|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Abolition of Serfdom, Alliance with Lincoln Commemorated in Russia
March 3 (EIRNS)Today is an occasion to recall what a powerful force an alliance between the United States and Russia, two great transcontinental nations, can be under proper leadership. It is the sesquicentennial of the abolition of serfdom in Russia, by which Tsar Alexander II earned his title of "Tsar-Liberator." Alexander signed his Manifesto on Feb. 19, 1861 by the old calendar; by the Western calendar, that was March 3, in 1861, and it was also the day before Abraham Lincoln's first inauguration as President of the United States.
Two years later, as the U.S. Civil War ground on, would come Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and, also in 1863, the arrival of the Russian Navy at the ports of New York and San Francisco. Alexander, who had come to power in 1855, just as Russia was pounded by Britain in the Crimean War, dispatched the fleet to help defend the U.S.A. against potential British attack. President Lincoln, in December 1863, instructed Bayard Taylor, who had been a secretary of the American Legation at St. Petersburg, to educate Americans on the events in Russia. "I think a good lecture or two on 'Serfs, Serfdom, and Emancipation in Russia' would be both interesting and valuable," Lincoln wrote to Taylor. Later, the President himself attended one of Taylor's talks on "Russia and the Russians."
Alexander's Manifesto granted Russian serfs their civil liberties, and declared that the peasants' houses belonged to them. Because of the clout of the big Russian land-owning families, many of them rabid Anglophiles, factional battles led to a compromise under which the serfs were freed "with land"but, also with an onerous "redemption fee," obliging the peasants to make payments to their former landlords. Those conditions were to be central to social turmoil in Russia for the rest of the 19th, and into the 20th Century.
The anniversary of the abolition of serfdom is being celebrated in the former Russian capital, St. Petersburg, as well as in Moscow. In St. Petersburg, there is a conference on the Manifesto at the Mariinsky Palace, and there is a special jubilee exhibition in the St. Petersburg State University, with the original of the Manifesto and other documents on display.
In Moscow, the exhibition "The Tsar and the President: Alexander II and Abraham Lincoln, Liberator and Emancipator" opened Feb. 22 at the Russian Federal Archives building. Organized by the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation, the collection of 19th-Century artifacts had toured the United States three years ago. Opening the Moscow event, Foundation head, former Rep. James Symington, sang Glinka's setting of Alexander Pushkin's poem, "I remember the wondrous moment." A new statue of Lincoln and Alexander together, done by sculptor Alexander Burganov (creator of the Pushkin monument in Washington, D.C.), was unveiled. The exhibition has been featured in various Russian media including the Kultura TV channel and Russia Today; yesterday, it was a story on First Channel, the largest nationwide TV outlet in Russia.
Kyrgyzstan Faces Mass Protests Against Food Price Rises
March 4 (EIRNS)Similar to what triggered the tumult in recent weeks in the Maghreb nations, and in the Arabian Peninsula, the poor in parts of Asia have also been left with little choice but to protest against huge spikes in food prices. One such nation where huge protests may break out any day, is Kyrgyzstan, the Central Asian nation, bordering China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Perennially food-short, Kyrgyzstan has experienced a 54% rise in the price of wheat since last June, according to the World Bank. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has identified Kyrgyzstan as one of the countries most burdened by the price hikes.
On Feb. 24, local news agencies reported that the price of bread had shot up 10% in a single day. In Osh, the epicenter of ethnic violence last Summer, Mayor Melisbek Myrzakmatov warned, on March 2, of increasing public discontent due to bread prices, Interfax reported. As an emergency measure, on Feb. 17, Deputy Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov sent a bill to parliament asking legislators to remove import duties on essentials such as meat, oil, flour, sugar, and rice, but members of parliament have not yet debated the measure. While parliament tries to decide what to do, prices continue to soar. The economic situation is very hard, and social tension is very strong. The government must take urgent measures to reduce tension in the society, in the view of Temir Sariyev, the interim government's former finance minister, who told this to the media.
The crisis in food-short Kyrgyzstan this year is even more acute, because of factors beyond Bishkek's immediate control, including a bad harvest last year, and a drought in Russia, a leading wheat supplier. Brought on by political and social instability, the rise in prices is causing immense misery to the poor, and is presenting a formidable challenge for Kyrgyzstan's shaky coalition government.