I. Russia Blog Series: The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism
This is actually some guy's Thesis! You don't want to read some guy's freaking thesis... Oh, well. I'm posting the links anyway, in case any of you are feeling particularly masochistic, or one of those crazy Russia Expert-o-Sphere wonks is lurking. I know I'll be reading this. Then I will be smarter than you lazy bums who are just here looking for news about horny Soviet space cockroaches! >:p
(and there'll be more, I expect...)
Oh, I know I said think-tanks are bastions of evil where the souls of decent people are whipped up into souffles to be devoured by the Devil and his minions, but ... I don't know ... Yuri just seems so incredibly harmless and dreamy. He can have my heart in a spoon any day.
On a serious note, if this topic interests you, come see how blackhawk and I duke it out over "managed democracy" and how blackhawk wins. Kinda. Ish.
II. Andrey Kolesnikov - Journalist Extraordinaire
He looks a bit puckish, doesn't he?
So, I've been reading Kommersant for a while now. It's a boring business-centric paper, but it's online in Russian and English, which I dig, and I find I keep coming back for the stories about the President. They're so weird and funny. For a long time I thought it was just because the President is weird and funny. Well, Putin is. But I recently read an article on Medvedev and the G8, and it occurred to me that the same person who wrote it had to have written those other memorable articles about Putin. And sure enough, he did. And his name is Andrey Kolesnikov. Why do you care? Well, a good journalist is hard to find these days, so when we find one, we should recognize them. Also, you know how I am about good writing. I'm a total fiend for fabulous prose, and -journalist or not- this guy can write! He's hilarious! Sometimes, I'm in tears after reading one of his articles. I am crying the same tears I cried when I read "The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarrelled with Ivan Nikiforovich". Only Russians can write this stuff for some reason. It has something to do with the absurd... Anyway, I was reading his latest piece, and in the Russian version esp., I am thinking, "How the hell can he, a Kremlin pool reporter, get away with writing that?! You can't even say that in American papers!" And everyone knows there is no freedom of the press in Russia, right? (clears throat...)
Some explanation, from "Russia's True Tales of Terra" blog:
Kolesnikov's articles are not the usual reports one might expect from a journalist traveling with a head of state, especially one traveling with Mr. Putin, who is now labeled as the "head of a gangster state" by some conservative reporters in the West. His reports are neither purely informational, nor entirely opinion pieces; they are not simply anecdotal stories, satirical observations, or unbiased studies. Instead they are narratives presented in fact to be "articles" but in essence being all of the above. Kolesnikov's reports, written in the as-it-happened narrative style, pay a lot of attention to details such as facial expressions and gestures, and poke fun at Putin and other leading politicians. "I wanted to prove that this can be a human interest genre," he once said in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times. Asked why he wasn't expelled from the Kremlin pool, he said, "If you don't lie, it's difficult to find a reason."
The chief editor of Kommersant, Andrei Vasiliev, recalls that people always ask him how come Kolesnikov is still working in the Kremlin, and has not yet been kicked out? The only response of Mr. Vasiliev is that "Putin really likes it (the work of Kolesnikov)". This may be surprising since Mr. Kolesnikov sometimes approaches the line and on rare occasions crosses it outright. It was Mr. Kolesnikov who spread the word of President Putin's sarcastic remark to the Israeli prime-minister regarding the criminal case brought against the Israeli president, which later turned into quite a scandal...
Jokingly, Mr. Kolesnikov explains that because the wives of top Kremlin officials enjoy opening up Kommersant every day to find out what has been said about their husbands in Mr. Kolesnikov's articles, that he does not have any censorship problems. It may seem that the journalist is simply successfully playing a game of pleasing most officials and singling out a minority, so as to not get the blame from the entire state apparatus; by constantly shifting around the minority everyone gets to laugh at everyone else at some point in time.
I am not surprised Putin really likes it. I really don't understand everyone who assumes he has no sense of humour. It's like they've never seen him give a press conference. Or heard any of his numerous off-hand remarks. Or seen him playing nature-boy in a photo shoot. Btw, in the above article, there are lots of bits of Kolesnikov reporting Putin's "off the record" remarks, like a time when Putin used his handkerchief -used it- and then politely offered it to Jacques Chirac. HaHaHa!
Here's and excerpt from one Kolesnikov article that had me in tears:
Putin and Medvedev Exchange Vows
Across from chairman of the committee on youth and sport Vitaly Mutko sat chairman of the committee on supervision over backing up the activities of the Federation Council Vladimir Kulakov.
Since the Federation Council, under the leadership of Sergey Mironov, sitting in the center, had been inactive for more than an hour as it waited for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kulakov was backing up not the activities of the council, but the appearance of activity as he bothered Mutko with endless questions. It was Mutko, if I am not mistaken, who complained out loud that all the cameras were focused on the empty place at the center of the table, leaving the sides, where he and Kulakov sat, unattended.
"Cameras?" echoed Kulakov. "What do I need cameras for? I have enough cameras in Magadan. They have good cameras there."
We can guess whom Kulakov represents.
"You don't believe me?" he continued to pester Mutko. "Come and see."
Mutko, head of the Russian Soccer Union, firmly refused to visit Magadan, where there is not soccer team, not just no champion league soccer team - no soccer team whatsoever.
"Come on!" Kulakov nagged. "I'll buy you a ticket. Round trip even. I repeat. Round trip."
A few cameras were already turning on their direction and Mutko fell silent, although not because he had nothing to say. He didn't want to say the wrong thing, and anything that would have escaped his lips at that moment would have been the wrong thing. Kulakov cheerfully continued to harangue those around him about the underappreciated cameras of Magadan.
People who sat without haranguing also attracted attention to themselves. For example, the female journalists couldn't leave chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Social Policy Valentina Petrenko in peace. And the way Petrenko looked gave no one around her any peace either.
It wasn't her tight, bright blue blouse that left a glowing impression in your eyes after you looked at her, exactly like the Northern Lights, except with little yellow bunnies frolicking through it, which was all you could see for several minutes. Nor was it the necklace of pearls, each of which was the size of my five-year-old son Vanya's fist. (They recently learned to make pearls like that in China out of nothing - literally nothing.)
No, it was Petrenko's hairdo. It was fabulous. Maybe she goes to work every day with her hair done like that. I don't know. But I don't think it is possible to do your hair like that every day. You could spend your whole life fixing a hairdo like that. What was it like? Like a pastry that had fallen off the shelf and been kicked aside by an ill-tempered customer? Like a stale Napoleon cake? Like the foam they seal the windows of new buildings with that lets the bugs through any way? No. More like a ball of papier-mache with the top cut off. You wanted to touch it to make sure it was secured tightly. And you wanted to get up and jump around.
The president of Russia sat between First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Vladislav Surkov and said that it is more important than ever to ensure a policy of continuation. (Eight years ago, it was not so important.) He called on the Federation Council members to refrain from using unsecured resources and devastating populist measures. (For some reason, I immediately thought of Valentina Petrenko's hair.) The people at the table wrote that phrase down. And they kept writing, as if they had to write it 100 times for the teacher.
Here's part of the one about the G8:
A Middling Meeting // Why our correspondent didn't like the summit
The Group of Eight summit in Hokkaido ended yesterday. Kommersant special correspondent Andrey Kolesnikov thought its closing was one of the most boring in recent years, but he makes a gallant effort to liven it up in his report.
The Japanese accomplished a lot when they organized this summit. They got rid of the lines of journalists waiting to get into the press center, restaurants and buses and for that they deserve a bow for that as low as they ones they give you when they hold the elevator door open for you. I already know that is what I'm going to miss when I get back to Moscow today.
The block the doors to the press center with their solar-powered and electrical cars, they point them out at every step and even let people ride in them sometimes (at least in their fantasies). Their robots prowl the corridors and you mechanically shake hands with them. They shake back, even more mechanically.
But there was not a single computer in the whole press center. Even if they think there is not a single person who travels without a laptop now, they could put a few out just from Japanese politeness.
In the little press center, where the journalists who come 35 km. from the big one at the Hotel Windsor wait for hours in underground corridors near the kitchens, which smell of fried fish in the mornings and chocolate at night, there is not a single television screen. The summit, which is broadcast live to monitors in the big press center and the hotel, is shrunk to the size of a handkerchief at the small press center and you feel the time slipping away. So the hell with it.
I could make several more complaints of that type, but the main complaint is about the G8 leaders. It was boring with them. They were bored with one another. That much was clear from the big smiles they put on every time they got in front of television cameras. It was clear from their final documents; it was clear from their press conferences.
The host of the summit, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda was especially impressive in that sense. Almost everything - well, probably everything - depended on him. He was the one who brought universal boredom down upon all, even Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
In that sense, the apotheosis was one of Fukuda's press conferences, which didn't last more than a quarter hour. At some point, the translator even stopped translating. Either he fell asleep or he simply understood that it was pointless because no one was listening.
What have I been complaining about all year? That the end of the Putin Administration would result in the onset of "The Era of Boredom." And here I am, being vindicated! I am sure Dima is professional and reasonable and plays well with others. But I want the smart ass President back. I want the bad old days of, "OMG, Putin/Russia/The Exile/Etc. did not just say/do/write/etc. that!" back.
Which brings me to the following:
III. "Mad Maskva": Scenes from Then and Now...
With the recent raid on The eXile (which apparently didn't happen) and Dima's talk of "rational democracy" (which he apparently didn't say), there have been many opportunities for reflection, for retrospective, for eulogies said over the grave of the once criminal and insane city of Moscow. Or maybe there have not. Maybe, upon closer scrutiny, that is apparently all made up too. There may or may not be an ounce of truth in any of the following articles or the frame of nostalgia in which they are hereby presented.
Those were the days my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.
~ S-P Times: End of The eXile Era
Moscow, I found, seemed to attract people who were ferociously smart but often hungry and damaged, fleeing failure or trying to prove something to the world. Russia -- especially the Russia that created The eXile -- certainly had a definite appeal for anyone with a dark streak of gross irresponsibility and self-destructiveness. And if you had these traits, there was nothing to stop you from indulging them. It was a weird Godless world where values went into permanent suspended animation and you were terrifyingly free to explore the nastiest recesses of your own black heart. Like a traumatic love affair, it seemed to change people forever. Like a drug, it would be exhilarating at first. Then, as it wore on, it reclaimed the buzz it had given, with interest.
Despite the good times, Moscow got its revenge on its new masters, insidiously screwing with foreign psyches. You'd see how young men, who had arrived as cheery, corn-fed boys, would, within a year, adopt that hardened, taciturn look that one usually associates with circus people. Selfish young hedonists quickly turned into selfish psychotic monsters -- too much sexual success, money, vodka, drugs and cynicism in too short a time. Ames lived it and wrote about it. He described his encounters with heroin, teenage prostitutes and speed with a savage self-loathing and fueled, in his own words, by "vanity and spleen."
The story of The eXile is the story of an earlier, pre-boom Moscow, before gourmet supermarkets and sushi restaurants sprouted on every corner. The eXile was born in a place that was dark, vibrant and absolutely compelling. The money, the sin and the beautiful people -- it was doomed, apocalyptic and transiently beautiful. The incandescent energy of the pretty, deluded party kids whom the paper wrote about could have lit up this blighted country for a century if channeled into anything other than self-destruction and oblivion.
They were indeed strange and savage times, to borrow a phrase from U.S. author and journalist Hunter
Look. If we were monsters, who was Dr. Frankenstein here? Bрач Москва, that's who. And while "too much sexual success, money, vodka, drugs and cynicism in too short a time" and "a dark streak of gross irresponsibility and self-destructiveness" may be spot on, probably something about "gangsters killing people you kinda know" and "dead people in the streets" and "old ladies selling drugs in the Metro" and "probably being spied on" and "watching roaches skitter across the floor of the hospital room in which your friend, just run over by a police car, is being treated" and "late night stories over tea about grandma who killed herself during Stalin's purges" also might have contributed to our, I don't know, fucked up "foreign psyches."
It really was "doomed, apocalyptic and transiently beautiful" though... </sniff>
~ Russia Past & Present: The Revolution in Art
("Russia Past & Present" is written by Seesaw, who also does the "Russian Film" blog and "Caviar & Vodka")
In 1994, when naked cellists and what-not graced the stages of Moscow night clubs, the last thing Russians wanted was adult supervision, least of all the hectoring pieties of a bearded old crank by the name of Solzhenitsyn. With much fanfare, the famous dissident writer and author of the monumental Gulag Archipelago returned to his homeland only to find his televised sermons falling on deaf ears. Few Russians wanted to hear about abuses in Chechnya, government corruption or repentance and salvation. What they really wanted was better telenovellas and more Ace of Base.
OMG, that is so true about Ace of Base!!! It was like the selfish psychotic monster theme music. Stalin himself would have loved it! "Don't turn around, you're gonna see my heart breaking..." Aw yeah.
So, those days of bad techno and psychotic foreigners may be over. And for the welfare of, oh, everyone in Moscow, that's probably a good thing. But let us not ignore the dangers of becoming too civilized...
~ Eternal Remont: Russia Celebrates Day of Family, Love and Fidelity
This is also known as: "Oh My God, Everyone Over 14 Get It on Today before Our Population Disappears and Our State Becomes Inviable as Predicted by the Smartest Man to Come out of Rhode Island" Day (sorry that some of that was a little inside). In any case, it was baby-making day in Russia, so if you called your friend and he didn't answer...he was little preoccupied.
NYTIMES: Russia celebrated the first Day of Family, Love and Fidelity, a holiday that is the government's latest attempt to help halt Russia's population loss. Last year, Putin declared 2008 the Year of the Family. On Sept. 12, a holiday called Family Contact Day encouraged Russians to stay home and engage in marital intimacy in the hopes of producing children on Russia Day, 9 mo. later, on June 12. The new holiday extends Russia's promotion of procreation, urging couples not only to have children but also to provide those children with two-parent, stable family lives. It is a sign that the new president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, will continue the move under Mr. Putin to be more active in promoting morality and optimism about Russia's future.
The danger: Dobson-esque Focus on the Family-ization of Russia.
Why there is hope: Russians actually know where babies come from.
~ MT: Days of Moscow's Cockroaches Numbered
Cockroaches used to be the scourge of Russian housewives, who would aim slippers at the insects that swarmed out of nooks and crannies in Soviet flats.
But now the once-ubiquitous household pest is leaving apartments and dachas, the victim of efficient pesticides and modern furnishings, and scientists are wondering whether some species should be declared as endangered.
"There are far fewer of them," said Andrei Stukov, a manager at the Moscow-based pest control company Sanita-S. "It has been happening over the last two years, and the result is clear now." He put this partly down to modern wallpaper glue and other do-it-yourself materials that cockroaches can't eat.
Cockroach infestations have fallen by 50 percent in the last year, said Servis-Set, another pest control company.
"The higher the standard of sanitation, the fewer the cockroaches," said Alexander Antropov, a senior researcher at the entomology section of the Zoological Museum in Moscow.
Cockroaches still thrive in old-style housing with dripping plumbing -- providing essential water -- but have died out in new apartments, Antropov said. "The cleaner the apartment is, the fewer chances they have. They just have nothing to eat and drink."
It sounds like good news. But some scientists aren't so sure. Alexander Lagunov, an entomologist who works at the Ilmensky nature reserve in the Chelyabinsk region, wants the black Oriental cockroach -- once the most common type living in Russian homes -- to be officially listed as endangered.
The danger: The intimate bond between Muscovite and roach, established over eons of sharing every intimate space, communist-style, will be broken irreparably, and the two species will completely lose the ability to communicate with each other.
Why there is hope: Endangered Species List.
~ FP Passport: Russians are among the cleanest, Pravda reports
"Russian citizens take the third place in the world among clean and neat nations, following the Hindus and the Americans. The majority of Russians (35 percent) take a shower or a bath on a daily basis. Eleven percent of Russian citizens take a shower twice a day. Residents of Europe turned down their medieval habit of washing themselves twice in a lifetime. However, they still prefer not to take a shower too often. The Britons and the Germans usually wash themselves twice a week."
The danger: Acute neurosis resulting from being inundated with advertisements about how they are not clean enough ,leading to decrease in willingness to engage in sexual behavior (a la Americans) which will worse demographics problem; Peak water.
Why there is hope: This is from Pravda; Peak water.
~ MT: Moscow's Water Called Drinkable
The quality of Moscow's drinking water appears to be improving, meaning that the city's denizens should have no reservations about regularly indulging in tap water, a City Duma deputy said Wednesday.
Heavy pollution in Moscow does not appear to be negatively affecting the city's drinking water, Vera Stepanenko, who heads the City Duma's environmental policy commission, said at a news conference, Interfax reported.
Stepanenko cited data showing that in the past 10 years, male longevity in the Russian capital has increased by nine years, up to age 67, as evidence of the improving quality of the city's tap water.
Addressing the water quality at local beaches and swimming holes, Stepanenko said out of the 19 waterfront areas where city dwellers typically relax, only 11 are suitable for swimming.
The danger: No longer being able to get out of obligations using the excuse, "Giardia."
Why there is hope: Roughly half the local beaches and swimming holes are totally toxic.
But wait right there my friends. Have the reports of Mad Maskva's death have been greatly exaggerated? Is this another one of Mark Ame's stunts?!
~ S-P Times: Police Seize Reputed Mobsters
MOSCOW -- Police used a dramatic helicopter raid to detain dozens of reputed crime bosses gathered on a yacht to settle a rift between rival dons, an Interior Ministry spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Most of the more than three dozen suspected gang leaders detained in the Monday raid at a reservoir outside Moscow were subsequently released because of a lack of evidence, the ministry spokeswoman said.
Several of the suspects leapt off the deck in order to make a swimming escape, but the cold water forced them to climb back aboard, Kommersant said.
Police seized the vessel and ordered the captain to bring it to shore, where police agents detained them.
The reputed crime bosses had gathered on the yacht to discuss the rift between Oniani and fellow purported mafia don Aslan Usoyan, also known as "Grandpa Khasan," Kommersant said.
The report cited a police officer as saying the dispute could develop into a bloody conflict reminiscent of the gang wars of the 1990s. Usoyan gathered his supporters -- including Vyacheslav Ivankov, known as Yaponchik -- for a May 2 meeting in Krasnodar, where they discussed how to seize control of government money allocated for the 2012 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Kommersant reported.
Just goes to show, you can take the gangsters out of Moscow, but you can't take the Moscow out of ... wait. You can't take the gangsters out of Moscow! There's just not enough room in London for all of them!
~ Kyle Keeton: Russia: 5 liters of Beer!
These are 5 liter beers. Now 5 liters is 1.32 gallons for us Americans. That is a lot of beer to satisfy even the most hardened beer drinker! So you understand the size, the clear bottle next to the two 5 liter bottles is a 2 liter bottle. Just like your Coke and Pepsi come in.
PS: Russian beer comes at 8 - 10 percent alcohol levels. Did you know that Russians do not consider beer alcohol? Beer is considered a soft drink. :)
Oh, nothing says "Messed Up Moscow" to me quite like the tragic combination of wild amounts of alcohol and the bizarre adaptations of western soft-drinks packaging of said alcohol. Does anyone remember the "Gin & Coke" in soda cans? wtf?!
~ Kommersant: Maskaev to Fight In Front Of Kremlin
The Ring Star Boxing Show on the Red Square is slated for September 6, when Moscow celebrates the City Day. One of the main participants is famous heavyweight Oleg Maskaev, who will fight with U.S. Robert Hawkins.
According to Fedorov, the address of Amateur Boxing President, Federal Guards Service Chief Evgeny Murov to Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov was the decisive factor in favor of arranging the Ring Star Boxing Show on the Red Square.
Murov urged Luzhkov to add it to the agenda of the City Day celebrations "to promote boxing in our country and advertise the forthcoming Amateur Boxing World Cup." Moscow hosts the tournament December 5 through 15 in Megasport complex.
An arena will be built on the Red Square September 6, Fedorov said, specifying that the VIP stands for the guests and participants of Beijing 2008 Olympics will be intstalled around it. The entrance will be free and some 25,000 will watch the show. One of Russia's central TV channels will broadcast the event, and for the first time, the Internet users will see it in live air.
I don't know why this should make me think the dark underbelly of Moscow continues to pulse, but I want to use this story to mention something really weird I recently learned about: Chess Boxing! How crazy is that? And do you know what is even crazier? Chess, boxing, you're thinking, Oh, I bet some crazy Russian invented that! No! A French cartoonist! However, the current Chess Boxing champion is Russian. Whew.
IV. UPDATE: The eXile is set to re-launch on Bastille Day.
Freedom of Speech drama queens... Hey, the Bastille, isn't that where they kept the Marquis de Sade?
Did you want a picture? Here's someone who might be a teensy psychotic, what with his weird kids-cults, or a monster. Well, he looks a bit like a vampire. Yet, exceptionally hot!
Ok, here's where the story ends. Thanks for reading, and remember what I said about eating your puppies.
Have a lovely weekend and holiday, mes amis!