Another former Soviet republic giving Russian language the boot?

First it was Uzbekistan who decided to ban Cyrillic to convert the Uzbek language to the Latin alphabet.

Now another former Soviet Republic, Tajikistan, has announced its decision to ban the use of Russian by state agencies in order to support the reemergence of the local language. Some have questioned whether Tajikistan is more serious about eliminating or simply trying to garner financial support from Russia who feels threatened by the growing independence movements among former Soviet subjects.

Tajikistand map

Tajik Persian is the Tajik language, sometimes called Tajiki, is a modern variety of the Persian language and spoken in Central Asia. Most speakers of Tajik live in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Tajik is the official language of Tajikistan. The language has diverged from Persian as spoken in Afghanistan and Iran, as a result of political borders, geographical isolation, the standardisation process, and the influence of Russian and neighbouring Turkic languages.

The Republic of Tajikistan is a very mountainous country which borders Afghanistan in the south, Uzbekistan to the west, Kyrgyzstan to the north and the People’s Republic of China to the east. Tajikistan also lies adjacent to Pakistan.

The ethnic makeup of Tajikistan’s population mostly belongs to the Tajik ethnic group, who share culture and history with the Iranian peoples. Tajikistan was once part of the Central Asian Samanid Empire but was forced into the Soviet Union in the 20th century. During the Soviet period it was known as the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic (Tajik SSR).

Tajikistan is much like Mexico is to the USA in that mostly mostly illegal workers in Russia who send money back to their families, according to the World Bank, earn almost 50 percent of the Tajik financial economy.

Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon, who wields broad powers, called on the government to speed up implementation of a bill that would require state agencies and companies to communicate with one another and issue official documents exclusively in Tajik according to it’s official news agency. The bill would also make knowledge of the local language a requirement of every Tajik citizen.

Tajikistan children

“A speedy adoption of a new law about the [national] language is needed,” Rakhmon said in a televised address to the nation, according to a transcript on his official web site in the Russian and Tajik languages saying, “A state language … is an attribute of political independence.”

President Rakhmon’s televised address was done on the anniversary of the law on the national language adopted on July 22, 1989. That law made Tajik the national language but gave every citizen the right to choose between Tajik and Russian when addressing state agencies. Official Tajik web sites are published in Tajik, Russian and English. About 15 percent of the population is ethnic Uzbek, while Russians and Kyrgyz each comprise about 1 percent.

Analysts believe Tajikistan is using language as a new chip in the political bargaining between Russia and Tajikistan. Russian authorities have said it might be necessary to ban employment to futureTajik citizens living in Russia who don’t speak Russian.


Clinton races to “reset” Biden comments

The Junior Senator from Illinois may be a great orator, but the jury is obviously asleep when it comes to his ability to lead a choir. Sending the Vice President back into former Soviet territory so soon after Mr. Obama’s visit to Moscow had the potential to reinforce the view that Washingon was taking a proactive interest in the region.

But as Tevye the fascinating Russian village character in Fiddler On the Roof was so fond of exclaiming, On the other hand!” we now see Secretary Clinton playing the assigned role of Tevye for the administration this week. Her role is to try to smooth over comments from the Vice President which sent the occupants in the Kremlin racing down to the аптека for charcoal tablets. (“Apteka” is the Russian word for pharmacy where charcoal tablets are dispensed as antacid).

Word of advice to White House staff: It isn’t going to work. The folks in the Kremlin aren’t stupid. They make mistakes too, but you can’t beat around the bush in speaking to the Russians. They respond best to direct communication and despite your wishes to the contrary, they understood perfectly the Vice President’s comments. He spoke plainly and candidly. Despite all the diplomatic niceties about asking for an explanation, they got the message. Really, no kidding.

Mr. Biden is known for speaking his mind and, well, he spoke bluntly. The Vice President described Russia as a country saddled with a “withering economy,” a “fragile banking structure” and leadership that is “clinging to something in the past.” Ouch.

Truth is, the Russian economy is in contraction, the government has poured in billions to keep weakened banks from failing, and Russia’s Prime Minister and President have each expressed that the ending of the Soviet Union was the low point of the 20th Century.

In diplomatic struggles however one usually doesn’t speak the truth so candidly to a country with which you hope to “reset” relations.. Somebody forgot to mention that to Vice President Biden.

ResetHoping to get yet another chance at hitting that embarrassingly misspelled ‘reset” button, Secretary Clinton is now racing from one television camera to another in a desperate attempt to convice somebody, heck anybody, that Washington views Russia as “a great power.”

Here we go again.

Navy Day – Russia attacks Vladivostok!

Sunday was Navy Day in Russia. Parades, wreath-layings, fireworks and open-air exhibits at all Russian naval bases and ports have marked Russia’s National Navy Day, an occasion usually widely marked by civilians as well as naval mariners.

Navy 4

In Novorossiysk on the Black Sea, the focus was on Russia’s contribution to the international counter-terror patrol in the Mediterranean. In St Petersburg, naval cadets watched a parade of historical items recovered from the Russian cruiser ‘Varyag’, which bravely fought the enemy in the Russo-Japanese war 105 years ago. Naval commanders spoke about St Petersburg’s role on the birth of the modern-era Russian Navy under Peter the Great. All naval fleets received congratulations from President Dmitri Medvedev.


The Russian Navy has had its troubles of late. It was just last month when the Russian Navy accidently attacked a small coastal village near the border of Finland, thinking that their shells were aimed in the opposite direction at an abandoned island off St Petersburg. Although no one was killed the village was pretty well leveled.

Well they did it again. But this time it was on the other end of the country. In preparation for Sundays’s Navy celebrations, a Russian warship actually shelled Vladivostok.

Navy 2

A Russian navy warship accidentally fired a ‘dummy’ artillery round, which has no explosive capacity, into an apartment building as Navy crews quartered at Vladivostok made final preparations for the holiday celebration.

Fortunally nobody was hurt but the shell’s impact broke windows and left a small crater outside the nine-story apartment building in Vladivostok, a port city on Russia’s Pacific Ocean coast close to China and Japan.

President Medvedev 2

One can imagine Russian President Dmitry Medvedev climbing out of a honorary submarine inspection to be greeted by the news. We certainly couldn’t blame him if he might say something like “What the hell happened? You mean…again?!” While we don’t have tape to prove that he said that, one can look at his facial expression…

Navy sub memorial

The Russian Bear is close to Medvedev’s heart

Russian President Medvedev was interviewed on television Sunday and when asked whether he felt uncomfortable with Russia’s image as a bear, Medvedev — whose own surname derives from the word — said, “It’s an image close to my heart.”

Speaking in the interview Sunday, President Dmitry Medvedev also said , “Our image needs to be comfortable for those who deal with us.” Medvedev’s comments came on Russian NTV television.

Bear blue

In the NTV interview, Medvedev compared today’s Russia to the Soviet Union. The president continued,“We should not be prickly and hard to approach, but at the same time we should be able to give a firm response when circumstances call for it,” he said.

Obviously addressing the folks at home, Mr.  Medvedev acknowledged that better ties with the Western world were in Russia’s interests and that prosperity at home would help the country’s image abroad. Saying that Russia is striving to create a modern, competitive country Medvedev reminded Russian cities that such a goal requires normal relations with the rest of the world.

The President also repeated his pledge to fight corruption in public life., harkening to new anti-corruptions laws which have been passed and signed into law recently.

The dual President/Prime Minister role of Mr. Medvedev and Mr. Putin have made modernizing the economy a top priority.

While restating the Kremlin desire to have better relations with the United States Medvedev also said, “There are limits to how far Russia will compromise for better relations with the United States,” referring to the USA’s growing involvement in former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Georgia.

Biden arrives in Georgia

Georgia Tbilisi

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden received a hero’s welcome on his arrival in Georgia today. Thousands of flag waving Georgians lined the streets of Tbilisi the capital of Georgia to greet his visit.

It was just a year ago that Russia swept into Georgia and won a short 5-day war with its former Soviet puppet. Signs saying “Don’t Forget Us” and “No to occupation” could be seen along George W. Bush Street as the motorcade passed by. Georgians remain angry about Russian troops stationed in two breakaway Georgian regions and in Georgian areas along the Black Sea.

Meanwhile Russia warned foreign countries against supplying Russian or Soviet-made arms to Georgia at the risk of endangering military trade with Moscow. Countries like Ukraine, which manufactures much of the Russian Army’s military hardware, have also sold military materials to Georgia.

The history of Georgia can be traced back to the ancient kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia, and it was one of the first countries to adopt Christianity as the official religion early in the 4th century. At the beginning of the 19th century Georgia became was forced into the Russian Empire. After a brief period of independence following the Russian Revolution of 1917, Georgia was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1922.

Independence was restored in 1991 after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Georgia is a representative democracy.

Biden says yes to NATO in Ukraine

USA Vice President Joe Biden signaled during his meetings in Ukraine that Washington supports Ukraine’s bid to join NATO and the government in Kyiv (Kiev) is free to choose its allies.

Biden in Ukraine 2

Meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Biden’s statements were aimed at Russia, which vehemently opposes NATO membership for its neighbors and is uncomfortable with their desire for greater economic and political integration with the West.

Polls, however, have shown that a majority of Ukrainians oppose NATO membership, but at the same time Ukrainians are looking for support as Russia acts to reassert some control in the region.

VP Biden met Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko later Tuesday. Mrs. Tymoshenko is likely to be one of Yushcheno’s main opposition challengers in January’s presidential election.

Mr. Biden also met with Viktor Yanukovych, the Moscow-backed presidential candidate who is very popular in Ukraine’s largely Russian-speaking east. Mr. Yanukovych lost the 2004 election but is expected to run again.

Moscow sues McDonalds!

Western businesses have learned that negotiations from the Russian perspective are often subject to change down the road. The deal one concludes today, even with a written contract, may not be worth much in the future.

McDonalds Cyrillic

The city of Moscow is back in Arbitration Court against the McDonald’s restaurant chain, demanding that the city be allowed to raise the lease rate for several of the company’s restaurants, located in municipal buildings in the centre of Moscow, according to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

The lease agreement between the Moscow government and McDonald’s was negotiated at the beginning of the 1990s when Moscow was desperate for jobs and wanted to bring in businesses from the West to help the frail economy. The deal was made for 49 years at the total rate of 1 ruble per square meter annually.

Even though McDonalds pays millions of dollars in taxes, the city of Moscow has decided its time to change the original contract. The city had already asked the court to establish a market rate for McDonald’s but the court rejected the claim.

Now the city is back in court, this time telling judges that the rate should correspond with a new city law that establishes minimum lease rates as not being less than 1,000 rubles. Outside observers believe that the new law was written and passed in order to apply to the McDonald’s leases.

There is a great photo tour of how McDonald’s works in Russia and in particular how the food is prepared. Just follow this link.

McD cheeseburger

(Photo above says “cheeseburger” in Russian Cyrillic.)