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Aug 09 2007

Russia’s Cossacks and their tradition

Published by under BBC,Religion,Russia

The Cossacks play an increasingly important role in Russia. Their disciplined way of life, patriotism, large families and commitment to work, are seen by many politicians as a model that could help resolve many of Russia’s problems. For this, they receive support from the very top.

Local leader

Village leaders like “Ataman” Viktor Vasilyevich are greatly respected

Cossack family life is a rigid, hierarchical system in which the eldest man’s word is law.

One of his grandsons was boxing in the village gym – a converted bar. He said being a good Cossack was someone who “took responsibility” for his family and their well-being. Just 11 years old, he was already used to hard physical work on the farm.

Cossack family values are simple, rigid, and to a Western eye, seem to come from another era. The men build the home and provide an income; the women cook, clean and give birth to children. Traditional Russian values, culture, and Orthodoxy form the bedrock of their beliefs.

Before we sat down to a table laden with food, Ataman Viktor recited the Lord’s Prayer in Old Church Slavonic. There was no alcohol on the table, something unusual in Russia, town or country.

As I was told, a Cossack found drinking in this village would face a whipping. This was the village’s exemplary way of dealing with the rampant alcoholism that blights life in much of the Russian countryside.

Cossack values are deeply conservative, a mix of self-reliance, fervent patriotism and belief in discipline and authority.


Russia’s Cossacks rise again

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Nov 01 2006

[BBC] “The Sri Lankan government is not interested in addressing humanitarian issues” – SP Thamilselvan

Delegates at Sri Lankan peace talks in Geneva

No agreement was reached during two days of talks

The Sri Lanka peace talks in Geneva ended as predicted. No one expected a miracle but Sri Lanka’s warring parties could not come to any agreement. During two days of talks and despite a cordial atmosphere, both sides stuck to their guns.

However both parties promised to abide by the faltering ceasefire agreement.

With the internationally backed peace talks failing, there is every danger that the war-ravaged country could slide back into a full-scale conflict.

Tamil rebels wanted the key A-9 highway linking the Jaffna peninsula with the mainland to be reopened to alleviate the sufferings of the people.

But the government proposed sending relief supplies to Jaffna by ship and wanted security guarantees from the rebels.

Mutual distrust

The Tigers said that with no guarantee to open the highway, they were not willing to come for another round of talks.

The Sri Lankan government is not interested in addressing humanitarian issues

Rebel political leader SP Thamilselvan

The government also spoke about political proposals and devolution of power to the Tamil areas.

There was no set agenda to the talks during which Norwegian facilitators tried hard to bring both sides to a common position.

But, fuelled by mutual distrust, each side played their cards carefully and avoided reaching a common agenda.

“We can not open the A-9 highway immediately because the ground situation is not conducive,” Nirmal Siripala Desilva, Sri Lankan minister and head of the government delegation told the BBC.

At least, both parties have expressed their commitment to the 2002 ceasefire agreement. But the agreement hardly exists on the ground.

Military build-up

Nearly 3,000 people were reported killed in the last year alone in Sri Lanka.

There had been full-scale conflicts in the north and in the east and as a result thousands of civilians have been displaced.


“By now the international community should have understood that the Sri Lankan government is not interested in addressing humanitarian issues,” SP Thamilselvan, head of the Tamil rebel delegation said.

Tamil rebels are also once again warning that there is a sizeable military build-up near the frontlines in the Jaffna region.

A similar exercise a few weeks ago ended in a major battle in which security forces suffered heavy casualties.

With recent military successes, both sides now appear to be gearing up for another major battle.

But the danger is if that happens, many international aid organizations may be forced to scale down their operations or close down their offices in the north.

This will be a severe blow for those affected by the tsunami and for internally displaced civilians.

Losing patience

Analysts say neither side were sincere about peace negotiations and neither of them made efforts to honour pledges made in the earlier rounds of peace talks which led to complete mistrust between the two sides.

Delegates at Sri Lankan peace talks in Geneva

Hopes for peace are being pinned on the international community

The government for its part says the agreement between the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the main opposition United National Party (UNP) is a crucial step in proposing long term solutions to the ethnic conflict.

They hope that in the coming months they will be able to put forward a political package for the Tamils.

But no one is sure whether those proposals would satisfy the Tamil rebels.

Meanwhile, the Norwegian facilitators have warned that the international community might lose patience if there is no progress in the peace process.

Bitter divide

They also said there will be a meeting of donor countries next month to discuss the current status of the Sri Lankan peace process.

The main hope for the suffering civilian population is the international community.

With both warring parties bitterly divided, people expected pressure from the international community to keep the peace process moving.

But in Geneva nothing happened.

“The failure of the talks mean people’s suffering will continue. People will be pessimistic about the future of the peace process,” says Sri Lankan analyst DBS Jeyaraj.


Analysis: Sri Lanka talks failure 

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Oct 18 2006

[BBC] Analysis: Sri Lanka military setbacks

By Dumeetha Luthra
Sri Lanka’s military has suffered two heavy blows in less than one week.

First, at least 129 Sri Lanka soldiers were killed in one day of fighting and more than 300 soldiers injured. It appears that an army offensive went badly wrong.

That figure represents the worst single day of casualties for the military since a ceasefire was signed in 2002.

The government claims it killed more than 200 Tamil Tiger rebels. However, no-one has yet been able to verify that and the rebels say they lost only 22 fighters.

Now more than 90 sailors are reported dead in a Tamil Tiger suicide attack.

The fear is that peace talks scheduled for the end of the month in Geneva, Switzerland, may not happen.

Analysts say the balance of negotiating power may have shifted.

Tiger ‘trap’

Previously the government was seen to be willing but reluctant to come to the talks table.

The heavy casualties the forces have suffered could prove an opening for the softer elements within the government to have their voice heard

They had enjoyed several military victories, including the capture of Sampur, which is strategically placed on the southern edge of the Trincomalee harbour in the north-east of the island.

They had also advanced into Tiger-held territory in the Jaffna peninsula.

There was a clear element within the military and the government which was pressing to fight on and push the advantage in the field to translate into an advantage at the talks table.

The expressed readiness to come to talks was, as one diplomat put it, a sign that the government was open to negotiations – but not quite yet.

However, with the latest setbacks for the military, this strategy may now have backfired.

Analysts say that last week the Sri Lankan government started the fighting in Jaffna but underestimated the strength of the rebels.

The Tigers claim to have been waiting, prepared and expecting this clash. Strategists say the soldiers walked into what was essentially a trap.

Dangerous phase

The international community had hoped that before the proposed talks on 28 October there would be a reduction in the violence.

Rebel fighters

The rebels are accused of using the truce to regroup

In fact, the country’s key backers had called for a cessation of hostilities as a necessary precursor to the negotiations.

However, diplomats acknowledge that given the fluidity of the situation in Sri Lanka, the gap of several weeks between the agreement to talk and the date of those discussions was going to be a dangerous phase.

Observers say the military have been keen to push their military advantage while they still have the time; the Tigers for their part want an opportunity to regain a balance of power.

The rebels have never been known to come to the table from a position of weakness.

In fact, ahead of these talks both sides’ commitment to the process has been questioned.

According to sceptics, the motivation for the Tigers agreeing to talks was not to resolve the situation, but to use it as an opportunity to regroup.

Even the monsoon rains have been cited as a reason why both sides are considering talking at this point.

Everything, anything, but the reality of a solution to Sri Lanka’s conflict.

The agenda for the discussions still hasn’t been set. No-one knows what the two sides will even be talking about.

And now the prospect of talks, however slim their chances for a sincere settlement, are hanging in the balance.

There is a real possibility that continued violence could scupper the discussions.

What now?

The heavy casualties the forces have suffered could prove an opening for the softer elements within the government to have their voice heard, a move away from the military solution.

Tamil residents of Jaffna wait to board buses to escape fighting

Fighting in the north has led many civilians to flee their homes

However it could also mean the government is now unwilling to come to the table from a position of perceived weakness.

The hardliners may push for military successes to ensure their bargaining strength in Geneva is not weakened.

On the Tiger side, the fact they held their lines last week and have inflicted such losses on the government may result in a reluctance for immediate talks.

They may want to regain the territory they lost. On the other hand they may feel that already they have already regained the upper hand.

It is still too early to say what the longer term impact of this clash will be, but the continuing violence does not auger well for any prospective talks.


Analysis: Sri Lanka military setbacks

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