GUEST COLUMN: Putin’s Russia began in chaos of ’91

I caught a glimpse of Vladimir Putin’s Russia in a Moscow police station 25 years ago.

The USSR was disintegrating around me. I was a University of Pennsylvania graduate student in Russian history spending a year in Moscow poring over newly declassified Soviet Communist Party archives.

As I immersed myself in documents that revealed startling details about the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution, the revolution of 1991-92 was transforming the Soviet Union.

Although on the streets things seemed orderly, beneath the surface it was clear that the situation was precarious. The farcical putsch of August 1991, led by the KGB and some top military leaders, had failed to remove the reformer Mikhail Gorbachev from office.

Yet the attempted coup triggered an unexpected series of events culminating in the implosion of the USSR within months. The old communist state crumbled and a shaky new government, under the erratic leadership of Boris Yeltsin, took its place.

Amid this tumult, one day near Red Square I was swarmed by a group of about 10 young Roma children. (Roma are often derogatorily referred to as “gypsies.”)

They grabbed at my backpack, which contained my precious notes from months of work in the archives.

As I clenched the bag, one of the boys deftly fished my wallet from my pocket. Just as quickly, they scattered in every direction.

I immediately headed to the closest police station to report the crime. When I explained the situation to the officer in charge, he kindly invited me to his office.

After a little chat, he casually mentioned that there would be a price for police and prosecutors to pursue the culprits. Surprised, I told him “No,” that I wouldn’t pay a bribe for police service.

He accepted my refusal with a shrug, and then he served me tea and cookies.

As we snacked, the officer gave me some fatherly advice. I needed to protect myself, he said, so I should go out and buy the kind of club that the police carried.

If I saw any Roma, he recommended that I whack them with my stick.

I asked him how the police would react if they saw me walking around Moscow beating up Roma children with a baton. He thought for a moment before answering: “I think we would say, ‘Thank you.’”

Seeing my shock, he asked, with a degree of approval, whether I knew that, after all, Hitler had put the Roma in concentration camps.

This alarming conversation foreshadowed some of the darker trends that have become more prominent in recent years: corruption, extreme nationalism and a disrespect for the rule of law, all growing in the fertile soil of national disintegration.

The complete collapse of the economy gave rise to hyper-inflation rates of more than 2,000 percent within a year, wiping out savings and making pensions nearly worthless.

Sudden poverty fed public hostility toward what seemed like the chaos and injustice that capitalism’s “free markets” had wrought.

Russia’s middle class still has not fully recovered.

It is an enduring tragedy of Russia’s history that tremendous economic uncertainty appeared precisely at the same time as the first wave of post-Soviet leaders introduced democratic reforms and free markets, discrediting them in the eyes of much of the population.

Simultaneously, rampant corruption by political and economic elites raised further suspicions among ordinary people about the new democracy.

Unabashed bribe-taking by local officials demoralized the population.

Suddenly, it appeared that everything in Russia was for sale, as state-owned enterprises were looted by insiders.

Before the fall of communism, even toilet paper wasn’t available in stores.

Now, anything at all could be had, with the right amount of money and connections. Nothing happened, it seemed, without money changing hands.

In Soviet times, bribery had developed into a kind of art form. Because capture could lead to imprisonment, bureaucrats disguised their demands for payments.

Yet, as I witnessed in the semi-anarchy of post-collapse Russia, bureaucrats in a position to take bribes dispensed with any subtlety.

They preferred — and still prefer — a direct, quick, and cash-based deal.

Justice was for sale, just like everything else. My experience in the police station was one stark example of an all-too-frequent disregard for the rule of law. This lack of accountability persists today, encouraged by an authoritarian state.

Like the policeman with whom I shared tea, many people embraced a virulent Russian nationalism, scapegoating and demonizing non-Russian minorities for the tidal wave of problems that beset them.

In the officer’s suggestion that I take matters into my own hands and attack the Roma, one sees an embedded, race- or ethnicity-based suspicion of outsiders.

For that officer and many other Russians, the two best tools for obtaining justice seemed to be a bribe in one hand and a club in the other.

The roots of the popularity of Putin and the extreme Russian nationalists who surround him can be found in the chaotic months following the fall of the USSR in 1991.

Putin did not invent the social tensions, economic uncertainty and nationalist hostility that characterized Russia in those unsettled years.

He has merely fanned them, capitalizing on them with extraordinary expertise to consolidate his power.

James Heinzen is a professor of history at Rowan University and the author of “The Art of the Bribe: Corruption under Stalin, 1943-1953,” which will be released in November. Readers may send him email at


State Inmate Fatally Stabbed

ELMORE, Ala. – The Alabama Department of Corrections is investigating a fatal stabbing of an inmate that occurred at the Elmore Correctional Facility on Tuesday. The stabbing happened at approximately 4:30 p.m. during an altercation between two inmates.

Prison officials report that Davieon Cotez Williams, 24, received multiple stabbed wounds in the altercation. Responding officers transported Williams to the facility’s infirmary and was pronounced deceased by a prison doctor at 4:56 p.m.

Inmate Jonathan Gladney, 41, was detained as a suspect in the stabbing. Gladney is serving a life sentence on a 2006 manslaughter conviction in Barbour County. Williams was serving a 5-year sentence for second-degree rape in Chambers County.

The facility is on lockdown until the investigation is complete. Elmore Correctional Facility is a medium custody level prison housing 1,175 inmates.

Ensley: Watch out for poison ivy and oak

Polk County Ex-tension Office is located at 20 N. Main Street, Cedartown. Phone 770-749-2142 or email

Poison ivy (vine form) and poison oak (shrub like form) are common poisonous plants in Georgia.

Poison ivy is the cause of many cases of dermatitis (redness, rash, and blisters).

Everyone who spends time outdoors needs to know what poison ivy and oak look like. The leaves alternate on the stem and each leaf consists of three green shiny leaflets. The old saying is “leafs of three – let it be.”

All parts of the plant (stem, root, flower and fruit) are poisonous at all times of the year. The toxic chemical in the leaves is called urushiol. People are often exposed when they brush against the plant and bruise the leaves. It usually takes 12 to 48 hours for symptoms to appear. If contact with the plant is suspected, wash the affected area with cold water.

Several methods exist for controlling poison ivy and oak. Continual cutting, tillage, or mowing poison ivy will eventually get rid of it. Poison ivy can also be controlled by the application of herbicides (weed killers). Because poison ivy has an extensive root system, several applications may be necessary for effective control. Two herbicides that are effective for the control of poison ivy are glyphosate (Roundup or Kleenup) and triclopyr.

Be extremely careful in spraying around desirable plants since misapplication and wind drift could harm them as well. These herbicides are non-selective meaning they will cause damage on adjacent plants. When applying any pesticide, read and follow label directions carefully.

Things to do in Cherokee County Wednesday, Aug. 31

The Family Care Center in the Piggly Wiggly Shopping Center in Centre includes a Thrift Store open to the public Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The Family Care Center helps others by giving clothing, food and possibly hope to families in their time of need. The Center asks for your help by supporting its thrift stores. There are currently three locations, the one in Centre, another at 5511 Main St. in Hokes Bluff and another in Cedar Bluff. The Center is currently helping more than 100 families per week and thanks the community for its continued support. Director is Cindy McGinnis.

Extended Family is having workshop from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. in the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce office. For more information call 256-927-3038.

The Cherokee County School System is giving notice that records retained for five years after the end of special education services will be destroyed Oct. 1, 2016. Parents or students may call 256-927-8049 to request records.

The Party Bridge Match is played at the Fort Payne Senior Center. For more information, call 256-927-7754.

Visit the beautiful Rock Village, home of some of the best hiking and rock climbing throughout the world. Enjoy fresh air and beautiful scenery. Go to the intersection of U.S. Highway, to the intersection of County Road 36 and County Road 70, turn left and follow 411 and Highway 68 in Leesburg, turn right, turn left on Cherokee County 36 the signs.

Annual Arts Festival scheduled at Rose Lawn on September 17-18

Keeping with tradition, the 41st Annual Arts Festival at Rose Lawn will provide more than 100 artists and vendors for patrons strolling the grounds of historic Rose Lawn, once home to evangelist Sam P. Jones.

Jones once preached in the Van Wert circuit, which included the historic church near Rockmart.

The Festival will take place September 17-18, 2016. Hours are: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 12 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Admission to the Arts Festival is free.

Artists and vendors will be traveling across the southeast to be a part of the Rose Lawn Arts Festival. Visitors will discover a wide variety of artists including painters, photographers, potters, jewelry artisans, woodcrafters, beekeepers, and more.

“We work each year to grow the festival to continue to offer a diversity of vendors while also ensuring our long time artists return year after year,” said Rose Lawn Executive Director Jane Drew. “We have a well-known artist, Jodeen Brown, returning to Rose Lawn that has not been with us for almost 20 years. Jodeen is known for her artistry on both a local and national level.”

Entertainment is a big part of the event. Both days of the festival will be full of entertainment including dance companies, a variety of performers, well known and up – and – coming. Sunday’s entertainment line-up will include faith based worship music and performers.

Visitors will not go hungry with a wide variety of food vendors to choose from, including BBQ, roasted corn, fried green tomatoes, hamburgers, hotdogs, ice cream, and shaved ice. New food vendors have been added that showcase hot wings, polish sausage sandwiches, fried Twinkies and Oreos, homemade corn dogs and chicken on a stick as additional food options.

Juried Artists compete for $1,000 in prizes with 7 awards presented Saturday at 1 p.m. The awards ceremony will also feature the Hospitality Heroes Awards and the prestigious People’s Choice Awards for Best Restaurant, Best Shoppe, and Best Attraction, presented by festival sponsor Cartersville-Bartow County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Visitors can tour the Rose Lawn House Museum ($5 per person) both days, where docents will introduce the legacy of Rev. Sam Jones, a fiery 19th century evangelist noted as “one of the most celebrated revivalists of his time.” The historic home is an architectural wonder with the last level of the home being added by raising the original two levels and adding the third level of the house under the original two. This mastery of construction and design took place in 1895.

Festivalgoers can take home a unique ‘green’ souvenir from the Master Gardener’s Sale offering a tremendous number of plant selections. Also back by popular demand is the AAUW Book Sale with thousands of books for sale at bargain prices.

Rose Lawn is located at 224 West Cherokee Avenue in downtown Cartersville. Parking is available at no charge within walking distance of the festival grounds. The festival sponsors are Bartow County Government and Cartersville-Bartow County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Camp Sidney Dew yard sale this weekend Sept 3-4

The first-ever Camp Sidney Dew Yard Sale will begin on Saturday, September 3 at 7 a.m. and will be continued on Sunday, September 4.This sale will benefit Camp Sidney Dew and the youth served in the Northwest Georgia Council.

There will be something for everyone, from new and old Sidney Dew keepsakes, equipment, plumbing, electrical, tools, camping goods, tents, air mattresses, household items, and much more.

Northwest Georgia Council members have the opportunity to purchase before the sale. Council members may also donate items to the sale.


Off duty deputy sheriff interrupts burglary in progress, apprehends three

According to Gordon County Sheriff Mitch Ralston, on Saturday, Aug. 27, an off duty deputy sheriff was located at a private residence on McDaniel Station Road in unincorporated Gordon County on personal business. While he was there, a neighbor approached him and reported that her nearby residence was being burglarized. The deputy quickly responded and effected the arrest of three people: Joseph W. Brown, age 35, of 8290 Nickelsville Highway, Ranger; Maggie D. Mason, age 18, of 154 Bunch Mountain Road, Adairsville; and Stephen C. Howell, age 28, of 470 Old Highway 41, Adairsville.

Personnel from the local State Patrol post responded, as well as other deputy sheriffs, to the scene. All three defendants have been charged with burglary and possession of methamphetamine after a search of their vehicle revealed drugs and drug related paraphernalia. All three defendants are lodged in the county jail pending bond.

Boaz man arrested in connection to Aroney shooting

Dekalb County law enforcement agents have arrested a Boaz man in connection to a shooting in the Aroney Community this past weekend.

Arrested, according to a press release from Dekalb County Sheriff Jimmy Harris, was Max William Pope, 47, who was charged with assault in the first degree.

On Aug. 26th at approximately 8:15 p.m. the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Deputies, along with Crossville Police Department and Alabama State Troopers responded to a 911 call of a shooting on County Road 386 in the Aroney community.

The victim James Harold Burns, 55 of Boaz was shot in the lower leg by Pope. Pope was transported to the Dekalb County Detention Center awaiting bond. More charges could be forthcoming pending the investigation, Sheriff Harris stated in the press release.

Sheriff Harris says “Deputies continued to work on this case and if anyone has any information on this case please call the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office at 256-845-3801 or go to our website at”

UMW plans annual flea market; funds will go to various projects

The United Methodist Women of Cedartown First United Methodist Church, 301 Wissahickon Ave., Cedartown, is hosting its annual flea market again this year.

The event is scheduled for 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2 and from 8 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 3.

A one-half price sale will begin at noon Saturday with a $5 bag sale from 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Items available in the September market include clothing, household goods, kitchenwares, home décor, linens, toys and books.

There will also be a bake sale featuring delicious cakes, pies, cookies and other sweets.

The annual flea market is a tradition at the local church. It has been hosted by the United Methodist Church Women for the past 42 years.

A photo, which shows the sons of John and Sarah Anne Thomas, was taken in 1974 in front of the flea market sign. The church began with a Christmas bazaar but discovered that more funds could be raised at a flea market.

Today, the flea market continues a tradition that has been successful in funding community and world projects.

Funds from the September flea market will go to help support the Samaritan House, Our House, Murphy Harpst, missionary families and other community projects.