Archive for 2010

North Caucasus Youth Forum Mashuk 2010, some random notes

Mashuk

The basic idea of the forum is rather interesting… all participants come from the Federal District of the Northern Caucasus (Stavropolskij Kraj, Karachaj-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya, Dagestan) plus, at least in the original project, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The programme includes training and classes dedicated to “intercultural interaction” that all participants must attend. Basically, participants from different parts of the Russian Caucasus are given a chance to know each other better, to discuss about the stereotypes they have about each other, and so forth. Continue reading…

List of youth forums taking place in Southern Russia/Northern Caucasus in the summer of 2010

I’m sending this post while listening to the concert that closes the youth forum Mashuk 2010 (in Pjatigorsk, Stavropolskij Kraj) open to participants from Stavropolskij Kraj, Karachaj-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya, Dagestan as well as (at least in theory) Abkhazia and South Ossetia. 2000 participants planned (but the actual figure is somewhat smaller).

This year a number of youth forums and youth camps has taken place in the northern Caucasus. They have been different in size and scope. Putin explicitly called for the organizations of this kind of events in the Northern Caucasus. Most of them were supported by the Russian government, by Mr. Khloponin, head of the Federal District of the Northern Caucasus and/or by Federal Agency for Youth affairs headed by Vasilij Jakemenko.

I’m writing down some thoughts about this forum, but in the meantime, I’d like to share this…

List of youth forums taking place in Southern Russia/Northern Caucasus in the summer of 2010

In May, the final stage of the “Student’s Spring” has taken place in Nal’chik, capital of Kabardino Balkaria, a festival that involves “creative students” (singers, dancers, actors, etc.) from about 70 Russian regions.

On July 18-23, Nal’chik hosted the youth forum “Kavkaz 2020”, a forum planned for one thousands participants coming from all of the Russian federation (but where North Caucasus republics were disproportionally highly represented) organized by Russia’s dominant party Edinaja Rossija and its youth branch Molodaja Gvardija and largely sponsored by the regional and federal budget.

On July 23-31, the Russian Congress of Caucasian Peoples organized a youth forum called “It’s better together” in Dombaj, Karachaj-Cherkessia. Its participants were 200 “young leaders” from the region.

In July, Irex Russia (supported by USAID), organized two forums for young leaders in Kabardino Balkaria…in total, about two hundreds participants between 14 and 24 years old coming from all the territories of the Northern Caucasus.

On August 22-28, youth forum “Volga 2010” has been organized in the Volgograd region in collaboration with Edinaja Rossija. It is planned for about 1500 participants… apparently, and funnily enough, participants come from 40 Russian regions, as well as from “Abkhazia, Czech Republic, Italy and Japan”.

For September, another youth forum has been organized in the Astrakhan region (Selias 2010), dedicated to young people from the Caspian region, including people from southern Russia/northern Caucasus as well as international guests from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Azerbaijan.

Mashuk 2010

But probably the biggest of them all, and the one more openly supported by the Russian Federal structures, is the youth forum “Mashuk 2010”… planned for 2000 people, it is now drawing to its end in Pjatigorsk, in the territory of Stavropol’ (the forum started on August 8 and will close on August 26).

This list might be incomplete.

More thoughts, notes and pictures about Mashuk 2010 coming soon…

“Seliger’s many faces”, my reportage from the International Youth Forum Seliger 2010

Dancing and waiting

My reportage about the International Youth Forum Seliger 2010 is now online on balcanicaucaso.org (available in Italian here).

You can find some pictures there or on my Flickr page.

I already shared some considerations on my way back from the forum in a previous post

And here's another recent article about youth policies in Russia as a whole and in the Northern Caucasus in particular, that makes reference to Seliger.

Notes for an article on Seliger 2010

International youth camp Seliger 2010, July 1 – July 8, Russia.

Preliminary notes written on a bus from Seliger to Moscow. Pictures will follow in the next few days.

Seliger is the location where in the last couple of years the Russian government, through its Federal agency for youth affairs, has been organizing summer camps for young people from all over Russia. The same location was previously used by the much discussed youth organisation “Nashi”. – first international camp run by the Russian government. Thousands of participants from dozens of countries (89 according to what President Medvedev said speaking at Seliger on July 8).

– goal of Seliger in 2010 and previous editions: to bring together young people from all over Russia, offer them a chance to show their ideas and talents, do networking and obtain support for their projects directly from the country’s leadership,without filters or limits imposed by their social or geographical position (social lift), support the current leadership of Russia and the current political course, promote healthy lifestyle (lots of sport activities, ban on alcohol drinking), promote family values (with weddings strongly encouraged to take place during the camp). A success?

-goals of the international camp at Seliger (or why a patriotic youth camp was opened to hundreds of people from all over the world):
* to break stereotypes about Russia among foreign guests (declared goal…a failure? Large portraits of Russia’s leaders ostensibly on show; camp awakened in the morning by Russian anthem played through loudspeakers all over the place; strict rules that, albeit in practice softened for foreign guests, were often “imposed” by group instructsors as orders under threat of expulsion and without explanation; lots of communication problems; predominance of Russian, in spite of the prior promise that the official language of the camp would be English to any effect; old busses bringing guests to and from the camp; etc);
* to show off the fact that young people from all over the world decided to come to Russia, promote Seliger and similar initiatives among Russia’s youth, also by broadcasting news about the event on state tv, promote Russia’s current political course (undeclared goal…a success?);
* to give a chance to young people from all of Russia to meet people from all over the world, hear different point of views and push them to think global (?)

– elements to be stressed:
* strict rules and huge portraits of Putin and Medvedev are a reaction to what happened in the 1990s in Russia and are an expression of the current political phase in the country;
* keywords promoted: competitivity, modernisation, innovation, open society (change with the past);
* youth camps, friendship of the peoples, “cult of the leader”, but different approach, different rhetoric (some continuity with the past)
* widespread patriotic and pro-Russian rhetoric (but except for the decorations, no explicit “putinist” propaganda in the speeches or in the activities organised);
* seliger is a fun and beautiful place…windsurfing, kayaking,climbing, shooting, disco parties, beach volley, swimming… wonderful nature, on the shore of a lake, extremely long daytime (white nights)
* most participants said this is an incredible experience,and something they haven’t seen before, for its size and scope.

Seliger as a symbol of the current political phase. Focus on economic development and innovation. But calls to build an open society are mixed with patriotic slogans and references to Russia’s current leaders.

why don’t you like girls? #caucasus #gendercide

Recently, “The Economist” has published a cover story about gendercide, i.e. the practice of selective abortion in order not to have female children. En passant, “The Economist” mentioned that Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are three among the four top countries in the world rankings of countries by sex ratio at birth (male/female). The article mostly focussed on China and India, that are numerically much more important, and didn’t explain why this phenomenon is widespread in the South Caucasus. The motivations behind this practice in China, for example, are to be found in economic and social factors, as well as in the “one child policy”. Apparently, they hardly apply to the countries of the South Caucasus.

Nonetheless, here are the data provided by the CIA World Factbook:

Sex ratio at birth (male/female)
Armenia: 1,14
Azerbaijan: 1,13
Georgia: 1,13

According to these data, the three countries of the South Caucasus are the three countries in the world where this coefficient is highest. (check the ranking compiled on Wikipedia)

Considering that the natural sex ratio at birth is closer to 1,05, these data seem to suggest that in the countries of the South Caucasus selective abortion is practiced in order not to have a female child. This would be particularly surprising given the fact that such a practice is not widespread in any country neighbouring the region.

According to a report published by UNDP in March 2010, “The Demographic Transformation of Post-Socialist Countries”, by Elizabeth Brainerd, in Soviet times the ratio was close to 1,05 (pag. 8), and the reason why “evidence of son preference has emerged so rapidly is surprising and difficult to explain.” Brainerd quotes official statistics by the local governments that do differ from CIA data, but confirm the existence of the problem (sex ratio  for children age 0-4, Armenia 1,145, Azerbaijan 1,168, Georgia 1,104).

France Meslé, Jacques Vallin and Irina Badurashvili have written an interesting chapter in a book published in 2007 (available for download) dedicated to this issue, titled “A sharp increase in sex ratio at birth in the Caucasus. Why? How?”.

They basically confirm this negative trend, but do not find compelling explanations of this phenomenon. Nonetheless, the chapter is an extremely interesting reading that depicts clearly the situation. Graphs show how sex ratio at birth increased steeply after the fall of the Soviet Union, and how it did not change in all other countries of the former Ussr (including Central Asia). It show on maps how this phenomenon is widespread in the different regions of the three countries (and not in neighbouring regions of Russia or Turkey), making clear that this is not limited to the cities or to small villages, but is an issue that involves different territories, and that in some regions this figure is higher than 1,20. Besides, the fact that sex ratio at birth is so much higher for the third born child than with the previous (the figure gets closer to 1,40), it seems clear that there is a conscious attempt to refuse to give birth to a female child, in particular if the first two were already female.

The authors mention previous studies (in Georgian) claiming that the problems acutally lies in poor birth registration data, but this seems hardly convincing.

The authors of this article naturally claim that “as convincing as these indicators may be, we do not have definitive proof that the increase in sex ratio at birth in the countries of the Caucasus is due to the spread of scans and the practice of sex-selective abortion.”

Anywyay, if this hypothesis is confirmed, it would mean that between 10 and 20 percent (and possibly more) of young parents in the southern Caucasus are ready to recur to abortion if they find out that they’re expecting a girl instead of a boy. Or that more generally, parents are much more likely to recur to induced abortion if they’re expecting a girl, especially if previous children were also girls.

This sounds scary, and I would definitely welcome any other sound theory able to explain the data. Besides, this sounds honestly strange and unexpected… Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, however similar in many aspects, are countries that have different traditions and whose citizens follow even different religious faiths. It is all the more strange, considering the fact that no other country of the region has showed a similar trend.

In Europe, this phenomenon is present also in some parts of the Balkans, most notably in Albania and Kosovo (sex ratio around 1,10)…but still, well below the level recorded in the Caucasus.

I am looking forward to find out more about this, so if anyone reading this post has more updated data or sound alternative explanations, please let me know… I’m definitely willing to read and write more about it…
I have been looking for more information about this topic for a few months already, but couldn’t find anything more. I was actually very surprised to find so little about it online… I think this is a very serious problem, and there should probably be more awareness about it.

Looking forward to hear comments and ideas…

city of the dead, North Ossetia

Built in the XIV-XVIII century…beautiful, but rather difficult to reach… there are still bones and whole skeletons inside those buildings…