Smoky End of Summer N & P

Friday, August 28, 2020

It's been hot and smoky up here at the Borderlands Lodge for the last couple of weeks. This isn't so out of the ordinary for the northern Rockies, as we typically find ourselves ensconced in the smoke of not only local fires, but also those burning in other western states. This year seems worse than normal, though. 

Biking through the birch tree forest,
in Bozeman

Still, I've been getting out, trying to enjoy the outdoors even with the school year opening up. Classes have been going well--no electronic glitches so far--so in my free time I've been trying to get out and away from screens. Given the alternatives, I like online teaching, but it does give me headaches from looking intensely into computer screens for so many hours per day. I find myself giving small--five minute--breaks in my classes so that we can all get away from the screen.  

Despite the smoke, it's still gorgeous here, if you're lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. This week I went on another trek to Lava Lake, for the second time in one month. Last time, I went with a friend who was visiting (after a two-week quarantine), but this week I went back again by myself. It was great. I had about fifteen minutes up by the lake during which time absolutely no voices could be heard--just birds, other animals, and the ripples on the lake. 


Okay, I think that's enough propaganda for this week. How about some news? 

Former USSR

The big story coming out of Russia over the last week, of course, has been the apparent poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Naval'nyi. 

I think of all of the figures who have emerged in opposition to Putin over the years, someone like Naval'nyi has the potential to outflank the Kremlin in a way that has never been possible for the more "pro-western" types talking about democracy. Naval'nyi, by contrast, has much more of a populist style, someone who seems much more willing to appeal to people's sense of fear and embattlement when it comes to the subject of living in a complex, religiously and ethnically diverse country like the Russian Federation. 

Opening a new mosque in Moscow

Putin, by contrast, is much more Soviet-minded in his approach to these issues--more along the lines of "let's all be friends under the aegis of centralized political control from Moscow!"-- and has formed important political alliances with the leaders of various non-ethnically Russian regions of the federation over the years. While Putin is known for supporting populists in some (western) countries, his policies at home are anything butIf Putin is vulnerable to any sort of mass movement, it would probably not be, in my opinion, an explicitly (or even implicitly) pro-Western or "democratic" one, but rather one appealing more nakedly to people's xenophobia.  

Whether or not Naval'nyi is that kind of leader, or aspires to be, is another question. I'm just saying that: no matter what you might think of Putin, things can always get worse. 


Regarding Belarus, there has been a fair bit of speculation regarding whether or not the Kremlin seems interested in saving Lukashenko's salo, if necessary. 

Maybe, but Putin and Lukashenko have never been particularly close. Early on in Putin's tenure as president, Lukashenko had aspirations to lead a Russian-Belarusian union, probably thinking he could dominate the apparent political neophyte in Moscow. Now he just wants to hang onto his fiefdom. As I mentioned last week, an important difference between Belarus today and Georgia and Ukraine before is that Lukashenko's opposition is not making promises to join western institutions like NATO or the EU. My sense is that Moscow wants stability on its border: if Lukashenko is capable of riding this out, they'll continue to support him. If not, then maybe it makes more sense to cultivate someone new. 


From the world of sport, long-time readers of the JMB are likely familiar with the Mehmet Okur award, presented each year (in absentia) to the last remaining Turk in the NBA playoffs. This year, the pickings were slim, with the only two playoff-bound children of the republic facing off against one another in the first round: Boston's Enes Kanter vs. Furkan Korkmaz of the Philadelphia 76ers. While Korkmaz reportedly enjoyed "the best day" of his life in an earlier game against Portland (in which he hit the game-winning shot), this was not Philly's year. Kanter--Fethullah Gülen supporter and public critic of Turkish president Tayyip Erdoğan--wins the award. 

Turks feeling bored this summer by the prospect of not going to the cinema or beach--or, perhaps, even watching playoff games involving Kanter--will perhaps be entertained by the ongoing political theater taking place in Ankara. On the heels of the Aya Sofya being turned back into a mosque, now something similar is happening with what will now be known as the Kariye mosque--another building that was originally a church, then became a mosque, then became a museum, and now is again a mosque. Alongside this new provocation, which is guaranteed to get people angry and yelling at one another in a doubtless constructive manner, Ankara's recent war of words with Greece over the eastern Mediterranean will likely take people's minds off of other troubles for a while. 

Some politicians need enemies, and always seem to be embroiled in a fight with someone. The problem is that, sooner or later, such individuals often end up blustering their way into problems they can't get out of. 

Let's hope the rest of us don't get dragged in.     

Are you a Turk across empires? Order a copy today, then get another one for your library.

More commentary, photos, and links can be found at the Borderlands Lounge.

No comments:

Post a Comment