I. "To be a happy man."
Chapter One: The Rumour
On April 12th, little-known tabloid, the Moskovsky Korrespondent, published a scandalous rumour about the President. Within hours, maybe minutes, the news spread wide and far and all the townsfolk, maybe all the citizens of the world, were discussing the revelation. Was it true? No one could confirm it but no one could rule it out. Was it an act of political sabotage or the work of the devil, who had mysteriously possessed the idle minds at the paper? No one could say for sure. In fact, the only thing everyone could agree on was that the woman at the center of the controversy was quite stunning, and could touch her nose with her pinkie toe. Reports like the following spread through the capital like wildfire.
Russia President Vladmir Putin moves to re-marry after French counterpart
Russia's outgoing President Vladmir Putin has decided to tie the knot with a famous rhythmic gymnast Alina Kabaeva, known for her extreme natural flexibility.
The wedding is expected to take place in one of the famous wedding places in St. Petersburg on mid-June.
Putin, 56, former KGB agent, who made it to he country's number one post, reportedly split up with Lyudmila Aleksandrovna, 50, about a couple of months ago.
Alina Kabaeva, 25, born in Uzbekistan, has represented Russia in several prestigious contests and took home the gold.
Kabaeva won the all-around bronze medal at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney and the gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. It is rumored that Putin and Kabaeva have been more than friends since the 2000 Olympics.
Alina was seen as one of the most beautiful women in Russia, and in 2007 she was elected to the Russian parliament, the State Duma, representing the pro-Kremlin United Russia party.
When Alina's father was asked if he knows "his daughter will be a wife of the president", he replied "President's wife... Hmm... Medvedev or Vladimirovich, you are saying...
Chapter Two: Schizphrenia, as Predicted
The town, or world, whatever, was divided against itself. Past enemies became strange bedfellows. Those who wanted to see the President's reputation destroyed, and those who just wanted him to be happy declared that, in fact, some rumors are too good to be wrong. Others, like the girls who sang the song "I want a man like Putin" and the men who mused, "I want a girl like Alina, or just any Russian woman, why am I stuck with these British chicks, dammit?!" insisted the rumour was the work of liberal journalists or Ed Lucas. Everyone was afraid of being shot, either for a precipitous congratulations or for not congratulating the President at all. But no one, even those who believed the rumour, uttered words of disgust for our potential philanderer. Not even Garry Kasparov, who could not be reached for comment, claiming he was "busy preparing for an upcoming arrest."
Chapter Three: The President Breaks His Silence
Putin denies marriage rumours
PORTO ROTONDO, Italy (AFP) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin denied Friday a newspaper report that he had divorced his wife Lyudmila and planned to marry a gymnastics champion.
And he hit out at "those with snotty-noses and erotic fantasies" who delved into the private life of public figures.
"There's not a word of truth in it," he told a press conference in Sardinia following talks with Italian prime minister-elect Silvio Berlusconi, when asked about reports of a relationship with a 24-year-old former Olympic gymnast, Alina Kabayeva, who is also a member of Russia's parliament.
Listening at the Russian leader's side as the question was translated, Berlusconi made a machine-gun firing gesture towards the Russian journalist who had asked it.
It took him a week to come up with that? It's classic Putin, yes, but ... I'm not buying it. And I normally buy it all. Why wait so long to respond? Also, the "those with snotty-noses and erotic fantasies" is a bit rich coming from the fellow who commented about a man accused of raping 10 women, "We envy him!" He doth protest too much, methinks...
Chapter Four: Seriously, way too much...
But our hero did not stop there, with moral indignation and funny haha assassination charades. A week after publishing the story, the newspaper responsible for instigating the rumour mysteriously closed for "financial reasons." In fact, the entire office has disappeared. Two days ago someone saw a cat walking on its hind legs exiting the building, locking the doors behind him. Then the whole building just kinda ... disappeared. The reporter in question was seen in Yalta. No one knows WHAT is going on over there.
Paper Closes After Putin Marriage Story
A Russian tabloid that published a story claiming that President Vladimir Putin had left his wife to marry a 24-year-old former Olympic gymnast suspended operations on Friday, sparking fresh criticism about withering press freedoms in Russia.
"We proved that Russia is not a democracy," Igor Dudinsky, first deputy editor of Moskovsky Korrespondent, which ran the story earlier this month, said Sunday.
On Friday, Putin categorically denied claims made by the tabloid that he was planning to marry former rhythmic gymnast and current State Duma Deputy Alina Kabayeva at a news conference in Sardinia with Italian Prime Minister-elect Silvio Berlusconi.
"Even a simpleton would understand that it won't reopen in the next 10 years," Dudinsky said. "I think Putin got very angry."
And then the President decided to sic the FSB on 'em! Wow. He must be really mad. That's so hot. ... I wonder what they were looking for, since you normally wouldn't go looking for evidence of something you knew for certain had not happened. Hmmm.
From the Other Russia:
(Q: Poemless, are you for real quoting this site as a credible & objective source? A: No, this is simply for the sake of dramatic tension.)
Now, after both Putin and Kabaeva publicly refuted the claims, and after the paper published a retraction, the chatter has ebbed somewhat. But the troubles of the Moskovsky Korrespondent are only beginning. Since the article was published, the tabloid's offices have been visited several times by FSB agents. The paper's billionaire owner was warned to beef up his personal security. And in a final twist, the publication has been shut down temporarily for "financial reasons."
Artem Artemov, the general director of the paper's parent company, commented on the decision to the Interfax news agency: "I took the decision to cease financing and therefore [cease] printing the newspaper, in connection with the large expense of publishing it, and also disagreement with editorial staff over its strategy."
Artemov added that the Moskovsky Korrespondent's lead editor, Grigory Nekhoroshev, had resigned.
The paper is owned by billionaire oligarch Aleksandr Lebedev, and some experts speculated that the article was planted as an attack on Lebedev, the paper, or even Putin.
Surkov was correct. There are anarchists living right under our noses!
Chapter Five: Marital Bliss
What's that you say? It is improper for a paper to discuss such personal details of the President's private life? He has every right to be upset? He's a warm, caring family man? Okay. I wouldn't have wanted to be around when Vladimir Vladimirovich came home after his wife when to the State-run newspaper and divulged the following details of their marriage.
At home with the Putins
Putina said the Kremlin head - whose advisors claim he surrounds himself with a plurality of opinions - has not once admitted he followed her advice. "I think that really, like any clever educated person, he considers many opinions, including mine. But he never says, 'Here I took your opinion into account.'"
In September 2002, the Kremlin's first lady laid out his domestic constitution in a new authorised biography of her husband. She said he had two golden rules about women: "A woman must do everything in the home" and "You should not praise a woman otherwise you will spoil her."
The latter rule has apparently forced her to give up one of the key domestic tasks of a Russian women, she added. "He never praises me and that has totally put me off cooking. He is extremely difficult to cook for and will refuse to eat a dish if he does not like the slightest thing in it." She added: "He has put me to the test throughout our life together. I constantly feel that he is watching me and checking that I make the right decisions." The president has reportedly even banned Ludmila from having a credit card, her husband thinking this will give way to "western temptations".
The presidential sense of humour, she claims, is also trying. Putin is renowned for his black jokes - reportedly once telling a boy laid up in hospital with a broken leg after being hit by a car: "That'll teach you to break traffic regulations." She said: "I find it hard to understand dark humour, irony. I like kind, simple humour. I can't say we always have that sort of humour in the family."
Putina said when her husband's second term expires in 2008 she's not sure what to expect. Asked what she wants him to do, she said: "To be a happy man."
Bliss... How could anyone imagine for a moment that evil rumour had an ounce of truth to it? Madness! Dreary world indeed!
Well, anyway, if you show up tomorrow and ET has closed for financial reasons, I will take the blame. But between you and me and my snotty nose (everything's in bloom, it's allergies), I've been making up and publishing erotic fantasies about President Putin for ages now, and - I'm still alive. In fact - I've never been better! (Except for the runny nose part.) Because we have a little understanding, he and I. I support him, and he has no idea I write this crude nonsense! ;D
II. Animal Rights (and Wrongs)
You do know the "horse" thing was a metaphor, right? I could never actually hurt an animal. Even a dead one. (Although - how can you hurt a dead horse?) In fact, I often hold other species in higher regard than humans. They are usually not racist or purposefully ignorant. Some of them posses the ability to lie, like cats. But cats are still pretty well-behaved, considering how much more intelligent than us they are. They could take over the world tomorrow, but seem content just to sleep and eat and act like goofs. Which is probably all I would do if I took over the world, now that I think about it... Anyway, here are some animals in the news these days:
Russia tests monkeys for Mars trip
They won't utter Yuri Gagarin's famous phrase "Let's go!" But the monkeys of Sochi have already proven their worth as trailblazers in space - and now they are being groomed for a trip to Mars.
The macaques will be the first to experience the radiation that poses a big risk to astronauts - or Russian cosmonauts - on any flight to the Red Planet.
The Sochi Institute of Medical Primatology, at Vesyoloye near the Black Sea, has a proud history of involvement in the Russian - formerly Soviet - space programme.
"People and monkeys have approximately identical sensitivity to small and large radiation doses," explains the institute's director, Boris Lapin. "So it is better to experiment on the macaques, but not on dogs or other animals."
The institute will select macaques that may eventually fly to Mars before humans do. After two years of experiments the most suitable 40 monkeys will be sent to the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, where scientists study aerospace biomedicine.
Nothing new, it seems...
Stalins's Space Monkeys
This is what remains of the Institute of Experimental Pathology and Therapy, the first primate testing centre in the world, and possibly the site of a macabre Stalinist experiment to breed a human-ape hybrid. Set amid palm trees and lush greenery on a hill just outside the centre of Sukhumi, it was once the envy of the West. Its behavioural and medical experiments set it at the forefront of groundbreaking medical discoveries, and trained monkeys for space travel.
But the years of Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika, then the Georgian-Abkhaz war, took a heavy toll on the centre. Most of its scientists left to set up a new centre in Russia, along with most of the monkeys that were not killed. What is left today is a disturbing shadow of the institute's former glory.
Legend has it that the institute, which opened in 1927, was born of a secret Soviet plan to create a man-ape hybrid that would become a Soviet superman and propel the Soviet Union ahead of the West. The Soviet elite, goes the apocryphal tale that has appeared widely in Russian media, wanted to create a prototype worker that would be inhumanly strong and mentally dulled, to carry out the gruelling work of industrialising the vast expanses of newly Sovietised territory.
Scientists at the institute today admit that these experiments did go on at the institute, though they deny it was part of any overarching plan for the creation of a new race. The tests were performed by Ilya Ivanov, an eminent Russian biologist who had also collaborated with the Pasteur Institute in Paris. About the turn of the century he had perfected the technique of artificially inseminating mares, and had also produced cross-breeds between various different species. Then, Europe was alive with ideas of eugenics, and the Soviets were out to prove once and for all that Darwinism had superseded religion.
As I hope I have illustrated in the first part of this diary, it is practically impossible to differentiate between truth and that which just makes a really wild story when it comes to Russia. If you suspect it is tale, it is probably the true, and the other way around. But then, don't assume something is true just because you suspect it is not. Because then you will wind up in some science-fictionish loop where the real and the fantastic keep switching places just to fool with you while "the truth" sits on the sidelines shaking its forlorn little head. Anyway ... where was I? Oh, yes, shooting animals into outerspace.
Laika. Never forget!
Russia Opens Monument to Space Dog Laika
MOSCOW (AP) -- Russian officials on Friday unveiled a monument to Laika, a dog whose flight to space more than 50 years ago paved the way for human space missions.
The small monument is near a military research facility in Moscow that prepared Laika's flight to space on Nov. 3, 1957. It features a dog standing on top of a rocket.
Little was known about the impact of space flight on living things at the time Laika's mission was launched. Some believed they would be unable to survive the launch or the conditions of outer space, so Soviet space engineers viewed dogs' flights as a necessary precursor to human missions.
All dogs used in the Soviet space program were stray mongrel dogs -- doctors believed they were able to adapt quicker to harsh conditions. All were small so they could fit into the tiny capsules.
"Laika was quiet and charming," Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky wrote in his book chronicling the story of Soviet space medicine. He recalled that before heading to the launch pad, he took the dog home to play with his children. "I wanted to do something nice for her: She had so little time left to live," Yazdovsky said.
...continuing the long held Russian tradition of doing stuff that leaves your mouth fucking agape, and then erecting a monument to memorialize it. It's an act which simultaneously says, "We acknowledge your sacrifice and want to make it up to you, ... but, hey, you, over there, don't forget what we are capable of! You could be next!"
Dog and sheep: A love story and bit of a mystery
LOS ANGELES - So there's this guy who owns a pizza joint in Sylmar driving to work Tuesday morning when he sees a dog and sheep walking down the street together.
No, it's not the start of a bad joke. It's a real love story.
And the dog and the sheep are now sharing a kennel at an animal shelter in Chatsworth waiting for their owner to claim them.
"We tried separating them, but the sheep started bleating and got all nervous," said kennel supervisor Christine Carr.
Aw. Dog and sheep are not ashamed of their forbidden love. Let them be a lesson for Vovka and Alina. It doesn't matter what the world thinks. Hey, look on the bright side, Vovka. At least they didn't report that the President had plans to marry a sheep!
III. Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Odds & Ends Round-up. Getchyer hats!
In the last edition of Odds & Ends I took at look at the beneficial role the Somali pirates are playing in the fight against global warming. Last year they seized 27 ships, and this year is forecast to be cooler. More tireless champions of environmentalism than Al Gore, they won't rest until every polar bear cub has a safe future. They have barely recovered from their recent French hijinks, when, RIAN reports: Somali pirates demand ransom over Spanish ship hijack Wow. They are on a roll! Keep up the good work! Argggh!
In the same edition, I quoted from an article about learning Russian and how linguistic and ... er, I guess that would be linguistic too, never mind... skills seem to go hand in hand. New we hear that Boy George has Learned Russian. Shocked? Not at all. Creeped out? A lot.
In this recent film diary which you should go read and recommend, I've pretty much demanded that you all become Russian film connoisseurs. Or else I'll have you shot into outerspace like those dogs... So it should interest you to learn that there will be a sequel to the Oscar-Winning movie, "Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears." The working title is "No really, Mr. Kasparov, Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears. Stop it. You're embarrassing everyone."
A new report from Kommersant discusses how the Russian blogosphere has been lured away from their blogs, like Live Journal, and into social networking sites, like Odnoklassniki.ru. Curiously, a Russian is to blame for my own increasing use of Facebook. Conspiracy. Grrrrr. Also, why, can some please tell me, are there 2 entries for Moscow Linguistics University on Odnoklassniki? Grrrrrr. So complicated. Oh, how I long for the simpler times when we just had blogs and cell-phones and e-mail and instant messaging. All this new-fangled "social networking." Ach. BTW, when I was a kid we had to study real things like Greek Mythology and Quantum Mechanics in school. Kids nowadays get to study nonsense, like "The Psychology of Facebook." Right up there with the psychology of serial killers, in my opinion. Meaning that I don't understand it, but it scares me. <<shudder>> facebookisevilfacebookisevilfacebookisevil
Speaking of the Internets, from the IHT: Back in the USSR: Soviet Internet domain name resists death
The Soviet Union may be in the dustbin of history, but there's one place the socialist utopia lives on: cyberspace.
Sixteen years after the superpower's collapse, Web sites ending in the Soviet ".su" domain name have been rising -- registrations increased 45 percent this year alone. Bloggers, entrepreneurs and die-hard communists are all part of a small but growing online community resisting repeated efforts to extinguish the online Soviet outpost.
Russian nostalgia for the Soviet empire is part of the story. Nashi, or "Ours," is a pro-Kremlin youth group that gained notoriety for raucous protests against Kremlin critics. The group loyally praises President Vladimir Putin at "nashi.su," though it denies its choice of the ".su" domain was meant to send a political message.
Many Web entrepreneurs also see potential profits in the domain, grabbing instantly recognizable names already claimed in other, better known domains.
A small Moscow car repair shop that specializes in Ford vehicles boasts a home page at "ford.su," while the owner of "apple.su" is a Muscovite who said he is ready to swap it for a new laptop computer -- and not necessarily a Mac from Apple Inc.
Vladimir Khramov, a network administrator from Moscow, said he bought "microsoft.su" last year simply to acquire an easy-to-remember ending for his e-mail address.
Eurotrib.su! Someone go grab it now! (DoDo... c'mon, you know you want it!)
And it would not be Odds & Ends without stories like the one about the drunk guy who slept off a knifing "Yuri Lyalin, 53, took a bus home, ate breakfast and apparently slept like a baby before his spouse noticed a handle sticking out of his back", a report of a new law in Serbia requiring civil servants to smile or celebration of the fact that Russians are now Allowed to Declare Bankruptcy. Woo Hoo! Welcome to your free-market democracy. They still own you! Suckahs! lol. Someone grab "DeclareBankruptcyNow.su" while you are over there...
Phew. Ok. Also, it's Lenin's Birthday. Happy Birthday V.I.L.!!
N.B. If you find this diary is a bunch of nonsense and want to read something actually worthwhile, go here and here.
Lastly, don't forget to see a movie for The May Eurotrib Film Blog.
Ok, c'est tout, mes amis. Thanks for reading. Have a lovely week! And Happy Earth Day (if you can find something to be happy about...)