Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bishkek Press Club Annual Awards

The Bishkek Press Club is holding their annual awards ceremony on January 4, 2008. Among the award-winners is photojournalist/blogger Elena Skochilo, who will receive an award for "Most Interesting Perspective" for her photojournalism work in 2007.

Congratulations to Elena for her award and here's hoping for more achievements in 2008!

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Putin Announced as Time Magazine's "Man of the Year"

Perhaps not-so-surprising announcement regarding Time Magazine naming Vladimir Putin as their "Man of the Year" for 2007. Reuters has the story of one of the more negative sounding pronouncements of "Man of the Year" in recent memory.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was named Time magazine's "Person of the Year" for 2007 on Wednesday for bringing his country "roaring back to the table of world power."

"He's not a good guy, but he's done extraordinary things," said Time managing editor Richard Stengel, who announced Putin's selection on NBC's "Today Show."

"He's a new tsar of Russia and he's dangerous in the sense that he doesn't care about civil liberties; he doesn't care about free speech; he cares about stability. But stability is what Russia needed and that's why Russians adore him."
Not a good guy? What, like he beats up old ladies and kicks dogs? I find the statement that he "doesn't care about civil liberties" a bit odd also - I think Putin's perspective is likely quite different, more of a first-things first approach. As much as our press would like to hand-wring about it, I think most Russians aren't feeling their civil liberties being squashed any more than Americans do.

Personally, these aren't the items or policies for which I would first criticize Putin. Then again, I also think that he gets too much credit for an economic recovery that actually started at the end of Boris Yeltsin's time.

There is always something to be said for being in the right place at the right time. Putin deserves the most credit for simply having clear ideas on asserting Russia's influence on the international stage, now that the nation has resurgent economic prowess.

To commemerate the occasion, I'm sharing the following Putin cut-out figure. Now you too can have a little Putin, Man of the Year, watching over your desk!


When completed, the figure will look like this:



Variations on the theme can be found here.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Putin Ready to Be Medvedev's Prime Minister

Like Batman and Robin, Bush and Cheney, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Sancho Panza and Don Quixote, Festus and Marshal Dillon, Burns and Allen, chocolate and peanut butter, and, well you get the idea. Medvedev and Putin are part of a team.
"If Russian citizens express their confidence in Dmitry Medvedev and elect him as the country's president, I will be ready to head the government," Putin told a congress of his United Russia party held near Moscow's Red Square.

"(We) shouldn't be ashamed or afraid of transferring the key powers of the country, the destiny of Russia to the hands of such a man," he added.
Of course, the real reason that Putin nominated Medvedev has nothing to do with all the speculated political intrigues and loyalties.

The real reason is Medvedev is the only man in the Kremlin shorter than Putin.

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Hey - Doesn't Bush Have a Beer Named After Him?

Seems to be a really successful President of the Russian Federation, you need a vodka named after you!



I can hear the slogan now - "It takes a big man to make a pure vodka..."

Interesting side bar: whenever I see Putin walk, I can't help but think of George Jefferson. Really more like a one-armed George Jefferson - he only swings his left arm.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Preved, Medved!


Well ... ain't that a kick in the pants. Turns out the man Putin wants to succeed him is the guy we were all talking about a year ago. All these machinations, promotions of Ivanov, analysts timing the minutes Medvedev and Ivanov appear on television, and other speculations were merely to throw us off the scent.

Dmitry Medvedev is the man.

So what does this mean? I very much doubt it will affect any change in the direction of Russia, Inc. In fact, Medvedev's strong business experience and persona lend itself to Russia as the emerging corporate state, a nation that is run like a business. Most analysts tend to cast Medvedev as a liberal - I think this is a mistake. He simply isn't the sort of Russian man who shoots his mouth off to show what a real man he truly is. He's another sort. I also disagree with analysts such as Yevgeny Volk of the Heritage Foundation, who says
"The choice of Medvedev...reflects Putin's desire to have the most obedient figure. Putin views Medvedev as a subordinate on whose loyalty he can count."
Putin has no need for a trained dog. Subordinate seems like an inappropriate word here. Trust in politics is a fleeting thing. It seems unlikely that Medvedev will conduct his business any differently now than he has in the past. And business would seem to be the most appropriate word - this will be business as usual for Russia, Inc.

But, alas, I am afraid the days of juicy quotes like they should keep their booger-noses out of our business or You must obey the law, always, not only when they grab you by your special place or He raped 10 women. I never expected it from him. He surprised all of us. We envy him or We’ll follow terrorists everywhere. We will corner the bandits in the toilet and wipe them out. Medvedev won't lend himself to the easy, knee-jerk, "He's a fascist" kind of blogging. He doesn't appear to be so vain as to appear shirtless for photos while fishing with some prince. He is unlikely to kiss children on the belly.

In short, the man is a professional.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Reluctant Democracy?

Spiegel Online has an long and interesting article titled Portrait of a Reluctant Democracy. On the eve of the carefully orchestrated Duma elections, Spiegel provides a sort of cross-section of opinions and the political times in Russia. Their case study involves a series of cities across Russia, and by god, for once it doesn't include Moscow. Ivanovo, Magnitogorsk, Tyumen, Bedime, and Vladivostok are chosen as representative of the successes and failures of Putin's tenure as President of the Russian Federation.

Some of the more interesting tidbits from the article:


Vladimir Ryzhkov (whose Republican Party was dissolved in May by the Russian Supreme Court and after 14 years will no longer be part of the Russian Duma): "This is not an election, it's a farce." Ryzhkov states that the controlled multi-party system that is being formed in Russia reminds him of the former East Germany.


Boris Nemzov, a leading candidate of the "pro-business" SPS (but that protesters characterize as "Party of the Oligarchs") is asked by a reporter if he could imagine cooperating with the dominant United Russia party.

"If you mix a kilo of cranberries with a kilo of shit," Nemzov replies, "you get two kilos of shit."

There's the spirit of pragmatism and compromise upon which successful democracy's are built! Nemzov's SPS party is deemed unlikely to meet the minimum 7% for inclusion in the new Duma.

Another telling moment:
Nemzov says, to an audience at Ivonovo's "Silver City" shopping center: "Do you want me to tell you what the cleanest spot in the country is? The ass of the president! That's because someone is kissing it from morning to night."

Three female students giggle. A furious-looking soldier turns red in the face. Putin is his idol. An agitated pensioner calls out: "You stole our pensions in the '90s, you thieves!"


Nemzov is prepared for these accusations. He pats the angry pensioner on the back and responds to the attack with numbers: "When I was the energy minister, the price of oil was only $17. Nevertheless, Boris Yeltsin spent 7.5% of the national budget on pensions. The Putin administration spends only 4.2% on pensions."

And didn't Gazprom, the state-controlled energy giant, pay $13 billion for Abramovich's shares in the oil company Sibneft? Thirteen billion dollars, says Nemzov, is more than the government spends on its "national projects,"
much-touted programs devoted to healthcare and building low-income housing. "In other words," says Nemzov, "the most important national project for Mr. Putin is the oligarch Abramovich."

Ever since the arrest of oil billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003, Nemzov tells his guests, everyone who hopes to do business in peace knows "where they have to leave their money" -- with United Russia.
In Magnitogorsk, almost 90% of the city's tax revenues are derived from the steel mill Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Combine (MMK) owned by Viktor Rashnikov and operated by Andrei Morozov. Morozov and MMK have somewhat reluctantly decided to support United Russia. This support is not without its detractors among the workers in the city.
When it came out that the mill's managers would support United Russia, critics in Magnitogorsk began parodying the party's Russian name, Yedinaya Rossiya, calling it "Yedim Rossiyu," or "We eat Russia."

"They have learned nothing from history," complains Gennady Grabaryev, a local opposition politician. [..] He sees a group of aging MMK veterans demonstrating on the square behind the city hall. Mariya Lyssenko holds a placard: "United Russia's members of parliament have cheated the MMK pensioners." She and her husband worked at the MMK for a combined 106 years, only to be pressured by
management, following the privatization of the combine, to sell their shares at rock-bottom prices. Lyssenko and her husband were told it was their duty to save the plant from an outside takeover.

Lyssenko, whose shares would be worth €120,000 today, must now make ends meet on a monthly pension of about €100. According to a Russian proverb -- "Nye poyman, nye vor" -- those who are not caught are not thieves.
And yet in other regions of Russia, such as the booming city of Tyumen, travel agency entrepeneur Natalya Mironova, flatly remarks regarding United Russia:
"Why should we vote for anything else? We're doing very well here."

[..] Born during the Soviet era in the city of Asbest, {W. Shedd notes: Russian for asbestos, which should give you a clue what they mine there} an industrial hell west of Tyumen, Mironova worked as an English teacher in the 1980s and moonlighted as a tour guide for Intourist,
the state-owned travel agency. The economy stagnated, while private business ownership was forbidden. "Not in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would establish my own company one day," says Mironova.
Update: Reuters reports that early results show that United Russia is winning approximately 63% of the voting.

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