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[LINK] “Russia’s Waning Soft Power in Central Asia”

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The Diplomat‘s Stephen Blank argues that in post-Soviet Central Asia, even in Kazakhstan, the Russian language is waning. This has obvious consequences for Russian soft power on the ground in the region.

[I]t has been clear for some time, and recent news reports confirm it, that the Russian language is steadily losing ground in Central Asia in educational institutions and in much of the media throughout Central Asia. To be sure, Moscow is trying to counter this, for instance with recent attempts to saturate the Kazakh media. Yet this trend towards establishing the primacy of national cultures and languages at the expense of Russian builds on twenty years of steady nationalization of the culture of these states as a matter of deliberate policy, on their deliberate efforts to maintain an openness to the larger globalizing trends in the world economy, and on a generation of growing restrictions on Russian language use in broadcasting and other media.

Of course, Central Asian leaders will not publicly attack the use of Russian language or create situations that could tempt Moscow to intervene in Central Asia on the same pretexts as it employed in Ukraine. But while the invasion of Ukraine created and still generates considerable anxiety in Central Asia, the crisis that Russia faces as a result of its action makes intervention in Central Asia a less likely prospect for the foreseeable future. Given the steep economic decline Russia has experienced following its Ukrainian adventure a third front on top of Ukraine and the North Caucasus is the last thing Moscow seeks. Nonetheless, leaders like Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev point with pride to the growth of Kazakh as the native language and more younger students are preferring English or Chinese to Russian.

In Kyrgyzstan, a recent report showed different forces at work but similar outcomes. The poverty of the Kyrgyz school system means that despite Russian claims of large-scale support for Russian-language teaching abroad, means that only 11 percent of Kyrgyz students are going to superior Russian schools in that republic. Students otherwise are not learning Russian and competent teachers are hard to find. All this, of course, generates a vicious cycle. Similarly, in December 2013, Veniamin Kaganov, Russia’s deputy education minister, was quoted in Tass as saying that the number of Russian speakers had fallen by 100 million since the break up of the Soviet Union. Neither is this outcome unique to Kyrgyzstan or Central Asia. Although globalization certainly plays a role here, all these states have taken serious policy steps since 1991 to create a stronger sense of national identity among their peoples, a policy line that inevitably translates into privileging native languages over Russian and English and now Chinese over it as well.

This outcome strongly suggests that while state support for the propagation of he Russian language abroad is a point in Russia’s 2009 national security strategy, Moscow is apparently steadily if somewhat unobtrusively failing to achieve its goals. And this testifies to a continuing failure to actualize Russia’s soft power despite an enormous state investment. The manifestations of this failure may be quiet and not immediately visible but they do point to the steady erosion over time of Russian power of all kinds in Central Asia, although its military capabilities there remain potentially formidable.

[LINK] “Ruble’s Rout Breeds Uncertainty for Central Asian Migrants”

The Inter Press Service hosts a multiply-authored Eurasianet article talking about the impact of the Russian economic slowdown on Central Asian migrant workers. (The lure of access to the Russian labour market may have been raised as a way to seduce migrant-exporting Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to join the Eurasian Union.)

According to Russia’s ambassador to Uzbekistan, there are about three million Uzbek labour migrants in Russia, the most from any Central Asian country. Others estimate the number of Uzbeks could be twice that.

Unofficial estimates put their remittances in 2013 at the value of roughly a quarter of Uzbekistan’s GDP. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are even more dependent on labour migrants, with remittances contributing the equivalent of 30 percent and roughly 50 percent to their economies, respectively.

Data from Russia’s Central Bank shows that the funds Uzbeks send home dipped nine percent year-on-year during the third quarter of 2014. Analysts predict the fall will continue. The Russian business daily Kommersant estimates that remittances fell 35 percent month-on-month in October alone.

That was before the ruble, which has steadily fallen since Russian troops seized Crimea in February, nosedived earlier in December. Thanks to Western sanctions, the low price of oil, and systemic weaknesses in Vladimir Putin’s style of crony capitalism, the currency has lost roughly 50 percent against the dollar this year. Most migrants convert their rubles into dollars to send home.

“My salary was 18,000 rubles a month, which several months ago would be equivalent to 500 dollars. Now, it is less than 300 dollars,” Sherzod, a 29-year-old from the Ferghana Valley who was working at a shop in Samara, told EurasiaNet.org.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 30, 2014 at 10:20 pm

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • blogTO shares pictures of the stark modernism intended for Toronto’s subway stations.
  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly notes problems with the American mass media’s coverage of inequality.
  • Centauri Dreams shares Andrew Lepage’s essay on how, judging by radius and theoretical models, many of the supposedly Earth-like planets discovered are likely much more massive.
  • Cody Delistraty links to his essay at The Atlantic talking about why people tell stories.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper examining nearby red dwarf/brown dwarf binary WISE J072003.20-084651.2.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that Scottish separatism is still going strong.
  • A Fistful of Euros’ Edward Hugh notes the steady deterioration of the Japanese economy.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that Apple is worth more than the entire Russian stock market.
  • Language Hat examines the etymology of “fair dinkum”.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the terrible Japanese treatment, in history and in life, of comfort women.
  • Marginal Revolution notes the sustained territorial expansion of Russia.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer argues that Iraqi Kurdistan is likely to declare independence quite soon.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog shares a table showing population growth in select major world countries since 1820.
  • Spacing Toronto makes the case for humanizing the Toronto skyline by giving its towers nicknames.
  • Towleroad notes that Nicolas Sarkozy would like to repeal France’s same-sex marriage law, and looks at gay American director Lee Daniels.
  • Window on Eurasia looks at Russia’s fragile system of government, considers the fall of the Berlin Wall from a Russian perspective as a new partition of Europe, looks at reaction to a call to shift Ukrainian to a Latin alphabet, suggests Russian subsidies to Belarus may soon come to an end, and looks at radicalism among Tajik labour migrants in Russia.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell disbelieves rumours of an alleged Labour revolt.

[LINK] “How Alexander Sodiqov was freed following espionage charges”

CBC’s Jennifer Clibbon reports on the circumstances behind the release of University of Toronto graduate student Alex Sodiqov from detention in Tajikistan on charges of treason. The academic community, including Sodiqov’s adviser Edward Schatz, fought for his liberation and won.

[Sodiqov’s] fate galvanized scholars around the world because they felt it signals a chill for scholarly research in the former Soviet sphere. They set up a global petition, signed by thousands, to lobby the Tajik government.

“In the past you’d get a message that you’re in dangerous territory. Now there’s no warning that it’s going to come,” Sodiqov told CBC News.”They are blaming foreign governments for things they can’t control.”

At the University of Toronto, Schatz and other graduate students set up a website, produced a video, gave interviews to the media, and used social media to post updates on Sodiqov’s case.” Their hashtag, #freealexsodiqov, kind of went viral,” said Swerdlow, in an interview from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

“Schatz was strategic,” says Tracy MacDonald, a professor of Russian history at McMaster University. “He never let it go. He kept the campaign public. It would have been embarrassing for the Tajik government had anything happened to Alex while in custody.”

[. . .]

Two weeks ago, the Tajik secret police in Dushanbe called up Sodiqov and said he was now free to return to Canada. “I was shocked,” he said.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 1, 2014 at 10:56 pm

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • blogTO lists five things Toronto could learn from Barcelona.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to one paper analyzing the distribution of methane in Titan’s atmosphere, a news item suggesting the survival of some Ediacaran fauna in the deep ocean, and expresses concern about the course of the war in eastern Ukraine.
  • Eastern Approaches considers the political complexities of the Slovak national uprising in the Second World War in modern Czechoslovakia.
  • Far Outliers notes the complaints of Tsar Nicholas I in 1853, on the eve of the Crimean War, about Europe.
  • Joe. My. God. has a photo of the lineup in New York City for the release of the iPhone 6.
  • Language Hat analyses the etymology of the Scots Gaelic word “geas”, as used in Charlie Stross’ laundry novels.
  • Marginal Revolution warns Scotland and the United Kingdom could face a currency crisis if Scotland leaves.
  • The Planetary Society’s Emily Lakdawalla examines the final years of the Cassini mission int he Saturn system.
  • Registan examines traficking on the Pamir Highway connecting Tajikistan to Afghanistan.
  • Spacing Toronto has a photo of the CNE’s Orbiter.
  • The Speed River Journal’s Van Waffle writes at length about why and yhow he writes.
  • Strange Maps shares an early 20th century map of the city of Portland, divided according to moral depravity by social reformers.
  • Torontoist describes Copenhagen’s bicycle skyway.
  • Towleroad notes controversy around a Toronto-based Pakistani author’s children’s book about a child and a gay uncle.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the decline of the proportion of ethnic Russians in parts of Siberia, and suggests Russian sponsorship of the war in Ukraine makes it all the less likely that Ukrainians will care about ethnic Russian concerns post-war.

[NEWS] Some Tuesday links

  • The Globe and Mail notes that the Ukrainian revolution isn’t so popular in Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv, largely Russophone and Rusasophile.
  • Al Jazeera profiles the first generation of children born into the large ex-Yugoslav community in the American city of St. Louis and examines the ongoing persecution of Sikhs in Afghanistan.
  • CBC observes uproar on Prince Edward Island about changes in employment insurance requiring people in the more prosperous area of Charlottetown to work more to qualify, and reports on a worrying polls suggesting half of Québec’s non-Francophones are considering leaving the province.
  • National Geographic chronicles the stress on water reserves in Jordan placed by the huge influx of Syrian refugees.
  • The New York Times features an op-ed suggesting that the European Union should signal to Ukraine that membership is possible.
  • Open Democracy notes worries in Tajikistan that the withdrawal of foreign troops in Afghanistan will leave it exposed to instability there.
  • New Europe observes that, in fact, hordes of Romanians and Bulgarians haven’t overwhelmed the United Kingdom.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • BlogTO notes that the old Carnegie library at Queen and Lisgar, in my old neighbourhood of West Queen West or Parkdale, is going to become a theatre centre.
  • Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait is glad there isn’t a star as spectacularly unstable as EZ Canis Majoris in our neighbourhood.
  • Patrick Cain links to his Global News debunking of the myth that American citizens living in Canada are often wealthy expatriates.
  • Centauri Dreams examines the concept of superhabitable planets, noting among other things that K-class orange dwarfs like Alpha Centauri B would be great.
  • D-Brief notes the sad mechanical problems of China’s Yutu moon rover.
  • The Dragon’s Tales observes evidence that the migratory Sea Peoples of ancient Egypt came from Europe.
  • At Halfway Down the Danube, Douglas Muir writes about his experiences hiking in Kosovo, with the Prizren mountaineers club.
  • Joe. My. God., Lawyers, Guns and Money, and the New APPS Blog all mourn the death of politically active folk singer Peter Seeger.
  • Language Log’s Victor Mair analyzes the evocative Chinese-language name of a Vancouver restaurant.
  • The Numerati’s Stephen Baker responds to Godwin’s Law as evoking the thoughts of people who can’t express themselves.
  • Registan links to anthropologist Sarah Kendzior’s argument that Central Asia studies, once dynamic and vital, have gone into decay as people have stopped paying attention to the region.
  • Savage Minds shares Haitian-American anthropologist Gina Athena Ulysse’s writing about her creative process.
  • Window on Eurasia notes a report that Tajikistan’s government is unhappy with Tajiks who add Russian endings (“ov”, et cetera) to their names.
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