Thursday, April 29, 2010

A quote from an editor at an Anglophone broadcast media outlet, supplied by a friend:

Frankly, if it weren't for the flying eggs, I don't think we'd be covering it.

Says a lot about both us and them. What else would you expect when the country's president thinks Chekhov was a Ukrainian poet. Then again, we should perhaps be happy that 'Ukraine' is more pronounceable than 'Kyrgyzstan.'

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I'm so fed up with these quasi-political video scandals here in Russia. So sick both of this obscene shitstorm - and of the chorus of moralizers that accompanies it. So unsexy, all of it.

Funny, but after spending the whole day thinking about the latest video installment - the one featuring Shenderovich, Limonov and Potkin - and having no time to write any of the thoughts down, I've ended up escaping into Allen Ginsberg's poetry. And I no longer feel like saying anything about the whole nasty thing. I'll just quote one poem here:

When the Light Appears
by Allen Ginsberg

You'll bare your bones you'll grow you'll pray you'll only know
When the light appears, boy, when the light appears
You'll sing & you'll love you'll praise blue heavens above
When the light appears, boy, when the light appears
You'll whimper & you'll cry you'll get yourself sick and sigh
You'll sleep & you'll dream you'll only know what you mean
When the light appears, boy, when the light appears
You'll come & you'll go, you'll wander to and fro
You'll go home in despair you'll wonder why'd you care
You'll stammer & you'll lie you'll ask everybody why
You'll cough and you'll pout you'll kick your toe with gout
You'll jump you'll shout you'll knock you're friends about
You'll bawl and you'll deny & announce your eyes are dry
You'll roll and you'll rock you'll show your big hard cock
You'll love and you'll grieve & one day you'll come believe
As you whistle & you smile the lord made you worthwhile
You'll preach and you'll glide on the pulpit in your pride
Sneak & slide across the stage like a river in high tide
You'll come fast or come on slow just the same you'll never know
When the light appears, boy, when the light appears

(I wish YouTube carried that Cornershop track with Allen Ginsberg reciting the poem himself - but I can't find it.)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

I stumbled upon some inept Russophone comments on Armenia coming out of Georgia yesterday. Comments that would seem more or less relevant and valid on any other day, but kind of stink on April 24, when Armenians mourn the innocent people killed 95 years ago.

It reminded me of the idiots who patiently store their smart opinions about the United States until September 11, as if this is the only day they expect to be heard properly. I don't mean to say that such comments shouldn't be made, but they reflect badly on the people who make them: they are bursting with schadenfreude today, then spend the rest of the year demanding sympathy and support for their own cause and their own innocent ones.

And I don't mean to say that the bitchy comments were numerous on April 24 - no, there was just a tiny bunch of them. But they've left me with a really bad aftertaste somehow.

On a different note, I was also reminded of a conversation about Georgia with an ex-Yugoslav friend: he asked for a quick explanation of the summer 2008 situation there - and ended up concluding that Georgia was very much like Serbia. His ex-Yugoslav background is pretty complex, which is typical, and his Georgia/Serbia analogy went beyond the usual good/evil geopolitical labels that stick so well to the two countries. And it has occurred to me now that it's really helpful for a relative outsider to know a thing or two about the situation in the Balkans to better understand the situation in the South Caucasus - and vice versa.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I hate generalizations, but I've spent the past nine years convinced that Luhansk is the nuttiest region of Ukraine. I've only been there once, I know, but the experience was so bizarre and nerve-wracking that I just can't help it. It's a long story - a rather comical horror story. Maybe I'll write about some of it one day. Maybe not.

And nothing seems to have changed in Luhansk since late 2000, according to this piece (RUS) on

Lenin turned 140 years old on April 22, and the folks in Luhansk held a rally to mark their idol's birthday. One guy ended his speech with these words:

Putin, Lenin and Christ are with us!

The only difference, perhaps, is that Natalya Vitrenko is no longer on their minds. Who knows, maybe ten years ago the chant went like this: "Lenin, Vitrenko, Christ and the Virgin Mary are with us!"

And the region's Communist leader said this about the goals of his party:

First, they'll join forces with the Party of Regions "to kick the nationalists out of the parliament," then they'll "defeat the Party of Regions and kick all the capitalists out of the parliament" - and then, "together with the brotherly nations, they'll build a new union state" - the one that will grant the nations the right to self-determination.

Simply beautiful.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Vasyl Tsushko, our new minister of economics and former minister of internal affairs, believes that after nearly 19 years of independence, Ukraine still hasn't come up with clear definitions "of what a poor person is and what a rich person is."

He talked about it on Savik Shuster's show last Friday (for a couple minutes, beginning somewhere at 1:54:30).

He chose to focus on the problems with public utility payments to convey his vision of the social gap. One of the common arguments, he said, is that the rich ones must pay for their utilities themselves, while the state's duty is to help the poor. But some of the poor are actually quite rich.

There's a hypothetical elderly pensioner, male or female, who lives in a three-room apartment on Khreshchatyk, Kyiv's main street, which, according to Tsushko, costs $1 million even in the time of the financial crisis. This person is nevertheless barely surviving on 700 hryvnias a month of his/her state-paid pension (800 hryvnias would be $100, more or less) - and expects the state to cover his/her utility bills.

Then there's a hypothetical pensioner who is surviving on the same 700 hryvnias a month in a village 500 kilometers away from Kyiv, in a house with a small plot of land that would sell for no more than $5,000, provided that this village has a road, gas and electricity (some don't, obviously).

If we compare these two, Tsushko continued, we'll come to a conclusion that the latter is dirt poor, while the former is a millionaire. Still, the state offers utility payment assistance to both.

How outrageously unfair.

Some 20 minutes later, at around 2:20 into the show, Vitaly Portnikov, one of my favorite Ukrainian journalists, exposed Tsushko's messy reasoning as a Freudian slip totally typical of a Ukrainian government official. Yes, right, he said, let's kick those elderly people out of their expensive Khreshchatyk and Lipki apartments - and move in there ourselves. Tsushko tried to argue that Portnikov had misunderstood him, but with little success: his point was, he said, that a person with $1 million in assets shouldn't be walking around begging for money.

I can only add that there remains just a handful of those elderly people on Khreshchatyk who, according to Tsushko, aren't aware of the fortunes they are sitting on/living in. There are not enough of them to deal a serious blow to the state budget: they aren't the real culprits. Many of them tend to vote for Tsushko's friends in the Party of Regions, too - but, apparently, "their number is negligible and they are stupid" (apologies to Dwight Eisenhower for using this quote in a somewhat wrong context).

Also, a three-room Khreshchatyk apartment costs around $500,000, not $1 million, but Tsushko, an agrarian populist, had to somehow squeeze 'millionaire' - a loaded term - into his brave little speech. And while his words must have appealed to some of his rural voters, the truth is, there's a Khreshchatyk sort of thing in every city, every town and every village in Ukraine: it's all relative, a slippery slope. You free the budget of the Khreshchatyk-based elderly burden, enriching yourself along the way, and then your lower-ranking, less privileged colleagues elsewhere will use the same noble justification to arrange some nice property deals for themselves - in areas that you, a Kyiv-based brat, would never consider worth fighting for. Not that they ever needed Tsushko's guidance to do that, of course...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

What a wonderful photo of my father - and of my 18-year-old blind cat, Kosya, who died on April 15.

I miss them so much.

I'll never stop missing them.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Somehow ran into this Jan. 2006 interview (RUS) with Myroslava Gongadze on Radio Ekho Moskvy. Don't have the energy to post any background or other info/thoughts - mainly because it is common knowledge that, nearly ten years later, those who ordered to kill Georgi Gongadze still haven't been brought to justice. And this, more or less, is the only thing that really matters. But - I can't resist translating Myroslava's description of the room in which the trial of Georgiy's suspected killers was initially held.

A tiny room - the size of the Radio Ekho Moskvy studio, some 15 square meters - and...

M. GONGADZE - [...] In this room, there are three defendants, their guards, five people, their three lawyers, four representatives of the victims and one victim, five, the judge, six, and associated judges and three people who are transcribing the hearing. Can you imagine what it is like to work in such a situation? [...] I share a chair with the lawyer of one of the defendants. [...] How could it have occurred to anyone that a trial could be held in such conditions? The highest profile case in Ukraine. The president calls it an open trial. It's totally absurd, [...] I just don't have enough words. [Journalists] can't physically squeeze themselves in there! [They] are trying to get through to the [trial room], the police are beating them with sticks. [...]

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Again, I don't know where or how to begin this post.

I'm shocked, sad about what happened on Saturday. Don't have the words to describe how I feel, actually. Have been trying to write something here, but just couldn't. Instead, in the four days and nights since the crash, I've read and published these texts by GV's wonderful volunteer author and translator Sylwia Presley:

- Poland: President Kaczyński is Killed in Plane Crash in Russia - Initial Reactions
- Poland: R.I.P. Black Saturday 10.04.2010
- Poland: Video Reactions to the Deadly Plane Crash
- Poland: Online Grief After 10.04.2010
- Poland: Controversy Over Polish President's Burial‎ Location

And this text - Russia: Reactions to the Polish Tragedy - by Alexey Sidorenko, who was going through passport control at a Warsaw airport (RUS) at the time when the terrible news arrived...


I went to the Polish Embassy on Saturday, and to the Catholic Cathedral a couple blocks away:


I stayed through most of the Russian-language service at the Cathedral, even though I normally prefer to listen to religious messages in languages that I don't understand. I was on my way home from the Cathedral, passing by the Embassy once again, finally feeling as peaceful as was humanly possible under those circumstances, and I wouldn't have paid attention to a group of ordinary-looking young people - relatively well-dressed, cheerful, carefree - at the trolleybus stop across the park from the Embassy, if it hadn't been for the flowers and candles in their hands. An even number of flowers - two or four: a funereal arrangement. Mostly red carnations.

I stopped nearby, sort of automatically, and almost right away they regrouped into a neat column and marched off towards the Embassy. One or two of them were wearing green hoodies, on which I later spotted the word МЕСТНЫЕ (Mestniye, 'The Local Ones') - a youth group that I couldn't recall anything specific about right then, only some vague memories inspired by the group's somewhat xenophobic name. 'Kremlin youth,' I thought, using a very convenient shortcut to label this sort of crowd.

TV camera crews started running around as the young people approached the Embassy and began placing their flowers and candles on the ground by the wall. I took a picture of them, too:

Those of the kids who were done with the commemoration part were crossing the narrow street, and now I was standing right behind some of them, close enough to hear them giggling, chatting, discussing who was going to be on the evening news. It was disgusting.

And then they all left, dispersed, as quickly as they came.

Back home, I watched a newscast on Channel 1 - and, sure thing, the kids were on it, as sympathetic Muscovites.

[Channel 1 video is no longer where it used to be, fails to load, so I've deleted it.]

Not a word about the group that these kids belong to - even though there's an item (RUS) on Mestniye's website about their April 10 initiative. Ordinary Muscovites.

The journalistic aspect of it seems very interesting. There weren't too many people by the Embassy on Saturday. Just enough from a human point of view - but not enough for a good TV picture that would adequately reflect the current Poland-friendly agenda. So they bring in these kids, to act as extras. News as movies. A tiny little example of yet another manipulation, nothing new, not a big deal - but since I don't have any firsthand TV experience, it was pretty educational to witness how those guys work here.


In the blogosphere, there'a plenty of genuine grief and sympathy, but also tons of sick shit poured on Poland. Putin and Medvedev - and even Yanukovych - got their share of criticism (read: curses), too - for their decision to declare April 12 a day of national mourning, in Russia and in Ukraine: it's Cosmonautics Day - how dare they...


Something that I can't stop thinking about: the fact that the language of communication between the Polish crew and the Russian air traffic controllers was Russian. And some broken English.

To what extent could this have contributed to the tragic outcome?

Mentions of this "language issue" here and there, now and then, and still some more (all in Russian); in English, a Wikipedia summary - here.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Things are moving too fast, and I can't keep up. One déjà vu followed by another, flashback after flashback. Having a nasty cold doesn't help. Below are some links and stuff - the post is messy and way too long, but I need to sort things out for myself a bit, to be able to move on.


Current events in Kyrgyzstan made me re-read what I was writing here five years ago - I've just tagged those old posts with this tag: kyrgyz2005. (This is a blog, okay, and for a meaningful reading experience you have to read backwards - not too convenient, I know. So, start reading at the bottom of this page, then move to the bottom of this one.)

I feel very sad for the people who were hurt and killed in the riots.

A quote from five years ago - that probably sums up best some of what happened then - and now:

A Kyrgyz woman, Fatima, a supermarket owner and a victim of the looting, on ORT: "This was done by the hungry ones to those of us who work hard."


It reminds me of Moldova a year ago, too - their "orphans' revolution"...

And the social media component - endless discussions on whether this or that unrest was "a Twitter revolution" or not, etc. My last year's GV roundups on Moldova are here, here, here and here. Alexey Sidorenko's GV text on Kyrgyzstan is here (and on the Moscow subway bombings - here).


Of the reality-based blog comments on the Moscow bombings, one of the most powerful is by Olga Allenova, translated for GV here. It's as much about Nord-Ost and Beslan as it is about what happened two weeks ago. I admire Allenova, have always looked forward to reading her texts in Kommersant-Vlast - and I'm really glad she has a blog now. (My brief post on her collection of war reportage is here.)

And while I'm at it, here's a link to my other GV translation on the subway blasts, with comments from Anton Nossik, Marat Guelman and Yulia Yuzik. (Ouch. The latter, however, has deleted her blog. For some reason. Not the first time for her, if I'm not mistaken. Maybe she'll be back.)


I took subway last Saturday. On autopilot, sort of. Not out of necessity. Without flowers, though. Entered at Park Kultury, meant to go to Lubyanka from there, but was so overwhelmed by what I saw that I took a train in the opposite direction and only noticed this when the next station, Frunzenskaya, was announced. When I entered the train car at Park Kultury, every single person in it was trying to have a look at the makeshift flower memorial on the platform. Halfway to Frunzenskaya, a sharp, explosive sound made nearly everyone in the car jump - turned out it was a balloon that burst in the hands of a little boy traveling on that train with his mother. A group of teens sitting across the aisle from the boy began to laugh, and many passengers, including myself, managed to produce nervous yet relieved smiles after that, too. I got off at Sportivnaya, took a picture of four skinny, young cops guarding the empty station, then got onto a Lubyanka-bound train and happened to stand next to a young woman with four red carnations, who got off at Park Kultury and walked towards the crowd gathered around the memorial. At Lubyanka, there were flowers both on the platform and outside, next to the Solovetsky Stone.

Here are some pictures:


On Monday, one week after the bombings, Kommersant-Vlast and Russian Newsweek had identical images of Lubyanka station on their covers:


Also a week or so ago, I took a walk to Luzhniki - because I had to have a look at that surreal-looking bus station that the suicide bombers had allegedly arrived at on Monday, March 29, all the way from the North Caucasus. I wrote about the place almost three years ago, in this post about Luzhniki:

[...] on the edge of the compound there's a makeshift bus station, with a few dozen buses, most of which are ready to depart for Makhachkala, Dagestan. And Derbent, and Budyonnovsk. Lots of people with huge bags and sacks nearby. Quite impressive - and, needless to say, it didn't even occur to me to attempt to take a picture there. I felt happy, though, that there was no way for Moscow skinheads to attack these people - if the fence isn't enough, Luzhniki seems to have enough human security guards, too.

Last time I was in Luzhniki was in early November 2009, when we went to see Varekai, an absolutely magical production of Cirque du Soleil. On the way back, as we struggled through slush and mud, we passed a large, dirty bus parked at the side of the road, its engine running, its rear window smashed to pieces, and a few dark-haired, beautiful but exhausted-looking boys hustling around, trying to somehow fix the damage and clean up the mess. It was one of those buses from the North Caucasus. I remember thinking some sad thoughts about the kind of lives these boys had to live - how different the reality was from the awesome, idealized version presented in Varekai's Georgian Dance segment that we'd just watched a few hundred meters away:

Another "back to reality" thing I remembered from that evening was the crazy old woman at a grocery store across the street from us, where I went to buy cigarettes: she was loudly cursing the store's non-Russian staff - for some reason, or for no reason at all. "Go back to your Dagestan," she was screaming. And - "I'm a native Muscovite!" And then one young Russian man standing in line in front of me told her indignantly that she was such a disgrace, and she shut up and left.

Anyway, last Sunday I went to Luzhniki, thinking about the subway bombings - and about the night we went to see Cirque du Soleil. The North Caucasus bus station was completely empty - and looked as surreal this way as when it was filled with buses and people. It could've been deserted because it was Easter Sunday, or because of the post-bombing investigation (RUS) that affected most of the bus drivers working there, or both. Here's a photo (two images merged together in Photoshop, actually):

And this sign for WC next to the bus station, with a Russian curse scrawled over it:

Saturday, April 03, 2010

P.S. While I was writing my previous post, they seem to have updated the New York Times piece, and the stuff in the quote that I give has been somewhat re-arranged, but is still there.

There's a ton of articles about this girl in other media.

Some confusion about whether this girl blew herself up at Lubyanka or Park Kultury.

Kommersant, where the photo appeared first (or not?), reports (RUS) it was the former:

[...] Следственный комитет при прокуратуре РФ считает, что Дженнет Абдурахманова взорвалась в фирменном составе метрополитена "Красная стрела" на станции "Лубянка", убив вместе с собой больше двадцати пассажиров. [...]

According to the Times, though, it was the latter location:

[...] Ms. Abdullayeva’s life ended at 8:40 on Monday morning at the Park Kultury station. Riding in a train, Sim Eih Xing, a medical student from Malaysia, said he noticed a strange-looking woman near the door “in a very abnormal posture.”

“She wasn’t wearing a scarf,” he told The Moscow Times. “Her eyes were very open, like on drugs, and she barely blinked, and it was scary. But I didn’t think she was a suicide bomber. I thought that she might be just mentally ill. So I stood behind her.”

He got off at Park Kultury, and was a few feet away from the woman when the bomb detonated. Sparks appeared before his eyes and the station went silent. When he came to his senses, he saw bodies in piles on the floor of the train. One of them was Ms. Abdullayeva’s.

(The Moscow Times story mentioned above is here.)

P.P.S. According to (RUS), too, it was Park Kultury, not Lubyanka:

[...] На «Парке культуры» взорвалась 18-летняя Джанет Абдурахманова (Абдулаева), жительница Дагестана, заявили в Национальном антитеррористическом комитете (НАК). [...]

Doesn't really matter much, but since there is some confusion, it's kind of interesting to see who is reporting what...
An article in the New York Times about one of the suspected suicide bombers, a 17-year-old from Dagestan. A picture of her with a gun - and with a guy with a much bigger gun.

A cab driver from Dagestan, two weeks ago, on Nowruz, was telling me about the beautiful hospitality his people exhibit during the holiday celebrations - you can enter anyone's house, he said, and you'll be offered all the food and drink there is in the house - and there's a lot! - and you'll be treated like a king, even if you're a stranger. And Moscow, it's such a tough city, he added. I said it was a pity that there was so much fighting and hatred in the Caucasus region, a pity it wasn't safe to travel there, and he replied that there wasn't any fighting whatsoever. Right, I thought.

"Muslim people are very good, aren't they?" he asked, after I told him about our trips to Istanbul, the regular escapes for warmth and friendliness. I hate generalizations, but he was so cheerful and so homesick that it seemed wrong to go into my usual mantra: "There are good people everywhere - but, unfortunately, there are as many assholes everywhere as well, if not more." So I just said that I had many Muslim friends - and that I loved them all.

And five minutes later, by the end of our ride, all of a sudden, he was fuming about how amoral people in Moscow were - how you always saw young women smoking and drinking beer in the street here - a totally unacceptable behavior, blah blah blah. I laughed it off, sort of, saying that I, too, couldn't understand how they could drink that beer outside in such cold.

I've been thinking about this cab driver on and off this whole past week. Somewhere along these lines: "И эти люди не разрешают нам ковыряться в носу?" And these people aren't allowing us to pick our noses?

But he's probably as shocked as anyone else right now...

[...] A local official in her native village of Kostek said Ms. Abdullayeva attended school there for six years, then moved to a larger city a few years ago. The official, Aida Aliyeva, said in a telephone interview that Ms. Abdullayeva was raised by a single mother who traded goods at a local market.

Teachers in the village remembered Ms. Abdullayeva as a promising student who recited poetry in local competitions, she said.

“People are in shock here, they say it couldn’t be true,” Ms. Aliyeva said. “We are honest workers here. We think that the city must have had some influence on her, because we don’t have anything like that here.”

“She is a child,” Ms. Aliyeva added. “Such a quiet, calm little girl. In all honesty, I don’t know what to say.”

An official at Dagestan’s Interior Ministry said it was not uncommon for militants’ wives to act as accomplices, and some were members of hierarchical women’s organizations linked to the insurgency. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said that it was not difficult for militant groups to recruit teenage girls in a region with more women than men.

“The girls say, ‘Here is how you will live, and a man will always be beside you,’ ” the official said. “There is some romance about a man with a gun, with an automatic weapon. They make the fighters into heroes, naturally. These girls aren’t thinking straight, at 17 years old.” [...]

Friday, April 02, 2010

I still haven't watched a single TV newscast - cartoons is all we watch here. And I still haven't been to Park Kultury or Lubyanka stations - I might go there over the weekend, with flowers. I've seen photos from the scene on the web, of course, but the only thing directly related to the tragedy that I saw firsthand were the white-and-green buses riding back and forth down our street on Monday morning - dozens of them, thrown in by the city to substitute for the disrupted subway service on this route. A shocking image to wake up to, partly because it reminded me of the 2002 Nord-Ost theater siege, when the same buses were lined up along Dubrovka Street, awaiting the release of the hostages.

Here's a picture that Misha took on Monday, as he walked to work:

And here's a Dubrovka picture I took on October 25, 2002:

These buses, now and then - they are like visual bookmarks in my mind. And the story - it keeps getting recycled.

Once again, I've re-read what I wrote about Nord-Ost back then: most of it, though not all, reads smoothly, as if it all happened earlier this week - and it did, in a way - and it still hurts like hell, especially now. Beslan and the murder of Politkovskaya weren't part of the narrative in 2002 - these events belong to the recycled versions of the story.