Religion and National Identity in Eastern Europe and Eurasia
The Pew Research Center recently conducted a survey on the relationship between religious and national identity in Eastern European and Eurasian countries, noting changes in the way that religious identification has influenced national identity since the fall of atheist fundamentalism with the USSR. For religious and belief minorities—now including atheists—the relationship can be a troubling one, particularly as resurgent nationalism in the region has been accompanied by xenophobia and religious discrimination.
Here are highlights from the findings:
70% (Orthodox-majority) / 57% (Catholic-majority)
Average among countries who believe majority religious identity is very or somewhat important to national identity
Scores of gay men reportedly sent to concentration camps in Chechnya
According to reports from human rights organizations, more than 100 men have been imprisoned in camps the Russian republic of Chechnya where they have been tortured.
The abducted men have ranged in age from 16 to 50, some having been lured via social media and with three among them having reportedly been killed.
The abductions began as an LGBT advocacy group began applying for permits to hold parades in provincial cities around the country, although the group avoided applications in much of the predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region given the volatile climate.
Putin signs law reducing punishment for domestic violence in Russia
Perpetrators who physically assault family members but do not cause broken bones will now only be subject to 15 days in prison or a fine if the violence only occurs once a year.
Previously, the crime had carried a maximum jail sentence of two years, but conservative politicians and advocates argued the state was intruding in private affairs.
A spike in reports of domestic violence in Russia’s fourth-largest city following the passage of the law has sparked concerns that the law has increased women’s vulnerability to violence in a country that sees 12-14,000 women die a year as a result of domestic violence.
ILGA-Europe recently released its annual report on the state of LGBT rights and security across the Europe. Covering developments in individual countries and transnational institutions from 2015, the report notes increasing legal protections for gender minorities and family and partnership rights for sexual minorities in Southern and Western Europe as well as ongoing political exclusion, persecution, and violence in Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Here are some of the highlights:
Rated the most progressive European country, Malta’s groundbreaking law prohibiting surgical intervention into a person’s sex characteristics without consent and inclusive education policies for trans, intersex, and other gender minorities were cited as distinctive policies.
Finland, France, Greece, Ireland
Other countries with significant judicial or policy victories regarding the rights of gender minorities.
Countries extending marriage rights to same-sex couples
Countries extending civil partnership rights to same-sex couples
Countries extending adoption rights to same-sex couples
One of the few truly global holidays, International Workers’ Day (May Day) is both a worldwide celebration of the working classes as well as a day to draw attention to ongoing insecurities workers around the world face. May Day has historically had a twofold purpose: a day for workers to voice their concerns over contentious labor policies and for governments to reaffirm their commitments to workers’ rights and just labor practices. At times little more than public relations campaigns and at others violent clashes between governments and workers, global May Day events have highlighted the diverse relationships between labor, employers, and government around the world. Here are the highlights of May Day 2016 in more than 30 countries:
Bike rallies were held in Pune as Indian PM Narendra Modi saluted workers on Antarrashtriya Shramik Diwas, a public holiday. Pakistan‘s major labor unions convened in Lahore to speak out against poor working conditions, violations of international labor conventions, and ongoing privatization in the country. As Bangladeshi officials addressed labor relations and welfare reforms amidst a day of union-organized programming, in Kathmandu, Nepali workers marched while awaiting the ratification of the Labour Act, which guarantees greater social security for workers. Across the Indian Ocean, Australian union leader singled out penalty rate protection and tax reform as major Labour Day issues, with the date of the holiday having been a point of contention as well.
In cities across France, tens of thousands marched in protest against proposed labor reforms that would loosen the country’s controversial employment and job security policies. Jeremy Corbyn became the first U.K. Labour party leader to attend a May Day rally in a half-century when he spoke to a crowd of thousands in London, reaffirming solidarity against anti-immigrant sentiment and addressing anti-Semitism accusations that have plagued his party recently. Spain saw thousands across its cities gather, many protesting ongoing austerity measures. An estimated 800,000 gathered in Rome‘s San Giovanni Square, with this year’s event dedicated to slain Italian student Giulio Regeni.
Some 2,000 convened in rain-soaked Zagreb to hear labor leaders protest the increased retirement age and ongoing poverty in Croatia. Moscow hosted a mass demonstration in the city’s Red Square estimated in size from the tens of thousands to 100,000, while thousands gathered in Istanbul’s Bakirköy district under a heavy police presence in the wake of urban suicide attacks and ongoing violence across Turkey.
From New York to Los Angeles, demonstrations in the U.S. highlighted widening economic inequality in the country and an election season marred by racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic sentiment. While most protests took place without incident, a peaceful march turned violent in Seattle, leading to five injured officers and nine arrests. A similar outbreak in Montreal led to one injury and 10 arrests.
In Latin America, Brazil‘s embattled president and Workers’ Party leader Dilma Roussef rallied alongside hundreds of thousands across the country as her impeachment proceedings continue and workers fear the inauguration of her center-right vice president. Cuba‘s May Day parade continued the national tradition of expressing support for the Castro regime rather than directly celebrating labor or expressing concerns over labor conditions. In Argentina, President Mauricio Macro backed employers and touted labor proposals that had spurred mass demonstrations only days before. Elsewhere in the region, minimum wage increases were announced in Venezuela and Bolivia and a march took place in Santiago as Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced a review of her labor reforms after the Supreme Court rejected a key provision granting exclusive negotiating rights to unions.
Middle East & Africa
Police in Egyptblocked hundreds of workers from assembling in a Cairo office as labor leaders and international organizations called for the government to decriminalize independent union organization. In Israel, more than 5,000 youth marched in Tel Aviv, while a Palestinian trade union renewed its call for the establishment of a minimum wage and the dismantlement of the Gaza blockade. A government-sponsored event in Dubai reportedly drew nearly 200 workers, though labor practices in the UAE continue to draw international scrutiny.
South of the Sahara, events popped up across South Africa as politicians sought to address the country’s high unemployment rate and appeal to workers ahead of August elections. In Nigeria, President Mohammadu Buhari spoke to thousands of workers in Abuja, touting his anti-corruption campaign. A Mozambique labor leader addressed a crowd in Maputo about the debts of state-owned companies and the need for wage and workplace reform. As the decline of oil prices has created economic hardship throughout Angola, the country’s two labor unions marched to draw attention to deteriorating worker conditions and the need for infrastructure maintenance. Workers in Ghana protested the privatization of the management of the state-owned Electric Company of Ghana, while the government insisted the company was still run by the state. Meanwhile, Ethiopia sidestepped Sunday commemorations altogether by moving May Day to May 3, when labor leaders plan to highlight ongoing struggles to organize Ethiopian workers.
As international media attention to the plight of LGBT Russians has waned, advocates have found themselves stretched thin trying to support embattled community members while responding to declining visibility and police intimidation. From ongoing violence against transgender Russians to attacks on private clubs and homes, support organizations like Avers have struggled to create stopgaps for the deteriorating conditions plaguing the Russian LGBT community. A Coda Story report highlights the difficulties the community faces in attempts to organize and resist both ongoing state persecution and everyday threats that burden life in Russia’s hyper-conservative heartland.
Russian man faces possible year in jail after denying the existence of God online
Viktor Krasnov was charged in response to an online exchange in which he described the Bible as a “collection of Jewish fairy tales” and said “there is no God.”
Following the jailing of punk rock group Pussy Riots in 2012, lawmakers passed legislation that criminalized “insult[ing] the religious convictions or feelings of citizens.”
Despite Russia’s constitutional status as a secular state, President Vladimir Putin has led a campaign to promote traditional religious values to consolidate Russian national identity, long tied to the Russian Orthodox Church prior to the rise of the Soviet Union.
Tajiks with aspirations of working in Russia face constricted opportunities as Russian language education dwindles
The Tajikistani government has asked for more Russian-language teachers from Russia to reinforce Tajikistan’s crumbling language education.
Russia’s new language requirements stymie economic opportunity in a country that sees more than 80% of its able-bodied population working abroad, with 1 million documented in Russia (and an unknown number of undocumented Tajik workers).
Poor digital infrastructure has inhibited distance-learning opportunities and Russian teachers have been reluctant to travel to the former Soviet nation, leading Tajiks to lose out to better-educated Kyrgyz workers with fewer political barriers.
“If we are healthy in future, God willing, I want to send him to Russia to study, because there is no hope for Tajik education. … At least, he will be able to work in Russia without too much trouble. I don’t think that by the time my son grows up, jobs will have been created in Tajikistan.”
The Moscow Times delves into the intricate process of adoption in Russia, highlighting the legal and psychological challenges faced in a country that sees relatively high levels of adoption, but also high failure and dissolution rates. Couples discuss their attempts to celebrate their families and increase the visibility of adoption in Russia as the nation closes many of its doors to international adoption.
MacArthur Foundation closes shop in Russia following placement on government watchlist
The US-based NGO supporting academic freedom and human rights has operated in Russia since 1992, but a new
The organization’s departure comes amidst an ongoing crackdown on “foreign agents” by the Russian government, which has seen academics fined and deported and human rights groups’ operation permits revoked.
The anti-NGO law passed in May claims to target international organizations operating against the sovereignty and national security of Russia.
“The recent passage and implementation of several laws in Russia make it all but impossible for international foundations to operate effectively and support worthy civil society organisations in that country.”
Russian Muslim converts feel the sting of Islamophobia as the government cracks down on the community
Among Russia’s 16 to 20 million Muslims are ethnic Russians who have converted to Islam for reasons ranging from marriage to economics to theology.
Because converts are statistically more likely to convert to more conservative sects of Islam, the government cracks down on their activity, causing many to emigrate to Turkey, the UAE, and, for the radicalized, the Islamic State.
The deep historical roots of the Russian Orthodox Church in the country has led to a post-Soviet national identity centered on the faith, which has led to an association of religious conversion with anti-Kremlin activity.
“Lawyers who were to speak about our problem with the authorities, they said that the first thing to do was to explain to the Turkish government that there is a group of ethnic Russian Muslims, because no one has the slightest idea of this. We know Tatars, Chechens; we know that Dagestanis of various ethnicities are killed, but that there are suppressed Russians and that you actually have a large ethnic group, we don’t know about this.”