This week's editor

Mariam Ali

Mariam Ali is Associate Editor for openDemocracy's Arab Awakening page.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Why Russia needs a defamation law... a proper one.

Many democratically-minded Russians have seized upon the recent re-criminalisation of defamation as an further example of Russia’s regression during Putin’s third term. They miss the point, argues Poel Karp: Russia does need a law on defamation, but that law needs to apply to everyone, including those who hold office. 

Little Strangers. ‘Get me out of here!’

When twelve-year-old Lyosha tried to escape a children’s home to return to his family, he was sent to a psychiatric hospital — an abuse of psychiatry immediately reminiscent of Soviet days. Lyosha was eventually saved only by the investigative curiosity of local journalists, Aleksandr Koltsov and Ksenia Turchak. Alarmingly, they themselves are now the subject of a criminal investigation.

See it like Putin

Russia’s attitude to events in Syria and her stated determination to respect the viewpoints of both sides in that conflict is a cause for concern and reflection. It is, however, no more than another manifestation of President Putin’s aversion to the idea of any independence, for either his allies or his own citizens, says Maxim Trudolyubov

Tatarstan: the restoration of history, religion and national feeling

The Republic of Tatarstan is spending some of its not inconsiderable oil and gas revenues on restoring the ruined capital of an 8th century civilisation. This project may play well to the sense of Tatar identity, but it has many critics, recounts Maxim Edwards

'We’ve a war on here!'

Last month a small village in Kirov region became the unlikely location of serious interethnic violence. More than 100 people took part in a mass brawl, shots were fired and the governor of Kirov region, Nikita Belykh, was compelled to fly in by helicopter. Local correspondent Ekaterina Loushnikova, who made the 350 mile trip by more modest means, uncovers the roots of the conflict.

Turning the tables on Russia’s power elite — the story behind the Magnitsky Act

The murder of the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009 looks likely to trigger legislation in the United States which strikes at the heart of Russia’s corrupt elite. Bill Browder, founder of the Hermitage Fund, moving spirit behind the impending Magnitsky Act, tells the story.

The Kremlin and Georgia – collusion or illusion?

Georgia’s politicians are hypersensitive to charges of collusion with Russia, the old imperial power. President Saakashvili denounces opposition figures for being tools of the Kremlin. But the record suggests that he might himself be vulnerable to the same charge, says Vladimer Papava

Big Brother, little drones – protestors beware

Russia’s police are starting to use unmanned drones much more often for monitoring street protest rallies, Irina Borogan and Andrei Soldatov report. This sinister development has the complete support of President Putin.

‘Appeal to all women: Don’t put up with it!’

Soon after the fall of communism, Ayshat (not her real name) was kidnapped by a stranger who wanted to marry her. Such kidnaps are not unusual in ultra-conservative Ingushetia, or in any of the North Caucasus republics. What is rare is Ayshat’s courage in speaking out. She tells the story of her violent marriage, breaking silence in the hope of persuading other women to resist abuse.

Natalya Estemirova – murdered, not forgotten

Three years ago the indomitable Natalya Estemirova was murdered in Chechnya. Her killers remain at large, and arbitrary executions of oppositional figures have remained a tool of power across the North Caucasus. Here, Tatyana Lokshina, Alexander Cherkasov and Igor Kalyapin, three of Russia’s leading human rights defenders review a deteriorating situation, and how address it

Unprotected

Chechnya’s women face fresh constraints, new rules and increased violence sanctioned from above. At home, they are subject to unwritten codes that systematically disenfranchise them. They must brave all this to enforce their rights under the Russian constitution. Beyond that, there is only the European Court of Human Rights.

‘The Chechen mentality’

Domestic violence is all too common in Chechnya. It is very rare for women to stand up for their rights, by recourse to the law. This is the story of one woman, Shoma Timagov, who did.

Chechnya’s fashion dictator

In Chechnya, the warfare that rumbled on between 1994 and 2009 has been turned against the republic’s women. The most public aspect of this campaign is the progressive imposition of a so-called ‘Islamic’ dress code. Lisa Kazbekova charts its course, enquires why it is happening, and how Chechnya’s men and women are responding

‘Why did I tell you all this!’

Taisa wanted to be a singer, but ended up becoming a victim of one of Russia's most patriarchal and violent societies. oDRussia continues its series of 'stories you weren't meant to hear' with a harrowing narrative from Chechnya.

Sex and Lies in Kabardino-Balkaria

Young women in Kabardino-Balkaria must resort to lies and stratagems to navigate a society governed by man-made rules and double standards. In this excerpt from an unpublished novel, Marina Marshenkulova reveals through fiction the reality she cannot describe as a journalist.

Hijab Wars

In Dagestan, where government forces are pitched against insurgents, and the official priesthood against the Salafites, the third front concerns women. Marina Akhmedova reports from the region on the totemic role of the hijab in these events.

Stories you weren’t meant to hear: women, tradition and power in Russia’s North Caucasus

Why are the freedoms of women in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan so constrained? Is Islam to blame? Is it a consequence of war in the region, or of poverty? Or do the reasons lie elsewhere? These questions form the basis of a new series on openDemocracy Russia.

The limits of Putin’s power

As Russia’s politicians go off for their summer break, political commentator Kirill Rogov takes a look at the latest opinion polls. His conclusion? Putin’s hardline policy towards the opposition is turning out to be counterproductive.

Abkhazia, from conflict to statehood

A bitter post-Soviet war in 1992-93 saw the Black Sea territory of Abkhazia resist invasion from Georgia and establish an independent statehood. But amid non-recognition from all but a handful of countries, and persistent hostility from Georgia, the young republic has faced many challenges in the subsequent two decades. The leading scholar of Abkhazia and advocate of its case, George Hewitt, presents an overview of these twenty years and outlines a scenario for the future.

Chinese systems and Western technology: the Kremlin moves to control the internet

On July 11, the Russian Duma passed legislation to establish a central register of extremist websites. The new laws are ostensibly designed for child protection; Andrei Soldatov senses the real aim is to take control over the country’s burgeoning social networks.

‘Pussysteria’, or the awakening of Russia’s conscience

On 10th July a Moscow court extended the pre-trial detention of three members of feminist punk rock band Pussy Riot, charged with hooliganism after they performed a ‘blasphemous’ and anti-Putin song in the city’s main cathedral in February. Vladimir Pastukhov believes there is much the case tells us about the relations between the Putin government and the Russia’s Orthodox Church.

Russian journalists: poor, venal… but (usually) honest

Journalism in Russia has never been easy, but today the complications are many. If you write to order, you may be financially better off but you will be despised. If you are honest, then you can end up risking life and limb. But despite the dangers there are still journalists prepared to stand up and be counted, says Mikhail Loginov.

The death of the Russian village

Traditionally Russia’s agricultural land was subdivided into a patchwork of villages and fields, interspersed by forest and marsh. Now the villages are deserted and crumbling: the state closes them down, often on a whim, and young people leave to find work elsewhere. Matilda Moreton tells the tragic story based on fieldwork in the Russian North.  

A good infection – remembering Bookaid

Against the backdrop of Soviet disintegration, a grassroots campaign was launched from Britain to send hundreds of thousands of books to libraries across Russia and its ex-colonies. As Bookaid celebrates its twentieth anniversary, two of its organisers, Susan Richards and Ekaterina Genieva, consider a venture that still has resonance today – the struggle to establish civil society across the territory of the old Soviet empire. 

Fathers and sons: a generational gap in the Russian opposition?

As Putin’s new government beds in and shows its teeth against the protesters, Dmitry Travin takes a look at the generational differences among the opposition. Life experience makes many of the older generation more weary of street protest, yet on other fronts people are beginning to speak with one voice. 

The Kremlin’s Revolutionaries

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Revolution may be a dirty word in Russia, but journalist Maхim Trudolyubov argues that conditions for revolution are ripening, and that those responsible are not opposition forces outside the Kremlin, but those working within its walls.

Putin’s draconian new laws – a sign of his limited options?

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After previous repressive measures by the Kremlin, the ‘March of Millions’ in Moscow on 12th June was expected to turn ugly. Raids on leading oppositionists had many talking about another 1937 (the year of Stalin’s Great Purge), yet the expected provocation and police brutality did not happen. Julia Pettengill assesses the significance of this restraint.

Voices from Abkhazia: Helmut’s Story

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Born in Germany during the war, Helmut ended up in a Soviet internment camp. Later he moved to the region of Abkhazia on the Black Sea, where he settled. Now nearly 70, he recounts the fascinating story of his life so far away from his home country to Maxim Edwards

War minus the shooting: Russia vs Poland at Euro 2012

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‘War minus the shooting’ was George Orwell’s definition of sport, unpleasantly brought once more to mind during the recent battles between Russian and Polish football fans. There is a long history of animosity over sporting events between the two countries, but there could be a way forward, says Zygmunt Dzieciolowski

Azerbaijan: the geopolitical conundrum

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The recent Eurovision song contest catapulted Azerbaijan into world news and focused attention on its internal problems. But foreign policy issues are a cause of considerable concern too. The country is caught in between Iran, Russia and the West and finding a way to meet the needs of all of them is going to be extremely difficult, says Elkhan Nuriyev.

Optimism in diversity? Moscow’s March of Millions

Despite a heavy riot police presence, a spirit of optimism and unity was tangible at Moscow’s ‘March of Millions’ yesterday, says Susanne Sternthal. The self-proclaimed ‘leaders’ of the opposition, on the other hand, were reduced to playing a secondary role.

What force (and forces) can the Kremlin use against the opposition?

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The Kremlin’s nervous reaction to May’s ‘March of the Millions’ on Bolotnaya Square, and uncertainty around a protest action planned for tomorrow have led many to suspect that the Russian government is looking seriously at using force to suppress opposition. Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan analyse the resources at its disposal.

 

Is Russia’s protest movement a flash in the pan?

Putin is back in power and the numbers of Russians actively protesting against the regime have dwindled. Six months on, what has the protest movement achieved and does it have a future? Dmitry Travin points to huge differences of opinion in different areas of the country and among different strata of society, and concludes it all depends on the economy.

A near doubling in Russian wiretaps over five years – and that’s only the legal stuff!

In a previous article, Irina Borogan and Andrei Soldatov asked who was bugging the Russian opposition. Here they develop this theme, looking at how a combination of recent legislation and new technology has allowed Russia’s many security agencies to expand their activities still further.

Fears and threats in the realm of fantasy

Cold War weapons remain an important political tool in the 21st century, if only because it’s easier to deal with imaginary problems than real ones. Fydor Lukyanov wonders whether the world’s political elite will ever get around to tackling more actual and pressing concerns. 

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