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Posts tagged ‘Russian Empire’

McCain: Putin Doesn’t Want Democracy Next Door.

Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn’t want democracy in Ukraine because he thinks it would set a bad example for Russians, Sen. John McCain said.

“Vladimir Putin does not want a democracy on his borders. That would be a very bad example, from his point of view, to be set for the Russian people,” the Arizona Republican told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday.

Last month, a protest movement by Ukrainians seeking closer ties with the European Union ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. In the last several days, as many as 16,000 Russian troops landed in the strategic Crimea region and demanded a surrender of Ukrainian forces.

Story continues below video.

McCain has had harsh words for President Barack Obama’s handling of the Russian invasion of Crimea. On Monday, he called the president “feckless,” and charged “nobody believes in America’s strength anymore.”

McCain defended his criticism, claiming Obama was incorrect when he said the Cold War had been over for 20 years.

“Maybe in the president’s eyes, but certainly not in Vladimir Putin’s eyes,” McCain said.

Russia was likely to keep Crimea, McCain conceded, and predicted, “It’s not going to change.” He said the United States needs to gauge what Putin’s future ambitions are “for the restoration of the Russian empire.” He maintained it was important to view Putin for what he is, and “not what we want him to be.”

“There is has been a fundamental misreading of Vladimir Putin, his intentions, and things that he will do. There is no doubt that he will not give up in Crimea because of his belief in the near abroad,” McCain said.

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.


By Wanda Carruthers

McCain: Putin an Old KGB Apparatchik With Dreams of Restored Russian Empire.

The Edward Snowden case should reveal who Russian President Vladimir Putin really is, says Sen. John McCain. “He’s an old colonel KGB apparatchik and he dreams of the restoration of the Russian empire.”

McCain, R-Ariz., appearing on Fox News Sunday, said Putin’s refusal to hand over Snowden, who admitted to leaking national security secrets to the press, is “a direct slap in the face to the United States of America.”

Putin’s government also is funneling arms and assistance to the Syrian government while the United States is trying to help the rebels fighting them, McCain noted.

“They thumb their nose at us no matter what the issue is,” he said.

While McCain doesn’t want to see a return to the Cold War, he does think the United States should deal more realistically with Russia considering its recent actions.

“I think we’ve pushed the resent down to about 1955,” McCain said.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Greg Richter

Kazakhstan to Introduce Mayoral Elections in 2013.

Kazakhstan‘s president announced a raft of reforms for this energy-rich, authoritarian state Friday, ranging from having more direct local and regional elections to imposing the use of the Latin alphabetfor the Kazakh language.

But 72-year-old Nursultan Nazarbayev gave no indication that he would step down as president any time soon, despite two decades of heavy-handed power.

Under Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s government has faced sustained international criticism for cracking down on popular dissent, limiting media freedoms and being too slow to reform politically. Still, as speculation mounts over his plans for succession, Nazarbayev’s administration has tried to forge a historic legacy to endure after his rule. Friday’s wide-ranging address appeared to be part of that effort.

Nazarbayev said more than 2,500 local and regional postings — such as village and town mayors, and heads of rural districts — would be elected starting next year. That means more than 90 percent of mayors at all levels will be elected, he said. No local administration heads are currently elected.

The elections are part of a broader attempt to foster democratic standards in this vast Central Asian nation of 17 million, Nazarbayev said, even as he insisted the country would not be rushed into reforms before the economic conditions were right.

“Every step of our political reforms is closely tied to our level of economic development,” he said.

The bulk of Friday’s speech was aimed at cataloging achievements in the ex-Soviet nation during Nazarbayev’s tenure. The president said Kazakhstan, which borders China and Russia, has to date attracted $160 billion in foreign investment. Much of that has gone toward developing the country’s abundant energy and mineral resources.

As he laid out a strategy for the country up till 2050, the president called for improving the tax system, creating better conditions for business and urging support for the welfare system. But he also went beyond economics, delving into cultural and social issues.

In what may prove an especially controversial announcement, Nazarbayev said the Latin alphabet would be adopted for the Kazakh language by 2025 in place of the Russian-style Cyrillic alphabet currently in use.

“This will enable our children to better understand English, the Internet and it will reinforce our desire to modernize the Kazakh language,” he said.

By the same year, 95 percent of Kazakhstan’s citizens should have learned to speak in Kazakh, he said. Although Kazakh is the official state language, many people speak Russian instead.

The president warned against allowing ethnic tension to fester in a nation defined by its diversity. Kazakhstan’s occupation by the Russian Empire and the Soviet policy of mass deportations turned the Kazakhs into a minority within their own territory.

Nazarbayev has strenuously resisted Kazakh nationalist strains, seeing them as a source of possible instability. “If we want to see our country as a strong and powerful state, we should not rock the boat that would destroy peace and order, which are fragile,” he said in Friday’s address.

The rise of hardline Islam also has created anxiety in Kazakhstan, not least due to a string of Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks over the past two years. Nazarbayev proposed adopting legislation to hinder religious radicalism.

“The secular nature of our state is an important condition of the successful development of Kazakhstan,” he said.

That call, however, could concern advocates of religious freedom, who say already adopted Kazakh laws place undue restrictions on minority faiths.



Ancestral Russia lures land-hungry Mexican Mennonites.

  • A woman from a Mennonite community slices bread for breakfast as her family members stand near her at their home in Cuauhtemoc November 9, 2012. More than a century after Mennonite farmers left Russia for North America in search of new lands and religious freedom, hundreds of their descendants in Mexico are thinking about completing the circle. Shortage of farmland, drought and conflict with rivals have made some Mennonites in northern Mexico wonder if the best way of providing for their families is to go back to the plains of eastern Europe their ancestors left in the 19th century.  Picture taken November 9, 2012. To match Feature MEXICO-MENNONITES/     REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez (MEXICO - Tags: FOOD SOCIETY RELIGION)Enlarge GalleryA woman from a Mennonite community slices bread for breakfast as her family members stand near her at their home in Cuauhtemoc November 9, 2012. More than a century after Mennonite farmers left Russia for North …


CUAUHTEMOC, Mexico (Reuters) – More than a century after Mennonite farmers left Russia for North America in search of new lands and religious freedom, hundreds of their descendants in Mexico are thinking about completing the circle.

Shortage of farmland, drought and conflict with rivals have made some Mennonites in northern Mexico wonder if the best way of providing for their families is to go back to the plains of eastern Europe their ancestors left in the 19th century.

This summer a delegation of 11 Mexican Mennonites went to Tatarstan on the southern fringe of European Russia to look at land that could help them protect their spartan way of life from the impact of population growth and climate change.

“We’re looking for a future for our children and grandchildren,” said Peter Friesen, 59, one of the farmers who traveled to the town of Aznakayevo in August, himself the great-grandson of Mennonites born in the Russian Empire.

Descendants of 16th century Protestant Anabaptist radicals from Germany, the Low Countries and Switzerland, Mennonites rejected Church hierarchy and military service, suffering years of persecution and making them reliant on the patronage of rulers keen to exploit their dedication to farming and thrift.

Many Mennonites like Friesen living in the colonies around the city of Cuauhtemoc trace their origins to families that settled parts of Imperial Russia in modern Ukraine in the 18th century during the reign of Catherine the Great.

During the age of European nationalism, their freedoms came under threat and they began to leave for North America in the 1870s. More followed in the years of turmoil that convulsed Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution and the World Wars.

Still speaking Plautdietsch, a unique blend of Low German, Prussian dialects and Dutch, the Mennonites that came to Chihuahua state from Canada in the 1920s have helped turn some of the most barren expanses of northern Mexico into model farmland yielding tonnes of golden corn, beans, milk and cheese.

But as the fields in Chihuahua grew more plentiful, so did the Mennonites, who are named after 16th century Anabaptist leader Menno Simons, a Frisian. Anabaptists say believers should only be baptized once old enough to understand their faith.


Dressed in plain cotton trousers, a dark shirt and cap, Friesen uses short, simple sentences in Spanish, his face tanned from years spent harvesting crops under the cloudless skies of Chihuahua, which covers an area bigger than Britain.

Only when Friesen’s mobile phone rings and he switches to Plautdietsch does the tempo change. Words trip off his tongue in a much softer cadence than High German, and are all but unintelligible to speakers of the modern language.

“You know we Mennonites always want to grow. And that’s what we can’t do here. Everything’s already taken up,” said the father of 13 and grandfather of 25.

Enrique Voth, who also went to Tatarstan, said farmland can be purchased there for a tenth of the price in Mexico. “We need ten times more than what we have,” said the father of 11.

The “100 or so” families interested in Russia are still undecided about whether to go, partly because they did not find a single bloc of land big enough for them, said Friesen.

But his blue eyes glitter when he talks of the dark soil, mild climate and rich water supplies the Mennonites found in Tatarstan. Once part of the Mongol Golden Horde, an empire spanning Central Asia and eastern Europe, the republic harbors flat, fertile terrain fed by the Volga and Kama rivers.

Originally about 7,000 strong in Mexico, the Mennonites today farm about three quarters of the irrigated corn fields in Chihuahua. But much of the land is leased and their holdings have increased far slower than their population.

About 1,000 of the first settlers in Mexico returned to Canada, but the Mennonite population in Chihuahua alone is now probably about 60,000, said Peter Stoesz, director of a local Mennonite credit union known as UCACSA.

The Mennonites in Chihuahua started with around 100,000 hectares of land. Today, that holding may not be much more than 250,000 hectares, according to the state government.

Since last year’s drought, the land shortage has been felt more keenly, and the Mennonites have been accused by a group of rival farmers known as Barzonistas of sinking 200 illegal wells to irrigate fields, damaging the local water supply.

Chihuahua’s government says it has found a few dozen illegal wells, drilled using fake permits. It is still investigating how the permits were issued, and the Barzonistas are not happy.

“We’re at a disadvantage, but we’re Mexicans,” said Barzonista Jacko Rodriguez, who believes the Mennonites have had preferential treatment in the water dispute. “We’re going to stay here and we’re going to live here. They are not.”

The row has taken a number of ugly turns, giving further impetus to the Mennonites’ desire to find new farmland.

This summer, one Barzonista declared the pacifist Mennonites were Germans, burning up Mexican lands like the Nazis burned Jews. And when a Barzonista leader was shot dead with his wife in October, some of them pointed the finger at the Mennonites.

“This has caused us a lot of worry,” said Johan Peters, 45, a farmer, who said Mennonites were also looking at land in Argentina.

The Mennonites have denied any involvement in the deaths.


During the 20th century, Mennonites fanned out into South America, Africa and India. Many preserved a lifestyle tied to tilling the soil, while adopting newer technology often still eschewed by their Anabaptist Amish cousins in America.

Lacking pasture and fields to sow, some in Chihuahua have given up farming, turning to services and handicrafts. A few have drifted into drug trafficking and prostitution, locals say.

But UCACSA estimates over two-thirds work in agriculture, which still dominates the rhythm of daily life. Sons may join fathers to work the fields from the age of 12 or younger.

“Farming is the healthiest work a person can have,” said Voth from the Tatarstan delegation. “It’s peaceful work without competition. With a business, you have to fight all the time.”

Plenty of Mennonites in the area are skeptical the answer to the land shortage lies in Russia. Some say the families considering a move half way across the world have fallen behind. Others worry Mennonites are being swamped by the pace of change.

Though Chihuahua’s Mennonites now use mobile phones, many still reject television. Some fret about the impact of the Internet on their children, who can see more and more of the world from the confines of their modest, monochrome bungalows.

“Some people are losing the true reason of being a Mennonite,” said corn farmer Corny Kornelsen, 52. “They grab every new thing that comes their way. But they can’t cope with all the new technologies.”

(Additional reporting by Bernd Debusmann Jr.; Editing by Kieran Murray and Todd Eastham)


By Dave Graham | Reuters

Russian Museum Sparks Jewish Culture Revival.

russian jewish revival
The Moscow museum, which opened this week, tells the history of Jewry through people’s stories, which come alive in video interviews and interactive displays.

In czarist times, Geda Zimanenko watched her mother offer the local police officer a shot of vodka on a plate and five rubles every Sunday to overlook the fact that their family lived outside the area where Jews were allowed to live.

Then came the Bolshevik Revolution and Zimanenko became a good Communist, raising her own son to believe in ideals that strove to stamp out distinctions of race and religion. Her grandson, born after the death of dictator Josef Stalin, was more cynical of Communism and felt the heat of growing Soviet anti-Semitism.

Now the 100-year-old matriarch’s great-grandson, brought up after the fall of the Soviet Union and in a spirit of freedom of conscience, is fully embracing his Jewish roots: He works at Moscow’s new Jewish museum, Europe’s largest and Russia’s first major attempt to tell the story of its Jewish community. The four generations of Zimanenko’s family are a microcosm of the history of Jews in Russia over the past century, from the restrictions of imperial times through Soviet hardship to today’s revival of Jewish culture in Russia, a trajectory that is put on vivid display at the Jewish Museum and Center of Tolerance.

The museum, which opened this week, tells the history of Jewry through people’s stories, which come alive in video interviews and interactive displays. The journeys of people like the Zimanenko-Rozin family are traced from czarist Russia through the demise of the Soviet Union. The $50 million museum was built under the patronage of President Vladimir Putin, who in a symbolic move in 1997 donated a month of his salary—about $5,600—to its creation.

Putin has promoted Russia as a country that welcomes Russian emigrants back into its fold. Early in his presidency, he encouraged the repatriation of Russians who left in the wake of the 1917 Revolution as well as ethnic Russians left stranded in former Soviet republics, now independent states.

In Poland, which is undergoing a similar revival of Jewish culture, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews is due to open next year in the heart of the former Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw.

The Moscow museum’s portrayal of Russia as a safe and welcoming place for Jews today may run counter to the beliefs of some emigres and their descendants who were raised on dark stories about pogroms and discrimination in Russia. And while there’s no doubt that anti-Semitism has declined dramatically in Russia, there remains a strong strand of far-right sentiment that expresses itself in acts against Jews, as well as against dark-skinned foreigners.

To Borukh Gorin, chairman of the museum’s board, the history of Russian Jews is much more complex than the stark narrative of anti-Jewish oppression. The museum does not dwell on the “victimization of Jewish history,” he said.

“It’s about what actually happened,” said Gorin. “And what happened was complicated. There were pogroms, but there was also an active role of Jews in Russian public life—scientists, writers, journalists, Jews awarded with the country’s highest honors.”

By 1917, the Russian Empire had the largest Jewish community in the world, more than 5 million people. Most of the Jews were confined to the Pale of Settlement, the area of the Russian Empire stretching across what are now western Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Poland, beyond which Jews were not allowed to live. Today, only about 150,000 people who identify themselves as Jews live in Russia.

Zimanenko, feisty and talkative even at 100, was the daughter of Marxists and the granddaughter of pious Jews. Most of her life, she was true to Communist ideals and never thought much about her Jewish identity.

“If somebody asked me about my nationality then, it’d take me a while to remember that I was Jewish,” she said. “We were all Soviet people.”

But like other Soviet Jews, Zimanenko was reminded of her roots when Stalin’s repressive regime “foiled” the so-called Doctors’ Plot in 1952, accusing a group of prominent Moscow doctors, predominantly Jews, of conspiring to kill Soviet leaders. Their trial unleashed the first major wave of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, triggering dismissals, arrests and executions among Jews.

Zimanenko’s son, physicist Anatoly Rozin, said the family had such a strong faith in Communism and Stalin that they genuinely believed in the plot: “No one could doubt it. We were a Communist family.” In 1956, three years after Stalin’s death, the authorities admitted that the doctors had been framed.

Anatoly Rozin, now 78, is still an atheist and does not feel much affinity for his Jewish heritage, although he remembers being exposed to “everyday” anti-Semitism since childhood when neighborhood children called him and his brother names.

Anti-Semitism in the final decades of the Soviet Union was never official policy, but Jews had greater difficulty winning admission to university and traveling abroad.

Anatoly’s nephew and Zimanenko’s grandson, 47-year-old Mark Rozin, was also brought up in a family that was very “distant” from Jewish traditions and Judaism. Although he had no firsthand experience of the discrimination that led hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews to emigrate in the 1970s and ’80s, he said that the shared burden of inequality and suspicion allowed him to relate to other Jews.

There was a certain bond based “on the assumption that you faced some restrictions, you were not allowed to do what others did, that’s why you had to study harder than others, for example,” said Mark Rozin, a psychologist. In that sense, “you were always reminded of your nationality, but that didn’t bring you closer to the traditions.”

Scores of his friends and distant relatives took advantage of their Jewish roots to secure permission to leave the Soviet Union for Israel, but he said most left for “freedom and opportunity,” and not because of the Jewish faith.

Mark Rozin and his uncle also were allowed to emigrate, but decided against it.

“I’m a man of this culture,” said Anatoly Rozin, referring to the Soviet Union. “Leaving seemed impossible at the time.”

These days, Zimanenko falters when she tries to pronounce the words “bar mitzvah,” only to be corrected by her 24-year-old great-grandson, Lev Rozin. For him, having to get permission to travel or being barred from university for being Jewish is something from another planet.

Russia in recent years has seen a dramatic decrease in displays of anti-Semitism, down to isolated cases of violence and vandalism. In a survey conducted last year by the respected Levada Center, 8 percent of those polled said they believed Jews should be barred from living in Russia, down from 15 percent in 2004.

Members of the Zimanenko-Rozin family said they felt no anti-Semitism in Russia today, but only members of the youngest generation have been eager to explore their roots. Lev Rozin, who works in the museum’s children’s center, said he began to identify himself as a Jew in his teens after attending a Jewish youth camp in Hungary. His two younger siblings attended the same camp.

The revival of Jewish culture in Russia has been driven predominantly by young people, which is reflected in the staff of the Jewish Museum. The museum’s development director, Natalya Fishman, is just 22.

“In our family, it’s the younger generation that is trying to rediscover our roots,” Lev Rozin said. “I try to keep my Friday nights free, I don’t eat pork and try to observe some Kashrut (Jewish dietary) rules.”

For his father, Jewish identity is more than religion or customs.

“It stems from a feeling of belonging to your family, its roots, Grandma’s stories,” Mark Rozin said. “By talking to Grandma and learning about her life, we’re getting closer to the Jewish culture.”

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.



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