Walter Derzko, Sykik Seer

Uncle Volodya says, "If I have to die, Walter, I'm taking you with me!!! Ha, ha - I'm just messing with you, can't you lighten up?"

In an office in a darkened warehouse on frozen Dufferin Street in Toronto, mild-mannered business consultant Walter Derzko keys in a code on his cellphone. A secret floor hatch spirals open behind his chair, revealing a pole leading into the depths. Throwing his tie over his shoulder, Walter slides down the pole to the Nutcave hidden below and, behind the wheel of the Battymobile, bursts into the sleeping city on his lonely, neverending fight against the merciless forces of reality.

Seriously – seriously, what are we to make of this (hat-tip to Jesse Heath over at the Russia Monitor)? If Mr. Derzko is to be believed, Ms. Natalia Zubarevich – a Doctor of Geographical Sciences and Professor at Moscow State University who often acts as advisor to several government departments – announced recently that owing to factors we’ll discuss further below, the Russian Federation was doomed to inevitable and inexorable death. As a result, the country will cease to exist, and be broken into independent states. This feeds into a treasured Russophobic dream, which I most recently saw in the comments section of one of Oksana Bashuk-Hepburn’s nasty articles for the Kyiv Post, to the effect that by 2015 Russia will have shrunk to Moscow alone. I won’t discuss my immediate reaction, because it would likely be thought rude and disrespectful. As it probably is when somebody proffers a viewpoint in all seriousness, and you laugh until you have a hard time getting your breath.

Well, Mr. Derzko wouldn’t have just made it up, would he? So let’s have a look at his source for this breathtaking confession. Hmmm…KavkazCenter. I started to get a sense that it was not a reliable, unbiased source right about the point where it said, “…and will be divided into independent states in accordance with subjects and sub-subjects of the current ‘federation’, hated by everybody”. This feeling began to deepen when I noted the Islamic device featured in the header, articles in the events bar which referred to “the Russian satrap in Ingushetia”, the “Parasitic European secret police”, “Secret Italian/French parasites” and the “Parasitic Italian police”.  About then, I noticed the posting of  the subject article on the site is recorded in “Emirate time”.  If you were me, what would you have done next? That’s right – I clicked on “About Us”.

Well, well. KavkazCenter is “a privately run, independent agency that does not represent the viewpoint of any state structures or the CRI government”, that  instead represents “the positions of the side defending against aggression – the Chechen mujahedeen”.

Walter, Walter. You’re lending the imprimatur of respectability to a news item, that purports to quote an advisor to the Russian government, that originated with the Chechen mujahedeen. In which the  quoted figure allegedly confessed that the state is dying and could not avoid disintegration. I hate to be the one to point it out, but this so closely parallels the ideal state of affairs – not to mention the operational goal – of the Chechen mujahedeen that I have to suggest a degree of wishful thinking has crept into their reporting. Tell you what; if you show me where Ms. Zubarevich actually made that confession, or forecast, or whatever you want to call it, I’ll look at taking you seriously. Because my position, right here and now, is that she never said it at all.

Part of my reasons for that assessment include her uncontestable credentials; she’s a very smart woman. Winner of the International Leon Tief award for achievement in economy, author of several learned works on economics and human development and advisor to a number of government agencies, she could not have arrived at a diagnosis of inevitable death for the Russian federation based on the reasons cited in the article.

Summarized, the four reasons cited add up to a substantial migration to major cities in Russia, leading to growing environmental problems as cities never intended to bear such populations struggle to cope with waste-disposal and traffic crises while infrastructure creaks under the load. Sound familiar? It should. It’s happening all over the world, and a study conducted last year by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concluded more than half the world’s population of 6.9 Billion currently live in cities. This is not entirely recent, although it is accelerating – in 2005 a British study conducted for Halifax PLC found London had experienced the fastest population growth in the entire UK over the past 10 years. I didn’t read any reports at the time which suggested Britain was rapidly and irreversibly dying as a result, and I suspect that’s because there was nobody stupid enough to draw such a conclusion.

The final reason cited for Russia’s iminent collapse was “ethnic tensions in the Caucasus”. While this is a problem, I can kind of see how it might loom in importance to a news outlet dedicated to support of the Chechen mujahedeen, if you’re fond of understatement. Put another way, it’s a little like suggesting if the state of Vermont decided it wanted to be an Islamic emirate, the USA would fall apart. Come on.

Although Ms. Zubarevich allows herself to be cited by those nuts at Open Democracy too often for my liking, there’s no disputing her intellectual stature. That’s why I’m curious about her contribution to the National Human Development Report in the Russian Federation for 2010, in which she was responsible for chapter 9; Millenium Development Goals and Russian Regions. In this report, Professor Zubarevich cites such positive trends as the halving of national poverty between 2000 and 2008, significant growth in wage levels and improved social support. She points out that gender-related problems in education are “not characteristic for Russia”, and 57% of all graduate and post-graduate students are females. The infant mortality rate declined steadily since the mid-90’s, owing significantly to an increase of state investment in healthcare during the economic growth of the 2000’s. She reported the development of cellular communications in the regions as “remarkable”, although qualifying the statement by noting communications as an ongoing problem. Other areas in which the country needed to improve were environmental responsibility and quality of housing. In Table 9.1, “Divergence in levels of MDG (Millenium Development Goal)  Indicators for Russia’s Regions”, all the indicators appeared to be headed in the right direction except the incidence of tuberculosis, which rose slightly, from 83 to 85 per 100,000 people. On the plus side, deaths from tuberculosis shrank from 22 to 17 per 100,000 people.

What I’m curious about is why she went into such detail, probably more than any of her co-authors, when she could have simply said, “Who gives a fuck; the Russian Federation is dying, the trend is irreversible, and it might as well just pick out a sunny spot to be buried. Later, assholes.”

Here’s a tip, Walter. If you aim to be taken seriously in economic and social-development forecasting, stop getting your data from Chechen Republic of Ichkeria militants.

Update: I just noticed, on another review of the KavkazCenter reference, that one of the sidebar stories refers to the Domodedovo bomber as “the Moscow martyr bomber”. Nice. Some company you keep, Walter.

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65 Responses to Walter Derzko, Sykik Seer

  1. If you think Mr. Derzko is a bit on the nutty side, this will blow your mind. 🙂

    • marknesop says:

      Wow. Is it a Tea Party site, or something like that? I didn’t have to look any further than “Glenn Beck – energetic educator”, although “Russia – 10 abortions per woman not uncommon” did sound promising. How can anyone be so right-to-the-bone crazy and still walk around unrestricted?

  2. Yalensis says:

    Yeah, that’s a funny site. My personal favorite is the post entitled “The Egyptian Revolution: Chalk up another win for the Persian-Islamic-Soviet axis.” Lotta nuts out there!
    Re. Kavkaz Center, they’re not the usual cuckoo blog operating on a shoestring: they receive a lot of financial support from several western governments: Poles, Estonians, British, even Swedes, and others. Who pretend to support their ridiculous Caucasian emirate project, but, more seriously, fund terrorist attacks against Russian civilians, in order to de-stabilize Russian government and put pressure on Putin. There is some big money behind these efforts.
    On the other hand, Chechen/Ichkeria insurgency really does seem pretty dormant now. Putin’s desperate gamble on Kadyrov seems to have worked, at least for now. There is a lot of unrest in Ingushetia, but Moscow’s man there, Evkurov, is an excellent leader, loyal to Russia, and also honest guy, not corrupt and scary, like Kadyrov.
    Which leaves Dagestan as source of most unrest now and breeding ground of “martyrs”. So obviously, something must be done to create more stable political equilibrium there, win population away from Islamists, etc. The usual banal reality that we all must live in.

  3. Tim Newman says:

    Re. Kavkaz Center, they’re not the usual cuckoo blog operating on a shoestring: they receive a lot of financial support from several western governments: Poles, Estonians, British, even Swedes, and others.

    Do you have any evidence that the British government is funding this? I mean, they do tend to end up funding all sorts of idiocy and nutjobs simply because they are spending somebody else’s money on somebody else so don’t give a shit where half of it goes or what it is used for, but I would like to see some evidence all the same.

    FWIW, Kavkaz blog linked favourably to a post I’d written once, I can’t remember which one, thinking that what I’d written was pro-Islamic or pro-Chechen or somesuch. I wasn’t tremendously happy about it, and deleted the pingback.

    • Yalensis says:

      @Tim, my assertion was based mostly on the Zakayev-Berezovsky link and their shady activities in London; here is one link I found just by random search:
      I realize it doesn’t prove much. It is typical of many news sources and blogs over the years; in many cases different factions of Chechen separatists accusing each other of various things. What we know for sure is that the British government has provided a cushy exile for many Chechens (and Russians) with dubious ties to the “Ichkeria”project – Litvinov also comes to mind.
      I do seem to recall that the British government was horrified by Beslan attack and may have withdrawn some of their political support for the Chechen separatists at that time. Also, I do have fond memories of Britain rescuing those Russian sailors (2005) stuck in that submarine, which they didn’t have to do; so that was a decent gesture on their part, for which I am sure Russians are very appreciative:

      • peter says:

        … my assertion was based mostly on the Zakayev-Berezovsky link and their shady activities in London…

        Чушь. Whether or not Zakayev-Berezovsky’s “shady activities” include obtaining millions from Мировая Закулиса the British Government, they are unlikely to share them with the very people who have sentenced one of them to death.

  4. cartman says:

    That is not the worst from Kavkaz Center. They published photos that came directly from the perpetrators of Beslan. I mentioned on that other blog that freedom of speech – as understood by people in Eastern Europe (and some other countries like Sweden) – is so fucked up and in disagreement with FoS in the United States and other Western countries.

    • marknesop says:

      Sounds counterproductive to me – it might win some bloodthirsty triumph from the oppressed, but the aim of an internet information site like that is to build a wide base of sympathy and support and – hopefully – financing abroad. Beslan found little cheering from the international community, and even covert agencies with a direct interest in destabilizing Russia should have a hard time coughing up cash for killers of children.

      Anyway, I’d suggest they are a poor source of information for the imminent collapse of the Russian Federation. For one, I don’t see any signs of that happening – in fact, the potential for solidifying relations with its neighbours looks good. For another, the Chechen mujahedeen and other radical groups simply want Russia to fall apart too badly to be objective sources on the subject.

      • Misha says:

        Upon a quick perusal, Walter D suggests that Ukraine under Yanuk is misguided for drawing closer to Russia.

        Never mind the practical reasons for these two former Soviet republics to be on good terms with each other.

        Rhetorically put, does Russia have a greater chance of breaking up than Ukraine? Not that I expect Ukraine to breakup.

        Time will tell. Who thought the USSR would breakup? Amalrik’s 1970s book on the subject was a bit off in how he predicted the USSR would breakup. He emphasized an anti-Russian race war. Overall, the Slavic populations in the Baltics voted for independence from the USSR. Ethnic differences weren’t as prime a reason for the Soviet breakup as Amalrik suggested.

        • marknesop says:

          It’s no secret that Yanukovych is pro-Russian, and nobody should have been surprised at Ukraine’s shift toward Russia’s orbit upon his election – indeed, I’m sure many of his votes were cast with that expectancy. There’s nothing wrong with liberalism that is realistic, and it often leads to much-needed reform. However, painting Yuschenko as a success who just didn’t have time to get his feet under him is nonsense, as is any suggestion that the tubing of Ukraine’s economy following the global economic wobble in 2008 was just what happened everywhere. Russia and some other countries recovered very quickly. Review of the data generated by the World Bank suggests the economy remained in a struggle for life in the waning days of Yuschenko’s rule, and the suggestions that serious reform was needed never slackened. Review of the October 2009 report reveals that GDP dropped by 17.8% for the reported quarter. The next report, July 2010, records GDP growth of 4.9%, with 7% growth in real exports year over year. The December report, the latest available, reveals that GDP growth slowed (although it remained positive), but industrial production continued to grow by double digits, and domestic demand began to pick up, driven by real income growth. At the same time, progress in reforms was noted.

          There’s always more to it with economics, and a case could be made that things were starting to turn around for Yuschenko; given time, he might have done just as well. That’s not the point. He was elected with tremendous western push behind him, and was supposed to be some kind of boy wonder. The western press – customarily displaying a samurai-like absence of forgiveness for failure – simply pretended Yuschenko’s failure wasn’t happening. Conversely, Yanukovych is portrayed as a dumb farmer hick with straw in his hair, who probably slept with his sister (if he has one; I have no idea). In fact, Yanukovych has done well as lifeguard over Ukraine’s economy in general, and real reform is beginning despite the clamor from the west’s Russophobes that he’s a crooked, Putin-loving idiot. Numbers don’t lie, although to a degree you can make them say what you want. What you can’t do, though, is pretend an up trend is a down trend.

          Real growth in personal income is a tough nut to crack for the liberals, both in Russia and Ukraine. It’s hard to convince people they’re doing worse and it’s time for a change, when they’re doing better and there’s no reason to believe a change might not be a change for the worse. It’s amazing how often it works in the USA, but I wouldn’t look for it to work as well anywhere else.

          • Yalensis says:

            Yushchenko’s failure was just as much political as it was economic. He came to power with Western support, and the “Orange” alliance of his faction with Yulia Timoshenko’s faction had possibly even a slight majority with Ukrainian people, who were sick of stagnation and authoritarianism of Kuchma regime. Don’t forget also that Yushchenko came to power with very shocking incriminations against his opponents: that they had murdered oppositionist journalist Gongadze and even poisoned Yushchenko himself. Based on this, a certain segment of Ukrainian people were very upset and agitated and gave Orange factions enough support (plus Western backing) to come to power via a kind of popular coup.
            Once in power Orange factions alienated majority of Ukrainian people with their incompetence and their radical political initiatives, like attempting to rewrite history of WWII, rehabilitating militia groups which had collaborated with Nazis and putting them on equal status with actual war veterans; granting hero medal to Stepan Bandera; legislation against Russian language which is spoken at home by half of all Ukrainian citizens; fomenting hostilities against Russian neighbor, to the point where Putin refused to even speak to Yushchenko any more. Add to this that Yushchenko was never able to “solve” the crimes which had so outraged the public, namely the Gongadze crime, or even his own poisoning, which many now suspect was simply a hoax.
            But what truly did Yushchenko in, and lost him all support from the West, was his never-ending feud with his former ally, Yulia Timoshenko. These two politicians hated each other with a white-hot passion and were never able to coalesce their factions into a viable governing alliance. All that Yanukovich had to do was sit and wait patiently as these two implode each other. At a certain point, Europe and America simply gave up on Yushchenko and threw him under the bus, even though they knew for sure that Yanukovich would lead Ukraine back to friendly relations with Russia.
            Yanukovich, by the way, I am not sure he has a sister to marry, but West was mistaken to see him as bumpkin. They were misled by his verbal gaffes and his brutish exterior. Underneath that apish face, this guy is actually one of the smartest politicians in all of Europe. Plus, he is good adminstrator and has a flair for macro-economics, even though he is not the best educated person in the world. Plus, now he has the political legitimacy that he never had before, since West leaves him alone and no longer tries to overthrow him.

            • Misha says:

              Some of the not so Russia friendly crowd among Ukrainians appear to make Yushchenko a kind of fall guy – suggesting that his core views are okay, unlike the person (Yushchenko), who was at the top reflecting them. Such manner is a diversion from facing reality.

              – Arbitrary granting of official “Hero” status to Bandera – more of a regional figure and a problematical one at that

              – Favoring one independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, as opposed to a more practical free to choose route

              – Seeking Ukraine in NATO ASAP and without a referendum

              – Continued de-emphasis of the Russian language

              – Unwillingness to consider renegotiating a continued Russian naval stay in Crimea.

              Yanukovych doesn’t favor Ukraine joining NATO or CSTO, while favoring close Ukrainian ties with Russia and the West. Yanukovych doesn’t support recognizing the independence of any of the disputed former Communist bloc territories. Yanukovych leans towards favoring a regional free to choose position on Russian language use in Ukraine.




            • marknesop says:

              Accurate and nicely encapsulated, Yalensis! I don’t follow Ukrainian politics as closely as I do Russian or even American, but what I was referring to is the general western trend (and not all media outlets, but many) of instantly demonizing every East-European leader who is not in political favour, while studiously overlooking the sometimes-glaring faults of western picks.

              Something I always meant to do a post on, but never found the time to pull it all together, was the differences between the kingmaking western press (where foreign leaders who have little to do with western populations, other than the foreign policies of their leaders, are made or broken) and major Russian – and in this case Ukrainian – media outlets. I think it’s clear that George W. Bush was a bit of a phenomenon in that he was so generally unpopular outside the USA, so there probably were quite a few stories in the international media about him. But otherwise, it’s my belief that Russian newspapers and online media outlets (not including special-interest blogs which are mostly opinion, as this one is) do not obsessively follow western leaders the way papers in the USA follow foreign leaders and attempt to influence their public’s impression of them. I’d need help to do that, because I don’t read Russian at natural speed, and don’t read Ukrainian at all outside its similarity to Russian (which is noticeable).

              If I’m correct, it would tend to support a suggestion that the USA considers it its right to meddle with the makeup of foreign politics. That might not even be so bad, as there is a lot to like about the USA and other countries could do much worse than follow some of its positive examples. However, it would depend largely on the American electorate being informed, intellectually curious and skeptical of attempts to broadly inject and manipulate prejudice. It manifestly is not.

              • Yalensis says:

                Hi, Mark, thanks for comments. I don’t read Ukrainian either, unfortunately, so I had to follow Ukrainian politics via Russian-language sources. I do love sound of Ukrainian language when I hear it — seems melodic and softer, somehow, than Russian.

              • peter says:

                … it’s my belief that Russian newspapers and online media outlets (not including special-interest blogs which are mostly opinion, as this one is) do not obsessively follow western leaders…

                State TV, channel Россия 2

                • marknesop says:

                  I see I must be a good deal more specific in future. When I said, “obsessive”, I didn’t mean “never mention”. I’m not surprised if you can find the occasional item about foreign leaders, because what they do, say and think is news. I’m also talking less about television than about newspapers, both print and electronic, although television should not be excluded. When the American president visits a foreign country, it’s news everywhere. When he makes a decision to tinker with the country’s educational policies – for example – it isn’t.

                  I’m talking about this and this. Many stories included are critical, some could be considered inflammatory. I don’t see this sort of effort to steer foreign government in the direction of own national interest in Russian media.

                • peter says:

                  When the American president visits a foreign country, it’s news everywhere. When he makes a decision to tinker with the country’s educational policies – for example – it isn’t.

                  It is in Russia, you’re looking under the wrong bush. If you don’t mind a bit of national stereotyping, we Russians don’t quite grasp the concept of minding one’s own business. As our saying goes, счастье – это когда у соседа корова сдохла.

                • marknesop says:

                  Come on, Peter; there’s a world of difference between the article you cite – which is largely positive, highlighting the successes of educational reform, and the statistics that show the USA losing ground in world educational standards are factual – and something like this (chosen from the list I cited earlier). There’s nothing in your article that suggests an effort to bring down the U.S. government, while this one is rife with malicious and inaccurate speculation – “They arrested Nemtsov because they could and to scare off those tempted to join him.” No mention of Nemtsov’s dismal showing in the last election, or his consistently low public-opinion polling – it’s slanted in such a way as to imply he’s the peoples’ choice, but the government won’t let what everyone wants happen. “… a weak democratic opposition grew to formidable strength without authorities really understanding what was happening – until angry residents filled the streets and turned back the coup of 1991. Perhaps it is no coincidence that a young physicist who came of age politically in those tempestuous times would continue to haunt them. He is, of course, Boris Nemtsov…” This is irresponsibly agitating in favour of Nemtsov, could not be less so if he had written it himself. It breezily overlooks that the young Nemtsov presided over the crash of Russia’s economy and the breakup of the Soviet Union; it’s difficult to imagine an American leader who registered a similar accomplishment that led to the dissolution of the American union receiving such glowing press coverage after the fact in an American newspaper.

                  Where are the articles in Russian newspapers that agitated for the election of John Kerry instead of Bush? Where are the articles that suggested Barack Obama should be run out of town on a rail and replaced by John McCain? Where’s the glowing, praise-infused articles lovingly lauding one of John McCain’s speeches after he lost the election, or one of his gajillion talk-show appearances in which he raves that American is being led in the wrong direction?

                  America kisses up to foreign dissidents, and gives them the praise and devotion their own country does not. At the same time, an American who journeys to Russia to mock America’s values and argue for a change of government is the worst kind of traitor.

                • peter says:

                  … the article you cite…

                  What article? I didn’t cite any particular article, I merely linked a Google News search showing that, contrary to what you were saying, Obama’s educational initiatives did make the news in Russia. And no, I don’t think the general tone was positive — even a quick scan through the list reveals such Cold War-ish titles as “Нет у Обамы лунной программы” and “Обама готовит Америке…перестройку”.

                  As for the article you linked, yes, it’s perhaps questionable if Nemtsov deserves a mention on page A.8 of WaPo, but to call this an “effort to steer foreign government in the direction of own national interest” is a bit of a stretch if you ask me.

  5. Giuseppe Flavio says:

    Hi Mark,
    about Bush Jr. lack of popularity outside the US. I think it is mainly due to the fact that he behaved as required by his electoral basis, i.e. the US conservatives which are quite different from the European ones, and look somewhat strange and odd to the average European. US exceptionalism, the Bible-belt style antics are difficult to accept for an European, and I suspect it’s the same for a liberal (in the US sense) American. On the other hand, Obama is perceived as someone much closer to Europe.
    Re. the US press on foreign leaders, rather than obsessed, I’d say they are completely unable to understand foreign countries, and look at them through they deforming American lens. This happens more or less to any external observer, but the US press stays egregiously on the “more” side.
    As an example, let’s look at the Berlusconi sex scandal. When it happened US and UK newspapers predicted his sudden downfall, because such a scandal (or a milder one) for a US or UK politician would mean the end. Berlusconi didn’t fall, so these same newspapers started arguing that it was because Italians like macho politicians. The idea that in Italy sex scandals are good for jokes but not for political fight didn’t cross their minds.

    • marknesop says:

      Hi, Giuseppe! Sex scandals resonate in the USA because heartland America is often deeply religious; much more so than you fallen Europeans. A European caught in a sex scandal might be appraised as a bit of a shit in terms of his commitment to his family, but it wouldn’t necessarily affect his overall judgment or leadership. Especially in a country of footloose lovers like Italy. In the USA, God doesn’t cut a guy much slack if he sleeps around on his wife, and they prefer their presidents married.

      I maintain Bush Jr. was disliked on a phenomenal scale. U.S. conservatives have always been quite different from their European counterparts, but American conservatives like Reagan were quite popular in Europe. Americans in general are very different from Europeans, but Americans and their values were also quite popular in Europe before Bush, and were decidedly less so during his presidency. Americans liked to claim anti-Americanism was widespread, and that other countries “hated them for their freedoms”, but few actually disliked Americans before Bush’s Iraqi Adventure – and the inhabitants of Scandinavian countries traditionally enjoyed a great deal more personal freedom than Americans, and nobody hated them.

      That’s if you can believe surveys, which showed a definite reversal of America’s popularity worldwide during Bush’s presidency, and which itself reversed with his departure. That doesn’t necessarily mean he was a lousy leader, because Europe doesn’t know everything, but I personally agreed with them and the numbers are what they are.

      • Giuseppe Flavio says:

        Sure, Reagan was generally appreciated in Europe, while Bush is detested, the surveys you mention confirm what I remember. I think there are two reasons:
        1) During the Reagan era, Western Europe and the US were on the same side against the USSR, while during Bush Jr. there was a spat between the US and continental Europe, especially on the Iraq war. The US reaction to European disagreement over their policy, was offensive (the old, corrupt and coward Europe propaganda) and bordering on idiocy (the Freedom Fries).
        2) It looks like the US right has somewhat became more radicalized. After the Iranian 1979 revolution, Persian cats were not renamed Freedom cats. Perhaps it’s just an impression due to the Internet. During the Reagan era, news and facts about the US in Europe were mediated and filtered by the press, but today I can read them directly, and this has changed my perception.
        About Americans deep devoutness, I had read about it, but it was only in the Internet era that I realized how deep it is, and how different it is from European religiosity.
        The word “footloose” you’ve used reminds me of a 1984 US movie, where A city boy comes to a small town where rock music and dancing have been banned. When I first saw it, I thought that the dancing ban was totally unrealistic, just to give the hero an enemy to fight. Now I think differently.

        • marknesop says:

          Well, “Footloose” is a bit extreme, America isn’t really like that. Not any part of it I’ve ever seen, anyway. That’s the true heart of the Bible Belt, and even there some are reasonably tolerant. But it’s pretty easy to sell them on “God’s plan for America”, whatever you decide that might be.

          • Yalensis says:

            @Giuseppe, re “freedom fries”: I heard a funny story from that period, not sure if it is true or just joke: When Americans renamed “French fries” to “Freedom fries”, France retaliated by renaming “American cheese” to “Moron cheese”.
            @Mark: “Footloose” was not a complete myth. I know people from Texas who assure me that there are some local Baptist communities in rural Texas which actually DO forbid dancing. This got to be such a problem that when jazzercize fitness class was opened in local community center, many participants were unable to perform basic moves (like “step- tap”, etc.) because they had never been allowed to learn to dance.

            • Yalensis says:

              P.S. Many people have pointed out how ironic that these American fundamentalists seek to live their lives according to Old Testament, and yet are somewhat selective. For example, they will eat crabs and lobster, even though Old Testament clearly forbids shellfish. On other hand, “Footloose” type fundamentalists forbid dance, even though Old Testament clearly approves of dance (Exodus 15:20, Judges 11:34, Judges 21:21, I Samuel 21:11, II Samuel 6:14, and many others…) Go figure!

            • marknesop says:

              Oh, yes; I don’t dispute such anomalies exist. I’m just saying they are not the norm. There are fundamentalist communities in Canada, too; probably there are even pockets where sharia law prevails, I don’t know. Americans generally are very broadminded, tolerant and decent. Areas where they differ from Canadians (at least, in my opinion, and you will find individuals on both sides who are virtually interchangeable) is in their religiosity and aggressive patriotism. When I was a child, morning prayer and singing the national anthem were the standard (it was not a religious school), but that’s been gone for a long time. Maybe it still exists in religious schools, but I’ve never been to one, so I wouldn’t know. I was never taught that Canada was the greatest country in the world. Most Canadians probably think it is, but they’re not hyperpartisan about it – patriotism in Canada is quite understated, although it is present.

            • Giuseppe Flavio says:

              The French sure have a fine sense of humor!

            • marknesop says:

              That is funny. I hadn’t heard the “moron cheese” story, but it would stand to reason France would be annoyed at such a childish gesture. I recall there was a lot of talk about boycotting French products, too, and a list was circulated by internet. It didn’t gain a lot of ground, because the hardcore patriots who would refuse to buy Louis Vuitton luggage usually couldn’t afford it. Rich Americans are often considerably more pragmatic.

              I remember seeing news clips of Americans pouring French wine into the gutters, matched by clips of French pouring Coca-Cola into the gutters. The idea that American exports might actually suffer probably cooled tempers like nothing else could have done. The comical part is that Dominique de Villepin’s speech to the United Nations hours before the kickoff of the Iraq debacle was startlingly accurate in its predictions, and made it clear none of it needed to happen. France was right.

              • Yalensis says:

                Of course France was right! The French have been doing this for a very long time. They are smart and sophisticated people. Americans should have listened to them! 🙂

            • Misha says:

              Shortly after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, there were media clips of American bar and restaurant owners pouring liquid from Stoli bottles into the gutter. Even before the Soviet invasion, a number of American bar and restaurant establishments didn’t offer Stoli for politically motivated reasons. I wonder if the poured contents were Stoli vodka or water?

              Canadian patriotism is evident at international ice hockey matches in a way that’s not generally obnoxious. Following Canada’s stunning loss at the recent IIHF men’s world junior championship game, a number of Canadian observers chided the arrogant attitude of Canadians expecting to win as a sort of natural right of passage. As discussed earlier at another thread at this blog, the Canadian mass media coverage of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic figure skating controversy had patriotic aspects, which challenged the idea of being relatively objectivity. That aspect was also present in the US, with NBC adopting the Canadian figure skating duo in question as representing “North America,” in the build-up to the competition.

              • marknesop says:

                I like to think we don’t mind losing to a better team, because that’s what you’d expect to happen unless you got lucky (and you can never overrate the value of luck in pro sports). In that particular case, we were outplayed by a team that wouldn’t stay dead, and who doesn’t love that kind of spirit? Canada beat that team easily on their previous meeting, and they fell into the trap of believing that’s the way it’d always be. As soon as you start telling yourself, “Man, I’m good”, you’re asking for a smackdown. There’ll be a next time – there always is.

                • Misha says:

                  Tied at 3 after two periods, the first game they played in that tournament wasn’t so easy. The Russians in that game showed signs of considerable ability. The final of that game being a 6-3 Canadian win.

                  A close score isn’t always indicative of a closely played match. Conversely the score of another match having a greater difference isn’t always indicative of such a lop-sided played game. Ice hockey and football (soccer) are two games where quirky things can and have happened – leading to greater chances for an upset.

                  Going into the championship game won by Russia – Canada out-classed all of its opponents, while the Russians lost their second game (to Sweden if I’m not mistaken). The Russians also had two consecutive cardiac comeback wins against Finland and Sweden in the lead-up to the championship game with Canada. These kind of close games can take a good deal out of a team.

                  That background led me to believe the following odds:

                  1. Canada winning a close one

                  2. a tie between Russia winning close or Canada winning by more than two goals.

                  In that championship game, Canada came out smoking in the first period, taking a 2-o lead if I correcetly recall. As the game progressed, Russia started to hold its own gaining confidence.

                  Barring any key questionable call by an official and/or dirty play of an opponent: ideally, after losing a tough game, the losing side is frustrated, while acknowledging that they have no one to blame but themselves. That described situation is what Canada experienced.

                  I’m of the impression that the USSR was somewhat the same after losing to the US and winning silver in the 1980 Olympic ice hockey tournament. In a documentary, oone of the Soviet coaches said that Brezhnev (at a party that included the mostly Russian Soviet players) was in a: don’t worry, think positive about the future mode.

                  Canada’s chances in the next IIHF world junior men’s championship tournament look good.

          • Giuseppe Flavio says:

            I’m not saying that such bans are the norm in the US countryside. I understand they’re the exception, but years ago I thought that even these exception were impossible, and Footloose looked totally unrealistic.
            I wonder if such bans are constitutional, and if someone has contested them with the US supreme court

        • Misha says:

          This rather famous movie depicts a lack of tolerance among some (stress some) Americans:

          • Yalensis says:

            Hi, Misha: I have seen this movie (“Easy Rider”). I know it is considered great classic movie, but I still find it disturbing. For me, most disturbing scene is when Jack Nicholson is verbally harrassing waitress in diner; yet his rudeness is presented as if it is a good thing (= act of personal liberation). Me, I am almost always on the side of working people. Plus, in my experience, if you want to receive a good meal, it never pays to be abusive to wait-staff! 🙂

    • Yalensis says:

      Hi, Giuseppe: I get the impression that Italians have a much healthier (and more tolerant) attitude about sex than Americans do!

      • Giuseppe Flavio says:

        Hi Yalensis,
        I can’t say it is healthier, but surely it’s different. To me the US attitude toward sex is contradictory. On the one hand, in the US a sex scandal is a nuclear weapon in politics, prostitution is illegal in most of the country and the TV rarely shows nudity. On the other hand, they have the largest porn industry of the planet and you can find whorehouses on yellow pages.
        To be fair, these whorehouses aren’t advertised for what they really are, but are somewhat disguised. For example, when I was in Tucson in 1998 I saw on yellow pages a “Dancing club” with “beautiful dancers of pure American race” (whatever it means) and a pic of the supposed dancers (two blondes with a whorish look and a skimpy leather suit) that made clear what kind of “dance” they performed.

        • Yalensis says:

          “Pure American race” ???
          I don’t believe there is such a thing!

          • Roobit says:

            why pure American race is a race in which Fords, Chevrolets and other shoddily made low quality pieces of auto junk are allowed to participate. Though American race could never be racy, unlike Italian one, ince most of those things are nowadays imported from Japan and Korea, so the race is certainly no longer pure.

            • Yalensis says:

              Ha! That’s pretty funny, Roobit.
              But if you really want to see American large pieces of junk going at each other, you should watch something they call “Monster Truck Rally”.

    • Misha says:

      If I’m not mistaken in recollection, there’s at least one commentary noting how Netanyahu can have an out of marriage relationship which would bring a US politician down.

      • Giuseppe Flavio says:

        You’re not mistaken.
        In 1993, during an infamous prime-time interview on Israel’s Channel 1 – later nicknamed the “torrid tape affair” – Netanyahu confessed to having an extra-marital affair. The confession, he later said, was prompted by what he called “the vicious attempt by one individual in the Likud to blackmail him for political gain.” link.
        In Germany there is a rumor that, when the government was moved from Bonn to Berlin, a few thousands prostitutes followed.

        • Misha says:

          On social attitudes, Israel is a mix where a kosher diet and an Orthodox religious observance can include having out of marriage sex with shiksas.

          I understand that Tel Aviv has a reputation similar to NYC. Outdoor barbecue pork chops on the sabbath not being so uncommon.

  6. Petri Hekkala says:

    While I agree that Derzko is a nutcase we should not also underestimate the problems that Russia has and will continue to have with North Caucasus and immigrants of North Caucasus elsewhere in Russia.

    This is Russia’s weak underbelly and it has a potential to destabilize Russia. Too many separatists, islamic terrorists and criminal groups in that area.

    The only effective manner to solve the problem would be genocide, but the current Russian government will not go for that direction. Another option would be to deport all North Caucasus immigrants from Russia proper back to their mountains, but that would be a difficult thing to do as well.

    The only realistic options for Russia is to put up with the situation or let North Caucasus go. I’m afraid the terrorist acts will continue in any case.

    • marknesop says:

      What you say may be true, but I’d submit it’s a problem Russia cannot solve as long as the terrorist groups are receiving support and encouragement from the west in exchange for destabilizing Russia. As others have suggested – if Russia were to let the Caucasus go, the fight would only move to the border with Russia proper, as the Islamic fundamentalists laboured to free their brothers in Russia.

      I’d like to see proof the west is funding and supporting terrorist groups in the Caucasus. It’s long been suggested, but I haven’t seen any evidence, although the western press often gives Chechen “independence movements” sympathetic coverage. Real proof would be explosive.

    • Yalensis says:

      I have more optimistic attitude. I believe at least 50% or more of North Caucasus residents, including Muslims, would like to stay in Russian Federation. So, Russia cannot throw all these people under the bus just because a violent minority attempts to blackmail them with explosions in Moscow. Obviously, citizens of these republics want changes: more law and order, less corruption, effective police, etc. And Russia herself will have to pay the price: lots of money invested in region, etc. They are already talking about investing big bucks to build ski resorts, this will provide economic development, jobs and tourism. If this strategy works, maybe eventually political equilibrium could be achieved. I think Russian leadership would not be opposed to granting more political autonomy to these regions, if they felt more comfortable that West was not interfering. If West wanted to help, they could do what Abkhazian government has already requested of them: investments and assistance with benign projects like education, hospitals, etc.

      • Yalensis says:

        P.S. Re. proof that Western governments support terrorist groups: By definition such proof is virtually impossible. If such covert support were going on, it would be conducted by secret services which, by nature, are very good at keeping secrets. This is why so frustrating: almost impossible to get at real truth, and as a result, conspiracy theories flourish everywhere.

      • Roobit says:

        “I believe at least 50% or more of North Caucasus residents, including Muslims, would like to stay in Russian Federation” while about 90% of Russian (meaning European, Great Russian and Christian) population of the country want them to go.

        • Chrisius Imperator Maximus Potensque says:

          That’s actually complete bullshit and not what Russians want, but what you want, and you’re fucking weird.

    • Roobit says:

      I agree with Petri Hekkala but would add a disclaimer. The current situation is only possible because Russian government refuses to discriminate, refuses to impose internal movement controls and refuses, in practical sense, it refuses to allow any kind of self-government / democracy ( though democracy is a dirty word, God save us from the horrors of democracy as US founders said on so many occasions) but the truth of the matter is if Russian people were permitted to decide who can buy property and who can’t (the Austrians and the Swiss have that right – they can decide who can live in their community and who can’t), should Northern Caucasus be in or out, or what should be done about (forced movement, genocide, indefinite continuation of tribute payments), the situaion would be quite different. Today’s Russia is a state which government and business of governance is business, a state where the state is in poor state and is usurped by more or less a parasiticial pro-American junta, a state that is centralized, Moscow is a virtual nation on its own, there are a few privileged cities like Putinburg but the rest of the country has nothing in common with those; note that so far (Gott sei dank) the terrorists targeted only Moscow, a city most Russians don’t consider their own; governors and the like are dependent on ethnic mafias and government itself is more or less a resource based geschäft with very absolutely no national interest being at the heart of things. Russia is not a priority of people who run (who usurped power and resources) in Russia. So whatever happens in Caucasus and the terrorist menace is treated on contingency basis. It seems to be that any form of self-rule, self-government or risk of deprivatization in the natural resource sector or any democratically driven reform is perceived as far greater danger than the terrorists and their activities.

  7. Roobit says:

    “if Russia were to let the Caucasus go, the fight would only move to the border with Russia proper, as the Islamic fundamentalists laboured to free their brothers in Russia.” – it is always easier to defend a defined border or defensive line than to fight a non-winnable perpetual sort of war, not really, against fundamentalists in your midst.

    • marknesop says:

      “…it is always easier to defend a defined border or defensive line than to fight a non-winnable perpetual sort of war…against fundamentalists in your midst.”

      Really? How is it easier? The theoretical border formed if the Caucasus went would be just a line. As far as I can imagine, Russia would not fortify it with military cities it couldn’t afford to support any more than it can now. If the campaign of the fundamentalists has western support – which cannot at present be proven – Caucasian independence would be a huge success, and the urge to build upon it by keeping the pressure on would be irresistible. Fundamentalist raids across the border and terrorist attacks inside Russia would continue, using the excuse that Islamic brothers inside Russia now wanted their freedom (unless Russia were willing to force all Caucasians living outside the Caucasus to return there, which would in its own way be a PR harvest for the west).

      A border that is just an imaginary line is no easier to defend against a terrorist group that does not fight in neat battalions than was the previous situation; especially if the commitment is to push that line further and further into Russia, keeping it off-balance and destabilized.

      • cartman says:

        If their citizenship transferred to the Islamic emirate or whatever, then they are no longer Russian citizens and would have to return the Caucasus. I know the west has been saying the same about Russians in the Baltics. However, no Russian to my knowledge has ever blown up a market, a subway, a concert, an airplane, a childrens’ school, a hospital, and airport, a theatre, etc, in – say – Estonia.

    • grafomanka says:

      It would be really ironic if Russia – practically a surveillance state controlled by security services, was forced to give up a big chunk of it’s territory by some Doku Umarov’s from the jungle.
      So why all this power, all this secrecy, if they can’t protect people or stabilize the country. Epic fail.

      • Yalensis says:

        @grafomanka: Well, you are right about Russian government incompetence, of course. But I am maybe a tad more charitable towards security services. They did, after all, eventually catch and kill Basaev, so I am hopeful they can get Doku Umarov as well. And “what about” Americans – they never caught bin Laden either. Came close at Tora Bora, but close gets you no cigar.
        Agree it is maddening to watch this ape perched on his mountain hut taunting Russian people and threatening with more bloodshed. Started seeing on the news yesterday that Umarov took responsibility for, and bragged about, Domodedovo. He made a videotape before the attack, posing with the future “martyr”, who turned out to be an Ingush (not a Dagestani, as was originally surmised). And for the first time, Umarov actually stated his demands (that “Russia leave the Caucusus”). Here is one link there are many others:
        “Террорист подчеркнул, что он может проводить операции там, где хочет и когда хочет, в том числе и “более глубокие и более агрессивные”. “Но я хотел бы, чтобы не проливалось так много крови, чтобы не приносили такие огромные жертвы – я хотел бы, чтобы Россия одумалась, чтобы Россия покинула Кавказ…»
        Translation: “The terrorist [leader] underscored that he is able to conduct operations wherever and whenever he wants…. ‘I want Russia to think about leaving the Caucasus..’ “
        I think most Russians, when they are presented with this kind of blackmail, will actually toughen up rather than give in. As in, “Oh, so want me to leave? In that case, I’ll stay, and I’ll show you….” The only other option is to say: “Okay, Doku, you win. You get to be one-man ruler of all Caucasus. Just please don’t hurt us any more.”
        If majority of Caucasians truly wanted Russians to leave and have political independence, then they would have to adopt tactics of mass non-violent disobedience (a la Gandhi). That is the only way to really get rid of Russians. But that isn’t going to happen, because I am absolutely convinced majority there simply don’t want to live in totalitarian Wahhabi emirate ruled by scum like Doku Umarov. Can you even imagine what daily life would be like under such a ruler? By comparison, people would yearn for “good old days” of Putin authoritarian regime.

        • grafomanka says:

          I think in Caucasus politics is brutal because all politics there emanates from clans rather than individual rights. The Wahhabi faction is the most violent, and most determined to destroy peace. They are also the most foreign, since their backing comes (allegedly) from Saudi Arabia [not a big fan of idea that ‘the west’ sponsors Caucasians separatists, however it cannot be ruled out].
          If I remember correctly there is even a discord among the insurgents – some want independence from Russia but do not support Caucasus emirate or anything of the sort. Also a lot of terrorists attacks inside the Caucasus are just a form of power struggle among local clans etc

          I agree with you that majority of Caucasians don’t want a totalitarian Wahhabi emirate, but because of poverty and inequality there is a sense of injustice among them, which pushes many people towards those radical ideas.

        • Giuseppe Flavio says:

          It would be really strange for a country that withstand the German army and won, to concede victory to some Doku Umarov “Emir of the Caucasus”. On Mark Galeotti’s blog there is an interesting analysis of Umorov’s claim that he ordered the attack.

          • marknesop says:

            Yes, that is an interesting piece, and Galeotti knows Caucasus politics like, I venture to say, no other English-language blogger. I agree with his suggestion that Umarov probably had nothing to do with it, although the honour-among-thieves, terrorist etiquette angle was fascinating. I thought every terrorist group jumped on every atrocity for which they could reasonably be responsible, just as a reflex – I had no idea you had to get in contact with the actual perpetrators (if it wasn’t you) and solicit permission to claim credit. See – if I had chosen a life of terrorism instead of the life I did choose, I would have blown it right out of the gate.

            I hope Galeotti is right that Umarov is fighting for his political life, for two reasons. For one, it’ll remind him what treacherous snakes he’s doing business with, and that establishing a Caucasian Emirate might be a little harder than he thought, owing to the apparent popularity of the leader’s position – everybody wants to kill him so they can be him. Two, it’ll keep him busy warding off threats to his Emir-throne, and there’s always the chance one of them will do him in. As I mentioned on Eugene Ivanov’s blog (he has another good, thought-provoking piece up) it would do Medvedev’s re-election campaign no end of good to put Umarov’s head on a stick at the gates of Moscow.

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