Monday, September 24, 2007

The Puff Pastry Opposition

David Remnick of The New Yorker has a god-awful lengthy 12-page article on Garry Kasparov titled "The Tsar's Opponent". Apparently it isn't cool to compare Putin to Stalin anymore - he's a Tsar. I've seen a steady increase in these references in the past month or so.

Anyway, the article is pretty much standard issue diatribe against Putin, with plenty of no-brainer references to the K.G.B/F.S.B., siloviki, oligarchs, and perceived thievery by the government. How strange is it for American capitalists to now be accusing the Russian government of exploitation and thievery of profits? There are also references to how, due to the chaos of the 90's, the word demokratia is now dermokratia or “shit-ocracy.”

It bothers me with all the substantive criticism that could be aimed at Putin and his government, the best most Western news columnists can come up with is the lame K.G.B./spy angle and equating him to a dictator. I suppose it won't be anytime soon that Western writers will begin to simple take a measure of the man as a politician and count his successes and failures.

This article, thankfully, doesn't make a realistic case for Kasparov's chances. Not so thankfully, they attribute this to the Kremlin control of the news media and squashing of all opposition. Obligatory references to Kasparov as being half Armenian and half Jewish not exactly an ideal ethnic mix for a politician in a country with deep currents of anti-Caucasian and anti-Semitic feeling.Kasparov is made out to be some sort of idealistic hero or perhaps a Don Quixote figure, who just happens to be 44 years old and living with his mom. Imagine how that would play for a presidential candidate in the U.S.

He also doesn't demonstrate a single political idea in this article. He's just presented in some vague way as being pro-democracy.

The part of the article I found most truthful was the conclusion, where Remnick decides to talk with - you know, an actual Russian with no political agenda. Someone who might vote. Someone who isn't involved with Russian politics and either an opponent of Putin or friend of Kasparov. What an interesting article this could have been if Remnick had chosen to do that all along.

From Alexander Pachulia, deputy director of the October Chess Club Moscow:

"Usually, chess people are not very attached to their regular careers. They are almost uninterested in anything other than chess. If we didn’t close up at ten, people would play until ten in the morning and die of hunger right in their chair."

Like several other denizens of the club, Pachulia acknowledged Kasparov’s genius as a player but was cool to him as a person and as a politician. "I rooted for Kasparov against Karpov in the eighties because of Kasparov’s anti-Communism and Karpov stood for Soviet power," Pachulia went on. "But now we live in a different world. We need to be more assertive in the world. If NATO includes Ukraine and Georgia and other states on our border developing so-called democracy, that tells us that you" — the United States — "are putting arms on our borders. Democracy! Nonsense!"

Pachulia, like the majority of Russians, would prefer to see Putin remain President for at least another four years. To elect anyone else, he said, even one of Putin’s handpicked protégés, would be a risk that the country could ill afford. "Russia is gigantic and needs a strong hand," he said. Kasparov’s politics and language were too foreign, and it made the players at the club dubious not only about his capacities as a politician but even about his loyalty to the Russian state. "The West needs someone to run Russia for them, someone to order around as their instrument, and they want to do that with Garry Kasparov," Pachulia said. "The West is worried about the strength of Vladimir Putin."

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Italian

The Italian (Итальянец) by director Andrei Kravchuk (Андрей Кравчук) is one of the best and most overlooked Russian films of recent years. Overshadowed by other Russian films of 2005, such as the heavily advertised 9th Company (9 РОТА), this modest movie accomplishes great things through its understated drama, unexpected turns, and sincerity. The film is cited as having been insprired by true events, and Kravchuk takes these factual details and spins a modern-day Dickensian tale. Combined with a brilliant performance by young Kolya Spiridonov (Коля Спиридонов) as Vanya Solntsev, he's crafted a real gem of a film.

The official website describes the movie as follows:
A childless, affluent couple from Italy comes to a provincial Russian children’s home to find a child for adoption. The orphanage is a harsh place, run by two rival internal factions. Alongside the official, adult administration, Alongside the official, adult administration, run by a corrupt headmaster (played by Yuri Itskov) with the help of greedy adoption broker Madam (Maria Kuznetsova), there is a shadow children’s gang operating out of the institution’s boiler room.

When the Italian couple singles out six-year-old ragamuffin Vanya Solntsev (Kolya Spiridonov) as their prospective choice, the other orphans give Vanya a new nickname: The Italian. They envy Vanya, imagining that he is destined for a life of ease in sunny Italy. But seeing that the older children must resort to stealing or prostitution in order to survive, plucky little Vanya has other plans. He decides to track down his birth mother, teaching himself to read in order to learn her address from his personal file locked in the home’s office. After stealing his records, Vanya sneaks out of the orphanage and boards a commuter train headed for the city, with the orphanage staff and police in close pursuit. Fearing that Vanya will make them lose a very lucrative adoption deal, the orphanage headmaster joins forces with Madam to find the runaway child by any means necessary.
Untold is this synopsis is what I consider one of the films most important moments - why young Vanya decides to find his mother. Perhaps it is every orphans secret hope, that they may be returned to their family, as if their time in an orphanage were all just a bad dream. What raises this possibility in Vanya's mind is the return of the mother of one of the most recently adopted orphans.

After the young woman is pushed out the door of the orphanage, Vanya walks over to talk with her on a bench while she waits for a bus. She is crying and has questions about her son, the baby she gave up some years before. She says that she knows now that he is all that she had in this life and she never should have given him up, that she made a terrible mistake.

The next day we learn that she was hit by a train, an apparent suicide. This idea, that Vanya's mother made a mistake, and that she actually might need him changes his course and sets him on determined journey to find her. Along his journey, he faces many obstacles and unexpected help from those who recognize his dream can not be dismissed.

In a sense, The Italian is a patriotic film. It doesn't depict life in Russia as being easy. In fact, it is dirty, cold, and cruel and the orphans grow up at a remarkably young age. However, it suggests that Russians should take care of their own and that no one can love you more than your own flesh and blood.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Suzy Sells Spaceships by the Seashore

Suzy's Russian Space Blog has posted an entry on the Russian Space Program's Mars-500 simulation. The simulation is designed to test problems and long-term crowded space/deprivation conditions for a period of over 500 days, such as what would be undertaken by cosmonauts on a real Mars Mission. Spiegel likens it to a "Big Brother" experiment.

Today the North Pole! Tomorrow, Mars!

Suzy provides all the interesting details in a fashion that I simply couldn't, including the involvement of Russian cosmonaut Sergei Ryazanskii, who is divorced as a result of the experiment. I get the impression he's a well-known Russki hunk from Suzy's reaction.

The most interesting Russian-touch to the living environment is the wooden paneled living quarters, to provide a homey-feel. Rather like living in a banya, without the steam. Suzy is quick to point out wood would not be viable in a space capsule due to fire in the high oxygen environment.

Actually, they have Supercritical Wet Oxidation, so maybe steam is a possibility after all ....
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Tasty Mango

If you're interested in learning Russian or some other language, Mango might be worth a try.

Advantages? It's free.

And it's also free.

Mango is in beta version currently and the sign-up is very easy. There are 100 Russian lessons with literally thousands of slides and sound files.

Languages include Mandarin Chinese, Greek, and even Pig Latin. Troductioninay otay Igpay Atinlay. See how it just rolls off the tongue?

Even the language-challenged should be able to master that.
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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Few Blogs of Interest

I've recently been expanding my blogroll, trying to include some not only russo-centric blogs but other topics and writing that I find interesting. I have a few moments this morning, so I've decided to provide some links to some of the most interesting.

First up is Trey Ratcliff's Stuck in Customs photography/travel blog. Most of Trey's images appear to be HDR, as well as (I presume) some other processes which provide a painting-like effect.

Trey is also the owner/founder of John Galt Games, a video gaming company. I'm not sure what Ayn Rand has to do with video games, but hey - that's his business.

Next up is Dr. R. J. Hillhouse's The Spy Who Billed Me blog (subtitled "Outsourcing the War on Terror"). From Dr. Hillhouse's glowing mini-autobiography:
The Wall Street Journal has called RJ Hillhouse's life "exotic" and The New York Times found her writing "equally daring." Hillhouse has run Cuban rum between East and West Berlin, smuggled jewels from the Soviet Union and slipped through some of the world’s tightest borders. From Uzbekistan to Romania, she's been followed, held at gunpoint and interrogated. Foreign governments, among others, have solicited her for recruitment as a spy. (They failed.) The St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote that “she's truly like James Bond and Indiana Jones all rolled into one."

A former professor and Fulbright fellow, Hillhouse is fluent in several languages. She studied in Central and Eastern Europe for over six years at various institutions including Moscow State University, Moscow Finance Institute, Humboldt University of Berlin, Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen (Germany) and Babes-Bolyai University (Cluj, Romania). She eared her undergraduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis and her MA in Russian and East European Studies as well as her Ph.D. in political science from the University of Michigan. She has published in major academic journals and has lectured at major institutions including Harvard, Stanford and the Smithsonian.

Her widely-acclaimed debut novel, Rift Zone, was selected as one of the best books of 2004 by the American Booksellers Association. Her next novel, Outsourced, is about the turf wars between the CIA and the Pentagon and the privatization of military and espionage. It will be published by Forge books in May 2007.
For Russian topics, we also have the rather intellectual (although apparently anonymous) Russian Film Blog. Along with that, I should point out the Russian Movie Database, which I list under Russian Items of Interest. It is simply an excellent resource for locating and purchasing Russian films.

Among personal blogs, I've included Swedish student/bombshell (her words) Josefina's A Russia of My Own blog ("Ambition mixed with vodka gets me up in the morning"). Josefina exhibits a stream-of-conciousness writing style in a fashion only a philology student could employ when discussing her exploits and worries while living and studying in Ekaterinburg .

Lastly, the very well-written and interesting Moscow Through Brown Eyes blog by Buster PH.D Candidate. Inciteful and political, while observing the Moscow scene, I find this blog a very worthwhile stop.

This reminds me - I am curious how others keep track of their favorite blogs online. I've been using some combination of My Yahoo and Technorati to stay on top of various blogs and feeds, with mixed results. If someone has a suggestion for a great RSS reader or other method to stay on top of topics from their favorite blogs, I'm all ears.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Thawing Mammoth Dung and Global Warming

Moscow Times has an article on Sergei Zimov of Russian Academy of Sciences' Northeast Science Station in Cherskii, Russia. His studies of the permafrost and climate change in Northeastern Russia for the past 30 years lead him to believe that warming Arctic temperatures are unlocking a Pandora's box of - ancient mammoth dung.
Sergei Zimov bends down, picks up a handful of mud and holds it up to his nose. It smells like a cow patty, but he knows better. "It smells like mammoth dung," he says.

For millennia, layers of animal waste and other organic matter left behind by the creatures that used to roam the Arctic tundra have been sealed inside the frozen permafrost. Now, climate change is thawing the permafrost and lifting this prehistoric ooze from suspended animation.

But Zimov, chief scientist at the Russian Academy of Sciences' North Eastern Scientific station ... believes that as this organic matter becomes exposed to the air, it will accelerate global warming faster than even some of the most pessimistic forecasts.

"This will lead to a type of global warming that will be impossible to stop," he said.

When the organic matter left behind by mammoths and other wildlife is exposed to the air by the thawing permafrost, his theory goes, microbes that have been dormant for thousands of years spring back into action. They emit carbon dioxide as a byproduct and -- even more damaging in terms of its impact on the climate -- methane gas.

"The deposits of organic matter in these soils are so gigantic that they dwarf global oil reserves," Zimov said. U.S. government statistics show mankind emits about 7 billion tons of carbon per year.

"Permafrost areas hold 500 billion tons of carbon, which can quickly turn into greenhouse gases," Zimov said. "If you don't stop emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere ... the Kyoto Protocol will seem like childish prattle."

"There's quite a bit of truth in it," said Julian Murton, member of the International Permafrost Association. "The methane and carbon dioxide levels will increase as a result of permafrost degradation."

A United Nations report in June said there was yet no sign of widespread melting of permafrost that could stoke global warming but noted the potential threat. "Permafrost stores a lot of carbon, with upper permafrost layers estimated to contain more organic carbon than is currently contained in the atmosphere," the report said. "Permafrost thawing results in the release of this carbon in the form of greenhouse gases, which will have a positive feedback effect to global warming."

... Places that five or 10 years ago were empty tundra are now dotted with lakes -- a result of thawing permafrost. These "thermokarst" lakes bubble with methane, over 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

The permafrost thaw affects those rare outposts where humans have settled. In Chersky, a town of 3,000 people, apartment blocks have cracks running through their walls as the earth beneath them subsides. Many have been demolished because they were no longer safe.

So few people live in or visit this wilderness that the changing landscape on its own is unlikely to worry people on the other side of the world. But Zimov warned that people everywhere should take notice, because within a few years, the effect of the permafrost melting in Siberia will have a direct impact on their lives.

"Siberia's landscape is changing," he said. "But in the end, local problems of the north will inevitably turn into the problems of Russia's south, the Amazon region or Holland."
Pretty much a doomsday scenario when you are talking about over 500 billion tons of manure (ok - organic detritus) defrosting. Actually a little bit of quick math indicates that the quantity of permafrost is likely even much greater than that, the 500 billion tons figure refers only to the carbon that could be potentially released to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

Of course, I am left wondering how it is that all this methane has not been in the atmosphere all along, from periods when Siberia was not under permafrost. What mechanisms absorb or reduce methane in nature? Because for a long, long time before man was around, untold billions of pounds of manure were ... deposited ... in nature.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Lugovoi for President

In a further development of the Litvinenko murder and the farce that surrounds it, Andrei Lugovoi is running for parliament and possibly the Presidency of the Russian Federation.

Sure. Anyone who dresses so sharp should be president. And Alexander Pichushkin can be his Prime Minister. Vladimir Zhirinovsky for foreign minister, perhaps. He'd be a real hit around the world.

Of course, this is all about parliamentary politics and showmanship as Zhirinovsky and the LDPR are using Lugovoi in hopes of garnering enough votes to get above the 7% vote limit to be included as part of parliament. The same sorts of people that ask Lugovoi for an autograph might be persuaded to vote LDPR.

Then again, they likely already vote for crazy Zhirinovsky and his circle.

Update: Today, we have Lugovoi disavowing that he would like to be president, and citing Vladimir Volfovich Zhirinovsky as having all the credentials for the job.

Uh huh.

From Zhirinovsky's gaping hole, we also have the following:
Minutes later Zhirinovsky -- known for his flamboyant and sometimes violent rhetoric -- flew into a temper when a Western journalist mentioned the murder of Litvinenko.

"Britain, you keep the whole world soaked in blood, the whole world will hate you," yelled Zhirinovsky, who is also a deputy speaker of the Duma lower house of Russia's parliament.

Zhirinovsky said London could not prosecute Lugovoy because Britain itself was providing a safe haven for Kremlin opponents such as tycoon Boris Berezovsky. "You cover cheats, extremists and criminals," he said.

"You are all accomplices, all of you are similar bandits and criminals, your whole government, together with your Queen," he said, adding his party was "most loved by ordinary Russians" and would score a fifth of all seats in the next Duma.

He blamed Britain for backing Bolsheviks during the 1917 Russian revolution, financing Chechen rebels and opening the second front too late during World War Two.

"Half of your embassy should be thrown out of Moscow," he barked at the reporter representing a U.S. media outlet. "They are not diplomats, all of them are spies ... You in Britain are good-for-nothing, you only plundered Europe."

He said if parties like his win in the election, "new Russia will be alright, all will be calm and quiet."

"Britain will disappear under the water one day," he said. "And it will serve you right ... Even your sheep die every day and every hour due to your sickening British policies."

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More Movie Geekery

As long as I am playing movie geek today, I thought I'd pass along this little tidbit regarding Viggo Mortensen's work on Eastern Promises (another film that I'm hoping to see).
The 43 tattoos Viggo Mortensen displays on his body in new film "Eastern Promises" were so authentic, Russians really thought he was a Mafia heavyweight. The Lord of The Rings star, who plays a Russian mobster in the new thriller, spent four hours in the make-up chair having the skin art applied and he realised it was worth it when he saw the looks of terror on Soviet youths he met in a London pub.

He recalls, "They were looking at my hands and suddenly stopped talking. "It was right when the (Alexander) Litvinenko (former lieutenant colonel of the Russian Federation's Federal Security Service) poisoning happened in 2006, and I looked very shady. So I got up and left. They were probably freaked out." Mortensen reveals he travelled through Russia, met with real gangland bosses and meticulously studied the Mafia's tattoo art to make sure his latest character was as authentic as possible.

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Cool, But Off Topic

I am so looking forward to this movie. I was worried that Iron Man was going to be a dog, ala Fantastic Four - but the teaser is very promising.

You can also see the trailer in Russian.

It is true, I am both a movie and comic book geek.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Putin's Hudsucker Proxy - Zubkov Nominated for Prime Minister

Recent news reports have Vladimir Putin accepting the resignation of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov today and nominating virtual unknown financial monitor Victor Zubkov for Prime Minister. State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov says the lower house could vote on Zubkov for PM as soon as this Friday.

Speculation has been that Putin's annointed choice for the next elected President would be nominated as Prime Minister first. This would indicate a path to the presidency that Putin traveled, as he was similarly nominated as Prime Minister by Boris Yeltsin. With the recent resignation of Fradkov, rampant speculation was either Sergei Ivanov or Dmitri Medvedev would be nominated.

However, I had been pointing out in other forums for weeks now that if Putin plans a return to the presidency in 2012, it would serve his purposes to nominate someone less powerful and entrenched than either Ivanov or Medvedev. After all, why would either one of those candidates step aside for Putin 2012? And wouldn't a successful 4 years in office by either Ivanov or Medvedev create a greater potential for a political split or division in Russia?

This has been designated as the Hudsucker Proxy theory, after the Coen brothers film of the same name. I had been thinking his choice would be someone such as Valentina Matviyenko, mayor of St. Petersburg. Putin might still do something of that nature, nominate a different candidate for the presidency. The more divisions he creates in Kremlin power, the easier it will be for him to sweep into office in 2012.

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Picture Says 1,000 Words

"Hmmm ... I think this photo isn't quite sinister enough. It needs something ..."

"Hey, how about this, boss?"
"Not bad, but too subtle. Too many people in the U.S. don't know who Hitler is anymore."

"Oh, ya, now you're getting there - very sinister, just the impression we need with this piece. Maybe you can pump it up a bit more?"

"Great! Now THIS is a photo we can use to demonstrate how EVIL Putin is, by accepting his prime minister's resignation!"

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Batman by Dostoevsky

Brian Hughes of Again With The Comics blog has an interesting take on Batman, if written by Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (Фёдор Михайлович Достоевский).

It makes for a hilarious intersection of American pop culture and Russian literature.

This fits very well with a thread on Sean's Russia Blog. Scroll down to the discussion of Russian characters in the Super-hero comic book genre. (hint: if you say genre when talking about any topic, it sounds more intellectual. Try it - Science Fiction genre.)

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9/11 - Russian Words Are Not Enough

Statement from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, via ITAR-TASS, commemorating September 11:
The Russian people "sincerely mourn, as nobody else, with the American people and are in sympathy with them on this sorrowful day", says a message by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to participants in the annual service for the dead in Moscow at the St. Great Martyr Catherine, devoted to the memory of the victims of the terror acts in the US on September 11, 2001.

"Russia whom international terrorist networks chose as one of the main targets for their evil deeds, knows about horrors of terrorism not by hearsay. The number of the dead and injured runs into thousands, while in Beslan, terrorists surpassed themselves, depriving children of their life in cold blood and in an inhuman way when they came to school for the first time."

"It is impossible to be indifferent onlookers how terrorists and their patrons sow panic and fear, trying to destabilise the situation in various countries. Russia has taken a firm and uncompromising stand on this question. It is necessary to pool efforts of entire international community to fight terrorism."
Unfortunately, the Russian and American views of who are terrorists and who sponsors terrorism are worlds apart. International terrorists have chosen to target Russia? Name them - Russia's problems with terrorism are almost entirely domestic in origin.

The Russian viewpoint regarding state funded terrorism seems to be pragmatic or even opportunistic. In essence, if terrorists are not operating within or targeting Russia, then they don't exist. Any nation that the U.S. refuses to sell arms to, Russia greets with open arms. Hamas, Syria, and Iran all know they can turn to Russia for diplomatic, financial, and armament support. Russia is also pouring billions of dollars of weaponry into Indonesia, Venezuela, and Asia. Putin's most recent tour of southeast Asia was little more than an arms dealer visiting his new customers (very nice table of contents for Rosboronexport's catalog of land armaments at that last link).

This isn't to say that U.S. policies are perfect. Part of the reason there is a demand for all these Russian weapons are our own actions and mistakes in Iraq, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. So, we have undoubtedly provided the impetus or opportunity for Russia.

However, does engaging that opportunity by offering comfort and support to Hamas, Syria, and Iran lessen or increase the risk of terrorism in the world? Does doing so in the face of U.S. policies reveal cooperation against terrorism or antagonism of the problem?

The unfortunate consequence of Russia attempting to reinsert themselves at the top of international discussions and recreate a "multipolar" world diplomatic environment is they find themselves cozying up to nations that are diametrically opposed to the U.S. and West. Is that really a position Russia wants to occupy?

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Back from NYC

Katja and I have returned from NYC with her parents, Sergei and Natalia. Was a tiring but fun weekend. I had to laugh at S & N's reactions to American food at a typical restaurant (we went to the 99 Restaurant in Portsmouth this evening) - TOO MUCH!! This led to an interesting discussion about restaurants, creating consumer loyalty, portion control, and how the role of eating at restaurants in the U.S. has changed from special events to weekly occurrence.

Before I sign off, I wanted to call attention to a very interesting post on some hot topics over at Moscow Through Brown Eyes. In particular, the following:
If anybody believes that the Putin-endorsed anti-extremism laws are actually intended to control the growth of dangerously violent nationalism (as opposed to a means of punishing dissenters), please contact Vladimir Vladimirovich at his office so he can put some pressure on authorities to give up Andrei Vusik and get to the bottom of the Angarsk pogrom.
I'm not one to say that Putin and his cronies have a hand in dark and nefarious crimes that occur in Russia. However, I am one to say that they absolutely have a responsibility to find and punish criminals, most particularly murderers. Whether it is due to negligence, laziness, corruption, ignorance, wink-and-nod tactics by police officials with criminals, or what have you - the President of the Russian Federation has an obligation to see that those who break the laws, particularly the most egregious offenders, are brought to justice. Period.

Another note - had an interesting conversation with Sergei and Natalia regarding Komsomol and Khordokovsky. They are 55 and 52 years old, but some 35 or 40 years ago they were members of Komsomol in Alma-Ata. Given what I learn about that organization from Sean Guillory's blog, I'm hoping to pick their memories more about that in the coming weeks.

Lastly, I'm hoping that Natalia, Katja, and I will be able to keep an interesting journal of Sergei and Natalia's visit to the US. I anticipate the posts will be in a combination of English and Russian, with some translated multi-lingual posts. The blog will be called Odnoetazhnaya Amerika. Our first post and photos are up, I'm hoping we'll have almost daily entries. People interested in such things are welcome to give it a peek.

PS ~ I've added some feedburner links for this blog, and have to say I'm pleasantly surprised (shocked) that 90 people subscribe to The Accidental Russophile.

So, somebody out there is reading, which is encouraging. I'd love to have more commentary. Perhaps I'm not controversial enough.

Did I mention that I did a video blog for an upcoming Al Jazeera news piece?

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Sweet Love Story

Katja and I are traveling this weekend, so haven't a great deal of time for writing. We'll have more on that later. The Accidental Russophile will be presenting another project for the next month (at least).

However, I came upon a sweet story on BizzyBlog, regarding Ivan Byvshikh and Lisa Waldhelm, two young lovers from Russia and Germany who were separated for more than 60 years.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Wake of Dmitri Prigov

Approximately 50 people, including members of the Voina (War) Performance Group marked the 40th night since Dmitri Aleksandrovich Prigov's (Дмитрий Александрович Пригов) passing last week by holding a wake (or Поминки - Pominki, although the organizers called it a pir, meaning feast)... on the Circle Line of the Moscow Metro. Prigov died July 16th, a few weeks after he succumbed to a heart attack on the Metro.

From the New York Times:

Dmitri Prigov, a prolific and influential Russian poet and artist who at one point was incarcerated in a Soviet psychiatric hospital as punishment for his work, died on Monday. He was 66.

Mr. Prigov’s creative expression took many forms. He said in 2005 that he had written nearly 36,000 poems. He also wrote plays and essays, created drawings, installations and video art, acted in films, staged performance art and performed music.

For years his verse circulated in the Soviet Union as samizdat, officially banned literature that was passed furtively hand to hand. Only in 1990, during the last stages of the Communist era, was a collection of his verse officially published in his country. His work had been published extensively abroad in émigré publications and Slavic studies journals.

Trained as a sculptor at the Stroganov Art Institute in Moscow, he began writing poetry in the 1950s, then worked as a municipal architect and created sculptures for parks. In the 1970s he grew close to artists in the Soviet underground and became a leader in Moscow’s conceptual art movement, combining his poetry with performance. He was also known for writing verse on cans.

“In America there was Pop Art,” said Vitaly Patsyukov, a Russian art historian and friend of Mr. Prigov’s. “Here it was ideology as a manifestation of mass consciousness.” Mr. Patsyukov added, “He turned words into objects.”

At the time he was producing work considered subversive by the authorities, Mr. Prigov was stopped while walking down a street in 1986, he recalled, and was whisked away by the K.G.B. and then to a Soviet psychiatric hospital. His stay was brief, however, after prominent poets like Bella Akhmadulina lodged protests.

In the West he was probably best known for his performance art. Rita Lipson, a senior lecturer in Russian literature and culture at Yale University, recalled Mr. Prigov’s performance there. His work, she said, was “a form of social protest.” One of his most widely known cycles of verse is about a Soviet policeman.
The Moscow Times further reported:

Members of the Voina performance group, including students, artists and a few employees of the Cinema Museum, only revealed the location of the wake by telephone a few hours beforehand, to prevent it being stopped by police. Prigov's relatives did not attend. Most elements of the ceremony were symbolic, though in a jokey, rather incoherent way that seemed to echo Prigov's own style of writing.

The metro was an obvious choice, said Oleg Vorotnikov, the organizer of the wake and the cancelled Moscow State University performance, who works at the Cinema Museum. "He's considered to have gone to heaven, but if you don't believe in God, then he has gone underground."

As for the choice of line: "The Circle Line of the Moscow metro is depicted using the color brown – the color of earth, and the color of feces, waste products. That which is left of you," Vorotnikov said. "What's left of Dmitry Alexandrovich is his poetry and his body, which is located with us in Moscow, not far from the center."

The mourners met at Krasnopresnenskaya metro station, northwest of the city center, and covered a makeshift table with a checkered tablecloth, pickled salads and bowls of candy. Vorotnikov solemnly intoned a few lines of Prigov's poetry. Arriving back at Krasnopresnenskaya, they left the table and the food for metro workers to dispose of -- plus a symbolic plate of food and glass of wine for Prigov.

"They're commemorating something?" asked Magomed Alebekov, who shared the metro car with the revellers for a few stops. "That's diversity," he approved. "If they'd done it somewhere else, it would have been boring."
Prigov was reportedly on his way to a reading with the Voina Performance Group. The group planned to drag Prigov in a cupboard up 22 flights of a Moscow State University student dormitory while reading poetry.

For those less than familiar with Russian funereal traditions, 3 days, 9 days, and 40 days after death are traditional for wakes or feasts of the dead. The place setting with the bread on the glass of wine is symbolically placed for the departed. From the abstract from a paper by Michel Bouchard, Department of Anthropology, University of Northern British Columbia:

The age-old tradition of feasting the dead has been maintained by Russian populations for well over five centuries. Graveyards hold a special place both in traditional Orthodox faith and in the lives of Russians and others in the city of Narva, Estonia. The tradition of feasting the dead for three, nine and forty days after death, can be traced unbroken to pre-Christian Rus’. Details may vary, but always the soul of the deceased must battle its way out of the body and then spend time in both heaven and hell. While this journey is occurring, the living must remember the dead, helping their souls during this period of travail. Even a final feast one year after the death of the individual does not end the relationship between the living and the deceased, for the graves are still visited on a regular basis as a sign of respect to the dead, who are potential saints in the Russian Orthodox tradition. This ‘saintly’ land — Russian graves — defines homeland and roots the population to a new area.

Postscript - After I wrote this, I saw that both IZO (and by extension, English Russia) had posts regarding this unusual wake. Just want to give credit to those blogs as well.

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