Thursday, April 28, 2005

We're flying to Istanbul in the morning so I won't be here for a while. Best of luck to everyone!

Some Victory Day-related pictures are here, including photos of the veterans who were walking back to their buses from some celebration organized for them at Hotel Rossiya.

This woman I fell in love with - she's so full of life I can easily imagine her 60 years ago:




And this one made me sick and mad - she carried Stalin's portrait in the Pravda newspaper like it was an icon - close to her heart and with this solemn look on her face...

I've just posted a bunch of photos on my photo page.

These are my favorites:










Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Eccentricity's all gone, I'm afraid: this is what Khreshchatyk looks like now... Hard to believe but they're parking their cars right on the sidewalks... I'd have preferred to have the tents back there... Someone please tell me this is not true!..

Yesterday, they arrested eight Ukrainians and 14 Russians at a rally in Minsk.

One of the young Russian activists, Ilya Yashin, had his picture taken together with a bunch of Belarusian riot cops:


Photo: AFP

According to Charter 97, one of the Ukrainians who got arrested - Ihor Huz, a politician from Lutsk - looked like he'd been severely beaten when they brought him to court today.

Zubr is citing some reports, according to which "the Ukrainians were treated brutally" by the riot police.

For more news updates, visit Charter 97 and Zubr websites.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A story on Ukrainian migrant workers in the Ukrainian edition of Expert Magazine (in Russian):

- Seven million Ukrainians have worked or work abroad; of the 28-35 million workforce, every fourth person works abroad; Italy, Portugal, Spain are the favorite destinations.

- In Russia: 200,000 Ukrainians work in construction in and around Moscow; 300,000 work in oil production; 1.5 million work in other fields; former Russian premier Yegor Gaidar said: "If the labor migration from Ukraine stops, public transportation in Moscow might stop as well."

- These countries have signed relevant agreements with Ukraine, which makes it easier on the legal Ukrainian migrant workers: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Livia, Moldova, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Vietnam.

- Anna, a 42-year-old Ukrainian, formerly a chemical engineer at a defence enterprise, but, for the past ten years, a street vendor in Moscow, with no work permit. She says: "It's better to eat an illegal sandwich than to starve legally."

Monday, April 25, 2005

There are 126 political parties registered with the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice.

I hope they aren't forcing school kids to memorize all the party names and slogans now... It was pretty tough back in the Soviet times, with all those CPSU Congresses one had to remember everything about...

Sunday, April 24, 2005

A few years ago, I saw a commercial of a microwave with a shish-kebap cooking option.

I thought it was sacrilegious.

Now they also advertise instant borscht - and red caviar potato chips!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Andriy Shkil, leader of the UNA-UNSO and one of the tackiest Ukrainian politicians, and Stepan Khmara, a former dissident, were among those who signed a letter to Yushchenko (in Ukrainian), asking him to quickly do something about "organized Jewry" in Ukraine. Both Shkil and Khmara are members of Yulia Tymoshenko's Batkivshchyna Party. The letter is remindful of the one written in Russia earlier this year - only the Ukrainian copy has gotten a lot more signees and a lot less publicity.

***

In Lviv today, someone painted a swastika and wrote this on the wall of the wonderful 14th-century Armenian church: "Armenians, the other kikes, get out of Lviv." According to Korrespondent.net (in Russian), the slur was signed by "Stepan Bandera's UPA."

More on Zvarych from "good old bob" at Abdymok:

according to bob, columbia university says that ukraine's new justice minister roman zvarych, who spelled his name "zwarycz," never received a degree. he studied at the ivy league school's dept. of international affairs from the fall of 1976 to the spring of 1978.

zwarycz's official resume says he was a professor at new york university 1983-1991. but according to bob, zvarych was a part-time adjunct professor at its school of continuing and professional studies from sept. 1989 through may 31, 1992.

the silence is deafening where's the ft and nyt when you need them?

[...]


***

The whole Zvarych thing started when an anonymous someone sent an angry letter to Ukrainska Pravda:

First we thought it was an April Fool’s hoax. An anonymous letter to expose Justice Minister Roman Zvarych’s alleged lies arrived to the Ukrayinska Pravda office on April 1, right after he had taken part in the US-Ukraine Business Networking Forum.

This quite successful and useful conference took place at the Ukrainian Institute of America in New York, on March 30-31. Incidentally, New York City is hometown of Minister Zvarych. And on the 1st of April Minister Zvarych had a speech at his alma mater, Columbia University.

[...]

The gist of the anonymous letter was that its author(s) took advantage of the Minister’s visit to the campus and decided to arrange an interview with him and the Columbia alumni magazine.

However, the alumni magazine staff replied that they were unaware of any Columbia graduate named Roman Zvarych.


Most likely, the alumni magazine in question is Columbia Magazine - "the only University publication sent to all Columbia alumni, both in the U.S. and around the world." I didn't find anything relevant there.

Of the irrelevant things, I began to miss NYC like crazy again (thank God, we're going to Istanbul soon - Istanbul is almost like New York) - and I bumped into the name of the guy who had designed the Columbia Magazine site: Ihor Barabakh. The transliteration of the first name is Ukrainian - the non-Ukrainian way to spell it would be 'Igor' - not 'Ihor.'

Mr. Barabakh is a painter living in New York. He was born in Lviv in 1958 and graduated from the Institute of Applied and Decorative Arts - also in Lviv - in 1984. (A note to Mr. Zvarych: this is an example of a straightforward bio - a bio that cannot cause a career-threatening confusion.)


#0122, by Ihor Barabakh

It's amazing how much Pakistan and our part of the world have in common: it's not just the fucked-up politics but even the way we smile - or the way we perceive the difference between our way of smiling and the American one...

Smile Like You Mean It - from Chapati Mystery:

[...] There are no public smiles in Lahore. Strangers greet each other with poker-face. Those above you on the social power-relational scale [clerks, traffic cops] greet you with a hostile sneer. Those below you [clerks, traffic cops] get greeted with a contemptuous sneer. There are no smiles when you complete a transaction at the store. There are no smiles when you open the door for someone. There are no smiles when you find yourself looking at the same thing or sharing the same public space. There are no smiles when you ask directions to Mall Road. We don’t even smile at our weddings [...]

[...]

All this because a dear friend visited Pakistan for the first time recently and was struck by “how very few people smile at newcomers in a welcoming gesture of cheerful unilateral acceptance? not a one. guess i never really knew just how american i am.” [quoted without permission and with apologies]. Everyone I know who came from homistan to vilayat had this run-in with the smile. Everyone I know who went from here to the old country, asked me why everyone is so grim all the time? It is an odd sign of our collective other-ness. Unsurprisingly, I am constantly reminded by my friends and relatives of how American I am [the no-accent thing is my inside joke]. I do smile at strangers. I even mean it sometimes.

Friday, April 22, 2005

This whole Zvarych thing reminds me of one NGO director I used to know in Kyiv: on his business card it said he had a Ph.D., while in reality he held a master's degree - and I'm still wondering whether the office manager who had ordered those business cards made this mistake deliberately, to please her boss, or not. He didn't seem to mind the embellishment, of course, even though he was smart enough to realize how ridiculous this ego trip appeared to some of his colleagues.

***

I've just noticed that there's a good editorial on Zvarych's education in the Kyiv Post, and also that the original Ukrainska Pravda piece has been translated into English.

Abdymok's got lots of links and leads, in all three languages.

And Korrespondent.net has a piece (in Russian) that sort of confirms that Zvarych does have a master's in international relations from Columbia University, but no Ph.D., and that he did teach at NYU.

Still, if you read the Ukrainian Weekly, a Diaspora publication, you'll know that Zvarych holds a Ph.D. in philosophy. And from his Parliament bio, you'll learn that he's a "Master of Philosophy" (in English) and "a sociologist, psychologist, politologist" (in Ukrainian). His Cabinet of Ministers English-language bio will tell you that the minister of justice is a "holder of a master's degree" - but has also produced "Ph.D. thesis 'Ontological bases of Plato ethics'."

***

It's confusing, and this is exactly why it reminds me of that cheap NGO director guy: Zvarych didn't seem to mind the confusion until it began to threaten the very nice chair he's sitting on.

More on Chernobyl:

Svetlana Alexievich's book - Voices From Chernobyl - has been translated by Masha Gessen's brother, Keith Gessen. An excerpt was published in the Winter 2005 issue of the Paris Review.

Here's what I wrote about Alexievich's book in summer 2003:

In 1999, I attempted to read a book about Chernobyl, by Svetlana Alexievich, a Belarusian author in exile. It was one of the most powerful books I had ever held in my hands: a collection of voices of the Chernobyl dead and the Chernobyl living, a history of Chernobyl and a history of the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union recited in a choir of monologues. Needless to say, President Lukashenko's people accuse Alexievich of working for the CIA, her "Voices from Chernobyl: Chronicle of the Future" has to be smuggled into Belarus and she has found refuge in France.

I wasn't able to finish the book, though. I wasn't strong enough. When I think of it, I always think about one narration, by an ethnic Russian refugee who escaped the civil war in Tajikistan in the early 1990s. A maternity ward nurse, she had once seen a group of armed men grabbing a newborn girl and throwing her out of the window. This woman re-settled to one of the most contaminated areas of Belarus, where she enjoyed taking long walks in the nearby woods, content at last. She didn't worry about radiation; as long as there were only trees around her and no people, she felt at peace.


***

I've also found a bunch of good pictures from the Zone today - by a British photographer John Darwell.

And I've looked through Elena's Ghost Town collection once again today - and felt as heartbroken as ever.

Via Dan at Orange Ukraine - a novel by Marina Lewycka, a British author of Ukrainian descent, has been shortlisted for the 2005 Orange Prize for Fiction.

It's futile to judge a book by a random selection of reviews on it - but, when one is stuck with no access to quality bookstores, it is unavoidable. From what I've read in the Times, Lewycka's novel - A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian - should be an interesting read - even though Andrei Kurkov sort of hated it.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

April 21: winter's back.

It's been snowing heavily both in Moscow and in St. Pete today.

An hour or so ago, RTR was showing a documentary about Stalin's purges - and part of it was about the epidemic of donosy, when way too many people were telling on their co-workers, friends and family members, often anonymously... Osip Mandelshtam's widow, Nadezhda Mandelshtam, once said that the verb 'to write' had acquired a totally new meaning in the Soviet Union - 'to write' now meant to report on someone to the KGB...

One woman in Kyiv, Nikolayenko, a total nut, killed nearly 8,000 people by submitting slanderous reports on them.

Eight thousand people.

Here's what Stalin said about Nikolayenko and others like her - the "little people" - on March 5, 1937, exactly 16 years before his own death:

The other example. I have in mind the case of Comrade Nikolayenko. Who is Nikolayenko? Nikolayenko is a rank-and-file member of the Party. She is an ordinary "little person." For a whole year she had been giving signals that all was not well in the Party organization in Kiev; she exposed the family spirit, the philistine petty-bourgeois approach to workers, the suppression of self-criticism, the prevalence of Trotskyite wreckers. But she was constantly brushed aside as if she were a pestiferous fly. Finally, in order to get rid of her they expelled her from the Party. Neither the Kiev organization nor the Central Committee of the C.P. of the Ukraine helped her to bring the truth to light. The intervention of the Central Committee of the Party alone helped to unravel the knot. And what transpired after the case was investigated? It transpired that Nikolayenko was right and the Kiev organization was wrong. Neither more nor less. And yet, who is Nikolayenko? Of course, she is not a member of the Central Committee, she is not a People's Commissar, she is not the secretary of the Kiev Regional Organization, she is not even the secretary of a Party cell, she is only a simple rank-and-file member of the Party.

As you see, simple people sometimes prove to be much nearer to the truth than some high institutions.

I could quote scores and hundreds of similar examples. Thus you see that our experience alone, the experience of the leaders, is far from enough for the leadership of our cause. In order to lead properly the experience of the leaders must be supplemented by the experience of the Party membership, the experience of the working class, the experience of the toilers, the experience of the so-called "little people."

I hate reading about Chernobyl, hate thinking about it, hate getting depressed or scared because of it - so it kind of pisses me off that I've just stumbled on a New York Times op-ed that I was lucky to have missed back in December: an op-ed about an elderly couple spending the rest of their lives illegally in a village right next to the station... Chernobyl Revisited: Living in the Dead Zone, by Martin Cruz Smith:

[...] We search in Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, while a more likely danger is another explosion at Chernobyl. It may not be a meltdown, but it will be the mother of all dirty bombs. (A better sarcophagus is promised in five years, but at the site there is little sign of activity, let alone urgency.)

And in all the drama of the recent election, the inspiring rallies in Independence Square, the spirited presidential debate on Monday and the apparent triumph of good over evil, the subject of another nuclear disaster rarely came up, and then mostly in nationalist rhetoric: It is an article of faith that the West forced Ukraine in 2000 to close the perfectly good reactors that remained at Chernobyl. The truth is that you have to sympathize with Viktor Yushchenko, the likely winner in the rerun of the presidential runoff on Sunday, because he will have to deal with Chernobyl. Or not. [...]


The 19th anniversary is in five days. What's funny is that in Moscow we happen to live just across the street from the building my parents shipped me to on May 7, 1986, to stay with the family of our dear friends...

Also at Abdymok today, a very interesting Kyiv Post interview with Mikhail Kukhar, editor of the Kievskiye Vedomosti business section:

[...] kp: how would you assess ukraine’s economic miracle so far?

mk: i’m extremely disappointed by chances that have already been missed because of the left-wing thinking of new government leaders.

we began the year with 12 upbeat articles expecting improvements in each sector of the economy. they were all upbeat, odes to bold new plans announced by the new authorities. but the euphoria began to wear off a month and a half later.

[...]

kp: what approach would you have advised?

mk: a liberal one. some one who thinks liberally solves an economic problem based on his level of education and ideology. if you walk up to jeffry sachs, or to george soros, or the georgian economy minister kakha bendukidze and say, “we have this ownership problem with krivoryzhstal, can you help us sort it out?” they would probably advise, “let them keep it.” of course, they would agree that the full price wasn’t paid for the plant initially, but i don’t think they would make a public fuss about ownership rights because that would deter foreign investment – something ukraine’s government needs to pay out salaries and pensions. to put people’s standard of living in jeopardy because of a conflict with [former president’s son-in-law viktor] pinchuk is silly.

for socialists, on the other hand, what’s most important is social justice. “those who have not paid enough must pay.” it’s like ancient rome. let the world cave in, but justice must be done.

[...]

kp: why do you think coverage of economic news in ukraine remains so mediocre?

mk: because the media market here is not mature and the variety of publication formats remains limited. it’s the same in the czech republic and poland, where i recently took a look at business publications, the same ones i held in my hands 8-10 years ago. today those publications are chock full of advertisements, floating in money. the level of journalism, meanwhile, has hasn’t improved much.

kp: does the low level of qualifications explain the lack of a polemic between competing publications?

mk: what media here suffer from most is the acute lack of professional reporters. just ask any editor of any business publication what his biggest problem is and the answer will be “qualified journalists.”

unfortunately, conditions for competing for market share on the basis of content do not yet exist.

[...]

Abdymok has a good update on Zvarych:

[...] to date, bob has been unable to find any evidence that zvarych has ever received any degree from columbia university, nyu, or any other u.s. university. (if anyone can find something, please email it to abdymok@gmail.com)

the justice ministry on april 15 refused comment by telephone, requesting a written query to be addressed by email. justice ministry spokeswoman elena iskorostenkaya again refused comment on april 16 and april 17, as did vitaly chepynoga, spokesman for the cabinet of ministers.

while mainstream ukrainian media have virtually ignored the story, thousands of internet users have commented on the imbroglio. most the comments appearing on the nation’s larges civic portal, maidan (www.maidan.org.ua) have been overwhelming critical of zvarych.

[...]

in an interview appearing on april 16 in the weekly zerkalo nedeli, prime minister yulia tymoshenko said zvarych has attended few of the 15 cabinet meetings held so far.

“yet it is not the government’s problem; it is the individual minister’s problem. we have very proficient deputy ministers in the justice ministry. they have made minister’s absence go unnoticed.” [...]


Zvarych's most meaningful reaction so far has been to refer to the Ukrainska Pravda story as "informational killerstvo." Of course, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they are not after you - but, unfortunately, they do seem to have all the reasons to be after Zvarych right now, and these reasons were provided by Zvarych himself...

(More on it in my earlier post.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Lyndon has posted lots of new photos at Moscow Graffiti, and I love them all - but this one below is my favorite: it's funny, relevant and quite unique, and also makes me optimistic about the neighborhood we live in here, if not about the whole of Russia...


by Lyndon Allin

Condoleezza Rice is in Moscow.

Two points from a piece in the New York Times that have caught my eye...

- I wish they were more specific here - the only thing I remember about Bush's visit to Bratislava is Andrei Kolesnikov's news conference question (and the Slovakia/Slovenia confusion, of course):

But American attempts to raise these concerns have met with an icy response from Russian leaders. For example, Mr. Bush's talk about Russian democracy in Bratislava in February was said by some American officials to have prompted a lecture in return about Russian policies and even about supposed American problems with democracy at home.


- Never thought about this possibility - and it's breaking my heart: I've been envisioning Garry Kasparov as Russia's next president, you know...

[Rice] had a working dinner with Sergei B. Ivanov, the defense minister, who some experts say is a leading candidate to succeed Mr. Putin as president.

Kommersant had a tiny skinhead census piece (in Russian) yesterday - on the eve of Hitler's birthday today.

According to the Moscow Human Rights Bureau, there are over 50,000 skinheads in Russia - and no more than 70,000 around the world, excluding Russia.

There are skinhead communities in nearly 85 Russian cities and towns:

St. Petersburg - 10,000 to 15,000;
Kaliningrad - around 1,000;
Nizhniy Novgorod - 600 to 2,500;
Rostov-na-Donu - over 1,500;
Pskov, Yekaterininburg, Krasnodar - over 1,000 each;
Voronezh, Samara, Saratov, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, Omsk, Tomsk, Vladivostok, Ryazan, Petrozavodsk - a few hundred skinheads each.

In 2004, most of the 40 racially/ethnically motivated murders and hundreds of non-lethal attacks were committed by skinheads.

***



I took this swastika picture in St. Pete, in Yusupovsky Garden: the 9-year-old Tajik girl had been skating there with her father and cousin shortly before a bunch of drunk animals stabbed her to death.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

A BBC journalist's flight from Mineralniye Vody to Moscow was delayed by ten hours because of a snowstorm - and here's a funny little text describing what the Minvody airport's like (thanks for the link, Matthew!):

[...] A security guard checks everyone who walks in. When I arrived he peered suspiciously at my British passport.

"You know," he said, "America's trying to destroy Russia," ramming home his point with an imaginative combination of gestures using his fingers and elbows. "

"Sorry," I replied meekly, "I'm British".

"British!" he responded raising his eyebrows. "Then you must go and drink some tea!" [...]

A Latvian film student is shooting a documentary on two Latvian R.E.M. fans - aged 40-something and 19.

Eriks is in his 40’s and has been listening to R.E.M. since he attended college, associating the music with the rebellious years of his youth and the tremendous changes in the world, particularly the collapse of the Soviet Union and freedom of his home country. Agnija is 19 years old and has grown up enjoying music & pop culture. She is currently studying to be a music journalist and represents the newest generation of R.E.M. fans.


The trailer is here (thanks for the link, Jens!).

***

I remember how I first heard Losing My Religion - in spring 1991, after a group of my high school classmates returned from a week or so in the States, bringing a brand new R.E.M. tape with them. What I remember even better about that time, though, is how obnoxious some of those classmates became after their trip: they refused to set their watches back to the local time, in order to be able to come up to each other every once in a while, loudly asking for time - and then responding as loudly, in EST, not the Kyiv time... It was annoying but I guess it was also making me somewhat jealous - and that's why I remember it so well.

Anyway, this year R.E.M. was supposed to play in St. Pete - but they failed to break through the Soviet red tape...

Monday, April 18, 2005

This is horrible...

Beauty salons fuel trade in aborted babies

by Tom Parfitt in Kiev
The Observer


Aborted foetuses from girls and young women are being exported from Ukraine for use in illegal beauty treatments costing thousands of pounds, The Observer can reveal.

[...]

It is thought that women in the former Soviet republic are being paid £100 a time to persuade them to have abortions and allow their foetuses to be used in treatments. Most of the foetuses are sold in Russia for up to £5,000 each. Some are paid extra to have abortions late in their pregnancy.

Border guards stopped a train entering Russia from Ukraine last week and arrested a 'mule' carrying 25 frozen foetuses hidden in two vacuum flasks. The man said he had bought them from a medical research centre.

Ukrainian law allows an aborted human foetus to be passed to research institutes if the woman involved consents and her anonymity is protected. But police say staff at state health institutions are selling them to private clinics offering illegal therapy.

'It is extremely difficult to detect this because there are corrupt agreements between respected doctors and academics,' said one senior officer.

Beauty salons in Moscow that buy the aborted material to provide 'foetal therapy' are flourishing, despite a Russian ban on all commercial treatments using human cells other than bone marrow. The salons offer injections of stem cells, the undivided cells present in embryos that can adapt into any kind of tissue, although they are still at the trial stage worldwide.

[...]

For Riverbend in Baghdad the good news isn't that the hostage crisis never really took place - but that Raed Jarrar's initiative to fundraise and distribute aid for civilian victims is moving forward: the total amount of donations has now reached $18,343.

And here's Riverbend's take on the imaginary hostage crisis:

[...] The first time we heard about it was a couple of days ago. I was watching the news subtitles on Arabiya but the subtitle was vague. It went something like this, "Sunni guerrillas capture 60 hostages in Iraqi town and will kill them if all Shia do not leave the town." It said nothing about which town it was, who the guerrillas claimed to be representing and just how the whole incident happened.

We kept watching the channels and hoping for more information. I remember reading that subtitle and feeling my heart sink with worry. I kept checking other news channels and then finally decided to check the internet. There was another vague news article on Yahoo. This one had a few more details- the town was Madain, south of Baghdad and the person who had called in the hostage situation was some sort of high-profile Shia politician.

News channels were still being vague about it. The only two channels who were persistently talking about the hostage situation were Arabia and Iraqia- but the numbers had risen. It was now 150 Shia hostages in Medain and the Iraqi National Guard and the American army were taking their positions on the outskirts of the town, preparing for a raid.

Medain is a town of Sunnis and Shia who have lived together peacefully for as long as anyone can remember. The people in the town come from the local "Ashayir" or tribes. It's one of those places where everyone knows everyone else- even if only by name or family name. The tribes who dominate the town are a combination of Sunni and Shia. Any conflicts between the townspeople are more of the tribal or family type than they are religious.

The whole concept of a large number of Sunni guerrillas raiding the town and taking 60 – 150 of its members (including women and children) was bizarre, frightening and by the second day of the rumor, a little bit suspicious.

People in Baghdad didn't believe it. Most of them waved a hand dismissing the report and said, "They just want to raid Medain." It's a town that has been giving the Americans quite a bit of trouble this last year, a part of the Sunni Triangle . Many attacks were reported to have come from the area, but at the same time, it's not like Falloojeh, Samarra, or Mosul- it's half Shia. It wouldn't be as easy or politically correct to raid.

[...]

Now, Associated Press is claiming,

"The confusion over Madain illustrated how quickly rumors spread in a country of deep ethnic and sectarian divides, where the threat of violence is all too real."

Uhm, no. Not really. See, this whole thing didn't start out as a rumor. Rumors come to you through actual people- the guy who brings you kerosene spreads rumors, that neighbor next door brings you rumors, the man you get your rations from spreads rumors. This came to us, very decidedly, from a news source. It first made its debut as breaking news and came from an "Iraqi Shia official who wished to remain unnamed". The official should have to answer to the rumor he handed over to the press.

[...]

We know a lot of our new officials and spokespeople are blatantly lying and it's fine to lie about security, reconstruction and democracy- we've gotten used to it. In fact, we tell jokes about it and laugh about it at family gatherings or over the telephone. To lie about something as serious as Sunni-Shia hostage taking is another story altogether. It's unacceptable and while Sunnis and Shia were hardly going to take up arms against each other over this latest debacle, but it was still extremely worrisome and for people who wish to fuel sectarian violence, it was a perfect opportunity.

We have an Iraqi government that bans news channels and newspapers because they *insist* on reporting about such routine things as civilian casualties and raids, yet the Puppets barely flinch over media sources spreading a rumor as dangerous and provocative as this one.

A few days ago, a headline about 150 hostages being held in Iraq made me gasp. Now, it turns out those were just the rumors.

That's good news, I guess...

More on what happened from the New York Times - Iraqi Kidnapping Tale Combines a Perilous Mix of Fact and Rumor:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 17 - Anyone in Baghdad on Sunday morning could have been forgiven for thinking the country was on the verge of civil war.

Three Iraqi Army battalions had surrounded the town of Madaen, just south of Baghdad, where Sunni kidnappers were said to be threatening to kill hundreds of Shiite hostages unless all Shiites left the town. As the National Assembly met, Iraq's top political figures warned of a sectarian crisis between the majority Shiites and minority Sunnis.

Even Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric and its most notorious terrorist fugitive weighed in on the matter with statements of their own. And the departing prime minister released a statement denouncing the "savage, filthy and dirty atrocities" in Madaen.

But as the army battalions arrived in Madaen, they saw streets full of people calmly going about their business. There were no armed Sunni mobs, no cowering Shiite victims.

After hours of careful searches, the soldiers - assisted by air surveillance - arrested some people suspected of being insurgents, but found no evidence of any kidnappings.

On Sunday evening, a few political leaders were still insisting that some hostages might yet be found. But Iraqi Army officials were reporting that the crisis in Madaen - which had been narrated in a stream of breathless television reports and news bulletins - appeared to be nothing but a tissue of rumors and politically motivated accusations.

The seeming hysteria over Madaen was one vivid illustration of the way Iraq's daily violence and sectarian tensions - which are real enough - can be easily twisted into fantasy here. In a country where telephones are unreliable and roads are often blocked, it can be hard to tell the difference between fact and rumor. And most people have good reason to believe the worst.

[...]

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Marla Ruzicka, founder of The Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), was killed yesterday in Baghdad. Marla worked together with Raed Jarrar, a friend of Salam Pax.

Here's more on her death from Raed:

I got a phone call from the US after midnight telling me that Marla Ruzika was killed in Baghdad yesterday. I got an email later from my friend Justin Alexander in Baghdad:

Dear friends & collegues of Marla,

Sometime between 3-6pm Baghdad time Marla died in a car crash. My current information is poor, but the accident may have happened on the Baghdad Airport road as she travelled to visit an Iraqi kid injured by a bomb, part of her daily work of identifying and supporting innocent victims of this conflict.

A US military convoy was involved in the event, but it is not clear at this stage in what way precisely.

I have no information on the whereabouts or health of her collegue Faiz who I believe was with her in the car. [...]


And from Reuters:

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - An American humanitarian worker was among three people killed in a suicide car bomb attack on a convoy traveling on Baghdad's airport road, the U.S. embassy said Sunday.

Marla Ruzicka, 27, the founder of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, was driving behind a private security convoy when the car bomb exploded Saturday, security officials said.

The identities of the others killed were not immediately known. Five people were wounded in the explosion and taken to a U.S. military hospital inside Baghdad's Green Zone, a U.S. embassy spokesman said.

Ruzicka, who grew up in California, had worked frequently in Iraq and Afghanistan trying to uncover details on the number of civilian casualties in the wars and secure compensation for the families of victims.

She also spent time cataloguing the impact of war on communities, often running great risks to do so.

[...]

The road to Baghdad's international airport is one of the most dangerous in the country, with almost daily suicide bomb blasts and ambushes.

Ruzicka was shortly due to leave Iraq to return to the United States to work on securing more funding for her group.


And here's Marla's Letter to the Editor published in the New York Times Feb. 5, 2005:

To the Editor:

Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis's comments during a speech in San Diego, remarking that "it's fun to shoot some people," in reference to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are appalling. At a time when the United States military is trying to win hearts and minds in both countries, and when Iraqis think that American forces are trigger-happy, his words are counterproductive. For our troops who are dying every day, making war sound like a sport is beyond distasteful.

General Mattis was defended by Gen. Michael W. Hagee, who said that "he intended to reflect the unfortunate and harsh realities of war." From living in Afghanistan and Iraq for much of the last three years, assisting noncombatants harmed in the crossfire, I find that General Mattis's comments do not represent what it is like to lose a loved one or a home. For a parent in the United States who lost a brave young son or daughter, his words are far from comforting.

I have worked with many of our servicemen who have helped me assist innocent civilians injured accidentally by American forces. It is not fair that their acts of kindness and care are misrepresented by General Mattis's undignified remarks.

Marla Ruzicka
New York, Feb. 4, 2005
The writer is founder, Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict

A good piece on genocide by Nicholas Kristof - Mr. Bush, Take a Look at MTV:

When Turkey was massacring Armenians in 1915, the administration of Woodrow Wilson determinedly looked the other way. The U.S. ambassador in Constantinople sent furious cables to Washington, pleading for action against what he called "race murder," but the White House shrugged.

It was, after all, a messy situation, and there was no easy way to stop the killing. The U.S. was desperate to stay out of World War I and reluctant to poison relations with Turkey.

[...]

Now President Bush is writing a new chapter in that history.

Sudan's army and janjaweed militias have spent the last couple of years rampaging in the Darfur region, killing boys and men, gang-raping and then mutilating women, throwing bodies in wells to poison the water and heaving children onto bonfires. Just over a week ago, 350 assailants launched what the U.N. called a "savage" attack on the village of Khor Abeche, "killing, burning and destroying everything in their paths." Once again, there's no good solution. So we've looked away as 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur, with another 10,000 dying every month.

Since I'm of Armenian origin, I've been invited to participate in various 90th-anniversary memorials of the Armenian genocide. But we Armenian-Americans are completely missing the lesson of that genocide if we devote our energies to honoring the dead, instead of trying to save those being killed in Darfur.

[...]

Indeed, MTV is raising the issue more openly and powerfully than our White House. (Its mtvU channel is also covering Darfur more aggressively than most TV networks.) It should be a national embarrassment that MTV is more outspoken about genocide than our president.

If the Bush administration has been quiet on Darfur, other countries have been even more passive. Europe, aside from Britain, has been blind. Islamic Relief, the aid group, has done a wonderful job in Darfur, but in general the world's Muslims should be mortified that they haven't helped the Muslim victims in Darfur nearly as much as American Jews have. And China, while screaming about Japanese atrocities 70 years ago, is underwriting Sudan's atrocities in 2005. [...]

Just finished watching The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, went to imdb.com to read on Elijah Wood... - and discovered that they are filming Everything Is Illuminated now (based on Jonathan Safran Foer's novel) - and that Wood is playing Jonathan!

Moreover, Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello is playing Alex!!!

The only disappointment is that they filmed most of the movie around Prague, not in Ukraine... It's understandable, of course - but very, very upsetting...

[...] The second reason was the quality of production services in Prague. Everything Is Illuminated used services from Stillking, a company that was involved in Shanghai Knights, Van Helsing and From Hell. "We looked around Eastern Europe and found that Prague has the finest production services we could find," Turtletaub said. "We're really pleased with it." Other places they looked at included Romania. "I have friends that actually made a movie in Romania -- they made Cold Mountain there and saved a lot of money," Turtletaub said. "But I think the service level here is extraordinary."

A few scenes were shot in Ukraine, though. "We did a little at the beginning. ... We shot a couple of days in Odessa," Turtletaub said. Originally they planned to go back, but finally decided not to. "We were able to get everything we need here, and from a cost standpoint, once you are here it doesn't pay to go back there again." [...]


***

Here's the imdb.com's plot outline:

A young Jewish American (Wood) endeavors to find the woman who saved his grandfather during WWII in a Ukrainian village that was ultimately razed by the Nazis.


***

Here's more on Hutz, from the Independent's 2003 piece:

[...] Born in Communist Kiev in 1972, Hutz was raised on the forbidden fruits of western culture, thanks to his artist dad who had access to a lot of material - from books on Dada and Nietzsche to rock'n'roll - not circulating in the Ukraine. Because information couldn't flow properly, Hutz was hungry for it, gathering all he could from black-market magazines and snippets of state-controlled TV about "rotten western culture", even if that meant sometimes getting the wrong end of the stick. "This lack of news from the rest of the world created a situation for invention," he says. "For example, we knew there was this thing called breakdance, and we also knew about heavy metal, but we didn't know what linked the two together. So basically, we breakdanced to metal."

Hutz became obsessed with fired-up punk - from Devo and The Birthday Party to The Sex Pistols and avant-funkists The Contortions - trading their tapes on the black market, but it wasn't until the nuclear meltdown of Chernobyl that the first seeds of Gogol Bordello were sown. Just 13 years old, Hutz was evacuated from Kiev and sent to live with his extended family in western Ukraine. That's when he discovered he was half-Roma, a secret kept very quiet back home ("We would never have got an apartment otherwise").

This year-long country sojourn had a massive impact on Hutz. "Before then, I was living in a children's colouring book that needed to be coloured in," he says. "My only inspiration had come from the brutally bare and flat-looking districts I lived in. Gypsy-camp culture was my first sense of colour. It's about making excitement and merry out of nothing. I don't think there's anything more exciting in this world than that. And that, mixed with the urban counter-culture of punk, is what started me colouring this book." [...]


***

Here's a critical view on the novel and the film, by Ivan Katchanovski:

[...] There is even a possibility that the woman who helped to rescue the author's grandfather was a Czech. Augustina, the name of the women in the book and the film, sounds more Central European than Ukrainian. Thousands of Czechs lived in the Volyn region before the Soviet government expelled them to Czechoslovakia in the aftermath of World War II. The Volyn Czechs were more closely linked and faced less-severe punishment than their Ukrainian neighbors for hiding Jews during the war.

In the house in which I grew up in the Volyn region, a Czech family had a concealed underground shelter used for hiding Jews. The real-life hero of the movie might be actually found in the Czech Republic.

Many people will read Everything Is Illuminated and many more are likely to see the film version, directed by Liev Schreiber and starring Elijah Wood of "Lord of the Rings" fame. Sadly, they would remain utterly in the dark about the real events as opposed to their fictional stereotypical portrayal. Similarly, they would remain ignorant about the Czech link to the events depicted in the movie, which ironically was filmed in the Czech Republic.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

According to Radio Ekho Moskvy, here's what Garry Kasparov said after a young man attacked him with a chessboard yesterday:

It's good that chess was a popular game in the USSR, not baseball.


And here's what the young men told Kasparov before hitting him on the head:

I loved you as a chess player, but then you left for politics.

Young Russian revolutionaries/counter-revolutionaries warming up:

A National Bolshevik girl burst onto stage today at a meeting of the pro-Putin Nashi youth movement and tried to splash water on the new komsomoltsy, but was dragged away.

Later today, Garry Kasparov was meeting with the anti-Putin young people, and someone from the crowd asked him for an autograph but ended up hitting him on the head with a chessboard (more on it here)...

Friday, April 15, 2005

Both of my photo pages are down right now: fotopages are doing an upgrade, and photobucket is shut for maintenance... I'm sorry. Hope it'll be over soon.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Oh boy. Is justice minister Roman Zvarych fake?

Ukrainska Pravda is convinced he is, after spending two weeks investigating his educational background.

The story's too long to translate - so here're two screenshots: of Roman Zvarych's official English-language bio posted on the Cabinet of Ministers site (Jesus, couldn't they hire someone to proofread it? Couldn't he look at it himself?) - and of his degree verification requested by Ukrainska Pravda:





I can't wait to see how Zvarych reacts.

Though there is one thing I don't understand: how come they only decided to dig this up on him two weeks ago - not five years or a year ago? Is he really getting that unbearable?

***

Here's more on Zvarych, from two months ago: his resignation drama and Tatyana Korobova's take on it...

We've had Yuli Dubov's new book - The Lesser Evil - for a couple months now, but somehow I've decided to start reading it only today. Dubov's previous book, Bolshaya Payka (The Big Cut, or The Big Ration), is a prequel to The Lesser Evil - and I found it very interesting and very informative, even though it's not a literary masterpiece or something...

Here's more on the new book, from the Guardian's Nick Paton Walsh:

The life of the political exile has taken on bold new nuances in Putin's Russia, as billionaire Yuli Dubov can testify. A former associate of London resident and billionaire Putin critic Boris Berezovsky, he now has political asylum in Britain and has added to the genre of Putin-era dissent literature with his latest novel, The Lesser Evil. Part social treatise, part crime novel, part political pamphlet, it addresses the rise of a former KGB officer, Feodor Feodorovich Rogov, through the mysterious bombing of Moscow's international trade centre and the influence of a conglomerate known as "Infokar". It's a series of barely disguised references to Berezovsky's accusations, denied of course, that Putin engineered apartment bombings in Moscow to justify sending troops into Chechnya, a move that won the former KGB spy an election and led to Berezovsky fleeing the country. Safe to say that Putin is not the "lesser evil" Dubov is referring to, rather his nemesis Berezovsky. The politics of the Russian court remain as transparent and subtle as ever.


In the introduction, Dubov credits Alik (Aleksandr) Goldfarb with providing him with the idea for this new novel. He's also grateful to Yuri Felshtinskiy, among others, for his help in "gathering the factual material."

Both Goldfarb and Felshtinskiy - Boris Berezovsky's people - are now in Kyiv, sharing parts of what they have and know of Melnychenko's recordings...

Minister of internal affairs Lutsenko had an online chat at Ukrainska Pravda yesterday - they are luring the readers in by calling his answers "sensational" - though very few seem to be worth even a very quick read. Except for this one, perhaps - Lutsenko's response about the Tymoshenko incident and our relations with Russia in general:

I can't speak for Russia's Prosecutor General's Office. I can only confirm the information that YVT [Tymoshenko] has been taken off the Interpol's wanted list by the Russian Federation 2-3 weeks ago.

But I think the matter goes further than this. According to some data, the Russian chauvinists are preparing for a broadscale action aimed at repeating 1937 in Ukraine. In any case, the corresponding moves by Zatulin have already been detected.


I've no idea what Lutsenko means by this 1937 redux thing. I think he's being overly dramatic.

I've never heard about this Zatulin person until now - but he's got a website of his own (in Russian), so I learned that he's a Duma deputy, member of that pro-Putin monster, United Russia, sounds very, very hurt and concerned about what's going on in Ukraine, and "positions" himself as The Defender to his electorate, whatever that means.

I still don't understand how any movements by someone as pathetic could be interpreted as the beginning of a 1937 redux.

As for the Interpol and Tymoshenko, Ukrainska Pravda has just reported (in Ukrainian) that the search warrant would be re-activated as soon as Tymoshenko loses her immunity.

Also, Ukrainska Pravda points to a story in the Russian Nezavisimaya Gazeta, which claims that Tymoshenko may resign within the next few days. Citing some unnamed guy from Tymoshenko's faction, Nezavisimaya writes this:

According to the deputy, the reason the latest scandals broke out was Tymoshenko's intention to visit Moscow in order to agree on strengthening cooperation, at a time when Yushchenko is preparing to negotiate Ukraine's NATO and EU membership, and is also about to attend the GUUAM summit in Chisinau, which may put an end to the existence of the CIS.

The second reason is yesterday's arrival to Kyiv of Boris Berezovsky's representatives. The very fact of their arrival has significantly strengthened the position of one person close to Yushchenko, the head of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council Petro Poroshenko, whose relations with Yulia Tymoshenko aren't too good. "If she [Tymoshenko - NG] gives in to the pressure and signs her resignation papers, it'll be Poroshenko who gets the premiership," thinks the deputy.


Lyndon of Scraps of Moscow wrote in a comment to the previous post that Radio Ekho Moskvy had also been talking about the possibility of Tymoshenko's resignation: "rumor-mongering and speculation seasoned with bias is what it looks like to me." Exactly.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

ORT has invited the "experts" to comment on the Tymoshenko incident: Markov and Pavlovskiy...

They are making such a big deal out of it... Are they hurt or what?

Pavlovskiy thinks that Tymoshenko's decision to postpone the visit is a clear sign that Ukraine is going through some very serious post-revolutionary problems - sounds like a good Ph.D. dissertation theme to me, abstract and meaningless enough...

NTV is bitching about no reasons given for cancellation of Tymoshenko's visit.

NTV's own guesses:

- Ustinov's episode;
- Agricultural problems;
- Problems in Donetsk (Kolesnikov and his fans' tent city in Kyiv);
- Problems in Crimea (Crimean Tatars and their tent city in Simferopol)...

ORT doesn't sound neutral about the Tymoshenko incident - they are half-arrogant, half-bitter...

Jesus, and they are quoting Vitrenko... and Chornovil... Assholes.

(Though at the very beginning they showed Serhiy Teryokhin, Ukraine's economy minister, and he looks quite gorgeous, very sexy, strange I haven't noticed it before...)

RTR mentioned Tymoshenko's postponed visit to Moscow right after their story on Ustinov's second-term confirmation as the prosecutor general - but there was not a word about Ustinov's remarks on Tymoshenko: they just showed Russian foreign minister Lavrov confirming that Tymoshenko had to sort out problems caused by shortage of gas and the approach of the spring sowing before she could come to Russia.

Gazeta.ru, however, seems to have had a slow news day today and came up with a more edgy (and badly written) reaction - [Yulia Tymoshenko] Hasn't Showed Up for Interrogation:

In a way, Tymoshenko's actions can be considered posturing. The thing is, beginning from Victor Yushchenko's election as president and his first visit to Moscow in January, Moscow has been declaring, at different levels, that Tymoshenko would be safe if she came to Moscow. Even prosecutor general Ustinov talked about it on Feb. 15. "Tymoshenko may come to Russia without any worries, if she wants, because she has got the immunity," he said in February. In any case, the loudest political scandal has taken place today in the relations of the two countries ever since Victor Yushchenko's team came to power.

According to Gazeta.ru (in Russian), Tymoshenko has cancelled her trip to Russia; an unnamed source says this is because of what Prosecutor General Ustinov said about her the day before: Tymoshenko's case is still open and she's on the 'wanted' list, but during her visit the rules of the protocol are going to be observed and she won't be touched.

I heard about this comparatively huge student rally by the White House (the Government Building) today/yesterday and decided to go see it: 2 to 5 thousand students demanding - somewhat unrealistically - free education and stipends corresponding to the minimum maintenance rate.

There was not a trace of the rally when I got there - I was late, I guess, though I'm still wondering how such an impressive crowd could vanish so fast. (One of the clues to this riddle could be Zhirinovsky: according to Gazeta.ru (in Russian but with photos), he showed up at one point and started handing out 500- and 1,000-ruble bills (approximately $18 and $37), which pissed off the Rodina Party guys and caused a little fight between them and Zhirik's bodyguards - but "the 500- and 1,000-ruble bills have played their role: the students quickly moved under Zhirinovsky's flags, and that was the end of the protest rally.")

***

I walked around the White House - for the first time in my life - and found it as ugly and scary as our own Cabinet of Ministers building in Kyiv. Too huge, too Soviet - the closer you get, the worse.

Then I stumbled on a makeshift memorial to those who got killed during the riots of October 1993 - and it was quite something...



The branches of every tree and every bush in the alley leading up to the entrance to the White House compound had little red and black ribbons on them. So did the fences. There were little signs on the spots where someone had died, and big wreaths, and artificial flowers, and icons, and huge wooden crosses, and red flags, and car tyres, and what not. A tall thing with pictures of those who died, and a few stands - with pictures and bios. USSR, hammers and sickles on the fence... Copies of some letters to Moscow's mayor Yuri Luzhkov - with lots of curses handwritten on them, curses cursing the enemies of Russia, all the usual suspects...

They died fighting against "demofascism" - democratic fascism or something... They died defending "Sovietskaya vlast'" - the Soviet government...

Two babushkas came up to one of the crosses as I was taking a picture of it. They stood right next to me, crossing themselves over and over again, and saying proudly: "They died for Sovietskaya vlast'." Then they moved over to the next cross, and then to yet another one. Finally, they walked across an open space to join a bunch of teens drinking beer by the fence at some distance from the crosses - and very soon the teens started yelling, "Putina na hui!" (translated roughly as "Fuck Putin!").

It was 6 pm by then, and all the secretaries and other common-folk White House staff were walking to the nearby subway station.

That was a very surreal experience.

***

More pictures from the "memorial" - here.

***

I'm really sick of all this revolution-in-Russia talk. You know, stuff like this:

"Orange spirit" creating sense of unrest in Russia

By Peter Finn
The Washington Post

MOSCOW — Suddenly in Russia, everybody's talking about a revolution.

In a country with a popular president, a growing economy and a fragmented and weak opposition, Russia does not seem ripe for the kind of revolt that toppled governments in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan over the past 17 months.

But as Lenin once said, "a revolution is a miracle," and the Kremlin and its political opponents seem bewitched by the possibility of one.

"There is an Orange spirit in Russia," said Andrei Sidelnikov, the young head of the new Russian youth group Pora! (It's Time!), which took its name from the young activists at the heart of the street protests late last year that ultimately brought Viktor Yushchenko to power in Ukraine.

"We are living through a new era of street politics. Our young people are becoming more and more active. ... They might explode when they can't take it any longer."

[...]


***

I wouldn't want to be stuck in the middle of a revolution in Moscow. I'd rather watch it on TV from Kyiv - or read about it on someone else's blog. It'd be safer that way - and more fun.

***

Here's Masha Lipman's analysis of the October 1993 events in Moscow, ten years on (the Washington Post, Oct. 3, 2003): The Legacy Of 1993...

Ten years ago I was standing in front of the Moscow mayor's office feeling horror and despair. The space around me was filled with an infuriated crowd that looked ready for violence. Suddenly a heavy truck burst through the glass doors of the Moscow municipal offices, smashing everything in its way. People in the crowd cheered, hailing the destruction. The day was Oct. 3, 1993. Two years after the collapse of communism, discontent was turning into counterrevolution.


The crowd around me hated everything that was the new Russia. What was freedom to me was to them the work of a regime that was against the people. We were enemies. What was happening around me was a mini-civil war.

[...]

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Here they go again, confusing Russia with Ukraine...



(The Scotsman, Tuesday, April 12, 2005: Russian Premier Still Faces Prosecution in Russia)

Monday, April 11, 2005

A wonderful feature on Ukraine and the Orange Revolution in the New York Review of Books (via 3 Quarks Daily, a wonderful blog):

Here were ordinary people doing an extraordinary thing. One was irresistably reminded of Prague in 1989 or Poland during the first Solidarity revolution in 1980 and 1981. But where in Poland a quarter-century before it was workers and peasants who were in the vanguard, here it was a fledgling middle class—students, travel agents, the owner of a beauty parlor.

[...]

The orange revolutionaries' first commandment was: never us violence. This is the feature that most plainly distinguishes velve revolutions from the Jacobin and Bolshevik models of 1789 and 1917 As in several other cases during and since 1989, members of th security forces stepped back from the very brink of using force agains the protesters [9] Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, and their allies kept Independence Square full, they maintained peaceful blockades around government buildings, and they waited for the chance to negotiate.


A thing or two in this text that I would have never noticed or paid attention to. Here's one:

Kyiv is a Russian-speaking city whose people know when to speak Ukrainian. Kyivans always pronounce the name "Independence Square" in Ukrainian, even when they are speaking Russian.


That's so true - and something everyone takes for granted, totally. Maidan Nezalezhnosti - not Ploshchad Nezavisimosti. An awesome detail - makes me jealous, makes me wish I were a foreigner, every now and then, at least...

Esquire's Russian-language edition has just been launched - and here's part of their ad campaign (my favorite shot from today's walk)...

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Right now, I'm spending more time on my photo page than here.

Khokhlovskiy Pereulok and Khokhlovskaya Ploshchad - in Moscow. Photos: by Veronica Khokhlova!





Saturday, April 09, 2005

Iran's President Mohammad Khatami is such a sissy... And Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a sissy, too...

Iran's Khatami Denies Handshake with Israeli Leader
by Parisa Hafezi

TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) - Iran's President Mohammad Khatami strongly denied that he shook hands with Israeli President Moshe Katsav at Pope John Paul's funeral, the official IRNA news agency said on Saturday.

Katsav earlier said he shook hands with Khatami and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the funeral on Friday, when hundreds of international dignitaries gathered in the Vatican to pay homage to the late Pope.

But Khatami told IRNA after his return from Italy: "I strongly deny shaking hands, meeting and talking to the Israeli president."

"This claim is like other baseless claims made by the Zionist media in the past," he said.

Syria's official news agency on Friday confirmed that Assad shook hands with Katsav but said it was just a formality, adding that the two leaders did not exchange any words. Syria is formally at war with Israel.

The Pope has been praised by many as a force for peace and the Church invites people at its masses to offer each other a sign of peace such as a handshake. Catholics also often exchange words like "Peace be with you."

The Israeli and Syrian delegations were seated next to each other at the funeral.

"I told him 'Good morning' and he shook my hand," Katsav, whose post is largely ceremonial, told Israel's Channel 2 television of his encounter with Assad.

Israeli and Syrian negotiators last held peace talks in 2000 that foundered over the future of the Golan Heights occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war.

Iranian-born Katsav said he spoke in his native Farsi to Khatami about their common city of birth.

"The president of Iran extended his hand to me, I shook it and told him in Farsi, 'May peace be upon you'," Katsav said.

Israel has accused Iran of supporting anti-Israeli militants and has been a fierce critic of its nuclear program.

Iran officially refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist and supports the Palestinian cause.

"Recognizing Israel means recognizing occupation and force ... it will be a blow to humanity," Khatami told IRNA. "Morally and logically we do not recognize the Zionist regime."


"A blow to humanity" is actually the fact that much of the world is ruled by the most pathetic sissies.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Taras Protsyuk, a Ukrainian cameraman for Reuters, was killed in Baghdad two years ago when a U.S. tank "fired one 120-millimeter tank round into the 17th floor of the Palestine Hotel, home base for nearly 100 journalists covering the battle in Baghdad."

April 8th marks the second anniversary of the United States attack on Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel, which at the time contained scores of reporters and media people reporting on the US invasion. Two journalists were killed and others wounded. On the same morning, a journalist was killed when the Baghdad offices of the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera was attacked by US fighter planes. The [International Federation of Journalists] says there are another 11 other cases of unexplained killings in which US soldiers were involved that require answers.

[...]

The Federation accuses the US of carrying out “whitewash” reports of the killings – and in many instances cases there have been no reports at all.

“These reports follow the same unconvincing and incredible pattern: secrecy over the detail and nature of the report, a failure to examine all the evidence, paltry and cruelly insensitive shrugs of regret, and complete exoneration of responsibility of US personnel at all levels of command,” said [IFJ General Secretary Aidan] White. “It is denial of justice on a shocking scale.”


More on it from Abdymok...

I'm in the middle of rescuing one of my teeth right now - so I'm not feeling too talkative and will probably stay this way for a while...

"Miracles" in the Vatican!..

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli President Moshe Katsav and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have shaken hands at the funeral of Pope John Paul, Israel Radio says.

It was believed to be the first time the presidents of Israel and Syria, two countries officially at war for decades, have shaken hands.

The radio said on Friday the Iranian-born Katsav also spoke at the Vatican funeral in his native Farsi with Iran's president, Mohammad Khatami, about their common city of birth. Iran officially seeks Israel's destruction.

Katsav and Assad, sitting one row apart, said "good morning" to one another and shook hands as the funeral got under way, the radio said. The Syrian leader then approached Katsav and shook his hand again after the ceremony was over, the report added.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

According to Jennifer Leonard, a black-and-white copy of this St. Pete photo should be somewhere in the Massive Change exhibition's Movement Economies room, at the Art Gallery of Ontario, in Toronto, Canada.



I took this evening rush hour photo on Oct. 18, 2004, from a bridge across the Neva (God, I don't remember the names of the bridges anymore... Feels like I've never even been to St. Pete... The bridge leading to the mosque on Petrogradka - which one is that?.. Oh boy...)

If any of you reading this happen to visit the Massive Change exhibition in Toronto (on view until May 29) - could you please check if that photo of mine is indeed there?

It may be very difficult to locate it - the exhibition seems huge and overwhelming and cool, and I wish I could see it myself, even if my photo's not there... But I cannot, and I do need your help - and I'd be very, very grateful if someone did let me know!.. And if my photo's there, I'd be so proud and happy!

Here's a photo album from the Toronto Massive Change exhibition: one picture (#4) seems to be of part of the wall of traffic images from all over the world, where my photo may be hiding - I can see an image from Moscow there, by Inna or Irina-something... This photo album belongs to Singer.to ~ Refreshing the daily grind, a very nice blog.

Jennifer Leonard is the co-author of a book on "the future of global design" - Massive Change (Phaidon Press, 2004). She spent six months of 80-hour work weeks doing all the research, editorial development, interviews with all the experts - and I ran into the book in one of the English-language bookstores here in Moscow, totally incidentally, a week or so after receiving an email from Jennifer. I bought the book, and both Mishah and I are enjoying it a lot. Jennifer will be a guest speaker at Berlin's annual design show, DesignMAI, in early May this year.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

ABSOLUTELY AWESOME photos of Russia and Russian interiors by Bee Flowers (link via Jane Keeler and Blogchik)!..

Some of it is too familiar in a sickening kind of way - I tend to ignore it in real life, I pretend to be escaping it by pretending not to notice. And some of it is too familiar in a long-forgotten kind of way - I miss it, I miss being a child... All photos are so wonderful I feel like entering every single one, touching things around me, recognizing the smells...

This one's from the Soviet Hotels page:




And this one is from a series on the apartment of a Soviet academicians' family, one of those ubiquitous Soviet lamps that I've almsot forgotten ever existed...

Yushchenko wants the Diaspora Ukrainians back in Ukraine (via AP via San Fransisco Chronicle):

In his speech in Chicago, Yushchenko thanked the Ukrainian-American community for their financial and political support during the election campaign. There are nearly 100,000 Ukrainian-Americans in the Chicago area.

He called on his compatriots to live, work and invest in Ukraine and assured his audience the country was already changing. "We will curb corruption, we will curb poverty and we will have freedom of speech," he said.


According to Gazeta.ru (in Russian), however, the reaction of the Diaspora Ukrainians wasn't too enthusiastic:

The president recommended the American Ukrainians to return home because everything's great in Ukraine and will only be getting better. The Ukrainians remained silent.


I wonder if Gazeta.ru is lying... Time will show, I guess...

Monday, April 04, 2005

- The runaway president Askar Akayev has signed his resignation papers in Moscow today.

- Yushchenko's meeting with Bush in D.C. - Ukrainska Pravda's reporter hasn't been allowed in because of a 20-Ukrainian-journalists quota or something; Ukrainska Pravda titled their piece on the incident "Za shcho borolysya?" ("What have we been fighting for?")...

- Tymoshenko plans to visit Russia in mid-April - but first, she'll go to Georgia, the country she considers "unusual and romantic" (via Korrespondent.net, in Russian).

- The New York Times has a very sweet piece about Kyiv (via Abdymok) - made me want to pack my backpack and head back over there right away... (I hope someone from the Times finds the time to go to Lviv and Odesa sometime and write about those places as well!..)

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Friday, April 01, 2005

I love taking pictures of the graffiti here - but I'm way too sporadic at it, and I almost never remember where I saw what.

But - there's a wonderful new photoblog out there, Moscow Graffiti, by Lyndon Allin, who also does Scraps of Moscow.

When I was taking the pictures below, I kept thinking of Lyndon's wonderful - and growing - collection, and this has kept me from forgetting where I was at the moment: Malaya Bronnaya right next to Sadovoye Koltso, and Malaya Gruzinskaya very close to Krasnaya Presnya!







I was at the Catholic Cathedral at Malaya Gruzinskaya today. There were too many TV and photo people there, but too few of those who were actually attending the service. It was very distracting, all those cameras being moved around all the time, and contagious, too, and I ended up taking a few pictures myself... They are here...

April 24 is the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Here's a schedule of the events to be held in Moscow on that day, from ArmeniaDiaspora.com (via Blogrel):

10:00 am: Mourning liturgy on victims of the Armenian genocide
Surb Arutyun Church
Moscow, Russia

1:00 pm: Putting on of wreaths in memory of victims of the Armenian genocide
Hachkara on Poklonnaya Gora 

2:00 pm: Meeting at the Turkish Embassy

6:00 pm: Memorial concert devoted to the 90th anniversary of the Armenian genocide
Moscow International House of Music

The Kyiv Post's Paul Miazga describes the Eurovision ticket situation in almost the same words as Dan McMinn...

“Well, here I am now sitting with three airplane tickets and three hotel reservations and NO tickets."

[...]

Unprofessional? Sadly but not surprisingly, yes. Strange? Not really. Embarrassing and shameful for Ukraine? Yes.

Eurovision, quite simply, is the biggest potential tourist windfall for Ukraine in history. Thousands of tourists and journalists will flock to Kyiv. Any fool can tell you the benefits of tourism: jobs, money, good PR, etc. The fact that Jan and many, many other non-Ukrainians might have no tickets before coming here, and might have to be subject to scalpers, is shameful. That the Eurovision organizers, especially those in control of ticket sales, did not ensure that tickets would be available to people living outside of Ukraine is ridiculous.

What damage will this do to Ukraine’s international image? Well, as any good marketer knows, if someone likes your product, they’ll tell 10 people, but if they don’t like it, they’ll tell 100. Let’s hope the country rallies on Eurovision, fast.

Abdymok has attended yet another one of Yushchenko's disappointing press conferences for the foreign media.

A while ago, he also translated Andrei Chernikov's LiveJournal account of a press conference for the Russian media that kind of sucked, too. Andrei is Kommersant's Ukraine correspondent; Kommersant is launching its Ukraine edition sometime in June.

Dan McMinn of Orange Ukraine is back to posting more often again, and here's his report on the impending Eurovision disaster...

[...] I don't care about Eurovision, but a heck of a lot of Europeans do, and ruining this tourist moment so thoroughly as this is just about the worst thing Ukraine could do to its tourist industry. How in the world did the Yushchenko government just miss when the entire stock of tickets to an event of this magnitude was bought up by a scalper organization? [...]