Archived Posts from this Category

December 19: “Rodina”, DDT

Posted by on 19 Dec 2013 | Tagged as: Music and Arts, Russia

I’m reading a book called Moscow, December 25, 1991: The Last Day of the Soviet Union, detailing the astonishingly ad hoc transfer of power, nuclear suitcase included, from Gorbachev to Yeltsin. Eight years after that shambolic, historic event, on December 31, 1999, I was home sick with the Sydney A flu watching Yeltsin transfer power to his then-Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, who had arrived at that position out of nowhere months earlier and been hailed as, no exaggeration, a Russian Messiah.

So no surprise, really, that the end of this year is again providing news out of Russia. In one of his regular rambling, long-form press conferences, still-president Putin announced that the two jailed members of Pussy Riot would be released under an amnesty and he would sign a pardon for Mikhail Khodorkovsky. (It’s not yet clear, to be sure, that Khodorkovsky will agree to being pardoned.) This is, likely, too little, too late to turn the tide of very negative sentiment around the Sochi Olympics — and nothing in today’s press conference addressed concerns about gay rights or the power play in Ukraine. It is, though, a big development, one that hints again at the weakening of the Putin regime, and the potential for the re-entry, someday, of democracy — or something closer to it — in Russia.

That weakening accelerated at the beginning of 2012, with the first large-scale demonstrations in Russia in 20 years, in desperately cold temperatures, against election fraud. Violent arrests were made, protestors and supporters faced searches and seizures and trumped-up charges. Two steps back. At one of the rallies in February 2012, Yuri Shevchuk, lead singer of one of the longest-standing and most important Russian rock groups, DDT, sang their early 1990s song “Rodina” — Homeland — with some very strong lyrics about the Soviet police state. At a rally at the same square a few months later, in May, 2012, 400-500 people were detained, some arrested and tried, damping down the appetite for protest in the country and bringing home the fact that Putin’s Russia, awash in oil wealth and international brands, ridden with corruption, is a consumer version of the regime DDT wrote about 20 years ago:

God, how much truth is there in the eyes of the government whores,
God, how much faith is there in the hands of the fired executioners.
Please, don’t let them roll up their sleeves again
Please, don’t let them roll up the sleeves
Of eventful nights.

Black headlights in the neighboring yard,
Hatchways, handcuffs, a torn mouth.
How many times did my head rolled off the overflowing guillotine
And flew here, where is


Graphological democracy

Posted by on 03 Mar 2009 | Tagged as: Russia

Democracy, Russia-style, from the Moscow Times:

One of the most commonly used methods for eliminating undesirable candidates is to disqualify on “legal” grounds the authenticity of signatures that are required to register a candidate. “Handwriting experts” from the Interior Ministry find mistakes on lists submitted by opposition candidates, and this provides the pretext to disqualify candidates from the vote. One candidate was rejected because on one of the forms he filed, he failed to write that he was a Russian citizen — even though one of the papers he submitted was a copy of his Russian passport.

Found poetry

Posted by on 26 Sep 2008 | Tagged as: Current Events, Food and Wine, Russia, Travel

Update: More here

As Putin rears his head

and comes into the airspace of the United States of America,

where do they go?

It’s Alaska.

It’s just right over the border.

It is from Alaska

that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation,


because they are right there,

they are right next to our state.

Punching a bear in the nose

Posted by on 11 Aug 2008 | Tagged as: Current Events, Russia

The BBC has an excellent and balanced analysis of the Russia-Georgia conflict to date, raising many of the issues inherent in the situation. Here’s one worth some reflection, especially if you want to put odds on the next trouble spot:

8. Are borders in Europe to be sacrosanct for ever?

It has been one of the rules of post-war Europe – borders cannot be changed except by agreement, as say in Czechoslovakia. Perhaps this rule has been applied too inflexibly. Yet governments like that of Georgia are reluctant to give up any territory, even when the local population is so clearly hostile and might be in that state simply as a result of some past arbitrary decision. It was the Soviet Union that created a semi-autonomous region of South Ossetia in Georgia in 1922. Nikita Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine in 1954. Will this lead to trouble one day?

As the article mentions, August is a good time to think about alliances, it being the same month that Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. I’m no apologist for the violence and appalling lack of concern for human life that Russia reliably demonstrates wherever it goes, most recently in Georgia/South Ossetia — but does anyone really want to be at the beck and call of a hotheaded, reckless leader who spends more than 5% of his country’s GDP on arms and training from Israel and the U.S. and is prone to regularly waving red flags in front of bulls?

Or like being entangled in an enigma wrapped in a riddle

Posted by on 18 Jun 2008 | Tagged as: Russia

An awfully specific simile from the Economist:

Spending time in Russia is a bit like taking the psychotropic anti-malarial drug Larium: anyone with a propensity to anxiety should probably avoid it.

Best new magazine

Posted by on 24 Feb 2008 | Tagged as: Russia

I noticed this magazine at Pages the other day and picked it up, assuming it was a special Russia issue of some trendy design magazine. But no — it’s actually the third issue of a stylish magazine about Russia, covering style, art, business, and a lot more.

Highlights of this issue include:

– an annotated floorplan of a 1,200 square foot communal apartment in St. Petersburg, home to 7 families;

– a translation of a recipe for “little cabbage pies” from a popular Tsarist Russian cookbook;

– a feature on “Khrushovkas” — “crappy postwar apartment buildings”, translates the article — that have been turned into art pieces by muralists;

– a humourous travel piece on Arkhangelsk;

– a very subjective listing of the best English translations for various Russian novels,

… and much more.

This issue, like the first two apparently, is brought to us by the letter “T” — a conceit the editor admits he’d like to kill off — and each page has a random Russian word beginning with T in the corner, all translated by a handy glossary at the back.

It’s a handsome magazine, with great art direction, and at $4.99, great value as a read. I will probably subscribe, or at least become a regular buyer, but I’m wondering… beyond Russian Studies majors, like me, who exactly is the audience for this clever publication?