Month: October 2006

Books Under Threat

RFE/RL’s Golnaz Esfandiari points to the current dangers facing writers and publishers in Iran. Recently introduced censorship restrictions and guidelines are preventing the issue of new books, and some in the book industry are warning that it could be destroyed by the burdensome and bureaucratic regulations.

Farkhondeh Hajizadeh, an Iranian writer and an award-winning publisher, tells RFE/RL that the licensing process for new titles has become “a monster.”

Over the past year, she claims, many of her books have gone unpublished.

“It would be better for you to ask how many of my books have been given a license these days,” Hajizadeh says when asked about the number of books she has seen held up by censors. “In the past, none of our books were granted permission without modifications. It seems the publishing industry is being devastated, or independent publishers cannot exist anymore. We specialize in art and literature — that’s exactly the area that’s problematic for [officials], not physics and chemistry. Our books have been either banned, or they have faced censorship after a year, or they remain suspended.”

On the Phone

In TimesOnline, Tony Halpin writes about Gifts to Soviet Leaders, a new exhibition of tributes to Kremlin rulers, from Lenin to Gorbachev, which has been compiled by Cambridge anthropologist Nikola Ssorin-Chaikov and Moscow art historian Olga Sosnina. The gifts comprise “tens of thousands of objects presented to Soviet leaders by peasants, workers, foreign sympathisers and heads of state.”:

The telephone was among 20,000 gifts marking Stalin’s 70th birthday in 1949. One film clip in the exhibition shows Stalin receiving a rifle at a party congress in the 1930s then pointing the weapon towards his audience. By the following year most of those present had been killed in a purge.

Russian Diplomat Forbidden Entrance to Israel

Via AIA:

The Shabak, Israeli counter-intelligence and internal security service, has forbidden entrance to Israel to the Russian diplomat, Dr Alexander Kryukov, claiming that he is an intelligence officer. Probably Kryukov is exactly the person directed to Israel by Vladimir Putin to head the Centre of Russian Culture and Science about which Putin spoke with the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at their meeting in the Kremlin about two weeks ago, online paper reports.

The Shabak suspects that Kryukov would continue to work in Israel as an agent of the Russian intelligence under a diplomatic covering. Besides there is a fear that the Centre of Russian Culture and Science will be engaged not only in culture, being a convenient base for recruitment of spies and agents of influence among new repatriates, playing on their nostalgia, Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv writes.

Chechens Receive Death Threats

Via Prague Watchdog (my tr.)

Chechens in Astrakhanskaya Oblast receive death threats

By Ruslan Isayev

YANDYKI, Russia – Ethnic Chechens living in the village of Yandyki in the Limansky district of the South Russian province of Astrakhanskaya Oblast, where just over a year ago inter-ethnic riots took place, are still suffering from pressure on the part of local nationalists.

Almost every day the places where Chechens live are subjected to the throwing of stones, bottles and notes containing threats that if they do not leave the district and the Oblast they may expect to be killed.

The authorities do nothing, claiming they are unable to establish the identity of the authors of these notes, but most of the Chechens tend to the view that they are quite simply turning a blind eye to the problem. Because of all this the Chechens, the majority of whom were born and grew up in Yandyki, are living in a virtual state of siege. “They can’t just drop everything and leave, since nearly all of them earn their livelihoods from sheep, cows and horses”, says Leyla Abdulazizova, one of the residents.

The situation in Yandyki became particularly inflamed after events in Karelia’s Kondopoga. Chechens could not go out into the street without encountering jeers and threats by their Russian and Kalmyk neighbours. “It’s not that they refuse to greet us, but rather that we feel something terrible may happen against us. We seek protection from the authorities, but they don’t give us any. We feel a hostile attitude around us,” says Leyla.

It may be useful to recall how these events began. It all happened along the usual lines. In mid-August 2005 an everyday dispute between Chechens and Kalmyks provoked riots and anti-Chechen pogroms in this village. On August 18 almost all the young people and adults armed themselves with baseball bats and pieces of steel gridding and fencing and then marched through the village, beating Chechen men and women within an inch of their lives. Six houses in which Chechens lived were set on fire. As a result they were left more or less homeless, robbed at a single stroke of all they had accumulated and acquired over long years.

It all ended in the much-trumpeted trials of twelve Chechens who were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment, while two Kalmyks accused of arson were given short sentences.

Yandyki’s Chechen residents appealed to various official bodies, demanding that the damage inflicted on them in the course of the pogroms be acknowledged and compensated for. They even appealed to President Putin in an open letter, demanding to know once and for all whether they were citizens of Russia like the representatives of other ethnic groups, with all the responsibilities and rights that entailed. If the answer was yes, they asked for compensation, and for a guarantee of safety so they could continue to live in the Oblast. But there has been no reaction.

It should be noted that this is not the first anti-Chechen pogrom in the Limansky district of Astrakhanskaya Oblast. Before the outbreak of the first Chechen war in 1993, on Fisherman’s Day, a holiday that is usually accompanied by the consumption of enormous quantities of alcohol, the residents of one of the villages set fire to several houses and beat up many Chechens. The incident was later investigated and those responsible were punished after the intervention of the oblast authorities and sharp statements by Ichkerian President Dzhokhar Dudayev, with threats to stop deliveries of oil and fuel to the district.

Translated by David McDuff.

Gas Warning

Via the FT:

Matthew Bryza, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for the Caucasus and southern Europe, indicated that the €5bn (£3.4bn) Baltic Sea pipeline would deepen Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.

“That project simply raises the question what diversification means when it comes to gas supply,” Mr Bryza said. “If you live in Germany you do not want to go through what happened last winter with Ukraine [when Russia shut off the supply of gas]… I wonder as a US official how much diversification anybody can develop by having more pipelines into the same supplier.”

Post-Castro Cuba

As a frail and emaciated-looking Fidel Castro stubbornly insists he is still alive, posters at Babalu Blog continue to debate the pros and cons of the U.S. embargo, with the latest discussion focusing on the question of whether a Republican or a Democrat administration is better for the prospects of a liberated Cuba. The posters include one who claims to be posting from Cuba itself, and to be a resident there, but no one has yet succeeded in establishing whether this is actually the case.

Who Killed Anna Politkovskaya?

An excerpt from a transcript of the October 7 edition of “The Access Code” – Yulia Latynina’s weekly phone-in program on Echo of Moscow (my translation):

I begin, of course, with the most terrible news not only in the last month and week, but in a very long time – the news of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder. She was killed just two hours ago in the entrance of her own apartment building. And it can be said that this is a turning-point in Russian journalism. This is not even the murder of Dmitry Kholodov, this is not even the murder of Khlebnikov – this is the murder of a person who was more than a journalist – a defender of human rights who always took the side of the weak and the injured, and of whom it can be said that now and then she was wrong, now and then she exaggerated, but never, not once in her life, wrote a single line in which she did not sincerely believe. A person of quite fanatical conviction and limitless bravery, the kind of bravery I personally do not possess.

Hypotheses are already being discussed: some business connected with Osman Boliyev. Here someone has even written: “a birthday present for Putin” – I got it as a text message just now. The only thing is, this was the last present Putin needed. If you look at Politkovskaya’s last publications over the last few months, they are all about Chechnya, and strictly speaking only about Ramzan Kadyrov. Politkovskaya hated him. And two days ago it was Ramzan Kadyrov’s birthday, and so really that makes it possible to suggest only one motive for the murder and only two versions of what may have happened. One is for it to be said that this was a birthday present for Ramzan. Whether Kadyrov wants such a present is also an open question. And the other is that this is a way of telling Moscow that this Kadyrov fellow is out of control, for there is a terrible bitterness towards Kadyrov among the FSB operatives whom he has kicked out of Chechnya, and among those Chechen commanders who were removed from the Chechen leadership. Very many of them are located in Moscow, very many of them also run about the corridors of the Kremlin and the FSB saying Kadyrov is a so-and-so, working for the Americans, and other similar things.

In other words, I think this story has a concrete connection with Chechnya, a concrete connection with Kadyrov, but there are two totally different versions of why it may have happened. At all events, I think that Politkovskaya’s killers will not be found. And really, something else should also be added. It was even mentioned on the news just now: the attempt to poison her when she tried to fly to Beslan. Let me remind you of the context of that poisoning episode. It was all a bit vague, people even laughed about it: there you go, they said, there’s Politkovskaya saying they’ve tried to poison her again, and the poisoning was obviously of a non-lethal kind. But she was taken off the plane, and as a result she didn’t take part in the events at Beslan.

So I didn’t really understand what had taken place until I talked in London to Mr. Akhmed Zakayev, and we had a conversation on the subject of why Maskhadov and Zakayev didn’t take part in the negotiations that started on September 1. Zakayev began by telling me that he didn’t know who had seized the school until September 2. This was a rather strange assertion. And so I naturally asked the question: did no one call you? Politkovskaya called me, Zakayev said, and she promised to call again from Beslan. But as you knpw, she never got to Beslan. But, I asked, did anyone else call you? Babitsky did, Zakayev replied, but then, as is well known, he didn’t get to Beslan either. So then it was clear what had happened. Politkovskaya was removed from the scene not because she was a woman journalist, i.e., not as someone who was capable of describing the events, but because she was a person capable of taking part in them. I.e., not as a journalist, but as a historical figure, who as soon she arrived in Beslan would have instantly asked what had happened and as soon as it was clear that Chechen separatists were involved, would have immediately thrust the telephone under Zakayev’s nose and said, here, you make the call.

Exactly the same thing has happened now. I don’t believe that it was because of some journalistic material, investigations that had fallen into her hands, whose publication had to be prevented. I say it again: she was killed because she was a historical figure, she was killed because she was a person who was pointed to as being a personal enemy of Ramzan Kadyrov. And while it’s obvious that this murder is indeed in the interests of very different people and very different groups, its basic and most probably its entire connection can only be with Chechnya.

(Hat tip: ML)

Bildt Sells Russian Shares

Sweden’s foreign minister Carl Bildt has yielded to pressure from his critics and has sold the controversial shares he owned in the Russian Vostok Nafta concern, Dagens Nyheter reports. As soon as he redeems his options, which cannot happen before December, he will also sell those. The paper says that Bildt owns securities worth 20m kronor (USD 2,760,181) which makes him the richest member of Sweden’s government.

Sveriges Radio International has a report here (hat tip: Marius)

See also: Conflict of Interest

Poetry International

This weekend’s programme of readings at the London South Bank’s Poetry International Festival includes two appearances by Nordic poets.

This evening Tomas Tranströmer, whose 75th birthday it is today, will attend a reading of his work by Swedish actor Krister Henriksson, with translations by Robin Robertson.

And tomorrow evening Finland-Swedish poet Tua Forsström will read from her poems in Swedish, with translations by myself and Stina Katchadourian.

BBC Bias – the Facts

In the Telegraph, Tom Leonard writes that the BBC’s commitment to bias is no laughing matter, and comments that

As it wrestles with the inevitable decline of its audience in the digital age, impartiality is that rare problem for the BBC – it’s one that it can actually do something about.

Melanie Phillips has more, including a reader’s comment from Biased BBC, which I can certainly endorse, having watched the TV series (“Spooks”) in question:

Anti-Zionism may be unremarkable on the Beeb, but this skidded well over into antisemitism. The take-home message was that Al Qaeda are a bunch of amateurs and can be managed as a law-enforcement problem but the real danger are those devious, murderous, all-too-clever Jews. The main plot involves a group of ruthless Mid-East hijackers who take over a London embassy and shoot people every hour. They turn out (of course) to be Jews in disguise. We have a Jewish traitor in high places with dialogue invoking the classic ‘can’t serve two masters’ accusation: ‘I asked which side he would fight on in a war between Britain and Israel. He just gave me his answer.’ The plot also relies on the same argument as the 9/11 conspiracy theory that Mossad blew up the twin towers because Muslims aren’t smart enough: MI5 realise the baddies must be Jewish because they’re too clever for their own good (and merciless and self-serving, naturally). The Jews in this episode may not be drinking the blood of Christian children but they are certainly bloodthirsty. There is even a fat, heavy-featured Mossad officer looking evil and inscrutable as he mouths ’shalom’. Plus the ringleader gets a cathartic booting at the end from the hero which had me in mind of Kristallnacht.