Friday, July 26, 2013

Protests Escalate in Sofia

By Margarita Assenova

Violent clashes with the police left 16 injured on July 23, the 40th day of anti-government protests in Sofia. Thousands of people have been participating in daily demonstrations against corruption and are demanding the resignation of the Socialist-led cabinet.  

Tensions escalated on July 23 while three parliamentarian commissions discussed amendments to the budget to allow 1 billion euros ($1.33 billion) to be spent on social programs—a measure clearly intended to gain public support for the embattled Socialist-led cabinet. The protesters blocked the parliament building, trapping almost one hundred members of parliament, staffers, journalists and three cabinet ministers inside. The police tried to lead the parliamentarians out of the area, but the demonstrators did not allow their bus to pass (bTV, Dnevnik, July 23).

In the unfolding chaos, seven police officers and nine civilians ended up in local hospitals with minor to moderate injuries. Video recordings from the night showed a mixed picture of people pushing back the police officers followed by scenes of masked police officers beating protesters sitting on the pavement. At least one journalist covering the events was among those beaten up by the police. As the ruling Socialist party put the blame for the violence on the protesters, the General Prosecutor’s office started a probe on police brutality (BNT, bTV, Trud, 24 Chasa, Capital Daily, Standart, July 24; Dnevnik, July 26).

The protests continued peacefully the next day, returning to their creative approach with piano and violin music in front of the parliament building.  “Kiss a policeman—make him smile!” is the new initiative against violence started by the protest’s Facebook page #ДАНСwithme, aiming to reinforce the non-violent character of the demonstrations.

The government, however, has refused to resign. At a press conference following the clashes on July 23, Socialist leader Sergey Stanishev said that the cabinet would not resign either immediately or in the spring. Prime Minister Oresharski told Reuters on July 26 that a cabinet resignation would be irresponsible, despite the thousands of people protesting in the streets. He admitted, however, that serious reforms could not start because of lack of public support (Reuters, July 26). 

Until the night of July 23, the protesters had tried to avoid violence for almost six weeks by undertaking symbolic initiatives and successfully countering various provocations. After the French and German ambassadors expressed solidarity with the anti-corruption demonstrations, the protesters responded by reenacting the famous Delacroix painting “Liberty leads the people” to commemorate the French Revolution. Three days later, they brought down a symbolic cardboard “Berlin Wall” labeled “MAFIA” in front of the German embassy in Sofia (BNT, July 13;, July 16).

An escalation of the situation was inevitable, however, as the ruling party has remained deaf to the protesters’ demands. Further escalation looks increasingly possible if a general strike unfolds; the main Bulgarian trade union already officially lent its support to the protesters on July 23. A recent opinion survey showed that 60 percent of the population supports the protests.

For now, the protests seem to be spontaneous and without any designated leadership. The people have organized themselves mainly through the social networks. Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), the former ruling party, was unable to assume a leadership position, because many in the protest oppose its policies as well. The traditional center-right took a major blow, failing to pass the 4-percent threshold in the parliamentary elections in May. In July, five of the center-right and liberal parties formed a new political coalition under the name Reformist Block, but there is uncertainty that the protesters would embrace one political formation. Among the protesters are both disillusioned Socialists and disillusioned former GERB supporters, along with center-right followers and many with no political affiliation whatsoever.  

On the initiative of a group of intellectuals, the Reformist Block plans to establish a Citizens’ Council to unite politicians and non-partisan citizens. The Council may serve as the political leader of the protest—if the demonstrators approve of it (BNR,, July 26).

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Salafism in North Caucasus Now Very Different than a Decade Ago

By Paul Goble
Salafism or “pure Islam,” which often serves as the basis for political radicalism and militant activism, is a very different phenomenon today in the North Caucasus than it was only a decade ago, according to one of Russia’s leading specialists on the trend. According to Moscow Islamicist Dmitry Nechitaylo, this change reflects the fact that its followers are younger, more educated, more urban and more independent of the national traditions that have long determined matters of faith and behavior among the various Muslim peoples of the region.
In an article prepared for the portal, Nechitaylo, who has written numerous books on Islamist trends, says that “since the beginning of the 2000s, Salafism as a movement […] in the North Caucasus has undergone fundamental changes.”  In the 1990s, it consisted of small communities of jamaats at the margins of society. The level of religious knowledge among its leaders was “very low,” and those who followed it were distinguished primarily by their “radical methods of struggle against traditional Islam” (
Now, Salafist ideas are increasingly found among educated and urban groups, “many of whom have received training in Arab countries.  A decade ago, most of the North Caucasians studying abroad came from rural areas in Chechnya or Dagestan, but now, Nechitaylo says, almost all of the non-Russian nationalities in the region supply part of this flow.  While some who go to Syria, Turkey or Malaysia return as representatives of what could be called “moderate” views, those who go to the core regions of the Arab world have generally come back as convinced Salafists.
At the same time, the average age of Salafis in the North Caucasus has dropped from 30–35 to 20–25, a reflection of increasing anger among young people that Moscow has failed to address their need for jobs. Indeed, polls show that many school children now support the Salafis. And the geographic origins of this group have changed as well. In the 1990s, most Salafis were from rural areas and had little or no advanced education. Now, “ever more urban residents with higher levels of education have joined the ranks of the militants.” This urban origin also means that the new Salafis are less affected by the national and cultural traditions of their parents as family ties have weakened.
The younger and more educated Salafis of today, Nechitaylo continues, prefer “Islamic intellectuals from their own milieu who have encountered in their daily life the same problems they have,” and these young people are less inclined to listen to official mullahs, whom they view as too subservient to the powers that be.  As a result, there has been a significant “decline in the authority of the official muftiate in the Caucasus.”

Force alone will not be enough to defeat these new Salafis, Nechitaylo insists. Instead, the authorities must make a concerted effort to reintegrate militants and legalize rather than outlaw Salafi trends.  That will become possible when officials recognize that although most Salafis call for the use of shariat law, few support the overthrow of the existing state and the establishment of a caliphate.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Only 58 Percent of Dagestanis See Their Republic as Part of Russia in the Future

By Paul Goble

A poll conducted by Makhachkala to show how many Dagestanis cannot imagine the future of their republic outside of the Russian Federation in fact shows that nearly one in five—19 percent—are prepared to say that they do not see Dagestan as part of Russia in the future. And slightly more than one in five—23 percent—say that they find it difficult to say, the traditional response of those who are unwilling to make a more politically suspect declaration (RIA Dagestan, July 21).

That means that only a bare majority answered the question the way the authorities wanted, and it is likely that some, and perhaps many of these, in fact, think differently but are nonetheless prepared to say what they believe those in power want to hear. Yet, even if one accepts the figures as accurate, they are far more pro-independence-oriented than were comparable figures in many of the union republics of the Soviet Union prior to the August 1991 coup. And they suggest that support for Russia and Russians in Dagestan is now far lower than many analysts, Russian and Western, have suggested.

In advance of the 200th anniversary of the Gulistan Treaty between tsarist Russia and Persia, which made Dagestan part of Russia, officials in Makhachkala commissioned a poll about that historic event and about what Dagestanis think the future status of their republic will be.  The poll, released on Sunday and which organizers said was based on a representative sample of 1,500 residents, found that 92 percent knew little or nothing about the treaty. Moreover, as noted above, only a bare majority see Dagestan remaining inside the Russia Federation in the future (, July 21, originally found at:

The pollster, Khabib Davudov, head of the Native Dagestan Movement and president of the Public Opinion Foundation there, sought to put the best face on the findings, telling the republic news agency that “those who gave a positive answer noted the enormous contribution of the Russian people to the development of education, medicine and the economy of Dagestan,” apparently overstating the number of such people by 10 percent. The figures offered by RIA Dagestan showed that only 58 percent see Dagestan remaining within the Russian Federation. Davudov said they numbered 68 percent of the total.

In reporting Davudov’s findings, the RIA Dagestan journalist appended his own findings. He said that in talking with people on the streets of Makhachkala, he had found that members of the intelligentsia “could not imagine” Dagestan outside of Russia, while among “ordinary residents” were many who expressed doubt about the need” for Dagestan to remain part of that country. He said the largest number of those opposed to Dagestan remaining part of the Russian Federation live on the outskirts of the republican capital, an area populated by Dagestanis who had moved there recently from highland areas.

The journalist concluded by making his own view clear: thinking about Dagestan outside of Russia is both “stupid” and “unwise,” he said. Could Dagestan unite with another country? And if it did, “would things be better?”  Or could it become part of “one Caucasus state,” a region that today survives on Russian aid? “We today are in Russia, and we need to be proud of this and to believe that tomorrow will be better than today”—hardly a ringing endorsement of the current situation, whatever he intended.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Pugachyov and the ‘Kondopoga Technology’

By Richard Arnold

The recent events in the small town of Pugachyov, Saratov Oblast, provide yet another reminder of the power of ethnic Russian nationalism. The murder of Ruslan Marzanov, a half-Tatar paratrooper, by a drunken Chechen youth led to days of rioting, with local police having to close off a road to prevent nationalists from out of town coming to join in. The events started with the murder of the soldier on the night of July 6, but really exploded as a popular cause following the funeral of the murdered man on July 8. Following the murder, local inhabitants tried to block the Volgograd-Samara highway and storm a café belonging to Chechen refugees ( Blocking the highway was symbolic resistance to the entry of more Chechens to the town. The chief of the Chechen republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, condemned the events as a “tragedy” (

If the scenario sounds familiar, that is because it is, right down to the involvement of Kadyrov in matters involving Chechens outside of his territorial jurisdiction. First, the events in Pugachyov were merely the latest “race riot” in Russian towns in a series of events. The first took place in the Karelian town of Kondopoga in 2006. Others took place in Stavropol in 2007, Sarga (Sverdlovsk Oblast) in 2011, and once again in Stavropol oblast earlier this year in the small village of Nevinnomysk (see EDM, February 4). Of course, the most notable such riot occurred in Moscow in 2010, when 5,500 extremists gathered on Manezh square chanting “f**k the Caucasus.” Alexei Navalny, one of the leaders of the protest movement against Putin in Russia, also claimed to see similarities between what happened in Pugachyov and the above-mentioned events ( In fact, this strategy of bringing attention to issues of identity through popular action has been christened by Nikolai Silaeev as the “Kondopoga Technology” (—eponymously named after the town in which the initial disturbances occurred. This name has since been taken up by Moscow’s SOVA center for monitoring extremism. The “technology,” such as it is, is the name given to a tactic that “essentially consists of stoking widespread aggression against non-Slavic minorities in response to or retaliation for an isolated incident” ( Of course, the “technology” must have certain pre-conditions in order to function effectively, such as animosity between the host population and the supposed new arrivals. Yet, in other ways also the “technology” speaks to the growing Balkanization of Russian society.

Take, for example, Kadyrov’s willingness to become involved in protecting ethnic Chechens—which is another element of similarity with previous race riots across Russia. Following the disorder in Kondopoga in 2006, which Kadyrov said “expressed an anti-Caucasian and anti-Chechen character,” Chechnya sent a delegation to the northern town to assist Chechens living there ( Similarly, after the Moscow riots in 2010, Kadryov again felt himself able to speak for the community, saying that “not one Chechen went to the “European” shopping plaza on December 15” ( What is really important here is not the content of what Kadyrov said in itself, but rather the fact that he felt able to speak on behalf of all Chechens regardless of where they actually happened to reside in the Federation. As far as logical consistency, that sentiment ought to be worrying for anyone interested in the stability of a country founded on a supposedly civic Rossisskii identity (as opposed to an ethnic-Russian, or Russkii, one). There was, of course, another politician in a former Communist country who proclaimed himself “President of all the Serbs,” and that ended with the bloody dissolution of Yugoslavia. Indeed, the democratic darling of the protest movement, Alexei Navalny, stuck up for the rights of ethnic Russians and called on “citizens of Russia to show solidarity with the inhabitants of Pugachyov” ( Once again, ethnic allegiances trump supposed civic ones. It may be premature to speak of the Balkanization of Russia, but appeals to ethnic identity over national identity certainly make it more likely.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Moscow Preparing New Provocations in Crimea

By Paul Goble

In recent weeks, Moscow has stepped up its efforts to use ethnic minorities, Russian and non-Russian alike, in neighboring countries to put pressure on those governments in a way that allows it maximum deniability. Russia’s involvement with the Gagauz minority in Moldova is a classic case (see EDM, April 2; Now it appears that the Russian authorities are focusing their attention on Crimea, once again fishing in the troubled waters of extreme Russian nationalism.

These developments are especially dangerous because they allow the Russian government to simultaneously play one of these groups off against another, even as its security services work to undermine the authority of the government involved. In this case, Ukraine is being undermined, not only among its own citizenry but also in the eyes of Western supporters who, in many cases, may be inclined to blame Kyiv for problems not of its own making.

Moscow’s current efforts are to use extreme Russian nationalists in Ukraine who earlier had been exposed as working for the Russian interior ministry against nationalist groups in the Russian Federation. And this has drawn fire from self-described “patriotic” groups in Ukraine (;; Allegedly, “Russian chekists have created in Ukraine a pseudo-Russian National Unity” ( organization, totally under the control of Moscow and capable of being directed against Ukrainian nationalist groups in Crimea, other Russian nationalist groups there or the Crimean Tatars, as Moscow’s policy requires.

These three above-cited articles provide details about individuals and groups who have been shifted from the Russian Federation to Ukraine and now are recruiting followers. They conclude that this suggests “the Kremlin is preparing major anti-Ukrainian provocations in Crimea.” In the nature of things, the evidence is contradictory: making such charges serves the interests of those who do so, and consequently, many will be inclined to dismiss this as nothing more than an unfortunate reflection of the hothouse environment of extremist groups. But the information these sources provide—including names, dates, and photographs—suggests that under all this smoke about a Moscow operation in Crimea, there is some real fire and that these flames deserve to be taken sereiously.

The most likely outcome of Moscow’s use of extremist Russian nationalist groups in Crimea would be to provoke either the Crimean Tatars or the Ukrainian government in Kyiv—or perhaps both—into taking harsh actions that would further radicalize ethnic Russian opinion on the peninsula. If that happens and open clashes ensue, some in the Russian Federation might seek to use that outcome as the occasion for justifying Russian intervention, confident that the West would view what had come before that as being the fault of the Ukrainian government and thus take a hands-off approach.

But even if the situation did not deteriorate to that point—and it is entirely possible that the Russian authorities may be content not to push things beyond the brink—the Ukrainian authorities would be put in an awkward position, forced to choose between responding to a provocation and losing support or not responding and risking that the situation could spiral out of control.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Who is Trying to Kill Qirim, the Oldest and Most Important Crimean Tatar Newspaper?

By Paul Goble

The death of a paper, especially one that speaks for a small community that has few other mouthpieces, is always a tragedy. Efforts to kill such a paper by those who wish that community ill, however, are something much worse—a crime closely related to genocide, particularly because the perpetrators seek to hide behind budgets, bureaucracy and a belief that few beyond those immediately involved will pay attention. That is why it is so important to identify what the ethnic Russian officials are doing to shut down “Qirim,” the newspaper that for two decades has been the primary reporter on and organizer of the Crimean Tatars and their national movement.

Like all small communities, the Crimean Tatars lack the advertising base to support a network of publications; and like other nations who suffered deportation under the Soviet Union, they lack the resources to pay high subscription fees. Consequently, and since the end of Soviet times, they have turned to and received financial subventions from the government in order to maintain these publications, which serve the community. 

“Qirim” is no exception. Created in 1989 and operated on a shoestring budget for the last two decades, the editors and journalists of that Crimean Tatar–language paper, published in 4,000 copies, have played a major role in helping the Crimean Tatars to return to their national homeland and to survive as a national community.  Unfortunately, at various points in the past and now once again, officials first in Kyiv and then in Simferopol do not share those goals and have used their powers to try to shut down the paper (

In January 2011, after Kyiv handed over responsibility for providing government assistance to such media outlets—it had earlier covered about 75 percent of the paper’s costs of production—the ethnic Russian–dominated government of the Crimean Autonomous Republic shut off funding and forced the paper to suspend operations. After some back and forth and the arrival of more outside assistance, “Qirim” was able to resume publication. But now Anatoli Mogilev, the ethnic Russian who heads the Crimean Autonomous Republic and who has repeatedly taken steps against the Crimean Tatars and their representatives, has once again declared that his regime will not fund the paper any more, putting “Qirim’s” future in serious doubt (

In July 2011, Bekir Mamutov, the editor of “Qirim,” made clear in comments to the Kyiv paper “Day” that far more than an individual paper is involved. “Today when there are only two newspapers in the Crimean Tatar language, one a weekly and one twice a week, [ending the existence of one of them by eliminating government subsidies] cannot be described in any way other than stupid and discriminatory. ‘Qirim’ has the ability to reach to the very last Crimean village; it fulfills social functions, in part serving as a national theater, museum, library, and school” to the entire Crimean Tatar nation (

“Not less important,” he continued, “is that the paper contributes to the support and strengthening of the linguistic milieu in Crimean Tatar families.  If one considers the fact that Crimean Tatar is on UNESCO’s list of disappearing languges, this circumstance alone should push the government of Ukraine to support the vitality of the national press.” Obviously, the local ethnic Russian-dominated autonomy will not unless it is pushed. At present, its officials have made sure that one cannot even buy a copy of “Qirim” in the news kiosks in the center of Simferopol.