Russia, Ukraine, and Caucasus

Mapping Regional Differences in Economic and Social Development in Russia—A GeoCurrents Mini-Atlas

Generalized indicators of economic and social/human development, such as GDP per capita or HDI, typically place Russia into a medium-high category. However, such ratings overlook regional differences in economic and social development, which are highly pronounced in Russia. To examine these regional patterns, GeoCurrents has created a mini-atlas of Russia, designed using GeoCurrents customizable maps, which are available for free download. These maps examine a wide range of topics, from food consumption to alcoholism, and from crime rate to healthcare; additional maps cover issues that help explain regional patterns in development, such as the age structure and ethnic composition of the population. Unless indicated otherwise, the data comes from the Federal State Statistics Service, and refers to the year 2013. Since the data offered by the FSSS is presented in 83 Word files, one for each federal subject, we have re-organized the data into one Excel file (available for download here: Rosstat_data); some of the measures, such as the percentage of working age adults or of pensioners and sex ratios, have been calculated based on the FSSS data. Additional data comes from the “Children in Russia” publication by the FSSS, available (in Russian) here; this document, published in 2009, contains data from the preceding year. Some other data come from Wikipedia and refer to 2010 or 2013. Unfortunately, we have not been able to obtain data from a more recent date, particularly from after the annexation of Crimea in March 2014; if any of our readers know of such publicly available data, in English or Russian, please let us know.

Russia_Living_space_2013We’ll begin by looking at two rather unusual measures of the standard of living: the availability of living space and food consumption. Although Russia is a large and sparsely populated country, the availability of residential housing has long been a problem. As can be seen from the map on the left, residents of central Russian oblasts have more living space per capita than average, with inhabitants of Tver oblast enjoying an average of 29 sq. meters (312 sq. feet) per person. The only exception here is Moscow City, where an average resident has only 19.2 sq. meters (207 sq. feet) of living space, reminding one of Mikhail Bulgakov’s lament about Moscovites written some 75 years ago: “mercy sometimes knocks at their hearts…ordinary people… only the housing problem has corrupted them…” (Master and Margarita). While residents of Northern European Russia, the Volga region, and the Far East (Chukotka, Kamchatka, Sakhalin) have fairly ample living space, the North Caucasus and most of Siberia offer an average citizen more crowded housing. Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Chechnya have less than 20 sq. meters (215 sq. feet) of living space per capita, while Ingushetia posted the second-lowest figure in all of Russia: 13.5 sq. meters (145 sq. feet). A notable exceptions here is North Ossetia-Alania, with the figure of 26.9 sq. meters (290 sq. feet) of living space.

Similarly, several Siberian regions, such as Khanty-Mansiysk and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrugs, and Altai Republic (not to be confused with Altai Krai), have less than 20 sq. meters (215 sq. feet) of living space per capita. Particularly striking is the situation in Tuva: 12.9 sq. meters (139 sq. feet) per capita. As we shall see in subsequent posts, Tuva is found at the bottom of many development rankings. As mentioned above, the Far East overall has more residential housing per capita, although differences between, on the one hand, Primorsky Krai and Jewish Autonomous oblast, with less than 22 sq. meters (237 sq. feet) per capita, and Magadan oblast, with its ample 29 sq. meters (312 sq. feet) per person, is striking. However, in the case of Magadan, the higher availability of residential housing may be a symptom not of a higher standard of living, as one might think, but actually of a lower standard of living: since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Magadan oblast has a significant depopulation trend, and as we shall see in subsequent posts, many other indicators of human development there paint a grim picture, which helps explains this trend.

Russia_Meat_consumption_2013

Consumption of different foodstuffs, particularly meat and dairy, which tend to be the pricier components of the Russian diet, is another interesting topic. According to Rosstat data cited in an article in Kommersant.ru, the type of food consumed in largest per capita quantity is dairy: an average Russian consumes Russia_titular_ethnicity_2010over 200 kg (440 lbs) of it a year. (The most popular type of dairy is 3.2% milk and yoghurts.) Meat, however, takes the third place in the Russian diet: an average Russian citizen consumes 75-80 kg (165-176 lbs) of meat annually, which is less than the average annual consumption of bread and other grain-based foods. Russia_Percentage_ethnic_Russians_2010However, there are significant differences in the amount of meat and dairy consumed in different regions. For example, residents of Kalmykia consumed more than twice as much meat per capita as residents of Dagestan (114 kg vs. 40 kg). As for dairy, per capita consumption in Tatarstan is more than 3.5 times greater than Chukotka.

The geographical patterns of meat and dairy consumption can be explained only in part by economic factors, as they seem to correlate more closely with culinary traditions. For example, higher meat consumption correlates well with the presence of traditionally semi-nomadic, Turkic- and Mongolic-speaking peoples: Kalmyks (Mongolic), Sakha (Turkic), and smaller Turkic-speaking groups in Altai Republic. As can be seen from the map of ethnic composition, these regions have substantial populations of their titular ethnicities and lower percentages of ethnic Russians. But this pattern does not work elsewhere; thus, Chuvashia, Tatarstan, and Tuva also feature a significant Turkic population yet have much lower figures for meat consumption. Economic factors may play a more prominent role here. But economics does not tell the whole story either, as such high GDP areas as the three Autonomous Okrugs (Nenets, Yamalo-Nenets, and Khanty-Mansiysk AOs) and Tyumen oblast have some of the lowest meat consumption figures. I find especially perplexing the low figure in Chukotka—merely 51 kg (112 lbs) per person per year, less than half of the amount of meat consumed by an average Kalmykian—because Chukotka is both economically productive and has a substantial indigenous population, which traditionally lives on reindeer and seal.* It is much easier to explain similarly low meat consumption in Northeastern Caucasus—Dagestan (40 kg), Ingushetia (54 kg), and Chechnya (58 kg)—a region of both low GDP and a culinary tradition of supplementing meat (mostly lamb and goat, as well as poultry) with a lot of fruits and vegetables (for more on the cuisine of different parts of the Caucasus, see here and here).

Russia_Milk_dairy_consumption_2013As for dairy, one finds higher levels of milk consumption in (some of the) steppe regions, including Tatarstan (364 kg per capita per year), Bashkortostan (312 kg), Orenburg oblast (308 kg), parts of southwestern Siberia (esp. Altai Krai, 335 kg, and Omsk oblast, 301 kg), as well as in Sakha Republic (281 kg)—all areas where reliance on milk has been an important feature of traditional cuisine of cattle- and horse-raising semi-nomadic indigenous groups. However, milk has not been a staple for reindeer pastoralist groups: Evens, Evenkis, Nenets, Chukchi—so even today dairy consumption in their traditional areas remains fairly low. Another area which registers higher-than-average dairy consumption is St. Petersburg (315 kg) and the surrounding Leningrad oblast (293 kg), which probably goes back to the high number of dairy-producing sovkhoz (state-owned farms) during the Soviet era.

More perplexing are the relatively low figures of dairy consumption in four neighboring oblasts in north-central Russia: Yaroslavl (246 kg), Tver (243 kg), Vologda (236 kg), and Kostroma (194 kg). These regions are traditionally renowned for their specialty butter (Vologda) and cheeses (Yaroslavl, Tver, and Kostroma), so one might expect higher dairy-consumption figures. Historically, Russians produced and consumed “white” or “farmer’s cheese” but not “yellow” or “hard cheeses”, which first came to Russia from Holland with Peter the Great. According to moloko.cc website, the first cheese-making facility in Russia was opened in 1795 in Tver gubernia (now, oblast) in the estate of Prince Meschersky. The first large-scale cheese-making factory was also opened in Tver gubernia in 1866 by Nikolai Vereschagin (brother of famous artist). Cheese-making then spread to Yaroslavl gubernia, where local specialty cheeses were developed: Yaroslavsky, Uglichsky, Poshekhonsky cheeses (the latter two are named after the towns where they were first made: Uglich and Poshekhonye). In 1878, a first cheese-making facility opened in Kostroma by Vladimir Blandov; according to the Wikipedia, by 1912 Kostroma gubernia boasted 120 cheese-making factories in which a variety of cheeses, including the specialty Kostromskoy cheese, were being produced. Kostroma became an unofficial “cheese-making capital of Russia”, notes Vkusnoblog.net. What, then, explains the decline in local cheese-making and dairy consumption in this area? The answer seems to be Soviet food policy. During the communist era, regional specialty cheeses were turned into standardized recipes, mass-produced in factories all around the country, undermining the local specialization. Since the 1990s, some local artisanal cheese making has been revived, but most small local producers have not been able to complete with larger domestic factories and foreign imports. Kostromskoy and Poshekhonsky cheeses, for example, gave way to imported brie and camembert. Russia has imposed sanctions on the importation of many foreign foodstuffs, but it remains to be seen what effect these measures would have on local cheese production. (I thank Sonia Melnikova-Raich for a helpful discussion of this topic.)

Russia_Physicians_2013The rest of this post examines figures and maps concerning healthcare infrastructure. Overall, Russia ranks very high in physician density and the number of hospital beds per capita, but quite low in nurse density. Regional differences in these indicators are quite pronounced, however, and some of the geographical patterns are rather baffling. For example, unsurprisingly, Saint Petersburg boasts the highest physician density (81.2 physicians per 10,000 population), whereas Vladimir, Tambov, Tula, and Vologda oblasts in central Russia are served by fewer than 35 physicians per 10,000. One might expect Saint Petersburg to lag behind Moscow in this measure, but the figure in Moscow City is actually much lower (68.6). This contrast is probably related to the rapid population expansion in Moscow in the last two decades, something that did not occur in Saint Petersburg (for illustrative population graphs, see here); Moscow’s health infrastructure simply could not keep up with that demands of the growing population. (Saint Petersburg also has more nurses per capita and substantially more hospital beds per capita than Moscow.) Overall, Siberia’s population is served by more physicians per capita than that of European Russia and the southern Urals, although there are exceptions: Khakassia and Jewish Autonomous oblast have fewer than 40 physicians per 10,000, and Kurgan oblast is served by merely 30.2 physicians per 10,000. Another geographical pattern that stands out is the disparity in the concentration of physicians between major cities and their surrounding oblasts (Saint Petersburg: 81.2; Leningrad oblast: 34.5; Moscow City: 68.6; Moscow oblast: 39). Sharp contrasts between neighboring federal subjects are found elsewhere as well: Vladimir oblast (33.9) and Yaroslavl oblast (58), Vologda oblast (34.7) and Arkhangelsk oblast (54.5), Volgograd oblast (48.2) and Astrakhan oblast (65.8), Jewish Autonomous oblast (37.7) and Amur oblast (60.6), North Ossetia-Alania (71.7) and Ingushetia (37.7). The high physician density in Astrakhan oblast and North Ossetia-Alania is perplexing in and of itself.

Russia_Nurses_2013As for nursing personnel, higher nurse density (over than 130 nurses per 10,000 population) is found across the Russian Far North and in parts of the Altai region, which are generally areas of lower population density. The highest figures are found in Magadan oblast (151.3), Chukotka (151.1), and Komi Republic (146.6). In contrast, lower figures (fewer than 100 nurses per 10,000 population) characterize most of European Russia, the North Caucasus region, southwestern Siberia, and the southern part of the Far East. The shortage of nurses is experienced in federal cities (Moscow City: 97.9; Saint Petersburg: 98.4) and even more acutely in the surrounding oblasts (Moscow oblast: 76.7; Leningrad oblast: 73); Leningrad oblast has the lowest figure in all of Russia. Another area where nurses are in short supply is the North Caucasus economic region (Krasnodar Krai: 88.1; Dagestan: 82.1; Ingushetia: 77.1; Chechnya: 73.2). As with physician density, sharp contrasts are observed in some cases between neighboring federal subjects: Leningrad oblast (73) and Karelia (123.6), Samara oblast (91.7) and Ulyanovsk oblast (127.7), Zabaikalsky Krai (114.4) and Magadan oblast (151.3).

Russia_Hospital_beds_2013Finally, Russia ranks 3rd in the world (after Japan and Korea) with respect to the availability of hospital beds per capita; unsurprisingly, these three countries top the charts in terms of average length of hospital stays (an average Russian patient stays in hospital for 13.6 days; compare to 4.9 days in the United States). But yet again, regional variation in Russia is quite pronounced, with 149 beds per 10,000 population in Chukotka, but only 46 beds per 10,000 population in Ingushetia. The availability of hospital beds correlates somewhat with nurse density, though far from perfectly. There are more hospital beds per capita (over 120 per 10,000 population) in Siberia (especially, in Eastern Siberia and the Far East) and in parts of the European North (especially, in Nenets Autonomous Okrug and Murmansk oblast). Besides Chukotka, the highest figures are found in Magadan oblast and Tuva (both 136), and Kamchatka and Sakhalin (both 129). Lower figures (fewer than 90 hospital beds per 10,000 population) characterize much of European Russia, the Mid-Volga region and southern Urals, parts of Western and Southern Siberia, and the North Caucasus region. As with physician density, federal cities have higher figures than the surrounding oblasts (Moscow City: 85; Moscow oblast: 79; Saint Petersburg: 92; Leningrad oblast: 69); however, even the two cities do not boast particularly high figures. As with the other healthcare indicators, sharp contrasts are found between neighboring regions, such as Lipetsk oblast (79) and Oryol oblast (101), or Altai Republic (80) and Tuva (136).

Overall, it should be noted that the per-capita healthcare infrastructure does not correlate with the region’s GDP.** For example, physician density is expectedly high in richer federal cities and in Chukotka, but it is fairly low in other high GDP areas, especially in Nenets Autonomous Okrug. Similarly, nurse density is predictably high in Chukotka, Sakhalin, Yamalo-Nenets and Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrugs, but surprisingly low in other high GDP areas, particularly in the federal cities and in Tyumen oblast. Likewise, the availability of hospital beds per capita is unsurprisingly high in such rich regions as Chukotka, Sakhalin, and Nenets Autonomous Okrug, but low in others, especially in Tyumen oblast and Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug. Nor is there a close correlation between these three indicators. For instance, federal cities are characterized by a high level of physicians per capita but few nurses; conversely, there are few physicians but many nurses in Kurgan oblast. Similarly, there is no correlation between the numbers of nurses and hospital beds per capita: for example, Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug and Altai Republic have more nurses than hospital beds (1.83 and 1.69 nurses per hospital bed, respectively), whereas in Primorsky Krai and Tomsk oblast there are fewer nurses than hospital beds (0.83 and 0.93 nurses per hospital bed, respectively).

 

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*Figures for meat consumption refer to “meat and meat products, including offal of category II and raw animal fat”. According to the Wikipedia, “offal of category II” includes heads (without tongues), feet, lungs, ears, pigs’ tails, lips, larynxes, thyroid glands, esophagus meat, and stomachs. Tongues, livers, kidneys, brains, hearts, beef udders, diaphragms, and beef and mutton tails are considered “offal of category I”.

**Of course, quantitative measures of health infrastructure say nothing about its quality. Much has been written (especially, in Russian-language blogosphere) about the pitiful state of many Russian hospitals. Recently, two lethal incidents that happened in the 2nd city hospital in Belgorod have brought this point home. In the first incident, a doctor pounded a patient to death; a video of the incident caught on security camera is rather difficult to watch. Two weeks later, an 84-year old patient fell from a 4th floor window of the same hospital; whether he committed suicide, or was pushed, or whether it was an unfortunate accident remains to be seen.

 

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Customizable Maps of Russia for Downloading

Russia Per Capita Regional Product MapAs previously noted, GeoCurrents will be giving away a significant number of customizable maps over the next month or so. These maps are constructed with simple presentation software (available in both PowerPoint and Keynote formats), and hence are very easy to use and manipulate. A post later this week will offer some pointers on how to customize these maps. To download these maps, just click on the file names at the bottom of the post. (For this post, Keynote = “Customizable Maps of Russia” and PowerPoint = “Russia Customizable Federal Subjects Map.” It is important to note that all of these customizable maps have been made in an older version of Keynote, which I find superior to the current version.)

Today’s offering is of Russia. The basic GeoCurrents customizable map of Russia has been divided into its 85 constituent units, which are officially known as Russia’s federal subjects. Included here are Russia’s two new federal subjects (as of 2014), Crimea and Sevastopol, which are outlined with a dashed line to indicate that their annexation by Russia from Ukraine is disputed.

One can easily change the color of any of these units in order to make thematic maps. I have included above a map of Russia’s gross regional product by federal subject, which was made by Asya Pereltsvaig, to illustrate what one can do with these base-maps. This map illustrates nicely the high levels of economic production found in the resource-rich regions of northern and central Siberia, the economic disparities between Moscow & St. Petersburg and the rest of European Russia, and the low levels of economic production found in the north Caucasus and across much of southern Siberia. (As the economic map posted above uses 2013 data, Crimea and Sevastopol have been excluded.)

Russia’s 85 federal subjects are divided into different several categories, as specified in the county’s constitution. These are as follows: 46 oblasts; 22 republics; 9 krais; 4 autonomous okrugs; 3 federal cities; and one autonomous oblast. The actual differences among these varied types of federal subjects are not particularly large. Krais, for example, are (according to the Wikipedia) “essentially the same as oblasts. The title “territory” [or krai] is historic, originally given because they were once considered frontier regions.” Russian republics, however, do have somewhat more autonomy than the other federal subjects. As again is noted by the Wikipedia: “[Russian republics are] nominally autonomous, each has its own constitution and legislature; is represented by the federal government in international affairs; [and is meant to be home to a specific ethnic minority.”

The first map in each presentation set (PowerPoint and Keynote) merely gives the unmarked shapes of each Russian federal subject. The other maps provide names and other kinds of groupings as well. In one of these maps, the federal subjects are grouped and colored by type (oblast, republic, etc.). Another map groups and colors them by Russia’s economic regions. The PowerPoint set has an additional map, one in which the federal subjects are grouped and colored by Russia’s federal districts.

 

Russia Customizable Federal Subjects Map (PowerPoint)

Customizable Maps of Russia (Keynote)

 

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Ukraine Lecture Slides

Dear Readers,

Ukraine mapUnfortunately, regular posting continues to be delayed due to other obligations. I do, however, hope to write a brief post on some of those “other obligations” later this week. Mostly, however, I have simply been busy preparing slides for my weekly lectures this term on the history and geography of current global events. This week’s lecture focused on Ukraine. The 128 slides for this one-hour-and-fifty minute lecture are available below, in pdf format. The first group of slides examine current events, the second turns to geographical patterns, and the last explores historical development.

 

Next week’s lecture will look at news and controversies surrounding international migration, with a particular focus on South Africa and Mediterranean crossings from North Africa to Europe.

UkraineSlides

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Final Maps on “Geopolitical Anomalies”

This post merely contains some of the additional maps that I prepared for my March 31 lecture on the history and geography of current global events. These maps, like those in the two preceding posts, focus on geopolitical irregularities and anomalies in a region of the world that might be called the “Greater Middle East” (for lack of a better term). The maps in this post, in general, depict anomalies that are less pronounced than those considered in the previous posts.

Unfortunately, I do not have time to prepare explanatory text to accompany these maps. I must be ready to give an hour-and-fifty-minute lecture on Yemen for the same course on Tuesday, April 7, and that will demand most of my time over the next two days.

Divided Territories Map Non-Contiguous States MapOman Exclave MapNew States MapRefugees Map 1Refugees Map 2European Colonial Spheres MapFederations Map

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Geopolitical Anomalies in the “Greater Middle East,” Part 2

(note: The introduction to this post is found in the post of April 1)

Thus far we have examined a number of geopolitical anomalies in a sizable region of the world centered on Saudi Arabia. We have not yet looked at the most serious challenge to the standard model, however, that of state collapse. Other important issues remain to be considered as well.

Feeble States MapAs mentioned in the introduction to this series, Somalia has not functioned as a coherent state since 1991. Although its internationally recognized federal government controls more territory than it did a few years ago, large areas are still under the power of the radical Islamist group al-Shabaab, while the northwest forms the de facto state of Somaliland. Other areas are essentially run by local clans or other organizations that pledge their ultimate loyalty to the federal government but in actuality have complete or almost complete autonomy. A prominent example is Puntland in the northeast, which covers a third of Somalia and contains roughly a third of its population. Puntland’s constitution reveals its geopolitically ambiguity. It states, for example, that “Puntland is an independent integral part of Somalia”; being “independent” and being an “integral part” of a given country, however, would generally be seen as mutually exclusive propositions.

For many years, Somalia was the only collapsed state in the area covered by the map. That is obviously no longer the case. The official governments of Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq have lost control of vast stretches of their official territory to rival national governments, fully autonomous regions, and Islamist militias. It is now questionable whether any of them can be reconstituted as coherent states, at least any time soon. The authority that several of these states do still possess, moreover, relies heavily on military backing from other countries. The governments of both Iraq and Syria, for example, depend on the armed clout of Iran. The United States and other countries also help prop up Iraq by launching air strikes against ISIS (alternatively, ISIL, Daesh, or Islamic State). Afghanistan is more stable and unified than the other countries highlighted on the map, and is therefore depicted in a lighter shade of red. But if the United States military were to withdraw completely, it is quite possible that it too would unravel — as indeed has previously occurred in the recent past.

Islamist Organizations Greater Middle East MapOne of the main reasons for the collapse or near collapse of the states depicted on this map is the rise of radical Islamist organizations, the more important of which are shown on the next map. The territories under the power of these groups change rapidly, and as a result the map should be regarded as suggestive rather than strictly factual. But the rise of these groups is highly significant, presenting a major challenge to the standard model of global geopolitics. The more extreme groups, such as ISIS, vehemently reject the very notion of the nation-state, which they view as an unholy Western creation and imposition. Although the territories under the control of Islamist armies may well be rolled back in the coming months, these organizations still have the ability to attract militants both locally and from abroad, and thus will likely continue to present an obstacle to state consolidation for many years.

Combat Fatalities MapAlthough actual battle casualties in recent years have not surprisingly been highest in Syria and Iraq, many other countries in the region have experienced a good deal of bloodshed. The map to the left shows total combat fatalities by country for 2014 alone, based on a Wikipedia table. Two states stand out here that have not featured prominently on the other maps in this series: South Sudan and Central African Republic. South Sudan would actually rank second, after Syria, if I had selected the highest estimate given for each country rather than the lowest. South Sudan is noted as the world’s newest sovereign state, having gained independence in 2011. When South Sudanese rebels were fighting against the government of Sudan for independence, they were able to maintain a degree of cohesion, but when that struggle ended the two main ethnic groups of the region, the Dinka and the Nuer, quickly fell apart. Although the fighting has more recently subsided, it is uncertain whether South Sudan will be able to construct cohesive state. Central African Republic has a much longer history of independence than South Sudan, but it also continues to have difficulty in this regard. The vicious fighting between its Muslim and Christian militias in 2014 certainly does not bode well for future stability.

Separatist Movements MapEven many of the countries in this region that have not experienced extensive combat nonetheless contain active separatist movements that seek independence for the people they claim to represent, thereby challenging the legitimacy of the nation-state. According to the Wikipedia article on the subject, most of the countries visible on this map are home to such separatist groups, as can be seen in the image posted here. Most of these organizations, however, are not particularly violent or effective, and many consist of little more than a few discontented persons banding together to create a website. But others have the potential to emerge as threats to the states in which they are located. Consider, for example, Ethiopia. According to the Wikipedia article, Ethiopia experienced only 218 combat fatalities in 2014, 172 in the war against Somali OLF Mapinsurgents in the eastern Ogaden region and 46 in the struggle against Oromo rebels in the central part of the country. The same article, however, gives much higher cumulative combat fatalities in these struggles (1,300 in both cases). Another Wikipedia article states that the insurgency of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) ended in 2012, but a low-level conflict nonetheless persists, and as recently as the 1990s the organization boasted 60,000 fighters (current figures run around 5,000). Significantly, the OLF claims roughly half of Ethiopia’s territory, and its website maintains that it represents an Oromo nation some 40 million strong.

 

Border Disputes MapThe next map in today’s post shows the ubiquity of territorial disputes in this part of the world, based on another Wikipedia table. As can be seen, relatively few countries here have no border disagreements with their neighbors. Most of these disputes are admittedly relatively minor, and thus do not interfere much with international relations. Some are also rather obscure, such as the argument between Egypt and Saudi Arabia over Tiran and Sanafir islands. According to Wikipedia, Egypt controls these islands but Saudi Arabia claims them, but the article goes on to state that “the definite sovereignty over Tiran Island is left unclear by both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, due to geostrategic reasons.” GlobalSecurity.org, however, frames the issue quite differently, stating that:

Tiran Island MapBoth of the islands officially belong to Saudi Arabia but are being used by Egypt. Because of strict military regulations, it’s not possible to enter the islands.

The Multinational Force and Observers [MFO] has soldiers stationed at observation points to ensure both parties abide the treaty. The force and observers, totaling 1,900, are under the command of a Norwegian military officer. The military personnel are on loan from 11 nations.

Other border disputes in the region are far more serious. The Durand Line that separates Afghanistan from Pakistan, for example, is absolutely rejected by the government of Afghanistan, which claims that it had been negotiated with the British colonialists in South Asia to separate spheres of influence rather than to fix an international boundary. This perennial border dispute plays into the tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which have recently intensified. As noted in a Wikipedia article on Afghanistan–Pakistan skirmishes, “The cross-border shellings intensified in 2011 and 2012 with many reports from different occasions claiming that Pakistani missiles have hit civilian areas inside Afghanistan’s Nuristan Province, Kunar Province and Nangarhar Province.”

Additional geopolitical anomalies found in this region of the world will be explored in the final post in this series. With luck, that post will go up on April 5. We will then turn our attention to the situation in Yemen.

 

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Geopolitical Anomalies in the “Greater Middle East,” Part I

(Note: The introduction to this post is found in the previous post, that of April 1))

U.N. Greater Middle East MapA detail from the Wikipedia map of United Nations members, discussed in the previous post, shows only one non-member in the region that we might crudely dub the “greater Middle East,” which is the focus of today’s post. That non-member is the Palestinian geopolitical anomalies map 1territory, composed of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as can be seen the second map. This area is deeply anomalous in regard to geopolitical standards, and would be worthy of an entire post. The two units of which it is composed are not just geographically but also politically separate, despite efforts to form a unity government.* They have some but by no means all of the attributes of sovereignty. As the map notes, they also occupy an ambiguous position in the United Nations, as well as in the global system of mutual state-to-state recognition.

geopolitical anomalies map 2But the Palestinian territories are merely one of a great many geopolitical anomalies found in the region depicted on this map. Consider, for example, the situation of Kosovo. Although the U.N. map portrays Kosovo as part of Serbia, it is in actuality an independent country. It is not, however, a members of the United Nations, and its recognition by other sovereign states is far from complete. Three other states in the region are also characterized by incomplete international recognition, as the next map shows. 32 U.N. members do not recognize Israel, while Cyprus and Armenia are each denied by one member, Turkey in the former case and Pakistan in the latter. Curiously, Pakistan refuses to acknowledge Armenia in deference to Azerbaijan, which has lost much of its internationally recognized territory to Armenia, yet Azerbaijan itself continues to recognize the country.

geopolitical anomalies map 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

geopolitical anomalies map 4The next map, “States With Barely Functional Central Governments,” highlights recognized U.N member states in which regional governments or factional militias have more power than the state itself, a category that encompasses Lebanon and Bosnia & Herzegovina. In the former case, the militia of Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia political party, is much stronger than the national armed forces. As Hezbollah militarily operates on its own, with support from Iran and without oversight by the Lebanese government, its presence in Lebanon contravenes a key defining feature of the state, as states are supposed to have a monopoly over the legitimate use of force and coercion. Lebanon has a peculiar system of “confessionalism,” one in which politics are structured around religious communities. Although this system once functioned relatively well, it has not in the long run proved conducive to national unity. Intriguingly, Lebanese confessionalism was enacted as a temporary measure more than 80 years ago, yet it remains full ensconced.

Bosnia in many ways is even less of a coherent state than Lebanon. It is divided into three autonomous units, the “Serb Republic,” the Croat-Bosniak “Federation” (which is itself rather dysfunctional), and the self-governing unit of Brčko (which formally belongs to both the “republic” and the “federation”). Equally important, the highest political office in the country is arguably that of the “High Representative,” who is not even a citizen of the state, making Bosnia something of an international protectorate. As the Wikipedia notes, “The OHR’s [Office of the High Representative] prolonged interference in the politics of Bosnia and Herzegovina is also considered to be one of the causes of the low commitment of citizens towards the state.” The other reasons for the “low commitment of citizens towards the state,” however, are probably more significant, particularly that of the persisting ethnic animosity that marks Bosnia’s constituent communities. If given a free choice, most Bosnian Serbs would probably opt to join their territory with Serbia, just as most Bosnian Croats would likely want to join their lands with Croatia. Under such conditions, referring to Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign state is a bit of a stretch, while calling it a “nation-state” is simply unreasonable.

geopolitical anomalies map 5The next two maps, showing internationally unrecognized annexations, are a bit more straightforward. Russia has officially annexed Crimea, and will likely retain full control over that territory. But as this action is widely viewed as illegitimate, most maps produced elsewhere in the world will almost certainly continue to show Crimea as geopolitical anomalies map 6Ukrainian territory. The situation in regard to Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh is somewhat more complicated. The Armenian-majority territory of Nagorno-Karabakh has officially declared itself to be an independent state, although it has not been recognized as such by any member of the U.N. Most sources, however, regard it as having been unofficially annexed by Armenia. Most of the lands surrounding the official boundaries of Nagorno-Karabakh, moreover, are controlled by the Armenian military and are therefore effectively part of that country. Armenia is able to maintain control over these territories, which formally belong to the larger and more economically powerful country of Azerbaijan, in large part due to Russian support.

geopolitical anomalies map 7The next map portrays internationally recognized sovereign states that do not control their full territorial extent due to the emergence of self-proclaimed states (which are themselves depicted on the following maps). All of these proclaimed statelets exercise effective power over all or most of the territories that they claim, but they do not necessarily possess all of the elements that constitute genuine sovereignty. Most of them are widely viewed as “puppet states” of larger independent countries.

 

 

geopolitical anomalies map 8The map posted to the left shows the three self-proclaimed states in question that have received some international recognition. Northern Cyprus is recognized only by Turkey and is often regarded as Turkish client state. The other two, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, have gained higher international standings, being reckoned as independent by Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Nauru. (Vanuatu had briefly recognized Abkhazia and Tuvalu had briefly recognized both states, but they later withdrew their recognition). Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia are commonly regarded as Russian client states, with Nauru giving its nod of approval due to financial compensation from Russia, and Venezuela and Nicaragua doing so to signal their disapproval of the United States and other countries opposed to Russia’s actions. Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared their independence shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union, rejecting membership in Georgia, which by international consensus should rightfully encompass them. Northern Cyprus declared its independence from Cyprus in 1983, a maneuver made possible by the Turkish invasion and partition of the island in 1974.

geopolitical anomalies map 9The next map adds to the previous one several self-proclaimed states that lack international recognition. One, Nagorno-Karabakh, has been discussed earlier in this post. Three of the other entities shown on this map, Transnistria (officially, the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic), Luhansk People’s Republic, and Donetsk People’s Republic, are widely regarded as Russian puppet states. Transnistria was hived off from Moldova after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the latter two emerged out of far eastern Ukraine during the conflict of 2014. Together, Luhansk and Donetsk form the self-proclaimed federation of Novorossiya, or New Russia. They are recognized as sovereign states only by South Ossetia. Transnistria is recognized by South Ossetia as well as Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Together, these four statelets comprise the inaptly named Community for Democracy and Rights of Nations, also called the Commonwealth of Unrecognized States. The other self-proclaimed state shown on this map, Somaliland, enjoys more genuine independence, not serving as a client state. Yet Somaliland has no formal international recognition and is instead regarded as part of the non-functional state of Somalia. Ethiopia, however, comes close to recognizing it, with its local consulate headed by a diplomat with ambassadorial ranking. In 2014, moreover, the British city of Sheffield recognized Somaliland’s independence, a purely symbolic maneuver that nonetheless generated marked enthusiasm in the self-proclaimed state.

geopolitical anomalies map 10Finally, the last map includes as well a fully autonomous region that has not declared its own sovereignty but may well do so in the future: Iraqi Kurdistan. Of all of the “statelets” shown on this map, Iraqi Kurdistan probably has the most effective government; along with Somaliland, moreover, it has the best claims to possessing something approaching genuine independence. I have also appended to it the currently autonomous Kurdish areas of northern Syria, known locally as Rojava. The future situation of this area is of course highly uncertain.

 

Whatever Rojava’s future may hold, the region is currently structured in an interesting manner that has some bearing on geopolitical models. As described in the Wikipedia:

 The political system of Rojava is a mixture of socialist principles at the local level with libertarian principles at the national level. …

Political writer David Romano describes it as pursuing ‘a bottom-up, Athenian-style direct form of democratic governance’. He contrasts the local communities taking on responsibility vs the strong central governments favoured by many states. In this model, states become less relevant and people govern through councils similar to the early US or Switzerland before becoming a federal state in the Sonderbund war. Rojava divides itself into regional administrations called cantons named after the Swiss cantons. …

Its programme immediately aimed to be “very inclusive” and people from a range of different backgrounds became involved (including Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, and Turkmen (from Muslim, Christian, and Yazidi religious groups).

 

Thus far we have examined just a few of the anomalies found in the geopolitical map of this region. We will look at many more in tomorrow’s post.

* As noted in the Wikipedia, “On 30 November 2014, Hamas declared that the unity government had ended with the expiration of the six month term. But Fatah subsequently denied the claim, and said that the government is still in force.”

Geopolitical Anomalies in the “Greater Middle East,” Part I Read More »

Ukrainian Regionalism and the Federal Option

Ukraine2004ElectionMapLike many other pundits, David Frum fears that Vladimir Putin is plotting to transform Ukraine into a weak federation and then transform some of its federal units into de facto Russian dependencies. As he argues in a recent Atlantic article:

In the weeks since Russian forces seized Crimea, Vladimir Putin’s plan for mainland Ukraine has become increasingly clear: partition. Putin’s ambassadors and ministers don’t use that word, of course. In talks with their U.S. and NATO counterparts, they prefer the word “federalism.” They want to organize manipulated referendums to create Russian-aligned governments in the eastern regions of Ukraine. These governments would be endowed with broad powers, including authority over trade, investment, and security. Russia would then reach deals with these governments in an arrangement that would amount to annexation in all but name.

Frum goes on to make some interesting observations about the ambiguities in the idea of a federation. As he notes, although Russia proclaims itself to be a federation rather than a national state, it is actually governed from the center, allowing little autonomy for its so-called federal subjects. As Frum explains:

Russia, of course, is itself one of the most centralized nations on earth. The president appoints regional governors, who in turn handpick the Federation Council, Russia’s Senate. The central government controls most state revenue, the police— really, almost everything.

Ukraine2006ElectionMapMy main complaint with Frum’s formulation is his use of the term “nation” in the first sentence. Russia may be a centralized state, but that does not make it a nation state, much less a nation, as its constituent nationalities are categorized as separate entities. In Russia, even passports make it clear that Tatars, Chechens, Jews, and others do not belong to the Russian nation, as explained in a previous GeoCurrents post.

The kind of federation that Putin seems to envisage for Ukraine, however, is not the superficial variety epitomized by Russia, but rather the fully decentralized type in which the federal government has scant power, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ukrainian nationalists loathe the idea of transforming their country into a loose amalgamation, seeing, like Frum, a pretext for de facto partition and Russian domination. But regardless of Russian designs, Ukraine will probably continue to have trouble cohering as tightly unified state, as its split between the generally Russian-oriented southeast and the nationalistic and Western-oriented northwest is too profound. In the 2004 presidential election, for example, the Russian-inclined candidate Victor Yanukovych won over 90 percent of the vote in two far east eastern oblasts (Luhansk and Donetsk), whereas his rival Victor Yushchenko took over 95 percent of the vote in two regions of the far west (Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil). Such deep polarization does not bode well for Ukraine’s political future.

As is evident (and as was explained in earlier GeoCurrents posts), Ukraine is thus divided into two political units by a line running from the southwest to the northeast. But both of the resulting “macroregions” are in turn politically subdivided. The remainder of this post will examine the divisions of the northwest, the heartland of Ukrainian nationalism.

UkrainePoliticalRegonsMapOn the map to the left, I have labeled the northwestern half of the country “Nationalist Ukraine,” as distinguished from the southeastern “Russia-Oriented Ukraine.” Based on recent voting patterns, I have divided the former unit into three subregions. The first, labeled here “Core Ukraine,” is marked by pronounced but not overwhelming support for Ukrainian nationalists and Western-oriented politicians. To the west of the core is a smaller region composed of Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Ternopil oblasts, which is characterized by overwhelming support for Ukrainian nationalism along with Ukraine2012ElectionSvobodaMapa strong measure of extreme nationalism. In this region, called here Far Western Ukraine, the Orange-Revolution hero Victor Yushchenko took more than 93 percent of the vote in 2004. In the 2006 election, the Far West, unlike neighboring oblasts to the east, generally rejected the Yulia Tymoshenko Block, supporting instead Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine. In the most recent election (2012), the extremist neo-fascist party Svoboda polled well only in this region, where it took more than 30 percent of the vote – and a plurality in Lviv.

Ukraine2012ElectionMapWhile the Far West is the most ardent part of Ukraine’s nationalistic greater northwest, the extreme western oblast of Zakarpattia barely fits the pattern. In 2012, the Russian-oriented Party of Region took a plurality of its votes. The extreme nationalist party Svoboda, moreover, is relatively weak here. Zakarpattia also distinguishes itself in its variable voting Ukraine2012ElectionOudarMappatterns, which separate district from district, as can be seen in the map of the 2006 election. Zakarpattia is also notable for having given a substantial percentage of its votes in 2012 to Vitali Klitschko, a former highly successful professional boxer dubbed “Dr. Ironfist” in reference both to his physically prowess and his educational attainment (he holds a doctorate in “sports science” and is an avid chess player).  Klitschko pushes for European integration, reduced corruption, and enhanced transparency, as well as lower taxes, but does not advocate cultural nationalism, viewing the language issues as relatively unimportant.

Ruthenia MapZakarpattia’s distinctiveness is rooted in part in its physical geography. Located on the far side of the formidable Carpathian Mountains from the rest of the country, it is located in and on the outskirts of the Danubian Basin, also known as the Pannonian Plain. As such, it is much more easily accessible from Budapest, Bratislava, and even Vienna than it is from Kyiv (Kiev), let alone Moscow.

Historical-geographical patterns also help explain the political regionalization of “Nationalist Ukraine.” The main part of this region, which I dubbed “Core Ukraine” on the map above, was long under Polish-Lithuanian domination, but came under Russian rule with the partition of Poland in the late 1700s. Far Western Ukraine, on the other hand, passed from Polish rule to the Austrian (Habsburg) Empire, forming the Ukraine1700PoliticalMapeastern portion of its region of Galicia. It was returned to Poland after World War I, and did not become part of the Soviet Union until the end of World War II. The Austrian period seems to have been crucial in nurturing the far West’s devotion to Ukrainian nationalism as well as identification with the West. The key factor here was the continued survival and indeed florescence of the Uniate Church, which had emerged in the late 1500s under Polish-Lithuanian rule, when the Roman Catholic Church successfully brought part of the local religious establishment under its umbrella as one of the so-called Eastern Catholic churches (such self-governing Catholic divisions were allowed to keep their own liturgies, as well as married priests). As explained in an excellent Wikipedia article on the history of Christianity in Ukraine:

Ukraine1900PoliticalMapThe Austrians granted equal legal privileges to the Uniate Church and removed Polish influence. They also mandated that Uniate seminarians receive a formal higher education (previously, priests had been educated informally by other priests, usually their fathers, as the vocation was passed on within families), and organized institutions in Vienna and Lviv that would serve this function. This led to the appearance, for the first time, of a large educated social class within the Ukrainian population in Galicia. As a result, within Austrian Galicia over the next century the Uniate Church ceased being a puppet of foreign interests and became the primary cultural force within the Ukrainian community. Most independent native Ukrainian cultural trends … emerged from within the ranks of the Uniate Church. The participation of Uniate priests or their children in western Ukrainian cultural and political life was so great that western Ukrainians were accused of wanting to create a theocracy in western Ukraine by their Polish rivals

Zakarpattia, or trans-Carpathian Ukraine, experienced a markedly different political history, as it was long part of Hungary, even during the period when Hungary was subordinated to Austrian power under the Hapsburg dynasty. It passed to Czechoslovakia in the inter-war period, and did not Austria-HungaryRutheniaMapbecome part of Ukraine, and hence the Soviet Union, until the end of World War II. This region’s local “Uniate” Church, the Ruthenian Catholic Church, was mostly eradicated, or at least forced underground, by Soviet-era persecution. As a result, it maintained its structures most successfully among emigrant populations in the United States. Incidentally, the best-known American member of this community is the pop-artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987), born Andrej Varhola, Jr. in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Ruthenian Church’s main body in the United States, not coincidently, is the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh.

(Note: the base maps used for the historical maps here is the Euratlas, an excellent source. )

 

 

 

Ukrainian Regionalism and the Federal Option Read More »

Energy Issues in the Ukrainian Crisis

Ukraine pipelines mapEnergy issues figure prominently in many discussions of the conflict in Ukraine. As is often noted, Europe’s reliance on Russian natural gas gives Moscow significant leverage. Ukraine, moreover, is weakened by its own dependence on Russian energy, and its situation is complicated by the Russian natural gas pipelines that transverse its territory. Less often noted are Ukraine’s own significant gas deposits, several of which are threatened by Russian actions. To be sure, Ukraine’s proven natural gas reserves—which ranked 24rth in the world as of 2010—are dwarfed by those of Russia: 1,104 billion cubic meters vs. 48,600 billion cubic meters. But Ukraine’s reserves are still substantial, and the country had hoped to emerge as a gas exporter. Many of its recent initiatives, however, have focused on offshore deposits in the Back Sea, which are now under effective Russian control. As was recently explained in B92:

The new authorities in Crimea decided to nationalize the oil and gas company Chornomornaftogaz, a part of Ukraine’s Naftogaz. Chornomornaftogaz owns 17 fields and has 13 offshore platforms, in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov, employing 4,000 people … [T]he company [will] soon be put up for privatization and Gazprom has expressed an interest. Chornomornaftogaz’s deputy chief executive Volodymyr Plechun told Forbes that “representatives of the new authorities took the helm of the company on March 13, accompanied by gunmen,” adding that four representatives of Gazprom were also there, and “immediately began to study documents.”

Crimea Natural Gas MapThe fate of Ukraine’s off-shore gas deposits remains to be seen. So does the eventual position of the de facto maritime border between Russian-dominated Crimea and Ukraine proper, a potentially vexatious issue.

Ukraine’s unconventional onshore gas deposits, however, may prove more important in the long run. The issue here is shale gas, trapped deposits that can only be released by hydraulic fracturing (fracking), a technique honed over past decade in the United States. According to 2011 data from the US Energy Information Administration, Ukraine’s “estimated recoverable shale gas resources” amount to 42 trillion cubic feet. This figure is the 18th highest in the world, although it is dwarfed by the 1,275 trillion cubic feet of China and the 862 trillion cubic feet of the United States. According to a 2012 Reuters article, Ukraine had hoped to start commercially production of shale gas by 2017. But again, Ukraine’s shale gas deposits are not necessarily geopolitically secure. Robert Kaplan, in his Time essay analyzed in Monday’s post, emphasizes this point, claiming that Putin has sought to “demonstrate Russia’s geographical supremacy over the half of Ukraine … Ukraine Shale Gas Mapblessed with large shale-gas reserves” (p. 33). In actuality, the situation is more complicated. As can be seen on the map posted here, the eastern Dniper-Donets shale-gas basin extends almost to Kiev, well inside the Ukrainian core, whereas the Lublin Basin, which may hold even more gas, is located in the heartland of Ukrainian nationalism in the west.

Shale Gas in Ukraine MapShale gas, however, is a notoriously controversial issue. Some optimistic expectations have been dashed, as tight gas can be difficult to extract even through the most advanced fracking techniques, and initial deposit estimates have not always panned out. Public opposition, moreover, can be even more challenging.

The failure of the shale-gas industry to develop as anticipated has been especially sharp in Poland. As reported in November 2013 by Krakow Post:

Two years ago, shale gas was being heralded as the key to a prosperous, energy independent Poland, and Central Europe as a whole was looking forward to a shale gas revolution like the one that has transformed the US economy. Today, several multinational energy companies have withdrawn from the region, disappointed by poor exploration results, excessive red tape, and protests by residents over the controversial gas-extraction process known as ‘fracking.’

Fracking is indeed controversial, regarded by green stalwarts as an abomination, assaulting Earth through the injection of toxic chemicals deep into its veins. Eco-modernists, on the other hand, tend to grudgingly support fracking, as the natural gas that it unlocks is much less carbon-intensive than the coal that it generally supplants. Debates between the two groups often focus on technical issues, such as the amount of methane that is inadvertently released during fracking operations.

In Europe, green opposition to the practice has generally prevailed. Fracking is banned in France and Bulgaria and under moratorium in Germany. Bulgaria’s decision to ban hydraulic fracturing in 2012 was particularly contentious, as it has been argued that pro-Russian forces organized the oppositional movement, fomenting protests and lobbying the Bulgarian parliament. If hydraulic fracturing were to prove as economically successful in Europe as it has in the United States, Russia’s clout in the region would be diminished. As a result, anti-Russian Bulgarian nationalists were appalled by the decision to ban the practice. Green activists, on the other hand, were thrilled.

The connection between energy and the Ukrainian conflict extends beyond the fracking debate. Critics charge that Europe’s—and particularly Germany’s—energy policies have played into the hands of Vladimir Putin, making the region unnecessarily dependent on Russian gas. In a recent article in the Financial Times, Bjørn Lomborg argues that:

The Ukrainian crisis has again put German energy policy in the spotlight. As long as Europe’s green energy is expensive and unreliable, it favours Russian gas and leaves the continent’s energy policy unsustainable. Germany’s energiewende, the country’s move away from nuclear and fossil fuels towards renewable energies has been regarded by some commentators as an example for the rest of the world. But now Germany shows the globe how not to make green policy. It is failing the poor, while protecting neither energy security nor the climate.

Germany New Coal Powerplants MapLomborg is an extremely controversial figure in environmental circles. A self-styled “skeptical environmentalist,” he is regarded by most members of the green movement as a mere apologist for polluting industries. Yet some of his charges against Germany’s energiewende are difficult to deny, as the program has faltered not merely on economic but also on environmental grounds. Certainly the country’s production of solar and wind power has surged, but neither renewable source of electricity provides the baseload that must be maintained when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing. Due to both to a drop in natural gas use and the phasing out of nuclear reactors, Germany has had to increase its use of of coal, especially of dirty lignite, swelling its emissions of carbon dioxide. The country has also turned extensively to biomass burning, which also has distinctly negative environmental consequences. Faced with a major squeeze on consumers due to its high energy costs and burdened by its failure to meet its own environmental goals, Germany is poorly prepared to face possible Russian retaliation in the gas market.

Germany’s energiewende has many defenders, who argue that it is much too soon to dismiss the program, as steady progress is being made in renewable energy efficiency. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman takes a particularly optimistic position:

Anyone following the clean power industry today can tell you that there is something of a Moore’s Law now at work around solar power, the price of which is falling so fast that more and more homes and even utilities are finding it as cheap to install as natural gas. Wind is on a similar trajectory, as is energy efficiency. China alone is on a track to be getting 15 percent of its total electricity production by 2020 from renewables, and it’s not stopping there. It can’t or its people can’t breathe. If America and Europe were to give even just a little more policy push now to renewables to reduce Putin’s oil income, these actions could pay dividends much sooner and bigger than people realize.

It is too soon to tell whether Friedman’s sunny predictions will come to pass, but they strike me as somewhat naive. Germany is giving a huge “policy push to renewables,” and thus far its dividends have been rather meager. The idea that solar and wind power are at the verge of becoming economically competitive, moreover, has been repeated now for decades; I was taught exactly the same when I was an environmental studies major at the University of California at Santa Cruz in the 1970s. It is true that substantial progress has occurred in the intervening years, but a renewable energy panacea still eludes us. The biggest problem is that of storage. Although progress is also being made on this front, battery and other storage technologies remain inadequate—and batteries themselves are extremely environmentally damaging.

Considering Europe’s dependence on Russian energy and the current abundance of natural gas in the United States, many voices are now calling on the U.S. to drop its ban on exports and to begin shipping liquefied natural gas (LNG) to European markets. This proposal is strongly opposed by mainstream environmental groups, which condemn fracking and fossil fuels more generally, by American consumer organizations, which favor low domestic prices, and by the U.S. chemical industry, which also benefits from cheap gas. Some European countries, however, are keen to acquire non-Russian LNG from whatever source is possible. Currently, a major South Korean-made floating import terminal is being prepared for Lithuania. But the overall effects of lifting the U.S. export ban would probably be minimal, in large part because LNG prices are higher in East Asia than in Europe, likely making East Asia the favored export market.

Whatever the fate of LNG exports, the problems with Germany’s energiewende, are leading to some profound re-thinking. Eco-modernists, for example, are increasingly accepting nuclear power as the best near-term option, hoping that fusion power is not too far off in the future. But to the committed greens, nuclear power remains anathema. Their challenge is to devise alternatives that are environmentally, economically, and technologically viable.

Despite such problems, Europe has achieved much success on the energy front. As reported in The Economist, the region has partially filled its gas-storage reservoirs and has been integrating its gas pipeline network, thus reducing its vulnerability to sudden moves by Russia. Western Europe’s energy efficiency, and especially that of Germany, is also striking. Ukraine uses almost twice the amount of energy that Germany does per unit of GDP. As such, the government of Ukraine has been advised to study German techniques. Meaningful reform would probably necessitate phasing out its generous subsidies. As was recently argued in The Economist:

A major target for reform were Ukraine’s cushy energy subsidies. The state gas company, Naftogaz, only charges consumers a quarter of the cost of importing the gas. Cheap gas discourages investment: Ukraine is one of the most energy-intensive economies in the world and domestic production has slumped by two-thirds since the 1970s. The IMF ended up freezing the deal in 2011 after Kiev failed to touch the costly subsidies.

Reducing energy subsidies, however, is always a politically perilous maneuver, as it puts a new burden on consumers. Considering Ukraine’s current instability, action on this front will likely not be a high priority. Ukraine’s subsidies to Crimea, however, will almost certainly come to an end, and it will be interesting to see if Russia offers the peninsula a favorable subsidy scheme to prevent any further instability, or if Crimea will now have to pay more expensive Russian prices for its energy supply.

Nuclear Reactors Ukraine mapUnlike Germany, Ukraine is not abandoning nuclear power—despite having suffered the world’s worst nuclear disaster (at Chernobyl in 1986). Almost half of the country’s electricity supply currently comes from nuclear plants. Plans drawn up between 2008 and 2012 call for a major expansion of the industry. Most financing, however, was to come from Russia. According to the World Nuclear Association, moreover, “Ukraine receives most of its nuclear services and nuclear fuel from Russia.”

All in all, Ukraine faces a difficult energy situation in the near future.

Energy Issues in the Ukrainian Crisis Read More »

Russian Envelopment? Ukraine’s Geopolitical Complexities

The current issue of Time magazine features an article by Robert Kaplan that emphasizes the geographical aspects of what he refers to as “endless chaos and old-school conflicts,” especially in regard to Ukraine. In general, I appreciate Kaplan’s insistence on the abiding importance of geography and I am impressed by his global scope of knowledge, although I do think that his analyses tend to be a bit too simple. My reaction to his most recent article is much the same.

Ukraine Not Encircled MapHere Kaplan stresses Ukraine’s military and economic vulnerability imposed by its relatively flat terrain and its proximity to the Russian heartland. His assessment is clear: “the dictates of geography make it nearly impossible for that nation to reorient itself entirely to the West.” Kaplan reiterates this point in the caption of his map of “Ukraine/Crimea”: “Ukraine is too enveloped by Russia to ever be completely tied to the West. Crimea gives Russia its only access to a warm-water port.”

Many works on the current conflict emphasize the significance of warm-water ports, the pursuit of which have been a historical mainstay of Russian geopolitics. It is essential to note, however, that the naval value of Crimea’s Sevastopol is rather seriously compromised by the fact that its access to the high seas is constrained by Turkey’s—and hence NATO’s—possession of the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. Yet Sevastopol certainly is of regional strategic value, as became evident in August 2008, when Russian ships based there were used to blockade Georgian ports.

Kaplan’s emphasis on Russia’s envelopment of Ukraine is less often encountered, and for good reason, as it is hardly evident on the map. As can be seen from Kaplan’s own visualization, only about a third of Ukraine’s border fronts on that of Russia. Further analysis, however, along with more detailed mapping, strengthen Kaplan’s envelopment argument. Consider, for example the position of Belarus, which sits across Ukraine’s northwestern border. If Belarus is counted as a Russian satellite, as it often is, then Russian-dominated territory does come much closer to encircling Ukraine. Yet the actual geopolitical position of Belarus is hotly debated. According to the title of Andrew Wilson’s recent article in Foreign Affairs, “Belarus Wants Out”—out of the Russian embrace, that is. As Wilson perceptively writes, “Above all, [Belarussian leader Alexander] Lukashenko wants to avoid having to make a decision between Russia and the West. He has always been happy to be Russia’s ally, but only as the leader of a strong, independent state capable of steering its own course.” The fact that Belarus, unlike Venezuela and Nicaragua, has not recognized the independence of the Russian-dominate statelets of Abkhazia and South Ossetia underscores the independence of its foreign policy. Lukashenko’s avoidance of choosing between Russia and the West is also evident from his recent actions. While accepting the results of the Crimean referendum, he has also initiated negotiations with NATO.

Ukraine Encircled MapBut Belarus is not the only territory unmapped by Kaplan that contributes to potential Russian envelopment of Ukraine. Crimea, of course, is now under effective Russian control, and thus should be depicted as such on maps aimed at showing the de facto rather than the de jure geopolitical situation. Equally significant but more often overlooked is the self-declared state of Transnistria, which is situated along Ukraine’s southwestern flank. Transnistria, like Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is often regarded as a Russian puppet, although its actual situation is complex, as will be seen in a forthcoming GeoCurrents post. The main point, however, remains: if one were to include all of these additional Russian-influenced territories, then it would appear that Ukraine is almost encircled by powers potentially hostile to its current government.

In fleshing out his argument, Kaplan foresees Russian ascendency over eastern Ukraine, owing to its proximity to Russia, its economic importance, and its demographic domination by pro-Russian groups. He does not, however, anticipate annexation of the region:

Putin is not likely to invade eastern Ukraine in a conventional way. In order to exercise dominance, he doesn’t need to. Instead, he will send in secessionists, instigate disturbances, probe the frontier with Russian troops and in other ways use the porous border with Ukraine to undermine both eastern Ukraine’s sovereignty and its links to western Ukraine.

A similar prognosis is made by James Traub of Foreign Policy:

Putin has so many lower-cost options available to him that a large-scale invasion — even one limited to border areas — still seems unlikely. Putin may calculate that he can destabilize Ukraine, and thus turn its dalliance with the West into a failure, by using Russia’s immense economic power to squeeze Ukraine, by blanketing the east with propaganda from Russian media and by sending agents provocateurs to whip up popular discontent. Putin doesn’t “need,” as he put it, to divide Ukraine by force; he just needs to keep it out of the Western orbit.

Ukarain's Fears mapIt remains to be seen, of course, whether such events will occur, although Kaplan’s warnings do seem justified. But Putin does not need to “send in” secessionists, as plenty of them are already present, and it does seem odd that Kaplan would write about eastern Ukraine’s “sovereignty,” a quality that the region does not possess.

Such concerns, moreover, are by no means limited to eastern Ukraine. Although the far east is the most Russian-oriented part of the county, pro-Russian sentiments are also widespread over southern Ukraine, including the southwest. Consider, for example, Odessa (both the city and the oblast). Odessa figures prominently in the Russian historical-geographical imagination, and the local Russian minority is substantial. According to The Voice of Russia, thousands of people have recently taken to the streets of Odessa to demand “that the authorities hold a referendum on de-centralization of power in Ukraine, grant the status of a state language to the Russian language and change the country’s foreign policy course.” In recent elections, moreover, the pro-Russian Party of Regions has trounced all other parties in Odessa Oblast. But such Russia-oriented sentiments are far from uniform here, as even The Voice of Russia admits that the protestors that it highlighted were “opposed by local pro-European supporters who asked a court to forbid the march.” By the same token, the Party of Regions handily won the most recent Ukrainian election in Odessa Oblast only because the opposition was divided; as a result, it easily took first place with only 41.9 percent of the vote. In contrast, the Party of Regions won over half of the votes in Crimea and over 65 percent in the eastern oblast of Donetsk.

Odessa Oblast makes an interesting case, as its population is relatively heterogeneous, and in the recent past it was more cosmopolitan than it is today. As of the 2001 census, Ukrainians constituted 62.8 percent of its population, with Russian making up a fifth. Bulgarians, Moldovans, and Gagauz (the latter a Turkic-speaking, traditionally Christian people) together accounted for more than twelve percent of the oblast’s population. Numerous other groups are also found in the region, some of which (Jews, Greeks, and Belarussians) were formerly much more numerous. The Russian population has also been declining, having dropped from 27.4 percent in 1989 to 20.7 percent in 2001. Russian nationalist in the region are no doubt concerned about this decline.

Even far western Ukraine presents a challenge for Ukrainian nationalists. The region in question here is Zakarpattia Oblast, also known (from the Russian perspective) as Transcarpatia and (from the Hungarian perspective) as sub-Carpathian Ukraine (a more neutral term is Carpathian Ruthenia). In terms of physical geography, this is a crucial region, as it lies on the far side of the formidable Carpathian range from the rest of Ukraine, its core area situated in the lowland Danubian basin. Part of Czechoslovakia between the world wars, Carpathian Ruthenia subsequently passed to Hungarian control and then, in 1945, to the Soviet Union and hence Ukraine. Gaining the region gave the Soviet Union a geo-strategic advantage in the Cold War, although Soviet annexation was justified on the basis of its mostly Ukrainian population. But, like that of Odessa, the population of Zakarpattia Oblast is ethnically mixed, although, again, such diversity has long been declining. According to official figures, its population in 1921 was 62 percent Ukrainian, 17 percent Hungarian, and 13 percent Jewish (with significant numbers of Czechs, Slovaks, Romanians, Germans, and others), whereas by 1991 the Ukrainians had increased to over 80 percent while the Hungarians had dropped to 12 percent. The Jewish population, on the other hand, was no longer even tabulated. Russians currently constitute only about 2.5 percent of the population of the oblast.

Despite its large Ukrainian and small Russian populations, Zakarpattia’s voting patterns deviate substantially from those of the other regions of western Ukraine. The pro-Russian Party of Regions, for example, took a plurality (31 percent) of the oblast’s votes in the 2012 legislative election, as opposed to taking less than five percent in the Ukrainian-nationalist stronghold of Lviv. One of the main problems for the Ukrainian nationalist movement here is the presence of the so-called Ruthenian or Rusyn ethnic group. According to Ukraine’s government, such a community does not exist, as its members are merely Ukrainians who refuse to admit as much. Ruthenian partisans, not surprisingly, strongly object to such a classification, and some of them have long advocated independence for their region. According to the Ukrainian source Radio Svoboda, “Moscow has recently been fueling separatist sentiments among the Ruthenians in order to weaken Ukraine.”

The Ruthenian issue is complicated enough to deserve its own post, which will be forthcoming. But as we have seen from this post, the geopolitical situation of Ukraine is complicated indeed.  Further posts this week will explore such complexities in greater detail.

(Note on Maps: In this series of maps, color is crudely used to show the degree of potential Russian domination. Russia itself is shown in the darkest shade of red, with Crimea, now under Russian control, in a slightly lighter shade of the same color, and Transnistria in a still lighter shade. Belarus, being a sovereign state, is depicted in red-orange on the final map rather than a shade of red, in order to signal this difference. In the last map, Ukrainian Oblasts with Russian-speaking majorities are shown in a still lighter shade of red, and those with Ukrainian-speaking majorities that nonetheless exhibit major challenges for Ukrainian nationalism are shown in the lightest shade or red.)

 

Russian Envelopment? Ukraine’s Geopolitical Complexities Read More »

The Sochi Olympics and the Circassians: A Media Failure?

Circassian ProtestWhen lecturing on the Caucasus last fall, I asked my Stanford students if any of them had ever heard of the Circassians. Out of a class of roughly 100 students, two raised their hands. I then told that class that the Circassians had once been an extremely well known if often misunderstood ethnic group, and I predicted that by February 2014 they would again be in the news, owing to the fact that the Sochi Olympics would be held in their ancestral homeland. I trusted Circassian activists to get their story out, and I was reasonably sure that the mainstream media would pick it up, due both to the controversial nature of Russian ethnic policies and especially to the fact that Circassian history is both tragic and absolutely fascinating.

Thus far, I have been disappointed, as it seems that most mainstream media organizations are content to downplay if not ignore the Circassian issue. To be sure, several outlets have posted excellent articles on the topic, including Frankie Martin’s “The Olympics’ Forgotten People” on CNN and Kathrin Hille’s “Sochi Stirs Circassian Nationalism” in the Financial Times. (Of particular note in the latter article is the important but rather understated observation that, “Russia is working on a new set of history textbooks after Mr. Putin demanded they be reworked to present a unified set of evaluations and reflect a more patriotic world view. Circassian hopes to have their full story told could collide with this.”) In an interesting article in Time magazine, Ishaan Tharoor appropriately characterizes the Circassians as “a forgotten community.” (See also this article in The New Republic.)

Most news organizations, however, apparently prefer to ignore or downplay the issue. A Washington Post video entitled “The Sochi Olympics, Explained in Two Minutes,” for example, fails to mention the Circassians. An NBC article on a hacking attack on the Russian media does mention the group, but just barely, claiming that, “the official Twitter feed of Anonymous Caucasus said the action was a protest at the 19th Century deportation of thousands of native Circassians from the region.” The implication that mere “thousands” were merely “deported” is both misleading and insulting: in actuality, hundreds of thousands were brutally expelled, with many dying in the process.

NY Times Caucasis religion mapAn important February 5 article in the New York Times, “An Olympics in the Shadow of a War Zone,” Steven Lee Myers does a reasonable good job of explaining the situation in Chechnya, and we are pleased that his article used a modified GeoCurrents language map in its on-line version. But the article still fails the Circassians, dispensing with their situation as follows: “Many of the ethnic groups in the Caucasus are related to the Circassians, who consider Sochi part of their homeland, conquered by the Russians in the 19th century after what activists today hope to publicize as an act of genocide.” Unfortunately, the characterization is again misleading if not simply inaccurate. The vast majority of the ethnic groups of the Caucasus are not “related” to the Circassians in any sense other than that of living in the same general area, and the Russian conquest of the area came before not “after” the events that most Circassian activists consider genocidal. The religion map that accompanies the article (in the on-line version), moreover, fails to show a Muslim minority in the Russian Republic of Adygea, which forms something of a rump homeland for a mostly Muslim Circassian group. (Adygea is actually only about a quarter Circassian by population, and, according to official statistics, about 13 percent of its population is Muslim.) The New York Times map is based on the comprehensive cartography of M. Izady, but unfortunately Izady’s map does not extent far enough to the northwest to include Adygea.

Caucasius religion mapThe New York Times article in question focuses on Islamist militants in Chechnya and Dagestan, which is understandable at one level, given the security threats that they pose. But Sochi is relatively far from Chechnya and Dagestan, and, as the Times own maps show, the Sochi region has seen few terrorist attacks or insurgent strikes. Historical Circassia, on the other hand, encompasses Sochi and its environs. Equally important is the fact that the Circassian strategy has been, as far as I can tell, completely non-violent, in utter contrast to the situation in Chechnya. Surely that is noteworthy in its own right. If news source chose to highlight violent responses while ignoring non-violent ones, a perverse message is seemingly sent: “If you want our attention, kill someone!”

Map-of-all-terrorist-attacks-near-Sochi-since-Russia-awarded-Winter-Olympics-Jun-07-ImgurRegardless of such ethical considerations, the saga of the Circassians is a fascinating story. As outlined in earlier GeoCurrents posts, the Circassians were once famous over in many areas for their supposed physical beauty and regal bearing. They also filled an unexpected but highly significant historical role as elite slaves, both male and female, in the Ottoman Empire and Mamluk Egypt. (It would take a dull mind indeed not to find the topic of “elite slaves” intriguing!) The ability of Circassians to rise to relatively high positions in the Ottoman Empire and subsequently in Turkey, Syria, and Jordan is also of some interest. The current plight of the 40,000 to 130,000 Circassians in Syria, moreover, is grossly under-reported in the global media. Religion among the Circassians is another captivating topic. Although most Circassians are Sunni Muslim, conversion came relatively late and, according to some sources, was somewhat superficial in some areas. Of significance in this regard is Adyghe Khabze (or Xabze) the traditional ethnic “code of conduct,” described on one Circassian website as “the epitomy of Circassian culture and tradition.” Most interpretations view Adyghe Khabze as a secular institution that is not at all incompatible with Islam, but the Wikipedia article on the subject portrays it as a religion in its own right, influenced by ancient Greek philosophy. The same article also claims that an Adyghe Khabze movement is growing rapidly, and that some of its leaders have come under deadly attack from Sunni extremists. A 2010 report by the Jamestown Foundation claims that “some observers detected in the latest killings [of an Adyghe Khabze advocate] in Kabardino-Balkaria an attempt by Moscow to play off Circassian nationalists against the Islamists.”

I would be very interested in readers’ ideas about why the Circassian issue has failed to gain the attention of most major news organizations. I suspect that the one reason is that many reporters and editors feel that the story is simply too complicated, and that as a result they fear that it would unduly burden their readers. The storyline of the Caucasus that the media has embraced focuses on extremism and violence in Chechnya and environs, and thus has little room for anything that would complicate that accepted narrative. Such tunnel vision seems to apply to other parts of the world as well. Thus in Sudan, the media periodically reports on Darfur, but hardly ever mentions the on-going horrors of the conflict in the Nuba Hills (South Kordofan)– despite the fact that George Clooney has struggled to bring it to global attention. And Sudan’s Eastern Front rebellion receives even less attention.

If this interpretation has any merit, the situation is most unfortunate. The reading public deserves more comprehensive information, and the failure of the mainstream media to provide it is perhaps one reason why many established news organizations are declining, while the often-disparaged “blogosphere” continue to rise.

 

The Sochi Olympics and the Circassians: A Media Failure? Read More »

Explaining the Rapid Rise of the Xenophobic Right in Contemporary Europe

Copyright James Mayfield

The last three decades have witnessed a remarkable rise in xenophobic, deeply conservative, and even extreme right-wing parties across much of Europe.[1] Whereas thirty years ago most xenophobic parties failed to even pass the 5% minimum voter threshold that is typically required to enter government, it can be argued that they now constitute as much as ~28% of the parliament in countries like Austria, and arguably have reached the ~70% level in Hungary.[2] By 1999, the Austrians—who traditionally tout themselves as the “first victims” of the Third Reich—had elected the prominent nationalist and accused Holocaust denier[3] Jörg Haider as the governor of Carinthia and given his Freedom Party more than 26% of the vote in the national elections. Haider proceeded to personally help dismantle multilingual street signs that were erected for the local Slovene minority.[4] The Golden Dawn party, which now has more than ~7% of the national vote in Greece, often marches in the streets of Athens with Rune-emblazoned flags and jackboots that easily remind the older generations of the German occupation of 1941-45. Most recently, the Golden Dawn has distributed free meals to the racially “authentic” Greek public.[5] At the same time, prominent members of Hungary’s powerful Jobbik party have even called for the government to prepare lists of Jews who might “[pose a] threat to Hungarian national security.”[6]

Hoping to understand these surprising changes in the European political climate, this post will briefly analyze the characteristics of the xenophobic right as of 2013, underscore the diversity of xenophobic parties, and try to explain some of the patterns encountered when the far-right takes hold, as well as their exceptions. The rough percentages listed next to the parties refer to their approximate share of national parliaments according to the most recent elections, and are corroborated with each country’s respective government websites. It will become apparent that it is very difficult to locate common patterns that might explain when and why the far-right takes hold in Europe.

The shift across Europe towards the right is perhaps as surprising as it is alarming, considering that the specters of World War II and totalitarianism are still ripe in the historical memory of virtually all European societies. Even more surprising, the xenophobic right has enjoyed some of its greatest successes in countries that are usually associated with liberalism and multiculturalism, including Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Even in supposedly tolerant Switzerland, the powerful Swiss People’s Party (~26%) has restricted the construction of mosques and minarets and has even campaigned with an ad that depicted three white sheep kicking a black one out of the country.[7] Far-right, racist parties like Vlaams Blok in Belgium were gaining in popularity until they were banned for extremism in 2004. In the 2003 elections, the Vlaams Blok won almost 12% of the seats in the Chamber of Representatives. Observers in the West have especially struggled to comprehend how quickly the extreme right has emerged in Greece, the supposed birthplace of democracy. The growing popularity of the right across the continent is a source of great concern for human rights groups in Brussels, which routinely encourage national courts to ban xenophobic parties on the grounds that they breach international protections against racism.

Copyright James Mayfield
My map charting the spread of elected xenophobic parties in Europe as of 2013. When viewed on a map, the growth of the far-right is striking. Green refers to countries were a xenophobic party is in government, which gray means none is in power. Copyright James Mayfield/GeoCurrents.

However, it is critical to understand that “the right” cannot be homogenized or reduced to the typical imagery of fascism, neo-Nazism, racism, or dictatorship that might emerge in our minds when we think of the right in European history. Xenophobic parties have garnered increasing support from voters of diverse political ideologies, primarily because of growing disaffection with the status quo. As the vulnerabilities of the European Union become more apparent, increasing numbers are calling for reform of pan-European economics, integration, open border immigration, and multiculturalism—principles that have shaped the development of Europe since World War II. With skyrocketing unemployment across most of the continent, massive immigration from Africa, Asia, and the Balkans into Western Europe, and what many feel to be a broken economic and political structure of the European Union, voters of various backgrounds seem to be choosing radically different solutions to the ongoing crises in Europe.

With this in mind, it is important to recognize that political movements of the xenophobic right are just as varied as social democratic and far-left parties. They include traditionalists, pro-Europeanists, Euroskeptics, democrats, nationalists, racialists, neo-Nazis, and even Greens. The vast majority of xenophobic parties calling for restricted immigration are obdurately democratic. Most advocate a traditional, conservative, or even moderate approach to resolving Europe’s problems within the democratic process. These relatively moderate nationalists include the True Finns of Finland (~19%), the Sweden Democrats (~6%), the Danish People’s Party (~12%), and the People’s Party of Portugal (~11%). Even the ruling Fidesz Party of Hungary (~53%) advocates a conservative platform rather than a militant or autocratic agenda, despite being castigated by Western media as far-right or even dictatorial after it amended the constitution to strengthen executive powers.[8] In some countries, such as Serbia and France, far-right parties have little parliamentary strength but still boast very popular public figures. The Front National of France has only two seats in the National Assembly out of 577, but Marine Le Pen came in third in the 2012 presidential election with almost 18% of the vote. The extremist, racialist Serbian Radical Party is not even in the national government, but its former leader Tomislav Nikolić was elected president of Serbia in 2012. In short, we should be wary about placing all xenophobic movements in the same category. They vary as much in regard to their popular support as they do in regard to their ideology, and not all of them embrace anti-democratic, fascist, or authoritarian agendas.

Although all of these parties have their share of supporters who take a more violent approach to tackling immigration, most parties on “the far-right” are better described as conservative and xenophobic. The majority advocate a multi-party democratic system and do not call for any future constitutional changes that might repudiate democratic checks and balances. Most call for a non-violent solution to Europe’s economic and immigration issues. Even such nationalist parties as the New Flemish Alliance (~17%) and the Vlaams Belang (~8%) of Belgium are staunchly ethnic nationalist, but their ideology springs just as much from a desire to strengthen the rights of the Flemish population as it does from their plans to target immigrants. The same tendency applies to the rather moderate National Alliance of Latvia (~14%) and the Order & Justice Party of Lithuania (~13%), which are most concerned with offsetting the historically disproportionate influence of Russian minorities who settled in these states during the Soviet era.

The only major elected parties that take an aggressive, racialist, militant stance are the Jobbik Party of Hungary (~17%), Svoboda of Ukraine (~11%), the Golden Dawn of Greece (~7%), and “Attack!” of Bulgaria (~10%). For example, whereas most Greek parties are at least to some extent cultural nationalists (including the PASOK socialists) who allow immigrants like Albanians to assimilate into Greek culture, only the Golden Dawn often sees “Greek” as an exclusive racial category. The Hungarian, Ukrainian, and Bulgarian far-right often makes similar exclusions. By contrast, “moderate nationalists” like the Sweden Democrats are more interested in curbing unrestricted immigration than they are in racial issues. Quite different are more militant parties like Jobbik, which is often accused of having links to the Hungarian Guard (Magyar Gárda), a quasi-paramilitary organization that has been compared to the brownshirts of the German SA.[9] While Bulgarian nationalists, the Golden Dawn, and Svoboda do not have equivalent organizations, their supporters have been widely linked to vandalism and assaults against immigrants, mosques, and synagogues in Athens, Sofia, and Kiev.[10] It is also widely assumed that the Athens police either cooperates with Golden Dawn or at least looks the other way during the frequent assaults on Albanian, Turkish, and Muslim immigrants in the capital.[11]

Although the economic weaknesses that have swept the EU since 2008 have become increasingly obvious, the chief reason behind the rise of the xenophobic right is not the economic alternatives it offers, but rather its hostility towards unrestricted immigration from Africa, Asia, and the Balkans. But here too, each country and party is very distinct. Xenophobic parties in Europe range from simply wanting tighter border controls, to calling for a “whites-only” immigration policy, to demanding the wholesale deportation of minorities. Although virtually all xenophobic parties are at least “soft Euroskeptic,” some merely call for greater national autonomy within the EU, whereas other are petitioning to quit the EU altogether, primarily in order to resolve the supposed immigration crisis.

Although xenophobic parties challenge immigration policies as a whole, most of their hostility is focused on Muslim immigrants, especially Moroccans, Indonesians, Arabs, Somalis, Afghanis, and Pakistanis, as well as African blacks. Importantly, xenophobia is often equally harsh against other European or “white” immigrants, particularly Albanians, Bosniaks, Greeks, Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Poles, Balts, Romanians, and Russians. In Italy, the center-right Lega Nord is more xenophobic towards Southern Italians than towards Muslims. The Golden Dawn of Greece is viciously hostile towards Albanians. In Switzerland, xenophobia is mostly directed against immigrants from the former Yugoslavia. Whereas most major xenophobic parties are not overtly Anti-Semitic, Hungary’s Jobbik is widely seen as not just Anti-Zionist but anti-Jewish, and deeply anti-Ziganist (anti-Gypsy) as well. Austrian right-wing parties are usually focused against Slavs and Turks, while in the Netherlands the noted provocateur Geert Wilders and his Dutch Party of Freedom (~10%) are particularly hostile towards Muslims, especially Indonesians and Somalis. The militant Svoboda party of Ukraine (~11%) directs most of its xenophobia against ethnic Russians, Jews, Tatars, and Roma, while the aptly named “Attack!” party of Bulgaria (~10%) is vociferously anti-Ziganist, anti-Romanian, and anti-Turkish. The popular Bulgarian nationalist Volen Siderov has gone so far as to claim that Bulgaria still has yet to be liberated from “Turkish [i.e. Ottoman] rule” as long as Turks and other Muslims (presumably the Slavic-speaking Pomaks) “occupy” the country. The various “targets” of xenophobic parties demonstrates that the far-right is often successful in countries with large immigrant populations and where hostility towards newcommers is strongest. So too, the diversity of these targets remind us that we cannot generalize far-right movements as if they share the same enemies, agendas, solutions, or even political principles.

Copyright James Mayfield
My map showing the proportion of Muslim populations in Europe today (including indigenous and immigrant populations). Also included are the ethnic groups that often become the focus of the hostility of xenophobic parties. Stats from government websites and the CIA World Factbook.

It is thus difficult to locate patterns that might explain why and where the far-right has achieved electoral success. Many examples lead to contradictory and surprising results. It is suggestive that this trend is occurring during a time of great economic hardship—just as the far-right gained sway in Europe during the post-WWI slump in the early 1920s. and especially during the Great Depression of the 1930s Considering the historical link between economic instability and the rise of the far-right, it is thus surprising that such countries as Spain and Cyprus have very weak far-right movements despite having suffered skyrocketing unemployment and crippling public debt. Instead, leftist parties such as the Eurocommunist Progressive Party of Cyprus and the left-leaning ethnic separatists of Catalonia have enjoyed remarkable success in the last several years.

As another possible explanation, one might expect immigrant “transit” countries that have recently experienced a surge of immigration, such as Malta, Italy, and Cyprus, to turn towards the right. But this is not generally the case. Indeed, Malta’s powerful Nationalist Party is deeply conservative and pro-Maltese, while Italy has several small neo-fascist parties, such as that of Mussolini’s granddaughter, Alessandra. However, extreme xenophobic parties like Imperu Ewropew of Malta and Forza Nuova of Italy have had very little success. Neither is even in the national government.

Other cases also make it difficult to find consistent patterns behind the rise of the xenophobic right. We might expect ethnically diverse countries with large immigrant populations like the United Kingdom to have strong right-wing movements. However, the British National Party has consistently failed to meet the 5% threshold. (The burgeoning U.K. Independence Party is certainly conservative and EU-skeptical, but it is not truly xenophobic.) However, diverse and immigrant-rich France has seen the rise of powerful xenophobic figures like Marine Le Pen and her father Jean-Marie Le Pen before her. If ethnic diversity itself does not automatically trigger the rise of the far-right, one might conclude that ethnic homogeneity provides a more fertile ground for xenophobia. This is certainly the case in regard to Hungary, which has by far the largest right-wing movement in Europe in terms of its electoral results. So too, relatively homogenous Finland offers substantial support to xenophobic nationalist parties like the True Finns (~19%). However, other relatively homogenous states, like Poland and Norway, have weak xenophobic parties.

We might also be inclined to look for basic cultural characteristics that might explain the rise of the far-right. It is perhaps intriguing that Hungary seems to be the first country to drift towards the far-right, having been the first to pass anti-Jewish legislation in the 1930s when Miklos Horthy installed a right-wing dictatorship . However, cultural xenophobia alone does not seem to lend electoral success to far-right parties. A prime example here is Romania. Although Romanian culture is often described as deeply xenophobic and often viciously racist (particularly against Roma and Jews, and even Hungarian to some extent), the Romanian parliament is almost completely social democratic and socialist. The same might be said about Poland, Serbia, and Croatia. Even countries with genocidal pasts such as Slovakia, Germany, Croatia, and Serbia, lack strong right-wing parties. Another key example is Russia. Although Russia has what many sources consider to be the most virulent subculture of skinheads and neo-Nazis fomenting violence against migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia—marked by such horrors as the filmed beheading of a Tajik boy—extreme right parties like Great Russia and the Russian All-People’s Union have very little electoral success.[12] In short, there does not seem to be anything inherent in European national cultures that puts xenophobic parties in power.

One final explanation adds both perspective and contradiction. We might expect countries facing a difficult, traumatic, or confusing phase of transition to move towards extremist movements. Studies have shown that neo-Nazism, nationalism, and the National Democratic Party are far stronger in the former East Germany than in the rest of the country since the fall of the Berlin Wall. So too, this concept of transition may explain why Bulgarians and Ukrainians tend to support the far-right as they move away from their communist past. However, this explanation falls flat when we look at other former socialist states like Romania, Poland, Russia, and the Czech Republic, where the far-right is rather weak. Transition and cultural insecurity alone do not provide an explanation.

Two final examples are perhaps the most surprising when trying to explain the rise of the far-right: Norway and Sweden. Right-wing parties have never had much success in either country. Norway’s powerful Progressive Party (~22%) is only mildly xenophobic and is better described as conservative nationalist. The Sweden Democrats are much more virulently xenophobic, but have only recently broken the 5% minimum threshold necessary to enter government. However, throughout the 1990s and even today, Norway and Sweden saw some of the most brutal waves of anti-immigrant violence in Europe. While theses attitudes are by no means widespread in Scandinavia, this seeming contradiction might reinforce our conclusion that cultural xenophobia does not mean xenophobic parties will get elected. In Norway and Sweden, the extreme “black metal” music-oriented subculture that emerged in 1992 perpetrated numerous brutal attacks on immigrants.[13] Over a hundred churches were burned in Norway and Sweden, often with the intent to purge Scandinavia of Christian influences that the arsonists interpreted as an immigrant “Middle Eastern plague” that had to be replaced by the ancient Nordic racial religion.[14] Norway’s supposed immigration problem was met with uncompromising xenophobia and racism by members of this subculture. As late as 2008, prominent black metal musicians like Gaahl insisted that Norwegians had a duty to “remove every trace [of] what…the Semitic roots have to offer this world.”[15] He captured the opinion of much of the growing subculture by asserting that Norway is no place for immigrant “niggers” and “mulattos.”[16] The popular Norwegian drummer Jan Axel Blomberg repeated similarly that “we don’t like black people here.”[17] The Norwegian case tells us that homogenous cultures facing a very difficult adjustment to immigration and diversity often generate extreme reactions, but that such reactions do not necessarily translate into electoral success.

As this post has demonstrated, the xenophobic right has become more pervasive than most observers may have realized. Perhaps this is disconcerting. At the same time as many Europeans are calling for greater integration and cooperation in order to fix Europe’s problems, increasing numbers of people are moving in the opposite direction by advocating greater nationalism, homogeneity, and xenophobia. However, the common gut reaction to interpret this trend as a rebirth of fascism, Nazism, racialism, or dictatorship is as sensationalist as it is oversimplified. The xenophobic right advocates radically different economic, political, and cultural platforms in response to the supposed immigration crisis. So too, as the above cases demonstrate, we cannot explain when and why the far-right takes hold by pointing to any common cultural, demographic, or economic patterns. When we consider the aforementioned conflicting and contradictory cases in Europe, it remains to be found what exactly causes far-right parties to become popular so quickly. Each xenophobic movement must be observed—with understandable trepidation and concern—on a country-by-country basis.

James Mayfield is a historian, researcher, and translator from Stanford University with two Masters Degrees in History. He specializes in genocide, nationalism, post-colonial identity, and cultural traumas. He currently has two books soon to be released, one on the expulsion of 10,000,000 ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe (Memoria del Olvido) and one on an ethnic Slovene survivor of both German and Italian concentration camps during World War II (Peter Starič, My Life under Totalitarianism). Contact him here: mayfent@stanford.edu.


[1] In this article, “xenophobia” refers to any political platform that calls for the strict limitation of immigration, strengthened border controls, the reform or abolition of the Schengen Zone, or even the expulsion of minorities.

[2] This number refers to the combination of the Austrian Freedom Party (roughly 17% of the Nationalrat) and the Alliance for the Future of Austria (~11%). For Hungary, this number refers to Fidesz (~53%) and Jobbik (~17%).

[3] Anat Shalev, “Foreign Ministry ‘concerned’ over Austria elections,” Yedioth Ahronoth Newspaper, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3603718,00.html.

[4] “Haider zagrozil Korineku zaradi odločbe ustavnega sodišča,” Dnevnik, http://www.dnevnik.si/svet/158543.

[5] BBC, “Athens police stop food handout by Greek far right,” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22379744.

[6] Marton Dunai, “Anger as Hungary far-right leader demands lists of Jews,” Reuters, www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/27/us-hungary-antisemitism-idUSBRE8AQ0L920121127.

[7] Elaine Sciolino, “Immigration, Black Sheep, and Swiss Rage,” New York Times, www.nytimes.com/2007/10/08/world/europe/08swiss.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all&.

[8] Hungary has even been threatened with suspension or punishment by some European Union MEPs. See Pablo Gorondi, “Hungarian PM Orban rejects criticism of constitutional change, says democracy not threatened,” Fox News, www.foxnews.com/world/2013/03/14/hungarian-pm-orban-rejects-criticism-constitutional-changes-says-democracy-not.

[9] Balazs Penz and Alex Kuli, “Brown shirts march in Budapest as Gyurcsany condemns ‘Fascists,” Bloomberg, www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=avNDeYNJqkUo&refer=europe.

[10] Maria Vidali, “News from Greece: Anti-Jewish attacks,” Central Europe Review, http://www.ce-review.org/00/22/greecenews22.html.

[11] Paul Mason, “Alarm at Greek police ‘collusion’ with far-right Golden Dawn,” BBC, www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-19976841.

[12] Dan Harris and Karin Weinberg, “Violence ‘in the name of the nation,” ABC News, http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/storynew?id=3718255&page=1.

[13] See Michael Moynihan, Lords of Chaos: Satanischer Metal: Der blutige Aufstief aus dem Untergrund (Index Verlag, 2004).

[14] See Bård Eithun Faust in Aaron Aites, “Until the Light Takes Us,” Artists Public Domain/Field Pictures, 2009.

[15] Jessica Joy Wise and Sam Dunn, “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey,” Seville Pictures/Warner, 2005.

[16] See Tomasz Krajewski’s interview with Gorgoroth, scan available here: http://s355.photobucket.com/user/WD37/media/755fc749.jpg.html.

[17] Moynihan, Lords of Chaos, 305.

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Debt Issues and Russian Investments in Guyana

Stabroek News recently reported that Russia would write-off $50 million in debt to the government of Guyana. Debt write-offs for the impoverished South American country are nothing new.  In 1999 alone, Guyana successfully negotiated $256 million in debt forgiveness. Almost all of the money owed by the country to the U.S. has been forgiven. Yet repayment burdens remain high. As the Wikipedia reports, “Guyana’s extremely high debt burden to foreign creditors has meant limited availability of foreign exchange and reduced capacity to import necessary raw materials, spare parts, and equipment, thereby further reducing production.”

Although ostensibly aimed at countering the narcotics trade, Russia’s recent debt write-off may be related to its investment activities in the Guyanese bauxite (aluminum ore) industry.  The Russian company UC Rusal, the world’s largest aluminum producer, recently announced plans for a $21 million expansion of its main facility in Guyana. UC Rusal is a highly global firm, operating in nineteen countries. Although based in Moscow, UC Rusal is incorporated on the island of Jersey, where it also maintains its main financial center. A British Crown Dependency, Jersey maintains its own financial laws, which are very favorable for international business operations.

Russian investments in Guyana have often been controversial. In 2011, opposition politicians in the country threatened to expel both Russian and Chinese firms from the bauxite industry due to labor-law violations. As reported by TerraDaily, “Russian aluminium giant UC Rusal has been at loggerheads with the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union for more than two years over the controversial layoff of 120 workers who had demanded better pay.”

(Photograph from Guyana Then and Now.)

 

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Siberian Genetics, Native Americans, and the Altai Connection

The GeoCurrents series on Siberia concludes by looking first to the future and then into the distant past: the preceding post examined the possible consequences of global warming on the region, while the present one turns to much earlier times, exploring the position of Siberia in human prehistory and especially its crucial role in the peopling of the Americas.

Mainstream anthropological thought has long assumed that the first settlers of North and South America derived from Siberia, moving over the exposed land-bridge of “Beringia” during the last glacial episode and then spreading south once the continental glaciers began to recede. Alternative theories, however, have proposed additional migration streams originating from Europe or passing from eastern Asia through the north Pacific by watercraft. Genetic studies, however, strongly support the Siberian hypothesis. Y-chromosome DNA analysis, for example, reveals that a substantial majority of Native American men belong to the otherwise fairly rare haplogroup Q, which also happens to be common in Siberia, especially among some of the smaller indigenous groups.  Haplogroup Q reaches an astoundingly high 95 percent frequency among the Ket, but this could represent genetic drift, as the Ket population is very small (around 1,500).

The Y-DNA Haplogroup R1 is the second most important haplogroup among the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Its frequency is highest in the Americas among the Algonquian peoples of the northeastern United States and eastern Canada. Although rare in eastern Siberia, R1 is widespread among certain south-central Siberian groups. Whether haplogroup R1 among certain Native American groups came from south-central Siberia or is a result of recent European admixture remains uncertain.

The third major Y-DNA haplogroup found among Native Americans is haplogroup C, which is also relatively widespread in Siberia. Haplogroup C is even more common in the Pacific and among indigenous Australians; some scholars associate haplogroup C with the first out-of-Africa migration that took a coastal route along Southern Asia and into Southeast Asia and Australia some 50,000 years ago. However, American Indians (especially some Na-Dené-, Algonquian-, or Siouan-speaking populations), Siberians, and Central Asians share the more restricted C3 sub-haplogroup, while many Pacific groups have the C2 sub-haplogroup and Australians Aborigines the C4 sub-haplogroup.

Several relatively recent genetic studies seek to clarify the relationship between the indigenous peoples of the Americas and those of Siberia. A 2007 report, for example, located an American “north-to-south gradient of decreasing similarity to Siberians”: the closer the location of a given Amerindian group to Siberia, in other worlds, the closer the genetic connection. As specified by the authors, “Genetic similarity to Siberia is greatest for the Chipewyan population from northern Canada and for the more southerly Cree and Ojibwa populations. Detectable Siberian similarity is visible to a greater extent in Mesoamerican and Andean populations than in the populations from eastern South America.” The fact that western South American Indian populations have closer genetic affinities to Siberians than those of eastern South America is offered as evidence that the original human migration to South America occurred along the Pacific Coast. The greater linguistic diversity along the Pacific Coast further supports the theory that the initial peopling of the Americas proceeded north to south along a Pacific coastal route.

The movement down the Pacific Coast could have been relatively rapid. Another 2007 study, for example, found evidence that the ancestors of the Native Americans lived for many thousands of years in relative isolation in Beringia, during which time they experienced a number of genetic changes. Some of these people evidently migrated back into Siberia, where their genetic signatures can be seen today, especially among the Evenks and Selkups. The authors go on to argue that “after the Beringian standstill, the initial North to South migration [in the Americas] was likely a swift pioneering process, not a gradual diffusion, … [and] was followed by long-term isolation of local populations.” This long-term isolation further contributed to linguistic diversification in the Americas.

The initial peopling of the Americas from this ancestral Beringian population appears to have been only the first of three “Siberian” migrations to the Western Hemisphere. Linguistic and other lines of evidence have long suggested that the Na-Dené people (those who speak Athabascan and related languages) came in a second wave, perhaps around 8,000 BCE. Intriguingly, the Na-Dené languages have been linked to the Ket language of central Siberia by linguist Edward Vajda. This Dené-Yeniseian hypothesis remains controversial, although it has received stronger support than the wildly speculative “Dené–Caucasian” theory, proposed by Russian scholar Sergei Starostin, which posits a macro-family encompassing “the Sino-Tibetan, North Caucasian, Na-Dené, and Yeniseian [Ket] language families and the Basque and Burushaski languages.” Most linguist continue to treat Ket, Basque, and Burushaski as isolates; Sino-Tibetan and Na-Dené as separate language families; and North Caucasian as two (or even three) separate language families. Genetically, the Na-Dené show some particularities that also indicate that their “migration occurred from the Russian Far East after the initial Paleo-Indian colonization.” A third migration stream from Siberia to the Americas, that of the ancestors of the “Eskimo-Aleut” peoples, seems to date back to around 4,000 BCE, according to both linguistic and genetic evidence.

As mentioned above, some Y-DNA markers show a closer connection between Native Americans and the indigenous inhabitants of south-central Siberian than those of the northern or eastern parts of the region. The same is true for certain mitochondrial DNA markers, which show descent along the maternal line. A major study published earlier this year specifically indicates strong genetic linkages between American Indians and the indigenous inhabitants of the southern Altai Mountains, a rugged area situated near the intersection of southern Siberia, western Mongolia, and eastern Kazakhstan. As the authors argue, “The Altai region of southern Siberia has played a critical role in the peopling of northern Asia as an entry point into Siberia and a possible homeland for ancestral Native Americans.”

The genetic linkage between Native Americans and the peoples of the Altai Mountains may seem surprising, as the Altai Range is located far from Beringia. But as has been explored in previous GeoCurrents posts, mountains often act as refuges, places where old patterns, cultural and genetic, are able to persist. In more open landscapes, mass movements of people are more easily able to introduce new elements and rearrange preexisting configurations. Relatively isolated mountain valleys, such as those of the Altai, were often largely bypassed by such movements.

Yet such isolation was rarely if ever absolute. Turkic languages, for example, eventually spread through the Altai Range, displacing languages of other families. Some scholars have suggested that the Turkic linguistic family itself originated in the Altai region, and the linkage of the region to the putative language family* that includes Turkic, Mongolian, and Tungusic is reflected in its very name: Altaic. The Altai Mountains may even have played a role in the history of the Indo-European language family. In the Bronze Age (circa 1500 BCE), horse-riding nomads originating near the Altai seem to have spread their burial sites over a huge region extending from Finland to Mongolia. Although this so-called Seima-Turbino Phenomenon is still widely regarded as a cultural enigma, some scholars have argued that its carriers were Indo-European speakers. A 2009 Human Genetics article further contends that in “the Bronze and Iron Ages, south Siberia was a region of overwhelmingly predominate European settlement,” inhabited by “blue (or green-) eyed, fair-skinned, and light-haired people.” Perhaps that was the case across much of the lowland belt of south-central Siberia, but a different situation would probably have obtained in the hidden valleys of the Altai Mountains.

*As discussed in a previous GeoCurrents post, “Altaic” is probably not a genuine language family derived from descent from a common ancestral tongue.

 

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Global Warming and Siberia: Blessing or Curse?

GeoCurrents has recently emphasized the forbidding cold of the Siberian winter, stressing the obstacles that such a climate presents for the development of the region. Unmentioned in these posts is the possibility that Siberia’s climate will significantly change over the coming decades due to global warming. If the predicted warming occurs, could the change prove beneficial for Siberia, and Russia more generally? Many Russians think so. Such optimism, however, might prove unwarranted, as climate change could also generate significant problems for the region.

Regardless of Russia’s potential gains from global warming, the country has incentives for downplaying the severity of the crisis. The Russian economy rests heavily on the export of fossil fuels, and if climate-change concerns result in a wholesale switch to renewable forms of energy—as unlikely as that might be—Russia would suffer a major blow. Any major restrictions of carbon dioxide output would also hamper the Russian economy. Although Russia’s carbon emissions are surpassed by those of China and the United States, they are growing rapidly, and some analysts suspect that Russia could be the top emitter by 2030. Not surprisingly, skeptical reports about climate change often receive prominent coverage in the Russian press. In 2010, Time Magazine quoted a Russian environmentalists who argued that, “Broadly speaking, the Russian position has always been that climate change is an invention of the West to try to bring Russia to its knees”. Such paranoid views of climatic change as hostile machinations of the West are not uncommonly held by the Russian public. More recently, a Voice of Russia article showcased the position of Nikolay Dobretsov, Chairman of the Earth Science United Academic Council, who contends that a 40-year cycle of cool and warm periods is currently driving the global climatic regime, and that a change to cooler times is imminent. As a result, Dobretsov argues, global warming is a non-issue.

Russian experts who accept the reality of global warming, moreover, often welcome it for the advantages that it could bring the country. In September 2003, Vladimir Putin noted that global warming would help Russians, “save on fur coats and other warm things.” Other Russian politicians have focused more on the damage that climate change could do to Russia’s geopolitical rivals. The ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, for example, is reported to have “publicly pined for the day when global warming takes its toll on the West, gloating that London will be submerged by the Thames and “Britain will have to give freedom to Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland.”

Possible economic benefits of a warmer world for Russia are spelled out in recent article by Serge Korepin. The displacement of the Siberian permafrost zone, which could retreat by more than 100 miles (161 km) by 2050, would facilitate the extraction of mineral resources. The reduction of the Arctic ice pack, moreover, would promote mining and drilling in offshore areas. By the same token, the retreat of the pack ice will ease maritime transportation in the far north, allowing the full realization of the long-envisaged Northeastern Passage, shortening shipping routes between the north Atlantic and the north Pacific. Actually, such changes are already occurring. As reported last year by the New York Times:

The Russians, by traveling near the coast, have been sailing the Northeast Passage for a century. They opened it to international shipping in 1991, after the breakup of the Soviet Union. But only recently have companies begun to find the route profitable, as the receding polar ice cap has opened paths farther offshore — allowing larger, modern ships with deeper drafts to make the trip, trimming days off the voyage and saving fuel.

Most importantly, warming could also enhance Russian agriculture, says economist Svetlana Soboleva. Although drier conditions might damage farming in southern European Russia, warmer temperatures and longer growing seasons would be beneficial in the north and east, especially in Siberia. Governmental reports have already noted enhanced agricultural production in some parts of Russia due to warmer conditions. The general consensus of climate-change specialists is that farming will be enhanced in high-latitude belts—of which, Russia holds the lion’s share. Indeed, worst-case scenario maps, such as that posted to the left, show the world’s main food-production zones moving to Canada, Siberia, and northern European Russia. In such an eventuality, Siberia would actually have a large advantage over North America, as most of the soil of northern and central Canada was scrapped off by the continental glaciers during the Pleistocene “ice age” and then re-deposited in the fertile plains of the American Midwest. Siberia, in contrast, was spared extensive glaciation during the same period, and in some areas saw the development of fertile, wind-deposited loess soils.

Prediction of the complete transformation of global agricultural and settlement patterns due to climate change are highly speculative, as specific changes of both temperature and precipitation are impossible to forecast with any accuracy. In actuality, the map posted above (“The World, 4 C Warmer”) is an alarmist fantasy, depicting as it does the vast expansion of “uninhabitable deserts” across most of the tropics and subtropics, even though a warmer world would almost certainly be a wetter world, as higher temperatures enhance evaporation over the oceans. (Note as well that the densely populated western Antarctica portrayed on the map would only be possible after catastrophic Antarctic deglaciation, which would result in a sea-level rise much greater than what the map depicts.)

Even in the short-term, the local effects of global climate change defy prediction, thwarting the development of reliable scenarios for agricultural adjustment. If the main consequence for Russia is the lengthening of the growing season in Siberia, the agrarian ramifications for the country could well be positive. But many experts foresee major climate fluctuations, marked by extreme weather events, as the Earth warms, which could result in marked increases in droughts, heat waves, and even cold-snaps. For some, the brutal heat experienced in European Russia in the summer of 2010, which caused an estimated $15 billion in economic losses, seems a harbinger of things to come. Global-warming skeptics, not surprisingly, regard the heat wave of 2010 as merely an outlying natural event, unconnected with human-induced climate change. A recent scientific study argues for a middle position, suggesting that, “global warming set the stage for, but did not directly cause, the deadly heat wave.” But it is noteworthy that that the 2010 heat wave was not felt across Russia. While European Russia was baking, most of northwestern Siberia was cooler than usual.

Even if global warming was not the direct cause the 2010 drought and heat wave, it may still be influencing Russia’s climate. A recent report claims that Russia has experienced a more warming over the past 35 years than any other country: “In the last 35 years, the average temperature in Russia went up by 1.5 degrees, while the average figure across the world is 0.8 degrees.” Such warming is not evenly distributed. The most significant temperature changes have been registered in eastern Siberia, with south Chukotka and the Kamchatka region seeing increases, “1.5 to two times more than in the rest of the country.”

Many experts expect global warming to accelerate, in part due to processes underway in Siberia itself. The permafrost is melting over a vast territory of Western Siberia—the size of France and Germany combined—which could soon turn some 360,000 square miles of peat bogs into a watery landscape of shallow lakes, releasing billions of tons of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Scientists are also concerned about the potential thawing of yedoma, or frozen loess deposits, in eastern Siberia. As the Wikipedia explains, “the amount of carbon trapped in this type of permafrost is much more prevalent than originally thought and may be about 500 Gt, that is almost 100 times the amount of carbon released into the air each year by the burning of fossil fuels.”

Concerns about permafrost melting are heightened by most global climate change models, which predict larger than average temperature increases in high-latitude areas. Different climate-change models, however, produce different results. Such differences are apparent in the two maps of predicted precipitation change posted here. Note that the first map forecasts reduced precipitation over most of western and southern Siberia, whereas the second shows enhanced precipitation over virtually the entire region. If the former predictions were to come to pass, agricultural gains that would seemingly be realized from warmer temperatures and a longer growing season could be cancelled by moisture deficiencies.

Another problem with the predicted positive consequences for Siberia’s agriculture concerns seasonal distribution of the overall warming. In many areas, warming has affected only winter temperatures, with temperatures during the growing season remaining stable or even declining. Russian scientists who examined trends in the “degree of continentality”—that is, the difference between average summer and average winter temperatures—showed that the Siberian climate in general has become less continental. Winters, in other words, have been growing milder more rapidly than summers have been growing warmer. For instance, the average summer temperature in Krasnoyarsk actually fell by 0.4 degrees between 1940 and 1990. In the far northeast, however, the opposite trend is observed: a widening of the seasonal gap over the period between 1950 and 2000.

Russia’s other potential gains from global warming could also be matched by losses. The thawing of permafrost, for example, could cause havoc with oil and gas pipelines, as well as with other industrial and residential structures. In cities such as Norilsk and Irkutsk, such gradual destruction of building foundations is already happening. The retreat of the Arctic pack ice also presents problems as well as opportunities. As the ocean becomes more accessible, it could also become more insecure. As a result, Russia is contemplating stationing more troops into the far north. A 2011 article quotes Anton Vasilev, special ambassador for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as arguing that “Our northern border used to be closed because of ice and a severe climate. But the ice is going away we cannot leave 20,000 kilometres unwatched. We can’t leave ourselves in a position where we are undefended.”

The warming of Siberia’s climate may even harm the health of Siberia’s residents. The expected increase in weather variability, marked by more frequent anomalies and extreme events, could compromise the human immune response, especially among Siberian indigenous peoples. While it may not appear dangerous to inhabitants of warmer climes, studies show that a rise of summer temperature to 29° C and above causes increased mortality among peoples of the Far North. In addition to autoimmune disorders, other health consequences of global warming in Siberia would include a rise in enterovirus-caused infections, gastroenteritis, parasitical diseases, botulism, and rabies.  Already in the last five years reports have been appearing of infection-spreading ticks and mites emerging earlier in the season in south Siberian regions of Omsk and Novosibirsk.

Such health concerns, however, are unlikely to sway public opinion in Russia. In all likelihood, the Russian government will continue to simultaneously deny and welcome global warming.

 

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Sakha (Yakutia) Since the Fall of the Soviet Union

The past several GeoCurrents posts have examined the history of the Russian Republic of Sakha, formerly and informally referred to as Yakutia. We have focused on Sakha due both to the region’s intrinsic interest and to the fact that it is one of the most widely ignored sections of the Earth’s surface. Today’s post concludes this series within a series by examining Yakutia since the fall of the Soviet Union. Several additional posts later this week will conclude the larger series on Siberia.

With the demise of the Soviet Union, Sakha, like the rest of the vast country, underwent a wrenching transition. The leaders of the Republic tried to take advantage of the confusion to realize their long-standing desire for independence, and therefore declared Yakutia’s sovereignty in 1991. Such a declaration had little significance, but during the rest of the decade Sakha did achieve an unaccustomed degree of political and economic autonomy. By the late 1990s, John Tichotsky could write that, “In the area of regional sovereignty, Sakha is the leader among all of Russia’s political units” (p. 227).

The post-Soviet transition also brought major economic changes. Industrial production plummeted; according to Tichotsky, of all Soviet regions only Kamchatka experienced a greater decline. Personal income dropped as well, and the average life expectancy slipped by three years. As state farms were broken up and herds privatized, livestock was slaughtered with abandon, temporarily increasing meat consumption. But as Tichotsky also specifies, Sakha experienced a more rapid economic recovery than the other parts of the former Soviet Union. Driven mainly by diamond mining, the republic matched and then surpassed its previous level of economic output. In 1995, almost half of its industrial production derived from diamond mining. Currently, Sakha is considerably richer than Russia as a whole on the basis of per capita GRP (Gross Regional Product), with 2009 figures of $18,955 and $12,339 respectively. But such apparent wealth by no means benefits all the people of Sakha. As is true elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, the end the communist system generated both winners and losers. Pensioners in particular have suffered, as their allotments have failed to keep pace with inflation.

The end of the Soviet system also resulted in the demographic transformation of Yakutia. In 1989, the Sakha were a minority within their own republic, accounting for thirty-three percent of the region’s total population, as opposed to the fifty-seven percent constituted by Russians and Ukrainians. As can be seen in the Wikipedia graph posted here, the Russian population dropped sharply after the political transition, as large numbers of Russians abandoned the harsh land of Yakutia in favor of larger cities and milder climes. At the same time, the Sakha  ethnic population continued to grown, due mainly to a relatively high birth rate. This trend continues: according to the 2002 census, the Sakha then numbered 432,290, constituting 45.5 percent of the republic’s population; in 2010, they totaled 466,492, coming in at 49.9 percent. Other indigenous ethnic groups also expanded in the same period; the Evenks, for example, increased from 18,232 to 21,008 and the Yukaghirs from 1,097 to 1,281. Russians, Ukrainians and Tatars, on the other hand, all registered population declines in the republic from 2002 to 2010.

Although the Sakha population increased during the post-Soviet period, most rural areas of the republic witnessed significant declines during the same period. The Soviet government had subsidized life in the villages, and when the state farms were discontinued and the subsidies came to an end, rural life became less rewarding. Transportation links to rural areas also deteriorated, due especially to the end of subsidies for aviation fuel. As a result, the Sakha began moving to Yakutsk and the republic’s other towns in significant numbers. Bella Bychkova Jordan and Terry Jordan-Bychkov specify how such changes played out at the local level. In the village that they studied:

It is the younger people who leave, seeking economic opportunity in cities such as Mirny and Yakutsk. Young women emigrate in grater numbers than young men. The number of weddings fell from twelve in 1992 to only one in 1995 and two in 1998. As a consequence, Djarkhan’s population is increasingly elderly. P. 89

As Yakutia is once again becoming a primarily Yakut region, Sakha nationalism shows signs of revival. As previously noted, nationalism in the region is nothing new, dating back at least to the early 1900s. It was also deeply repressed for most of the 20th century. As Tatiana Argounova-Low argues in a new book, The Politics of Nationalism in the Republic of Sakha (Northeastern Siberia) 1900-2000, “the concept of nationalism was a force used by [Soviet and Russian authorities] to suppress thought, particularly in Sakha…” Accusations of natsionalizm, she argues, were used to target and scapegoat certain individuals, and to “disguise and prevent discussion of a range of complex social, political and ethnic issues.” With the downfall of the Soviet Union and the threat of continued devolution in the 1990s, the “national question” in Sakha gained new urgency. Local leaders have continued to push for more autonomy, and the desire for independence has not disappeared.

As Anna Stammler-Gossmann argues, efforts have been made to develop a new “Yakutiane” identity that could unite the various peoples of the republic within a single group, but success has been minimal. As she further specifies, Russian-speakers in Sakha frequently refer to themselves as “Siberians,” whereas the Yakuts and the other indigenous Siberians almost never to do so, preferring instead their own ethnic designations. National identity is obviously a fraught subject in contemporary Sakha, yet in general terms, relations among the republic’s various ethnic groups have remained reasonably peaceful.

Through the 1990s, Sakha Republic remained averse to foreign investment and the development of large-scale private enterprise. The economy remained under the domination of the state, which focused on the mining sector, and especially on diamonds. As Tichotsky noted in 2000, “Any sector of the economy that that is considered essential to the region is controlled completely or partially by the Sakha government” (p. 227). Tichotsky described the republic’s government as highly inward looking, almost proud of the fact that that foreign investment in the region was negligible.

More recently, such anti-global policies and attitudes have changed to a considerable degree. According to Yakutia Today, “The Republic is second after Sakhalin Oblast among Far East’s regions by volume of foreign investments.” The same article trumpet’s Sakha’s rapidly growing international trade, noting that it has established commercial representation in a number of other countries, including China, South Korea, Japan, and Germany. Connections seem to be strongest with South Korea. Outside of the former Soviet Union, Yakutia Airlines flies regular, non-seasonal routes to three cities: Ulan Bator (Mongolia), Harbin (China), and Seoul (South Korea).

Recent news reports seem to bear out Sakha’s tentative transformation to an open, forward-looking economy. Its government, for example, recently announced that it was seeking venture financing to help establish a “tech park” in the center of Yakutsk. Such a facility would focus on the “venture capital company Yakutia, the center for protection of intellectual property of the Academy of Sciences of the republic, as well as consulting and servicing firms.” Any such developments would be facilitated by the presence of the North-Eastern Federal University, formerly Yakutsk State University, which is noted for its technical and scientific faculties. North-Eastern Federal University is also seeking to enhance foreign language instruction, especially of English. To this effect, it has recently partnered with the University of Tromsø in Norway to establish a teaching program based on distance learning, E-learning, IT technologies, and social networks.

Long-distance, “virtual” social interaction and mediation are increasingly popular in the lightly populated and vast republic. Even Sakha’s major beauty contest is now an on-line event: Miss Virtual Yakutia. The contest has not been without problems; in 2007, “scandal hit the Miss Virtual Yakutia contest this year, when it was revealed that one of the finalists… was a man.” Judging from a more recent YouTube “tribute” to the pageant, the contestants seem to be relatively evenly divided between ethnic Russians and Sakhas.

Non-Internet Sources

Argounova-Low, Tatiana. 2012. The Politics of Nationalism in the Republic of Sakha (Northeastern Siberia) 1900-2000. Edwin Mellen Press

Jordan-Bychkov, Terry and Bella Bychkova Jordan. 2001. Siberian Village: Land and Life in the Sakha Republic. University of Minnesota Press.

Granberg, L., K. Soiniu, and J. Kantanen, eds. 2009. Sakha Ynaga: Cattle of the Yakuts. Academia Scientarium Fennica.

Stammler-Gossman, Anna. 2010. “’Political’ Animals of Sakha Yakutia.” In Good to Eat; Good to Live with: Nomads and Animals in Northern Eurasia and Africa, edited by F. Stammler and H. Takakura. Center for Northeast Asian Studies, Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan.

John Tichotsky, 2000. Russia’s Diamond Colony: The Republic of Sakha. Harwood Academic Publishers

 

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