Saturday, November 18, 2017

Post-Soviet Monument Wars Now Spreading Far Beyond the Former Bloc

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 18 – Fighting over monuments to the past has become a regular feature inside the countries of the former Soviet bloc and among them as well, with decisions to erect or dismantle this or that statue sparking controversies in many places. But now, such disputes are spreading far beyond the borders of what was that bloc.

            Often these disputes intersect with conflicts within the countries where the monuments were erected or involve differences of opinion about the foreign relations of those countries. One such conflict, which is likely to attract far more attention in the future than it has so far concerns an Abkhaz monument in the Scottish city of Kilmarnock.

            More than 20 years ago, the city authorities there agreed to the erection of a memorial plaque in honor of those Abkhaz who died in the 1992-1993 fighting between the Abkhaz and the Georgian authorities.  Scotland, which has its own interests in a separate future, was apparently quite happy to have this plaque erected,

            Then on November 8, the Georgian ambassador in London called for the statue to be removed because it contained language and symbols at odds with British policy toward Georgia and the breakaway republic of Abkhazia. Abkhazians and their supporters in the UK and in Abkhazia protested Kilmarnock’s agreement to take the monument down.

            Then Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister David Dondua said in Tbilisi that “no one had planned to remove or take down the monument as the Abkhaza claims but only to modify it to bring it into correspondence with British policy and then put it back in place in the Scottish city (

            That wasn’t sufficient for the Abkhazians and their defenders, and officials in Sukhumi and Abkhazian residents organized a protest, even adopting an appeal to the international community to intervene on their behalf in this latest battle of the monument wars (

                Levan Geradze, a Georgian conflict specialist, says that it isn’t surprising that this has happened. When the two sides can’t agree on fundamental questions, they often get more exercised than one might expect on secondary ones like monuments – and these disputes spread through the diplomatic world and on social networks.

            Giya Khukhashvili, another Georgian political scientist, adds that “polemics of this kind reflect the political impotence of both sides,” adding that in his opinion the current conflict is being spurred on by third parties interested in keeping tensions high and avoiding any serious negotiations. 

            But participants at a protest in the Abkhaz city of Gali are clearly furious and say they will be watching closely to see what happens to their monument in Scotland. If it is not restored exactly as it was, they say, they will erect “an exact copy in Sukhumi on Scotland Street” to make their point.

            In any case, observers say, it is already clear that the controversy around the monument in Kilmarnock is nowhere close to resolution and likely will spark morediplomatic and non-diplomatic exchanges in the future. 

Putin Wants to Ban All Non-Russian Oil and Gas Shipping on Northern Sea Route

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 18 – Vladimir Putin on Thursday told key ministers and business leaders that he wants Russian-flagged ships to have the exclusive right to move oil and gas across the Northern Sea Route and is prepared to consider extending a similar ban on non-Russian shipping to “other sea routes of our country.”

            Specifically, he said he wants to offer “ships sailing under the Russian flag the exclusive right to carry and store hydrocarbons along the Northern Sea Route,” an action that will “allow the growth of the amount of such shipments, strengthen the position of domestic shipping companies and create additional opportunities for the renewal of the fleets belong to them” ( and

            Putin added that “a corresponding draft law is now being considered in the State Duma,” one that he said will be “adopted in a short time.”  And then he added that he was aware that “there are proposals to extend this norm to other waterways of our country.”

            The Kremlin leader’s declaration puts Russia on a possible collision course with China and other countries interested in using the Northern Sea Route and makes it likely that they will explore routes further from the Russian coast in order to continue to make use of it ( and

            But more even than that, Putin’s words set the stage for new clashes between Moscow with its expansive claims of control over much of the Arctic and other Arctic powers both traditional and on the rise. 

Any Consistent Russian Nationalism Must be Western in Orientation, Shiropayev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November18 – Aleksey Shiropayev, a self-described national democrat and longtime liberal Russian commentator, argues that any consistent Russian nationalism must be oriented toward Europe and oppose the imperialists in Russia who remain trapped within the paradigm of the Mongol horde.

            “The failure of the Kremlin’s aggression against Ukraine inevitably intensifies the crisis of Russian identity,” pointing to either its final “agony” or toward its fundamental “revision.”  The regime calls for “’popular unity’” but the way forward, he insists, is by separation into two camps regarding the Russian mentality (

            The first “type,” Shiropayev says, is “the traditional, archaic, ‘old Testament’ imperial and anti-Western, ‘Muscovite,’” in short.  “Its heroes are Ivan the Terrible and Stalin.  “The second type is anti-imperial and pro-European” and traces its origins to the free cities of Novgorod, Pskov, Tver and Ryazan of pre-Mongol times.

            Today, this second type takes the form of urban protests, the strivings of the young and the middle class to identify themselves in ways that open the way to the future rather than keeping them trapped in the past, the commentator continues. Indeed, the rise of “anti-Putin Russian nationalism” which is opposed to the Crimean Anschluss is the archetype of this kind.

            Nationalism has a bad name in Russia, but that’s because it is linked in the minds of many with the past or with trinkets rather than as it should be with the defense of Russianness as a form of European identity and a defense against the horde-like approach of the current government.

            Such Russian nationalists, he acknowledges, are not fundamentally different from those who describe themselves as Westernizers, especially since Russian nationalism understood in this way is not narrowly ethnic but rather about the promotion of a genuinely civic communal identity.

            Shiropayev suggests that the time has come to form “an informal, secular cultural-political net movement which could be called Alt-Rus,” for “Alternative Russians,” in order to reach out to all those “who want to be Russian but at the same time live in a contemporary and democratic country.”

            What this constitutes, he says, is an affirmative answer to the question as to whether “a positive, progressive Russian identity of the post-imperial era is possible or not.” 

            For this to take off, Shiropayev argues, Russians needs to go through the process of national self-determination within Russia “via federalism and regionalism.” There is  no reason that there shouldn’t be “several” genuinely ethnic Russian states on the territory of the country as it now exists given the enormous size of the Russian Federation.

            And he concludes with this observation: “everything will be decided not at the level of the clashes of Putinites and liberals, Russians and non-Russians but on the level of the opposition within the very understanding of Russianness itself.”