Sunday, January 30, 2005

I was very relieved - if not happy - to leave Moscow at the end of 2002. I was too devastated by what had happened that October - and I still am: the Nord-Ost hostage horror. I was sick of Moscow then. At least this is how I remember it now.

St. Pete is two different cities - in summer, it's one of the most amazing places I've ever been to, but beginning late September, it's the gloomiest thing in the world. The contrast is just too shocking - like nowhere else I've been to. So I'm glad we're leaving now, not in June or July. I almost don't care now.

One thing I keep imagining is how I'm gonna miss St. Pete in a few months - something that seems impossible now. But I know I will.

For me, a love-hate relationship with big cities is the only one possible. Istanbul is an exception - but I've only been there as a tourist. Kyiv is another exception: I love the city as people often love their relatives, infinitely and unconditionally, but after a while I always need to move on, to escape - and somehow I always do...

One thing I love about living in Russia is that it's so close to Ukraine. My worst memory of the one-plus-two years that I spent in the States is not having been able to go back home, not once, either because I couldn't afford it, or because I was scared I wouldn't be tough enough to get up and leave again. I used to have a recurring nightmare in which I'd be in Kyiv, for just a few hours, all my homework and deadlines waiting for me back in the States, and I'd be running around, trying to see everyone and ending up in stupid hi-bye situations...

Moving out tomorrow. No, today - it's Sunday already.

Two apartments in two years in St. Pete; two apartments in two years in Moscow for me, and four in three years for Mishah.

It's always very sad and very exciting to leave, both. And I'm not scared or even nervous anymore. Mishah has been too pensive today, though.

According to the New York Times, The Qatari government is considering selling al-Jazeera TV station, whose worldwide audience ranges from 30 million to 50 million people.

I love the story's last paragraph:

An American official noted that Al Jazeera had not only alienated the United States but had also angered officials in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and many other countries by focusing on internal problems in those nations. "They must be doing something right," he said.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

We are sorting through all our papers and other backlogs, trying to get rid of as much shit as possible, and here's a wonderful example of the Russian hotel translation art that I've found in my notes:

DEAR GUESTS!

OUR HOTEL MATISOV DOMIK HAS WASHING, CLEAR, AND AIR SERVICE.

YOU CAN ADRESS TO THE RECEPTION.

GUEST AT A REST HOME.


The last sentence is supposed to mean something like, Enjoy your stay at our hotel. CLEAR means dry cleaning, AIR means ironing.

Located right next to a mental asylum, Matisov Domik is, nevertheless, a rather nice hotel here in St. Pete - we stayed in it during our first reconnaissance trip in early October 2002.

Friday, January 28, 2005

I wanted to write about it when it first appeared, but then I forgot: a Jan. 23 column on Ukraine in the Financial Times - Investors Must Stay Cautious About Ukraine, by Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group and senior fellow at the World Policy Institute. It's for subscribers only now, but I do have it saved, so here're a few excerpts:

But too much optimism is misplaced for Mr Yushchenko or for investors in Ukraine. There's still substantial political risk in the country. Investors should watch closely and remain cautious.

Ukraine's fault lines have not suddenly disappeared. Mr Yushchenko's opponent, former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, still won 44.2 per cent of the popular vote.

Millions of Ukrainians, particularly in the southern and eastern regions of the country, are ethnically Russian, speak Russian as a first language, worship in the Russian Orthodox Church, and support ever closer ties between Kiev and Moscow. Mr Yanukovych is still their man.

They see that Ukrainian nationalists from the west and north of the country have pushed the Ukrainian-speaking, Catholic, and pro-European Mr Yushchenko to power and wonder if their political concerns will now be ignored.


The Financial Times ran a correction on Jan. 26, but I've noticed it only today (that's why I'm writing now) - so it's for subscribers only now as well, and here's a fragment:

Contrary to a report in FT on Monday, president Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church...


Strange that it took them three days to notice the mistake. Strange, also, that a seemingly reputable "political scientist" hasn't bothered to do his homework.

Just for the record, one day after Bremmer's column appeared, Yushchenko said this at a Jan. 24 meeting with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksiy II in Moscow (via Kommersant, in Russian):

I'm a believer and I'll never tell my supporters which church they should attend.


He also told Aleksiy II that, since 2000, the president visits churches of all denominations on Christmas Eve:

Thus we demonstrate our religious tolerance. This is going to be the basis for my policies.


If this isn't enough, Yushchenko is also an economist, which, perhaps, is more relevant than his faith, both for Ukrainians and for the potential foreign investors.

As for the language issue, I wrote about it a few months ago. Here's Yushchenko's quote again, from a Gazeta.ru interview conducted last year:

Unfortunately, the current government hasn't been able to form a clear policy on Ukrainian, Russian or other languages. Our current prime minister [Yanukovych] writes with mistakes in both Russian and Ukrainian. But on the eve of every election, Ukrainian politicians begin to exploit the language issue. Leonid Kuchma used this slogan when he was running for president in 1994: "I'll make Russian the second official state language." So what? Who remembers this promise now?

As for my view on this, I always emphasize that in a democratic state there should be created the conditions for development of various cultural traditions, and this includes the use of different languages. Citizens of any European country are fluent in three or four languages, and we are still being overly dramatic trying to decide in which language we should communicate - in Russian or in Ukrainian? As a result, we speak Russian with mistakes and need a dictionary to speak Ukrainian.


Back to Bremmer's column:

He's already made one smart move: he opted to keep Volodymyr Lytvyn as parliamentary speaker. Mr Lytvyn's agrarian party will be closely aligned with Mr Yushchenko and will provide the new president political inroads with some of those Ukrainians suspicious of his plans.


It's not really up to Yushchenko to decide whether to keep the speaker or not: it's the prerogative of the parliament.

But Ukraine's parliamentary system remains highly fragmented. If Mr Yushchenko takes actions that splinter parliamentary cohesion by nominating hardliner Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister, for example he risks creating instant opposition to his reform programme from parliamentary groups who fear their interests may be brushed aside.

Mr Yushchenko must also be sure he can rein in those on his team who, in the name of fighting corruption, are eager to launch a frontal assault on the oligarchs who profited from the rigged privatisation deals of the Kuchma era. Some in Mr Yushchenko's camp would undoubtedly like to go after Mr Yanukovych and Leonid Kuchma on charges of electoral fraud.

Fighting corruption is unquestionably a worthwhile and necessary goal. But to pick a fight before he's ready to win would be a mistake for Ukraine's new president.


Basically, to make Ukraine safe for foreign investments, Yushchenko is expected to sit still and watch the old guys doing business like nothing's really happened. The only problem with such an approach is that it may not be too safe for Yushchenko himself, considering the readiness of Ukrainians to gather at Maidan when they feel they're being cheated.

Finally, Mr Yushchenko must manage Ukraine's all-important relationship with Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin unapologetically campaigned for Mr Yanukovych and has protested what he calls the “western interference” in Ukraine's domestic politics that helped rescue Mr Yushchenko's candidacy from widespread vote-rigging.

Sergei Ivanov, Russian minister of defence, speaking in New York earlier this month, warned his audience of the dangers of exporting revolutions of any colour to the region.

Mr Yushchenko may heighten Russian-Ukrainian tensions if he visits Washington before he calls on Mr Putin, or if he refuses to engage the Russian president in talks on the “single economic space” that Russia hopes to create with Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

Candidate Yushchenko expressed the fears of millions of Ukrainians that the plan to more closely integrate the economies of the four former Soviet neighbours will separate Ukraine further from the world economy, that it constitutes a thinly veiled attempt by Moscow to restore some of its Soviet-era influence in the region, and that the project could upset Ukraine's plans to join the World Trade Organisation.

But if Mr Yushchenko refuses to even discuss the plan, Russian resentment may burden the new Ukrainian president with a dangerous and determined enemy that enjoys real influence inside his country.


Why couldn't Bremmer wait just one day to make sure that Yushchenko was indeed planning to ignore Putin? On the day the column appeared - the day of the inauguration - it was already known that Yushchenko's first official visit would be to Moscow, so there's no way Bremmer is going to be able to pretend later that it was his expert warning that prevented Yushchenko from making a mess out of the Ukrainian-Russian relationship.

***

It's exhausting enough even without incompetent judgments of someone like Bremmer: there are so many guesses to make in such a short time, and the new ones appear all the time - Who's gonna be nominated for prime minister? Poroshenko? Tymoshenko? Zinchenko? Yavlinskiy? And when will this "who" be nominated? Monday? Tuesday? Sunday? And is Tymoshenko going to survive the vote in the parliament? And is Poroshenko and his party going to vote for Tymoshenko? Et cetera.

Oh, and did I mention that we're moving back to Moscow, not to Kyiv?..

I really, really enjoy following David McDuff down the memory lane - from the Russian Studies department at a British university and on to the Soviet Union, a decade or so before I was born: Going Back 1, Going Back 2 and Going Back 3.

This Sunday, we are leaving St. Petersburg after spending two years here (even though Mishah told me yesterday, with some jealousy, that I had spent at least half a year out of these two in Kyiv). I'm paralyzed with fear - the fear of another move, yet another transition. So, here's a passage from David's account of his summer 1966 trip to the Soviet Union, with a stopover in Leningrad - the passage that has helped me to relax a little, reminding me that I'll always be able to re-visit St. Pete through other people's memories, and through the nicer ones of my own, too:

That summer we didn’t stay in hotels, but slept in a tent we’d taken with us, striking camp at official State campsites whose locations were entered on our visas, together with the obligatory time of arrival at each site. We started with a week in Leningrad, then drove to Novgorod and Kalinin, followed by a week in Moscow, then to Kharkov and Kiev, and finally out of the USSR via Vinnitsa and Chernovitsy, into Romania – four weeks in the Soviet Union in all. In general, at first we were surprised at how “normal” everything seemed – the weather was warm and sunny, the streets and thoroughfares of Leningrad looked much like those of any European city, and it was only when we got out of the car and gazed at the actual texture of the place – the strangely rough, unmodernized surfaces of the roads and buildings, the dust that blew everywhere, the absence of commercial advertising, the old-fashioned look of people’s clothes – that we realized we were in another world from the one we were used to. Even so, during those first days I think we were so pleased to have reached our destination that we didn’t really notice much of this – my memories are mainly of visits to the Hermitage and other museums, to the Petergof Palace and park, of walks along the Neva embankment, and so on. For us, it was almost like being back in Vienna or Copenhagen – or even Edinburgh. We stayed at the campsite at Repino, about 40 km from the centre of Leningrad, on the Gulf of Finland – the pre-Soviet name of the place was Kuokkala, and the whole environment had a thoroughly Finnish atmosphere, with birch and fir trees. We travelled to Leningrad by electric train, and returned in the evenings to the campsite, with its two sections – an international one, for Western tourists, and a “Soviet” one, mainly for Russians and a few tourists from the Baltic states. We soon got used to this division, and the way in which towards evening it usually broke down, when the holidaymakers from the “Russian” side of the site – who slept not in tents of their own, but in large, communal marquees provided by the camp, would come and visit the “Western” side, bringing vodka and fruit which they exchanged for Western cigarettes and items of clothing, especially blue jeans. We also got acquainted with some of the other Western tourists – couples from Canada and Australia in large “dormobiles” and trucks, an intrepid American solo traveller in a VW Beetle, groups of French and Germans in cars, hardly any British at all.


I'm looking forward to David's next installments.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

I heard about it from Mishah first, and then it was on yesterday's NTV evening news: a Russian-language web portal called the Russian National Literary Network has issued a "Directive on Limiting the Themes of Literary Works."

The Directive mainly concerns two of the Network's writing sites, Proza.ru (prose) and Stihi.ru (poetry). At a glance, the sites resemble a cross between Zoetrope.com and LiveJournal.com, inviting aspiring authors to post their work for review by other members. As of 9 pm today, Proza.ru has 22,313 members, 188,457 stories and 277,077 reviews; Stihi.ru lists 67,115 members, 1,609,066 poems and 2,132,558 reviews.

Even though today Dmitriy Kravchuk, the Network's coordinator and the author of the Directive, has postponed the implementation of the Directive "due to the negative reaction of the literary community and the discovery of a number of shortcomings," its text still appears online.

Here's its translation:

The Directive
on limiting the themes of literary works published on the Internet resources of the Russian National Literary Network


1. On the Internet resources of the RNLN it is forbidden to publish literary works and forum messages covering the following themes:

- The special operation of the Russian troops in the Chechen Republic during 1991-2004 [actually, the so-called "special operation" officially began on Dec. 11, 1994, not in 1991...]

- Terrorist acts against citizens of the Russian Federation

- Opposition of certain citizen groups to implementation of the Laws of the RF and the Decrees of the President of the RF (in particular, the Law on Monetization of the Benefits [which has caused the Babushka Revolution]

2. On the Internet resources of of the RNLN it is forbidden to publish literary works and forum messages, which include personal mentions (with the first or last name) of individuals belonging to one of the categories of the Class A public officials (in accordance with Appendix 1). At the same time, it is allowed to mention the individual's title, as long as this mention is connected with the execution of state functions and not with his personal qualities [sic].

3. On the Internet resources of of the RNLN it is forbidden to publish literary works and forum messages, which include mentions in a negative context of the Class B public officials (in accordance with Appendix 2). A negative context is the identification of the mentioned individual as a negative literary hero by literary experts affiliated with the RNLN.

4. On the Internet resources of of the RNLN it is forbidden to publish literary works and forum messages, which include mentions in a positive context of the Class C individuals (in accordance with Appendix 3). A positive context is the identification of the mentioned individual as a positive literary hero by literary experts affiliated with the RNLN.

Literary works with content prohibited by this Directive will have to be deleted by their authors before Feb. 1, 2005. If the works containing the prohibited content are discovered after Feb. 1, 2005, the site's moderators are obliged to block the pages and all works of these authors without the possibilty of renewing [membership] later.

Organizational Committee of the Russian National Literary Network

Appendix 1. Categories of the Class A public officials.

It is forbidden to publish literary works, which include personal mentions (first or last name) of individuals belonging to the following categories:

- President of the RF and members of his family
- Head of the government and ministers of the RF
- Members of the Federation Councils [sic] of the Federal Assembly of the RF
- Deputies of the State Duma of the RF who are members of the United Russia faction [the pro-Putin majority in the Russian Parliament]
- Governors of the federal centers of the RF
- Mayors of the cities of the RF

Appendix 2. Categories of the Class B public officials.

It is forbidden to publish literary works and forum messages, which include mentions in a negative context of individuals belonging to the following categories:

- Heroes of Russia
- Heroes of the Soviet Union, who received this title during the Great Patriotic War
- Serving officers of the Russian Army, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Federal Security Service, Federal Guards Service, Intelligence Service in the rank higher than the Colonel and First-Rank Captain (inclusive)
- Representatives of the RF state on duty
- Members of the United Russia Party and the Walking Together public movement [a pro-Putin youth organization]

Appendix 2. Categories of the Class C individuals.

It is forbidden to publish literary works and forum messages, which include mentions in a positive context of individuals belonging to the following categories:

- Individuals wanted by the federal authorities on charges of plotting terrorist acts against RF citizens
- Individuals killed as the result of special operations of the Russian troops in the Chechen Republic, those who resisted or were accused of plotting terrorist acts against citizens of the RF
- Individuals charged with involvement in international terrorist organizations
- State authorities and soldiers of the Fascist Germany of the Great Patriotic War period, as well as individuals who collaborated with the Fascist Germany


After wasting an hour translating this, I'm more or less speechless. The only thing I can say is that this once again confirms my view that Stalin was ourselves, in a way, and Putin is ourselves, too.

***

And here's a translation of a wonderful poem one of the members of Stihi.ru has recently posted on the site:

PRESIDENT
by Thinkerbell

PutinPutinPutinPoo!
PutinPutinPutinPoo!
Poopoopoo!
Poopoopoo!
PutinPutinPutinPoo!

© Copyright: Thinkerbell, 2005   Code: 1501261784

P.S. to the R.E.M. post:

I know that this line from Man On the Moon is about something completely different (and for me, somehow, it's always had a very special meaning, very different from the one intended, I'm sure) - but right now it looks like a total prophesy:

Here's a truck stop instead of Saint Peter's.


WEIRD.

(I have to say it again: I'm so so so upset... It was supposed to be this once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing... Fucking Soviet bureaucracy...)

There was supposed to be an R.E.M. show here tonight, and we were supposed to be there, and Mishah had really good tickets - but it got cancelled at the last minute. Here's why, from R.E.M.'s website:

01.27.05
THURSDAY UPDATE FROM ST PETERSBURG


After a great night in Tallinn and an all-night journey to St Petersburg in wintry conditions, R.E.M greatly regrets having to cancel the show tonight in St Petersburg. Lengthy delays at the Estonia/Russia border caused our trucks, crew, and gear (sound, lights, instruments, and so forth) to arrive too late to mount the show.

This is the first time since the widely-chronicled 1995 tour that R.E.M. has had to cancel a show, and it is a major disappointment for the band not to be playing this particular city. As Michael and the band told some Russian journalists at the hotel this afternoon, we are obviously sorry for all of the inconvenience this has caused for people who were planning to be there.


I'm so upset. Why does nothing ever work in this part of the world? Why are the customs people here so goddamn inefficient?

David Byrne mentioned the same problem in his journal back in July - but at least his St. Pete show didn't get cancelled...

St Petersburg Russia July 17

Russia is already an adventure before it even properly begins. After driving 6 hours from Tampere we're awakened at about 7 in the morning at the Finnish Russian border. We're met by Nick, our contact and escort. Nick is in full swat team commando gear- bulging padded black outfit, some knives strapped on and at least one gun. Glad he's on our side. He seems to have some pull, as he waves the customs guys aside when they began to open the bus bays.

We get through pretty easily and then convoy it the 2+ hours into town- but our truck with our gear is unfortunately stuck there- there is at least a mile long line of trucks waiting for inspections. We'll never make the scheduled load in time.

[...]

The gear arrives by late afternoon. The show is scheduled for 10PM, but that now seems hopelessly optimistic.


Today's R.E.M. show was scheduled for 7 pm...

***

The good news is this, kind of (a comment left by Elya, who writes a German-language blog, romkablog. notizen nach der revolution):

Hey, at least *one* participant of the Orange Revolution has a chance to meet Bono: He is taking part in the European Economic Forum at Davos, were Viktor Andriyovich will be, too ;-)

sorry, only in German: http://tinyurl.com/5829d

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Turns out Mishah and I know the guy who designed the orange symbols of Yushchenko's campaign: Dima Maksymenko, director of Belka i Strelka photo and design studio in Kyiv. He's a wonderful photographer, and I'm quite proud to know him.



Here's a translation of parts of his recent interview (Telekritika, in Russian):

- Dmitry, your studio specializes on ads for [several brands of juices]. You also do ads for vodka, drinking water, beer. How come you work with various political parties, too?

- There's nothing strange about it. Political advertisement is as much of a product as anything else. We began doing it for the previous election, when Marat Guelman - whom we knew as a gallerist, not as a "political technologist" - offered us to work for SDPU [Social Democratic Party of Ukraine, a pro-Kuchma party]. We agreed. This time, my partner and I decided to stay away from politics. But when Yushchenko's campaign HQ contacted us, we agreed to work with them immediately and almost for free. We spent a month and a half developing the style for Yushchenko's bloc [Our Ukraine]. [...] It was clear that the market is Ukraine and the audience are the people living here. We also knew that the campaign was aimed more at east Ukraine - and we had to make sure it wouldn't scare anyone there. We also knew for sure that the main developments were to take place in the fall - and orange color, though a little daring, was likely to work well in the fall. We offered more radical and more beautiful variants, but they didn't pass. Speaking of the design, the horseshoe, the letters and their placement - it's all bad design. But we did it on purpose, to have people perceive the ads adequately.

[...]

The choice of the color had been forced on us, in a way. Other main colors - red, blue, green, yellow-and-blue - had all been taken. We were left with orange and purple. Purple is very expensive to produce, and in addition, it's a disturbing color, inspiring anxiety, and people wouldn't have understood it.

[...]

- Would it be correct to say that it was orange color that shaped Yushchenko's campaign?

- The color wasn't a decisive factor. Everything just worked out well and the people created the rest by themselves. We were happy about the extent of the people's creativity. It was the people who turned orange into a revolutionary color, it had nothing to do with psychologists. [...] If you take corporate styles in Britain and the States - some have a combination of red and white, others have little donkeys and little elephants. And we have orange color. That's our mentality - we love everything that's bright.

Actually, we used to do fun experiments. For instance, we were working on the labels for kvass bottles for one company and ended up with two colors: one was classical and the other radical, in the 1930s style, with the poisonous, fire-red color. The same product was being sold with different labels. The red ones sold three times more than the classical ones. The only place where it didn't work was west Ukraine: people there don't like the red Communist color, I guess.

Does it mean that the nation's mentality should be taken into account when creating ads?

- Of course. We relied on the style of Western social democrats when creating a cool logo for the Ukrainian ones. But our social democrats are like a porpoise [morkaya svinka in Russian, a sea pig] - they having nothing in common with pigs and have nothing to do with the sea. But if you taken German traditions, our design could've been good for them. It didn't work in Ukraine, though. Here, the rose looks tacky, as on a May Day [Soviet] greeting card.

- You said you worked nearly for free for Yushchenko's campaign...

- Normally, we charge ten times more for this type of work. I bought myself a yacht on Medvedchuk's money. But this time it was important for us not to support the pro-government candidate. But our colleagues toiled for him, and kept buying cars. It was disgusting to look at it. But that was their choice.

Only idiots in the ad business didn't understand that if Victor Yanukovych came to power, the ad market would collapse, because it relies heavily on import companies. Investments woud have been gone and we wouldn't have been able to get a visa to any normal country. That's why you shouldn't saw off the branch you're sitting on, even for big money. But there were examples of the opposite, remember? An amazing story about a sign language translator from the First National [TV channel], who said, after the Central Election Commission announced the results of the second tour, that those were lies. She could've lost a lot more than our "artists." If they and their kids were starving and had nothing to eat, that would be one thing. But they do have their food, more than enough of it. Those people don't fit into their t-shirts anymore. It's ridiculous and disgusting. Those who were working for Yanukovych realized that they weren't doing the right thing. At the previous, parliamentary, election, there was hopelessness and there was no use bothering. At our studio during that election, we were shooting Brodsky, Tymoshenko, Medvedchuk, Kravchuk, Zinchenko - who, by the way, was with the SDPU then. The situation was totally different then. And for this election everything was way too clear. There were two ideas - the good and the evil. As in a fairy tale.

[...]

Our revolution was bourgeois in a good sense of the word. Those who came to stand on Maidan, did it conscientiously. They were losing time, their cows stayed un-milked, their farms [neglected]... But they came to defend not just the financial future of the country, but their own and mine as well. I met a village policeman [...], a decent man who had left everything behind, took his gun and came to Kyiv to help. People like this can't go back without victory because people back home wouldn't understand it. We are indebted to these people. No one should reproach them for standing on Khreshchatyk, no one should be saying that the view of the dirty tents offends someone and makes it uncomfortable to stroll and eat ice cream. Yushchenko's bloc prepared to the election awfully. We really have almost missed the revolution. If at some point the ordinary people hadn't joined in, nothing would have happened.

- Are you proud of having created the revolutionary style?

- I don't know. This is not our first successful project. It's nice, of course, that people have achieved all they wanted, with our help. But it's funny that there weren't even enough of the flags. Normally, you're thinking hard on how to sell your product - while here there wasn't enough of it.

[...]

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

CORRECTION:

Taras Kuzio did make a typo - of a very special kind. He spelled the word "oligarch" correctly, while the URL should have contained a mistake - it's a direct transliteration from Russian, "oligarh":

www.oligarh.net

Thank you, David McDuff, for pointing this out!

The piece that Kuzio refers to is here, in Russian.

Taras Kuzio's piece on whether Smeshko deserves all the credit for saving Ukraine that the New York Times has given him, in the Jamestown Foundation's Eurasia Daily Monitor.

I strongly agree with Kuzio's very obvious conclusion:

The credit for this should go to Yushchenko and Ukraine's Orange Revolution protestors who practiced non-violence.


But I couldn't concentrate on the piece well enough after reading this, four paragraphs down the piece:

Nevertheless, four factors work against the New York Times expose's ability to improve the image of SBU chief Ihor Smeshko. Already allegations have been raised that the article was merely a public relations exercise for Smeshko (oligarch.net, January 20).


Oligarch.net? What kind of source is that? I followed the link and found myself at some weird, obscure place, which had nothing to do with Ukraine.

Maybe it's a typo - or maybe it's the SBU taking revenge on Kuzio.

Makes me wanna puke:

Russian MPs Seek to Ban All Jewish Organizations as Extremist

24.01.2005
The Moscow News

About 20 members of the State Duma have approached the Prosecutor General’s Office with a request to “ban all Jewish organizations” because, the MPs claim, they are “extremist”. The group published an open letter to the Prosecutor General in Rus Pravoslavnaya newspaper.

The MPs (representing the Communist faction, the nationalist Motherland party, and the radical Liberal Democrats) and about 500 other people, mostly journalists and editors of nationalist newspapers, called the Jewish religion “anti-Christian and inhumane, which practices extend even to ritual murders.”

“Many facts of such religious extremism were proven in courts,” the letter read.

The authors wrote that many anti-Semitic acts in Russia had been caused by the “anti-Christian” behavior of Jews or even committed by Jews themselves as grounds to “take punitive measures against patriots.”

The group blames the Jews (and not only religious Jews) of xenophobia and also of “illegal appropriation of state property” and entering the government after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Jewish influence on the country’s life has damaged the interests of all other Russia’s nations including Russian people, the letter claimed.

The authors stated that it was the Jews who were against teaching Orthodox culture in Russian schools and supported the abolition of the practice of identifying nationality in passports.

They also wrote that “the whole democratic world today is under the financial and political control of international Jewry. And we do not want our Russia to be among such unfree countries.”


And here's from the AP:

The letter, faxed in part to The Associated Press by the office of lawmaker Alexander Krutov, said, "The negative assessments by Russian patriots of the qualities and actions against non-Jews that are typical of Jews correspond to the truth ... The statements and publications against Jews that have incriminated patriots are self-defense, which is not always stylistically correct but is justified in essence."

[...]

With Putin planning to join events this week commemorating the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp by Soviet troops, Russia's Holocaust Foundation head Alla Gerber said it was "horrible that as we're marking the 60th anniversary of this tragic and great day ... we can speak of the danger of fascism in the countries that defeated fascism."

While the Russian state itself is no longer anti-Semitic, there are "anti-Semitic campaigns that are led by all sorts of organizations," she said.

"The economic situation is ripe for this. An enemy is needed, and the enemy is well-known, traditional," Gerber said.

Wonderful photos - with comments! - of the inauguration day (24) and of the "last glimpse" of the tent city (17) - taken by Lesya and Dan McMinn of The Orange Ukraine!

Putin said this after his prolonged talk with Yushchenko:

I think we shouldn't evaluate the new Ukrainian government: first, because it hasn't been formed yet, and second, because the results of the cabinet's work have to be evaluated by the citizens of the country in which this government works.


And this:

Victor Yushchenko has informed me of his plans for the government, for which I'm grateful to him.


Yushchenko said he considered Tymoshenko "the most acceptable" candidate for the prime minister's post:

I'm not new to politics, I know how to do it and with what people, and that's why Tymoshenko's candidacy was the most acceptable.


(via Gazeta.ru, in Russian)

Monday, January 24, 2005

My apologies to everyone who commented on this page - the comments are gone because I've just installed Haloscan. I should've done it sooner, because quite a few people have written me about not being able to post comments through the Blogger system, but I was too lazy to do anything about it. My apologies for this, too.

Hope it works better now.

Abdymak has posted a laconic critique of a piece on the Ukrainian election mess that appeared in The Age, an Australian paper, as well as some background on the piece's author, Tom Mangold, and his previous Ukraine-related project, a BBC documentary called "Killing the Story," which dealt with Georgiy Gongadze's disappearance and was first aired in April 2002.

Here's part of an open letter sent to the BBC by Olexiy Stepura and Peter Byrne on April 22, 2002:

[...] There are grounds to question many of the claims promulgated by Melnychenko and his promoters, who continue to use Gongadze’s disappearance and the never-ending scandal for personal, political and professional gain.

While, our view of the case is not popular or profitable, we feel there is no alternative to reporting facts.

This explains our disappointment that “Killing the Story” again portrays Melnychenko as an oracle of truth.

[...]

We recognize BBC's right to dramatize what it perceives to be the truth, but reserve our right to criticize unfounded conclusions based on gossip. There is a high probability those behind Gongadze’s disappearance are connected to those who made and edited the recordings – a circumstance that would not contradict justified criticism of Kuchma’s regime.


Go figure, is all I can say.

The AP piece I mentioned in the previous post has since been updated and the paragraph I quoted now looks like this:

Yushchenko, who was inaugurated Sunday, initially said he would need more consultations before nominating a prime minister. His hesitation seemed to be aimed at avoiding a provocative decision just before his Moscow trip — his first foreign visit as president.


The piece is now titled Yushchenko Selects Anti-Kremlin PM - which seems like an arguable characterization of Tymoshenko, since, at the same time, the story maintains that Tymoshenko is "widely disliked by the Kremlin." It's probably more correct to say that the Kremlin is anti-Tymoshenko.

***

Here's a brief description of what Yushchenko's Moscow trip means for both presidents, from the same AP piece:

For Yushchenko, the Kremlin meeting was part of his delicate balancing act to move closer to the West while not upsetting relations with his powerful neighbor. For Russian President Vladimir Putin, the meeting could help undo the damage of his unsuccessful foray into Ukrainian politics.

Yulia Tymoshenko is the acting prime minister now (until the parliament votes to approve her)!



Yushchenko had signed this appointment before leaving for Moscow, and his press service posted an announcement on Yushchenko's website about an hour ago.

The timing is perfect: Yushchenko is meeting with Putin right at this moment - and Putin has no other choice but to swallow the news. Hopefully. Yushchenko is actually doing Putin a favor, for all I know, helping him to avoid making a fool of himself again: Yushchenko is the President of an independent country, and to comment negatively on his totally legitimate decision sitting across the table from him wouldn't be too tactful of Putin.

Here's a passage from a now outdated AP story on the dilemma that Yushchenko has just solved so beautifully:

He said Monday more consultations were needed before he could nominate a prime minister. His most visible ally, Yuliya Tymoshenko, publicly says she expects the job, but she is widely disliked by the Kremlin and Yushchenko's hesitation to name his choice could be aimed at avoiding a provocative decision just before his Moscow trip.


***

According to Yushchenko's press service, Yushchenko today has also "abolished the structure of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine the way it is now and ordered to create the Secretariat of the President of Ukraine. Oleksandr Zinchenko has been appointed the State Secretary of the President of Ukraine.

The President of Ukraine has appointed Petro Poroshenko as the Secretary of the National Security Council."

A bit on yesterday's celebration at Workhorse:

Ilya and i watched all of these proceedings on the television, then went to Maidan around 8 p.m. when there was to be a concert and fireworks. walking up Kreshchatyk Street the crowd was still huge. noticeably, what had remained of the tent city was gone. (earlier in the week there were still a few dozen large army tents.) Okean Elzi began playing and we pushed through the crowd at Maidan to a spot near the independence monument. most everyone was dancing to the music (including an old homeless guy who was getting funky in the street, to everyone's amazement) when a bunch of Mercedes drove down the hill and stopped at the back of the crowd. Yushchenko stepped out of one just by us and walked to a platform near the monument. he stood with his wife and kids, waved to the crowd, and within minutes a huge firework display went off behind him above the glass facade of the Globus shopping mall. spectacular! seriously. everyone was impressed. it lasted 10 or 15 minutes.


Again, I regret so much not being in Kyiv yesterday...

Yesterday night, Yushchenko spoke with Andrei Kolesnikov, a Russian journalist writing for the Russian daily Kommersant, about his plans to announce the prime minister. But Kolesnikov was past the deadline at that point so he kindly allowed Ukrainska Pravda to publish this comment.

According to Kolesnikov, Yushchenko was choosing between two people last night and expected to make the announcement before his departure for Moscow today.

Then Kolesnikov asked that maybe Yushchenko would sign the appointment right on the plane. [Yushchenko] replied: "Oh, that's an interesting idea! Let's wait till the plane."


Yushchenko must be on the plane right now - according to Ukrainska Pravda, his departure was scheduled for 12:20 pm Kyiv time, which is something like 40 minutes ago.

According to Korrespondent.net, Yushchenko spoke with the journalists after his meeting with representatives of Ukrainian Christians at Kyiv's St. Sophia this morning and he said he'd make the decision about the prime minister "either today or tomorrow morning."

Obozrevatel adds that now it is reasonable to expect the announcement to be made during the news conference in Moscow at 7 pm today.

Funny how the focus has shifted: everyone's now busy trying to guess when Yushchenko is going to pick the premier, not who the premier might be... We are getting impatient.

A really nice set of Jan. 23 pictures at Blog de Connard.

I miss Kyiv so much...

I'm terribly sorry for spreading rumors... U2 never came to Kyiv... Imagine how disappointed I am...

Here's what I wrote back in November (and then this entry got linked by Instapundit, which means so many people must have seen it that, who knows, maybe someone ended up telling someone else and then it reached Bono somehow and then he decided to show up at Maidan as a surprise treat... See, I did have some reasons to naively believe the rumor...):

I heard U2's Pride (In the Name of Love) the other day, coming from someone's car radio near Maidan. It was quite a change after five days of Ukrainian bands, very good and not so, playing day and night - and I wished Bono had come over here - man, wouldn't that be cool... Of the Russians, I'd love to see Zemfira and B-2... Anyone would do, actually... And if not, our bands are cool, too - VV, Okean Elzy, Tanok na Maidani Congo, etc. Oh, and I wish Gogol Bordello, a NYC band, came here to play on Maidan - they are currently my favorite - Through the roof! And underground! - and their lead singer is Ukrainian!


Actually, I've no idea which bands played at Maidan at all - and I wonder what the surprise they'd been promising turned out to be...

A piece on blogging in the Wall Street Journal - When Bloggers Make News. Rebecca Blood, the author of The Weblog Handbook, is quoted in it - and she has posted a retort on her blog.

I still love the end of this piece, though, which lists Rebecca Blood's recommendations to bloggers, and to readers:

All the way back in 2002, Rebecca Blood advised bloggers to disclose their conflicts of interest, publish only what they believe to be true, and correct mistakes publicly. Her counsel to readers? Follow the same rules as one would walking down the street: "Don't make eye contact with someone who seems crazy."


Bloggers are readers, too, in a way, when it comes to comments left on their blogs, so this last piece of advice - about not making eye contact with those who seem crazy - sounds useful to me. It reminds me of a proverb we have in Russian, one of my favorites: Mne s nim/nei detei ne krestit - "I don't have to have him/her as my kids' Godfather/mother." Which basically means that I'm not supposed to give a fuck about certain people's opinions.

(My second favorite Russian proverb is this: Plohomu tantsoru yaitsa meshayut - "A lousy dancer is hindered by his own balls." But this is more of a non sequitur.)

Sunday, January 23, 2005

An interview with Yulia Tymoshenko on ORT (Russian Channel 1) - she kicks ass. The interview and the story around it aren't as biased as they could've been.

Everything would appear differently, though, should Yushchenko dump Yulia in favor of Poroshenko: she spoke of that coalition agreement with Yushchenko, based on which she's supposed to become the prime minister, and if Yushchenko doesn't keep his word, ORT and others in Russia might then be using the footage of sweet and agreeable Yulia to emphasize what a traitor Yushchenko is.

About an hour and a half ago, at 7:25 pm Moscow time, a Russian information agency RosBalt (I'm not 100 percent sure but I think it's based in St. Pete) reported that Yanukovych was meeting with Putin. Here's the translation of this news item:

KYIV, Jan. 23 - Ex-prime minister of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovych, arrived in Moscow in the evening of Jan. 22. Rosbalt learned about this from sources close to the president of Ukraine. According to the source, Yanukovych has already had meetings with the speaker of the Russian parliament, Boris Gryzlov, and the head of the presidential administration, Dmitry Medvedev. It has also been reported that Victor Yanukovych is currently meeting with Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation. They are allegedly discussing a possibility [for Yanukovych] to head the opposition in Ukraine in 2006.

Beginning Oct. 1, 2005, the constitutional reform comes into effect in Ukraine, after which the Ukrainian state turns into a virtually parliamentary republic. Yanukovych hopes to get no less than 50 percent of supporters in the parliamentary election in spring 2006, and then, having become the head of the parliament, to virtually head the country.

Sources close to Yushchenko anticipate that, during the negotiations to be held in Moscow Monday, Jan. 24, Yanukovych might ask Putin not to indulge Yushchenko. In particular, he might ask not to introduce dual citizenship, to carry out strict energy (gas supplies) policy, and to cancel 90-day registration.

Victor Yanukovych was the chief opponent of Victor Yushchenko. During the election campain in Ukraine Russian president Vladimir Putin expressed his support for Yanukovych.


(I hate to translate, especially texts that are so badly written...)

If this turns out to be true, it's gonna be quite a nasty surprise. Yushchenko would have to cancel his tomorrow's visit to Moscow, definitely.

But it may also be nothing more than just rumors spread with some obscure purpose. These people can't write properly, but they also can't think straight: not introducing dual citizenship would not be a blow to Yushchenko at all - he never stood for that, it was part of Yanukovych's bullshit campaign. Also, it's not the 90-day registration but the lack of thereof - for Ukrainian citizens visiting Russia, a measure adopted by Russia on the eve of the election, in order to aid the Yanukovych campaign people in making him more appealing; before that, we had to register with the police within three days of entering Russia.

***

In a separate item, Rosbalt is also reporting that Poroshenko has already been offered the premiership.

Our TV is back.

About 60 foreign delegations at Yushchenko's inauguration vs. less than 30 at Kuchma's inauguration five years ago.

NTV reports, after a brief live broadcast from Maidan:

"Some people are celebrating, others are in mourning" - in Simferopol, they are demanding political reform, Russian as the second state language and dual citizenship with Russia...

Yushchenko's already left but the people are still coming to Maidan. There must be around half a million there now. Old women were crying during his speech.

Yushchenko was there with his tiny newborn second grandson, born Jan. 3, in addition to all his children...

Too bad Yushchenko's leaving tomorrow - he should've stayed with the people for at least a week after the inauguation...

Ekho Moskvy and Gazeta.ru are reporting that about 150 supporters of Yanukovych were at some point trying to force their way to the Rada and the police weren't letting them and told them they should go to Maidan.

Yushchenko's still speaking, at least on live audio, about moving towards Europe, introducing European standards, Ukraine's the beginning of Europe of the third millennium, we are in the center of Europe now.

(Mishah has called our satellite dish provider - they said the picture would return in either 2 minutes or in 2 hours... Assholes.)

The speech is over.

Yushchenko's speech is probably over by now but we're just beginning to hear it through Channel 5 live audio on the Internet... All the channels but the news ones are there - can it be a conspiracy? They're even showing my favorite 1980s Italian pop darling, Riccardo Fogli, on the Russian Channel 1 - but that's not making me happy now...

Yushchenko at Maidan, singing the anthem.

(No more updates, I'm afraid, because our TV doesn't have the EuroNews or any other news channel picture anymore... Channel 5 live audio is lagging behind too much... Shit...)

Yushchenko's car has arrived to Maidan.

(We have problems with the TV - I don't think they are jamming it, must be the fucking weather... Very frustrating...)

Nemtsov is walking with Chubais (that's in addition to the Mironov, speaker of the upper house of the Russian Duma).

Mustafa Jemilev is speaking on a cell phone.

All the priests, cardinals, rabbis and muftis - and what looks like an Armenian priest - are walking together...

Kwasniewski stands next to Colin Powell.

BBC World is showing how the parliamentarians are walking - yes, walking! - down to Maidan from the Rada!

Yulia Tymoshenko is dressed in all white, just like Kateryna Chumachenko; amazing that she's walking - if I were wearing the heels she has on, they'd have to be carrying me...

Tymoshenko's kissing with Chumachenko; one of Yushchenko's kids shows off her dress to Tymoshenko - very cute...

The crowd's yelling - Peremoha, peremoha! - Victory!

Georgia's Nino Burjanadze is also very beautiful.

Now they're all gathering at Maidan...

BBC World is showing really beautiful views of Kyiv...

The anthem echoes in my head, then I hear Mishah murmuring it from the kitchen, too...

The Maidan crowd they are showing is so beautiful, so happy - and soooooooooo huge!

There were talks of some surprise during today's concert at Maidan, to be held after Yushchenko's speech - well, we've just learned that there are rumors U2 is in Kyiv. Just rumors... But if it does happen, maybe it would be partly thanks to me - remember I wrote sometime during the revolution that oh, wouldn't it be nice for Bono to come over here?!..

Yushchenko's speech - ready to work with all parliamentarians, etc.

Those who were against Yushchenko sit there as a mere formality.

The guards look Sovietly old-fashioned, unfortunately.

The anthem again...

Chumachenko looks very nice; Tymoshenko is there, too, of course.

Yes, it's happened.

Yushchenko is leaving; on his way through the aisle, he paused near one of his closest ally, Mykola Katerynchuk, and shaked his hand (Katerynchuk is as sexy as Yulia Tymoshenko, only he's male).

Very cute Cossacks are standing along the staircase; a man who's carrying Yushchenko's mace behind him is a general, no less.

We are so unspeakably happy now.

Thank God!

Yushchenko has just been given the Hetman's Mace.

The choir is singing something very beautiful, which Mishah and I cannot identify.

As they are singing, the camera finds Kuchma - he looks very sad.

Kateryna Chumachenko - dressed in white, beautiful, gives Yushchenko orange flowers.

Mykola Azarov, acting PM, said the government's resigning, Yushchenko told them to continue working until a new government is formed (when???????????? that's another issue I'm too nervous to write about..........)

Can't believe it's really happening... Yushchenko has just arrived in the Rada, he looks terrific, wonderfully, almost as he did before the poisoning, in Kyiv there are more people and buses than during the revolution, my mama told me she's constantly moved to tears, can't believe this day has finally arrived and is very happy.

The election numbers are now being read; I don't know about other channels, but the host at Euro-News Russia couldn't shut up when they were playing the anthem; it took the anti-Yushchenko parliamentarians a minute or so to get up and start applauding with everyone else...

He's about to take an oath.

Too bad we're in Russia - they keep translating it...

The Oath - his right hand on the 16th-century New Testament and on the Constitution; then he signs some paper, shakes hand with the head of the Constitutional Court and kisses both books.

The Constitutional Court head announces that Kuchma is no longer the President. At last.

This post has nothing to do with the inauguration, which is in a few hours. I'm too nervous awaiting it to write anything about it. My dilemma right now is whether to call my parents before it begins, or after. I'll do both, I guess. EuroNews will be covering it live. How I wish I were there now.

Anyway, here's a little something about our neighbors, Poland: a Polish magazine, called Forum, came up with a cover that must look quite shocking not just to Muslims but to Catholics as well. Inside the magazine is a reprint of a story on sex and Islam that first appeared in a French magazine.



Here's a quote from a story in the New York Daily News, Outrage Unveiled:

Waldemar Piasecki, New York correspondent for the Warsaw-based weekly Przeglad, said he is "puzzled" by Forum's choice of cover art.

"This is a serious magazine that has offered Poles a window on the world for more than 40 years," he said. "In all that time, I can't recall a naked woman on the cover."


And here's a wonderful entry - Baring My Religion - from Chapati Mystery (via Avari-Nameh):

All in all, it is a fairly interesting article for the general public that underscores the healthy attitude Islam had/has about sexuality. Worth a quick read. Now, I think it is reprehensible for Forum to put that cover on this story. It has no artistic or scholarly intent and nothing whatsoever to do with the content of Bouazza's piece. They want to simply shock. As far as I know, the Courrier International website did not have those pictures. To my offended co-religionists, I say, yes, the Polish magazine is amiss in publishing the cover story but save your anger for the despotic regimes of mullahs not trifles like magazine covers. At the most, ask your polish friend to write a letter to the editor but more generally, just let it go. [...]

Saturday, January 22, 2005

A very interesting entry about Soviet dissidents at A Step At a Time.

David McDuff writes from a relatively rare perspective of a foreigner who had a chance to live in the Brezhnev-time Soviet Union - and I hope he'll continue sharing his stories:

As a British Council exchange student in Moscow during the late 1960s and early 1970s, I had some experience of the Soviet dissident movement - the stazhory, as we were called, housed in Zona V of the Stalin-era MGU skyscraper on Lenin Hills (now Sparrow Hills), functioned in some sense as guinea pigs for the very active KGB wing of the student Komsomol brigade in the Zone, and my block neighbour happened to be a Canadian-Ukrainian activist and history scholar visiting from Berkeley, California, who was subsequently expelled from the Soviet Union after a press campaign against him. Through him, I gained a partial but first-hand knowledge of Soviet dissident life, and became acquainted not only with dissidents in person, but also with their publications and manifestoes.


(I wonder what became of that Diaspora Ukrainian after they had expelled him.)

The focus of David McDuff's earlier entry on the dissidents is Cali Ruchala's enlightening text on Yuri Galanskov. (I did come across it, too, sometime last fall, when I was trying to write about Galanskov as well.) Here's a remarkable observation from Cali Ruchala's recent email to David McDuff:

As tragic as Galanskov's story is, I have to say that today, being a little older, I would make Ginzburg the focus of the article. It's no fault of Galanskov but I've come to understand that it's harder to live a long life and remain true to one's beliefs than it is to become a young martyr.

I'd rather be writing about something else, but it's hard to ignore the negative publicity that C. J. Chivers' stories keep getting: this time, from Kuchma himself!

Everyone - RIA Novosti, Gazeta.ru, Obozrevatel, Ukrainska Pravda, Korrespondent.net - are now quoting this little paragraph posted some four hours ago at Kuchma's official website:

Leonid Kuchma, president of Ukraine, has sent a letter to the editor of The New York Times, in which he expressed surprise at the use of twisted facts and incorrect commentaries not supported by the quotes from the Head of the state, by the author of the article based on the materials of an interview with Leonid Kuchma.


I can't wait for the New York Times to publish this letter - I'm very curious about the specifics of Kuchma's discontent.

Kyiv is getting ready for the inauguration... When I saw this AP photo of Maidan on Korrespondent.net, I really wished I were there, taking pictures, too...


AP

Friday, January 21, 2005

The second New York Times story in less than two months on Kuchma and how he feels about it all - Ukraine's Leader Looks Back in Melancholy, by C. J. Chivers (the first one, Ukrainian President Criticizes Court Order for New Vote, was written by Steven Lee Myers).

It's a little bit like reading pre-perestroika newspapers during perestroika: you're so used to revelations that you're expecting one every time you open the paper, but instead you get the same old - predictable and monotonous - stuff.

On the other hand, the piece reads like a good obituary, which, in a way, it is. (Next, I'm sure, will be a nice, solid hardback about Kuchma, translated into all major languages.)

Today's story was written five days earlier, on Sunday, Jan. 16, before the Supreme Court's decision. January 16 is also my father's birthday and, reading about Kuchma's "melancholy," I suddenly recalled this day a year ago.

My father loves his birthday parties - and they're always great, very fun, even more so because mama and I are always late with cooking and those of the female guests who arrive first have no choice but to slave over salads and canap├ęs with us, and also because we always end up not having enough chairs and are forced to borrow at least a dozen from various neighbors... Anyway, my father loves his parties, and he loves attention - and last year, I was very worried that Kuchma would rob him of some of this attention - because the day was filled with rumors of Kuchma's death at a German hospital!

Whatever happened, Kuchma survived it, and returned to Ukraine looking much younger.

Today, I searched through the archives of Ukrainska Pravda and found a ton of stories about it, of course. Here's the beginning of one of them - Kuchma Dead? Kuchma Alive!:

On Friday, Kuchma made the whole Ukraine turn upside down: some were scared, others sighed with relief, still others felt untimely joy and there were those who just went numb.

A rumor spread over Kyiv and the regions that something terrible had happened to the Guarantor in Baden-Baden. According to one version, he was (excuse us) dead, according to another, he was in coma.

The rumor spread with supersonic speed, by the way, and horrified people all over the country. The Guarantor's possible death was being discussed at markets, in the subway and in the kitchens.


Et cetera.

It was so interesting to read all those old stories - so much has been forgotten since then, obscured by the more recent developments.

The big news at the time was the Supreme Court's ruling allowing Kuchma to run for president the third time - nothing unconstitutional about it, because the Constitution, which set the two-term limit, had only been in place since 1996, for eight years!

Hence, one of the theories regarding the origins of Kuchma's death rumor - it could have been the opposition that started it, according to the aforementioned Ukrainska Pravda piece:

Because even though Kuchma returned to Kyiv healthy and alive, people are still left with an aftertaste - "he nearly died." And that's why it'd be better for him not try his luck in the election for the third time but instead to quietly prepare for retirement.


Strangely, the same kind of logic was used at some point by Yushchenko's opponents, after the poisoning.

From the Jan. 21 update at Le Sabot Post-Moderne:

- Yanukovych summarized the Orange Revolution by saying that the "right of force defeated the force of right." I could summarize his speech by saying that the "shameful nonsense defeated the sense of shame."

From the newswires of Obozrevatel, Korrespondent.net and Ukrainska Pravda:

Victor Medvedchuk has resigned as head of Kuchma's Administration; Fidel Castro has sent Yushchenko his greetings; Peter Schifferli has revealed that he was paid 400 Swiss francs ($335) an hour to defend Yanukovych in the Supreme Court.

The case of Zara Murtazaliyeva, 21, a Chechen woman recently sentenced to nine years in prison for planning a series of terrorist acts in Moscow, is simply numbing.

Part of her story, in English, is here, written by a human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina. An Ekho Moskvy radio interview, in Russian, with Gannushkina and Murtazaliyeva's lawyer is here.

Here's part of the judge's justification for the harsh sentence:

"Murtazaliyeva, in her conversation with (the two women) showed a negative attitude towards the state, and was an active opponent of Russia's existing constitutional structure," the judge said, according to Interfax news agency.

"Apart from this, she presented a positive image of terrorist suicide-bombers."


According to Gazeta.ru (in Russian), Murtazaliyeva had initially been alleged to have received a suicide bomber's training at a terrorist training camp in Baku, Azerbaijan, but later these accusations were discarded after Azerbaijan denied having such camps on its territory. Also, the prosecution initially claimed that Murtazaliyeva fought on the side of anti-Russian forces during the first Chechen war, 1994-1996. But her mother soon provided the documents certifying that her daughter, aged 11 at that time, was a high school student then.

Murtazaliyeva's lawyers are now preparing to appeal the verdict in the Supreme Court.

***

After spending some time thinking about Murtazaliyeva, it is even more numbing to read Anna Politkovskaya's piece in Novaya Gazeta (in Russian), about 40 members of the National Bolshevik Party (NBP) on trial now for an "attempted violent seizure of power in the Russian Federation."

Of the 40 people, there is one 15-year-old, two 16-year-olds, one 30- and one 31-year-old; the rest are aged between 17 and 24; nine are females; Politkovskaya lists their names, ages, places of residence and occupations.

On Dec. 14, they entered the presidential administration's public office in the center of Moscow (to which every citizen is supposed to have free access), blocked the entrance with a safe-deposit box, pasted the following slogans on the windows - Putin, leave voluntarily! and Putin, dive after "Kursk"! - and yelled some more slogans for the next 45 minutes, until the police arrived and detained them.

The potential prison sentences for this offense range from 12 to 20 years.

Politkovskaya writes:

Strange, wouldn't you agree? What they have done in no way matches the punishment they are facing. This is obvious to anyone, including those who do not accept the ideology and methods of the NBP. What a silly thing it is to call a shabby government department that does nothing but re-send mail (that's what a public office has always been), "a central organ of the presidential power" - and to call the re-senders, those who receive and register petitions, "the leaders of the Russian State."


Politkovskaya's article is very good, as always, but it's too long to translate (hopefully, it'll be included in one of her future anthologies, and then translated into English by someone more determined than I am). So here's just a tiny little fragment of it, in which she compares the situation with the young National Bolsheviks to the situation in Chechnya:

An extremely depressing discovery - for me, personally - which I made after my conversations with the parents of the National Bolsheviks (the "Decembrists") was this: what they are telling about themselves and their children is exactly the same as what parents in Chechnya are telling about themselves and their sons. Young people there are getting radicalized swiftly - and often they are the best young people there are out there. Apart from the war, the reasons for radicalization are similar - they have no legal way to let out their emotions and oppositional feelings, there's no way and cannot be any, because the government has only left space for illegal outbursts. Only physical opposition for those who are capable of it. And internal emigration for those who cannot seize a public office or "leave for the mountains."

[...]

Many human rights advocacy groups have stood up to defend the 40 National Bolsheviks accused of an "attempted violent seizure of power in the Russian Federation." Nothing like this has happened in a long time. The Russian PEN Center. And the Memorial Human Rights Center. All this because the situation has no precedents and we're talking about self-defense, too: 20 years for political hooliganism. According to Aleksandr Tkachenko (PEN), "the dictatoship of law has turned into raping of the law." The government is gradually separating itself from the nation. Moreover, it's doing it consciously. And if one doesn't oppose it now, then tomorrow the government can do the same with anyone.

The human rights people united and decided to come out to Pushkin Square Jan. 15 - to rally against dictatorship whose victims are the National Bolsheviks. But the government banned the rally.


This last part kind of sobered me up - I realized that I probably wouldn't be able to force myself to attend a rally in support of NBP, no matter how outrageous their case is. I'm too disgusted with their ideas and worldviews to trust them and to risk anything for their sake - I just can't get over it. Maybe I'm wrong. Politkovskaya is right, though, no doubt. A paradox. But I can't help it. Maybe I'm too principled (though normally I'm not).

Too bad Russia seems to lack young people who are like Tanya, the girl I wrote about here.

***

What's even more depressing is that the cases against Murtazaliyeva and the NBP guys are most likely just the tip of the iceberg - this country has managed to kill millions slightly over half a century ago and no one really noticed, until the government deemed it necessary to inform us, for some reason, when it was too late...

In Beslan Thursday some 300 people - relatives of those who died during the September hostage crisis - blocked the road from Rostov to Baku (as well as the one leading to the Beslan airport), demanding an international investigation and resignation of North Ossetia's president Aleksandr Dzasokhov. The protest started around 10 am and is still going on. The protesters are also demanding that the head of the government commission investigating the tragedy does not return to Beslan. One commission member said the rally was the result of a provocation. Journalists were not allowed beyond the police cordon. NTV didn't say a word about the protest - but RenTV did (they are probably the next Russian TV station to be shut down or re-staffed.)

Gazeta.ru has more on the protest (in Russian).

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Stalin monument update:

Moscow mayor's press service has announced they aren't gonna erect a monument to Stalin at Poklonnaya Gora (via Korrespondent.net, in Russian).

Mikhail Solomentsev, first deputy head of the press service, said the monument at Poklonnaya Gora would not commemorate Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill (as announced earlier by Oleg Tolkachev, Moscow's representative at the Russian Duma's upper house, the Federation Council), but would feature the figures of four soldiers of the anti-Hitler coalition.

The city of Florence, Italy, now has a square named after the children of Beslan (via Gazeta.ru, in Russian).

Meanwhile, the city of Moscow and the town of Belgorod, Russia, as well as Crimea, Ukraine, all expect to have monuments to Stalin erected by the time of the 60th anniversary of the victory in WWII.

But please don't think there are no more reasonable voices left in Russia. Here's the translation of Natalya Gevorkyan's brilliant column in today's Gazeta.ru:

Stalin is Back

They say the monuments to the mustached butcher will appear again. But they also say that the monuments will not be to the butcher but to the victor in the war that ended 60 years ago. How are the authors of this striking idea going to separate them - the butcher and the victor... How are they going to halve him, to tear the tyrant from the victor and the victor from the tyrant... A lofty sculptural and ideological task, I have to admit.

And some 17 years after the end of that war and some ten years after Stalin's death, his monuments were being demolished. Strange, for the war was still so alive in the people's memory, and yet they were taking him down right in front of me, a child then. I have to admit that I had no idea who this uncle on the pedestal was: perhaps because I had spent my childhood years in Africa and perceived the monument to Pushkin as the only one close and dear to me. I genuinely believed Pushkin was black, and it was close to the truth, especially because the poets' ancestors hailed from the very part of Africa in which I was growing up, Abissinia. And my parents read Pushkin's fairy tales to me - but didn't tell me about Stalin, neither the fairy tales, nor the real stories. When I found myself in Moscow at that historic - as I now understand - moment, when Stalin was being knocked down, I watched with genuine childish interest what some men in the backyard next to our house were doing. There, on a low platform stood a guy made of stone in black (!) boots, also made of stone. For some reason, the men cut off the idol right down to the boots and took him away somewhere. Only the platform remained, with two boots, which seemed huge to me, on it. There was something mystical about it: the idol seemed to have left, but not completely. It was as if he had took off his boots and went to sleep. And there was a feeling that he'd be back in the morning, with his boots back on. And I used to come running every morning to check whether the "Stone Guest" had returned. In general, the influence of Pushkin on my life has always been greater than any other influence, thank God. Mama said simply and briefly then: "He's not gonna return, baby." But the way she said it made me, a little girl, understand that she didn't like the guy on the pedestal at all.

What I remembered of the war wasn't Stalin but the guys with an intense smell of vodka around them, the guys someone in the street once called obrubki, the stumps. They were an unbearable sight - rather sturdy torsos attached to wooden boxes on wheels. These people moved around pushing themselves with some wooden objects. And once I saw a man like this, only he was missing not just the legs but one arm as well. As I was growing up, these invalids were becoming fewer and fewer. It was frightening to look them in the eye, and many people walked by with their heads lowered as if in guilt.

When Stalin was still alive, Khrushchev used to ask for the execution quotas to be raised because he had managed to fulfill and over-fulfill the repression plan in the region he was responsible for. Then, he was erasing from the face of the earth the images of the leader doomed after his death to have to answer for his own sins and for the sins of all those who had sinned while he was alive. This was what the then leader of the country needed. And the people, together with this new leader, grew to hate the tyrant as fervently as they loved the victor just a short time ago. I'll never find out what those poor "stumps of war" thought about it, the people who secured the halo of the victor for Stalin, having sacrificed their own lives.

The country I live in have always been carving the wrong idols. The images of Khrushchev later disappered similarly to the images of Stalin before. And then the new idols appeared and disappeared, and it has gone on like this till our days. And even now, having erected and dismantled both the right and the wrong monuments, the country is beginning it all anew, ready to carve the monuments to the tyrant and call him the only name - the victor.

Erect a monument to those legless and armless who saved the country and half the world, the outcasts, the drunkards, this country's Great Soldiers! Erect monuments to them at Poklonnaya Gora [the Bow-Down Hill], because if there's someone worth bowing down to, it's the people whose lives not a single Russian leader has ever used sparingly. How many lives have been woven into the wreath on the victor's head? The lives of the millions that died in prison camps and trenches. How is it possible to separate the former from the latter, how to honor all without insulting some?

The return of the monument to Stalin is a historical point of no return. Even in the seemingly decent company of Roosevelt and Churchill the butcher still remains a butcher. At least, for me and many, many others. Though, as one of my colleagues joked joylessly, the point of no return would be a monument to Stalin in the company of Molotov and Ribbentrop.

A brief overview of the post-election situation on the Crimean Peninsula, at RFE/RL (via Foreign Notes) - Three Challenges for the Crimean Tatars.

Of the links provided in the piece, I've found this one interesting: Ukrainian Democracy Speaks Turkish in the Crimea, by Nicola Dell’Arciprete, PR manager for the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO).

On a personal note, I can't wait to return to Ukraine and begin writing pieces that I'd give a lot to read right now - snapshots of the real people living their real lives. Pure politics is tiresome. I hope Crimea will be one of my first destinations when I settle down in Ukraine again. I hope we'll make it back home this year.

***

Two more Crimean Tatar links:

- Stalin’s Ethnic Cleansing of the Crimean Tatars and their Struggle for Rehabilitation, 1944-1985

- Celebrating the Life of Ismail Bey Gaspirali

FAREWELL TO YANUKOVYCH

The Supreme Court has just rejected an appeal filed by Yanukovych!!!

Not that there's anything surprising about it.

But it's wonderful to be awake at 4 am for no reason, and then open the news and realize that there was a reason after all: in my insomniac solitude, I feel like I'm the first person in the world to learn of Yushchenko's final victory!

The judges deliberated till after 2:30 am, Kyiv time...

Found a wondeful blog tonight: Avari-Nameh, The Book of the Unwilling, by Haroon Moghul.

Below is part of a totally hilarious post - Explaining the Mideast to the Midwest: an Avari-Nameh Exclusive Resource...

R is for ARAB

What exactly is an Arab? Your neighbor might ask you. Well, other than allegedly being human beings, the Arabs are a lot like the Russians. Before he gets to thinking 'let's kill a Commie for my mommy,' let's clarify. Russians are not equivalent to Communists, though Communism was a major scar and influence on the Russian past, present, and very likely the foreseeable future.

When I say Arabs are like Russians, I mean:

1) There are lots of them;
2) They're spread out over a huge area of the world, from one ocean to another;
3) They always try to be number one;
4) They generally fail at number three, which is to be number one;
5) They have a lot of oil and other petrochemical wealth;
6) For that reason, and others, they have had a lot of potential;
7) Their potential is squandered by their incompetence;
7) They lose embarrassingly lopsided wars to the underdog (Chechnya, anyone?) and the rest of the world kind of grins and looks away in embarrassed bewilderment, puzzled that a people with so many advantages could be so swiftly and decisively steamrolled (they lose by inverse proportionality);
8) Number seven notwithstanding, the Arabs are not the French, because the Russians are not the French. They're the Russians.

Despite being rich in oil, history and resources, with the cultural resources that once dominated the world, the Arabs have only raced towards the finish line, only to trip over their feet, fall flat onto their faces, break their noses and then, get so damn upset, they blow themselves up. This is the more severe method of shooting one's self in the foot. Much like the Russians, too, amongst the Arabs there is an unfortunate predilection for apocalyptic and millenarian and, frankly, violent, thought. The Arabs also have a similar trend in receiving winners as leaders: Mu'ammar "I'm Going to Stay in Power Forever" Qaddafi, Saddam "This prison is better than that hole" Hussain, Hafez "I lost every war I fought" al-Assad, and King "I'm Living as Long as Noah" Fahd. Ad infinitum. And nauseum.

How about Brezhnev, Lenin, Stalin, Khruschev, Chernenko?

It helps my example that, during the 1960's, Nasser and the Soviet Union were acquaintancesdrawn closer and closer. The ideological antecedents of Arab Nationalism, Ba'athism and the like, all of which have failed, are rooted in Russian experiences (which also failed) with the onslaught of the modern world. In many ways, Russia experienced modernity traumatically, much like the greater Islamic world had and has. So is it any surprise the Arabs looked north, to their Slavic big brother? But Big Brother wasn't watching. He was too damn incompetent. His empire fell apart, and the Arabs fell apart, too, but without at least the consolation of having realized an empire. At all.


Sorry for such a humongous quote - but I just couldn't resist. Do read the whole post, though.

This has also cheered me up - for a moment, I felt like I found a lost twin or something:

I took a course in Czech Culture and History, and it was probably the most fascinating and intriguing course I took, at least in terms of subject matter. That’s not to say the professor was bad: He wasn’t. He was a good professor. I just mean, some classes stick out because the prof is just so interesting, funny, or more often than not, lax, and in this case, it was actually what we were studying that made me so eager(Confession: I wrote my final paper on a comparison between the Czech enlightenment and the process of Wahhabi-driven Islamic "reform" in the Muslim world, something I am sure that professor has never seen before, and will never see again. He gave me an ‘A,’ though maybe because he thought I was a terrorist and was scared of me, or just had no idea what the hell I was alluding to and so he bought my poorly-researched rant). Anyway, the hell am I trying to say? I love studying Eastern European and Slavic cultures, and looking back, really wish I could have studied Czech and Russian during my undergraduate years. My consolation: One day, I will travel through Eastern Europe and Russia.


I doubt I've ever said it on this blog, so here goes, very briefly: I could never study history, could never remember all the dates and all the wars, always felt more confused than bored, or perhaps both - until I got to the history of Pakistan some eight years ago. First of all, there were only 50 years of history on the surface, History for Dummies, sort of. And then I realized that Pakistan and Ukraine had so much in common, despite all the differences, that by reading about Pakistan I was also learning about my own country. I found it terribly interesting and exciting, and I still feel this way. And my consolation - or is it a dream? - is that one day I'll definitely travel to Pakistan. Sooner or later. (Did I ever mention that my great-grandmother was Czech, by the way? She had gorgeous white hair, long and heavy, so heavy that she had to cut the lower layers from around her neck to keep her head from swinging backward under the hair's weight. Mama told me that a few of my aunts had inherited this miraculous hair, and she's always been quite jealous... The Czech great-grandmother died at the age of 100-something.)

Back to Avari-Nameh: here is a bunch of photos from Haroon Moghul's travel to the city of Lahore, with an Introduction:

Recently I came across a weblog, by a blogger whose stated purpose was to warn the world of the evils of Islamic fanaticism through a an affirmatively unaesthetic combination of poor research, questionable sources, and 14-pt. font. Rather than respond to logorrhea, I decided to mount my own pre-emptive strike.

While in Pakistan over the winter and spring of 2004, I had the chance to visit many portions of the country. Though most of my pictures aren't scanned, what follows here is a collection of pictures from my brief travels through just some of the storied sites of beautiful Lahore, offering you the reader-cum-viewer a different sort of argument.

Islamic civilization has had its ugly periods, without a doubt, and they do not deserve to be lightly brushed aside. But the story of Islam has its marvels, which far outweigh its scattered mendacities. Islam in India has produced monuments that to men and women around the world are remarkable enough to stand aside the wonders of ancient ages.

"Verily, God is beautiful, and loves beauty." - the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be with him.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Radio Liberty's Ukrainian Service interviewed Mykola Melnychenko, former SBU Major/Kuchma's bodyguard, on Jan. 17 (in Ukrainian).

Back in 2000, following the disappearance of journalist Georgiy Gongadze, Melnychenko became famous for leaking some of the recordings of Kuchma's conversations, which implicated the outgoing Ukrainian president and his close associates in Gongadze's murder and large-scale corruption. A few days before Oleksandr Moroz, the Socialist Party leader, made the tapes public, Melnychenko had fled Ukraine with his family and was eventually granted political asylum in the United States. The Melnychenko Tapes, soon to be used as evidence in Pavlo Lazarenko's case, have played a significant role in raising the Ukrainian people against Kuchma's regime.

In the Radio Liberty interview, Melnychenko mentioned, among other subjects, the recent New York Times story on the role of the Ukrainian security services in the Orange Revolution:

- Mr. Melnychenko, you'd like to return to Ukraine. But what are you going to do about your safety? This issue has to be solved, perhaps, at the level of the state. Can you imagine yourself taking a walk on, I don't know, Khreshchatyk, or in Podol, just like that, without bodyguards?

Mykola Melnychenko: Without bodyguards? I imagine myself walking with a doggie - only this has to be a very big doggie and, in addition, I'll have to be wearing a bulletproof vest, because many people are tempted [to attack me]. Do you know that in the United States alone I was warned four times officially that my life was in danger - and the danger was coming from the head of the SBU, Smeshko. That's why I don't think I'll ever be safe, but I'd like to add that the issue of safety - and not just mine but also that of Yelyashkevych and [Myroslava] Gongadze - is a Ukrainian issue, the issue primarily for Ukraine's president Yushchenko to deal with.

- Mr. Melnychenko, you've mentioned Smeshko... I wasn't going to ask you this question, but today one American newspaper has written that this very Smeshko rescued Ukraine from bloodshed during the Orange Revolution.

Mykola Melnychenko: I have to tell you that, very unfortunately, (and this has to be mentioned in the American court, in the Lazarenko case in California), the mafia's money, Kuchma's and others', is making things happen in the United States. Public officials, journalists and politicians are being bribed with this money - and they are doing what's good for Kuchma.

It is common knowledge that Smeshko was in Washington, and it's also known that he's got his people here. I do not exclude a possibililty that this article appeared as a result of lobbying by these people, or that certain information was deliberately leaked in order for Smeshko to appear white and fuzzy [harmless].

- Is that his desire to remain in office?

Mykola Melnychenko: Yes, it is, likely, because we see the following facts: Yushchenko attends a dinner at which Smeshko is present, and then he is poisoned. We see that Smeshko comes to Washington and then the FBI is sounding an alarm, saying that Melnychenko's life is in danger and the threat is coming from Smeshko.


What I find very interesting in all this is that the New York Times' C. J. Chivers has been quite consistent if not truly successful in providing both the Russian and the Ukrainian security services with a rather cute human face: one of his Russian stories, co-authored with Steven Lee Myers, had an unfortunate timing and was, in general, way too subtle; his December piece on Yushchenko's poisoning was somewhat too melodramatic to be taken seriously; but his most recent spy story looked almost perfect - until the controversial Melnychenko showed up...

Here's more stuff on Melnychenko:

- February 27, 2001
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Ukraine: Ex-Bodyguard Says There Is No Greater Criminal Than Kuchma:
Part 1: Motivations
Part 2: The Gongadze Case

- May 30, 2002
Abdymak
Melnychenko Accuses Officials

- January 31, 2003
The Times
Bodyguard Who Bugged a President Speaks Out

- December 24, 2004
The Chicago Tribune
Ukraine Vote Might Revive Murder Probe

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

I really regret not being able to follow the Supreme Court hearings on TV - it was fun to watch Yushchenko's battle in December, and the current one must be even more amusing.

Here's part of an AP story in the New York Times:

Yanukovych's legal team at the hearing included three Swiss lawyers, who were a visible reminder of his stated intention to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if the Ukrainian court rules against him.

Yushchenko representative Yuriy Kliutchkovsky complained about their presence: "They don't know Ukrainian law, they are not familiar with the court proceedings and they don't speak Ukrainian."

The lawyers' translator speaks Russian rather than Ukrainian, but Yanukovych's representative Nestor Shufrich said they had been "studying Ukrainian law for 10 days."


The Swiss law firm representing Yanukovych is called Python Schifferli Peter Attorneys at Law. One of its associates now in Kyiv is Reza Vafadar: born in Tehran, Iran, in 1964, he speaks Farsi in addition to French, English and German.