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Constitutional conventions: best practice

Debates and articles from across the openDemocracy website that discuss or are relevant to Russia & Eurasia

Russia paralysed by pragmatism

Officially, the Russian government is above politics. While this stance worked well during the boom years, since the financial crisis it has been paralysing government. Reform is urgently needed. But how can these be pushed through without recourse to politics? Russia’s non-political period is drawing to a close, Dmitry Butrin reckons.

Bidzina Ivanishvili and the new-old Georgia

The election victory of Bidzina Ivanishvili has reconfigured Georgia's political landscape, dominated by Mikheil Saakashvili since the "Rose Revolution" of 2003. But there are already concerns over what the billionaire leader is doing with his power, says Donald Rayfield.

Russia, land of slaves

Last month, a number of slave migrant workers were discovered in the cellar of a Moscow store. It was, alas, just one example of a much a wider practice exploiting vulnerable groups across the country. In a special oDRussia investigation, Grigory Tumanov reports on the worrying prevalence of modern-day enslavement within Russia.

Shoigu gets his epaulettes

Traditionally, Soviet and Russian Defence Ministers have carried the military rank of General. Anatoly Serdyukov, recently dismissed by President Putin, was an exception, and his civilian status reflected a desire to make the MOD more subject to political control. Aleksandr Golts discusses the implications of his successor Sergei Shoigu once again accepting his General’s epaulettes (photo: RIA NOVOSTI AGENCY).

Change put on hold in Nazarbayev’s Kazakhstan

President Nazarbayev has been head of state in Kazakhstan for 23 years (before, and since, independence in 1991). The 2011 election effectively confirmed his life tenure, which has put the country into a state of suspended animation and stagnation. Change will have to wait, says Luca Anceschi

Russian military reform and Shoigu’s poisoned chalice

On 6 November, the Russian top brass’s dream came true: President Putin dismissed Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, whose ongoing and fundamental reform of the Military has perhaps been the only real reform of the last ten years. Military analyst Aleksandr Golts looks at the issues that confront his successor (photo: RIA NOVOSTI Agency).

Vyatlag: the Gulag then and now

Many of the Soviet Gulag camps are now deserted, but Vyatlag is still in operation, though now most of the prisoners are there for criminal rather than political offences. But as Ekaterina Loushnikova has found, memories of the cruelty and hardship of those terrible years remain.

Radio Liberty making waves: have no lessons from the past been learnt?

The imminent withdrawal of Radio Liberty from medium wave broadcasting has dented the image of American public democracy, which is perceived as kowtowing to the autocratic will of the Kremlin. The outcry has, predictably, been ferocious. Kristina Gorelik looks back at the Soviet and more recent past.

The war between the president’s men

The Russian regime may present a united front to the world, but behind the scenes the cracks are beginning to show. In the week when Putin fired a senior government member, Dmitry Travin looks at the people and the issues that divide them.

The death of Radio Liberty

US-funded Radio Liberty started broadcasting to the USSR in 1953. Now Russia’s new media law has led to the mass firing of the station’s journalists and the appointment of a new editor, Masha Gessen. But she’s unlikely to find many journalists prepared to work with her, thinks Anastasia Kirilenko

Summer is cancelled for Russia’s bureaucrats – but will they play ball?

October is Russia’s local election month, and some regions have just elected governors for the first time in seven years, part of an electoral reform designed to appease the opposition. But as Mikhail Loginov reports, another aspect of this reform will antagonise the regime’s most loyal supporters – its own bureaucrats.

Vladimir Putin’s ever-decreasing circle of friends

President Putin’s popularity has been dented by the open opposition of two celebrities, hitherto ardent supporters: Lyudmila Narusova and Kseniya Sobchak, respectively widow and daughter of his former political mentor, Anatolii Sobchak. A real stab in the back and evidence that things are hotting up, thinks Daniil Kotsyubinsky.

US elections: hopes and expectations from a ‘post-rosy’ Georgia

The recent parliamentary election in Georgia brought defeat to the party of President Saakashvili, though he himself remains in power until the 2013 presidential election. The country’s main strategic partner is the US and Georgians are following the contest between President Obama and Mitt Romney closely. Vladimer Papava explains why.

Can Ukraine find a way out of its political stalemate?

Neither democracy nor authoritarianism has completely succeeded in Ukraine, though Yanukovych has moved towards breaking the stalemate and establishing his sway. But Ukraine is not Russia and it will be an uphill struggle. In the run-up to the 28 October elections, Igor Torbakov considers the differences (photo: RIA Novosti Agency)

Obama or Romney? The Russian view

Russia may not figure much in American elections, but President Putin finds Mitt Romney’s description of that country as ‘geopolitical foe number one’ useful in his management of domestic politics. He could probably work with either candidate, but what sort of relationship with Russia might either of them pursue?

Ukraine and Belarus: the dawn of change?

Rigged elections and corruption in post-Soviet states such as Belarus and Ukraine are hardly news. Ukraine’s shift towards authoritarianism has highlighted new similarities between the two countries. But might they both eventually move towards a new bright dawn? Yegor Vasylyev wonders

Georgia's election: lesson and prospect

The first constitutional transfer of power in Tbilisi has implications for an assessment of the immediate past as well as for the future, says Ghia Nodia.

Prisoner of Bolotnaya square

The ‘March of Millions’ opposition protests in Moscow on May 6 turned into a bloody standoff between demonstrators and riot police. Regional journalist Leonid Kovyazin was one of many arrested still to be released. Ekaterina Loushnikova travelled to a village in Kirov to speak to Leonid’s family, friends and colleagues.

 

Towards a greater Putistan?

Russia's comeback president is intent on consolidating his power both at home and abroad. But against the odds, dissent against Vladimir Putin and his system is finding new channels of expression, says John Besemeres.

Russia-Pakistan relations: beyond Putin’s cancelled trip to Islamabad

Vladimir Putin was due to visit Pakistan this week, but has postponed his trip indefinitely and given no reason for his decision. Sadhavi Chauhan believes, however, that this setback is no threat to increased Russian cooperation with Pakistan and other Central and South Asian countries.

Can rancour in the south Caucasus go beyond tit for tat?

For close on a millennium Azeris and Armenians co-existed reasonably peaceably. At the end of the Soviet period tensions erupted and they have been bubbling ever since. No need, thinks William Gourlay, because they are actually quite similar. Is it just a case of ‘must try harder’?

Georgian divisions: a dangerous poison?

Georgia goes to the polls today for tightly contested parliamentary elections. Despite an horrific prison abuse scandal on the eve of the vote, Mikheil Saakashvili believes his party has done enough to win; Bidzina Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream party hope their energetic campaigning means otherwise. In reality, it is the post-election politics in Georgia that will matter, says Denis MacShane.

Time for Azerbaijan to open up

Azerbaijan has hydrocarbon riches and a strategic position, which means that all the great powers have an interest in good relations. But one family has dominated the political scene for many years, corruption is rampant and the economy needs diversifying. It’s time to open up, says Nicu Popescu

The end of ‘Liberty’

In Soviet days foreign radio stations were a lifeline for people seeking another point of view. They continued broadcasting after the collapse of the USSR, though the BBC Russian Service programmes went online only in 2009. Now US-funded Radio Liberty is closing its doors. Mumin Shakirov, a special correspondent made redundant by the closure, reflects on the passing of an age. 

Russia, EU and ECU: co-existence or rivalry?

The creation of the Eurasian Customs Union (ECU) could well enhance Russia’s position in the post-Soviet space at the expense of the EU. However, as the most important battleground,Ukraine would have to be persuaded to abandon its EU Association Agreement to join the ECU instead, say Rilka Dragneva and Kataryna Wolczuk.

Getting by as a gastarbeiter in Kazakhstan

The stream of migrants from Central Asia seeking work in Russia is considerable, but racism and the migration laws there make them vulnerable to intimidation and exploitation. Many prefer to stay within their cultural and religious framework by working in Kazakhstan. Life there isn’t easy either, says Bhavna Dave.

Work permits: creating a documented self in Russia

The life of a migrant worker is never easy. The upheavals of the past 20 years in the former USSR have resulted in waves of Central Asians going to Russia to find work. To judge by their tales, the bureaucracy is finding it very hard to cope. Medina Aitieva spent some time with migrants in Siberia.

The quest for home

Inter-communal conflict in Kyrgyzstan flared up in 2010. Since then ethnic Uzbeks, the largest racial minority, have been on the move. Sometimes they travel to Russia; sometimes back again. It's always difficult to know where to call home, says Abdujalil Abdurasulov.

Beyond the gastarbeiter: the other side of post-Soviet migration

The collapse of the Soviet Union left desperate human situations in its wake: prices shot up, wages weren’t paid and people were forced to travel in search of work. The post-Soviet migrant’s life — one typically fraught with problems of health, family and home — is the subject of Madeleine Reeves' new week-long series on oDRussia. 

Putin Redux: Continuity and change

Is Putinism a static system, or is it in need of renewal after the events of the past year? Richard Sakwa discusses the options before the Russian president and the elites that surround him.

The shepherds of Sevukh

The Avars are an ancient people living in the mountains of Dagestan (North Caucasus). Many of them are shepherds. The blandishments of modern life are encroaching on their centuries-old way of life, but they have no chance of doing anything else, even military service. Marina Akhmedova spent some time with them and tells their stories

Life under the Soviets and after: a photographer’s story

London’s Pushkin House has been showing an exhibition of work by the renowned Lithuanian photographer Antanas Sutkus. Masha Karp looks at why his work of the 1960s-70s is still relevant now.

 

Media freedom in the Russian regions? You must be joking…

As the Kremlin tightens its grip even further on the Russian media, lawyer and legal rights activist Galina Arapova looks at the tough options faced by journalists, especially in the regions.

The Nationalists and the Protest Movement

The Russian opposition movement is of necessity a broad coalition, with little to hold it together but a common hatred of the Putin regime. Alexander Verkhovsky looks at how its most controversial element, the nationalists, fit into the picture.

Customs and revenue on the Russia-Ukraine border

The break-up of the Soviet Union made foreign travel for Russians much easier, except, paradoxically, over the internal Soviet borders that previously required no passports or visas. The border guards that now patrol these crossings have too little to do and often turn to extortion in an attempt to increase their modest salaries - recounts Mikhail Loginov.

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