Month: March 2009

Scottish Nashizm

Scotland’s opportunistic nationalist party leader Alex Salmond is currently pitching for the support of young, disaffected Scots whose anger is diffused between issues like the banking crisis and the Middle East, and is trying to steal some of George Galloway’s thunder. The results are worth pondering. In an extraordinary analysis published at Harry’s Place, Tom Gallagher dissects the wide-ranging peculiarities of Salmond’s new attempt to dismember the United Kingdom by means of an all-out assault essentially based in nihilism. Excerpt :

Salmond hopes to acquire leverage on Capitol Hill that will prove useful in any power-struggle with London over the terms of independence if the SNP’s vision blossoms despite the current polar economic climate. At the same time, he is reaching out to regimes in the Muslim world and looking for an injection of cash for infrastructure projects that will enable him to bypass Whitehall. First Qatar was approached in the hope that an investment fund controlled by its rulers could be persuaded to build bridges and schools in Scotland on a supposedly not-for-profit basis. In the last year, visits by Salmond to Qatar have been described as imminent but they have fallen through perhaps owing to the economic problems now faced by the United Arab emirates. Malaysia is now in the Nationalists’ sights. The Scotsman newspaper on 16 March reported that Osama Saeed, the First Minister’s chief adviser on Islamic issues had made contacts with sovereign wealth funds in Malaysia in the hope that they could be lured to Scotland. He is only recently back from the World Economic Islamic Forum in Jakarta which he attended with other luminaries of his pressure group, the Scottish Islamic Foundation. Osama Saeed does not bother to hide his contacts with Muslim Brotherhood organizations and personalities based in Britain. He has convinced not a few movers and shakers in the tight Scottish political establishment that as someone who disavows violence, he is the acceptable face of radical Islam.

Update: the results of all this are beginning to make the headlines.

The Baltic Deportations of 1941 and 1949

[this is a guest post by Eric Dickens]

A group of Russian activists and their Finnish comrades held a meeting in Helsinki yesterday, in order to protest against the seminar being held to commemorate the deportations that took place in all three Baltic countries in 1949. While this mini-demonstration in central Helsinki was copiously covered in both the Finnish and Estonian press, but hardly anywhere else, the core of the whole issue was sadly obscured, i.e. the deportations themselves. As I am a literary translator from Estonian, and the key Baltic participants at the seminar were principally from Estonia, I will focus primarily on that Baltic country. But the same happened, mutatis mutandis, in Latvia and Lithuania.

We can all laugh at the antics of the would-be subversives who got the press out en masse to photograph them and their inadvertently hilarious banner stating: “Hey, governments, STOP CHANGE A HISTORY!”. Indeed, according to the Finnish tabloid Iltalehti, the Finns were laughing too. Finnish journalists were quick to point out that the Nashi crowd are a marginal phenomenon.

But this led to one very unfortunate result: the whole purport of the book launch and seminar they were demonstrating against was totally obscured, i.e. the deportations of 1941 and 1949.

A quick overview of these two deportations:

When Estonia was occupied by Soviet troops in 1940, by the orchestrations of Andrei Zhdanov, the Russians wasted no time in rounding up the President, the Cabinet and most MPs (i.e. lawmakers) and sending them to Siberia. They dangled President Konstantin Päts on a line for a while, but he too ended up in a Russian psychiatric institution (as if being the President of a “bourgeois” country deserved such treatment). Also the Chief-of-Staff, Johan Laidoner was first sacked by Päts, by now a mere puppet president, and died in 1953 after more than a decade in various Soviet prisons. The names of all the above people are listed on a plaque in Tallinn, not far away from the Dutch Embassy, up on Toompea Hill.
But not only politicians. During what are termed the June Deportations of 1941, while the Soviet Union still occupied Estonia, before being kicked out by Nazi Germany, a recent ally from the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a total of around 10,000 people are estimated to have been arrested, about 6,000 of whom ultimately died as a consequence of mistreatment of various sorts.

That was just for starters. The Soviet occupation resumed in 1944. The Germans had already fled in disarray as the Third Reich crumbled. By 1949, the Soviets were at it again. In March, a little earlier in the year this time, they and their Estonian Communist collaborators decided it was time for another bout of deportation. This time they increased the quota, so that around 20,700 people, often branded as “kulaks” because their farming methods were too efficient, were rounded up and sent to Siberia in cattle trucks. So, almost eight years after the June Deportations came the March Deportations. The sixtieth anniversary of the latter will be on 25th March 2009.

What is significant about the Helsinki seminar and book launch is that it was held in Finland at all. The two participants most in the limelight were the half-Estonian prizewinning Finnish novelist Sofi Oksanen, and the Estonian filmmaker Imbi Paju. For many years, Finland has been regarded as a hotbed of Finlandisation, where no one mentions Baltic politics for fear of upsetting the Bear in the East. Now, Oksanen has won the Finlandia book prize with her novel about the results of the Soviet occupation of Estonia, and it has sold well in Finland and is being translated. Paju made a film about the Soviet occupation, which was well-received in Finland. And the two together have just launched a book of essays on the topic, with contributors such as Edward Lucas, Anne Applebaum and the Swedish-born, American educated Estonian President Toomas Henrik Ilves. The book is called Kaiken takana oli pelko / Kõige taga oli hirm (Behind Everything Lay Fear). The seminar itself was sponsored and supported by the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian embassies in Helsinki, the National Finnish Audiovisual Archive, plus the publishing house WSOY.

Rarely has a book launch in Finland attracted some 300 hostile protesters, some from abroad. The protesters included representatives the Nashi (Our) youth movement from Russia, the Nochnoi Dozor (Nightwatch) movement of Russian-speakers from Estonia and their leader, Dmitri Linter, who was active during the Bronze Soldier incident in Tallinn in 2007. And individuals: the Helsinki academic Johan Bäckman who recently published his own book with a small press run by an ex-KGB agent, and the Finnish convert to Islam, Abdullah Tammi.
Estonian ex-Prime-Minister and head of the Estonian conservatives Mart Laar, is quoted in the Estonian daily Postimees as writing on his website: “Two clever women – Imbi Paju and Sofi Oksanen – have organised a seminar on the subject of the March Deportations, where documentary films will be shown about the history of Communism, and the essay collection Behind Everything Lay Fear will be presented.”

Zubajraev case: torture and ill-treatment

Jeremy Putley has forwarded the following messages from Russian human rights worker Oksana Chelysheva:

Case RUS 190209
Torture and other forms of ill-treatment/ Fear for safety

The International Secretariat of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) requests your URGENT intervention in the following situation in the Russian Federation.

Brief description of the situation

The International Secretariat of OMCT has been informed by the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS), a member of OMCT SOS-Torture Network, about the torture and other forms of ill-treatment suffered by Mr. Zubajr Isaevich Zubajraev, 30-year-old Chechen, currently detained in penitentiary colony ЯР-154/15 (also known as LIU-125 prison hospital) in Volgograd, Southern Russia. 

According to the information received, in August 2007, Mr. Zubajr Isaevich Zubajraev was sentenced to five years in high security prison and sent to prison colony IAR- 154/25 in Frolovo, Volgograd region, where he was tortured by prison colony officers throughout the period he was held there. The acts of torture included severe beatings, also with full plastic bottles, electroshocks, injection of unknown substances, nailing to the ground and having to stand in the snow with bear feet. He was also placed on several occasions in a punishment cell. 

Following complaints on Mr. Zubajr Isaevich Zubajraev’s situation, he was reportedly admitted to the prison hospital (penitentiary colony ЯР-154/15) in February 2008, where he is still currently being detained. However, according to the same information, instead of receiving adequate medical care and treatment, he was again subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment, including beatings, allegedly by the chief of the penitentiary colony and his deputy. Mr. Zubajr Isaevich Zubajraev was also reportedly threatened with psychiatric internment. 

In November 2008, the Volgograd regional prosecutor inspected the prison hospital but reportedly found no fault with the prison authorities. 

According to the same information received, Mr. Zubajr Isaevich Zubajraev’s health is extremely poor and, due to several head injuries, he might be suffering from epilepsy. Moreover, he would have several wounds on his leg that do not heal. 

His family has reportedly recently received threats, including by a Federal Security Service (FSB) officer, for having denounced his conditions on several occasions. OMCT fears for its safety. 

The International Secretariat of OMCT is gravely concerned for the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Zubajr Isaevich Zubajraev following the reports of continuous torture and other forms of ill-treatment and lack of adequate medical care. OMCT therefore calls on the authorities to guarantee his safety at all times, as well as to carry out a prompt, effective, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into these reports, in order to bring those responsible before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal and apply penal, civil and/or administrative sanctions as provided by law. OMCT recalls the absolute prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment and recalls article 11 of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment stipulating that, “Each State Party shall keep under systematic review interrogation rules, instructions, methods and practices as well as arrangements for the custody and treatment of persons subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment in any territory under its jurisdiction, with a view to preventing any cases of torture”.

Action requested

Please write to the authorities in Russia urging them to: 

Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Zubajr Isaevich Zubajraev as well as of his family;
Guarantee unconditional access to his lawyer and his family, as well as guarantee that Mr. Zubajr Isaevich Zubajraev is examined by independent doctors and receives adequate medical care, in accordance with provisions of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners;
Carry out a prompt, effective, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the reports of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, in order to bring those responsible before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal and apply penal, civil and/or administrative sanctions as provided by law;
Order his immediate release in the absence of valid legal charges that are consistent with international law and standards, or if such charges exist, bring him before an impartial and competent tribunal and guarantee his procedural rights at all times;
Ensure the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the country in accordance with national laws and international human rights standards.

Addresses

Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev, President of the Russian Federation, Kremlin, Moscow, Russia, Faxes:+ 7 495 206 5173 / 230 2408, Email: president@gov.ru;
Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, Yuri Chayka, 125993, Moskva K-31, Ul. B. Dimitrovka, d 15a, Russian Federation, Fax: + 7 (495)692-17-25;
Chairwoman of the Presidential Human Rights Commission of the Russian Federation, Ella Pamfilova, 103132 g. Moskva, Staraya ploshchad, d 8/5,pod 3, Russian Federation, Fax: +7 495 20 64 855;
Vladimir Lukin, Russian Federal Ombudsman for Human Rights, Fax: +7 495 207-74-70;
Minister of Internal Affairs, Rashid Nurgaliev, ul. Zhitnaya, 16, 117049 Moscow, Russian Federation, Telegram: Rossiia, 117049, Moskva, Fax: + 7 495 237 49 25;
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, Smolenskaya-Sennaya pl, 32/34, 121200 Moscow, Russian Federation, Telegram:  Fax:+ 7 495 230 21 30;
Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in Geneva Av. de la Paix 15, CH-1211, Geneva 20, Switzerland, e-mail : mission.russian@ties.itu.int, fax: +4122 734 40 44;

Zubair Zubairaev has again reportedly been severely beaten on both 18 and 24 February. On a recent visit to the prison his lawyer saw the marks from the beatings on his face and has stated that Zubair Zubairaev’s health has been gravely affected. Wounds on his legs from previous alleged beatings and incidents of torture are not healing and are festering. He is not receiving adequate medical care. After the most recent incidents he was placed in an isolation cell as punishment for allegedly possessing a painkilling tablet.
In August 2007 Zubair Zubairaev was sentenced to five years in a high security prison and sent to prison colony IAR-154/25 in Frolovo, Volgograd region. According to sources close to Zubair Zubairaev, he was tortured and otherwise ill-treated by prison colony officers throughout the period he was held there. This included the use of electric shocks. The sources reported that he was also repeatedly beaten with plastic bottles filled with water, as well as with truncheons and rifle butts, until he fainted, after which guards revived him in order to continue the beatings. No medical help was provided and the injuries he received were not recorded.
After making several complaints about being tortured and ill-treated, Zubair Zubairaev was transferred to prison colony No 9 in Volgograd. In February 2008 he was admitted to prison hospital LIU-15 in Volgograd; however, the beatings and other ill-treatment from the prison officers continued. Zubair Zubairaev complained again about his treatment to the authorities. This resulted in an inspection of the prison hospital in October 2008 by the Volgograd regional prosecutor, which, however, found no fault with the prison authorities.
Officials at the prison, as well as an official from the Volgograd Public Prosecutor’s office, are said to have verbally threatened Zubair Zubairaev that if he does not stop complaining about his treatment in detention, his prison sentence will be extended or he might “accidentally” die in prison. They also made threats against his family, saying “something might happen” to his sisters.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Amnesty International regularly receives reports of torture or other ill-treatment in places of detention across the Russian Federation, including in prison colonies, and of the frequent failure of the authorities to investigate effectively such allegations and to bring those suspected of violations to justice. In February 2007, the UN Committee against Torture expressed its concern regarding the inadequate health care provided to people in pre-trial detention centres and prison colonies.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in Russian, English or your own language:
– calling on prison authorities to ensure immediately that Zubair Zubairaev is not subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, including psychological;
– calling for an immediate, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the allegations of torture or other ill-treatment and threats against Zubair Zubairaev and his family, with the results made public and those found responsible brought to justice;
– expressing concern at reports that Zubair Zubairaev is still not receiving the medical treatment he needs;
– urging that Zubair Zuibairaev is examined by independent doctors and receives all necessary medical care, in accordance with provisions set out in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

APPEALS TO:
Director of the prison colony IAR-154/15:
Mansvetov Andrei Igorevich
Uchrezhdenie IAR-154/15
400048 Volgograd
Russian Federation
Fax: +7 8442 35 57 00
Salutation: Dear Director

Director of the Federal Service for Execution of Sentences :
Yurii Ivanovich Kalinin
Federal Service for Execution of Sentences
Ul. Zhitnaia, 14
119991 GSP-1, Moscow
Russian Federation
Fax: +7 495 982 1930
Salutation: Dear Director

Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation :
Yurii Yakovlevich Chaika
Office of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation
Ul. Bolshaia Dmitrovka 15a
125 993 Moscow
Russian Federation
Fax: +7 495 692 1725 (fax may be switched off outside of office hours (four hours ahead of GMT)
Salutation: Dear Prosecutor General

COPIES TO:

Ombudsperson for Human Rights of the Russian Federation :
Vladimir Petrovich Lukin
Miasnitskaia ul. 47
107084 Moscow
Russian Federation
Fax: +7 495 60739 77
Salutation: Dear Ombudsperson

Prosecutor of Volgograd région :
Leonid Leontievich Beliak
Pr.Lenina, 8
400066 Volgograd
Russian Federation
Email: pochtaproc@vlpost.ru
Salutation: Dear Prosecutor

Ambassade de la Fédération de Russie
Avenue De Fré 66,
1180 Bruxelles
Fax : 02.374.26.13
Email : amrusbel@skynet.be

PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat, or your section office, if sending appeals after 14 April.

From: Oksana Chelysheva [mailto:o.chelysheva@gmail.com]
Sent: 20 March 2009 16:11
To: Jeremy Putley
Subject: Fwd: a case in Volgograd

Dear Jeremy,

I am sending the news below for your information. I have known Elena Maglevannaja for three years.
On March 20, 2009, the administration of Volgograd-based detention colony LIU-15 lodged a suit against a human rights defenders and a journalist Elena Maglevannaja. The administration is discontent with Elena’s effort to draw attention to the desperate situation of one of the inmates of this colony, an ethnic Chechen Zubajr Zubajraev. The suit is lodged under article 152 of the Russian Civil Code (honour and business reputation protection). They are accusing Elena of spreading information on Zubajr Zubajraev in order to destroy their good name. I talked to Elena on phone today. She tells that the first court hearing has been scheduled for March 26, Thursday. It will be held in Kirovskiy district court of Volgograd by the judge Asatiani.
Elena Maglevannaja also told about torture that Zubajraev was subjected to during his custody (including nailing his feet to the floor which was proved by photos) and subsequent denial of medical treatment. Maglevannaja also assisted in organizing the visit of a Chechen activist Imran Ejiev who came to Volgograd on behalf of a member of the European Parliament Bart Staes. Numerous signs of ill-treatment and torture were documented during that visit.
Elena Maglevannaja told on phone, “I am going to use the court room as just one possibility to speak up for Zubajr”. In her words, she is going to prove that the staff of the colony beats him up and then accuses him “of smashing his head against the wall”.
On 10 February, in the Moscow-located Independent Press center a press conference was held during which the situation of Zubajraev was raised. Imran Ejiev, Zubajraev’s sister Madina, Lev Ponomarjov (the leader of “For Human Rights” movement). Svetlana Gannushkina participated in that press conference. A few days after it, information came that the Zubajraevs sisters were subjected to threats on the train during their trip back to Grozny.
Zubajr Zubajraev fled Russia with his family during war hostilities. They got asylum in Austria. But in 2007 they family decided to return to Chechnya. Soon after their return, Zubajraev was detained by local force agents. He was missing for some period as his relatives didn’t know anything about his whereabouts.
In August 2007 Zubajraev was sentenced to five years in custody “for assault at a force agent and illegal arms possession”. He was transferred to serve his sentence in Volgograd colony. When he managed to reach his sisters, he told that he was continuously beaten up.
The case of Zubajr Zubajraev was raised by Amnesty International and World Organizations against Torture. However, it has not changed for the better.
Oksana Chelysheva

The Silence of the Silenced

Interviewed in the Finnish political weekly Nykypäivä, the Russian dissident and former Novaya Gazeta correspondent Oksana Chelysheva sees a change taking place in Russian public opinion under the impact of the present economic crisis. In particular, she is at pains to challenge some of the perceptions about Russia that are widespread in the West (my translation):

To foreign observers Russia can easily seem like a political monolith. The power may lie with the Tsar, the Politburo or the Prime Minister, but the forms and methods by which that power is exercised are always the same: central control, concentration of power in the hands of the state, and an emphasis on external threats.

Chelysheva believes that trying to interpret Russia in terms of its “submissive” national character is an oversimplification. The article continues:

She does not accept the argument that however authoritarian Putin’s regime may be, it represents stability compared to its predecessor, the government of Boris Yeltsin, which combined freedom with social chaos.

“It’s true that in the Yeltsin era there was chaos, but one could talk about it. Now there is a chaos which cannot be mentioned.”

Another misconception widespread in the West live is that the vast majority of Russians are satisfied with things as they are.

“The Russians haven’t fallen silent about their lot, they’ve been silenced. There is a certain difference.

Many people in the West believe that while the dissidents are right in principle, in their support for democracy and freedom of speech they represent only in a small elite that is composed of the Russian intelligentsia.

Chelysheva does this accept this view either.

“The situation is exactly the opposite. It’s not the intelligentsia who are criticizing the Kremlin, but ordinary people.”

Chechen Ghosts

Ghosts of Alexander writes about the media campaign to implicate Chechens in the Taleban insurgency in Afghanistan. As he makes abundantly clear with numerous detailed demonstrations of proof, the Chechens for the most part quite simply aren’t there:

So who is telling these “misrepresentations of reality?” The originators would be the Russian FSB and the Kremlin, trying to tie in the fight against the Chechens into the American war on terror and legitimizing their operations in Chechnya. Many in the Russian media picked this up and ran with it. They were very soon joined by American journalists who were repeating the Russian journalists, and most importantly, the US Department of Defense. The DoD likely did so out of sheer ignorance (an ignorance shared by many stateside). However, it is possible that the desire to show Russia the need for an American base in Central Asia to support the war in Afghanistan was a motivating factor. Also, the US would like to portray the resistance to them in Afghanistan as coming from crazed Jihadis from far off lands when really it’s coming from locals and Pakistanis. This joined the Americans and the Russians in some mutually beneficial storytelling.

And they have now been joined by Pakistan, who is trying to convince the world that all problems back home are the result of foreigners, hence the stream of reports about the masses of Uzbeks and Chechens in the tribal areas. And when Afghan and Pakistani locals talk about Chechens they are doing so because they both know what the interviewer wants to hear, they are repeating what local leaders say, and they are trying to deflect attention away from the ethnic Pashtuns (usually locals) who are being identified as “Chechens.”

The True European

In an interview for the Sunday Times, Vaclav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic, tells it like it is about Europe and the EU:

European identity exists as a feeling of belonging to European continent, it is a feeling based on common history, culture, values, but it cannot be a politically constructed and imposed identity. For me, this feeling is certainly weaker than the feeling of belonging to my country. I think identity is not something you can give up and I do not think that some people feel their European identity as something in opposition to their national identities. It is an additional, not substitute identity.

Russia’s Islamist insurgency

Jamestown’s North Caucasus Weekly has published an exclusive interview by Fatima Tlisova with the Chechen guerrilla leader Anzor Astemirov, in which the Caucasus Emirate’s Sharia legislative head expresses some interesting thoughts on the current status of the Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus, and answers recent accusations by figures in the Russian military about suspected links with Western and Arab countries:

Financial support from the West or Arab countries is an absolute lie and a myth. If we received any support—even meager, not to mention significant—we would be much more successful in all respects. We created and systematized internal support techniques, and Sharia gives us clear rules for collecting military zakat (taxes). We prepared regulations and orders, which were distributed on our territories by our naibs (deputy commanders). In today’s situation, financial or any other types of support are no longer voluntary actions but fard ‘ain (compulsory) for every true Muslim because we are in war. We do not take anything that is above a fixed percentage rate, we do not rob poor families or those who suffered from the regime; instead, we support them as much as we can afford. For those who deny obeying the law, accepting their duty, we do use various penalties, including physical threats or even death. However, we prevent our people from unnecessary violations; we always recommend beginning with persuasion by the word rather than by the gun.    

Also in North Caucasus Weekly, analyst Mairbek Vatchagaev writes about the major crossroads now being approached by the Ingush insurgency, as the real intentions of the recently-appointed President Yunus-bek Yevkurov start to become apparent.

The Unknown Soldier

At Nordic Voices in Translation, I’m serializing some excerpts from my new translation of Tuntematon sotilas (The Unknown Soldier), Väinö Linna’s classic novel about the Finnish Continuation War of 1941-1944. The third excerpt is here, and you can access the earlier excerpts at the foot of the page. I’ll be publishing more of these over the next week or two.

Facebook – 2

Last September I said that I didn’t want to join Facebook – however, as if to prove that we will all be on Facebook – or something like it – soon, I’ve changed my mind and joined. One of the factors that led me to do so was the sight of reasoned and intelligent discussions of Baltic and Nordic issues, not disrupted by trolls or troublemakers, taking place on Facebook in a calm and relaxed atmosphere. A step up from the comments boxes of many blogs and other public fora that explore such subjects.