Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Russian Joke

Hepatitis C. Vitamin C. Turbo C+. Putin A. Well done, Vladimir!

More jokes on Russian Marketing Blog

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Ideologies and Russians

Siberian Light commented on my previous post about Putin:

Putin to me is one of the world's most practical leaders - in the sense that he really has no big ideology and he has a technocratic style of leadership and, in a country that has had decade after decade of ideology drummed into them, is it at all surprising that someone basing their politics on an idea, any idea, would be met with suspicion?

I fully agree but with one addition. After 1991 the idea of free market economy was drummed into Russians and at first we fully supported it. So it's not just communism but also capitalism.
I also think that many sincere misunderstandings about Putin in the West stem from the habit of looking at his actions through ideological glasses. Is he liberal or conservative? Is he a tyrant or a democrat? Is he leading the country forward to freedom or back to communism? All such questions assume a certain ideological paradigm into which every fact of life should fit. In case it doesn’t quite fit one should go on interpreting facts of life until it fits. The idea that this paradigm itself might be flawed is not accepted in principle.
What frightens me and (probably) most of Russians in this way of thinking is that an idea, albeit a very nice democratic idea, is regarded as an ultimate goal of any country and any government. First, that was an idea of communism – it collapsed. Then, there was an idea of free market economy – it also collapsed. Now, Russian liberals and Western NGO’s are drumming into us an idea of democracy. What is democracy? That is a paradigm of certain norms, rules and instruments that make the people free and ensures progress and happiness. I really sometimes have trouble to find fundamental differences between communist and democratic ideologies. Both put a nice and noble idea as a cornerstone of freedom. Both believe that those ideas are reached by strict adherence to rigid norms and rules. Both put a lot of importance on revolutions and encourage people to revolt against the government in the name of freedom. Both believe that freedom and democracy could be planted (irrespective, in Iraq or Afghanistan) by installing a certain model. Almost always this model is just a copy of whatever system developed over years in their home countries – the USSR on one side or the US on the other.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Putin on Cannibalism

Gary Brecher didn't miss many comments on Putin's about cannibalism in Africa. He also read that broadly generalized translation that sounds as if Putin means Africa in whole but not just some place like Central Africa under General Bokassa. Anyway Gary digs deeper into the tradition of easting enemies in African war. Here's a link to his column Putin Congo's Roast.

The press invoked all the usual PC lies for their responses. It was interesting, because nobody actually said Putin was wrong. Just "insensitive." Somebody named Trevor-I mean, "Trevor"!-had a hissy fit and lisped, "What a preposterous thing to say. Putin is at best insensitive and at worst a downright racist."
Well, here's a news flash: Putin told the truth. Cannibalism is very common in African war zones. Trevor should read the news from places like Congo more carefully.

Who is Mr. Khodorkovsky?

Kirill Pankratov gives a very good account of who is Mr. Khodorkovsky and what Russians really think of him and his infamous trial. Here a link to his new article Yuck!-os Trial and a passage that made me laugh.

It is rather funny to see how much of the final downfall of the Yukos clan was of itsown making. Imagine, say, Enron bringing to its defense a short, clownish Russian lawyer, who, in a thickly accented English, would call the whole US administration "a corrupt dictatorship" while spewing threats of international sanctions? That's roughly what the Khodorkovsky's counsel Robert Amsterdam was doing during the trial in Moscow. After watching him, some of Khodorkovsky's ardent supporters later snickered on the internet forums that to give these megalomaniacs a good slap may be not such a bad idea.
One can't help feeling relieved that the whole thing is over for now. It is better when a circus comes to town once in a while, not when the whole town turns into a circus.

If you didn't see Robert Amsterdam on TV and didn't read his interviews in Russian newspapers you probably didn't get it.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Problems of Translation

John Walter in his blog “Tennessee Rants” wonders if Putin is taking too much vodka with his tea?

In February, he demonstrated a breath-taking ignorance of how things are done in America when he criticized President Bush for firing Dan Rather.
Yesterday, he effectively undermined any good-will gains he intended to achieve through sending food to Africa by criticizing that continent's supposed history of cannibalism.

Now, the interesting thing is that Putin did not criticize Bush for firing Dan Rather. I already wrote about in one of my post. I also don’t believe that the wrong translation of Putin’s words was unintentional. Everyone who knows just a bit of Russian knows this linguistic peculiarity of using the word ‘vy’ (you). The illiterate translator at least could apologize later for his blunder and “unbiased” networks and newspapers who ridiculed Putin on his ignorance could also apologize.
Now talking about Putin criticizing Africa’s supposed history of cannibalism. ‘The Sun” published their own version of what Putin actually said and it seems like an intentional clogging of facts. What really happened? At the above-mentioned conference, one of the journalists asked a question about Putin’s intentions to crush opposition parties in Russia. Putin answered that in some African country not very long ago there was practice to eat political opponents but Russia is not that country. He definitely meant General Bokassa of Central African Republic (or Central African Empire in his times). In 1987, Bokassa was arrested and charged with torture, murder, and cannibalism. Convicted of murdering several political opponents, he was sentenced to death, but that was later commuted to life in prison. What kind of racism did Sun find about this fact? Mentioning the fact that Stalin sent thousands of his political opponents to Siberia doesn’t sound Russophobic to me.
I was often told not to take too emotionally Russia bashing in American media because (supposedly) smart people in the US don’t trust their media. I like John Walter’s blog and I’m sure he is a smart person but... Just any information about Russia in American media (esp. in Washington Post and Wall Street Journal) should always be checked for objectivity. They love to juggle with facts when it comes to Russia.
As for Putin’s weird sense of humor – Russians in general like it. I personally hate it (esp. his joke about getting terrorists in an outhouse) although my respect for Putin as a person and a president is very high. Putin is a Russian president and Russians elected him. I don’t find it strange that Putin tries to please his people. On the other hand, people like Bush or Blair would have no chances to be elected in Russia. Their speeches and the manner they speak would remind Russians too much about Brezhnev and years of communist demagogy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

From thugs to princes

Khodorkovsky trial in Russia showed the real power of money and how incredibly powerful Khodorkovsky was and still is. It would be wrong to represent this trial as unconditional victory of Putin over the poor oligarch. That was a fierce battle of two very strong opponents and Putin is as much covered with wounds as Khodorkovsky. Although the word ‘oligarch’ is often used ironically if Russia had a weak president we could see and feel what oligarchy really means. A very small group of super rich people could decide what laws to be passed, who should be a president, or how much taxes they would highly allow the state to be taken from their pockets. One could argue if Putin is good or bad but there is one undoubtedly positive thing about him – he an elected politician. Nobody elected Khodorkovsky to be above the president, above the government and above the parliament only because he managed to steal Yukos and became one of the richest people in the world.
With the money stolen from the state Khodorkovsky bought himself reputation as a Western-style “civilized” businessperson. He bought himself the parliament: the whole factions as Yabloko and SPS, or dozens of individual MPs. He was able to do unimaginable things. Like, 80% of Yukos oil was traded through dummy traders – one-day disposable companies whose “CEOs” didn’t even know about their high rank – but Khodorkovsky could buy Yukos the status of a 100% transparent company endorsed by the most respected auditors.
It turned out that a miracle of turning a ruthless thug into a nice and sympathetic businessperson is not such a difficult task. First, make sure that almost all journalists from all respectable Russian and Western networks, newspapers and magazines are many times dined and wined. Make a lot of very expensive and excessive press trips, breakfasts and happenings. Second, don’t spare money on major international PR companies, especially those who have US senators and congressmen among stakeholders. Third, make sure to have major contracts with important lobbyists. And forth, extremely important, make your appearance look civilized: shave those idiotic horseshoe moustache, buy yourself decent glasses and dress more casually. Hire an image maker, for god’s sake! I’m sure if Mr. Khodorkovsky looked on the dock today as he looked in 1997, he wouldn’t win so much sympathy.
Money can buy international amnesia. Before Khodorkovsky didn’t care about journalists they did write about his shadowy deeds or about very strange karma of people who dared to cross Mr. Khodorkovsky’s way. The moment Yukos spent just two hundred million dollars on international PR firms - oh magic coincidence! - all those unfortunate incidents were forgotten.
What a poor state of Russian justice! Judges and prosecutors are so unprofessional! They make so many mistakes! The problem is that a Russian judge makes a month less money than an lawyer of Khodorkovky and hour and Yukos hired dozens of them from all over the world and from the most successful law companies. Is it possible that such a poor and weak Office of Public Prosecutor can win a battle with such a rich individual? Just two years ago Mr. Khodorkovsky was sure: “No way!” Today he’s probably in doubt. The pressure his money put on Putin was immense but Khodorkovsky couldn’t bend him to his will. Many Russians viewed this battle as a fight between David (Putin) and Goliath (global oil corporations).
Russian prosecutors did a huge job. They had to gather almost every little piece of information about Yukos criminal activities. When you are not so brilliant or educated or excessively financed as Yukos, you have to amass your opponent. To my mind, from all the facts prosecutors gathered about Khodorkovky being a thug, just one is enough. Petty entrepreneurs in Russia can be registered as PBOYuL – a private entrepreneur without establishing a legal entity. This status meant to help such people who sell vegetables at an open market and renovate apartments. They pay almost no taxes and do almost no paperwork. So Mr. Khodorkovsky became a PBOYuL himself and was paid by Yukos about 200 million dollars as a private consultant. How ironic! One of the richest persons in the world uses taxation benefits meant for the most poor. And he was among the few who actually made them that poor.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Friends and Enemies of Russia

Levada Centre published the result of the poll conducted in May among 1600 Russians. The results give an interesting picture of what countries Russians consider its friends and what countries its enemies.
So, people think that the following countries are friends of Russia:
1. Byelorussia 46%
2. Germany 23%
3. Kazakhstan 20%
4. Ukraine 17%
5. India 16%
6. France 13%
7. China 12%
8. USA 11%
9. Bulgaria 11%
10. Armenia 10%
And the list of enemies of Russia:
1. Latvia 49%
2. Lithuania 48%
3. Georgia 38%
4. Estonia 32%
5. USA 23%
6. Ukraine 13%
7. Afghanistan 12%
8. Iraq 10%
9. Japan 6%
10. Iran 6%
Ukraine and the USA are in both lists. That tells a lot.

Monday, June 06, 2005

And the Money Kept Rolling In (and Out)

Kirill Pankratov and his new article "Collapse" is devoted to the economic crisis in Argentina 2001 compared with Russian crisis 1998. I agree with Pankratov on almost every of his theses and conclusions.
"Russia in 1999 seemed "finished" for good. It just "didn't get" the global economy -- that was the wisdom of the time. There was incredible amount of gloating, masked with crocodile tears of
sympathy. The remains of Russian economy were compared in size to Iceland or even Namibia. All this was heard from the same mob of annals that today squeal hysterically about a suddenly resurgent, menacing, evil Russia, back from the dead.
By late 2000 all our eyes were on Argentina, which was just entering a trap. Right after the Russian default, in September 1998, Boris Fyodorov, one of the "young reformers," invited the Argentinean wonder boy Cavallo to advise Russia on "sound economic policy" and particularly in setting up a currency board. How things changed since then... Already at that time, in the fall of 1998, they began to unfold contrary to expectations of the global plutocracy, and largely unnoticed by it. As thousands of expats rushed out of Moscow in the wake of the financial crisis, the real economy began to show signs of life.
It had nothing to do with oil -- the prices stayed very low at least until late 1999. In fact the rebound had more to do with the very fact that the bums were out -- all these consultants and advisors, bloated with condescension and self-importance, sure that only they could drag backward reluctant Russia into the modern world."
In that issue of "Exile" there's also another Pankratov's article "Baltic Countries". It's rude, excessive, not very consistent but still interesting from the ethnographic point of view - what smart Russian intellectuals think about what happens in the Baltic states.