Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Yushchenko Chooses the Prime Minister of Two Evils

Kommersant: Viktor Yushchenko Chooses the Prime Minister of Two Evils

... or you could say he has to select the lesser of two weevils.

The new government in Ukraine is basically in negotiations, as coalitions are being decided/ negotiated/ schemed/. The vote count isn't final, but with 87% of the votes counted and reported, it is unlikely to change very much.
Based upon everything that I have read and seen, it appears that no matter how you slice it, Timoshenko's party is a beneficiary of the elections. It appears to be a pay-me-now or pay-me-later scenario, where she will either be part of the final government coaltion, and likely prime minister ... or she will use her being kept out of the coalition government as a political building block for the next elections.

Her party also appears (at least based upon the news reports) to be the best prepared and organized. Some of that simply could be the English-language newspapers that I largely depend upon for information, and their presentation of her party. However, based upon her political campaign posters (
Vilhelm Konnander discusses them here) she seems to be selling everything that her opposition is not: young, active, unafraid ... even disrespectful of the status quo.

It would appear the most likely coalition options would both involve Yushchenko - as Timoshenko's position on a "review of the gas deal with Russia" would make a coalition with pro-Russia Yanukovich extremely unlikely. This means that Yushchenko should either swallow his pride and reunite the Orange party - or swallow his tongue and unite with Yanukovich and the bosom of Mother Russia. Neither is a very palatable option.
Experts are still hesitant as to which parties will join which since all parties are currently in talks with all others. In theory, the five parties may form any alliances. Orange-Blue coalitions could become the stongest ones. Should Yulia Timoshenko and Viktor Yanukovich overcome personal animosity, they would create the Constitutional majority of 307 deputies and be able to initiate the impeachment for the president. It takes 337 votes to dismiss the president, though. The union of the Party of Regions and Our Ukraine could gather 265 votes, which is quite enough to shape the government together. The purely Orange coalition (Yulia Timoshenko’s Bloc, Our Ukraine and the Socialist Party) could have 251 seats. The fourth combination of the Regions Party, the Socialists and the Communists could give them control over 233 seats and enable them to shape the government on their own.

Despite the variety of combinations to form coalitions, politicians discuss only one – the one that will unite all Orange forces. After Yulia Timoshenko and Alexander Moroz had one-on-one meetings with President Viktor Yushchenko, they declared the coalition of the three political forces (Yulia Timoshenko’s Bloc, Our Ukraine and the Socialist Party) is the only valid option. Yulia Timoshenko also noted that the people of Ukraine made its choice, so he should become prime minister. Alexander Moroz said he has no ambitions to occupy the prime minister’s seat and will agree to any way of choosing the premier – either it will be the leader of the largest faction in the coalition (i.e. Yulia Timoshenko) or a compromise person for all Orange forces.

Talks inside the Orange camp have borne no fruit so far, despite all the statements. What’s more, the debate may end up with nothing. People of the president’s office have kept on repeating after the election that Yulia Timoshenko must not be let to become prime minister again. Yulia Timoshenko’s comeback will indeed be unpalatable for the president’s team. She has never made a secret of her enmity against the majority of Viktor Yushchenko’s allies. The former premier has insisted since the start of the election campaign that the coalition with Viktor Yushchenko could be built only in case he disbands his entourage. Should he do so, he will virtually entrust his fate with Yulia Timoshenko giving up any personal political ambitions.

Though this alliance will be exceptionally painful, Yulia Timoshenko does not hesitate to harshly criticize the president and his team, which can hardly help mend the relations. Ms. Timoshenko promised on Monday that in case of her comeback to the premier’s seat, she will review the gas deal with Russia. The statement was made after Yury Ekhanurov was appointed to hold talks on the coalition. Moreover, she called Viktor Yushchenko “opportunist clutching at power” and labeled his aides “fake Orange”. She said that the good performance of her bloc at the election was “a lesson given to the president”.

Ms. Timoshenko’s arrival at talks with Viktor Yushchenko was very expressive as well. She decided to use the central entrance of the president’s secretariat which foreign heads of states normally use. Besides that, Yulia Timoshenko decided that the driver should take her right to the entrance, and she would not leave the car until the president’s security opened the gate crossing Bankovskay street for her.

Postscript: I'll quickly add something from Moscow Times commentator Ander's Aslunds "The Trick to Understanding Ukraine" column from today. From my conversations with Russians, I have this impression that Russia sort of snickers at Ukraine and sees it as weak and in disarray, with the recent elections not changing anything at all, except maybe showing the pro-Russia party is the biggest. My experience tells me this is a typical Russian viewpoint, where they feel government should be strong and present only a unified face (consider the old-style vote results in Belarus for example). Anything less than this - is a sign of weakness. In my estimation, it is one of the reasons why former CCCP nations haven't taken too strongly to democracy - the damn thing looks too much like chaos to them.
Ukraine has held its first elections after the Orange Revolution. Without any qualification, they were free and fair with a high participation of 67 percent, showing that Ukraine has matured as a democracy. At the same time, Ukraine has become a parliamentary system, which will reinforce democracy in the country. The Communists have been further marginalized, and party consolidation has proceeded well, with only five parties likely to make it into parliament.

The main results of the vote reflect an amazing constancy. In December 2004, Viktor Yushchenko defeated Viktor Yanukovych with a margin of 8 percentage points, which will probably be the balance between the orange and blue, or more accurately western and eastern, coalitions. The geographic dividing line runs exactly where it did in 2004, or where it has gone for most of the last 300 years.
Regardless of the exact train of events, Ukraine is a democracy, while Russia is not. Therefore, the Kremlin finds it difficult to understand Ukraine. Whatever the Ukrainian leaders do to satisfy one constituency or another is incomprehensible to authoritarians, and if some Ukrainian action does not suit the Kremlin, it will be perceived as dictated by Washington and criticized accordingly.

Such Russian rhetoric can do nothing but drive Ukraine into the arms of the West, and as the European Union is not open, Ukraine will have to run all the faster toward NATO, not because of Western overtures, but because of Russian intimidation.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Preved Party

What can I say? I'm weak and couldn't resist the joke.

The compression is terrible on this - click to view the original image.

Социалистический Превед

Who cares about the "Orange Revolution" or the "Tulip Revolution" or the "Denim Revolution" (that never was)?

Time to celebrate, the "Preved Revolution"!

If Milinkevich had this kind of staying power, he'd be running Belarus right now. If Bakiyev were so well organized, Kyrgyzstan would be a Central Asia success story. If Yushenko and Tymoshenko had this much fun, they never would have split!

Владислав Ерко - The Art of Vladislav Erko

I first discovered Vladislav Erko's work by accident in a small Rostov Veliky bookstore. Even then, in the middle of New Year's Eve tasks, his illustrations jumped out at me. I decided to buy the book to bring home as a gift, and only after I returned to the US did I begin to research his work. Mr. Erko illustrated А-ба-ба-га-ла-ма-га (A-BA-BA-GA-LA-MA-GA) Publishing's edition of Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen (Снежная Королева), the book that I purchased that New Year's Eve. Also unknown to me at the time, this edition of the book had won Grand Prix "Book of the Year" for 2000 (Гран-при «Книга года-2000»).

To follow the path of Erko's work is to see an illustrator who has really come into his own. In interviews, even Mr. Erko admits that his earlier work is difficult for him to look at, as he sees too many of his mistakes. His illustrations for The Snow Queen exhibit exquisite attention to detail, textures, and colors.

Vladislav Erko was born in Kiev in 1962, becoming an established illustrator during Soviet times, as he discusses in a 2003 "Knizhnik-Review" interview by Konstantin Rodik:
Erko: In 1990 I had almost finished Polygraphic Institute. Almost because I refused to hand over state examinations and to receive the diploma. I already had international premiums, and was a long-time member of the Union of Artists, and in Institute I was forced to study not unnecessary subjects, such as polygraphic manufacturing technology, for example, or history of the Party. I felt it would be desirable to have special knowledge, and I was accused of a "careerism".

KR: And how did a "careerist" get into the Union?

Erko: By laureateship. In the beginning of my sophomore year, I have taken a great interest in posters. I became acquainted with a wonderful publishing house collective where film-posters were prepared. сплошняком шестидесятники, the normal artists who had not adhered to a socialist realism worked there: it was that I came to learn. And here my first printing of a poster – as it happens, I was a lucky fool, and I was entered into the Second International Premium in Moscow.

On the one hand, I should be ashamed, because it was a competition of political posters, but there is nothing to be ashamed of, because my poster was removed for political apathy as soon as the international jury met, and its reproduction was not in any catalogue, except for some foreign magazines.
Any mistakes that the reader finds in the translation are mine.

Mr. Erko most recently worked on illustrations for a book with "spiritual fiction" writer Paul Coelho. Erko admits that he reads all the books that he illustrates, no matter how trivial or childish the book may be. When asked what he thought of Mr. Coelho's work, he replied:
I do not consider Coelho as one of pillars of literature of the 20th or the beginning of the 21st century. I read the book and very often I became angry with Coelho […] But within his writing is a strange magnetism, it in an improbable way gets into situations which actually, really, physically occur in my life.

I don't really understand all those vibrations which he makes in space, but, knowing, that anything so simple does not occur, I still give Coelho huge respect. In the past year at an exhibition in Moscow I saw the many thousands of people who come enthusiastically to obtain the autograph of the maestro on their book. It was a line of people, as in the [Lenin] Mausoleum during the best times. Certainly, the poet in Russia – is more, than a poet, but …
Mr. Erko continues to work with A-BA-BA-GA-LA-MA-GA and Sofia publishing. Recent works with Sofia include Coelho's 11 Minutes and Richard Bach's Johnathan Livingston Seagull.

His work remains difficult to find in the west, although I have seen copies of The Snow Queen for sale on eBay (good luck). There are various Russian bookstores in the US, both online and in various cities, that might also have copies of his work, or be able to order copies of books he has illustrated. Postscript: I also came across the following matryoshka for sale, painted by Oxana Belarus (or so it says) based on Vladislav Erko's Snow Queen illustrations.

Resources (in Russian and Ukrainian):

Monday, March 27, 2006

Political Puppet Auction held in Kiev

No, this doesn't refer to the puppets running for election in Ukraine - although the irony of auctioning puppets of Ukrainian political figures is obviously not lost on anyone.

I was just too amused with this, given that each party in Ukraine seems to accuse the others of being puppets for some outside interest. However, these puppets are made from papier-mache instead of flesh and blood.

The photos I show here are from TASSPHOTO (obviously) but there are some others here as well. I was looking for information regarding what the charity event supported, but haven't yet found a detailed news article regarding the auction. I'm very curious which puppet fetched the highest price - I'm guessing the Yulia Tymoshenko.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The 100th Post

Hmmm ... I guess I never thought I would stick with this so long, or write so much over the last few months. I might have started sooner if I thought it would go this well.

I had toyed with the idea of a blog for well over a year, as I have Russian friends who are posting and writing all sorts of things (predominantly on livejournal). I was never really sure what sort of topics I might write about, and the idea of putting all my most personal thoughts online for others to read, seemed a bit of a deception if not 100% honest and very self-indulgent in any case.

I then last summer I stumbled upon Lyndon Allin's Scraps of Moscow. He happened to write something complimentary about my friend Elena Skochilo's Morrire Blog and her 72-hours of non-stop blogging during the "revolution" in Bishkek. I kept reading his blogs, and others that he referred to ... eventually making some comments or observations on various topics.

After reading this assortment of blogs, which I found very well written but largely political (rather the nature of the popular blogsphere), I felt that I could perhaps come up with something that filled a bit of a different niche. Perhaps my writing wouldn't be as serious or as political, but I thought there were many Russian experiences yet to be discussed. Russia has been and remains a bit of a black-box to most Americans ... whenever I happen to mention my travels or interests in Russia, I am always met by Americans with curiousity and questions. 95% of those are very positive and interested (even those who are not positive are at least interested). The misconceptions are many, and not generally the ones that Russians imagine (like where do Russians keep getting this idea that Americans believe bears are wandering the streets of Russia? I've only ever heard that one from a Russian ...)

In any case, I came to the conclusion this was a format that I could write within fairly well ... especially if I relied upon Katja and others to keep me steered in the generally correct direction. Given the general state of what I consider rebuilding in Russia today, I feel it would be too easy to discuss just negative sounding stories and events in the news. So I honestly try to talk about the many positive experiences that Russian culture has to offer. Many Russians seem particularly sensitive to what they see as "Russia-bashing" even from their own newspapers (oh brother, they should try coming to the US and reading what we write about ourselves). Yep, they can be rather like George Bush Republicans - they don't believe that talking about the bad stuff helps solve anything, it is only being negative.

So after 100 posts, what have I learned doing this? I learned that I am just vain enough to want to be sure that people are actually reading what I write. So I am tracking the numbers like a good engineer and trying to put the name of the blog in places where it can be seen. Yep, it is sheer vanity, but to hell with it - in for a penny, in for a pound.

I learned that I can be obsessive about editing. Having spent much of the last 10 years doing technical and business writing, I absolutely hate when I see a typo or a grammar mistake or repetive phrases. So I am split with getting things up as soon as possible, but also going back and correcting any mistakes and adding small changes here and there.

I learned that as much as I read, there is always something else interesting out there waiting to be found. Russia is an absolutely huge and diverse country, and more and more it is making headlines, both good and bad.

I've also managed a few tricks to keep myself up to date with headlines or websites related to Russia (the better to find topics to write). I read rather fast (ok, very fast - devouring the typical book in a day when I stay on task), so I can browse through many stories and websites fairly quickly. I'm not the world's fastest typist, but I'm good for about 65 words a minute. I sleep only about 6 hours a night, so I have time to be a mouse-potato at night and read.

In any case, I hope to keep this up for quite some time.

Putin Accused of Plagiarising PhD Thesis

Putin accused of plagiarising his PhD thesis

I don't want to make too light of this story, but how does this make Putin any different than the majority of Russian university students? Not to cast a dispersion upon Russian universities, as many of them offer excellent educations - but almost every Russian student I have known has sought to cut corners or work a deal with a friend to get some paper done. It is almost like a given thing among many students. It can't be that way with ALL of these students, but certainly many. I've even had a difficult time explaining WHY it is considered so forbidden here, and can lead to expulsion of students.

Even with it being forbidden in US universities, it still happens. So just imagine when the environment doesn't foster a belief that it is incredibly wrong to plagiarize.
The embarrassing revelation that Putin, a former KGB agent, may have cheated and lied about his qualifications follows a long search by US scholars for evidence of the president’s academic prowess. A copy of the thesis was eventually located in the electronic files of a Moscow technical library.

According to Clifford G Gaddy, a senior fellow at Brookings, 16 of the 20 pages that open a key section of Putin’s work were copied either word for word or with minute alterations from a management study, Strategic Planning and Policy, written by US professors William King and David Cleland. The study was translated into Russian by a KGB-related institute in the early 1990s.

The Washington Times reported yesterday that six diagrams and tables from the 218-page thesis also appeared to “mimic” similar charts in the US work. The newspaper quoted Gaddy as saying: “There’s no question in my mind that this would be plagiarism.”

Putin’s work was entitled “The Strategic Planning of Regional Resources Under the Formation of Market Relations” and was largely an essay on how a state should manage its natural resources. Experts on the former Soviet Union said last week it was common for ambitious “apparatchiks” to seek to inflate their credentials with an impressive-sounding degree, and that there were many cases at the time of officials hiring ghost-writers to produce work they passed off as their own.
It is ironic that this same paper was recently cited as being almost a holy grail among Putin-philes (Putinophiles?) who wanted to read the man's original words. Even the titles of the papers are nearly identical - and the fact that it was translated into Russian in the early 90's certainly doesn't help the case against possible plagiarism.

I am expecting this to be completely dismissed in Russian newspapers tomorrow. Probably Russians who read this blog will get angry at me even writing this short blurb about the news article. But it was sitting there staring me in the face from multiple news sources after the Brooking Institute released their findings.

As it is, I don't consider it to be a hugely important finding, but it doesn't do much to improve Putin's stature in the minds of many in the West - particularly when enforcement of intellectual property laws in Russia are a large concern for western businesses.

Speaking of Soviet Literature - - Soviet Literature Summarized

"Works of Soviet Literature summarized for those unable or too lazy to read them in the original."

Speaking of Soviet Literature in the prior posting reminded me to call to your attention. It is sort of a chaotic Reader's Digest of Soviet-era writing, suitably disorganized as to seem authentic. They do have some complete translations also, as well as various cartoons, humor, and biographies.

Definitely a must-do website for the well-educated Russophile (and aren't we all?).

Я люблю Нью-Йорк

Slavs of New York! Just a quick note to readers and Russophiles - I've added the Slavs of New York! blog to the blogroll to the right. I had been familiar with the journal for a while now, just kept forgetting to add it. Slavs of New York! is a much more active site, than the rather static websites such as Russian America ring (Russian Boston, for instance rarely has any new Russian or Slavic events listed, other than some dance clubs - I doubt Russian New York is any better). The Slavs of New York! blog fills a much-needed gap for Russian-Americans and Russophiles and does a rather good job of keeping up with Slavic events in New York City. There should definitely be something like this for Chicago (at the very least) and some other US cities as well.

Some other recommendations for new links that I've added the last few days include
Languor Management's blog - a Russophile blog with an emphasis on Soviet and Russian literature. I also added the visually amazing 12 Months (or more) in the Middle Kingdom Blog (British/Australian ex-pat in China, photography-based blog).

I've shuffled around the blog-roll and links to try to keep them in some sort of orderly fashion that at least makes sense to me (if not to anyone else).

I've added a Slide Show (by Slide) for photos from my trips, and other Russian photos that I've collected. I'm tempted to just delete the Flickr badge, as I think the Slide Show will tease more people into browsing photographs.

Ilf and Petrov tour the US, 1935-1936

Exhibition - ILF & PETROV tour the United States, 1935-1936

Il'ia Ilf and Evgeny Petrov were two Soviet era writers and reporters whose two novels – Dvenadtsat Stulyev (Twelve Chairs) and Zolotoy Telyonok (Little Golden Calf) – written in the late 1920s are still among the most popular Russian books ever published. They maintained a creative partnership until Ilf's death in 1937.

Born Ilya Arnoldovich Fainzilberg and Evgeny Petrovich Kataev, they adopted the pseudonyms Ilya I'lf and Evgeny Petrov for their writing. These two intrepid writers started their career as journalists and satirical writers. Petrov initially worked for Krasny Perets (Red Pepper) before moving to Gudok (The Whistle), newspaper of the central rail-workers, where he met Ilya Ilf in 1926. Thus started their writing partnership. After the success of their novels, they began to write for "Pravda" and "Ogonek". As a result, they were occasionally sent abroad to report on other countries and events of interest for these newspapers and the Soviet public.

The most interesting of these trips was their American tour of 1935-1936, as correspondents for "Pravda". This journey eventually led to Odnoetazhnaya Amerika (One-Story America) a clever account of their automobile trip across the US and also to Tonya (1937), a satirical portrayal of the life of Soviet people compelled to live in a capitalist society.

The "Ilf and Petrov tour the United States" website/exhibit was made possible by the University of Michigan's Institute for the Humanities, Slavic Department, International Institute, and Center for Russian and East European Studies. It contains photographs and summary writings from Ilf and Petrovs One-Story America. I recommend reading it for a unique view of the US in the 1930s, through Soviet satirist's eyes.
We went to go have a look at the ship. Third-class passengers don't see the ship on which they travel. They aren't allowed into either the first class or the coach class areas. The coach-class passengers don't see the Normandie either, since either, since they also aren't allowed to cross the border. First-class is the real Normandie. It takes up at least nine-tenths of the entire ship. Everything in first class is huge: the promenade decks, and restaurants, and smoking salons, and card salons, and special ladies' salons, and a greenhouse where plump French sparrows hop on glass branches and hundreds of orchids hang from the ceilings, and a theater that seats four hundred, and a bathing pool with water illuminated with green electric lamps [...]. Even the pipes on the Normandie, which you would think belong to the entire ship, do not - they actually belong to just the first-class passengers.
Right away we had a little problem. We thought we would stroll slowly along, looking around attentively - studying everything, so to speak; observing, taking it all in and so on. But New York isn't a city where people move slowly. People weren't walking past us, they were running. So we also started to run. And we haven't been able to stop since. We lived a whole month in New York and the entire time we were rushing somewhere as fast as we could go.
"This lower part of the city is called the "business center." Stores, offices, and cinemas are all situated here. The sidewalks are deserted. However, the pavement is full of parked automobiles. They take up all the free space next to the curb. The only place they can't park is next to fire hydrants or driveways, a fact attested to by the sign "No parking!"

Sometimes this turns into a torturous exercise, this finding a place where you can park the car, or, as Russians in America say, priparkovat'sia. One evening we were in San Diego, a city on the Pacific coast. We needed to park the car somewhere so we could eat lunch. And we drove around the city for an entire hour, burning with the desire to priparkovat'sia. The city was so full of cars that we couldn't find room for one more car, just one more car.
Credit is the basis of American trade. Everything in an American's house is bought on credit: the stove on which he cooks his meals, the furniture on which he sits, the vacuum-cleaner with which he tidies the room - everything was acquired by down payment. In point of fact neither his house, nor his furniture, nor the wonderful gizmos of mechanized everyday life belong to him.It would seem that in the life of the average American, that is, the American who has work, there would have to come a moment when he pays off all his debts and becomes a real, genuine proprietor. But it's not that easy. His car has gotten old. The company is offering a beautiful new model. The company will take the old car for a hundred dollars, and is giving wonderful discount rates for the remaining five hundred: so many dollars the first month, and then...
We were still on board the Normandie and the tugboats and the tugboats had just pulled the steamer into the New York harbor when two things came to our attention. One was small and greenish: the Statue of Liberty. The second was enormous and insolent: an advertising panel propagandizing "Wrigley's Chewing Gum." From that time on the billboard with the flat little green snout with the enormous megaphone followed us all over America, convincing us, begging us, persuading us, and demanding of us that we chew "Wrigley's," the flavored, incomparable, first-class gum.

The fact of the matter is that the more widespread the advertising, the more meaningless the object for which it is intended. Only the sale of some kind of nonsense can recoup this crazed advertising. Americans' buildings, roads, fields and trees are all disfigured by these annoying billboards. The consumer also pays for these billboards. We were told that a five-cent bottle of "Cola-Cola" costs the manufacturers one cent, while three cents go toward the advertising. We don't need to write about where the fifth cent goes. That's pretty clear.
The more people and things we saw, the less we understood America. We tried to sum things up in generalizations. Dozens of times a day we exclaimed:
  • Americans are as naive as children!
  • Americans are excellent workers!
  • Americans are hypocrites!
  • Americans are a great nation!
  • Americans are cheapskates!
  • Americans are generous to a fault!
  • Americans are radicals!
  • Americans are dull, conservative, and hopeless!
  • There will never be a revolution in America!
  • There will be a revolution in America in a few days!
It was a real muddle, from which we wanted to extricate ourselves as soon as possible. And, slowly, that extrication began. One after another various spheres of American life started to become clear to us ...

Soon to be released

Other books by Ilf and Petrov (Some Hard to Find)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

360 Virtual Reality Panorama's of St. Petersburg Ice Palace

360 VR panoramas of Ice Art: Ice Palace Event, February-March 2006, St. Petersburg.

I wish I had happened upon this sooner, but still felt it was cool enough to share. Actually, they are incredibly cool - not as good as being there - but much cheaper! You can literally move in and out, up and down, and almost through these images. It is really quite a nice bit of virtual tourism.

A replica of the original Ice Palace from 1740 has been mounted on Dvortzovaja Ploschtjad near Hermitage Palace by the team of 14 ice-art masters led by famous ice-sculptor from St. Petersburg, Valerij Gromov (

The replica has been build according to the original descriptions of Prof. G.Kraft from St.Petersburg Academy of Science which worked with original project 1740. This event was dedicated to the victory in Turkish war. Ice building on Dvortzovaja Ploschtjad was in these times part of carnival tradition. Ice art belongs also the Russian national tradition. In XVIII Century Russian ice artists worked systematically with design plans and drawings for ice sculptures and buildings.
Other panoramas on the page include the White Nights 24-Hour Powerboat Race, 2 July 2005, St.Petersburg; Sweden's National Day event in St.Petersburg; The Savior on Spilled Blood; The Dvortzovaja Square; Dvortzovyj Park; Marmurnoj Palace; Petropavlovskaja Fortress; Tzarskoje Selo, The Catherine Palace; Castles on the Narva Border; and St. Nicholas Church, Tallinn, Estonia. The other panos are quite nice, although they dont present quite as large on your screen as the ice palaces.

Nuclear Nightmares: Twenty Years Since Chernobyl

Nuclear Nightmares
As we are one month from the
20th anniversary of the Chernobyl (Chornobyl) disaster, we can expect more newspapers, television, and radio programs to discuss the consequences of that accident. This is the first of two postings I have planned this weekend to discuss aspects of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident.

The April 25, 1986 explosion of the reactor at Chernobyl-4 released all of its reactor core xenon gas (considered biologically inert), about half of its iodine and cesium, and at least 5% of the remaining radioactive material into the atmosphere. These released materials primarily fell out of the atmosphere in relatively close proximity, but lighter airborne materials were carried by wind over Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and some parts of Europe.

Initial evacuations included 45,000 people living within a 10-km radius of the plant, with subsequent evacuation of some 116,000 people living within a 30-km radius by May 4. In the years after, another 210,000 people were evacuated from an area of approximately 4,300 square kilometers which became the "exclusion zone".

However, the International Atomic Energy Agency studies have estimated that over 1,000,000 people were possibly adversely affected by radiation from the accident. Rapid increase in thyroid cancers, increased risk of leukemia, birth defects, decrease fertility, and "adverse pregnancy outcomes" are evidence of the lingering impact on the Slavic population.

As Nuclear Nightmare's website (photography by Robert Knoth, reporting by Antoinette De Jong) shows in a graphic photo presentation, the former CCCP has other lingering radiation effects due to its nuclear weapons programs and other aspects of its nuclear industry. This legacy extends from Kazakhstan where the former Soviet Union tested their first nuclear weapon in 1949 to Tomsk-7 which was shut down following an accidental explosion in 1993. As the website shows, these citizens close ties to the land and love of nature - from berry and mushroom picking, to fishing and hunting, to home gardens - makes them particularly acute accumulators of radiation at the top of the food chain.

The photos presented here are screen captures from the large collection at the Nuclear Nightmares website. There are dozens more at the website ... many much more graphic in depicting the human health consequences of long-
term exposure to low-level radiation.
March 31 - Adding to this story the following article also by Antoinette De Jong in the Illinois Times.

Just ahead of the holiday season, the hospital’s corridors and consulting rooms are full. Surgeon Igor Komisarenko, head of the Komisarenko Institute for Endocrinology and Metabolism in Kiev, has been operating all morning. “Four years after the explosion we were confronted with a surge of cases of children with thyroid cancer,” says Komisarenko. The cancers were caused by radioactive iodine that was released during the disaster. Now, most of his patients are women. Nineteen-year-old Elena Gurok blames herself for her illness. Thyroid cancer was first diagnosed in 2002, and she has just had her second operation: “It is my own fault. I should have taken the medication regularly,” she says.

Nila Bandarenko is another of Komisarenko’s patients. She just had her third operation and cannot yet speak, says the surgeon: “After the second one, microscopic particles got into her vessels and started growing there.” Bandarenko is also suffering from kidney cancer, and her prospects are unclear. Like many of the women here, she is from an area close to the nuclear plant. “The closer to Chernobyl, the bigger the chances are of getting thyroid cancer,” says Komisarenko.

The United Nations even expects another 50,000 cases of thyroid cancer as a result of Chernobyl, says Carel de Rooy, UNICEF representative to the Russian Federation and Belarus: “The greatest danger from radioiodine is to the tiny thyroid glands of children. Researchers have found that in certain parts of Belarus, for example, 36.4 percent of children who were under the age of 4 at the time of the accident can expect to develop thyroid cancer.” In Belarus the trend is similar. Dr. Vachslav Izhakovsky is director of the children’s hospital in Gomel. He says that only one in every four children is born healthy. The intensive-care unit has children with different congenital malformations: cleft palate, no ears, no nose, serious hydrocephaly. “In 1985 we had 200 children with congenital malformations; now we have 800,” says Izhakovsky. The total number of births registered by the hospital went down from 30,000 to 15,000. “The birth rate goes down, like everywhere in Europe,” says Izhakovsky, “but an important factor is that people realize the dangers of having children here.”

According to Izhakovsky, poverty is also affecting the birthrate: “The average salary is $150 [U.S.]. Especially in the villages, life is hard. People are forced to eat whatever they grow, and radioactive contamination is high.”

Russian Ice Fishing

A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work.

Having recently registered with TASSPHOTO, I happened upon some March 20th photos of Ice Fishing on the Volga River in the Ivanovo region. They seemed well worth sharing and lead me into the topic of Russian Ice Fishing.

(Photo ITAR-TASS / Vladimir Smirnov)

Now, I will say that people in northern states of the US definitely enjoy ice fishing. I am sure it is quite popular in Canada also. The people in these photos seem to be well prepared and are on the ice in March, when I am sure the ice is sufficiently thick to support people and equipment.

However, Russian ice fisherman often have this peculiar habit of getting out onto the ice as early as possible ... or as late as possible. It happens here in the US also - but the bravery or foolhardiness of Russian ice fisherman is not to be surpassed. Below are some photos of Lake Nero in Rostov Veliky ... ice fishing in OCTOBER. After a mostly mild fall, the region had a cold snap and people were out on the ice as quickly as possible ... even though it was only a few centimeters thick.

Other examples include this Australian radio program transcript about a March 2000 incident near St. Petersburg. I think her introduction is a bit black:
There are many interesting ways to die in Russia: Join the army and get beaten or starved to death; drink the bootleg vodka that grandmothers sell on street corners; or walk under the path of a giant icicle plummeting from a rooftop during the spring thaw. But perhaps the most absurd manner of death comes with a favourite Russian winter pastime, ice fishing.

On this 20 metre-wide ice flow in a shaded bend in the Moscow River, Nickolai, a 30 year veteran of ice fishing, uses a huge hand drill to forge a six inch wide hole in the ice. But this is not about fishing for food.
Nickolai says he's got just one fish - that tiny one lying on the ice there, colourful but barely four inches long. And that's what most ice fishermen catch - barely enough to feed a cat. They're not bothered by the paltry returns though. They just like going through the fishing motions.

And in fact it's the fishermen themselves that often find themselves caught, perilously stranded when ice breaks away unexpectedly.

And that's exactly what happened to more than 1,000 fishermen on Lake Lardiga (sic) near St Petersburg this week.
Russian rescue helicopters hauling the men to safety. Some were pulled from pieces of ice no bigger than an average office desk, after rising temperatures brought an unforeseen melt. Eight men died. One incident last year claimed 20 lives. And it happens every winter, several times a season. The authorities often alerted by mobile phone calls from those in peril. Sometimes they're even found floating out to sea headed for Finland.

It leaves Russian officials exasperated.

RUSSIAN OFFICIAL (interpreted by Linda Mottram): What to do in this situation, I can't imagine, says Alexander Affanasiev [phonetic]. He works for St Petersburg's governor, Vladimir Jakolev [phonetic] who expressed his frustration this week by suggesting that maybe the survivors of this latest ice fishing calamity should be flogged to see if that brings them to their senses.

Back on the Moscow River, the ice fishermen seem to agree that their St Petersburg cousins take too many risks in unpredictable conditions. But Valodia [phonetic], one of the fishermen, says there are no big risks on their river.

VALODIA (interpreted by Linda Mottram): He says he's floated away on broken ice twice. He says he simply waited until he reached the opposite bank, climbed out, then took a trolley bus back to resume his fishing.
Yep, that's right Volodia ... it's always the other guy who is being foolish!

Johnson's Russia List has a reprint of Baltimore Sun newspaper column by Douglas Birch and Elena Ilingina regarding a similar incident in 2002. I've reprinted almost the entire article here; the stories were so good it was difficult to know what to remove:
The wind was blowing, and the snow was blinding. That was when, last weekend, a village-size piece of the annual ice shelf in the Gulf of Finland broke free from shore, carrying about 200 terrified ice fishermen with it more than a mile into open water.

Then the floe split in half, frightening the fishermen all the more.

The icebreaker Semyon Dezhnev arrived to rescue most of the hapless anglers just in time. The rest were plucked from the ice by helicopter.

All in all, it was a typical winter weekend on the Baltic coast, where ice fishermen are passionate enough about their punishing sport to risk drowning each time they venture onto the ice.

Every winter, the open waters of the gulf and of nearby Lake Ladoga freeze over, creating shelves of ice that stretch miles from shore. The platforms form an irresistible lure for tens of thousands of anglers who trek to the water's edge on foot, by bicycle, even in cars.

Storms, unseasonably mild weather and icebreakers can shatter the ice. Huge floes break free without warning and float into deep water. Any fisherman unlucky enough to be on such a floe may find himself clinging to smaller and smaller fragments, until he disappears beneath the waves. Abut 60 fishermen drown a year, rescue professionals say.

Alexei Giryakov made the 2 1/2 -hour trip that morning from St. Petersburg by train and bus with three neighbors and a couple of bottles of vodka. He recalled last year, when he found himself drifting out into the gulf in a storm, his floe rolling with the waves. For four hours, he watched and felt the ice break up beneath him. Finally, a helicopter appeared through the squall and he clambered aboard.

Now, he stays within a mile of shore, never venturing to the black ice at the water's edge. "We're still risking our lives," he said.

Why ice fish?

"We just like to relax, to breathe fresh air," said Anatoly Rolov, 67, who used to work as a mechanic in a St. Petersburg factory. "We can meet with our comrades, talk about fishing, about life, about everything."

On Friday, Rolov fished alone. His blue eyes blazed in the bright sun. He warded off the cold with layers of clothes, a worn leather coat, fur hat and thick boots. Sitting on his tackle box, his boots planted on the ice, he leaned over every few minutes to scoop out the ice clogging the hole he had drilled. His hands were so cold he had trouble baiting his hook with mosquito larvae. On a good day, he might catch a dozen smelts - each fish only 4 or 5 inches long.

A few wealthy fishermen drive luxury cars out on the ice and bring fancy tackle. Once in a while cars plunge to the bottom. But Rolov is more typical of the fishermen here - a pensioner with little but time.

Georgy Tsagareshvilli, a former construction engineer at a Soviet research center, fished nearby. Now, he said, tossing aside his cigarette butt, "I'm guarding a damn parking lot."

His sport has become increasingly perilous. Winters are warmer and the ice is thinner. "When you get out on the ice," Tsagareshvilli said, "you have to keep your ears pricked" for the sickening sound of the shelf cracking. Still, he comes to the gulf whenever he can. "It's a primeval instinct," he said, leaning forward and lowering his voice as if to disclose a state secret. "The first men were hunters. There is this collective urge to fish. As you leave the city, you become a hunter again."

In the past decade, Vadim Bazikin, a 42-year-old helicopter pilot who owns a private charter service, has rescued about 2,500 fishermen from the St. Petersburg area. Though not a fisherman himself, Bazikin has come to know the fraternity pretty well; he has picked up one man six times.

"Maybe you have already noticed the fact that fishing is a sort of poetry, but with a line in your hands," he said.

Bazikin's charter service charges handsome fees to take foreign anglers to remote rivers, fly United Nations officials around Sierra Leone and pluck monuments that need renovation from the tops of buildings in St. Petersburg.

But he is on call 24 hours a day during the ice fishing season. When the call comes, he and his crew head for the ice.

They're never sure what they will find. Sometimes it's a lone fisherman with a cell phone. Sometimes it's a mob. Two years ago, Bazikin arrived at a drifting floe to find 800 fishermen clamoring to escape. With the helicopter loaded and people hanging from the landing gear, he ferried load after load across a half-mile of open water, his aircraft skimming the waves.

Sometimes, the fishermen are grateful. Sometimes, they are blase. Once, Bazikin rescued two fishermen on western Lake Ladoga. When he asked where they wanted to go, the men said they wanted to land on the ice near the eastern shore.

"We hear there are a lot of fish there," one said. Bazikin took them back to shore.

Sometimes, the fishermen don't seem to want to be rescued. Bazikin spent a frustrating night searching a large floe for seven reportedly stranded men.

When he returned after daybreak, he finally spotted them hiking along the ice. They refused to board the helicopter until Roman Yurinov, a rescue specialist who works with Bazikin, threatened to beat them.

They worried that police might arrest them for ignoring warnings not to fish on the ice shelf, or that they would be charged the $850- an-hour cost of the helicopter. (Bazikin bills the government, he says, but authorities don't always pay.)

Bazikin asked the fishermen where they had been the night before, during his search.

"We covered ourselves with white blankets," they said.

The government weather service doesn't forecast conditions on the ice shelf. Instead, it settles for warning the public that ice fishing near open water is dangerous. "The official approach of government," Yurinov said, "is to prohibit, to fine, to scare people."

It doesn't seem to work. Hundreds of fishermen trudge out on the ice every day in winter, even in bad weather. Several years ago, rescuers said, 44 fishermen waited on a disintegrating floe while authorities argued over who would pay to send a helicopter to rescue them. The floe broke apart 15 minutes before the helicopter reached them. Six people drowned.

Andrei Bagotsky, head of the St. Petersburg Emergency Rescue Service, which operates its own helicopter, said officials don't seem to care about the death toll on the ice. "Unfortunately, those to whom the power belongs don't understand how valuable a person's life is," he said.

Like anglers everywhere, St. Petersburg's have a reputation for stretching the truth. Last week, a fisherman claimed that a compatriot slit his wrists with a razor blade while stranded on an ice floe and died a few minutes before the helicopter arrived. Some fishermen commit suicide, he said, rather than face death in the icy water. Rescue experts, though, said they had never heard of any such thing.

Yurinov was riding the St. Petersburg tram when he overheard two men talking about ice fishing. One bragged that he had assisted rescuers as they helped his friends climb out of the frigid waters of the gulf and into a helicopter.

Yurinov tapped the speaker on the shoulder.

"Stop telling lies," he said. "I'm the guy who rescued you."
More adventures in Russian ice fishing can be read in this story from the website.

Friday, March 24, 2006

1 Year After: Parade in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Morrire Livejournal: Отчет о параде

Elena Skochilo (Morrire) has the story and photos from parade earlier today in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan celebrating one year since the "Tulip Revolution" swept aside Akaev and made way for the current government.

Apparently the parade had a performance in which the Kyrgyzstan constitution was trapped in a web and the tulip revolutionaries helped it escape and reveal itself. Would be wonderful if it really happened.

Ms. Skochilo reminds readers through some small hints that many of these revolutionaries by day, were looters by night.

Russian readers should browse Elena's account of the events of 1 year ago as well. Link to the front page of her livejournal is here.

Russian Woman Posing as Chechen Sniper as “Joke” Brutally Killed by Friends

Russian Woman Posing as Chechen Sniper as “Joke” Brutally Killed by Friends - NEWS - MOSNEWS.COM

Mama's don't let your babies grow up to be Chechens. Or even to joke about it, as it turns out.

I have to admit, it is a pretty sick thing for someone to joke about - but even more amazing is how quickly she was dispatched by her "friends"
Investigators established that Skoryatina’s story was nothing but drunken bravado. She had been short-sighted from early childhood and had never left her native town of Ulyanovsk for more than a week.

Saunin, who is a veteran of the Chechen war told investigators that on the day when the murder took place he had been telling his colleagues about the atrocities committed by Chechen terrorists. The victim started arguing with him and said that Chechens were fighting for their freedom.

“She said that [Chechen warlords] Maskhadov and Basayev were good people and at the end said that she had been a sniper with Chechen troops and taken out our boys,” Saunin told the investigators. “The light dimmed in my eyes as she said this and I thought — I must avenge them. I thought ”Skoryatina is not leaving this party alive“,” he added.

After everybody had left, Saunin, a guard at a factory, battered the woman and then put out her right eye, because it is used in shooting and cut off the index finger on her right hand — the finger used to pull the trigger, as well as the middle finger on her left hand as it is used in an obscene gesture after a good shot. “She cried and begged for mercy but I could not stop — the faces of our boys killed by Chechen snipers stood before my eyes,” the killer said.

He did not stop at that. The veteran then stripped the woman, shoved the fingers he’d cut off into her vagina and slit the victim’s throat.

Upon finishing the brutal murder, Saunin called his brother, they put the body into a bag with sawdust and buried it in the nearby garage block. Both brothers have been arrested and charged with murder. Saunin will undergo a psychiatric examination to test his sanity, investigators told the newspaper.
The foolish bravado of Skoryatina is very surprising - but her sadistic murder (as described here, sadistic might not even be a strong enough word) is even more shocking.

I was looking for some additional confirmation of this story, but it wasn't available in English. Later this evening I will do some browsing on Yandex in Russian to see if the details presented here are correct.

The case of Oleg Shcherbinsky as part of modern Russian history

RIA Novosti - Opinion & analysis - The case of Oleg Shcherbinsky as part of modern Russian history

RIA Novosti opinion column by Boris Kaimakov on the Oleg Shcherbinsky case as a "turning point in modern Russian history". Very big words that I would not have dared to write.

I think the fact that Russian citizens could peacefully protest the verdict and that the Russian court system quickly reexamined the case - was a great outcome. As this opinion column notes, retrials do not normally happen so quickly in Russia.
Never before in the history of the Soviet Union and Russia was a traffic accident discussed so openly and objectively. In the mid-1950s, the country was shocked by the death in a car accident of Belarussian leader Pyotr Masherov, who was expected to become the top ruler with time. Officially, a truck hit Masherov's car; its driver was sentenced to a long prison term. But the course of the investigation and the fact that the trial was held behind closed doors provoked the rumor that the accident was premeditated and the driver was not to blame.

Similar rumors and versions floated around during the Shcherbinsky case too, when some opposition sites made public the results of their investigations, concluding that it was an assassination.

There are mixed reasons for the authorities' close attention to the case of Shcherbinsky, notably public discontent over the first court ruling, which sentenced the man to four years, and open disregard for the procedure and rules of investigation. Prominent Lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, member of the Public Chamber under the Russian president, openly spoke about the low standards used during the investigation. And one more reason was the interest of top state officials, who should have been the recipients of the guilty verdict passed on Shcherbinsky in the eyes of the people.

This called for revising the verdict. A second trial was held, surprisingly for Russia, very quickly. The court quashed the "guilty" verdict, putting the blame on the Mercedes' driver.

Shcherbinsky's acquittal and the fact that he was set free has become a turning point in Russia because society saw that it can prove the court wrong and ordinary people can defeat the authorities in a battle for their rights. This is one of the most important precedents in recent Russian history.

Did Russian Ambassador Give Saddam the U.S. War Plan?

ABC News: Did Russian Ambassador Give Saddam the U.S. War Plan?

ABC News is reporting on newly released documents from Saddam Hussein's former Iraqi government. The documents discuss Iraq's involvement with Osama bin Laden, weapons of mass destruction, and curiously - the Russian ambassador to Iraq in 2003, Vladimir Titorenko.

You might remember that Vladimir Titorenko accused US soldiers of deliberately firing on his cars in April of 2003. As it turns out, he had good reason to suspect this - he had apparently been giving Russian intelligence information about the US coalition forces to the Iraqi government.
Two Iraqi documents from March 2003 — on the eve of the U.S.-led invasion — and addressed to the secretary of Saddam Hussein, describe details of a U.S. plan for war. According to the documents, the plan was disclosed to the Iraqis by the Russian ambassador.

Document written sometime before March 5, 2003
The first document (CMPC-2003-001950) is a handwritten account of a meeting with the Russian ambassador that details his description of the composition, size, location and type of U.S. military forces arrayed in the Gulf and Jordan. The document includes the exact numbers of tanks, armored vehicles, different types of aircraft, missiles, helicopters, aircraft carriers, and other forces, and also includes their exact locations. The ambassador also described the positions of two Special Forces units.

Document dated March 25, 2003
The second document (CMPC-2004-001117) is a typed account, signed by Deputy Foreign Minister Hammam Abdel Khaleq, that states that the Russian ambassador has told the Iraqis that the United States was planning to deploy its force into Iraq from Basra in the South and up the Euphrates, and would avoid entering major cities on the way to Baghdad, which is, in fact what happened. The documents also state "Americans are also planning on taking control of the oil fields in Kirkuk." The information was obtained by the Russians from "sources at U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar," according to the document.

This document also includes an account of an amusing incident in which several Iraqi Army officers (presumably seeking further elaboration of the U.S. war plans) contacted the Russian Embassy in Baghdad and stated that the ambassador was their source. Needless to say, this caused great embarrassment to the ambassador, and the officers were instructed "not to mention the ambassador again in that context."
It is also noted that Vladimir Titorenko appears in documents released by the Volker Commision investigation of the Oil for Food scandal. In that document, Mr. Titorenko was cited as receiving allocations of 3 million barrels of oil — worth roughly $1.5 million at that time.

This all plays out rather interestingly in light of recent US calls for a policy of "selective cooperation" with the Russian government. At the time, I suggested this was already US-Russian government policies towards one another. This released document just reveals that to be a true statement. Combined with reported German intelligence cooperation with the US, regarding Iraqi war plans - it reveals how Cold War era divisions have not been completely redrawn.

More details can be found at these links:
Bloomberg: Russia Told Iraq of U.S. Troop Movements During War, Study Says
AP Military: Russia Gave Saddam U.S. Intel

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Waiting for change in modern Russia

Waiting for change in modern Russia
The fact that I agree with much of reporter Bridget Kendall's observations in this opinion column about Moscow and modern Russia, probably says as much about me (westerner) as it does about Russia.

Still, I found this to be an interesting article with many of the same questions that I find myself filled with each time I am leaving Russia. When I see all the neon, glitz, Казино, slot-clubs, sex-clubs, etc. I find myself momentarily agreeing with Ilya Glazunov. And then I realize this isn't what the West has sold or forced upon Russia, but some sort of crazed parody of the worst aspects of western culture - wildly and loudly exaggerated and imitated. Almost like Texas, Russian culture often seems to encourage the largest version of anything ... Russian-style.

This contrast of the new money and ridiculously escalating prices, with the conditions of the more typical working-class Russian (particularly outside of Moscow) really gives me pause. Are there two countries being simultaneously built here? The young and the ambitious of Moscow don't hesitate to leave the rest of the country behind. The American BMW-driving, brie-chomping yuppies of the 1980's had nothing on their 2006 Russian successors.
As the snow blows harder, a friend takes me to a new bar, promising a magnificent view over the city. We step into the cathedral-sized lobby of a glistening new hotel. Under the space-age chandelier, fish-like females in tight black scaly sequin dresses eye my old down jacket and clumpy boots with cold derision.

We swoop up 30 floors, and emerge into a circular bar perched high above Moscow like a flying saucer.

In deep, suede armchairs, more Russian beauties sip garish cocktails. Male cohorts in ridiculously pointed shoes whisper business instructions into their mobiles. And outside, the swirling snow dissolves the city lights into white mist.

This is the new Moscow of the super-rich. And it is not only a weird contrast with the past. It is a strange counterpoint to the rest of the country.

Go just a few stops on the commuter train, and you will find the same sagging little wooden houses in the midst of forests that have always been there, and the same gnarled residents, bent double from years of hauling water and splitting logs every day.

You cannot help wondering: has the high price of oil and gas really empowered Russia and restored the global clout so many Russians hanker for? Or like those snowstorms, is it a mirage, a deceptive covering?

Vodka and Liquor Production Sinks 59% in January-February

ITAR-TASS The Russian Federal Statistics Service has reported that vodka and liquor production sank by 59% in January-February as compared with the same period in 2005. I'm wondering if this has anything to do with everyone's liver recovering after a 10-day New Years holiday this year. As Sergei added to the "If You Are Russian ..." posting:
Last year it was 10 days off for the country too. It was a hard burden ... both on wallets and on livers of Russians. 5 days of vodka is good, 10 days - too much.
Just as Germans lay off the beer after Oktoberfest, so it appears that Russians backed off the vodka after the big New Years holiday this year.

Postscript - Seeing this empty bottle of Putinka reminds me of when Katja and I bought these bottles in October 2005. It was my last day in Moscow, and I wanted to get some bottles to bring home for friends (well ... one was for me, of course). We went around to
a little collection of stores near Izmailovo and I asked for four bottles of the Putinka Vodka. Sergei had bought and served this brand of vodka earlier and I thought my friends and coworkers would be amused by the name.

The woman at the very crowded little store asked if we wanted the large or small bottles. Katja and I replied four of the large bottles (smaller bottles are 500 ml) and her eyes lit up. After that, we were her number one customer! It was really remarkable the change that came over her and how excited she was to ask if we needed anything else. We walked out of there having spent maybe $30 on vodka and chocolates to stash in my duffle bag for the flight home.

One more important vodka note: Kommersant is reporting a halt of vodka production in Moscow due to some confusion and lack of availability of new tax stamps/labels for bottles of vodka.
Moscow-based Kristall alcoholic beverage factory announced the suspension of the output yesterday while a number of other large producers, Russkiy Alkogol and Soyuz-Viktan, reported they are on the verge of the halt.

New obligatory documentary stamps for vodka bottles were introduced this year and producers maintain that the authorities keep them in shortage of the stamps. “Kristall has received only 34 percent of the stamps we need since the new year,” Dmitry Dobrov, an official at Kristall, said. Other market participants also lament the shortage. “We received 350,000 stamps yesterday which will be enough for one day. If we don’t get more today, we will have to halt the production,” Vladimir Ivanov, the deputy director general at Russkiy Alkogol, said. The Federal Tax Service fails to explain the problem with the stamps, the producers claim.

Other alcohol factories, however, do not report any problems saying that the tax service permitted them to use old types of documentary stamps since bottles with old stamps will be sold until July 1. Crisis-striken factories, in contrast, refuse to use old stamps, afraid of problems with later sales. Goznak, the state printer of documentary stamps, in turn, won't to meet the companies half-way blaming Kristall and other factories for their stubbornness.
We here at the Accidental Russophile know that vodka production is very important business, so we will keep our eyes peeled and our zakuski ready for anymore developments in this breaking news story. Kommersant has three reporters (Svetlana Mentyukova, Maria Shevchenko, and Viktor Khilko) on this single story.

Oleg Shcherbinsky acquitted

BBC NEWS | Europe | Russian death crash man acquitted

Good news for
Mr. Shcherbinsky, who had previously been charged in the death of Altai Governor Mikhail Yevdokimov in a motor vehicle accident. The charges and sentencing had led to protests in Moscow and other Russian cities.

I'm glad for this outcome, as by all appearences Oleg Shcherbinsky was just a working man in the wrong place at the wrong time. It will be interesting to see if it leads to any other changes in privileges afforded to politicians and regional governors.

The photo at right is from TASSPHOTO as the watermark shows. More images of Mr. Shcherbinsky can be found here. Registration with ITAR-TASS photo is free.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange and Nadsat

For the uniniated, the novel A Clockwork Orange (1962) by Anthony Burgess is a near-future sci-fi novel about a 15-year old young man, Alex DeLarge. The book eventually became a movie by Stanley Kubrick, starring Malcolm McDowell. In both, Alex and his shaika of droogs go out at nochy, for drinks of a malenky Moloko-plus, from chasha to rot, goes straight to their gullivers. After that, they are up to finding some devotchka's for pol and sod. Some lubbilubbing, you know. Or maybe they come across another nadmenny shaika, break out the ole' britva, nozh, and oozy - for some Ultra-vi.

If you hadn't guessed, Burgess invented a slang for the novel - and called it Nadsat. He based much of it on Russian, bastardized it to adapt it to English, often putting clever little stylings or new meanings to the words. Horosho becomes horrorshow ... golova becomes gulliver ...
I had to have a smeck, though, thinking of what I'd viddied once in one of these like articles on Modern Youth, about how Modern Youth would be better off if A Lively Appreciation Of The Arts could be like encouraged. Great Music, it said, and Great Poetry would like quieten Modern Youth down and make Modern Youth more Civilized. Civilized my syphilised yarbles. Music always sort of sharpened me up, O my brothers, and made me like feel like old Bog himself, ready to make with the old donner and blitzen and have vecks and ptitsas creeding away in my ha ha power.
Burgess had a working knowledge of Russian, having travelled to St. Petersburg in the past with his wife.
The invention of Nadsat was to sort of cloud the violent actions of the characters, but also to coerce the reader into learning the new language, to put them inside the novel and this new future world he created. From Burgess's autobiography "You've Had Your Time":
My problem in writing the novel was wholly stylistic. The story had to be told by a young thug of the future, and it had to be told in his own version of English. This would be partly the slang of his group, partly his personal dialect. It was pointless to write the book in the slang of the early sixties: it was ephemeral like all slang and might have a lavender smell by the time the manuscript got to the printers, It seemed, at the time, an insoluble problem. A slang for the 1970's would have to be invented, but I shrank form making it arbitrary, I shut the half completed draft, who's sixties slang clearly would not do, in a drawer and got down to the writing of something else

Lynne and I felt we ought to take a holiday. There were Russian ships sailing from Tilbury to Leningrad, calling at Copenhagen and Stockholm, and then sailing back. There was a brief stay in a Leningrad hotel between voyages. The Russians were known to be good drinkers, and Lynne knew she would feel at home among them. When I finished my day's stint of novelising and reviewing, I started to re-learn Russian. I tried to persuade Lynne that she should at least learn the Cyrillic alphabet, so as to know where the ladies' toilets were and to master a few sweeteners of social intercourse. But she was above going back to school. I sighed and slogged away at my word lists and frequentive verbs, and soon it flashed upon me that I had found a solution to the stylistic problem of A Clockwork Orange. The Vocabulary of my space-age hooligans could be a mixture of Russian and demotic English, seasoned with rhyming slang and the gypsy's bolo. The Russian suffix for -teen was nadsat, and that would be the name of the teenage dialect, spoken by drugi or droogs or friends of violence.

Russian loanwords fit better in to English than those from German, French , or Italian. English, anyway, is already a kind of melange of French and German. Russian has polysyllables like zhevotnoye for best. But it also has brevities like brat for brother. In the manner of Eastern Languages, Russian makes no distinction between leg and foot - noga for both, or hand and arm, which are alike ruka. This limitation would turn my horrible young narrator in to a clockwork toy with in articulate limbs. As there was much violence in the draft smouldering in my drawer, and there would be even more in the finished work, this strange new logo would act like a kind of mist, half-hiding the mayhem and protecting the reader from his own baser instincts. And there was fine irony in the notion of a teenage race untouchable by politics, using totalitarian brutality as an end in itself, equipped with a dialect which drew on the two chief political languages of the age.

I ended up with a vocabulary of around 200 words. As the book was about brainwashing, it was appropriate that the text itself should be a brainwashing device. The reader would be brainwashed into learning minimal Russian. The novel was to be an exercise in linguistic programming, with the exoticisms gradually clarified by context: I would resist to the limit any publisher's demand that a glossary be provided. A glossary would disrupt the programming and nullify the brainwashing. It turned out to be a considerable pleasure to devise new rhythms and resurrect old ones, chiefly from the King James Bible, to accommodate the weird patois. The novel was nearly finished by the time we were ready to travel to Tilbury and board the Alexander Radishchev, a well-found ship of the Baltic line.
For the curious, the glossary of Nadsat can be found here.