Quick note on persistence of Orientalist discourse

I found this article,  “Westsplaining the Balkans” along with similar critiques popping up around orientalism in journalistic coverage (as well as NGO and donor expectations) of the Balkans and Central Asia (see: silk road, ancient crossroads, great game references) to be a really great take on the lingering biases projected onto Balkan and Central Asian societies.  Journalists, governments, international organizations, donors, all need to look deeper and resist the impulse to look upon these regions or countries as monolithic cultures defined by imperialism or wars of the past. In any event, two articles very much worth a read and some thought.


Human Rights Watch: Asylum Seekers from Chechnya, Georgia, Tajikistan continue to be denied entry to Poland

Human Rights Watch recently published an article on denial of entry to Poland of asylum seekers from the East. While the principle focus of the Polish refugee admittance system has been the influx of asylum seekers arriving in Europe from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia, to name a few — on its Eastern border a quiet crisis has been unfolding for over a year now. Clustered on the Belarusian border with the EU country, asylum seekers have travelled from Tajikistan, Russia’s Chechen Republic, and Georgia to claim refugee status.

However, they have been continually rebuffed and denied entry to the country, based on short interviews with border guard officials, who do not have the authority under the Polish system to review asylum claims. Under international law, asylum seekers are to be granted admission to the country until such a time that their case is fully reviewed. Instead, asylum seekers (predominantly fleeing political, religious, or conflict-related persecution in their countries of origin, warranting protection under the 1951 convention) are returned to Belarus, where they are reported to stay and continually try their luck with border guards.

“Belarus has provisions in law for an asylum system, but in practice it does not offer meaningful protection. Tajiks, many of whom have experienced abuse in Tajikistan and fear deportation or harassment from Tajik security forces in Russia, cannot get effective protection in Belarus, which views Russia as a safe third country. Chechens also risk being sent back to Russia in spite of their fear of abuse there from the authorities of Russia’s Chechen republic.”

In the case of Chechens, Poland has deemed these asylum seekers to be security threats, and others to be “economic migrants”, though HRW found that those interviewed cited real and credible threats to their person and families. Polish border guards are holding short, arbitrary interviews to determine whether or not they are deserving of protection, but most interviewees felt the decision was already made before they were able to present their case. In the case of one Chechen woman:

“I say, look at me and my children. We are afraid to go back. Security people in Chechnya beat my oldest son so badly he couldn’t walk for a week. They [Polish officials] look and say nothing, just tell us to go and wait. Once, the man [Polish official] we spoke to said: “Go to Kyrgyzstan, go to Turkey. Poland doesn’t want you.” Another time a man [Polish official] just said “no visa – no entry.””

This speaks to a larger issue of asylum procedures in Poland regarding refugees from states in the former Soviet Union. With extremely high freedom of movement between countries (with the notable exception of Turkmenistan), Tajiks, Russians, and Georgians are all able to travel and live in other parts of the FSU with relative ease. That being said, this does not constitute protection or diminish their rights as asylum seekers. There is a high risk for refoulement, which many cited as a reason for seeking asylum in the EU. The article also outlines the lack of protection measures in Belarus, where risk of extradition to Russia for Chechens and Tajiks (who may then be summarily returned to Tajikistan and persecuted) is high. I highly recommend reading the article, found here, as well as this 2016 article on the topic by Yan Matusevich in The Diplomat.


Spheres of Influence in the Eurasian Theater [Cross-posting]


“This is the first in a series of three working papers produced for our recent Annual Conference Student Webinar: ‘”Conceptual Conversations”: Exploring Russian, European & American Understandings of Core Concepts Underpinning Russia-West Relations’. This first paper is based on collaborative research undertaken by Jocelyn Meakins, Lucia Savchick, Sarah VanSickle and Matthew Reichert, all current post-graduates at the Harriman Institute, Columbia University and the Davis Center at Harvard. The University Consortium’s Annual Conference was hosted by HSE from 30 September – 1 October 2016.”

Published 17 October 2016, Saint Antony’s College, University of Oxford

Read the full piece here: Spheres of Influence in the Eurasian Theater

Trying to go to Crimea? Here are the hoops through which you’ll need to jump:

This afternoon, to test barriers to movement from Ukraine to the Crimean peninsula, my colleague and I dropped in on the State Migration Service of Ukraine, (or their English info page here) office in Kyiv, Suvorova street. The main office is on the left bank of the city. The building was bustling at 12:30pm, with queries ranging from IDP registration issues to reissuance of lost or left-behind passports. Petitioners and employees spoke amongst themselves in Russian, and all informational documents lining the walls were written in Ukrainian.

Our scenario was as follows: I, an American citizen, wished to visit my Aunt in Simferopol. Visiting relatives is one of the few cases in which foreigners are allowed into Crimea. Employees of the SMS were unsure of who we should speak with, which is not unheard of in post-Soviet government institutions. Finally a woman in Office 3 told us we would almost certainly have to inquire at the central ministry, as they didn’t handle travel permits for foreigners in the district offices. We would need my passport, proof of relation to my Aunt in Simferopol, and proof of her residential registration in Crimea. These documents were off the top of her head, and she was unsure if we would need other materials for an application. There was no print-off or information of the process or what documentation to bring.

According to Governmental decree № 367 adopted on June 4th available online, (and again, not available at the SMS) foreign nationals and stateless persons should bring the following:
1) application;
2) passport;
3) a document confirming legal stay in Ukraine;
4) a copy of the passport page or a document certifying the stateless person, with personal data of persons with translation into Ukrainian language, certified in the established order;
5) The following documents regarding the purpose of entering Crimea:
a) copies of documents confirming kinship of foreigners and persons without citizenship and place of residence of their relatives and family members in Crimea;
b) a copy of the document confirming the death of close relatives who lived in Crimea;
c) a document confirming the burial of close relatives or family members to Crimea;
d) documents proving ownership of real estate located in Crimea;
e) request or approval of the Foreign Ministry for the persons mentioned in paragraphs 5 and 6 of paragraph 21 of this Order;
f) other documents that can confirm the purpose of entry in Crimea;
6) a document confirming the availability of sufficient financial provision for the period of intended stay in Ukraine or appropriate safeguards host (except for foreigners and stateless persons to whom a special permit issued under the conditions provided in points 5-7 of paragraph 21 of the Order);
7) three photographs measuring 3.5 x 4.5 centimeters.
* A special permit is issued to foreigners and stateless persons who have reached 18 years of age. Data on juvenile foreigners or stateless persons entered in the special permit issued by their parents or legal guardians.

Cases in which you may apply for such a permit:
1) residence in the territory temporarily occupied Ukraine close relatives or family members of a foreigner or stateless person, as evidenced by the documents issued by the authorized state bodies of Ukraine;
2) the location of the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine gravesites close relatives or family members, as evidenced by relevant documents;
3) the death of close relatives or family members living in the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine, which is confirmed by relevant documents;
4) the availability of property rights to real estate located in the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine;
5) the need to participate in the defense of national interests of Ukraine to the peaceful settlement of the conflict, liberation of Ukraine from occupation or for humanitarian policy (only at the request or consent of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs);
6) the necessity of diplomatic and consular functions, in particular within the framework of international organizations of which Ukraine is (only at the request or consent of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs);
7) making regular trips to the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine related to the employment of employees of railways.

This information (and translation) is taken from the newspaper “Migration” published by the SMS of Ukraine available here: http://en.migraciya.com.ua/News/the-state-migration-service-of-ukraine/en-foreigners-now-need-special-permission-to-enter-crimea/

As you can see from the above declaration, as well as from my inquiry at the SMS office, traveling to Crimea for the purposes of tourism is prohibited.