It’ll all be clear in hindsight…

November 25th, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink

I told myself I should write something about the economic crisis, to clarify my bewildered head. There’s no shortage of detailed news from the front lines, but this feels like one of the rare cases where understanding the detail doesn’t lead to understanding the whole. Or maybe that’s just my lack of a finance background speaking.
Last week, for , I read through a series of Esprit articles on the subject, economists and intellectuals lining up to fit it into their schemas. Day by day, I read newspaper articles on the latest twists and turns, listen to the podcasts from NPR. Each level makes a sort of sense in its own terms (there’s much I’m sceptical about, but I’m too ignorant to join in the arguments at a higher level than parroting the last thing I read). But somehow, I can’t fit both the details and the big picture into my head at once.
Probably that’s good: in a few years, the party lines will have been retrospectively drawn up, we’ll all know who to label heroes and villains. For now, we’re all as baffled as each other.

Appreciation of marketing

January 7th, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink

This is the only article I’ve read on the US presidential elections which hasn’t been a waste of time. Briefly, Obama is more fond of behavioral economics than Clinton. Therefore she wants small targeted changes that have the most effect cheaply; he is suspicious of policies which rely on everybody being a rational actor, fully informed about government policy. Why hasn’t anybody else mentioned that?
On a vaguely-related topic, I find it fascinating watching the campaign idly from afar, and so being on the outer reaches of massive, smart media campaigns. They twist everything I read so thoroughly hat I end up with firm feelings about the candidates, without (barring the article above and maybe two or three others) having the faintest idea what they stand for. The only thing that comes close is Apple’s marketing, which is perfectly capable of convincing me that I need an iWhatever even when the rational part of my head knows it’s overpriced rubbish.

Westminster’s map

November 27th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

[Update: I finally got round to adding legends to the maps]
Which countries get talked about in parliament? With data from [They Work For You](http://www.theyworkforyou.com), I’ve put together these maps of where MPs like to talk about. Here’s the number of mentions a country has had in parliament recently, adjusted for population:



< - Few mentions _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Many mentions->

Looking at this, I’m actually surprised at how globally-minded Parliament is. Sudan (pop. 34.2 million) gets 2,302 mentions; Germany (pop. 82.5 million) has only 3,695 mentions in parliament.
Far from being ignored, Africa actually gets mentioned well beyond its economic importance to the UK. South America, on the other hand, is basically ignored.
Then there’s the size bias: small countries get more mentions than big ones, once you adjust for population. Look at Mongolia: Westminster, it seems, finds Mongolians immensely more important than Chinese. The bias can partly be discounted as a problem with measurement: parliament is prone to lists of foreign relations and trade issues, for instance, which mention every country regardless of how small it is. Also, it’s possible MPs talk about areas within China or India, which I wouldn’t have picked up on.
But there’s more to it: larger countries really do get short-changed in the attention we give them. China has a population perhaps 150 times larger than than of Bolivia – but we don’t hear anything like 150 times as much news from China. We’re all biased by imagining a world made up of nations, and giving the same weight to nations of all sizes. Small islands got discussed an incredible amount – particularly places in the news, like Tuvalu and the Pitcairns, but others as well.

» Read the rest of this entry «

November 20th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

The US lifts some restrictions on uclear cooperation with India.
Yes, I know this looks like some kind of proxy war, where the US backs India and China backs Pakistan – but it isn’t. China is far more pragmatic than that – they want trade, they want oil, and they aren’t interested in petty power politics. So they don’t have a problem supporting India and Pakistan. No doubt Hu’s visit to India today will lead to the announcement of some big industrial project or other – and then he’ll move on to Pakistan and do the same again.

Slamming just says “let’s not fight”

November 16th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

When [Radio Free Europe](http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/11/678c546b-425c-450c-ae5a-cfd9879a166d.html) report that “Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze today slammed the [Commonwealth of Independent States](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commonwealth_of_independent_states)“, they’re missing the point slightly. The news isn’t that Georgia dislikes the CIS (we know that already), but that they aren’t doing anything about it. ‘Slamming’ is a de-escalation, not an escalation, compared to their other options.
If Georgia wanted to cause trouble, they would be trying to leave the CIS. That’s [what the opposition want](http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=13874), and what Russia is afraid of: this summit was due to be held last month, at the height of Georgian-Russian anger, but Russia arranged a [postponement](http://mosnews.com/news/2006/10/10/cissummit.shtml) to avoid a rash pullout by Georgia.
Leaving the CIS is one of the few weapons Georgia has against Russia: the organisation represents the last vestige of Moscow’s control over its ‘near abroad’, but is being held together with chewing gum and bits of string. To the East it’s being eclipsed by the [Shanghai Cooperation Organization](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanghai_Cooperation_Organization), and to the West by [GUAM](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GUAM). Since these can fulfil most of the functions of an international talking shop, nobody except Russia has an interest in keeping the CIS running. If Georgia left, it could plausibly bring down the whole house of cards.
But the Georgians are being smart. If they actially leave the CIS, they lose a barganing chip and don’t gain much beyond the joy of watching Russia suffer. Much better to turn up, [refuse to pay membership fees](http://www.itar-tass.com/eng/level2.html?NewsID=10988607&PageNum=0), grandstand about Russia’s crimes, and [keep that threat on the table](http://www.regnum.ru/english/740070.html):
>“We are here to make sure once again if we have any reasons to stay in the organization, or it has no future,” Burjanadze announced.
Along with the recent replacement of the Defence Minister, this seems to be part of a very sensible pattern of de-escalation by Georgia.

How Pakistan wins in Central Asia

November 9th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Pakistan is quietly setting itself up to do very well out of Central Asia, slightly underneath the radar. Despite being a significant power it itself, militarily and population-wise, Pakistan’s playing the typical game of the small state. It’s piggybacking on the aspirations of China, America, and even India, being bankrolled and supported by them without ever quite becoming a client state.
###China and the oil
China is famously desperate for oil, and Pakistan is doing well by helping it get at what’s in Central Asia. At the core of this is [Gwadar](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwadar), a fishing village that Pakistan is furiously turning into a port and transport hub – funded by over $400m of Chinese money. It might be a [grim place to visit](http://www.time.com/time/asia/2004/journey/pakistan.html), but it’s also the site of a fascinating convergence of superpowers.
Remember the [oil pipeline through Afghanistan](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Afghanistan_Pipeline) – the one some people claimed was behind the US invasion of Afghanistan? That was going to end up in Gwadar – and still will, if it ever goes ahead. It might end up being extended at both ends, to Azerbaijan and India, with Pakistan sitting happily in the middle taking transit fees. If that pipeline doesn’t come off (building anything through Afghanistan seems pretty dubious), there’s another one waiting in the wings: the Iran-Pakistan-India gas route – which would again go through Gwadar.
China has been [considering](http://pakobserver.net/200609/04/news/topstories12.asp?txt=Gwadar-China%20oil%20pipeline%20study%20underway) building another pipeline on from Gwadar into China – and even if that doesn’t happen, they’ll be able to ship oil out by sea.
Meanwhile the Chinese are building one railway to connect Gwadar to the [Karakoram Highway](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karakoram_highway), have already [built](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makran_Coastal_Highway) a road linking it to Karachi, and are looking at linking it to Iran.
So, China gets a little more energy security, Pakistan gets road, railways, a new port, earnings from transit fees, and Chinese interest in keeping Pakistan stable.
###America and the Taliban
Then there’s America – an even clearer case of Pakistan selling off its foreign policy, but getting a good proce for it. In September 2001 Musharraf managed to spin Pakistan’s foreign policy 180 degrees, abandon the Taliban, and let the American army use Pakistan to invade Afghanistan. And boy, were they rewarded – with [money](http://www.guardian.co.uk/pakistan/Story/0,2763,984792,00.html), with [weapons](http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A800-2005Mar25.html), with a [trade deal](http://www.bilaterals.org/article.php3?id_article=282) and with general support for the regime.
###India
Pakistan can’t use quite the same approach to dealing with its greatest enemy – but even here there are pragmatic elements. It’s just that here Pakistan’s deal-makers are competing with the populists and the nationalists, and they only come out on top some of the time.
Let’s take the populists first. India-bashing always goes down well, and if there’s an election coming up the politicians will say some nasty things about India. But this isn’t all that important: sometimes politicians get boxed in by their rhetoric and forced to do something, sometimes talking tough affects the situation by itself – but in general, the grandstanding doesn’t amount to much.
More important is the body of nationalistic, paranoid, anti-Indian opinion which dominates Pakistans army and [intelligence services](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inter-Services_Intelligence). These are the people who got Pakistan involved in supporting the Taliban to provide ‘Strategic Depth’ – that is, having friendly space for Pakistan’s army to regroup in the face of an attack from India, and avoiding India and her allies encircling Pakistan. These people get nervous when they see India [stationing a dozen MiG-29 fighter planes in Tajikistan](http://www.tribuneindia.com/2006/20060422/main6.htm)
But then there’s the third group, who want to cut the same kind of deal with India as they’ve made with China and the US. That is, let India use Pakistan as a route to Central Asia (and Iran, in this case), and on the back of that get money and an Indian interest in keeping Pakistan stable. The big avenue for this is a proposed [gas pipeline](http://www.iags.org/n0115042.htm) running from Iran to India, through Pakistan. From that idea, it’s only a short step to getting India a share of what comes off any pipeline between Turkmenistan and Pakistan. When gas is involved, even the arch-enemy can be turned into a friend.
###Keeping everybody happy
It’s not easy keeping three superpowers in bed together, but Pakistan is navigating through the straits pretty well. The US didn’t like the look of China’s involvement in Gwadar – they saw it as a listening post and a way for China to project naval power into the Arabian sea. So they leant on Pakistan to push China out of the deal. What did Pakistan do? They raised the price of Chinese involvement, [demanding](http://www.india-defence.com/reports/1056) $1.5bn per year from Beijing. So Islamabad turns a conflict into a win: either China coughs up and they’re in the money, or they back out and the US takes over Gwadar (which they’d find useful for browbeating Iran and for supplying trops in Iraq)
When Pakistan chooses to defy the superpowers, it can, because every power involved has an interest in propping up the Musharraf government. Most obviously, the US is still relying on their support in the War on Terror. But nobody wants to see a nuclear power in civil war, and both China and (especially) India know that a disintegrating Pakistan is infinitely worse than a stable Pakistan.
###Going it alone?
Apart from being everybody’s accomplice, is Pakistan getting involved in Central Asia? Well, they’ve tried a little, but not enough for anybody to care much. According to [RAND](http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2006/RAND_MG440.pdf):
> In the early 1990s, many Pakistani firms and the Bank of Pakistan moved into the region expecting rapid liberalization and acceptance of their services. After attempting to conduct business in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan for several years, many firms re-sorted to looking for an exit strategy.1
Pakistan’s government has made a few [attempts](http://www.jang.com.pk/thenews/apr2005-daily/29-04-2005/business/b2.htm) at promoting business in Central Asia, but it’s mostly trivia. In 2003-4, Pakistan’s exports to Central Asia and the Caucasus amounted to just 1.2bn rupees – or slightly over US$20m!
There’s no much worth mentioning militarily, either: Pakistan’s army may be the 7th largest in the world, but it’s pointed entirely at India. The ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence service) reputedly has agents all over the region, but they don’t exactly do a great deal. In the past they were accused of stirring up Islamist movements in Uzbekistan and elsewhere, but that was mostly a by-product of what was happening in Afghanistan – and has stopped since 2001 in any case. It doesn’t matter much, because Pakistan is doing far better from helping superpowers than it could do by itself.

History of printing

November 8th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

This post is brought to you by the awestruck feeling of finding yet another underexplored bit of world history….
We all know Gutenberg wasn’t the first person to experiment with movable type; it had been tried in China before. What I hadn’t realised was just how international the world was first time round.
One of the first examples of movable type comes from the [Tangut Empire](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tangut_Empire). They were printing in a [language](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tangut_language) unrelated to Chinese, written in a script inspired by Chinese characters – but with a set of 6000+ totally different logograms.
And some of the first texts that they tried to print like this were buddhist text translated from Sanskrit (possibly via Tibetan).
So: this culture created a writing system inspired by the Chinese, a religion from India, and out of them developed movable type 400-odd years before Gutenberg. Impressive, no?
But, there’s a flaw. Movable type makes a lot less sense with 6000 characters than it does with an alphabet of 30-something. So for the most part, they just printed by carving wood-blocks, one per page. So when they created a Tangut version of the [Tripitaka](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tripitaka), the Buddhist scriptural canon, they used 130,000 blocks. Most of them are now in London or St. Petersburg, having been raided by people like Aurel Stein. Here are some papers on Tangut history and language.

[The picture is a fragment from a written Tangur text of the Platform Sutra, taken from the British Library]

Yurt-blogging

November 8th, 2006 § 3 comments § permalink

You’ll only find [one article](http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/11/03/wkryg03.xml) on it in the British broadsheets, but Kyrgyzstan has spent the past five days in the middle of massive, peaceful anti-government demonstrations. The protesters are principally calling for a change in the constitution to reduce the power of the president, but they also want to get rid of the President, [Kurmanbek Bakiyev](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurmanbek_Bakiyev) and Prime Minister [Felix Kulov](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_Kulov).
I love watching the role of blogs in all this. [Edil Baisalov](http://baisalov.livejournal.com) the protesters’ unofficial spokesman, is posting frequent (Russian) updates on Livejournal – from a yurt outside the parliament building. Meanwhile Yulia at [New Eurasia](http://kyrgyzstan.neweurasia.net/) is keeping up a commentary from the opposite side, very critical of the opposition and worried that repeated coups will turn the country into a banana republic. Even Kyrgyz news agency AKIpress has turned to livejournal: they were having trouble keeping their site up, so they set up a livejournal and started posting reports up there.
If you want to follow what’s going on in English: here are news updates, analysis from people outside the country here and here. Currently [Eurasianet](http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav110706.shtml#) is reporting that things have started to turn violent – here’s hoping for a compromise of some kind.

Memes: toxic in China

November 7th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Remember the Free Hugs meme? Somebody in Australia started hugging people in the streets, it spread to Russia, Italy, Taiwan, Korea, Poland, and pretty much the rest of the world.
Then, some people in Shanghai tried it – and were promptly arrested

Shanghai Free Hugs

Before the arrest, presumably

The huggers were released after a couple of hours, but still: a big ‘meh!’ to the Chinese police
[cross-post from livejournal]

The moral majority don’t care

November 5th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

This US opinion poll analysis is interesting: apparently religious whites have basically the same political priorities as everybody else. They “do not tend to list moral or values issues as their top priorities at all“.

Georgia, still

November 3rd, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

In lieu of content about Georgia, here’s some of what other people have been saying…

The News

  • Russia’s anti-Georgia measures have cost Georgia 1.5% of its GDP, and 17% of its export markets, according to the Georgian Prime Minister. That’s including the wine ban earlier in the year – but presumably not including the remittances sent home by Georgian workers in Russia, which would push the figure much higher.
  • The media always faithfully reports diplomatic visits like the time Georgian foreign minister Gela Bezhuashvili spent in Moscow this week, but I find it pretty hard to get excited about them. Anyway, Putin refused to meet Bezhuashvili, who in turn went on the radio and threatened to veto Russia’s WTO entry.
  • Russia is threatening to double the price of gas supplies to Georgia (RFE/RL,BBC)
  • Eurasianet reports on Georgia’s attempts to accommodate the deportees
  • Foreign policy carries a surprisingly lightweight article from Jon Sawyer. He argues that the US “has helped to fuel this crisis: by showering Georgia with cash and praise, by extending the promise of NATO membership, and by standing silent as Saakashvili and his government made ever rasher attacks on Russia

The blogs

Vilhelm Konnander had an excellent post on Georgia a fortnight ago. He turns up a recent opinion poll saying that 61% of Russians consider Georgia “a bandit state”.

Registan also has plenty of posts on Georgia, and DJ Drive is still at it, blogging both in English and Russian. This translation from Kommersant seemed particularly interesting:

The Kommersant Daily speculates that Andrei Illarionov, ex senior advisor and an outspoken critic of Putin’s economic policies (which include arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky), might become the next economics advisor for the president of Georgia.

Illarionov, who recently has been hired by Cato Institute, a US libertarian economics think-tank, visited Tbilisi a few days ago to participate in “Freedom, Commerce & Peace: A Regional Agenda” international conference and, according to Kommersant, was invited for a dinner with president Saakashvili.

Defending the Russian nation

November 2nd, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

[DJDrive](http://djdrive.livejournal.com) points out this wonderful satire on the Russian crackdown on Georgian immigrants:

Georgia’s treachery almost took Russians by surprise. To prevent that from happening again, Vlast analytical weekly has prepared a guide to Russia’s neighbors and methods of combating them…There are recommendations for every country that will minimize their evil influence no less effectively than canceling the performances of dace ensembles and expelling schoolchildren whose last names end with –dze and –shvili.

Their suggestions include:

  • Lithuania: Stop using words that end in the Lithuanian-like –as (Honduras, for example).
  • China: Make popularizing feng shui a misdemeanor
  • Finland: Charge sauna users with immoral behavior.
  • Japan: Revive article 219, part 1, of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR, which made studying karate a criminal offense.
  • USA: Discover that the bubbles in American soft drinks do not conform to the laws of nature.
  • Poland: Finance research on the negative effects on the public of having twins in high government positions
  • Norway: Prohibit Nobel Peace Prize winners from entering Russia
  • Uzbekistan: Declare plov inedible
  • Turkmenistan: Infiltrate Turkmenistan with illegal operatives who will give the local population gold teeth and karaoke machines, both of which are prohibited in Turkmenistan. [too easy, this one, isn’t it?]

IHT makes LJ look calm

October 28th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Wow. The International Herald Tribune wades into the fray over Six Apart’s deal with Sup over Russian livejournal, and comes down firmly on the side of paranoia:


What’s so pernicious about the deal is that it replicates the very Kremlin model that poisoned the rest of the Russian media.

The argument is that Sup is a Kremlin hack (dolboeb, “a former associate of Gleb Pavlovsky, the Kremlin’s spindoctor”), backed by an oligarch (Aleksandr Mamut), and that therefore they are obviously going to turn the abuse team into politicial censorship. Therefore, “the days of the Russian blogosphere buzzing with criticial opinions are numbered“.
Well, the IHT has certainly managed to make bloggers look like a picture of reason and calmness, compared to foreign correspondents in the MSM. Much better commentary by Veronica at [Global Voices](http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/-/world/eastern-central-europe/russia/), and [Bradfitz’ list of complaints](http://community.livejournal.com/sup_ru/33527.html) about the deal is alternately sad and hilarious.

Dariga

October 28th, 2006 § 2 comments § permalink

Off on a different tangent today – dynastic politics in Kazakhstan. [Nathan Hamm](http://www.registan.net) and [Sean Roberts](http://roberts-report.blogspot.com/) are far better informed on the nitty gritty of Kazakh politics than I am. But there’s one bit that’s just too much fun to leave to the professionals: Dariga.
Dariga Nazarbayeva is the President’s daughter. She’s had a privileged life, and she’s run with it. Degree in history from MGU, PhD in politics, speaks four languages, even moonlights as an opera singer (how well is open to question). Yes, it’s easy to [go overboard](http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1307812,00.html) in singing her praises, and she can only do it because of daddy – but when did you last hear anything about her sisters, who have had lives just as charmed?
Anyway, the past few years Dariga has been managing her rise to power – with a lot more panache than most can muster. You’re never sure quite where she’s going to come from next. She started with the media, when daddy put her in charge of state media company Khabar. She’s no longer officially in charge, but there’s no doubt that a lot of journalists will do what she tells them to.
The reason she’s no longer officially running Khabar is that it conflicted with her move into politics. In December 2003 she founded the ASAR party. Different folks have different views on how much this was her decision, and how much she was playing puppet to her father. She [claims](http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1307812,00.html)

‘I was not forced to found this party….but there comes a moment when just to observe is dull because there is a a self-satisfaction in the pro-presidential camp which can turn to stagnation. The business and political elite is in crisis.
‘My father tried to convince me not to do this….But when I discussed with him my vision of his party, I told him: “I will be dealing with your team.” I want to take away this piece of cake from his party. The new party will involve real people, not state officials.’

But one pundit [said](http://www.iicas.org/2004en/publ_24_02.htm) at the time:

Big politics do not like impromptu actions, and any initiative not coordinated with political partners is punishable. Therefore, if the daughter is in the Asar party, then the father is also present there, but his presence is hidden! Asar is not a whim of the president’s daughter, it is a project of the whole Family, dictated by the need for new methods of retaining power.

Either way, her party was doing really rather well. It’s growing success made it likely that Dariga would eventually become Speaker of parliament – a position open to the head of the largest party, which carries with it the chance to replace the president if he dies. Then daddy decided to close down her political adventure, and arranged for her party to be merged into his own Otan party. Since then, she’s seemed desperate for some other route into the centre of politics.
What’s next? Her current fantasy seems to involve painting herself as a democratic reformer. She’s got the media nous to fake it to the West – look at her spot-on approach to the Borat affair (making a point of getting the joke), or the article “[Deja Vu](http://www.caravan.kz/article/?pid=11&aid=472)” that she wrote in March which combined revelations from the inner sanctum of Kazakh politics with the kind of angry rhetoric you’d expect from [Craig Murray](http://www.craigmurray.co.uk/) or a Western journalist.
And she’s making more substantive moves. And, as [Sean Roberts](http://roberts-report.blogspot.com/2006/10/are-miner-strikes-in-temirtau-merely.html) reports, she is becoming a champion of trades unions, supporting a group of striking miners. Then there’s her [involvement](http://roberts-report.blogspot.com/2006/10/husband-for-monarchy-wife-for.html) in a ‘commission for democratization’. But, again, nobody can tell how much this is Dariga, and how much it’s her father trying to paint a rosy picture of a reforming Kazakhstan.
In the end, everything Dariga does comes down to a question mark about her relationship with her father. He clearly gets his way when he wants to – witness the way he had her political party merged into his this summer. But the rest of the time, she can more or less get away with stirring things up (the ‘Deja Vu’ article is a good example).
One explanation is that Nursultan Nazarbayev wants Dariga to be powerful, but only as one person within a balance of power. This strategy makes sense given the political situation. The President’s power is pretty much unassailable – partly because of the constitution (Nazarbayev was re-elected for six years last december), but mostly because Nazarbayev is one of the smarter leaders in the region, and he’s made the GDP rise by something like 9% a year. If he can keep it that way, his position remains secure and the bloody battles move down a rung.
Dariga, along with her husband, is one of the blocs of power. (see [this analysis](http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/3/DB5B3199-34BD-4D3E-BD3F-8B74FC42000F.html) for a rundown of the rest). If she gets too powerful, she’ll be cut down to size. If she falls, she’ll be picked up. So she does what anybody would in those circumstances: she experiments.
More information: [Wikipedia](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dariga_Nazarbayeva), [Dariga’s own site](http://dariga.kz/fam1.php), [Taipei Times](http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/world/archives/2004/02/01/2003097047), and some [semi-official profile](http://www.eamedia.org/orgcom.php).

I’ve joined Global Voices

October 17th, 2006 § 2 comments § permalink

Since I’ve been reading so many Russian livejournals recently, I figured I should do something useful with it. So I’ve got involved in Global Voices, a blog translation project. The plan is that I’ll post occasional snippets from Russian blogs, once a month or so. Here’s my first post, translating a Georgian post about the treatment of Georgians in Russia.

Serbia and Georgia

October 16th, 2006 § 2 comments § permalink

If Russia decides to escalate the dispute with Georgia, one option is for it to recognize Abkhazia as an independent state. Abkhazia is [pushing](http://www.regnum.ru/english/722014.html) Russia to do just that.
What makes this a plausible scenario is Kosovo. From Russia’s perspective, the situation of Abkhazia within Georgia is parallel to that of Kosovo within Serbia: regions enjoying de facto autonomy within hostile states, and pushing for formal self-determination. In [Putin’s words](http://www.ft.com/cms/s/b55abaf4-dfc0-11da-afe4-0000779e2340.html):

“If someone believes that Kosovo should be granted full independence as a state, then why should we deny it to the Abkhaz and the South Ossetians?”

The implied ‘someone’ is the UN, where glacial negotiations are moving towards the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state. Russia is unlikely to let this through the UN without demanding a similar decision on Abkhazia. It might not even wait for Kosovo to come up at the UN – ten days ago, for instance, [Mikhail Gorbachev](http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/10/5b958386-975f-40ca-9824-90f0c1f1048f.html) wrote that the “logic of international development may lead Russia to a situation in which we will have no other choice but to recognize Abkhazia

October 14th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Russia has made a point of maintaining transport links to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, despite the blockade of Georgia. It’s something that Georgian politicians have complained bitterly about. Now they’re driving it home by sending a train to South Ossetia loaded with $741,000 of humanitarian aid. Behind this is Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who is even more energetic than Ken Livingstone in maintaining his own foreign policy agenda. Luzhkov calls the train “a symbol of Russian assistance to South Ossetia, which wants to live independently and not to obey those, who have subjected these people to genocide,

Russia puts on its best face for the UN

October 13th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Russia has made some apparently conciliatory moves towards Georgia this week – notably a [promise](http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/10/21d0a8f7-6bd1-47dc-bc8c-db532164fad4.html) of early withdrawal of the Russian troops based in Tbilisi.
Is this an olive branch to Georgia? No – it’s shrewd international politics. The UN has just passed a [resolution renewing the mandate of the UN observer mission in Georgia](http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2006/10/13/news/UN_GEN_UN_Georgia.php). Had Security Council members agreed with the EU’s (obviously correct, but politically awkward) [assessment](http://mosnews.com/news/2006/10/12/russiageorgia.shtml) that “Russia is not a neutral participant in the peacekeeping arrangements“, they could have produced a resolution limiting Russia’s role in Georgia. So, Russia keeps them sweet by making a concession – but notice that it is a concession that doesn’t require any immediate action. By the time it comes to remove the troops from Tbilisi, everybody except the Georgians will have forgotten what Russia promised.
Update: According to [Saakashvili](http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=13869),Russia was aiming for – and failed to get – two items included in the [resolution](http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2006/sc8851.doc.htm):

The first is unconditional denunciation of the Georgian police operation in the upper Kodori gorge that would have a serious legal force, and the second, restoration of the status quo, which existed in the gorge prior to this operation. It would have meant the withdrawal of the legitimate Abkhaz authorities from the Kodori gorge and renaming of the Kodori gorge,

More on Russian anti-Georgian events.

October 13th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

I tried to write a post on the high politics of the Russia-Georgia dispute, but I got sidetracked into the stuff that actually matters: the social impact of it all. There will be another post on Putin and Saakashvili throwing their toys at each other, but first, have something about the real people:
The politicians and pundits are talking up how bad things are. Saakashvili (Georgian president) calls it “a form of ethnic targeting not seen in Europe since the Balkans in the 1990s“, and to Bezuashvili (Georgian foreign minister) it is ‘_a mild form of ethnic cleansing_’. At Georgia Online, a columnist collects a list of recent anti-Georgian Russian headlines and comments “Replace ‘Georgian’ with ‘Jew’, change the date 2006 to 1933, and we fall back to Nazi Germany.
Certainly, things are bad. Newspaper Novaya Gazeta (employer of Anna Politkovskaya) has printed copies of letters Moscow police sent to local schools, demanding lists of Georgian students. The information required includes:


Relations of children of Georgian nationality with other pupils, cases of hostile relations between children, and such [hostile] relations toward them [i. e. Georgian children], facts about disobedience of Georgian children to teachers, facts of antisocial activities, and unlawful acts.

All this is “For the purpose of securing law and order and abidance of the law, the prevention of terrorist acts and aggressive feelings between children“. [Sean](http://seansrusskiiblog.blogspot.com/2006/10/moscow-police-documents-show-attempted.html) has full translations and commentary.
But, there is some good news. Many Russian bloggers are still trying to counter the anti-Georgian prejudice – the “[I am Georgian](http://ya-gruzin.ru/)” site is one of many examples. And it is striking that the anti-Georgian events in Russia haven’t been mirrored by anti-Russian events in Georgia. At Radio Free Europe, Jimsher Rekhviashvili [interviews](http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/10/2168b35e-cec0-4e67-9766-82089160b5a4.html) ethnic Russians living in Georgia. And finds…nothing. No mirror of the anti-Georgian sentiment in Russia. One says “ I continue to receive warmth and love, the lack of which I have never experienced from the Georgian people.“. Another says her friends in Russia “ call and ask us not to believe what we’re hearing. We are by your side, they say. We love Georgia and Georgians.

Paranoid conspiracy theories: not an American monopoly

October 11th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

I’m not sure how much [this](http://kbke.livejournal.com/3726214.html?style=mine)(RUS) is tongue in cheek, but it made me laugh:

Livejournal is spying on you!
American spies have developed a special search engine. It rummages through all livejournal posts, including locked ones, and adds politically dissident authors to a special list.
All personal information which you entrust to livejournal can be subjected to a political search.

Do you oppose interference of the secret services in personal life?
Do you oppose the illegal opening of internet postings?
Be sensible…don’t use Livejournal!

Seems the CIA aren’t content with [running Facebook](http://www.infowars.com/articles/bb/facebook_bb_with_a_smile.htm),and having the [NSA](http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19025556.200?DCMP=NLC-nletter&nsref=mg19025556.200) fund research into scraping social software sites 😉
Oh, and before anybody says it: yes, I’m sure the CIA do search through anything you put on LJ or anywhere else on the web. That is their job, isn’t it?

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