(translated by Jean MacKenzie) By Vladimir Kiselyov
Source: http://www.gdf.ru/books/books/silence/09.html (Vladimir Kiselyov is a graduate of the Moscow Energy Institute and of Moscow State University’s department of journalism. He has worked in the defense industry, in administrative jobs, in advertising and as an instructor. In 1990 he completed a course in scientific journalism sponsored by the journal Khimiya i zhizn (Chemistry and Life) and went to work for that publication. The major topics he covered for Khimiya i Zhizn include marketing, advertising, and social problems. He has worked with the Glasnost Defence Fund since 1998.)
The Glasnost Defence Fund’s monitoring of media-related conflicts registered two cases in Chuvashia in 1997. The Face of the City: First Impressions. 7:00 AM
. At the hotel. The radio is broadcasting a session of the Republic’s Council of Ministers. A businesslike discussion about raising the prices for various services, including public transportation. This is glasnost.
Clean streets. Under the windows, well-tended city buses and trolleys bustle about. The people are calm and friendly. Smiling, giggling young people hurry about their business.
Newspapers and magazines are being sold in the trolleybus. There is not much advertising on the streets, and what there is is of very poor quality. Ads for a cafe and a drugstore coexist peacefully on a green and white sign. So you go to the cafe, have a bite, then immediately run for the drugstore. Or perhaps the other way round. Pretty good service! Another picture:
Advertisements in the trolleybuses - in German.
There are a lot of police around. In the evenings, two policeman in full battle gear are on duty in a cafe that only seats 24. At nearly every second bus or trolley stop there is a police post. I am reminded of how once the Greater London Municipality, in the interests of economy, ordered that the number of portable toilets at city transport stops be reduced - instead of one at every third stop, they would only be available only at every fourth. This provoked serious popular unrest. Everyone has his own problems to solve.
Service is on the level of Moscow hotels. For almost the entire week a local lady of the evening calls my room, in the naive but vain hope of earning her 250 rubles.
There is much less crime here than in Mordova. They say that the mafia and criminals do exist, (see the article “Chicagosary” in the newspaper Cheboksary MK), but the bandits are “our guys,” local boys. The big-city guys don’t bother with Chuvashia, since there is very little really profitable industry in the republic. Nothing with a high return and a quick turnover. At least, not yet. So far crime in Chuvashia is mostly the run-of-the-mill domestic kind.
In short, it’s like everywhere else. People just living their lives. A Portrait of the People
The people here are kind, cheerful. They like to talk. The Chuvash are Orthodox, but the rites of Christianity have managed to incorporate some elements of ancient paganism. A Chuvash is quite likely to go from a church service straight into the woods to pray to a tree, to his ancient gods. The Chuvash are a poetic nation. About themselves, they say: Chuvashia is a land of a hundred thousand songs. This is an exaggeration, but not by much. Wherever hard work is the key to success, the Chuvash is king. But our faults, they say, are an extension of our virtues. Instead of inventing a steam shovel, a Chuvash will set to work with a simple spade. Roughly 80 percent of Russia’s hops come from Chuvashia. They say that the cultivation of this plant - which even figures in the republic’s official seal - is quite a labor-intensive process.
What does the typical Chuvash look like? What is he like? I don’t know what to say. I was once by chance part of a very large, purely Chuvash crowd. I was struck by the sheer variety of characters and faces. They were all wonderful, and all different.
A Surrealist Portrait of Nikolai Fyodorov
Nikolai Fyodorov was born in 1958 in the village of Chedino, Chuvashia, in a large peasant family. He is Chuvash. He graduated from Kazan State University law school and went on to graduate studies at the Law Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences. He has a doctorate in law.
He taught in Chuvashia State University and in 1989 was elected a people’s deputy of the USSR. In the Supreme Soviet, he became chair of the Committee on Law, Legislation and Order. From 1990 to 1993, he was the Justice Minister of Russia. He was a member of the Security Council of Russia. In December 1993, he was elected president of the Republic of Chuvashia. He is a member of the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament. There he is deputy chairman of Foreign Affairs Committee. He is also Russia’s representative to the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly. He is an official of the justice ministry of the Russian Federation. On December 28, 1997, he was reelected president of Chuvashia.
And what are his accomplishments as president? He has clamped down on a wave of nationalism; has ensured that wages and pensions are paid on time; he has brought gas to the villages; he has built roads and schools; and has put a stop to the panicked flight of Russians out of the republic. He put Chuvashia on the map. With the rise of Nikolai Fyodorov, news agencies showed a new interest in Chuvashia and in its president as a national political figure. It used to be that only ITAR-TASS covered the republic.
Now Interfax, RIA-Novosti and Postfactum are there too. Fyodorov himself was one of the creators of the local law on the media. He has a profound understanding of how the press works. He is intelligent and as ambitious as any other politician. His personnel policy is simple: It is not one’s nationality that it important, it is the man himself (for example, the head of the Chuvash national radio and television company is a Russian woman, which greatly irritates local nationalists). Fyodorov tries to separate the wheat from the chaff. An Information Salad
On the city’s public transportation system (among other places), I heard somewhat different, often contradictory, characterizations of the president. I wasn’t able to get an appointment with Fyodorov himself and to form my own opinions. Therefore, the best I can do is reproduce here a small portion of the spectrum of opinions and myths I came across.
He is painfully proud, some maintain. Stubborn. His is respected by only a fraction of the population and by his own bureaucrats. He has put his own people in almost all the republic’s key positions. He is building a small feudal state with a Byzantine slant in his own image. He is trying to replace the members of the State Council with people dependent on him. He is close to implementing a “Law on Consensus.” There is not so much authoritarianism as in Tatarstan, where the president personally appoints everyone, but the situation is probably worse than in Moscow.
The president does not read opposition newspapers. He easily overcame the opposition press since he holds all the local levers of power. The media are supposed to be the president’s “nightingales.” It’s that or nothing. The media should provide a measured dose of information about the power structures. Fyodorov knows that the media can indirectly influence investment in Chuvashia’s economy - something that the republic needs badly. He knows that the Russian press discovered him as a politician and that they can bury him as well.
The general population is irritated by his weakness for pomp. He rides everywhere with red lights flashing. He is encircled by masses of bodyguards, and there are police behind every tree. Fyodorov wears a thin veneer of “the capital” that appeals to a certain segment of the voting public. He is a politician on the national scale. He was once in conflict with President Boris Yeltsin: He is well-known for having his own views on the situation in Chechnya. The myth (or is it a rumor?) that Fyodorov will be called to Moscow any day now is widely circulated. In this small republic, much depends on good (or bad) personal relations.
One could no doubt learn a lot about Fyodorov by digging around for information on his many lawsuits against the press and individual citizens in defense of his honor, dignity and business reputation. To be fair, one should also examine the press for stories on his many real accomplishments for the good of his citizens.