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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
July 18, 2016

Publication: Windows on Eurasia
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Soviet Sexual Repression Continues to Cast a Dark Shadow on Russia Today, Baier Says
Staunton, VA, July 18, 2016 -  Sexual repression, which was an inherent and inalienable part of the Soviet system of control, continues to cast a shadow on Russia today, according to Aleksey Baier, who grew up in Moscow but now lives in New York where he writes for various Russian publications in his homeland.

In a commentary at, Baier says that the reason for the rise of sexual repression in Soviet times is rooted in the failure of Karl Marx to see that with modernization, society becomes ever more complex and the relations between its parts become ever more finely balanced as well.

Instead, Marx argued that society would become ever simpler, reduced in fact to two classes, one of the property-owning rich and the other of the far more numerous wage slaves. That vision informed Lenin and the other founders of the Soviet state who sought to create “a simplified classless society on the basis of Marxist dogma,” Baier continues.

Guided or more correctly misguided by this doctrine, the Bolsheviks “nationalized the means of production, destroyed classes and social divisions, and transformed the population into a uniform mass which did not own any property.” In this way, “they destroyed bourgeois civilization … and they promised to create their own proletarian one” in its place.

But because “bourgeois civilization was the only one existing” at that time, the Bolsheviks by destroying it “returned the former Russian Empire into a kind of primitive condition,” one in which “the checks and balances” of complex society were destroyed, including those regulating relations between the sexes.

In this way, Baier says, Lenin and his party “converted citizens into a herd” that could produce products and reproduce themselves for the greater “convenience” of those in charge. The Bolsheviks said they were ending the exploitation of women, but in reality, they destroyed what protections women had had prior to that time.

As Rousseau observed, the commentator says, “a social contract exists in civilized society,” but “where the institutions of civilization are lacking, the human herd must be restrained by fear and subordination. Force works well to produce fear, but sexual force in this regard is much more effective since it also gives rise to humiliation.”

Consequently, and not surprisingly, “sexual force [was] at the foundation of Soviet society.” Stalin had his “male harem,” who had to party with him even as many of their wives were in the GULAG. Beria was notorious for his exploitation of women, arresting their husbands and then taking advantage of them sexually.

But these things were symptoms of something much worse, Baier says. “Rape like shooting was an organic part of all Soviet society … And those [Soviet citizens] who didn’t know this were about as numerous as Germans who didn’t know anything about the gas chambers.”

“Women and daughters of ‘enemies of the people’ were raped during interrogations. They were thrown into the hands of ordinary criminals, and they were used as sexual slaves in the camps.” And just as so many aspects of the GULAG bled back into Soviet life as a whole, so too did this horrific one.

As is now well-documented, “the victory over Hitler was marked by mass group rape of the civilian population wherever the Red Army won.” Many know this happened in Poland, Hungary and Germany, but it also happened in areas of the Soviet Union “liberated” by Russian forces. And “this smacks of international action, not the excesses of military times.”

Group rape is one of the central themes of Vladimir Sorokin’s 2006 novel, The Day of the Oprichnik. In it, he describes how when an official loses the support of the ruler, the ruler’s guards execute him, destroy his property, and “ritually rape his wife.” As on many issues, Sorokin shows in this “a precise understanding of the nature of the Soviet state.”

According to Baier, “more than half of all rapes” in the USSR in the 1980s were “group rapes,” a far higher figure than in other countries, and these were overwhelmingly committed by young men under the age of 18. He says that when he lived in Moscow in the 1960s and 1970s, he personally knew about three groups involved in such crimes.

“Group rape was the most typical Soviet crime,” he continues. It had “everything” which the then powers-that-be wanted to ensure their power over citizens -- men and women alike: “force, force over women, sexual force and the subordination of the individual to the will of the collective.”

However “paradoxical” it may seem, Baier writes, “women typically were firmer than men in resisting the inhuman and wild aspects of the Soviet system,” and because that was the case, those in power were especially interested in “putting them in their place” by various means including rape and the threat of rape.

At the same time, he argues, “group rape [was and] is an act of sexual force also with regard to men. For young people, it was a kind of rite of passage, of showing that you are a member of the collective and that you share with it collective guilt.” To stand against this was “in the eyes of Soviet society, a crime much worse than any gang rape.”

Unfortunately, Baier says, “this mentality defines many aspects of post-Soviet societies,” including the cowardice of many of their citizens, their “hostility to those who are brave enough to stand up in defense of their own moral principles,” and their willingness to engage in real or symbolic rape against those who do.

The latest example of this, Baier says, is the response of many Russians to Darya Klishina, the only Russian track and field athlete not caught up in the doping scandal and consequently the only one allowed to participate at the Rio Olympics, something she has announced she will do.

As so often in the past, once again, the individual prepared to break ranks with the herd is a woman; and also as so often in the past, Klishina has been subject to all kinds of attacks in the media and social networks, all of which are Baier says “a kind of collective ritual group rape of an outcast.”

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Sufism Better than State as Bulwark against Politicized Islam, Expert Says
Staunton, VA, July 18, 2016 - Sufism by virtue of its syncretic nature and of its focus on things not of this world is far better suited than any government agency to provide a bulwark against the spread of Islamist radicalism, according to Marat Smagulov, a specialist on Islam at Kazakhstan’s Foundation for the Support of Islamic Culture and Education.

He points out that the Hanafi trend within Sunni Islam followed by most Muslims in Kazakhstan is less well positioned to defend its followers from the appeals of politicized Muslim leaders unless they are influenced as well by Sufism which helped spread of Islam among Kazakhs.

Unfortunately, he says, the government of Kazakhstan like many of the other post-Soviet states has not come up with “specific and effective measures” to oppose “the ideology of Wahhabism.” Instead, these regimes have focused “on the consequences rather than the causes” of this phenomenon.”

Thus, the struggle so far has been “senseless,” and in Smagulov’s view, “only by opposition from the ideology of Sufism against Wahhabism will there be a positive result.”

Sufism, he continues, is “a doctrine not only about who an individual is but also about how he should be.” It arose in the earliest period of the Muslim era as “a science about morality” and one might call it “the spiritual-intellectual school of Islam” from which all Muslims interested in their faith can draw.

“One of the specific aspects of Sufism,” he continues, is its willingness and ability to adapt rapidly to local conditions rather than demand that local values be rejected and overthrown. “This aspect too has helped preserve pre-Islamic faiths and traditions in the popular Islam of Kazakhstan.”

According to Smagulov, “the process of the Islamization of the Kazakhs developed as a result of the significant impact and influence of Sufi ideas” precisely because Kazakhs were not forced to choose between them and the Islam offered by some other trends and by politicized Islam at all times.

Sufism appeared in what is now Kazakhstan at the time of the Golden Horde. It grew in importance when Tatar, Bashkir and Caucasian Sufis who fought for Emelyan Pugachev against the tsarist regime came to the Kazakh steppe after his defeat. And Sufi sheikhs helped keep Islam alive during Soviet repressions.

In considering how to use Sufism to oppose Islamist fundamentalism, Smagulov continues, “it isn’t necessary to reinvent the wheel. The Naqshbandia tariqat, which just like the Kazakhs is part of the Hanafi rite,” stands ready and able to oppose those who exploit Islam for political purposes.

One should note, the Kazakh expert says, that “attempts to destroy Sufism or minimize its influence on Muslims always have been one of the main tasks of those who are unhappy with the existence of Islam on earth” and who want to reduce the faith to “a primitive social-political ideology in favor of some mercantile interest or other.”

“Unfortunately, Sufism in Kazakhstan has not yet been studied sufficiently,” and that gap is being used by “pseudo-Sufi movements” to undermine its influence. They are assisted in this by “pseudo-Salafis who are only concerned with discrediting Sufism when they speak out on its behalf.

Sufism can be especially effective in opposing Islamist radicalism in Kazakhstan because Sufism and the Kazakh people share so many values: respect for the dead and family, support for popular traditions, and promotion of the arts, all things the Islamist radicals oppose, Smagulov argues.

And he concludes by saying that those countries where the governments support Sufism as Turkey does the Naqshbandia order rely on it as “an effective barrier against the ideology of terrorism,” a set of ideas that promotes “stability and peace.” Kazakhstan could benefit by doing the same.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Putin has Foreign Policy of Hitler and Domestic Policy of Mussolini, Piontkovsky Says
Staunton, VA, July 18, 2016 - One of the sources of confusion about Russia today is that Vladimir Putin is pursuing a foreign policy much like Hitler’s while conducting a domestic policy that resembles Mussolini’s, a combination, Andrey Piontkovsky says, that justifies calling Putin’s Russia “a mutant fascist state.”

In an interview with Vancouver’s Russian-language radio VeraCanada, the Russian commentator acknowledges that many who object to his calling Putin’s foreign policy a copy of Hitler’s often point to the fact that the Kremlin leader is pursuing a much different domestic policy than the German fuehrer.

Unlike Hitler within Germany, Mussolini over the course of his 20 years in power “arrested only several thousand people and shot about a hundred” under unofficial death sentences, Piontkovsky says. In Russia, there is “officially “no death penalty,” but there are similar victims, including opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

Moreover, those sitting in Russian jails, he continues, “are approximately like the ones in fascist Italy.”

In other comments, Piontkovsky says that the level of popular support for Putin is far less than the regime claims, a typical situation in authoritarian regimes when people fear giving the wrong answer. In addition, he says, “the majority of the population categorically reject the war in Ukraine,” even if as a special case they were enthusiastic about seizing Crimea.

And he suggests that everyone should recognize that “80 percent of the population” of Russia as in the case of other countries is “in principle politically indifferent.” Consequently “any political struggle is a clash of active minorities.” And the fate of Russia in the immediate future will be decided by these minorities “and above all those in the capital.”