'Summer of Love' Reached Behind Iron Curtain
By Salome Asatiani
August 30, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- This year marks the 40th anniversary of the "Summer of Love" -- the summer of 1967, when music, drugs, and rising student rebellion led to the heyday of the hippie counterculture in the United States.
The impact of that moment in history was felt around the world -- even behind the Iron Curtain, where the Western music and mood inspired a generation of Soviet youth.
"When I heard [American psychedelic guitarist Jimi] Hendrix had died [in September 1970], I wore a black shirt for almost 40 days," said Georgian rock musician Bachi Kitiashvili. "The four of us -- the original members of our band, Bermukha -- were rehearsing in [the southern Georgian town of] Rustavi, in a park. We all wore black."
"I had long hair and a beard," one musician recalls. "We got arrested only once, and it was because of this. Afterward they hung our photo above a big square in Tbilisi, under a banner that said 'The people who bring shame on us.'"
MORE: Songs and stories from Soviet-era bard Aleksandr Galich, in Russian, from the archives of RFE/RL's Russian Service.
'Suddenly It Became Clear'
When Kitiashvili first heard Hendrix, he says, it changed his life.
"I played classical guitar -- but then suddenly it became clear that this was not my music; that [rock] was it," Kitiashvili said.
So Kitiashvili and his friend began to perform rock -- improvisations of their favorite Western rock tunes, mixed with their own original material.
Kitiashvili is one of thousands of young people who grew up behind the Iron Curtain with only rare glimpses of the radical social changes under way in the West in the 1960s.
At that time, Soviet popular music -- or the "estrada" scene -- was saturated with dance tunes and popular songs often delivered by men in buttoned-up suits. Songs were often patriotic and sentimental, such as the popular "Where The Motherland Begins."
But many young people were not content with what was on offer. Like their counterparts in the West, they wore their hair long, grew sideburns, and favored bell-bottom jeans and miniskirts.
People living in urban areas began to define themselves as "hippies," and rock and roll became a central form of expression. By the end of the 1960s, more than 250 unofficial rock bands had formed in Moscow alone.
"The Beatles were huge [in the West], then there were also other bands --- the Rolling Stones, the Animals," said Bakhytzhan Zhumadilov, a rock musician from Kazakhstan. "Procol Harum was giving their first concerts. We were observing these processes. Even though, as they say, the Iron Curtain was there, rock music leaked through anyway."
Into The Mainstream
Indeed, by the late 1960s, the Iron Curtain was far from impenetrable. In fact, Soviet audiences had been listening to jazz and rock and roll even earlier through foreign radio stations, including Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.
This, in turn, fostered an industry of smuggled records and home-produced recordings on X-ray plates. And even though the liberal cultural policies of Nikita Khruschev's thaw ended, news, music, and trends from abroad continued to flow slowly but steadily into the Soviet Union.
More people were also allowed to travel to the West, bringing back fashionable clothes, magazines, and record albums. These products were highly desired and could be sold illegally for high prices.
Sculptor Eduard Kazaryan poses next to his tribute to the Beatles in Almaty, Kazakhstan (TASS file photo)
Valery Kocharov, a prominent member of the rock-music subculture in Soviet Georgia, remembers that the acquisition of a single album could prompt large social gatherings, with people flowing to the home of the record-owner to listen to the new music.
"My father was an engineer; my mother was a doctor," Kocharov said. "I couldn't afford to pay 60-70 rubles for a record. So I had to listen to music at my rich friends' homes."
Censorship was still strong during Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev's "stagnation" years. But the censors directed their efforts toward samizdat writers and dissident artists who represented a direct threat to the regime -- among them some of the "guitar poets," such as Vladimir Vysotsky or Bulat Okudzhava, who became immensely popular toward the end of the 1960s.
A Mixed Official Reaction
When it came to more subtle forms of defiance -- a preference for Western clothes and music -- the system was more relaxed.
"As for censorship, in the 1960s and 1970s our authorities -- not just the government, but all authorities -- viewed these youthful attractions with a certain amount of repulsion and discontent, but without strong hostility," says Russian cultural historian Ilya Smirnov. "The general position of, say, a factory director, institute rector, or party secretary was to let the kids jump around listening to their stupid music -- that sooner or later they'd grow up and know better."
Still, there were problems. Policymakers worried that Soviet youths were being brainwashed by their exposure to Western commercial culture. Police staged raids on rock concerts, and foreign albums were confiscated.
Kocharov says young people were even harassed for adopting hippie hair and clothing styles.
"I had long hair and a beard," he says. "We got arrested only once, and it was because of this. They took us to a police station and cut our hair a bit. Afterward they hung our photo above a big square in Tbilisi, under a banner that said 'The people who bring shame on us.'"
Such incidents, however, were relatively infrequent. This may have been because Soviet cultural authorities deliberately supported some local rock bands as a way of countering the popularity of Western rock music.
Most of these local bands -- or, as they were called back then, "vocal-instrumental ensembles" -- played a mixture of rock and pop music. They garnered considerable state support, provided they sang ideologically acceptable, lyrically sanitized versions of Western rock and roll, and had "decent" looks.
Meet The Beatles
Many local groups mimicked The Beatles in sound and style. Indeed, cultural experts agree it was The Beatles who had the biggest impact on Soviet youth. Musicians like Zhumadilov in Kazakhstan say the British band provided an ideal introduction to the world of rock music.
The cover of a Soviet-released Beatles album from the late 1960s (courtesy photo)
"Yes, of course we perceived them as rock music," he recalls. "Although when Mick Jagger and his band, the Rolling Stones, emerged, this was real rock, of course. But The Beatles was sufficiently 'rock' for us back then."
Even though he is a fan of harder rock, Kitiashvili in Georgia also admits The Beatles had a profound influence.
"Just imagine you're sitting somewhere at night, listening to the BBC or the Voice of America, and suddenly you hear 'Can't Buy Me Love,'" he says. "You can never go back to your old self after this. You just know -- this is the music you have to start making, from tomorrow onward."
The influence and popularity of Western rock music grew to the point that decades later, after the fall of the Soviet empire, Czech dissident-turned-president Vaclav Havel credited the music with initiating the popular revolutions that brought down the socialist states.
In the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, a statue of American rock musician Frank Zappa was erected in 1995 as a symbol of the country's freedom.
Zhumadilov says many musicians, in seeking to play the Western music they liked, found themselves fighting for the broader cause of freedom.
"It was a certain kind of struggle," Zhumadilov says. "We wanted to stand out from the rest of the people. To show that, yes, we are musicians, we are democratic people, we want to live and play music like they do in the West. We want to listen to Western music!"
Talking 'Bout A Revolution
Not everyone mixed politics and music, however. For some, like Kocharov, it was all about the music.
"I hadn't reflected on these things in depth, like others claim they had," Kocharov says. "I just liked the music. There was no serious concept behind it."
Ilya Smirnov says the same was true for many Soviet-era "hippies." Although many supported radical political change, others were simply interested in being different -- and making a bit of mischief.
"They even coined a verb -- 'khippovat,' to 'be like a hippie,' Smirnov remembers. "For the vast majority of individuals who wore bell-bottom trousers and long hair, this meant shocking society through any means available. Writing an obscene word on a school director's office door, for example. This is what was meant by 'being a hippie.' From the mid-1970s, this phenomenon was widely practiced by ordinary youth -- students and the like."
Whatever the motives, no one disputes the fact that the importation of Western culture radically altered the collective Soviet imagination. In fact, this was true as early as the 1950s, when jazz music found its way to the other side of the Iron Curtain.
In the 1960s, young people continued to search for something new and different that would set them apart from the authorities. As Kitiashvili puts it, many felt they weren't alone in their aspirations.
"I think we can say that whatever was happening there [in the West], the same thing was taking place here [in the Soviet Union]," he says. "This cannot be a simple coincidence. What differed were obstacles people faced here and there."
Iranian Writer On Trial Over Fictional Events
By Mehrdad Sepehri and Azadeh Sharafshahi
August 28, 2007 (Radio Farda) -- The trial has begun in southwestern Iran of what is believed to be the first novelist to face prosecution for allegedly insulting an ethnic group in a work of fiction.
Award-winning author Yaghub Yadali went on trial in the city of Yasuj on August 23 on charges of spreading false information in his novels.
The charges relate to two books by Yadali that were published years ago and that portray a woman in an extramarital relationship. Because his female character speaks in the Lori (aka Luri) dialect of his native province, Yadali's critics have accused him of trying to insult all Lori women. Yadali has rejected such accusations and said he is himself is an ethnic Lor and that he would never offend this ethnic group.
His lawyer has suggested that personal, regional, or local grievances might have motivated the charges.
Yadali was jailed for some 40 days before his release in late April.
Some observers have accused Iran's government of using ethnic sensitivities as a pretext for censuring publications with which it disagrees.
"You can't take life out of literature."
Observers say that while journalists, writers, caricaturists, and filmmakers have faced similar charges in the past -- and lost their jobs or ended up in prison as a result -- Yadali's marks the first case of a novelist being targeted by such allegations.
One of Iran's most prominent poets, Simin Behbani, argues that under no circumstances should such charges be leveled at a storyteller. Behbani tells Radio Farda that there is no reason to apply the portrayal of an individual of a certain ethnicity to her entire ethnic group. Behbani says such a move is based on a false notion that will limit and isolate literature and prevent novelists from getting their work done. "You can't take life out of literature," Behbani says, adding that and you can't order a novelist to write this way or that way. "If we want to consider everyone else's suggestions in our work, we have to censure half of our country's literature," Behbani says. She adds that the context in which an author raises an issue must always be considered.
Mansour Koushan, an Iranian playwright, novelist, and journalist who lives in Norway, says a writer should never be persecuted for the contents of his work. He argues that as long as Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance oversees the approval and licensing of books, writers are absolved of any responsibility relating to the contents of their work.
But Koushan says authorities are not abiding by their own rules or fundamental principles. He argues that they are merely looking for pretexts to attack anyone expressing views that are not in line with the official ones. Koushan fears that a writer might become a victim of such government "pretense" at any time.
Some observers argue that Iran's multiethnic composition and the sensitive nature of the issue in Iranian society cannot be disregarded.
Akbar Masumbegi, a Tehran-based novelist and member of the Iranian Writers Union, says Iran is a multiethnic state with many languages and dialects.
He says that last year's unrest in the predominantly ethnic Azeri region in northwestern Iran -- over a cartoon deemed insulting -- has been exploited by the government and given it an excuse to suppress anyone who expresses an opinion with which the government does not agree.
But what appears to worry analysts most is increasing self-censorship by writers as a response to the government actions.
In recent weeks, a number of writers in Iran have expressed concern over Yadali's detention and trial. Supporters have urged the judiciary to dismiss the case against him, adding in a public statement that "the incident" has alarmed Iran's intellectual circles at a time of increasing pressure on some of those same intellectuals.
OSCE Offers Glimpse Into How It Monitors Elections
Gunnarsdottir (left) says that her organization is not the 'election police' (file photo)
August 22, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- It was no surprise that Kazakhstan's ruling
party received a majority of the vote in the August 18 elections to the
Mazhilis, or lower house or parliament.
But it might have come as a shock that the Nur Otan party won all 98 seats that were being contested. In fact, it was the first time in independent Kazakhstan's election history that not a single candidate who might accurately be described as "opposition" won a seat.
For many, another surprise came when the OSCE department charged with monitoring elections, the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), noted some progress in the Kazakh vote -- despite falling short of international standards. RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier talked with ODIHR spokeswoman Urdur Gunnarsdottir to get some insight into what it is that election observers do.
It's like we are holding up a mirror, and this is what you see. We're not interfering in [the elections] in any way -- we're not part of the process, and that's incredibly important for us because people sometimes address us as if we are election police.
In all cases, it basically starts with an invitation from the authorities. And we maintain contact with the authorities -- the government -- throughout, but we also maintain contact with the media, with NGOs, with the political parties -- opposition and governing parties -- with the election administration, with a number of people. We try to look at the election from all sides.
So the team, in the case of Kazakhstan, they were there in Kazakhstan about two months ahead of the election and basically hit the ground running. They start monitoring the media, seeing how much coverage the different political parties are getting and the tone of that coverage. They establish contacts with the election commission and see how the preparations are going. They establish contacts out in the regions with political parties there, and with media, and with anyone who is involved in the election there. And [they] follow the campaign to see how the campaign is going and follow the preparations on many, many levels.RFE/RL:
That is the work of the long-term observers. And it is then compiled, [and] additional basic information is added and made available to the short-term observers.Gunnarsdottir:
This [information] then feeds into preparing the short-term observers that come in just a few days before the election. And it differs how many short-term observers we get -- in Kazakhstan, we had around 400. And we brief them on what we have seen, and how the system is, and what the law says, and what they can expect -- for instance, whether they can expect electronic voting in a place or not.
But this also feeds into this preliminary statement, or the preliminary findings, that we do the day after the election, which is based on our [observations] until election day and then on the more statistical outcome of election day and election night.RFE/RL:
But how does the ODIHR select locations for observers on election day?Gunnarsdottir:
We leave that up to the monitors. What we do is: the country is divided into regions, and we divide sometimes the regions into subregions and have people in each place. They then divide it up even further and assign two monitors to an area -- it may be a part of a city or a few villages and towns in a certain area -- and they are then given a list of all the polling stations in that area.
And the day before the elections, they drive around and they can get acquainted with the area and they can have a look in the polling stations and see how the preparations are going. They may get some ideas of where they want to go and observe, or they may just want to move around and try to get a fair idea of the area.
They don't announce their arrival in advance because we want to see things as they are -- we don't want people to be preparing for our arrival, we want to see how the voting is really going, so it is not decided in advance.RFE/RL:
What happens when election day arrives and the observers are at their chosen sites?Gunnarsdottir:
All our monitors, all our observers, are equipped with quite a lengthy list of points that we ask them to look at. And it basically concerns everything that you could come up with.
It is everything from the moment that you approach the polling station -- whether there are any people milling around the polling station that shouldn't be there or whether there's any advertisement or propaganda material too close to the polling station -- to the atmosphere at the polling station, how many people have voted, how many [are] on the list, have there been any problems, have any people been added to the list, how the whole process is going. So they have to fill out this checklist, which is about two pages long.RFE/RL:
While observers are required to remain strictly neutral and not interfere, do they have the right to ask questions?Gunnarsdottir:
They are free to ask questions, but they are observers so they are not free to interfere in any way. They are free to ask questions -- and we encourage them to ask questions and they need to, because there is a lot of facts they need to establish. They are free to talk to anyone -- a voter, a domestic observer, the polling-station commissions -- anyone, for that matter.
But they do not interfere. So if they see something that they know is not right, they can point it out but they cannot, for instance, demand that it [be] stopped -- because they are observers, they are not part of the process, they are observing it.RFE/RL:
These lists are sent regularly throughout election day to a central ODIHR location, where the information is collected and used for the preliminary report that ODIHR releases the day after an election. While parts of the ODIHR's preliminary assessment credited Kazakhstan for some progress in the recent election, there was also ample criticism.Gunnarsdottir:
We are mandated to describe what we see. And, for instance, what we saw was that they [opposition parties] had some ability to convey their messages to voters. But we also recognized very much in our findings that they had problems, as well.
So it's a mixed picture. And of course it is not a black-and-white picture when you are in a country for two months and when you have this many people. And the reporting, of course, focuses on a few points. And if you go into our findings and read them through, you see a much more diverse picture. And there it is described where you see progress in some areas and regress in others.
Kazakhstan: Opposition Left To 'Find Whatever Space Is Possible'
Christopher Walker (file photo)
August 22, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Experts say the August 18 elections that created a one-party parliament in Kazakhstan could affect Astana's bid to chair the OSCE in 2009 and harm the country's image as a Central Asian leader. But, the director of studies at Freedom House, Christopher Walker, told RFE/RL correspondent Farangis Najibullah there is still a significant role for the political opposition to play in Kazakh society.
RFE/RL: Some experts say the outcome of the Kazakh elections reflects the Kazakh people's will and shows that voters have no confidence in the opposition.
Christopher Walker: I think the larger issue in the Kazakh context is whether all of the key elements that are ingredients for fair and open elections were present in the Kazakh case. That is to say, over the course of the election process, were there opportunities for all of the parties to have access to mass media in a balanced and equal way? Were there also limits on state-administrated resources that didn't give the dominant, incumbent power unfair advantages? I think in these cases -- as in previous elections -- there were very serious questions raised about these sorts of critical issues by, for example, the OSCE and other observers.
"I think the fact they did not meet [international election] standards makes it clear that -- at least at this time -- Kazakhstan should not hold the OSCE chairmanship."
So it is really a larger question of whether voters in the country are able to make an informed choice and have no real restrictions on their on their choices -- and I don't believe that is the case in Kazakhstan.
RFE/RL: Is there any role left to play for the Kazakh opposition between now and the next election campaign?
Walker: I think there certainly is. The opposition in Kazakhstan should be playing a meaningful role in scrutinizing the performance and the activities of the ruling powers in the country. This becomes increasingly difficult under the current circumstances. I think, at this point, they have to find whatever space is possible there to play this rightful role. But there is no question that has become increasingly difficult and, naturally, to the detriment of ordinary Kazakh citizens.
RFE/RL: Would the Kazakh election results that created a one-party system in the country affect Astana's bid to win the OSCE chairmanship in 2009?
Walker: I think it is fair to say that if these elections had met international standards, they would not -- in and of themselves -- have argued for the OSCE chairmanship for Kazakhstan. I think the fact they did not meet these standards makes it clear that -- at least at this time -- Kazakhstan should not hold the OSCE chairmanship.
RFE/RL: Could the way Kazakhstan conducted the parliamentary elections have any impact on the rest of Central Asia?
Walker: I think the challenge in the immediate region and for a number of other post-Soviet republics is that the parliaments are not playing the sort of role they could and should be. And, as I mentioned earlier, I think the role for parliaments in these highly controlled presidential systems, where the executive power is so dominant, is to open the door for political space through a parliamentary setting. And already in many of the countries in Central Asia, you have a situation where the parliaments are unable to play a meaningful role in having an independent voice and scrutinizing the actions of the executive. This is to the detriment of these countries' developments.
I think to the extent that Kazakhstan has been looked to as a leader in the region by the outside world, this is a disappointment in terms of having no voice whatsoever in the new parliament for any opposition parties.
Exhibition Highlights Shared Heritage Of Islam, Judaism, Christianity
By Jan Jun
A fragment from the Dead Sea scrolls on display at the British Library
LONDON, August 21, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Conflicts among the "Abrahamic faiths" of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have shaped the history and culture of much of the world for centuries. But a new exhibition at London's British Library is highlighting their similarities in a bid to promote mutual respect and understanding.
"We can remind people just how much they do share in common," says Graham Shaw, the library's head of the Asia, Africa, and Pacific collections and the chief curator of the exhibition. "That the Old Testament of the Christian faith, for instance, largely equates with the Hebrew Bible. And in the case of Islam, in the Koran, we find many of the stories and the characters and the messages from the Old and the New testaments retold. So, they share so much in terms of stories, in terms of message, in terms of ethics, in terms of moral teachings that it's good to remind ourselves of that."
The exhibition, entitled "Sacred -- Discover What We Share," includes unique manuscripts and manuscript fragments originating from across Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. They mostly come from the collections of the British Library, as well as from collections in Morocco, France, and other countries.
Lead curator Shaw notes that many visitors to the exhibition have been impressed by the common heritage of these faiths, and he points to lessons this heritage can bring to the world today.
Treasures Of World Religious Culture
Shaw explains that the oldest among the 230 exhibits is a fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls from A.D. 50 featuring the text of two psalms of the Hebrew Bible.
The oldest Christian manuscript shown is a fragment of transcript of a gospel dating back to the first half of the second century. Also on display is the Codex Sinaiticus, a complete text of the New Testament from around A.D. 350.
As for the Islamic manuscripts, the oldest is the Ma'il Koran produced in Arabia at the end of the 7th century -- that is within a century of the Prophet Muhammad's flight from Mecca to Medina.
Colin Baker, who heads the Near and Middle Eastern collections at the British Library, notes however, that the most valuable Koran exhibited comes from 14th-century Egypt.
The Sultan Baybars Koran (courtesy photo)
"The item that does stand out is the Koran commissioned by Sultan Baybars, which is in seven volumes over 2,000 pages written throughout in gold," Baker said. "It is certainly the British Library's greatest Koran treasure, and possibly one of the greatest Korans of the Mameluk period ever produced."
Baker points to other treasures as well, such as the Uljaytu Koran made in the early 14th century for the Mongol ruler of Iran, a descendant of Genghis Khan, as well as precious Moroccan Korans or a Gospel lectionary from northern Iraq.
Among the Jewish treasures there is the Syriac Pentateuch, the earliest known dated Biblical manuscript of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and two other books produced in fifth-century Turkey, and some lavishly illustrated Passover readings, such as the Golden Haggadah from 14th-century Spain.
The Christian treasures, apart from the precious Lindisfarne Gospels, written between 698 and 721 in northern England, include the four canonical gospels in Armenian and Georgian from the ninth century and the Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria.
Baker explains that there are manuscripts that illustrate how traditions of one faith directly influenced manuscripts of another.
"We see there, for example, 'The Book Of Gospels,'" Baker says. "From a distance, it looks like a Koran, but when you come closer you see the Islamic-style carpet page. It deceives the visitor, but it makes the point that in the way they present their sacred texts, their manuscript production, they are in harmony with each other."
There are other artifacts in the exhibition, including medallions, amulets, lamps, incense burners, and scroll cases -- all of which illustrate influences and similarities.
Lead curator Shaw notes that many visitors to the exhibition have been impressed by the common heritage of these faiths, and he points to lessons this heritage can bring to the world today.
"If we could see that in the way that manuscripts are being produced," Shaw says, "the way that traditions are borrowed from each other, there's a historical example, a paradigm of coexistence, of mutual understanding and influence going on here, surely that understanding is something that can be carried on in the contemporary world, as well as looking back in history".
Litsa and her husband, both in their 30s, came to London and the exhibition from Budapest, Hungary.
"I think it's a good start for understanding one another," she tells RFE/RL. "So, obviously, there are lot of similarities which people probably do not take into consideration."
Russian Fiction Writer Faces Possible Libel Charges
Pavel Astakhov is also a lawyer who has defended companies against the Kremlin (file photo)
August 17, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's modern literary history might soon
open a new chapter -- an author facing libel charges for
characterizations contained in a work of fiction.
Moscow city prosecutors have already questioned Pavel Astakhov about his novel, "Raider," and are now deciding whether to open a criminal case.
The head of the city police's main investigative directorate, Ivan Glukhov, initiated the investigation by asking prosecutors to open a criminal case against Astakhov and his publishing company.
According to Glukhov, the novel "contains numerous insulting and libelous deliberations" about the directorate, and defames the reputation of Russian police in general.
In his letter to prosecutors, Glukhov acknowledges that the novel is "literary-fictional," but argues that, because the text refers to a police unit that actually exists, readers are being led to believe that events depicted in the story are true.'Recognized Problem'
The author's lawyer, Mikhail Burmistrov, strongly disagrees. He tells RFE/RL's Russian Service that the issue of police corruption is nothing new -- and is even openly addressed by high-ranking officials in Russia. Therefore, Burmistrov says, his client's book is simply touching on a recognized problem.
"What's most important from a legal perspective, he does not mention a
single concrete individual. This is really a work of fiction."
"He [Astakhov] is not saying anything new, just highlighting some problems more clearly," Burmistrov says. "And, what's most important from a legal perspective, he does not mention a single concrete individual. This is really a work of fiction. And fictional work is that is created by author's imagination."
"Raider," which can be described as a crime thriller, follows a plot centered on mergers and acquisitions among companies. The protagonist, a businessman, bribes officers from the investigative directorate, who raid companies and open criminal cases to his benefit. But in the story, a young lawyer confronts the corruption.
The possibility that a criminal case could be opened against Astakhov has surprised many. The genre of crime thrillers is very popular in Russia, and the wrongdoings of law-enforcement agencies are often addressed in works of fiction. Crackdown On Freedom
Some analysts believe that there are deeper motives behind this case -- that it is intended to serve as a warning to authors by holding the threat of prosecution for what they write over their heads.
The author of the hugely popular "Day Watch" and "Night Watch" series and arguably the most popular science-fiction writer in Russia today, Sergei Lukyanenko, is among those who feel this way.
"Of course this worries me," he says. "Because it's easy to cross the line between observing the law, which is an essential part of any civilized country, and abusing the rights of ordinary citizens, abusing freedom of speech, and so on. This is a very difficult thing -- and in the struggle to protect these laws it would be easy to overstep the mark and start to limit a person's right to express himself freely."
To some commentators, the possible case against Astakhov also represents part of an ongoing crackdown on independence within the country's legal system.
Apart from being a writer, Astakhov is a successful lawyer. And at various times he has represented Russia's formerly independent television company, NTV -- now owned by the state-controlled gas monopoly, Gazprom -- and Yukos, against which the government led a politically charged campaign.
Some believe that such activities of an independent lawyer may have angered the authorities.
Prosecutors are expected to decide within a week whether to move forward with charges against Astakhov.
Skepticism Surrounds Reunited Orthodox Church
By Chloe Arnold
Some critics say the Russian Orthodox Church has become too close to the Russian state (file photo)
MOSCOW, August 14, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A high-ranking Russian Orthodox Church official has said he is pleased with the progress his church is making with the Russian Church Abroad.
Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, who oversees external relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, has spoken warmly of ties between his church and the Russian Church Abroad since their historic reunion.
"It turned out that what we were suspecting was right -- since neither part of the Russian Orthodox Church has ever given up its faith or the Orthodox view of life and thinking, we have been able to sit together, in a friendly atmosphere, and discuss all the topics that have divided us. And it seems that we are actually like-minded," Kirill says.Mending Historic Split
The two churches split following the 1917 revolution, when the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Sergei, declared his church's loyalty to the communist government.
To begin with, the breakaway Orthodox Church was based in Stavropol, a southern Russian city then controlled by the White Army.
With the Red Army advancing, the church moved to Ottoman Turkey and then to Serbia, before severing all ties with the Orthodox Church in Russia and officially setting itself up as the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, headquartered in New York.
The reconciliation was celebrated in May at a lavish ceremony at the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow. The capital's largest cathedral was blown up by Soviet leader Josef Stalin and only rebuilt after the collapse of the Soviet regime.
Observers say the reunion is an important step for Russia in coming to terms with its communist past. But Yakov Krotov, a church historian, says he is skeptical about what the reunification can achieve.
"The speech of Kirill, it seems to me, is made to justify the politics of the Kremlin, because now this is four [sic, it has been about three] months of the unification, and these months have shown that the unification is not going as well as they declared in the spring," Krotov says.Political Split
In Krotov's view, the reconciliation is based less on religious values than politics. President Vladimir Putin has strongly supported the reunion, and played a prominent role in May's ceremony. Some have welcomed his efforts, while others have accused him of stoking nationalist feelings.
"This unification is more a secular act than a religious act, in the strict sense of the word, because on the side of the Kremlin -- and Kirill represents President Putin on his political line -- this unification is one more attempt to create the Great Russia, Russia as an international empire that unites Russians everywhere," Krotov says.
Nevertheless, church leaders appear to be keen to patch up their long-term differences.
"From a psychological point of view, it won't be easy for people to change the habits they have grown accustomed to, it won't be easy to accept changes in structures that have been built up over a long period of time and that have proven efficient," Kirill says.
"The question arises about whether it is necessary for all this to be changed," he continues. "But there are things that need to be unified and that's why we have picked a five-year period, which can be called a period of transformation."
One contentious issue that will test their new relationship is the growing influence of the church on state institutions. Last month, 20 prominent academicians wrote an open letter to the national newspapers, calling for a reinforcement of the separation of church and state.
In their letter, they lamented the "growing role of clerics in Russian society" and "the church's penetration into all facets of social life." They warned of the dangers of introducing Orthodoxy classes in schools in a country that has as many as 20 million Muslims.
Metropolitan Kirill has called for a "serious dialogue" on the role of the Orthodox Church in society, and invited the authors of the letter to take part in a "private, unpoliticized debate."