"I stood there listening to my father's killers. Oleg and Zhora were of Papa's generation. All three had been made fatherless by the Great Patriotic War. All three had been raised by the men who had managed to avoid battle, the violent, dour, second-tier men their mothers had brought home with them out of brutal loneliness. Standing before the menfolk of my father's generation, I could do nothing. Before their rough hands and stale cigarette-vodka smells, I could only shudder and feel, along with fright and disgust, appeasement and complicity. These miscreants were our country's rulers. To survive in their world, one has to wear many hats — perpetrator, victim, silent bystander. I could do a little of each."
"The windswept Fontanka River, its crooked 19th-century skyline interrupted by the postapocalyptic wedge of the Sovietskaya Hotel, the hotel surrounded by symmetrical rows of yellowing, waterlogged apartment houses; the apartment houses, in turn, surrounded by corrugated shacks featuring, in no particular order, a bootleg CD emporium, the ad hoc Mississippi Casino ('America Is Far, but Mississippi Is Near'), a kiosk selling industrial-sized containers of crab salad, and the usual Syrian shawarma hut smelling invariably of spilled vodka, spoiled cabbage and some kind of vague, free-floating inhumanity."
By Gary Shteyngart.
As reviewed in The New York Times (includes multi-media on Shteyngart)
Also reviewed in The Washington Post ("When you land in Russia these days, you are likely to see this sign: " Rossiya strana vozmozhnosty " ('Russia is the land of opportunity'). And then, amid the expected shabbiness, you see Hummers and Rolls Royces. Russians exceed even Americans in their taste for size, status and ostentatious wealth. The situation lends itself to parody, and Gary Shteyngart's new novel, Absurdistan, does a marvelous job of satirizing the new Russian oligarchy.")
Sunday, April 30, 2006
"I stood there listening to my father's killers. Oleg and Zhora were of Papa's generation. All three had been made fatherless by the Great Patriotic War. All three had been raised by the men who had managed to avoid battle, the violent, dour, second-tier men their mothers had brought home with them out of brutal loneliness. Standing before the menfolk of my father's generation, I could do nothing. Before their rough hands and stale cigarette-vodka smells, I could only shudder and feel, along with fright and disgust, appeasement and complicity. These miscreants were our country's rulers. To survive in their world, one has to wear many hats — perpetrator, victim, silent bystander. I could do a little of each."
La Russophobe previously reported that Russia's anti-copyright, anti-rule-of-law chickens seemed to have come home to roost on the AK-47. Now, quoting Reuters, New Russian Corporatism reports that Russia has only just avoided being slapped with the lowest possible designation for piracy.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Trade Representative's office on Friday rejected an industry request to slap its harshest piracy label on Russia, but warned Moscow could lose trade benefits unless it closes pirated music web sites and takes other steps to curb copyright theft.
In a beefed-up annual report on global piracy, USTR also warned it could bring a World Trade Organization case against China for failing to enforce anti-piracy laws and announced it would conduct a provincial-level review of piracy problems in China this year for the first time.
U.S. movie, music and other copyright industry groups that comprise the International Intellectual Property Alliance urged the USTR's office earlier this year to label Russia as a "priority foreign country," a designation reserved for countries with the most severe piracy problems.
The industry groups also asked USTR to immediately suspend trade benefits for Russia under the Generalized System of Preferences, which allows developing countries to ship many of their goods to the United States without paying duties.
USTR instead kept Russia and China on its "priority watch list," its second most serious designation, and said it would continue reviewing whether to suspend GSP benefits for Moscow. The IIPA estimates U.S. companies suffered more than $4 billion in lost sales due to piracy in the two countries last year.
While sparing both Russia and China from its worst piracy label, USTR directed a large portion of the report at both countries and said it would be closely monitoring their anti-piracy actions throughout the coming year. USTR for the first time also published a list of "notorious" pirate marketplaces, including the Russian web site www.allofmp3.com, which it called the world's largest server-based pirate web site and urged Moscow to shut down. Also listed were the Silk Street Market in Beijing and other markets in China, Russia, Mexico and South America where pirated and counterfeit goods are easily available.
The IIPA estimates global piracy losses for U.S. companies at $30 billion to $35 billion in 2005. Other estimates put total annual losses from world sales of pirated and counterfeit goods between $200 billion and $250 billion.
Eric Smith, president of the IIPA, welcomed USTR's plan to conduct an intensive review of anti-piracy enforcement activities at the provincial level in China.
But he criticized the government's decision not to name Russia as a priority foreign country and renewed the industry's call for an immediate suspension of Russia's trade benefits.
U.S. copyright groups also oppose Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization until Moscow does a much better job of stopping piracy, a view shared by many members of Congress who regret Washington did not push China harder on that point before Beijing joined the WTO in 2001.
"We see the potential of an ugly replay with Russia," said Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who is co-author of a congressional resolution opposing Russia's entry into the WTO as long as piracy problems remain unchecked. The United States has been in intense talks with Russia on terms of its entry into the WTO and some industry officials believe the two sides are close to a deal.
Saturday, April 29, 2006
In Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 "Letter from Birmingham Jail" he wrote:
Barry Goldwater put it more succinctly: "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice."
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disapointed by the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that that Negro's great stumbling block in his stride towards freedom is not the White Citizens Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with the goals you seek but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom. Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunder- standing from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
The Russophile and the "white moderate" are the same. In our more modern times, we have the convenient word "enabler" to refer to both of them, or the perhaps more accurate term "collaborator." The Russophile paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for the Russian man's freedom, and can by doing so preserve "order" while simply delaying justice. Does that mean the actual Russians hate the Russophiles even more than they do they Russophobes. Yes, my child, indeed it is so. Ironic, isn't it?
For the Russophile, Vladimir Putin is a mere "transitional figure," a "strong leader" whose "occasional rough tactics" are necessary to ward of the advances of Russia's "oligarchs," the mafia elite. Just as King was told by the white moderates that he needed to bide his time, the Russophile assures us that just as it "took time" for democracy to develop in America and Europe, so too time is all that is needed in Russia.
When reminded that Russia has already existed as a nation twice as long as America, the excuses, rationalizations and justifications begin, the same ones that Dr. King found "more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding." The main items on the list are:
1. Russia is surrounded by enemies while America is surrounded by oceans.
2. Russia is victimized by poor climate while America is a vacation playground.
3. Russia has been repeatedly decimated by scourges internal and external, America has never known that pain.
There are two obvious faults with this line of "reasoning."
First, these Russophiles are never willing to specify any kind of timetable for Russia, but simply keep moving the goal posts further down the field as time drags on. The Russophile will never answer the question: "What would have to happen in Russia to make you change your mind?" That is the bare essence of propaganda.
Second, the excuses simply don't hold water. As much as oceans provide protection they also guarantee isolation. Americans overcame the "Lord of the Flies" syndrome. Russia's cold weather has protected it on more than one occasion from foreign enemies. And Amercia has faced many scourges, including the Great Depression and the Civil War, which killed more Americans than all other wars the country has ever fought combined.
During the Civil War, America conducted contested election the like of which Russia has never once seen even in peacetime. Four different American presidents, in the span of just over 200 years, have been shot and killed while in office, but dicatorship did not result. Franklin Roosevelt broke George Washington's tradition and grabbed four terms in office, tried to pack the Supreme Court with sycophants, lied brazenly about his medical condition and built concentration camps for Japanese Americans; yet, the public did not allow him to become a dictator. As soon as his rule ended, radical changes were made to the Constitution so that the two-term presidency became mandatory.
Does anyone believe that when (if?) Vladimir Putin leaves office, radical legal changes will be demanded to block the worst of his excesss?
Indeed, can any Russophile answer this question: "If Boris Yeltsin was so bad, and Russians hated him so much, why did they, like lemmings, anoint the chosen successor Yeltsin named?"
To bring this issues closer to La Russophobe's home, this blog used to contain three strong compliments of Russia. First it directed readers to a museum of Russian art in Manhattan. Then it praised Russian literature to the sky. Finally, it offered a translation of a Russian poem for the reader's enjoyment.
The careful reader will notice that all these compliments have now been removed. Why? The Russophile menance. It was not, of course, suprising -- in fact, very desireable and hoped-for -- that Russophiles would attack the russophobic comments of La Russophobe. But if Russophiles were really "more reasonable" or "more intelligent" than La Russophobe they would have complimented the compliments too, wouldn't they? Because if they didn't, they'd be "just as bad" as "terrible" La Russophobe, wouldn't they?
But they didn't. They just swarmed over the criticism like flies on a ribroast and ignored the compliments entirely.
C'est la vie dans la Russie. So, dear reader, off we go to Cold Wars II.
So much for Russia being an ally of Europe against the U.S.! Russia alienates countries from Kazakhstan to Denmark. The Washington Post reports:
RUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union urged the United States on Saturday to join it in pressing for open energy markets and more democracy in Russia when the world's leading industrial powers meet in St Petersburg in July.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told a transatlantic conference that the 25-nation EU and Washington should press Moscow to create free market conditions and legal certainty to guarantee predictable energy supplies.
Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said Washington was ready to work with Europe to promote an open, commercially based and non-political energy regime.
"We need to enhance our external cooperation and create the necessary market conditions and legal framework in those producers or transit countries on which the world economies count for their energy supply," Barroso told the Brussels Forum.
"We can no longer afford, nor should we accept, the unpredictability of the energy market," he said. Moscow's abrupt cut in supplies to and through Ukraine in January over a pricing dispute sparked alarm across Europe. His comments capped a week in which Russia has threatened to divert gas supplies from Europe to Asia if EU countries shut its giant monopoly supplier Gazprom out of their retail markets.
Fried told a news conference: "We want to work with Europe to advance our common interest in an energy regime in Eurasia which is open, which is commercially based, not politically based, which is allows for multiple sources of energy, so there is no one single source in one party's hands."
Republican Senator John McCain, a possible presidential contender, said Washington should be tougher on what he called President Vladimir Putin's autocratic rule and "some perverted vision of a restoration of the Soviet empire."
"In all the days of the Soviet Union, Russia never turned off the spigot of gas. Putin did," McCain told an International Republican Institute lunch attended by Barroso.
The EU Commission president said Moscow had been a reliable energy supplier in the past and had an interest in secure demand from the EU and also in European investment, technology and know-how to get oil and gas out of the ground.
He criticized Moscow for refusing to ratify an international energy charter treaty that would force it to open its pipeline network to third-party suppliers.
Writing in the Washington Post, columnist Robert Kagan says the following about Russia's support of dictatorship throughout the world, characterizing Russia as perhaps as great a threat to liberal values as Al-Quaeda:
Ever since liberalism emerged in the 18th century, its inevitable conflict with autocracy has helped shape international politics. What James Madison called "the great struggle of the epoch between liberty and despotism" dominated much of the 19th century and most of the 20th, when liberal powers lined up against various forms of autocracy in wars both hot and cold.
Many believed this struggle ended after 1989 with the collapse of communism, the last claimant to "legitimate" autocracy, and was supplanted as the main source of global conflict by ancient religious, ethnic and cultural antipathies, a view seemingly confirmed by Sept. 11, 2001, and the rise of Islamic radicalism.
But the present era may be shaping up as, among other things, yet another round in the conflict between liberalism and autocracy. The main protagonists on the side of autocracy will not be the petty dictatorships of the Middle East theoretically targeted by the Bush doctrine. They will be the two great autocratic powers, China and Russia, which pose an old challenge not envisioned within the new "war on terror" paradigm.
If this seems surprising, it is because neither power took the course most observers predicted. In the late 1990s, despite the failures of Boris Yeltsin, Russia's political and international trajectory seemed roughly to be in a Western, liberal direction. China was, as recently as 2002, assumed to be heading toward greater political liberalization at home and greater integration with the liberal world. Sinologists and policymakers argued that whether Beijing's rulers liked it or not, this was the inescapable requirement for transforming China into a successful market economy.
Today these assumptions look questionable even to their authors. Talk of Russia's impending democratization has faded, as has talk of integration. As Dmitri Trenin recently put it, Moscow has "left the Western orbit and set out in 'free flight.' " China continues to integrate itself in the global economic order, but few observers talk about the inevitability of its political liberalization. Its economy booms even as its leadership firmly maintains one-party rule, so people now talk of a "Chinese model" in which political autocracy and economic growth go hand in hand. Russia's leaders like this model, too, though in their case, economic growth rests on seemingly limitless oil and gas reserves.
Until now the liberal West's strategy has been to try to integrate these two powers into the international liberal order, to tame them and make them safe for liberalism. But that strategy rested on an expectation of their gradual, steady transformation into liberal societies. If, instead, China and Russia are going to be sturdy pillars of autocracy over the coming decades, enduring and perhaps even prospering, then they cannot be expected to embrace the West's vision of humanity's inexorable evolution toward democracy and the end of autocratic rule. Rather, they can be expected to do what autocracies have always done: resist the encroachments of liberalism in the interest of their own long-term survival.
In small but revealing ways this is what Russia and China are doing, in places such as Sudan and Iran, where they are making common cause to block the liberal West's efforts to impose sanctions, and in Belarus, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe and Burma, where they have embraced various dictators in defiance of the global liberal consensus. All these actions can be explained away as simply serving narrow material interests. China needs Sudanese and Iranian oil; Russia wants the hundreds of millions of dollars that come from the sale of weapons and nuclear reactors. But there is more than narrow self-interest involved in their decisions. Defending these governments against the pressures of the liberal West reflects their fundamental interests as autocracies.
Those interests are easy enough to understand. Consider the question of sanctions. As China's U.N. ambassador explains, "As a general principle, we always have difficulty with sanctions, whether it is this case [Sudan] or other cases." And well they might, since they continue to suffer under sanctions imposed by the liberal world 17 years ago. China would like to get the international community out of the sanctions business altogether. So would Russia. Its opposition to sanctions against Sudan "isn't really about Sudan," notes Pavel Baev. It "is taking a line against sanctions . . . to reduce the usability of this whole instrument of the U.N. to the absolute minimum."
Nor do Russia and China welcome the liberal West's efforts to promote liberal politics around the globe, least of all in regions of strategic importance to them. Their reactions to the "color revolutions" in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan were hostile and suspicious, and understandably so. Western liberals see political upheaval in these countries as part of a natural if uneven evolution toward liberalism and democracy. But the Russians and Chinese see nothing natural in these occurrences, only Western-backed coups designed to advance Western influence in strategically vital parts of the world.
Are they so wrong? Might not the successful liberalization of Ukraine, urged and supported by the Western democracies, be but the prelude to the incorporation of that nation into NATO and the European Union -- in short, the expansion of Western liberal hegemony? As Trenin notes, the "Kremlin is getting ready for the 'battle for Ukraine' in all seriousness," and it understands, too, that the departure of Alexander Lukashenko from power in Belarus could well "push Minsk onto the Ukrainian-Euro-Atlantic path."
As usual in eras of conflict between liberalism and autocracy, perceived strategic and ideological interests tend to merge on both sides. Thus the Chinese understandably worry about preserving access to oil in the event of a confrontation with the United States. So they seek improved relations with the governments of Sudan and Angola, both out of favor with the liberal West; with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela; and with the government of Burma in exchange for access to port facilities. They are in a constant struggle for votes at the United Nations to strengthen their hand against Taiwan and Japan, so they court leaders such as Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, another autocrat loathed by the liberal West. Although European liberal interventionists such as Mark Leonard criticize China's willingness to offer "unconditional political support, economic aid and weapons to autocratic regimes that might otherwise . . . be susceptible to international pressure," one wonders why in the world the Chinese should do otherwise. Does one autocracy sacrifice its interests to join the West's condemnation of another autocracy?
An irony that Europeans should appreciate is that China and Russia are faithfully upholding one cardinal principle of the international liberal order -- insisting that all international actions be authorized by the U.N. Security Council -- in order to undermine the other principal aim of international liberalism, which is to advance the individual rights of all human beings, sometimes against the governments that oppress them. So while Americans and Europeans have labored over the past two decades to establish new liberal "norms" to permit interventions in places such as Kosovo, Rwanda and Sudan, Russia and China have used their veto power to prevent such an "evolution" of norms. The future is likely to hold more such conflicts.
The world is a complicated place and is not about to divide into a simple Manichean struggle between liberalism and autocracy. Russia and China are not natural allies. Both need access to the markets of the liberal West. And both share interests with the Western liberal powers. But as autocracies they do have important interests in common, both with each other and with other autocracies. All are under siege in an era when liberalism does seem to be expanding. No one should be surprised if, in response, an informal league of dictators has emerged, sustained and protected by Moscow and Beijing as best they can. The question will be what the United States and Europe decide to do in response. Unfortunately, al-Qaeda may not be the only challenge liberalism faces today, or even the greatest.
Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund, writes a monthly column for The Post.
Friday, April 28, 2006
The blogosphere is ablaze with stories about how Adolph Lukashenko has begun to arrest those who challenged him in the recent s0-called "election" for the presidency of Belarus, in which, of course, Russia actively supported Lukashenko's return to power. Starting with Alyaksandr Milinkevich, pictured.
One can only speculate about how long it will be before Lukashenko starts the killings. One is reminded of Russia, and the sudden killing of Galina Starovoitova just before she could gain a serious political foothold. Coopt them or kill them, that is the neo-Soviet model. Jail is just an intermediary step, a means to an end.
Here's a wonderful article from the Konnander security blog on Russia's malignant behavior at Katyn and afterwards, and action being taken by courageous Poles to get justice. This topic has already been documented below by La Russophobe. Not until Russians can face up to Katyn will there be any hope for their country.
First Kazakhstan posts a quarter-page ad in the New York Times declaring war on Russia and alliance with America, then Ukraine declares itself on track for NATO membership. Hmmm, I wonder why all those ex-Soviet slave states HATE Russia so much? I guess they are just confused like La Russophobe and the rest of the clear-thinking world. Sad thing is, all the Russians would have to do is have an Orange Revolution and Russia might lead the world. But Russians prefer their national sport: cutting off the nose to spite the face.
As RIA Novosti reports:
KIEV, April 28 (RIA Novosti) - Ukraine is ready to start implementing the first stage of NATO Action Plan this year in a bid to join the organization, the country's foreign minister said Friday.
Borys Tarasyuk said at an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, that he positively assessed Ukraine's cooperation with the organization within the framework of the intensified dialogue. Foreign ministers of NATO member countries said they supported Ukraine's intention to join the organization and the country's efforts to achieve this goal. On Thursday Mikhail Kamynin, the spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said NATO enlargement and the accession of Ukraine and Georgia to the bloc was a sensitive issue for Russia, which would need to spend considerable sums on reorienting its military capabilities.
The Washington Post reports that the U.S. economy has recorded explosive growth this quarter, up more than double from the last quarter.
As the Post reports, in the first quarter of 2006, U.S. economic growth was 4.8%, while in the last quarter of 2005 it was only 1.7%.
Now a rather ignorant person might say that Russia has more impressive ecnomic growth than America does, since Russia's rate of growth in the past few years has been between 5% and 8%.
What that person would be overlooking is the economic base of the two countries. The Russian economy is worth $1.5 trillion at most (that's only if you inflate it using phony "purchasing power" numbers) while the U.S. economy is worth at least $12 trillion.
That means that when the Russian economy posts 8% growth it is only worth $120 billion.
However, when the American economy post 4% growth, it is worth $480 billion.
In other words, half as much economic growth in America is worth four times as much money.
Now, to be sure, America has twice as many people as Russia has. So when Americans carve up their growth, each person would not get four times as much as a Russian, but rather only twice as much.
In other words, with 4% growth each American gets $1,600 while with 8% growth each Russian gets only $800. And it's only $800 for a Russian if you believe that $800 buys the same quality medical care in Russia or in America, or the same quality of whatever product you want to buy with it. If you think Russian-made products are often of lower quality than their American counterparts (think of comparing a Lada with Taurus), then the $800 must be reduced to an even smaller figure, maybe as small as $400.
And then of course there's the famous fact that Russia doesn't have a middle class. In other words, Russia never comes remotely close to equally dividing national wealth, so some Russians will get $1 million when the economy grows and most will get $0. In America, the middle class is much more viable and shares a much bigger slice of economic growth.
In other words, with 4.8% growth America is blowing Russia right out of the water.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Moscow Times columnist Georgy Bovt lays bare the tragic state of the Russian education system at every level in the following brilliant and breathtaking column. Remember, it's never to the advantage of a dictator like Putin to have a well-educated, independent, free-thinking population. The other kind is much easier to control. And if the economy suffers as a result and people are poor? Empty bellies are also much easier to control!
C Students and Dilettantes
A salesperson in a computer store couldn't help me configure my new cell phone. Since this isn't my forte and I was too lazy to figure it out myself, I left the phone with the store whizzes. When I came back in three hours I found them clustered in a group in the center of the sales room, ignoring the other customers and discussing how to set GPRS on that phone model. They didn't know how to do it. No one had trained them to deal with the electronics they were selling.
The nice young woman in the travel agency where I bought airline tickets didn't tell me that the sign for the credit card on the door meant that they would take the card -- and an additional 2 percent of the ticket cost. Nor did she mention the day before when I was in the office that someone had to go out for my tickets and I'd have to wait a half hour. And of course she didn't think to write down the time of arrival and departure terminal number. To my astonished exclamation, "But it's done as a matter of course!" she replied that she did it only if the traveler requested. It took no more than 30 seconds. Why not do it right away?
Even in Moscow's most expensive boutiques the salesperson will not always come up to you with the standard question, "How can I help you?" Here the saleswomen may look like top models, but they'll chat with each other and not pay any attention to the customers
In appliance stores the salespeople can't explain the advantages and drawbacks of various models and brands. Barmen in Sheremetyevo International Airport often can't speak a word of English -- and the same for the staff in almost all Moscow's hotels and restaurants. This list could be continued endlessly.
All these people have one thing in common: They're dilettantes.
This dilettantism is a disaster for the Russian economy. Top and middle-level managers tell you this as soon as you raise the subject. Every editor-in-chief screams about how poorly qualified most new employees are. Although they can't even write correctly in Russian (not to mention all the other necessary skills and knowledge), they start salary negotiations with figures that may be realistic in Europe or the United States, but not here. They get hired, because there's no one else, and the mass media are growing by leaps and bounds.
The retail sector, which is growing as rapidly, is also reeling from unqualified employees. Some stores try to train their staff, but it's virtually useless, since the staff knows they can get another job if their present one doesn't suit. It's the same story in the restaurant business and in the service sphere in general.
At this point someone will say: But the provinces are full of people eager to come to the city to earn money. That's utter nonsense! They won't come! They're living in squalor and don't want to do anything, even for money. A major automotive company wanted to build an assembly plant in the Pskov region. The managers went to the area and were horrified: There simply wasn't anyone to work at the factory. Most of the men were drunks. This is typical for many Russian regions.
Company directors complain that there are no qualified bookkeepers, lawyers or personnel directors. Fairy tales about "computer geniuses" who could fill two cities of Bangalore are just that -- fairy tales. These people may be talented, but they are self-taught and usually never had a systematic professional education. The country's education system fell apart -- in every sphere.
Have you ever heard of training for cashiers, salespeople, electricians, travel agents, train conductors, secretaries, plumbers or other low-level white- and blue-collar workers? Typically there's no competition for them; friends of friends or relatives without special training get hired.This dilettantism and disregard for standards of service has become the norm in the Russian economy. If you think this is only happening at the low end of the business ladder, you're wrong; it's the exact same thing at the top. Professional training and experience is nothing compared to being from St. Petersburg or political loyalty.
As a result, decisions are ill-considered and sometimes unwise; half-baked laws that don't anticipate the consequences are drafted; and ill-conceived systems are implemented on a nationwide scale.
Sometimes it seems that the country is being run at every level by C students.
Georgy Bovt is the editor of Profil . . . and a genuine Russian patriot!
The New York Times reports that Vladimir Vladimirovich has suddenly become a bosom friend of the environment . . . or has he?
President Vladimir V. Putin declared today that an oil pipeline being built across Siberia should be rerouted significantly further away from the northern shore of Lake Baikal, one of the world's natural landmarks.
The pipeline's route, coming so close to Baikal, had raised concerns that any accident in a remote, seismically active region could send oil spilling into a lake holding more than 20 percent of the world's unfrozen fresh water and an abundance of unique species of wildlife. Not only environmental groups, but also Russian scientists opposed Transneft's planned route. Mr. Putin's decision today was an unexpected reversal, one that appeared highly choreographed for state television networks.
The reversal underscored Mr. Putin's highly centralized power and his penchant for dramatic gestures. Wielding a pen in front of an oversized map of Baikal, he swept aside the decisions of several government agencies, as well as those of Transneft, which had warned that finding another route would be prohibitively expensive.
So is Mr. Putin, who presides over one of the world's most environmentally filthy countries, standing up for his own personal power or for the environment? You be the judge, dear reader:
Mr. Putin's decision came as Russia, along with Ukraine and Belarus, commemorated the 20th anniversary of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. In a sign that public protests have their limits, the authorities broke up a demonstration against nuclear energy in Moscow, briefly detaining a dozen Greenpeace activists who had chained themselves to a fence in front of St. Basil's Cathedral on Red Square.
As the Moscow Times reports, the KGB is afraid, very much so in fact:
Although satellite navigation systems are widely available, their legality remains unclear, with some industry players insisting they are legal and others calling them illegal. NavMaps negotiated permission separately for the use of the maps for BMW.
Nine years ago, the Federal Security Service detained a U.S. engineer and charged him with espionage, saying he had taken land surveys of restricted sites using illegal satellite receivers and brought the equipment into the country without disclosing it to customs inspectors. Richard Bliss had a GPS unit with him for laying out a commercial phone system in Rostov-on-Don for his employer, Qualcomm.
Almost a decade later, the law, a holdover from Soviet times, still forbids determining location to an accuracy of more than 30 meters. This means that getting into trouble for using highly accurate GPS equipment is not improbable, although it is becoming less likely as detailed maps are now available on the Internet and Russians are becoming increasingly technologically savvy.
A Western European biker, who asked that his identity be withheld, said he had to hide his GPS when he traveled through Russia recently.
"I didn't want any troubles," he said.
The Defense Ministry, keen to further develop the Global Navigation Satellite System, Russia's answer to GPS, said in March that it would ease restrictions on location determination by year's end. The industry hopes that will further boost the use of the navigation equipment in the country.
La Russophobe recently had an interesting e-mail exhange with the linguists at the Language Hat blog. Not being a linguist herself, she queried them about her post on Mark Twain, to see if her points were well made and find out how they might be improved -- and got a fascinating response.
Language Hat told La Russophobe that her post was not revelatory, as she thought, but old news, and of no interest to them. To quote Language Hat directly:
"Virtually all Russian translations are terrible in many different ways; translating is regarded in Russia as journeyman work and very poorly paid, and it's a miracle if the basic meaning is conveyed. To make a big deal out of something as relatively recondite as not reproducing bad grammar is, to my mind, straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel."
And there's more. Language Hat informed La Russophobe that her concern about possible politicization of translation may be overblown. Language Hat says that Russians mistranslate not necessarily because of anything as sensational as political bias, but simply because Russian translators are simply not willing to do the "hard work" that would be required to make such translations (i.e., the stereotype of Russia being a nation of slackers is perfectly true, it appears). What's more, according to Language Hat as quoted above, Russia is a nation of anti-literary morons, who assign their very lowest common denominator to the task of translating foreign literature. (This does make some sense, given the pathetically low wages Russia pays to teachers, doctors and policemen.) Of course, the butchery is very convenient for political purposes even if it is not intentional.
And there was poor, confused La Russophobe thinking that Russia was a nation with a great literary tradition, and a population that worshipped the written word! She thought that perhaps Russians were unaware of how they were butchering foreign literaure, and might want to do something about it. Come to find out, perhaps the whole world already knows that Russia is a nation of slack-jawed xenophobic simpletons who haven't the faintest idea about the literature of other countries. And Russians themselves may indeed be very well aware of this fact; after all, they certainly know about the ridiculously low quality of medical care, police protection and education they receive, so it stands to reason they may also know how wretchedly they butcher foreign literature. And they just don't care.
In other words, not only isn't La Russophobe not too hard on Russia, she's way, way too soft!
In future, La Russophobe promises to buck things up a bit.
Still, La Russophobe is willing to bet that there are at least one or two myopic, rabid Russophiles out there who think Russia has a grand literary tradition and translates wonderfully well. For them at least, La Russophobe remains convinced that her Twain piece will be revelatory.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
The New Russian Corporatism blog reports, based on a Vedomosti article, that Russian inflation is grossly under-reported. NRC states:
Although the official inflation figure is 10.9%, according to the specialists, the real figure in Moscow is much higher:
- The inflation for blue-collar workers (those earning less than 700USD per month) being around 23%.
- Those that earn 700-1500USD – 20%
- Those that earn more than 1500USD – 21%
The same Institute that carried out the research has commented that the official figure is only accurate for those that earn the average salary of 8800 Rubles (320USD) and does not reflect those that earn much more than that. Rosstat does not disagree with the above analysis.
Also in the period from March 2005 to March 2006, property prices in Moscow have risen by 50% and petrol by 20%.Salaries have risen by 12% USD or 15% in national currency.
Batton down your hatches, boys and girls. Russia asked for it, so here comes Cold War II, the one Russia won't surivive. As the Washington Post reports:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Greece and Turkey Tuesday against allowing Russia to obtain a monopoly over Europe's supply of natural gas, implicitly bolstering a planned pipeline from Azerbaijan that would weaken Russia's tight grip over European energy supply.
"It's quite clear that one of the concerns is that there could be a monopoly of supply from one source only, from Russia," Rice told reporters in Athens after meeting with Greek Foreign Minister Theodora Bakoyannis.
Rice waded into the fierce battle over the increasing dominance of Russia's state-owned energy giant Gazprom--which recently sought a stake in a Greek-Turkish pipeline -- even as she sought to build support in Greece and Turkey for sanctions against Iran. S
The high-stakes battle over European energy has been largely hidden from public view but it has emerged as a significant policy issue for top U.S. and European officials since Russia earlier this year briefly shut off Ukraine's supply of natural gas in a pricing dispute.
Russia's gambit -- which only seemed to embolden the Russian government after Ukraine acquiesced to higher prices -- alarmed European governments and set off a scramble, backed by Washington, to seek new sources of gas. Russian officials, in turn, have privately complained about the aggressive tactics of American diplomats to sell the Azerbaijan route.
"There is going to be a very strong emphasis for all of us on energy security," Rice said. "It's quite obvious that when you have the kind of demand growing around the world with big economic powers growing -- developing powers in places like China and India, that it is going to be critical to have energy security."
Russia is the world's largest gas supplier and dominates many European markets. It supplies 100 percent of the gas to countries such as Finland, Slovakia and other Eastern European countries, 44 percent to Germany and one-quarter of the gas to Italy and France, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Gazprom has sought an interest in the Greek-Turkish pipeline, either as a shareholder or a supplier. While the United States has promoted the Greek-Turkish project as an way to reduce tensions between two long-term antagonists, U.S. officials now want the project to hook up to the Azerbaijan route, which is due to begin supplying gas in 2007.
Gazprom Deputy Chairman Alexander Medvedev warned Tuesday that Gazprom may direct future gas supplies to China and emerging Asian economies should European leaders turn to competing suppliers. "There is no real alternative to Russian gas," he told Bloomberg News. "If there is a political decision made to cut dependence on Russian gas, we won't sit and wait while the mood changes."
The New York Times reports that Russia and China are opposing a broad coalition of nations seeking UN action to prevent human rights atrocities in Sudan.
Once again, Russia has chosen to ally itself with the Chinese against Europe and the United States. Is Russia hoping to appease China, the way Stalin tried to appease Hitler in World War II, in the hopes that China will not gobble up Siberia quite so fast as Hitler gobbled up Russia?
Or is it that Russia simply doesn't care about human rights, and is consumed with jealous hatred of the United States, looking for any chance to express its vitriol?
The vote will go ahead anyway, and Russia and China, the new axis of evil, will lose. But Russia will never be China's partner, it has nothing to offer China in the long term, China will simply take what it wants from Russia, namely territory.
As the St. Petersburg Times reports from the AP wire, Vladimir Vladimirovich has been forced to discuss Russia's burgeoning AIDS disaster, but the trained KGB liar still won't face the music:
President Vladimir Putin called on the government and society on Friday to work harder to fight the spread of HIV, saying that AIDS was affecting young Russians at a pace that threatened the nation’s well-being.
Putin told federal and regional officials that experts believed the true number of people with HIV might be significantly higher than the official figure of more than 342,000, and that most of those with the virus were under 30.
“This already could have a negative influence on the demographic situation, and that is particularly worrisome,” Putin said. “The situation is alarming and demands not a contemplative but an active attitude from society.”
Check out this whopper:
Putin said a five-year anti-HIV/AIDS program that ends this year had cut the number of new HIV cases from 88,000 in 2001 to 33,000 last year. He said the government planned to spend 3.1 billion rubles ($113 million) on fighting AIDS under the aegis of the health care national project, but the time period for the outlays was unclear.
The facts belie Putin's claim of genuine interest in solving the problem:
Putin spoke a day after the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, criticized Western-funded programs aimed at combating HIV and AIDS in a letter to the president, calling them immoral and inconsistent with Russian culture and saying they promote Western pharmaceutical companies’ contraceptives.
Also last week, the Moscow City Duma urged Putin to restrict the activity of foreign NGOs involved in anti-AIDS programs, accusing them of fueling rather than helping to stem the epidemic.
Putin’s figure for Russians registered as HIV-positive was slightly lower than the statistic of 355,000 given a day earlier by the head of the Federal AIDS Center, Vadim Pokrovsky. Experts believe the true number is more than 1 million.
So Russia is understating its AIDS infection rate by a factor of three, making it rather hard to believe Putin's claims about success in the reduction of new cases, especially when he's in the middle of an Orthodox-led pogrom against NGOs who are trying to deal with the problem.
The Moscow Times reports that Russians show "apathy" towards the plight of the many Chernobyl workers, some pictured, who suffered horrible injuries attempting to close off the reactors during the meltdown. The MT states:
"The liquidators, as the firefighters, engineers, scientists, medics and military personnel who mopped up the disaster were known, shouldn't be struggling to make ends meet, let alone buy medication -- in theory. Last year, the government eliminated 10 of the original 25 benefits for liquidators. The end of free health care, in particular, outraged recipients, prompting protests across the country. Now, liquidators must go to court routinely to get their monthly payments adjusted so that they keep up with inflation. While there are laws dictating that liquidators are entitled to cost-of-living adjustments, the Federal Employment Service does not increase compensation payments until ordered to do so by a court, liquidators said."
The MT continues with the sad story of Dr. Shashkov, classic example of Russian cruelty:
Nuclear physicist Alexei Shashkov nearly went blind, suffered multiple heart attacks, developed a gastric ulcer and, last year, lost his hearing in one ear.
Still, he considers himself lucky. Unlike most who worked with him at Chernobyl in the late 1980s, he's still alive.
As the 20th anniversary of the April 26, 1986, explosion at Chernobyl's reactor No. 4 nears, there are about 3,000 seriously disabled workers like Shashkov, 60, living, or slowly dying, in Moscow, city authorities say. They add that there may be as many as 25,000 Chernobyl workers with varying levels of disabilities in the city.
Several advocates for survivors say 30,000 Chernobyltsy -- an all-encompassing term that includes cleanup workers, widows, evacuees, orphans and others -- live in Moscow.
Many, if not most, have suffered the same indignities Shashkov has suffered, if not worse: delayed government payment, legal wrangling with authorities and the bitterness that comes from, they say, being forgotten for cleaning up the planet's most contaminated 30 square kilometers, the size of the exclusion zone.
Now, liquidators must go to court routinely to get their monthly payments adjusted so that they keep up with inflation. While there are laws dictating that liquidators are entitled to cost-of-living adjustments, the Federal Employment Service does not increase compensation payments until ordered to do so by a court, liquidators said.
Shashkov, for one, was forced to sue in 2002 for higher monthly payments, which had not increased since 2000. A district court in Moscow ruled in his favor, and his monthly payments went up from about 9,000 rubles; he declined to say by how much, fearing that people would think liquidators get too much.
Shashkov, who was let go from his job at the Kurchatov Institute, Russia's leading nuclear research center, in 1999 after he became too sick to work, spends every day thinking about the disaster and fighting governmental apathy to it.
He also has to worry about his own health. In 1990, Shashkov suffered his first heart attack, although at the time doctors misdiagnosed it. In 1991, on the fifth anniversary of the disaster, he had his second heart attack; he spent the next six months in the hospital. Five months after being released, he had his third heart attack.
Reminiscing about his health before Chernobyl, Shashkov said: "I never knew I even had a heart."
Today, the physicist spends 8,000 to 10,000 rubles every month on prescription drugs. He said he had buried most of the people he worked with at Chernobyl. When he goes to doctors, he tells them to save time and write down all the ailments he does not have.
Liquidators tend not to criticize the Soviets who built Chernobyl and ultimately mismanaged it. They reserve their bile for former President Boris Yeltsin, whose government initiated the compensation cutbacks, and for the current administration. Liquidators often say they are confused about why the government's stabilization fund, swollen with oil revenues, cannot be tapped to take care of Chernobyl survivors.
Shashkov, a usually genial man, bristled when the conversation turned to politics, calling President Vladimir Putin, Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin greedy and myopic. "They have no concept of motherland," he said. "They've taken this great country and turned it into a mess. They've killed science. They've killed health care. They've killed education."
When America invaded Serbia, Russians rushed to the street to protest. But when Russia invades the Chernobyl heroes? Russians stand mute, just as they do in the face of rabid racist violence directed at foreign students, as repeatedly documented in this blog. Russiablog has published four stories on race violence in the past year, and not one has been commented upon with sympathy, concern or activism by a Russian.
So goes Russia.
Sometimes, La Russophobe likes to venture out into the blogosphere and check out what is happening there. Here is the story of one such trip.
A while ago, I posted a comment about an article on Russian cakes on Russiablog. I said the cake pictured in the article was topped with powdered sugar and I found that ironic, since many times I'd tried to buy powdered sugar in Russia and couldn't do it, and when I could get it was rather brittle and unpleasant to eat in the raw form. Most Russian cakes of this kind, I wrote, were topped with liquified sugar rather than raw powdered sugar. I wrote a comment to the editors of Russiablog and told them about my observations. One of them responded by saying he stopped reading my post as soon as he saw my comment about powdered sugar since he knew this to be inaccurate, saying it was easy to buy powdered sugar in Russian which was plentiful. So I wrote back and asked them where they'd been able to do it.
Suddenly, Yuri Mamchur and Charles Ganske, editors of Russsiablog, got quiet. No answers. Neither one would name a single Russian city outside Moscow where they'd been able to buy powdered sugar (La Russophobe has lived in many such cities and visited dozens more). I followed up like the pit bull La Russophobe is known to be.
Finally, Ganske told me that he'd just been blindly relying on what Mamchur had told him, since he (Ganske) had never been to Russia (La Russophobe has spent years living in Russia). Unfortunately, Ganske didn't say that in his statement, he just said I was wrong. I asked him why Yuri hadn't responded and he said didn't know and he didn't feel like questioning him about a "mundane" matter like powdered sugar because he was "away." Not "away" enough to stop posting on Russiablog, mind you, but "away" enough to ignore this issue. Ironically, a photograph in the Russiablog article shows a whole table of these cakes, and none are topped with powdered sugar.
Now, La Russophobe is as liberated as the next feminist, but La Russophobe wasn't born yesterday. She knows that Russian men like Yuri don't go around baking much, so it's highly suspicious that they'd have the slightest real idea about powdered sugar. La Russophobe is a foodie, though, and through bitter personal experience she's found it quite difficult to get powdered sugar in Russia (as well as many other things - try to find broccoli or peanut butter in Smolensk, I dare you!), and when she finds it its always powdered beet sugar, quite different from (and inferior to) the cane variety. So she's got a double interest in finding out whether Yuri is just shooting his mouth off.
Which, by the way, Yuri does quite often. For example, Yuri wrote on Russiablog (no kidding!) that "95% of the people" standing in line to file past the tomb of Lenin in Moscow are Americans. He said that I'd written "millions" of comments on Russiablog. Being a composer, Yuri is the emotional type, and being Russian, isn't overly concerned with small things like facts when a good feeling is there to be had.
Oh, and I might add: Russiablog published not one but two of the posts from this blog (Sharapova and Yanukovich) and La Russophobe was responsible for at least half the comment traffic generated on their site. Here is what Yuri wrote in a post that appeared just after La Russophobe's two articles appeared on their site: "We are delighted to see the increased traffic and comments on Russia Blog." So this little exchange might be considered cutting of your nose to spite your face, since now La Russophobe has lost interest in Russiablog. Eerily like Russia itself, isn't it? In fact, it's almost poetic.
Meanwhile, another dialogue was proceeding between me an the editors. Strident Russian nationalist Mike Averko posted something on Russiablog claiming that the average Russian lifespan had increased at a greater rate under President Putin than the American lifespan had increased in the same period. Once again, La Russophobe's interest was peaked. Is this really true, she thought? After all, La Russophobe is as familiar with the demographic data on Russia as anybody, and she knows full well that Russia's population is rapidly declining, in part due to a very short adult lifespan, especially for men, and that by 2050 demographers predict that Russia's population will be 1/3 less than it is today.
So I asked Mike to document his claim (yes, that's right, when he posted it he relied purely on his own word, no evidence of any kind). No dice. Nada. Mike got as quiet as Mikhail Khodorkovsky in solitary in Siberia.
Now, don't get me wrong, I feel for Mike. There he was with his own private little preserve at Russiablog, pretending to be some kind of expert before Russiablog's tiny little audience, holding forth with all kinds of ridiculous Russophile propaganda. Then I come along and spoil it all for him. It's annoying, I feel his pain.
But after all, facts are facts. Is what Mike said true, or isn't it? La Russophobe is as interested as the next person in broadening her horizons and learning from somebody who knows more. So I asked the editors to document the claim, or insist that Mike do so. Their answer: Nothing. Nada. Silence. Again, La Russophobe would not give up. Finally, Ganske told me that it's "not his job" to fact check the assertions that get put on Russiablog, not even when they are challenged. Not that he agrees with what Mike wrote, mind you, he said. It's just that facts are not at the top of his list of things to do. In other words, Russiablog isn't exactly the New York Times. So naturally, it isn't exactly La Russophobe's cup of tea.
For her part, La Russophobe always responds immediately to reports of errors. For example, a Russiablog reader pointed out that she'd got it wrong when she said Sharapova had played Venus Williams at Wimbledon. In fact it was Serena Williams; a correction immediately went up on the Russiblog article, and La Russophobe apologized for the error and thanked the commenter who'd pointed it out. But Mike? Just got quiet.
Mike also wrote a post which accused Johnson's Russia List, probably the single most well-respected blog source of Russia information in the world today (it is a linked blog on the New York Times Russia page), of "cronyism and political bias" simply because it refuses to publish HIS articles. He also wrote: "JRL regulars aren't my intellectual superiors." Indeed.
So La Russophobe had to rethink her participation in Russiablog and has removed her link to the blog from her list of links. She got a little taste of how Solzhenitisn felt when all of Russia ganged up on him and tossed him out of the country, calling him a traitor and a moron and a foreign spy when all he'd said was (in rather sharp language) that the USSR sucked and would soon destroy Russia. In other words, he spoke the truth. Turned out he was kinda (well, totally) right, but people who talk like that in Russia pay a stiff price for their truth.
And so it goes in the blogosphere.
Monday, April 24, 2006
As the Moscow Times reports:
More than 1.5 million Russians live in areas contaminated with radiation from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the country's chief health official said Monday.
Speaking at a news conference two days before the 20th anniversary of the disaster, Gennady Onishchenko, head of the Federal Consumer Protection Service, said many in these areas ate local meat, dairy products and fruit and vegetables, despite doctors' warnings.
In Bryansk, the most country's most contaminated region, health official have recorded 122 cases in the past 20 years of thyroid cancer among children.
All those cases are considered directly related to Chernobyl. The number is likely to grow if those residing in affected areas continue to ignore health warnings, Onishchenko told reporters.
"Our main health concern is that many people seem to ignore, to put it mildly, our recommendations not to ... consume produce that they grow without taking proper precautions," Onishchenko said.
You may know, dear reader, that the inaugral post on this blog appeared on April 2nd of this month, 26 days ago. In other words, this blog has not even celebrated its one month birthday yet.
You may also know that the first post gave fair warning that maniacal commenters would get the just desserts.
Nevertheless, La Russophobe received the following comment from someone who calls themself "AT" when the blog was barely two weeks old:
Does it bother you how much you post and how few (as in none) comments you get? Either you block them all, or nobody cares. Which is worse?
Interestingly, "AT" has been a member of blogspot since January, and has only 12 profile views, while La Russophobe, who has been a member for less than one-sixth as long, has 96 views. But "AT" didn't care to mention that fact.
AT also doesn't say whether he/she has her/his own blog, and if so how many comments it received in its first few weeks.
Interestingly, too, "AT" ignores, as just one example, the dozens upon dozens of comments La Russophobe has received on other more established websites such as Russiablog.
Most interestingly of all, "AT" ignore the fact that THIS WEBSITE WAS ONLY TWO WEEKS OLD when "AT" made her "comment," and the first round of comments, including AT's own, had yet to be reviewed and published. Amazing as it may seem, La Russophobe has one or two more important things to do than review comments, but she always gets around to them. Now, a number of comments are available for all to see.
In other words, "AT" is a classic Russophile. When confronted with facts that make him/her (and/or Rusisa) look foolish, he/she reponds with personal abuse and hatred, similar to that displayed often by the Russophiles who go around murdering dark-skinned stuents of the "wrong color" throughout Russia. It's just the tactic the KGB always used to use, President Putin knows it very well. What's more, they typically invent and pervert their own set of facts, such as implying that blog not even one month old should be full of comments. In other words, they're quite insane.
"AT" goes on to write:
Goodness gracious... This one is even worse, if that's possible. Than the Sharapova post, that is. Why the sudden interest in tennis, Kim? Who are you? What is your deal with Russia, Russian women and Russian female tennis players?Do you really have to know why? Because she is young, and beautiful, and naive, and innocent, and a brat - everything a girl - a woman - a Russian woman - should be.You sound more and more like a petty, uninformed, jealous russophobe - admittedly even. People have called you an angry feminist, but I have too much respect for feminism to believe you are one.Seriously, what is your deal? Did a Russian man abuse you? A Russian woman steal your husband?
By "this one" little miss/mister "AT" means the post about Anastasia Myskina.
Now how is this comment bogus? Let me count the ways:
1. La Russophobe's interst in tennis is not sudden. She has been a fan since she was a child and played competitive tennis in college.
2. Shouldn't a Russian woman be one thing more: A resident of Russia, rather than Florida? And does she really HAVE to sell her body to Americans in order to be Russian? Can't she be satisfied with millions of dollars in endorsement deals, keeping it all for herself and giving none of it back to her impoverished brothers and sisters in Siberia?
3. Which post makes the writer seem more "petty, uninformed, jealous" -- mine or AT's?
4. AT asks who I am. Does he/she tell us who he/she is? Hmmm . . . or is she/he one of the world's great Russophile hypocrites?
5. Why does AT resort to crude personal abuse in the manner of a Russian neo-Nazi? Could it be that he/she is uncomfortable with facts?
6. Does this wacko really believe that the only way a person could think negative thoughts about Russia, a nation ruled over by a proud KGB spy who has abolished elections in local government and brought back the Stalin anthem, is if their Russian lover kicked them to curb? If so, wow, that's REALLY a space cadet.
In closing, let me say that this moron is a classic example of just why Russia is disappearing from the face of the earth. Every year its population gets smaller, while knuckleheads like this go on preening and saying how wonderful Russia is and how just plain evil anyone who dares to criticize it is. In other words, such people are Soviets in Russian clothing in the Neo-Soviet Union. They'll go on blabbering this hate-filled, dishonest garbage until Russia literally ceases to exist.
The New York Times reports on the conslidation of industry in Russia, Neo-Soviet Socialism:
Mr. Putin's Kremlin . . . is not renationalizing industries sold off in the 1990's as much as redistributing the assets to a new group of tycoons, enriching favored investors and even, critics say, members of his own administration, while ensuring that the Kremlin itself has influence over the most important parts of Russia's economy.
The Kremlin uses Gazprom as the driving force:
Gazprom is not just a lucrative state-owned monopoly, but also a powerful instrument of Kremlin policy at home and abroad. It has undertaken an array of projects that have little to do with its stated corporate interests, but much to do with politics — from bidding for the Olympics to buying up independent media, from sustaining unprofitable farms to subsidizing Russian industries with cheap energy. It has also been at the center of Russia's foreign policy, used as a cudgel in recent disputes over gas prices with Ukraine and other neighbors. Its chief executive, Aleksei B. Miller, recently warned Europe not to block its further expansion into European markets, lest it decide to sell its natural gas elsewhere.
Welcome to the Neo-Soviet Union!
"Instead of properly regulating the economy, the state owns the economy," said Aleksandr Y. Lebedev, a billionaire whose own investments, he said, are now under pressure from the state. Andrei N. Illarionov, a former economic adviser to Mr. Putin who has become an increasingly outspoken critic since being dismissed last December, called Russia's economy today a form of "corporate state." He described a coterie of highly placed officials who control big business through their government posts, using those posts to make not just policy, but profit. Some have dual hats: Gazprom's chairman is Dmitri A. Medvedev, the former Kremlin chief of staff, the current first deputy prime minister and a man widely viewed as a possible successor to Mr. Putin. "They look not like state business," he said of Gazprom's projects and those of other state-controlled companies, "but the business part of the state."
The Moscow Times reports that the Russian Duma has just voted to abolish various exemption categories from the draft. More proof of how serious President Putin is about creating a volunteer army!
The State Duma gave preliminary approval Friday to four bills aimed at boosting conscription by, among other things, canceling nine of the existing 25 draft exemptions and requiring university students to serve in the military after graduation.
The legislation would also cut the length of compulsory service from two years to one year, starting in 2008.
Presenting the legislation, Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov told deputies that the exemptions his ministry would like to see abolished were adopted in the mid-1990s and were now obsolete. "These are different times now," he was quoted by Interfax as saying before the bills were put up for a vote.
Each bill was passed in a first reading with more than 350 out of a possible 450 votes. The bills must still be passed in a second and third reading.
The people pictured are protesting the draft. The big sign reads: "SOLDIER: It's a profession, not a punishment." Yet how many of them are there, compared to the number that would protest a draft in the U.S.? And why does Russia need conscription? To subdue tiny Chechnya? Or does Russia think it has bigger fish to fry. Ukraine maybe?
The Moscow Times reports that Belgium has easily dispatched Russia in the quarter finals of the Fed Cup:
LIEGE, Belgium -- French Open champion Justine Henin-Hardenne won her second Fed Cup match in as many days Sunday, beating Yelena Dementyeva 6-2, 6-0 to give Belgium an insurmountable 3-1 lead over double defending champion Russia.
The victory moved Belgium into the semifinals in July, when it will host the United States. The Americans beat Germany on Sunday.
Earlier in the day, U.S. Open Champion Kim Clijsters swept past Maria Kirilenko 6-1, 6-4 to move Belgium in front for the first time. Henin-Hardenne, ranked fourth in the world, showed her love of playing on clay and never gave Dementyeva a hope with a performance that delighted the sellout crowd of 5,000 at the Country Hall.
Despite the concluding doubles having no impact on the final result, Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters would still play the match together to prove there was no bad blood between them.
"It was great with the whole team together. There is a great atmosphere," said Henin-Hardenne.
Dementyeva dominated Clijsters on Saturday with a straight-sets win, giving the Russians hope of staying on track for a Fed Cup triple.
But Henin-Hardenne outlasted world No. 5 Nadia Petrova 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-3 Saturday to put Belgium back in the tie and then overwhelmed Fed Cup specialist Dementyeva in just over an hour with a flurry of winners.Tiny Belgium has now crushed Russia three times in a row in their Fed Cup meetings. Here endeth the supposed coming "dominance" of Russian women in tennis, rumors of which started in Russophile ears in 2004 when Russians won three of four slams. It's been straight down hill since then, as with most things sporty where Russia is concerned (see below La Russophobe notes that Russia was a total disaster at the Calgary World Figure Skating event earlier this year).
The Moscow Times reports on yet another killing of a dark-skinned student by Russian racists:
An Armenian teenager standing on a crowded metro platform in the heart of the city was stabbed to death Saturday by an unknown attacker.
The slaying of Vagan Abramyants, 17, took place around 5 p.m. at the Pushkinskaya metro station as the boy was en route to an Orthodox Easter party.
A train heading to Vykhino entered the station, and seven young men got off. Abramyants, who was with 11 acquaintances, was unexpectedly attacked.
Interfax, citing police reports, reported that one of the men stabbed Abramyants in the chest and that all of them fled on the departing train. Abramyants died on the spot.
Witnesses said the attackers had shaved heads, black clothes and boots, police said.
Abramyants' death was the latest in a string of attacks across Russia on dark-skinned people from the Caucasus, Asia, Africa and elsewhere.
Two weeks ago, a Senegalese student was shot dead with a gun with a swastika on it. A young man shouting "Heil Hitler" stormed into a central Moscow synagogue earlier this year, stabbing worshipers.
After the attack on Abramyants, dozens of police officers formed a semicircle around the body, which lay sprawled in the central corridor of the metro station, as shoppers, kids and couples streamed past.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
Reporting on the upcoming visit of President Ilham H. Aliyev of Azerbaijan, the New York Times states: "Aliyev's government maintains a distinctly Soviet-era state television network and has elevated Heydar Aliyev to the status of a minor personality cult figure. "
But we can say the same thing about the Putin regime in Russia. Putin still controls the television stations and the main one, RTR, is government-owned and operated. And nobody can dispute that Putin has been raised to a "minor personality cult figure" in Russia, even being the subject of a pop song singing his praises.
Throughout the Cold War, the New York Times always criticized the right-wing of American politics for provoking Russia. It always said that deep down inside Russians were fundmantally benign democrats, and it always admired their socialist state's left-wing social policies. So, of course, the Times must have been rather suprised and disappointed when Russians freely elected a proud KGB spy as their second president, a spy who proceeded to crush the independent media, abolish the election of governors, prosecute a bloody war against tiny Chechnya and rehabilitate the Soviet anthem written to glorify dictator Josef Stalin (all after coming to power in obviously rigged elections)
But the Times found itself in a quandry. Because to condemn all this activity would mean admitting that the Times was wrong during the Cold War, that if America had followed its advice doom would have resulted. So the Times chooses to minimize bad news coming from Putin's Russia and to argue that Putin is a necessary transitional figure while Russia moves towards real democracy. But it has no hesitation in attacking other countries for the same faults Russia has, and this article is a perfect example of that
Aliyev's visit also points up further alienation by Russia of the former Soviet slave states. As the Times states: "Mr. Aliyev is a secular Muslim politician who is steering oil and gas to Western markets and who has given political and military support to the Iraq war. "
Russian bombers flew undetected across Arctic - AF commander
Russian bombers flew undetected across Arctic - AF commander
MOSCOW, April 22 (RIA Novosti) - Russian military planes flew undetected through the U.S. zone of the Arctic Ocean to Canada during recent military exercises, a senior Air Force commander said Saturday.
The commander of the country's long-range strategic bombers, Lieutenant General Igor Khvorov, said the U.S. Air Force is now investigating why its military was unable to detect the Russian bombers.
"They were unable to detect the planes either with radars or visually," he said.
Khorov said that during the military exercises in April, Tu-160 Blackjack bombers and Tu-95 Bears had successfully carried out four missile launches. Bombing exercises were held using Tu-22 Blinders.
By the end of the year, two more Tu-160s will be commissioned for the long-range strategic bomber fleet, Khorov said.
Both new planes will incorporate numerous upgrades from the initial Soviet models, the commander said. The bombers will be able to launch both cruise missiles and aviation bombs, and communicate via satellite.If America secretly flew bombers through recognized Russian air space, wouldn't Russians be up in arms about provocation? Is Russian even capable these days of deciding whether such actions as this are in its interest, or is it just giving vent to dormant hatred of the West at the first opportunity (i.e., the rising world oil prices). Is Russia really prepared to live with the consequences of actions like these? Right now George Bush is the president of the USA and Putin's pal, but Bush will soon be gone. What happens if a liberal democrat concerned with human rights gets elected, or worse still from Rusisa's perspective someone like John McCain? Can Russia possibly surivive Cold War II?
Friday, April 21, 2006
The Moscow Times reports that last year the gross Russian box office take was a puny $350 million. That means the average Russian spends $2.40 going to the movies each year. The Times reports that this is expected to soar to a breathtaking $415 million this year, or $2.86 per person.
So much for Russia's economic revitalization! Russians still can't even afford to go see a movie, and in fact very few worthy movie theaters have even been built in Russia outside of Moscow.
According to the Times, Disney is looking to enter the picture and teach Russians how to draw cartoons. The Times reports:
Last month, Disney signaled that it had begun scoping out Russia for future filmmaking.
The Hollywood studio plans to "seek out local stories and local talent … that combine the Walt Disney Studios' storytelling abilities with Russia's rich history and culture," said Carol Nicolau, a spokeswoman for Disney's marketing and distribution arm, Buena Vista International.
Interestingly, Buena Vista's distributor in Russia is Cascade, the same firm that works for Solnechny Dom.
Nicolau added: "These stories would be developed for both the Disney and Touchstone banners and could take the form of either live action or animation."
To this end, Disney has hired Marina Zhigalova-Ozkan to oversee its strategic planning in Russia. Zhigalova-Ozkan, formerly first deputy director at Prof-Media, started as managing director for Disney on April 1.
Sergei Lavrov, a box-office analyst with Russian Film Business Today, an industry magazine, said that cartoons took more time to pay off for investors but in the long run delivered solid revenues.
"You get a new audience every six or seven years," Lehtosaari explained. "Disney is still releasing Pinocchio and Cinderella." Plus, he said, "animated characters don't want a raise and are never involved in sex scandals."
A few Russian studios are working on 10 or so animated, feature-length films, Dobrunov said.
Alexander Semyonov, editor of Russian Film Business Today, was skeptical of the industry's prospects, saying that until Russians embraced computer-generated animation, they would not be on Hollywood's radar screen.
But that may come sooner than expected. In August, London-based United International Pictures plans to release Russia's first homegrown computer-animated film, Krakatuk, a modern version of the Nutcracker, said Yevgeny Beginin, head of UIP Russia.
Beginin is also trying to develop ties with another local studio working with computer-generated animation and has recently sent samples of its work to DreamWorks.
Dobrunov is also optimistic. He hopes to move from his current studio, in a tool factory in northern Moscow that boasts a statue of Lenin in front, to a state-of-the-art facility. And he'd like to build a theme park like Disneyland.
For now, he's focused on a sequel to "Prince Vladimir". The new film follows the exploits of the prince, famous for bringing Christianity to the Slavs in the 10th century.
If you had to choose one sentence from all of English-language literature which made the most shocking impression upon the reader when it was printed, and which still delivers a measurable jolt even after influencing generations of American writers, a sentence which created at one stroke an “immortal vernacular” that changed English-language literature forever, it would undoubtedly be:
“You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter.”
As almost any English speaker could tell you, that is the opening line of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (pen name of Samuel Clemens). The sentence contains not one but three crude errors of grammar, the likes of which had never been seen in print before. “Without” should (must) be “unless” and “ain’t no” has both forbidden slang and a forbidden double negative – it should (must!) be “does not” or “doesn’t.”
Now let’s look at this sentence in the published Russian translation:
“Вы про меня ничего не знаете, если не читали книжки под названием Приключения Тома Сойера, но это не бедa.”
There are not three but zero crude errors of grammar in this translation. The word “about” has been translated “про,” which is informal Russian but perfectly correct, like using “doesn’t” instead of “does not.” The phrase “ain’t no matter” has been translated “не беда” (no big deal), exactly the same phenomenon as with the first, merely informal but not incorrect.
That’s right: In Russian, Huckleberry Finn doesn’t make grammar mistakes.
Incidentally, the Russian paragraph also contains a more pedestrian error: "You don't know" has been translated as "Вы ничего не знаете." This actually contains two errors of translation. First, the word "Вы" in Russian is only used when speaking formally or talking to more than one person. But any English reader knows that Huck Finn never speaks formally, and knows that in the opening sentence he is clearly talking only to the individual reader who holds the book in his hands, that's part of the point of the book. Clearly, the informal/singular "Tы" would have been the proper choice. Plus, the translator has added the word "ничего" which means "nothing" in Russian, changing the sentence from "you don't know about me" to "you don't know anything about me" or "you know nothing about me." In fact, the reader very easily could have heard something about Huck Finn without reading Tom Sawyer, and simply not know the really important information Huck was about to reveal. Huck knew that.
If Russians rely in forming their impressions about foriegners on the statements of their translators, could at least some of their xenophobia be based on mistakes? You bet. Do they care? It doesn't seem so. Butchering translation fits perfectly with xenophobia.
But back to the main point: In the first paragraph of Twain’s text, there are 10 ghastly grammar errors among 106 words; in other words, nearly 10% of the text is error. In the Russian translation, there are no errors of that kind. The Russian text contains only some informal or colloquial language, which Twain’s paragraph has plenty of too (for example, he uses the word “stretcher” repeatedly to mean “fib” or “white lie” and he uses highly informal word order and sentence structure).
Let’s put the two paragraphs side by side and compare them:
You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly-Tom's Aunt Polly, she is-and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I saidRussians find it impossible to put Twain’s language properly (that is, improperly) into print for the same reason that Twain’s publishers fought him tooth and nail about doing so: their idea is that the printed word is holy, and grammar errors can’t be intentionally printed.
Вы про меня ничего не знаете, если не читали книжки под названием "Приключения Тома Сойера", но это не беда. Эту книжку написал мистер Марк Твен и, в общем, не очень наврал. Кое-что он присочинил, но, в общем, не так уж наврал. Это ничего, я еще не видел таких людей, чтобы совсем не врали, кроме тети Полли и вдовы, да разве еще Мэри. Про тетю Полли, - это Тому Сойеру она тетя, - про Мэри и про вдову Дуглас рассказывается в этой самой книжке, и там почти все правда, только кое-где приврано, - я уже про это говорил.
This idea meshes nicely with the Soviet (and neo-Soviet) dictatorship. Twain once famously exclaimed: “It’s a man with very little imagination who can only spell a word one way.” And indeed, when a man is free to speak as he likes, breaking any rules he likes whenever he feels like doing so, he may well be difficult to govern. Can you imagine Josef Stalin giving orders to Huckleberry Finn? How about to a little boy (or girl) who grew up reading the real Huckleberry? How about tens of thousands of such little boys (and girls). Is it just an accident that America has never has a Stalin, while Russia has had many of them?
So Huckleberry Finn wasn’t allowed into the Soviet Union, and he hasn’t been allowed into the Neo-Soviet Union either. Only his poor relation Harry Finster – which is like making Raskolnikov into a Little Rascal – ever saw Red Square.
Even today, a Russian would be likely to assert that “ain’t no matter” can’t be translated into Russian, so not doing so is perfectly logical. This is that depressing residue of totalitarianism: Of course it can be translated! Especially by a nation of brilliant writers like Russia has. Of course, Russians make ghastly errors of grammar! Russian has plenty of hard slang, and a variant of “ain’t” could be found. And where English bans a double negative, Russian demands it; so the Russian translator could simply omit the double negative and create an equally shocking error.
But to put it in print would mean admitting it exists, admitting Russia has a flaw, and admitting that it’s OK to break rules sometimes, that the sky won’t fall. And Russia finds that very hard to do. The denial that Finn could be translated properly (that is, improperly) puts the author of these words to mind of the old Phil Donohue show. In one episode, produced with Vladimir Posner, groups of Russians and Americans engaged in trans-Atlantic jabber over common problems. At one point, defending her country from a question about whether it had venereal disease, a frustrated young Russian girl declared boldly: “RUSSIANS DON’T HAVE SEX!!”
Just think of the possibilities! The Russian translator could plumb the depths of ignorant Russian speech, starting with Mikhail Gorbechev and working his way down, until he found a little Russian boy who doesn’t know conjugation of nouns from a hole in the ground, and just quote him. Just like Mark Twain did in America. Why, doing so might even bring the two countries closer together, might even make war (cold or hot) less likely. Or the translator might go out on his own and invent something. To take a simple example: Instead of “если не” ("if you haven't") he might use the preposition “без” ("without"). It would strike the Russian reader as really weird at first, disorienting, but thinking about it, they’d figure it out. After all, if Russians understood “Гекльберри” they could certainly master “без” in a strange an unexpected place. In other words, it would be just like it is for the English reader of Finn’s immortal vernacular. That’s just one idea, there are hundreds of other possibilities to be considered.
But doing any of them would mean freedom. Thinking in new ways. Challenging authority. And as we know, that just can’t be allowed in Russia. Ironically, Russians think that doing so would make their country weak, when if fact it’s NOT doing so that has given Russia a declining population and a third-rate economy addicted to crude oil like a heroin fiend.
You might very well be asking yourself at this point: Well, if they’re going to look at it that way, what’s the point of translating Finn at all? Good question, I doubt anybody knows for sure. But I have a theory. You see, stripped of its immortal vernacular, Finn is a very ordinary book, hardly worthy of being called literature. Reading it without the vernacular, the Russian would be likely to say (and they do): “THIS is one of the most famous and well-respected volumes of American literature? Egad, it’s a nation of cretins!” Particularly a Russian well-versed in Russian classics from Tolstoy, Chekov and Dostoevsky would be likely to react this way, and at least until recently most Russians did get pretty well versed in school. My hypothesis is bolstered by the crude, childish illustrations on the covers of various volumes published in Russian, which stand in stark contast to the American verision pictured above.
And such a reaction, of course, that Americans are boorish Neanderthals with no culture and not erudition, wouldn’t be entirely displeasing to the Soviet (or neo-Soviet authorities) who are, as Huck might say, as anti-American as the day is long. Let me predict the neo-Soviet, propaganda response to my conclusion: “Americans also mistranslate Russian literature, so you can’t criticize us.” You can delete “mistranslate Russian literature” and replace it with any other Russian fault, like “commit acts of racism” and you have a response that works for anything in the mind of the neo-Soviet man. It’s a hypocritical response, of course, because Russians don’t hold themselves accountable for American virtues, rather they say when American virtues are brought up that “America is a different country” and Russia can’t be expected to follow suit. Odd, isn’t it, how this response doesn’t let America off the hook for its vices. And odder still that the neo-Soviet man can’t understand that impoverished suffering Russians don’t feel better knowing that America is also suffering. But let’s not go there now.
It’s certainly true that Americans mistranslate. I’ll never forget discovering that a phrase from Maxim’ Gorky’s famous Soviet novel “Mother” had been translated into English badly. Gorky wrote that “the love of a баба is a selfish love,” using a well-known Russian epithet, which the lazy or ignorant or just plain incompetent translator simply replaced with “woman.” The word “woman” is a translation for “баба” in the same way that grape Kool-Aid is a substitute for Bordeaux. It doesn’t come remotely close, and it’s not what Gorky meant to say at all. All women are not бабаs, it’s a subset of women, and Gorky certainly didn’t mean that all women love selfishly. If he had meant that, he would have said it. But despite all the errors in the translation of “Mother” it still comes across as a powerful, brilliant, serious work of literature in English (if a bit benighted by Soviet idealism). Mark Twain, on the other hand, is reduced to a comic book.
So let’s see now: Americans viewed Russians as having created powerful, serious literature, and Russian viewed Americans as witless drones. I wonder which side was better prepared to fight and win the Cold War. I wonder which side actually did win? Hmmm . . .
And now? Have Russians learned their lesson as they proceed to Cold War II by funneling aid and comfort to arch American foes like Hamas, Iran and Iraq? Well, let’s ask Huck Finn, shall we?
Feminazi Post Script: But let me ask you this, dear reader: Who are the Russian Toni Morrisons, Jane Austens, Willa Cathers, Pearl Bucks, Emily Brontes, and so forth? Hard to think of, aren’t they? The first thing a neo-Soviet man will say is “Anna Akhmatova.” She’s a poet, dear fellow, I asked about novelists. America has two Nobel laureate female novelists. Why doesn’t Russia have any? Are you going to tell me, neo-Soviet man, that Russian women don’t WANT to write great novels? They don’t WANT status any higher than that accorded to Tolstaya, they don’t WANT to be thought of as equal to Tolstoy, Dosteovsky, Solzhenitsin and Sholokov?