Inflammation and stories on russia

Hunger in Russia
Although coverage on Russia often dominates the American news cycle, people give little attention to the prevalence of poverty in the country. Many Russians live in unacceptably impoverished conditions and face food insecurity. Hunger in Russia is on a downward trend and both NGOs and the government are undergoing concerted efforts to address both poverty and food insecurity in the country.

10 Facts About Hunger in Russia

  1. Poverty Rate: Although the rate of extreme poverty in Russia—those living under the international poverty line of $1.90 a day—is at zero percent, 13.2 percent or 19 million Russians live in poverty under the national definition of $12.80 a day. This is a contested figure, however, as some claim that the poverty rate is as high as 14.3 percent.

  2. Poverty and Hunger: Poverty is the primary factor behind hunger in Russia. Other than those living in dire poverty, most of the population consumes over 2,100 calories daily—well above the 1,900 calories a day guideline that the Food and Agricultural Organizations of the United Nations (FAO) set. Those with higher incomes in Russia ingest over 3,000 calories a day, similar to those living in developed nations.

  3. Food Insecurity: People with disabilities, older people with little sources of income and families with children are some of the populations who face the most food insecurity in Russia. Another population that often faces food insecurity is people with HIV and those who inject drugs (PWIJ) and these make up an estimated 2.3 percent of the population. The irregular schedule and often low socioeconomic status of PWIJ means they often face hunger and malnutrition.

  4. Rising Food Costs: In 2016, the average Russian consumer spent 50.1 percent of their income on food—the highest percentage in almost a decade. This was due to the Russian government introducing embargos on many food exports from Western countries as retaliation for sanctions in 2014. Consequently, food costs spiked for consumers. Since 2014, the price of frozen fish has increased by 68 percent and the prices of butter and white cabbage have respectively risen by 79 percent and 62 percent.

  5. Global Hunger Index Rate: Despite these increases, in 2019, the Global Hunger Index gave Russia a score of 5.8, which qualifies as a low level of hunger. This number is representative of statistics which reveal that less than 2.5 percent of the overall population suffers from undernourishment. This is a dramatic decrease from 2000 when the nation had a GHI score of 10.3 or a moderate level of hunger: 5.1 percent of the population lacked nourishment. This level of undernourishment was the result of a struggling economy still reeling from the demise of the Soviet Union. In fact, from 1999-2000, more global food aid went to Russia than Africa. Since then, however, the macroeconomic conditions in Russia have largely improved resulting in higher incomes that allow consumers to afford food. This trend is also evident in the statistics for wasting and stunting in children under 5: in 2000, those percentages were 4.6 and 16.1 percent respectively, whereas in 2019 they are 3.9 and 10.7 percent.

  6. Growing Food: While the skyrocketing high food costs do pose a risk to Russia’s future GHI index score, both urban and rural Russian families are turning to their own backyards to produce their food. In 2016, approximately 25 percent of Russians relied on fruits and vegetables harvested in their own backyards. This is a continuation of a tradition dating back to the mid-20th century where Russians would combat food shortages under a communist regime by quietly supplying their own food.

  7. Obesity: While the rates of hunger in Russia decreased over the past two decades, the percentage of obese people increased. In 2015, almost 60 percent of the adult population was overweight and 26.5 percent obese. These numbers strongly correlate with socioeconomic status and education levels. Studies suggest that this is the result of a diet low in fruits and vegetables and high in dairy, meat, sugar and alcohol. Experts suggest that just decreasing food prices for healthier foods—such as fruits and vegetables—will not be enough to combat obesity. Instead, there must also be a robust public health program.

  8. Declaration to Halve Poverty: However, there is also good news. As previously mentioned, poverty is the primary cause of hunger in Russia and, on May 7, 2018, a Decree of the President declared an initiative to halve poverty by 2024. Russia plans on achieving this goal through a stimulus plan worth $400 billion that builds new infrastructure and invests in research. While some are pessimistic about Russia’s ability to meet this target, economists at the Brookings Institute believe that even with an annual GDP growth rate of 1.5 percent—a conservative target—through increasing the efficiency of existing social assistance programs and dedicating slightly more funds towards poverty reduction, this ambitious goal is possible.

  9. Investing in Agriculture: Furthermore, over the past decade, the Russian government has also heavily invested in promoting nationwide agricultural self-sufficiency. The Russian government is committing itself to eventually self-supplying 80 to 90 percent of most foods. In order to achieve this target, the country is now subsidizing large farms. The agricultural sector grew by 5 percent in 2016 and 2.4 percent in 2017. People will eventually see the long term impact of these policies on hunger in Russia and whether this investment can lower the costs of food for everyday people and lower the rates of hunger in Russia.

  10. SOS Children’s Village: There are also a variety of organizations working towards preventing hunger in Russia. One such organization is the SOS Children’s Village which specifically helps children whose families can no longer support them. The organization, which started working in Russia in the late 1980s,  also engages in advocacy work with the government to ensure the utmost protection of these children and their nutritional needs.

In conclusion, while hunger in Russia remains a serious problem, there is a reason for cautious optimism. As displayed by the remarkable decrease in rates of undernourishment in the population over the past 20 years, the government, the global community and NGOs are working to end hunger in Russia.

– Chace Pulley
Photo: Flickr

Georgia's integration into the E.U.Since the end of the Russo-Georgian War in 2008, poverty reduction and higher employment have accompanied an expanding Georgian economy. However, fears of renewed conflict with Russia, Georgia’s northern-neighbor, jeopardize the progress the nation has made in curtailing poverty and handling the refugee crisis. Georgia’s integration into the E.U. will not only reap economic benefits and accelerate a decline in poverty levels, but also provide Georgia security from Russian aggression.

Georgia’s Relationship to the EU

Despite being a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe, Georgia is not a member-state of the European Union. Since Georgia’s Rose Revolution in 2003, politicians of diverse ideologies have prioritized E.U. membership as an ultimate goal. In fact, a 2009 survey of over 2,400 Georgians found that 50 percent of the population believed that Georgia would join the E.U. within 10 years. While Georgia has yet to join the E.U. in 2019, the Georgian government continues to introduce various reforms to align the country with the tenets of E.U. institutional structures. E.U. membership would help Georgia tackle poverty and inequality.

Free Trade with Europe Increasing National Welfare

Poverty in Georgia remains at 16.3 percent and unemployment at 12.7 percent. Currently, Georgia is allowed to trade in certain industries with the E.U. as a part of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). Once the E.U. admits Georgia and Georgia is able to trade freely with E.U. member-states in all industries, poverty and unemployment will likely decline.

Free trade makes a country more productive by selecting a country’s most productive industries for exporting. Import competition will replace less productive industries, but Georgians will specialize in their more productive exporting sectors and reap the benefits of specialization. Enhanced specialization from trade will raise Georgia’s gross domestic product and increase consumer welfare because Georgians will be able to purchase foreign-produced goods at cheaper prices while specializing in exporting sectors, such as copper ores and wine. Coupled with appropriate distributional policies, free trade will have a positive impact on reducing poverty and unemployment.

EU Membership Shielding Georgia from Russian Aggression

During the 2008 war, 130,000 Georgians became displaced; Action Against Hunger reports that the number of refugees has increased over time. If Russia were to invade again, there would be serious economic consequences. Furthermore, the refugee crisis would deteriorate substantially. Georgia’s integration into the E.U. provides a security agreement under the auspices of the European Defence Union; if Russia interferes with one E.U. member-country, it faces the backlash of Europe. George could reverse its progress in reducing poverty over the past decade. E.U. membership will serve as a security buffer from Russian aggression and a defender of the nation’s recent economic progress.

Because of the protection and economic boost E.U. membership would bring, many political scientists and economists agree with the 67 percent of Georgians who advocate for Georgia’s integration into the E.U.

– Grayson Cox
Photo: Flickr

Life Expectancy in Russia
The life expectancy in Russia has risen to an average of 72 years. This is a great rise compared to the average of 57 years in 1994. The leading causes of death in Russia are heart disease, stroke, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and alcoholism.

The Drop in Life Expectancy in Russia During the 1990s

Russia’s life expectancy had unexpectedly dropped in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union. However, the government turned it around at a quick rate and brought life expectancy back up. A study into life expectancy in the ’90s reports that the main causes for the drop were poor healthcare, economic and social instability and depression that developed in citizens during that period.

In 1992, the poverty rate was 34 percent. With the drastic change of political atmosphere and depression, alcoholism and suicide rates also rose in the 1990s post-Soviet Russia. At the same time, wages fell for most of the ’90s and only began to climb again after the turn of the century.

With the turn-around of the economy, a new government leader and various other improvements, the life expectancy increased. Some people attribute this change to the leadership of Vladimir Putin, but it mostly comes from an overall change in the governmental rule.

The Future Goal

The government, including Putin, does intend to increase the life expectancy further. The goal is to close the gap between men and women’s life expectancy rates. In Russia, men live almost more than a decade less than women. This is the highest degree of difference between genders in the world.

Women on an average live to the age of 80 while men barely hit 70. The lower rate for men comes from their high rate of alcoholism. Thirty-five percent of men in Russia drink more than 3 liters of vodka a week. Vodka is the cheapest alcohol in Russia and most readily available, as it is frequently produced in poor villages.

Because the demand for vodka is so prevalent, it is a booming industry that provides jobs and keeps some families out of extreme poverty. Unfortunately, this cycle benefits the people who get money but hurts the people who die because of their addictions. Due to this, it is hard to imagine the cycle will break anytime soon, especially since attempts to reform alcohol consumption in Russia has failed numerous times.

Current Focus: To Reduce Alcohol Intake in Russia

It is harder to deplete suicide rates, HIV/AIDS and cancer rates than it is to create a society that limits its alcohol intake. Alcoholism is supported as a way to cope with extreme poverty and harsh living conditions in Russia.

On the other hand, alcohol has been used as a means of political oppression in the country. As quoted by the Russian historian Zhores Medvedev in 1996: “This ‘opium for the masses’ [vodka] perhaps explains how Russian state property could be redistributed and state enterprises transferred into private ownership so rapidly without invoking any serious social unrest.”

When the outlook on alcoholism in Russia changes, then the life expectancy for men will increase. Though Vodka is not the most severe leading cause of death in Russia, it goes hand in hand with poverty and government action. Life expectancy in Russia has shown some improvement in recent years. However, it is important not to overlook those points that still need improvement.

– Miranda Garbaciak
Photo: Flickr

Higher Education in Russia

The course of formal learning in society takes a mold that has been carefully crafted over the course of history. Similar to business, hierarchal structures remain in place to provide a linear path for young and ambitious students to rise through the levels of education in order to become better contributors to society. This logic path applies to all developed nations of the world, but for the developing nation of Russia, a massive suboptimal state within higher education continues to disenfranchise the student population from the institutions themselves.

State of Higher Education in Russia

The suboptimal state of higher education in Russia presents itself in the faulty relationship between faculty-led lecture and curriculum learning and student capability. Currently, the system of education in Russia mimics that of United States by level and progression. Russia has three primary levels of education available to its 143 million citizens: primary school, secondary school, college and tertiary school that is often referred to as university or post-secondary education.

Unlike the United States where higher education finds its roots in Jeffersonian ideals of limited government and freedom of expression, states and religious communities, all higher education in Russia is either commercial or state-owned and operated. Commercially owned universities take on the same form as privately owned universities in the United States where a board of controllers share a stake in the institution and design its curriculum and policies.

Conversely, state-owned and operated universities in Russia is where the suboptimal state of higher education in Russia materializes. Faculty are on the government payroll and often found work in higher education as an alternative to finding private sector work. Lack of qualifications coupled with a general apathy corrodes the quality of higher education in Russia.

Contrary to the United States where the possession of a Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.) represents the terminal degree of higher education and right of passage into a professorship, poor education standards in Russia afford more graduate students to earn their Ph.D. equivalents and enter the employment world of higher education. Proper education training programs are not pushed on professors as much as it is in the United States.

Higher Education and Poverty in Russia

According to World Education News and Reviews, around 54 percent of Russians aged from 25 to 64 held tertiary degrees as of 2015. Representing more than 50 percent of Russia’s demographic of educable citizens, the country is ranked as one of the most educated nations in the world. Where then does the suboptimal state of higher education in Russia fit into the equation of global poverty?

The answer is complex. Because government-owned universities offer free tuition and significant subsidies on student housing and extraneous costs, the state proctors an array of difficult entrance exams that determine a candidates eligibility into Russian university. For those who do not pass the exam or have little care for the system of higher education altogether, a pivot toward traditional blue-collar trades such as electricians, plumbers and contractors is not unfamiliar. However, the pursuit of blue-collar work does not afford Russians the same pay scale and livelihood as it does for U.S. laborers. Herein lies the trickle-down effects of higher education restraints into the poverty of the Russian’s middle-class.

Present and Future of Higher Education in Russia

In 2019, higher education in Russia is beginning to respond to the needs of the labor market and mimic the same dynamic of labor – education as in the United States. Around 20 years prior, laborers with a Bachelor of Science or Arts degree were very competitive and employable in the labor force. Currently, bachelor degrees are being less valued by Americans and now college graduates pursue a masters degree in addition to a four-year degree so to better secure their chances of higher job security and pay.

Notwithstanding this change, the trend of Americans who believes a four year-year degree will lead to a good job and higher lifetime earnings represents only 49 percent of the population, down 13 percentage points when the same question was asked four years earlier.

There are a few possible solutions to the link between middle-class poverty in Russia and the shambolic higher education offered. Requiring professors in Russia to visit select cities where intense training and education is offered in preparation for professorship may cure the qualifications issue.

Additionally, commercial universities ought to take measures of their own to increase competitiveness and admission rates to receive the pressure off of state-run institutions. Russia is presently molding its education philosophy around Western ideals that hinge on government deregulation, freedom of choice and competition. Implementing additional measures and programs that fall in line with that philosophical shift is not beyond Russia’s capability. The survival of Russia’s educated middle class depends on it.

– Nicholas Maldarelli

Photo: Pixabay

Middle Class Poverty in Russia
For most of Russia’s history as a developing nation, foreign direct investments have taken the form of oil and land. The consumer market within Russia has remained a small part of its economy because of a consistently weak Russian currency- ruble, market volatility and consumer hesitation in purchasing durable goods such as cars and other less-liquid assets.

Russian Economy

A weakened economy and increased embargoes from the United States and other Western nations have led to the worsening of middle-class poverty in Russia. Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) fell on average 1.5 percent yearly between 2014 and 2016. GDP is a measure of the country’s finished goods and services produced within its borders and sold to trade partners.

If a country’s GDP is decreasing, the nation’s consumers have fewer goods and services to purchase. As a result, this adversely affects the country’s economy and consumer market. As of 2016, the population living below the poverty line in Russia rose to 23 percent and amounts to around 20 million people. A rebound in oil prices coupled with a growing agricultural sector has improved Russia’s chance for a massive economy turnaround. Increased trade with China has also given room for economic improvements to the developing nation.

Middle-Class Poverty in Russia and Retail Market

In turn, middle-class poverty in Russia is being addressed through a revitalization of consumerism in malls and small shops across large Russian citizens such as Moscow, St. Petersburg and Saransk. A renewed interest in mass consumerism across this Eastern nation has inspired thousands of businesses to open and offer a variety of goods to consumers.

Mass production of commodity items mimics the consumerism attitude in the United States. Historically, Russian consumers have taken rubles out of the country and purchased goods and services abroad because of lower prices and an increased purchasing power. However, because Russia is producing and selling its own goods and services, consumers are remaining in the country and spending their money with Russian businesses.

As a result of increased consumerism and small to medium-sized enterprise business growth, additional Russian business owners have flooded the market with new enterprises. As of January 2019, Russia’s employment rate is 59.90 percent. The developing nation has seen unemployment continuously fall as a result of improved geopolitics and business within its borders.

The Future Opportunities

Within the next 10 years, Russia’s consumer market is expected to grow internally and the economy is expected to improve. Currently, Russia’s economic freedom score is 58.2 on an index of 100, ranking the country globally as the 107th freest in the 2018 index. Compared to the United States, ranked at the 18th place with a score of 78.8, Russian consumers exercise a significantly lesser degree of economic freedom in their daily purchases and investments.

The Russian government intends to reverse this downward trend with increased investment in malls and shopping centers across the country. The burgeoning consumer market is one solution to alleviating middle-class poverty in Russia as it creates more jobs and opportunities for less-skilled laborers.

Additionally, Russian can begin to encourage more multinational businesses and franchises to do business within its borders. The presence of well-known global brands works cooperatively with Russia’s present goals of increasing consumerism and mall traffic. Russia has a long way to go yet before it improves its global ranking as an economically free country of consumers. The present geopolitical landscape lends itself to a much-needed overhaul of economic policy within Russia.

Russia is combatting economic strife and political pressure from the rest of the world by revitalizing its consumer market. Brand development is a key success factor in this revitalization process. If the country continues to mimic the United States of America in the rebuilding of its consumer market, the middle-class poverty in Russia can potentially be eradicated and lead Russia into the new decade of economic growth and prosperity.

– Nicholas Maldarelli

Photo: Pixabay

Work and Travel USA
The Work and Travel USA program is a United States’ government program that offers foreign students an opportunity to work and travel across the country through the provision of a J1 work visa. The program allows over 100,000 students to come to the U.S. into a variety of cities and towns across the country each summer.

Advantages of Work and Travel USA

Prior to moving to the U.S. for the summer, students find an employment opportunity in the U.S. through their respective work and travel agencies. Upon arrival, four months of work are defined and nearly a month’s time of travel and leisure for each student, depending on their savings throughout the summer. The program offers foreign students the unique opportunity to earn thousands of U.S. dollars, experience American life and culture through personal interaction and work experience as well as the privilege of repatriating thousands of dollars back into their respective country’s currency when they inevitably return home. Unless they decide not to return home.

Middle Classes of US and Russia

According to the Pew Research Foundation, approximately half of the U.S. population that totals to around 320 million citizens reside in middle-class households. Despite a strong representation of middle-class American citizens, financial gains for middle-income Americans during this period were modest compared with those of higher-income households, causing the income disparity between the two groups to grow.

Contrary to the United States, Russia’s middle class has shrunken to the point of nonrecognition. In developed countries, the middle class is an essential class, the guarantor of social and political stability, legislator of norms of socio-economic and cultural behavior. Its representatives are characterized by independence and critical thinking that facilitate the development of civil society and the efficiency of state management. In Russia’s developing nation, the middle class is parceled into ultra-rich oligarchs that, in fact, represent the elite and the derelict poor on the opposite side of the spectrum.

Motivations for Work and Travel Program

Russian student candidates for the Work and Travel USA program fall somewhere in the middle. They are aged from 18 to 28 years, have a proficiency in English, belong to a travel agency with a work arrangement, they have obtained all legal documents to work in the U.S. for three to four months and have successfully completed at least one semester at their home university.

The motivations for applying to the Work and Travel USA program appear obvious, but American laborers and academics seldom realize the hidden incentives behind a J1 visa and its political power. On average, candidates for the Work and Travel USA program initially put up over $1,200 in program fees and paperwork in order to be afforded a J1 visa and to work in the United States. The granting of this visa grants temporary freedom to a Russian student that he or she is seldom likely to experience while living, studying and working in Russia.

Matters of poor higher education standards and poverty in the form of household income, per capita GDP, social exclusion on the basis of sexual orientation and gender and geographic/geopolitical disenfranchisement are the primary motivations for a select few Russian J1 visa holders to defy the Work and Travel USA agreement and ultimately overstay their visas in pursuit of residency, a green card and, ultimately, American citizenship.

Misuse of Work and Travel USA

The J1 visas awarded to students through the Work and Travel USA program have become a solution to middle-class poverty students in Russia for escaping the country. Rather than committing to a broken system of higher education or working tirelessly in a blue-collar trade, many young Russians are overstaying their visas while in the U.S. in preparation for a new life. Due to matters of conflicted interest, Russian travel agencies and the U.S. government do not disclose precisely how many J1 visa holders overstay their visitor status.

The issue of overstayed J1 students obviously concerns the internal environment of Russia and its connection to poverty. Young Russian citizens know better than to assume the state of affairs in Russia will improve to the point where poverty will be alleviated nationwide. Thus, students fortunate enough to make the cut and receive the J1 visa often pursue the Work and Travel USA program with nefarious and permanent intent.

There are real solutions to solve this suboptimal state for young Russians in the middle class. The establishment of lobbyist groups to improve higher education standards will begin to set positive trends in motion. There is however the persisting issue of Russians wanting to visit the USA with the intent of returning home. Programs and measures taken must work to encourage all Russian J1 holders to return home without disadvantaging those who seek the program with integrity.

Conversely, the issue of overstaying can be reframed entirely. Perhaps the U.S. can begin to set up incubator programs for foreign students who overstay their visa in order to afford them the necessary legal resources so they may make legitimate claims to the residence. If Russia refuses to enact policy that addresses its middle-class poverty issue, perhaps it is time for the United States to step up and show how far legislation can go to improve the lives of law-abiding people.

– Nicholas Maldarelli

Photo: Pixabay

Closed Cities in Russia
During the rise of the Soviet Union, former General Secretary of the Communist Party Joseph Stalin developed weapons programs and other strategic plans to insulate and defend the Union from the possible attack. To keep these matters private and accessible only to the government, Stalin chose over 44 closed administrative territory entities (ZATO) to store and maintain these resources. These territories are now famous as closed cities in Russia

Closed Cities in Russia

After the allied forces of Western Europe, the Soviet Union and America defeated Germany, Italy, and Japan ending the World War II, some ZATO closed cities in Russia re-opened to the public whereas others have remained closed even after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992. 

Closed cities span through the entire nation of Russia. If a citizen is born and raised in any particular closed city in Russia, they have a unique citizenship status and pass to the city where routine exit and re-entry into the closed city is permitted. However, once that individual chooses to move residence outside of the closed city, they may not be allowed back in. The exit/re-entry requirements are strict because many of these ZATO cities housed nuclear weapons plants during the period of the Soviet Union. 

Life in Closed Cities in Russia

Closed cities in Russia contribute to the poor middle class. In Russian’s modern, globalized economy, Stalinist economics no longer have their place, especially in the integration with other Russia’s people. Closed cities are very similar to isolated nations such as Cuba and North Korea and the residents of these cities are insulated from the rest of the nation to a great extent. Business development struggles to make advances and indigenous people are plagued with boredom and a lack of productivity.  

The cities were also excluded from train and bus routes and are generally known only by a postal code that consisted of a name and a number. Numbered 1-44, these cities continue to isolate over 1.5 million Russian citizens from the rest of the nation. During the 1980s and 1990s, inhabitants of closed cities were to carry their lives in secrecy to the same extent as KGB agents of the Soviet Union. For their privacy and secrecy, residents of closed cities in Russia were rewarded with private apartments, health care and jobs for life.

The Present and Future of Closed Cities in Russia

In 2018, all 44 closed cities in Russia still exist almost independent of the Russian Federation. Similar to non-committal Switzerland with respect to the European Union, closed cities operate independently from the rest of the country but citizens still carry all the rights and privilege inherent to Russian citizenship. Notwithstanding the simplicity of life for residents of closed cities, their inability to reach out to the rest of the country, globalize, integrate, trade and work openly contributes to national poverty in Russia. 

In addressing the issue of closed cities in Russia, one possibility for the residents of these cities to congregate is to represent themselves in the legislative appeal to re-open particular cities that appear to particularly suffer from a current state of affairs. Alternatively, the Russian government can begin to take progressive measures to re-open these borders and take a more liberal stance on the issue entirely. Considering pressure from the West in terms of sanctions, embargoes and political strife, Russia is only serving to further hurt itself in the globalized world by keeping these cities closed. 

– Nicholas Maldarelli

Photo: Pixabay

St. Petersburg
On April 3, 2017, 14 people died and 64 were injured when an explosive device detonated in the St. Petersburg metro. The perpetrator, Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, who also died in the explosion, came to St. Petersburg in 2011 from Osh, Kyrgyzstan to work as a car mechanic. Upon reviewing Dzhalilov’s online record and talking with witnesses, Russia’s Federal Security Services found links to Islamist websites on his social media, as well as evidence that he had become withdrawn and quiet two months before his suicide bombing.

The St. Petersburg attack brought Russia’s approach to counter-extremism to the spotlight. More than 2,000 Russians have gone off to fight for ISIS, making Russia the largest contributor of ISIS fighters. While some of these fighters harbor resentments dating back to ethnic wars in the 1990s, others saw ISIS as an opportunity to escape from poor economic opportunities and blatant discrimination at home.

History of Chaos

When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, Chechnya, a majority Muslim, southern region of Russia, descended into chaos. Boris Yeltsin, the first president of Russia, pushed for a decentralization of government but would not go as far as to legitimize Chechen separatists’ independence movement. Interethnic conflict engulfed the Caucasus region, with hundreds of thousands of Ingush people and Chechens fleeing from the destruction of their communities. This legacy of insurgency and violence is one of the main causes of radicalization in Russia, especially in the Northern Caucasus, which remains Russia’s most radicalized region even today.

Radical Islamists tend to be concentrated in cities with high concentrations of migrant workers, particularly in the oil-producing cities of Tyumen and Khanty-Mansiysk. In fact, close to 200,000 Chechens, Ingush and Dagestanis live in West Siberia.

Disenfranchisement

Labor migrants from Central Asia face xenophobia after arriving in Russia. In August 2016, one poll administered by the Levada Center found that 52 percent of Russians believe in a “Russia for ethnic Russians.” The same poll found that 39 percent of Russians feel that immigrants destroy Russian culture. Feeling out-of-place as a minority, these migrants seek community and protection in local mosques, breeding grounds for recruitment into radical Islamic groups. In fact, mosques are the main sites of recruitment, according to the Search for Common Good Organization.

Law enforcement and security agencies alienate Muslims by promulgating propaganda that belittles their beliefs. A Wilson Center report details how law enforcement officials in Russia plant drugs while searching the homes of Muslims, only to arrest and jail them later. Intimidated by state pressure, these Muslims seek recluse in the ranks of ISIS.

Social Media

In order to target and entice potential recruits, terrorist groups use social media and online forums. VKontakte, a popular Russian social media site, was the go-to for ISIS supporters and recruiters until the company began shutting down content that promoted the terrorist group in September 2014. To work around these restrictions, ISIS now uses its own Furat Media to disseminate propaganda.

Russia has implemented stringent counter-extremism laws, to the point that some critics worry about an invasion of piracy. A 2014 Extremism Law gave authorities the power to ban websites and social media accounts without a court order. In the span of 11 months, between February and December 2015, Russia banned 512 websites. Moreover, the 2016 Yarovaya Law forces digital providers to store clients’ data for a minimum of six months and make these records available to the Federal Security Services.

Financial Woes

Extremist groups recruit financially vulnerable migrants with promises of stable jobs and a network of support. More than 28 percent of interviewees in a survey by the Search for Common Ground organization said that the prospect of stable jobs and salaries attracted them to ISIS recruiters. This issue is compounded for undocumented migrants in Russia, who are much more vulnerable financially.

While the Russian government’s counter-extremism laws are harsh, its official rhetoric against its Muslim population, 11.7 percent according to the Pew Research Center, has the unintended consequence of promoting radicalization.

The time is now for Russia to consider more than just its censorship of extremist content. The country must, first and foremost, eradicate the root causes of radicalization, addressing state-sponsored discrimination, financial insecurity and minority rights.

– Mark Blekherman
Photo: Flickr

8. Internet Censorship in Russia and China
Internet access has become a vital source of information and awareness around the world in the past decade. While more than 50 percent of the world’s population remains without internet access, countries with large populations such as India and China have a massive and growing user base. 

While theoretically advancing their countries not only technologically but politically and socially as well, government restrictions on the right to post or access certain types of information can seriously curtail these benefits. Technology has long been a catalyst for change; however, when restricted, technology can quickly become a tool used for the suppression of human rights such as freedom of expression, free speech and freedom of assembly. 

Studies have determined three key points for promoting internet access across the globe: foreign investment, a focus on the community rather than individual access and no government monopolization of the newly emerging market. Today, government monopolization has the potential to become synonymous with internet censorship. 

Internet Censorship in China

China has more than 750 million internet users, and every user deals with internet censorship. Known as the ‘Great Firewall,’ China’s series of internet filters is one of the most comprehensive systems in the world, restricting citizens’ access to hundreds of internet sites.

Prior to 2017, many internet users in China were able to circumvent the Great Firewall using Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, which provide users with browsing capabilities private from their internet providers. However, within the past year, the number of VPNs able to slip through China’s restrictions has decreased substantially. 

Government monopolization of news outlets in China has led to internet censorship, sometimes to the point of misinformation. In 2017, new legislation in China required all online news sources to be fully monitored by government-approved editors and writers. This enables the government to block legitimate news stories that run counter to the government’s position while also allowing them to push misinformation and propaganda through news websites, giving them complete control of the country’s narrative. 

Internet Censorship in Russia

Russia, another country suffering from serious internet censorship, followed closely behind China in banning VPNs so as to further restrict access to web pages not approved by the government. Without their own Great Firewall, Russia focused on banning specific sites. In 2017, approximately 244 web pages were blocked every day. 

Beyond blocking individual sites, or even entire categories such as news outlets, both Russia and China enforce severe internet censorship on individual citizens. For example, in newly enforced restrictions, China requires internet users to register for online communication sites with their real names. This enables them to hold individuals accountable for what is said in previously private settings. 

These restrictions are typically put in place under the guise of stemming extremist speech, but they can be, and often are, used to block or discourage any speech that the government wishes to suppress. Russian citizens have seen a drastic increase in threats, physical assaults and imprisonment associated with internet censorship on the individual level. Writing, posting or sharing information and opinions on topics such as Russian-occupied Crimea, religious freedom or Syria can result in up to 12 years in jail. 

Censorship: A Human Rights Violation

Those dealing with internet censorship in both Russia and China are in fact experiencing human rights violations. In China, freedom of expression in one of the last safe places—online communities—is closely monitored and used against individuals; in Russia, freedom of expression has become unsafe and restricted to a point worse than anything seen since the Soviet era.  

While technology is often viewed as a large component of a nation’s ability to improve the lives of its citizens, internet censorship creates an environment of control and misinformation. More vital to the wellbeing of people and, by extension, the country they live in, are necessary freedoms such as freedom of expression and speech.

Through the restrictions Russia, China and other countries place on their citizens access to information on the internet, governments have the opportunity to trap people in a cycle of misinformation and silence, thereby negating the once-positive effects of internet access. 

Overcoming Internet Censorship

Citizens in these restrictive countries are growing stronger in their opposition to this violation of their rights. In Russia, the number of protests concerning freedom of speech, religion and assembly has continued increasing. In China, many citizens continue to find ways to circumvent the Great Firewall.

The freedom of internet access has the potential to overtake the negative effects of internet censorship, so long as individuals, communities and countries continue to work towards honesty and open communication across the globe. Simply through our knowledge of internet censorship in countries such as Russia and China, the growing issue of human rights violations is being more openly discussed, and thereby, empowering many people in those countries to continue to fight against the oppression.

– Anna Lally
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Girls' Education in Russia

There is always something to see in the international media when it comes to Russia but most of the information out there tell us nothing about the country’s education culture. When it comes to understanding what kind of education culture exist in a nation, it is important to take a look at different dynamics such as girls education with respect to gender gap and more. Here are 10 facts about the girls’ education in Russia.

Facts About Girls’ Education in Russia

  1. Russia has one of the highest rates of literacy with 98 percent in general. The rate is higher than most of the Western European countries.
  2. The education system, in general, is run by the state. The government is offering free general education to its people and there are three common segments of schools known as pre-school, primary and secondary.
  3. Just like in most of the countries, Russia also has both private and state schools in its education system. There is no gender inequality between the attendees of either private or state school. Socioeconomic status of families is the primary determinant on whether the child goes to private or state school.
  4. Back in 2017, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets highlighted that 37 percent of the Russian women have a higher education degree. She also added that women usually combine their professional duties with housework and childcare and in this way, natural reasons for gender discrimination is created.
  5. For men, the abovementioned number is 29 percent, which is eight percent lower than women’s rate. The Deputy Prime Minister Golodets underlines that although there is a bigger rate of the woman in terms of holding a higher education degree, discrimination still exists in the job industry.
  6. Even though the rate of the woman holding a higher education degree is higher than men, women’s wages are only 73 percent of men’s average salary. In other words, discrimination is real among genders in terms of the salaries.
  7. UNESCO highlights that 29 percent of the scientific research worldwide is done by the woman. This number is different in Russia. According to the data shared by UNESCO, 41 percent of the scientific research in Russia is provided by women.
  8. Not every woman in Russia is encouraged to do science. There are so-called “womanhood” schools in the country teaching woman how to do the housework like cooking and cleaning properly. A school called “Woman Inside” is an example of one of those schools, where women are coached to be nice to their husbands and keep their homes tidy.
  9. Girls have an early interest in STEM subjects, which is an abbreviation for science, technology, engineering and maths. These are preferred subject by the girls in Russia. A study conducted by Microsoft shows that lack of woman in STEM subject-related fields due to peer pressure, lack of role models or encouragement is not applicable for Russia. Russian girls perceive the STEM way too positively and try pursuing a career in the field as well.
  10. Stereotype view of engineering as a manly job is not the case in Russia. The same Microsoft study emphasized that stereotype towards woman exist in the sense that usually few women pursue a career in engineering. The case is different in Russia where 15 percent of the inventors are women which is a very high number considering the fact that, in comparison, this number is 4 percent for the U.K.

Conclusion

These facts about girls’ education in Russia show that the country has both negative and positive images on the questions of girls education. Equality of wages between genders still seems like an issue that needs improvement, but there are positive examples in decreasing the stereotyping of gender in different fields of study, which is very promising. One thing should not be forgotten: improvement in girls’ education is always possible and important. 

– Orçun Doğmazer

Photo: Google