Monday, February 26, 2007

Via LJ user dolboeb (Anton Nossik, RUS), an 8-minute video posted on YouTube by the Nashi movement: an attempt to scare the young men of Russia into getting drafted - if you continue to hide from the Army in those useless universities and grad schools, the Fat Man USA is gonna show up here and devour all "our" riches.

Language: Russian
Viewed so far: 3,897 times
Puke factor: As high as it gets

Sunday, February 25, 2007

I'm still reading about spetsnaz and guns and all that, and, as if by request, here's a New York Times piece on the Kalashnikov Museum in Izhevsk, by C.J. Chivers - AK-47 Museum: Homage to the Gun That Won the East:

On the surface, the museum, opened late in 2004, serves as Russia's monument to an infantry weapon and to the workers who have made it for almost 60 years. It presents the guns and their history with civic pride and a revived sense of national confidence. Think of Izhesvk as the Detroit of Slavic small arms. The exhibitions, ranging from static displays of weapons to plasma-screen video presentations showing the guns' use in recent decades, reflect a laborer's affection for what has long flowed from nearby foundries and assembly lines. Much of the material is also viewed through the life of Gen. Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, the man credited with designing the weapon in secret trials in 1947, and who, at 87, still lives a few blocks away. Were you to substitute automobiles for firearms and add a bit of military decor, this might be a museum celebrating Henry Ford.

And three more, also by Chivers...

- Two Lives Entwined by War Enter a Long, Arduous Chapter Called Recovery

- Killed in Action, but Not by the Enemy

Anyone who has served in a modern combat unit has heard the deadpan warning. Friendly fire, it goes, is not.

- A Sampling From 6 Months’ Worth of Small-Arms Accidents in Vietnam

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Here's the comment I've written as a guest blogger for PostGlobal's sidebar - a sort of a response to this week's questions by David Ignatius: "Russia's back with a vengeance. Is Putin justified in criticizing NATO expansion? Should Russia's neighbors worry?"

As a rather peaceful citizen of one of Russia's neighbors, I certainly hope that Putin's criticism of NATO expansion is nothing but tough talk. After all, business is going really great for Russia now (or so everyone says) - so why would Putin wish to reverse the trend?

For its neighbors, Russia is not back: it’s always been there.

In Ukraine, we've lived through the noise of the 2003 Tuzla crisis, Putin's repeated visits and misguided greetings of the 2004 election, the gas war of 2005. The tiny Crimea is bursting with geopolitical bitterness, and this diverts attention from vital tourism development efforts and forces way too many people to spend their vacation money in Turkey and Egypt. The Russian-vs-Ukrainian-language non-issue keeps metamorphosing into The Issue every time there is an election. Millions of Ukrainians work in Russia, legally and illegally - a "hands-of-gold drain" rather than brain drain, perhaps.

However, as the past two years have shown, Ukraine's priority should be to worry about its own politicians: they can do much more harm to the country than Russia seems capable of right now.

P.S. Oh, I've just noticed that they've edited out this paragraph:

Russia's famed hospitality has more or less turned into a myth, though, and even some of its own citizens are often forced to feel pretty alien. Perhaps shifting the focus from tough talk directed at outsiders to actually fighting poverty would help return the Russian people into their friendlier selves.

This is the reason I love blogging: I'm my own editor here. :)

Friday, February 23, 2007

From Kazachkov's spetsnaz book, I learn that what became known as zachistka (a mop-up) in Chechnya, used to be called prichyoska (a hair-do) in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

This just in (well, relatively just in - timeliness isn't my strong suit):

February 22, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Ukraine's parliament has rejected President Viktor Yushchenko's choices for foreign minister and security chief, RFE/RL's Ukraine Service reported.

Volodymyr Ohryzko -- a career diplomat and candidate for foreign minister -- had pledged to move Ukraine closer to the West.

Ohryzko received 196 of the 226 votes needed for confirmation.

Communists, Socialists and the Party of the Regions didn't cast a single vote for Ogryzko - which, I guess, characterizes him better than anything else would.

(And it's not about Ukrainian vs Russian, or West vs East. It's about thugs vs the intelligentsia, a dichotomy that exists everywhere, in varying proportions.)
Another hilarious - and untranslatable - "Kremlin postcard" from LJ users samka and superhero: this time, it's February 23 greetings, the Russian Army Day.

Among the featured "bloggers" are Yulia Tymoshenko (she calls Mitrofanov "a dick" - and he calls her "a dick" in response), Britney Spears (hairless), former defense minister Ivanov, Patriarch Aleksiy II, a few gay or gay-looking characters, and Konstantin Ernst, head of Channel 1, who is having this exchange with Putin:

ernst: Volodya! I was watching your Munich speech on TV! It rocked!

v_v_putin: Will you get me some more of that grass?))) ©

Next comment is from George W. Bush, who looks very stoned on his userpic and is appealing to Ernst:

busheg: Please!!!!!! Kostya, give me your ICQ, it's urgent!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And there's also an off-topic comment from Onishchenko, the guy who became famous after he proclaimed Georgian Borjomi water and Georgian wine harmful and banned them in Russia last year: it is okay to eat chicken, he assures us now, referring to the avian flu outbreak in the Moscow region.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Steve Sharra wrote me a few months ago - he's a Malawian writer whose office was on the same floor as mine back in 1998 at the University of Iowa. What a weirdly small world: he now writes about the Malawian blogosphere at Global Voices (his personal blog is here).

In his email, Steve mentioned Aleksei Varlamov, a Russian writer who was at Iowa that same year and had an office somewhere downstairs at the International Center. I attended one of his readings once and really liked the story he was reading from, and we also smoked together outside a few times, under those beautiful oak trees that they have there.

I googled Aleksei up - and was happy to learn that he won an Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Award a year ago. I read this interview (RUS) with him, and even though there are things I can't agree with him on, he seems like a wonderful person (and definitely doesn't deserve being cursed by some hateful morons in the comments).

At the time of the interview, he was working on an Aleksei Tolstoy's biography, and here's a passage I found quite interesting:

You're working on a book about the "Red Count" [the Comrade Count] Aleksei Tolstoy. How are you treating the negative aspects of his life story?

What exactly do you mean?

What do you mean, what exactly? Above all, his participation in the party life and literature. His feasts, during which he was totally getting out of control...

First of all, he wasn't a party member. He was not a member of VKP(b). Second, he was someone who knew how to achieve what he aspired to. A rare quality for a Russian. Aleksei Tolstoy was like a Russian American of sorts, someone like Scarlett O'Hara from "Gone With the Wind" - who promised: "My family will never go hungry." And Tolstoy, after starving through the revolution, had the same goal - his family and he himself should not be hungry. He emigrated, but when he realized that he'd do better in Russia, he returned to his motherland and continued to despise the Bolsheviks in his soul, though he was ready to become one himself if that meant he'd live a prosperous life. One can blame him for that. But this was his life position. As for the feasts during which he was getting out of control... In Valentin Berestov's memoirs, there's a wonderful episode. He asked Tolstoy's fourth wife, Lyudmila Ilyinichna: Why Aleksei Nikolaevich, such a clever person, says silly things all the time? It turned out that she herself had once asked him a similar question. And Tolstoy replied: "If I were in a creative state even at the parties, I'd be blown away." You could judge him for this, too. But it's more interesting to try to understand.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

In a comment to this post on Michael Specter's piece on Russia, Jason wrote:

One thing that did bother me about the linked article, is that the author obviously knows nothing about firearms. There is no such thing as a plastic 9mm Makarov (they only make them in steel) and the 5.45mm bullet used in the standard AK74 is not illegal to use. It has a hollow space in the tip of the bullet that supposedly allows it to tumble more quickly in flesh, but all bullets either tumble or fragment (or both) when they hit a person.

(Thank you, Jason!)

One thing that needs to be added to this comment is that the passage about the 5.45mm bullets is actually a quote from Anna Politkovskaya, not Specter's words.

I myself probably wouldn't be able to tell a hunter's rifle from a Kalashnikov, but I realize that Makarov and 5.45mm are pretty basic stuff - and it's very upsetting that such errors do manage to slip into the texts of otherwise reputable reporters. Especially Politkovskaya.


So I decided to educate myself a little and bought a book on the Russian spetsnaz (special purpose units): Taktika spetsnaza, by Gennadiy Kazachkov. It's got pictures and descriptions of the most common guns and stuff in the appendix, which is useful, but it's also got some narrative, some analyses of the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan and the Russian involvement in Chechnya - which should be interesting.

I'm still reading the intro, though - and am beginning to feel dirty. Here's one passage, the bullet statistics:

The emergence of more precise, complex and diverse weapons and ways to use them has changed the role of traditional firearms. This is a fact that can be confirmed statistically. In WWII, 25,000 bullets were spent on the average to kill one soldier, during the Korean War - 50,000, and in Vietnam - 200,000 bullets already. To compare: in Afghanistan, the Soviet troops were spending about 6,000 bullets on one killed enemy, and in Chechnya - about 7,500. [...]

Not that the Third World infant mortality figures are any less shocking, but, unlike here, we're used to that kind of stuff, I guess.


And here's what Kazachkov writes about 5.45mm bullets:

When the 5.45mm bullet hits the body, it may start moving chaotically, causing substantial damage. But it doesn't always happen like this. These qualities of the new bullet brought into existence legends about "a bullet with the displaced center of gravity that enters through an arm and exits through a leg." Amazing, but such an opinion is still popular among dilettantes.

A news item on today's "A Radio Liberty Journalist Attacked in Rivne."

The piece is in Russian, but the town's name - Rivne - is Ukrainian (but spelled in Russian). It would be Rovno in Russian: v Rovno, not v Rivne. Or am I wrong? Do we have some new rules I'm not aware of? Someone please help. Also, in Ukrainian, it would be u Rivnomu, not v Rivne, right?


Now, here's the story itself:

According to the journalist, the incident occurred in the elevator of her apartment building. When it stopped and the lights went off unexpectedly, a young man [yunets in the original, of all things...], aged 18-20, attacked her, demanding that she took off her golden jewelry.

Romanyuk started screaming and hit the guy on the head with her handbag. When the light reappeared, the woman saw a knife in the attacker's hands, and after the doors opened [dvertsy, not dveri, for some reason, as if they were struggling inside a cupboard, not elevator], he escaped.

How can one not notice an adult man inside an elevator that's, like, 90x90 cm?

This should be the story's main angle, not the fact that she's a journalist. Something like, "Woman Steps On Man Inside Elevator, Ends Up Getting Assaulted."

It's the funniest piece I've seen in along time.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Arbat, earlier today:

Novodevichiy Monastery a few days ago:

It took Taras Ratushnyi a few weeks and two articles in Ukrainska Pravda (UKR, here and here) to have his TV station, NTN, finally air this story (RUS) on land theft by Kyiv City Council's majority deputies:

Kyiv City Council deputy Volodymyr Bondarenko recalls last year's Pushcha Vodytsya land scandal and says that the practice of giving out land plots by ex-mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko now looks like an innocent joke.

Volodymyr Bondarenko, Kyiv City Council deputy: "Deputies gather, divide what's available among themselves, and go back home... Hence such desperateness, sessions held at night, barricades - all this is caused by the desire to present themselves with New Year's gifts."

Mikhail Brodsky, Kyiv City Council deputy: "Why aren't you voting? I haven't been given a land plot. Okay, we're giving it to you - vote. And this is how they get more votes. And all this is taking place in the session hall."


Representatives of the Voice of Kyiv's Community [NGO] claim that deputies from [mayor] Chernovetsky's Bloc and those from the Party of the Regions have received nearly the same amounts of land. Lytvyn's Bloc and [Kyiv's Communal Active] have gotten somewhat less. Plus, there are deputies who don't belong to any faction - they leave the oppositional parties and receive land plots right away. Mainly for construction of residential buildings, but also for shopping centers, hotels and restaurants.

Friday, February 16, 2007

A heartbreaking photo story (RUS) by LJ user drugoi about the kind man Ilya and his 44 dogs, many of them legless or otherwise disabled, living in a house outside Moscow:

For almost 20 years already he's been adopting these street dogs, treating them and leaving them to live with him. Half of those who live in Ilya's big house are ordinary mutts, and the rest are also mutts - but they have managed to learn what human being are like: they are invalids. Beaten, maimed, half-alive, they show up here and get their treatment, housing, food and the human warmth that they missed while living in the big city.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A postscript to Tuesday's circus:

Later that night, a friend sent us a link to an item on the Russian online news site, - here (RUS).

It's a translation of the Slate piece, with a few minor changes. First, there's this headline:

The reaction of the Western bloggers to Putin's speech: "He has inherited his speechwriters from Brezhnev."

Mishah and I, Western bloggers :)))

Then, they translate my quote - with my name and all - but fail to translate the word "chutzpah." Their take on it:

When will they ask him about Anna Politkovskaya and about Chechnya directly?

In the morning, though, I received an email from a dear Kyiv friend: she attached a Feb. 13 Wall Street Journal piece by Bret Stephens - titled "Russian for Chutzpah" :)))

Here's the first paragraph:

The nearest equivalent the Russian language has for the word chutzpah is naglost. In you, Vladimir Putin, the Russian nation has found the embodiment of naglost.

I didn't have the time to read the piece to the end, but I love this "lost and found in translation" twist...


Oh, okay, here's one thing. This part did catch my eye:

Naglost: Speaking of feeling unsafe, a recent item in the Daily Telegraph reports that a Russian court in the southern city of Novorossiysk condemned nine members of the ethnic minorities-rights group Froda for having an "unsanctioned" tea with two German students.

"We were told that, under the new law [on NGOs], any meeting of two or more
people with the purpose of discussing publicly important issues had to be
sanctioned by the local administration three days in advance," Froda
director Tamara Karastelyova told the Telegraph. New legislation also
requires NGOs to receive official clearance for any planned events months in

At Munich, you airily dismissed any suggestion that Russian NGOs operate
under repressive conditions by claiming your registration requirements are
"not that different from registration systems in other countries." Just what
other countries did you have in mind?

I just feel that Munich would've been a good place to ask Putin directly/with chutzpah about this particular case: after all, those NGO people allegedly got busted for their contacts with Germans, not just some abstract foreigners...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

For those who read Russian - Kremlin Valentine, by LJ users samka and supehero.

Be sure to scroll down past the postcard that doesn't seem to load.

To those who don't read Russian: imagine all Russia's politicians and other notorious personas had blogs: Putin, Surkov, Medvedev, Zhirik, Yeltsin, Berezovsky, FSB, etc. Very funny, but untranslatable.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Slate Magazine's Sonia Smith has linked to my two entries on Putin's Munich speech, and I've already gotten two comments - which is somewhat unusual for this normally very quiet blog.

Here's the first one, of a sam durak variety ("what, me an ass-kisser? no, you are!"):

What I see is how Putin kick your xoxlopiteki's azzez and how prAFFeSor Yanyk and Dioxin Cheeks Yush wash with kisses Putin'z azz.

And here's the second, from a Soviet-time creature known as anonimnyi klyauznik - an anonymous complainer:

You are a weird character, mamzel Khokhlova! Watch your words. I don't think you have more than one ass. Ne ischci priklyucheniy na zadnicu - as "moskali" say. BTW, why don't you write in Ukrainain, dear freedom child? You don't get paid for it and Ukrainian speakers are not you target audience?

Disgusting, is all I can say.


An update...

[Edited in for better flow on Thursday] - a comment from my dear friend Sasha:


Try not to read too much of that crap. Don't forget you're still breastfeeding.


This one should be good for my milk, Sash jan:

Can you say some positive about Putin sometimes?

Dear Anonymous #2,

Aren't there enough of those who do say nothing but positive things about him all the time? Seriously, though, I think it's very good that Putin is not tall - I don't like tall men.


Comment #4:

Thats pretty funny. behavior is standard for person which came to Moscow from ex-soviet repulic - complex mixture of hate and envy.

Dear, whats the point in Ukranian blogs written in english from Moscow? what is your target audience?

about Iran and F14. do you know that Iran neibor, Pakistan has Atomic weapon? that Pakistan secret service helped to rebels in Aghanistan agains US army? why US dont press on Suadits who finance fanatic islamic movement all around the world?

why democratic journalist Politkovskaa is hated inside Russia?

try to think about it. and dont forget to return to Kiev - Im sure they need a lot of educated ppl. no point in sitting in un-democracy Moscow.


Comment #5:


try to stop writting that much crap. go find boyfriend, go to the club, its winter - u can ski, etc

I've been pretty busy at Global Voices lately, no time to post anything here.

Three posts dealing with xenophobia, in one way or another:

Feb. 8 - on nationalism

Feb. 10 - on the attack on Aidar Buribayev

Feb. 12 - on two subway Lezginka dancers

The last one is short and fun, and though there're some nasty comments there as well, they don't leave that horrible aftertaste as similar ones in other posts do. Or maybe I've become immune by now.

Here's the video (one of the three) of the two guys dancing Lezginka in a subway car, most likely in Moscow - it's weird and beautiful:

I hope to be able to take a break from this topic now - hope nothing bad's going to happen in the next few weeks. I do need a break from this.


To be fair, though, Moscow is nowhere near as scary as it may seem from these posts. I'm speaking, of course, from my current housewifely perspective: a few hours out in the city on Saturday and Sunday is such a luxury for me now. I go shopping for books and for baby clothes, and it seems as if the whole city is out shopping as well.

In one store, I saw three Asian guys - foreign students, most likely - speaking with a young Asian saleswoman, a Russian Asian: I caught myself thinking of how sweet they looked - not lonely, not lost, not foreign for at least a few minutes.

And then I took a cab home, and the driver of the old Zhiguli was Armenian, and I showed off my Armenian vocabulary to him, very tiny by now, and he said that Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians shouldn't have split apart, and I didn't tell him that many Slavs think that all those Caucasian wars were complete nonsense, too, and instead I told him that history was such a complex thing, such a mess, and then mentioned Sergei Parajanov, a great Armenian who made the greatest Ukrainian film and was sent to rot in the camps for that... And the Armenian driver suddenly filled with joy and told me he had met Parajanov once - even had a picture taken next to him - and I told him that I was supposed to meet Parajanov, too, when I was still in my mama's belly, in late 1973 - but Parajanov got arrested right before that party to which my parents had been invited to be introduced to him. (My mama did meet Parajanov before he died in 1990, very briefly, beautifully briefly, but I'll write about it in a separate post later.) Anyway, with the sweet Armenian driver, we didn't dwell on the gloomy things; we just agreed that only a fool would expect something nice from Moscow, and I added that this is why Moscow can feel so pleasant sometimes - because you expect all those bad things to happen, and they don't, and this makes you feel extremely good. (Not so in St. Pete, in my experience: there, you think of all that goddamn culture, but instead keep bumping into swastikas and stepping into dog shit all the time...)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

But his comment on the deliveries of F-14 parts to Iran - by the Pentagon! - was fun. The look on the faces of the American folks in there was pretty sour.

When will they all learn to be like him, too? To bite him in the ass in person - and in public? To get rid of all that "Vladimir my friend" bullshit? To ask him about Anna Politkovskaya and Chechnya with more chutzpah?
We're listening to Putin at the Munich security conference, and Mishah says it feels as if Putin has inherited his speechwriters from Brezhnev.
Just finished reading Michael Specter's New Yorker Russia piece - liked it a lot.

Its focus, though, doesn't really seem to be on why Putin's "opponents" are dying - it's more of a summary of the past decade or so, written by someone who has experienced it firsthand (as opposed to someone who learned about it from books and the media, sitting an ocean away).

Still, at times, it seems as if the LRB author, Perry Anderson, and Specter, shared the same notes - or the same assistant: they both mention Pakistan, for example, when they write about Russia's demographic crisis.

Here's Anderson:

In just five years, from 1990 to 1994, the mortality rate among Russian men soared – in peacetime – by 32 per cent, and their average life-expectancy plummeted to under 58 years, below that of Pakistan.

And here's Specter:

Russian males born today can, on average, expect to live to the age of fifty-nine, dying younger than if they were born in Pakistan or Bangladesh.

Neither one mentions that in Pakistan booze is illegal, while in Russia... well, you know how it is in Russia...


What Specter writes about the Brezhnev era is nice, but I wish he had taken it a little bit further:

Brezhnev held power for eighteen years as General Secretary of the Communist Party in an era most notable for economic stagnation and human-rights abuses. And yet he has never been more in vogue. A poll taken last month by the daily paper Moskovsky Komsomolets found that “the overwhelming majority of Russia’s people have very pleasant memories of Brezhnev’s era and of Leonid Ilyich himself, who would have turned a hundred on December 19th.” During the Brezhnev years, the decaying state was kept aloft almost exclusively by stratospherically high oil prices.

“Those years are now increasingly called the Golden Age of the great power, which preceded the turmoil of Gorbachev and Yeltsin—theirs was the age of a weak and lost Russia, ended by the return of Russia’s past grandeur under President Putin,” the columnist Sergey Strokan noted in Kommersant.

At least, he doesn't spend pages writing about someone's silly Stalin=Putin theories...


I think that mentioning Victor Shenderovich is really praiseworthy; I hope one day they'll do his profile or perhaps translate something written by him:

Shenderovich is a grumpy-looking former standup comedian whose satirical television show “Kukly” (“Puppets”) aired on NTV between 1994 and 2003. For much of that time, it was required viewing for anyone who cared about politics—a weirdly effective combination of “Saturday Night Live” and “60 Minutes.” Shenderovich was savagely funny, using his puppets to ridicule whoever held power. Nobody was spared, not Boris Yeltsin or Mikhail Gorbachev, and certainly not Vladimir Putin. But Putin does not take well to being made fun of. A few weeks after he was portrayed by a puppet as a nasty dwarf, Shenderovich was out of a job. He now has a weekly radio broadcast on Echo of Moscow and another on Radio Liberty.


Such close attention to Akhmed Zakayev's appearance seems telling - a detail that's more memorable than his words - and the mention of the Chechen people in the same paragraph is sadly ironic, as usual:

Zakayev looks more like a lawyer these days than like a revolutionary; when we met he was wearing a blue suit, a white shirt, and a red tie. His shoes were spit-shined. When Litvinenko died, on November 23rd, Russian prosecutors once again began an effort to extradite him—and also Berezovsky. “Putin won’t stop till every one of us is dead,’’ Zakayev told me. By “us” he meant not only the Chechen people but also those who oppose Kremlin policies, people like Politkovskaya and Litvinenko. “Alexander and Anna were killed to send a message,’’ he said. “I am sure of that.”


My favorite part is on how the fear of Zyuganov in 1996 eventually resulted in Putin - and the role that the media played in this process:

“When NTV was busy reĆ«lecting Yeltsin, when he had two per cent and it magically went to fifty-four per cent, why didn’t you in the West say, ‘Careful, Russia, this will lead to a system you will regret’?’’ Leonid Parfyonov asked me recently. Until two years ago, Parfyonov was the nation’s most influential television host, but he was abruptly fired after a dispute with the Kremlin over the censoring of his Sunday-night political news program. He is now the editor of the Russian edition of Newsweek. “No. We never got that from the West. You all said, ‘Good job. Yeltsin good, Zyuganov bad.’ You prevented the return of Communism as much as we did.’’ That is true, no doubt. But when Russia’s young democrats jettisoned the rules of democracy they also forfeited their independence. That made what came next for the media, and for Russia, possible—perhaps even inevitable.

In Ukraine, the situation was very similar at some point: everyone was scared of Symonenko, a Communist just like Zyuganov, and it seemed logical to elect Kuchma for the second term, because even to the folks in Western Ukraine he seemed like the lesser evil, and then we couldn't wait for him to vanish.

Friday, February 09, 2007

To those who read Russian, a very good piece on about our relations with Russia - a relatively in-depth analysis transcending the usual Yanukovych-East/Yushchenko-West mantra. Here's the lede:

Russia is losing its grip on Ukraine because it relies on non-existent allies and attempts to achieve impossible goals. [...]


To a large extent, the piece is the reaction to Tuesday's parliamentary vote "to ban the privatisation, sale or lease of the country's gas pipeline system." Here's more from Reuters:

The new law was backed by 430 deputies in the 450 seat chamber. There were no votes against.

The legislation was initiated by the opposition following Russian President Vladimir Putin's remarks that Ukraine was ready to set up a joint gas venture with Russia to manage the gas pipelines across its soil.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I've survived the LRB Russia text. I can't say I've enjoyed it or learned something I couldn't live without.

One thing I wanted to say from the very start:

The text begins with an account of Anna Politkovskaya's disgracefully hushed funeral. Then, there's this:

In Ukraine, the discovery of the decapitated body of a journalist who had investigated official corruption, Georgi Gongadze, was sufficient outrage to shake the regime, which was brought down soon afterwards.

As a Ukrainian, I should probably feel proud. But I don't. Because, first of all, the Gongadze murder case hasn't been resolved. This alone speaks loads of the current regime's inadequacy. And there's so much more to it, of course.

Ironically, another death and another funeral took place around the time the LRB piece appeared: Yevhen Kushnaryov, Yanukovych's close ally, got accidentally shot to death during an illegal hunting trip. I'm not in Ukraine now, but I heard the funeral was a really big deal and there was talk of renaming one of Kharkiv's main streets - Sumskaya - after him. Which is incredibly ridiculous - and such a disgrace.

So perhaps citing Gongadze case isn't the smartest choice in this context.

But this is Ukraine's fate, I guess, to be reduced to one sentence in a 19-page text about Russia: we used to be nothing but Chernobyl, and now we are nothing but those wonderful two months in 2004.

A better way to have Russia blush would have been by writing about Hrant Dink's funeral in Istanbul - which also took place around the time the piece appeared and which drew tens of thousands of people. It was something that Anna Politkovskaya's funeral should have been like - and definitely "a better historical comparison" than today's Ukraine.


On a completely different note, it's Grigori Chkhartishvili, not Chkartashvili (aka Boris Akunin).

Monday, February 05, 2007

Speaking of Stalin, here's a quote from the LRB piece (which I still haven't finished reading) - it's a view of Dmitry Furman, who, according to the author of the piece, "has perhaps the most worked out, systematic view of post-Communist developments of any thinker in Russia today":

The country is a ‘managed democracy’: that is, one where elections are held, but the results are known in advance; courts hear cases, but give decisions that coincide with the interests of the authorities; the press is plural, yet with few exceptions dependent on the government. This is, in effect, a system of ‘uncontested power’, increasingly similar to the Soviet state, but without any ideological foundation, which is evolving through a set of stages that parallel those of Russian Communism. The first phase sees the heroic destruction of the old order, a time of Sturm und Drang – Lenin and Yeltsin. The second is a time of consolidation, with the construction of a new, more stable order – Stalin and Putin. The leader of the second phase always enjoys much broader popular support than the leader of the first, because he unites the survivors of the original revolution, still attached to its values, and the anti-revolutionaries, who detested the anarchic atmosphere and the radical changes it brought. Thus Putin today continues Yeltsin’s privatisations and market reforms, but creates order rather than chaos. The successor to Putin in the third stage – comparable to Khrushchev – is unlikely to be as popular as Putin, because the regime, like its predecessors, is already becoming more isolated from the masses.

Stalin enjoyed "much broader popular support" than Lenin? Right, after he killed off tens of millions of those that remained after Lenin's own feast, the rest obviously grew to love him.

Putin creating "order rather than chaos"? Like Stalin did, right? Ha-ha. Seriously, though, I think there's order somewhere in Iowa, or in Japan, but with hospitals like they have here, it's a mess, not order. And with all the bribe-taking.

Finally, maybe it's my lack of abstract thinking skills again, but I really don't understand how anyone can seriously compare Putin to Stalin, at any level, in any way.

What they like to remember of Stalin here now isn't the butcher, but the guy who won the war. Hence the Putin comparison, I guess. Whatever. It's true that Putin knows how to sound tough, but he was hiding like a sissy throughout the Beslan horror, God knows where, and then after it was over, he went on hiding behind the hastily devised initiative to appoint rather than elect Russian governors, which everyone, including the Western press, found too outrageous to ignore. (Then came another distraction from Beslan - the Orange Revolution - and Putin managed to be quite a star in it, too.)

Why not compare him to Brezhnev instead - who wasn't just a ridiculous, senile guy, the hero of so many Soviet jokes - "the mediocre personality," as he's described a few paragraphs later in the LRB text - but rather the man under whose regime people like Vasyl Stus, Vyacheslav Chornovil, Sergei Parajanov, Mustafa Jemilev, Pyotr Grigorenko, Andrei Sakharov and countless others were deprived of their lives/health/freedom/dignity (I'm copy-pasting myself, from here).

Putin is a lot more coherent than Brezhnev, that's true, but he's much younger as well: he's 54 now, while Brezhnev was 57 when he became the General Secretary and 75 when he died. Who knows what Putin is going to sound and look like 20 years from now... It may well be that the future dissidents would have to remake all those Brezhnev jokes into Putin jokes...

Sunday, February 04, 2007

I've finally started thinking seriously of continuing with Marta's vaccinations, rather belatedly. One of the things I tried reading was a text on Mantoux skin test - at the Russian vaccination info portal, here.

The text was obviously written by a moron:

How are the results evaluated?

"It does not matter how they voted, what matters is how their votes were counted." The authorship of this popular saying about the election is ascribed to Stalin. It's hard not to agree with the leader [vozhd' in Russian] - the main thing about the Mantoux test isn't how it was conducted, but the way its results were evaluated, and even more important are the conclusions based on the evaluation of the test results.

Maybe I find this so outrageous because I've had time enough to forget how the most innocent things could be filled with goddamn propaganda and ideology, messages that people knew very well how to ignore back in the Soviet times. But there were those who enjoyed this kind of shit, of course, and the moron writing about Mantoux is just one of them.

Feb. 21, 2007

This man was taking shelter from the snowstorm next to me at a bus stop. A few cars that drove by too close and too fast sent waves of slush our way. On a day like that, it's best to stay home and look out of the window, cozy and warm, but I'm stuck in our neighborhood the whole week, so on weekends I always try to get out, leaving Marta with Mishah.

Another man - somewhat older than the one in the picture - approached the bus stop, dragging a large bag on wheels behind him, the bag you go shopping with, not what you take inside an airplane. I'm not sure if the two of them knew each other - maybe. Maybe they were neighbors. But maybe not. In any case, a brief exchange between them seems a lot more fun if you imagine that they were complete strangers:

- No, this isn't winter, - said one without any introductions.
- True, - barked the other, as if he had been expecting someone to read his thoughts and say them out loud.
- Winter is when the temperatures fall below 10 degrees [Celcius].
- Right. And now there's nothing but mud everywhere.
- Yes, this isn't what I consider real winter.
- No winter this year, true.


Jan. 21, 2007

A flower kiosk near Park Kultury subway station.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Three and a half hours of Putin's press conference - I was watching on and off.

He's impressive, I have to admit.

Perhaps, I'm admitting this because of the LRB Russia story: one point in it is that Putin is so popular in Russia because he's a lot more eloquent than Yeltsin (who turns 76 today, by the way). And if I keep Yeltsin in mind, then Putin really seems very impressively eloquent. And if I substitute Yeltsin with Kuchma, or Yanukovych, or even Yushchenko, Putin still wins.

He's fluent and coherent, even though he dodges some kinds of questions too obviously.

The "successor" questions, for example.

A question from Chechnya, where 70 percent of the able-bodied population are unemployed - Putin attempted to counter this telling figure presented by a young Chechen journalist with the praise for Ramzan Kadyrov and his achievements.

The questions were very diverse; the closer it got to the end, the more it began to resemble a walk through a bazaar, where each vendor acts very loud trying to get your attention.

Was Putin using some kind of a prompter, I wondered.

A question about gay pride - which Moscow's mayor Luzhkov called "satanic" - Putin responded to it by mentioning Russia's sorry demographic state, implying that gays only make things worse, but he then pledged tolerance towards all kinds of groups.

Questions about racism didn't seem too prominent.

An albino Azeri complained about Armenia's aggression and occupation, and was concerned about Russia's military presence in Armenia - I didn't hear Putin's reply, but I still can't get that snow-white hair out of my mind: that guy shouldn't be having any problems with skinheads, cops and other nuts here. Unless they mistake him for an Estonian, of course.

An initiative from Volgograd WWII vets - to re-bury the Tallinn soldiers' remnants in Volgograd. Putin seemed to approve.

Lots of energy questions, Ukraine and Belarus mentioned every now and then: nothing hostile on the surface, but at one point it turns out that, basically, Ukraine, as a long-term recipient of cheap gas, is the reason why Russian pensioners are so poor. Then, we were all labeled unreliable transit countries, and the construction of the pipeline on the Baltic floor (mentioned by Copydude here) was cited as an example of Russia's willingness to remain a reliable partner to the West. And the reason Gazprom waited for a whole year with Belarus was because they didn't want to hurt Lukashenko in his re-election year.

Domestic, local issues: both now and during his previous addresses, I've noticed that Putin is encouraging people in the regions to be proactive in solving their own local problems, not to wait for Putin to interfere. Easier said than done, I guess. Unfortunately.

Sochi, the really pathetic situation with electricity there and the 2014 Olympics bid: the Olympics is a good reason to get everything in order in Russia's southern regions. How typical and how depressing that they can't fix it all for themselves, not because of someone else. Potemkin village mentality. Even though at the same time Putin claims it's being done so that the Russian citizens didn't have to spend their vacations abroad.

A question about the mayor of Arkhangelsk: as soon as he announced his plans to run for president in 2008, the prosecutor's office started a very aggressive investigation of everything about him, including his high school records. It made Putin laugh; they'll regret it when the guy wins the election and becomes president, he joked. But the really young, innocent-looking girl who was asking the question didn't even smile: "Please allow me to finish," she said very firmly. A conflict between the mayor and the government, nothing more, was Putin's response.

And as for Paul Klebnikov, Putin agreed with someone who had said that the guy died for democracy in Russia.

Of Litvinenko, Putin spoke with what could have been contempt and said that the guy knew no harmful secrets whatsoever.