paul Goble

Inspired by the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and infuriated
by the increasing authoritarianism of Moscow, a group of Russians in
the northwestern corner of the country is calling for the restoration
of the economic and political values and, eventually, even the
territory of medieval Novgorod.
In the last few weeks, this idea has attracted increasing
attention in the Russian Federation. Most commentators have dismissed
it as the harmless product of overheated intellectual discussions,
but others are taking it more seriously either as a source of ideas
that could help Russian society transform itself or as a genuine
threat to the Russian state.
The idea of a Novgorod alternative to Moscow's approach to
economic development, political organization, and foreign links has
been much discussed over the last few years (see the survey of such
discussions and their sources in the December 2004 "Neva,"
http://magazines.russ.ru/neva/2004/12/kav7-pr.html).
But the notion that Novgorod should be restored or at least
define Russia's future has received heightened attention after the
appearance last month on a variety of websites of what could be
called the "declaration of independence of the Republic of Northern
Rus" (http://www.livejournal.com/userinfo.bml?user=ru_sever).
That document reads, in part: "We, the citizens of the free
Novgorod Republic, which was illegally annexed by the Muscovite tsars
in 1471-1479, declare that we do not recognize the Muscovite
occupation regime whether it is tsarist, Soviet, 'democratic,' or
presidential. We consider the territory of the Novgorod Republic to
be occupied at the present time and we consider illegal the conduct
on its territory of any elections, military draft, or tax
collections.
The authors of this declaration continue: "As our final goal,
we put the formation of a Republic of Northern Rus in the historical
borders of the Novgorod Republic and call upon all interested
citizens — regardless of their nationality or political convictions
— and organizations to join our liberation movement."
And this document, which on 22 March attracted the attention
of a Moscow website (http://www.apn.ru), may gain even more readers
now that one of its authors has suggested a possible symbol for the
new republic: two children warming their hands over a fire under
Russia's two-headed eagle
(http://www.livejournal.com/community/ru_sever/).
But if that symbol may have been offered more in fun than
anything else, the ideas of those behind this movement are both
serious and already having a broader impact. As one of its leaders
points out in an article titled "Will Russia Follow the Novgorod
Path?" Novgorod represents a clear alternative future for Russia.
(http://sever.inache.net/novgorod.html)
Medieval Novgorod, Aleksandr Vertyachikh notes, was an open
society based on trade and production, and the region, which five
centuries ago extended from Smolensk in the south to the White Sea in
the north and from Ivangorod nearly to Moscow, viewed itself as part
of Europe.
In that regard the city stood in sharp contrast to Muscovy, a
region that was based on the ever-more extensive exploitation of
natural resources and people and that was controlled by a militarized
state that had more in common with despotic Oriental states than with
the Europe of that day or this.
As a result, Vertyachikh points out, Muscovy saw medieval
Novgorod as a threat to its power and destroyed Novogorod at the end
of the 15th century with consequences that Russians and their
neighbors still have to live with.
He suggests that there are two possible vectors for the
future of Russia: one in the Muscovite direction that would involve
attempts to restore an empire and virtually guarantee that Russia
would remain a backward and despotic state cut off from Europe, and a
second following in the tradition of Novgorod that would allow the
country to democratize and become prosperous by trade and other
contacts with the outside world.
Other supporters of the Novgorod alternative have made
similar arguments either on their own
(http://www.gif.ru/themes/culture/russia-2/engine) or on websites
maintained by the Novgorod enthusiasts like New World-Northern
Civilization (http://sever.inache.net), whose website includes links
to books produced by this group, or Polar Circle (http://www.newpk.ru
).
And supporters of this idea have even begun to take some
concrete steps. Perhaps the most interesting is the decision this
month by the Saami people of the Kola peninsula to copy the
experiences of their co-ethnics abroad and organize a national
parliament independent of existing state structures.
(http://www.finugor.ru/news/index.html?date=20031001).
Some of this certainly reflects the antagonism people on
peripheries often feel toward the central authorities. As one critic
of the Novgorod alternative suggested, in the Russian Federation
today, Russophobia is being replaced in the regions by Moscowphobia,
an attitude reflected in the joke suggesting some Russians watch
"Street Patrol" because it features dead Muscovites
(http://www.apn.ru/?chapter_name=print_advert&data_id=411&do=view_sin
gle).
The same APN author argues that this latest episode of
"Russian separatism" has its roots in the late Soviet period when
Russians asked why their republic did not have many of the same
institutions that other union republics did. Now, he suggests,
Russians in the provinces are asking why they don't have what Moscow
does.
And at least some of them, he continues, believe that they
would be able to acquire what Moscow has most easily by breaking away
from the Russian Federation and somehow joining Europe. That attitude
currently takes the form of declarations like the one mentioned above
or in a turn to local or pagan ideas, the APN writer says.
But, over time, these ideas — which he says flourish not
only in the northwestern part of the country but in Siberia and the
Far East as well — could grow into a genuine threat to the integrity
of the country as a whole. And he points out something else: the
local populations will portray themselves as more truly Russian than
Moscow and the Russian state currently are, something that may allow
them to tap into at least one segment of Russian nationalist opinion.
Because of this risk and the possibility that the Novgorod
alternative or some other Russian region could become an ethnic
Russian Chechnya, some Russian writers are suggesting that Moscow
should make concessions to defuse the situation, but others say that
Moscow must crush it
(http://www.natoinalism.org/eliseev/separatism.htm).
At the very least, these ideas on Russia's periphery deserve
greater attention and, at the same time, their advocates need to
remember the warning one participant in an Internet chatroom offered
them: They need to be "vigilant because little Moscow will be
listening in" (http://forum.visp.ru/viewtopic.php?id=2323).

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