Monday, February 27, 2006

I've been tagged

Thank you, Michele, for tagging me. No, I’m not going to ignore this game.

Four jobs I've had:
- Tourist guide in Siberian taiga
- Teaching Assistant at a business school somewhere in the middle of the US
- Unternehmensberater in Frankfurt
- Investment broker

Four movies I can watch over and over:
- Andrei Rublev
- White Sun of the Desert
- Some Like it Hot
- Gladiator

Four places I've lived:
- Frankfurt
- Kansas City
- Canterbury, Kent
- Togliatti

Four TV shows I like:

Four places I've vacationed:
- Rimini
- Barcelona
- Amsterdam
- Prague

Four of my favorite dishes:
- Russian Navy macaroni
- Spaghetti carbonara
- Sushi
- Pan Pizza Paperoni from Pizza Hut

Four sites I visit daily:
- Inosmi
- Kommersant
- Vedomosti
- Izvestia

Four Books I've Read This Year:
- Conjectures and Refutations by Karl Popper
- Open Society and Its Enemies by Karl Popper
- The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn
- The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek

Four bloggers I’m tagging:
- Konstantin Dlutskiy
- Alistair
- Tim Newman
- Fiona

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Salty Panic

Russia section of Times is becoming my humor column of choice. Jeremy Page – probably, the most professional Russia watcher in that newspaper – explains why Russians are driven into a panic over salt.

Energy war drives Russians into a panic over their salt
Shoppers emptied shelves after rumours that Ukraine might have taste for revenge over gas supplies
A shortage of salt would be disturbing for Russians as it is traditionally offered with bread in wedding and welcome ceremonies, and is commonly used for preserving cucumbers and other vegetables.

He only forgot to mention that Russians have a wachy tradition of eating a big (16 kilos) sack of salt (съесть пуд соли) when they want to build real friendship with someone.

Jeremy, do you think my two tons stock of salt would be enough for all wedding and welcome ceremonies I plan for the next month?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

NGO's in Russia. Again.

Nabi Abdullaev from Moscow Times writes about the new Russian law on NGO’s “How Russia's NGO Law Stacks Up”:

Despite sizzling criticism from leading human rights groups, the new law on nongovernmental organizations is not as restrictive as similar legislation adopted by France, Finland and other developed democracies.

A review of legislation in France, Israel and Finland shows that they indeed are more restrictive. In France, an NGO must report all donations and bequests and can collect the money only with authorization from the head of the local administration, who first must examine the group's activities. Russian NGOs, in contrast, will have to report only donations from abroad.

Also, a French NGO is required to submit on request its accounting records to both the local administration and the Interior Ministry. In Russia, authorities will be permitted to carry out a financial check on an NGO only once a year.

Russia's law empowers authorities to examine whether an NGO is spending money on its declared program, while the French law only allows authorities to review whether an NGO's economic activities are unfairly competing with the commercial sector.

Russian NGOs have complained that the law uses vague language to describe the reasons a Russian branch of a foreign NGO can be denied registration. The list reads "threats to sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity, national unity and originality, cultural heritage and the national interests of the Russian Federation." Most of those terms are left unexplained, opening the door for arbitrary interpretation on the part of bureaucrats.
But the French, Finnish and Israeli laws are nearly identical in their language. In France, an NGO can be denied registration or shut down if it is found to operate "contrary to the law, morals or integrity of the territory or the republic." Finland's law says almost the same thing.

In Israel, an NGO's purpose must not contradict the law, morality or public order. Public associations there are also prohibited from undermining Israeli democracy or serving as a screen for illegal activities.

Council of Europe experts are now scrutinizing the Russian law, and they have already found it to be much less restrictive than the initial version approved by the State Duma in November, Schirmer said. "Still, very much depends not on the wording but on how the law is applied," he said.

The idea is very simple but absurd and irrational. Good countries can have very restrictive laws on NGO’s because they are democratic and nice. Bad countries – like Russia – are not supposed to put any restrictions on NGO’s because these countries are very repressive and not democratic. But wait a minute! Just six months ago NGO’s activities in Russia were not restricted by Kremlin in any way. Still I don’t remember if any "freedom fighting" NGO said, “Thank you, Mr. Putin for your very liberal attitude towards us”. On the contrary, US-financed NGO’s were picturing themselves as being the most repressed in the whole world, suffering beyond imagination from Putin's political terror. Go figure.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Check Your Facts

Wally Shedd from Accidental Russophile really trusts Independent and Novaya Gazeta. He wrote:

Independent Online Edition > Europe - "Putin to fund ski resort for Russia's rich"Nice little news article on the Russian government developing a ski resort. I seem to recall that this place is one of Putin's favorites (he has a house in Krasnaya Polyana, or so I have read).Is it just me, or does this seem like government spending to line one's own pockets?Further, as pointed out in the article:

In January, the government approved a ?6.5bn plan to upgrade Sochi's second-rate infrastructure and turn it into a year-round holiday resort. As the liberal Novaya Gazeta newspaper pointed out with not a little disapproval, this amount is more than 10 times what the Kremlin intends to spend on developing education this year and more than five times what it plans to spend on healthcare.

Seems if I were Russian, this would really p*ss me off.

I'm expecting Konstantin to jump on this, telling me how the Western Media has it all wrong again, and this ski resort is really all privately financed and will help orphaned children or something.

I’m right here, Wally. Always ready to invest 20 minutes into checking facts with the help of a wonderful service called “Google”. Let us start from the beginning:

1. July 19, 2005 City Council of Sochi came to a decision “To submit a bid for the XXII Winter Olympics”. Sochi’s bid was approved and supported by the Russian Olympic Committee and accepted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). It’s a well-known fact.

2. In order to help Sochi win the bid Russian government decides to develop Sochi’s infrastructure. Here you find the text of the abovementioned federal program. It is decided that in the period of 2006-2014 the TOTAL amount of financing should not exceed 192,4 bln. Rubles. 1 British pound = 48,61 Russian rubles. That means the amount of 3,96 bln. GBP not 6,5 bln as Independent states. Lie #1.

2. Now we take a look at the Russian Federal Budget for 2006 (you need to download the document). What do we find? It is planned to spend 201,4 bln. Rubles (4,14 bln GBP) on education and 126,1 bln. Rubles (2,59 bln GBP) on healthcare in 2006. Is 3,96 TEN TIMES more than 4,14 ? Lie #2.

3. Also pay attention to the trick. Novaya Gazeta compares the 8-years budget of Sochi’s development project with wrong numbers of 2006 federal budget. 3,96 bln divided by 8 makes appr. 0,5 bln a year. See the difference?

4. The Sochi development program is about upgrading the infrastructure in whole, incl. roads, hotels, sewerage, water supply, etc. It's not about funding just a ski resort for Russia’s rich. Besides, I was in Krasnaya Polyana two years ago. If it’s a ski resort for rich than McDonalds is a restaurant for Russia’s super-rich.

All in all as a Russian I’m far from being p***d. On the opposite, I will be very proud and happy if 2014 Winter Olympics are be held in Russia. Wish us luck!

Friday, February 03, 2006

What is Soviet Style Journalism

Edward Lozansky from writes about Pravda on Potomac.

During the Cold War the most vicious anti-American propaganda was carried by the Soviet newspaper Pravda, founded by none other than Vladimir (Nikolai) Lenin. The language used by Soviet journalists and commentators was so rude and hysterical that even people sympathetic to the Communist cause were turned off by it.

Since then, things have changed dramatically. That Pravda is out of business and the new Russian mainstream media have become quite civilized. This is not to say they are now very pro-American; some articles are quite critical of the US. However, the language used by Russian journalists is pretty professional, no longer resembling that of the Soviet times.
Ironically, in this zero-sum game it is now certain Western newspapers that have picked up the old Soviet style and use the tone and manners reminiscent of the good old Pravda vocabulary. The leader in this linguistic exchange is obviously the Washington Post. Read the Post’s Op-ed Editor Fred Hiatt’s articles on Russia, and you if have any nostalgia for agitprop you will be back in your element.

Johnson’s Russia List # 9327 carries two WP articles on Russia. One is signed by Mr. Hiatt, and the other is the editorial most likely written by him as well. As I went through both pieces I felt as if I were back in the USSR reading Kremlin propaganda stuff. Looking at some of the quotes: “…using energy revenue to prop up friendly dictators,” “buying a German ex-chancellor,” “clique of former KGB agents” — one can almost see Hiatt foaming at the mouth. He is also very unhappy with Bush for getting ready to go to St. Petersburg in July for the G-8 summit and for not giving orders to Putin on how much to charge for Russia’s natural gas.

I naively thought that America was trying to teach Russians to use free market mechanisms and that WTO is demanding that Russia use market prices for gas. A few clicks on Google showed that the real gas price these days is around $450 per 1000 cubic meters. Russia’s latest offer to Ukraine is almost half of that, but Mr. Hiatt believes that it is too high and demands that the White House jump both feet first into the gas war.

Dr. Edward Lozansky graduated from the Moscow Institute of Physics & Engineering, and received his Ph.D. in theoretical and mathematical physics from the Moscow Institute of Atomic Energy. After graduation he worked as a nuclear physicist in leading research institutions in Moscow and was also a Professor of Physics at the Military Tank Academy. In 1975 he lost all of his research and teaching positions for publicly criticizing Soviet foreign and domestic policies. Subsequently, in 1976 Dr. Lozansky moved to the United States where he did research and taught at the University of Rochester, NY and American University in Washington, DC.

Dr. Lozansky is President of the American University in Moscow, the first private university in Russia which he founded in 1990. He is also the founder and President of Kontinent USA Media group which publishes newspapers, magazines and books. Dr. Lozansky is the author of 12 books and over 400 articles in the areas of science and humanities.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Disco Show

It happened. The dictatorial regime of blood-thirsty tyrant Putin the Terrible forced its enslaved and obedient media to commit an act of atrocious anti-Americanism. It showed an uncensored version of Bush’s State of the Union address.

What can I say? I couldn’t stop laughing for almost ten minutes. This show reminded me of an old Soviet-times joke. Chapaev’s sidekick Petka says, “Hey, Vasil Ivanovish. We had a great disco party yesterday. I was a dj.” – “Don’t give me s*** I know you have only one LP – Brezhnev’s speech at the 24th Congress of the Communist Party.” – “Yeah. I played it 5 times faster and it went – blah, blah, blah – clap, clap, clap - blah, blah, blah – clap, clap, clap.”
Twenty five years ago at school we were obliged to watch Brezhnev’s speeches. There are incredibly boring. A very old man speaks very slowly “The people of the USSR are proud to say that we are not dependent …” A huge congress hall full of old people slowly applauds.

In comparisons with Americans Soviets look lame. Very lame. I wonder what Bush did to make his fans have such ecstatically orgasmic eyes? Did they get free cocaine before the show? Condi surprised me. She was the star of the show, jumping up, clapping like mad, eating Comrade Bush with her eyes. I was almost sure – one more “blah, blah, blah” and she salutes with her right hand and shouts, “Heil, Bush!”.

Did anyone get it – what did George Bush actually say?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Only Paranoid Survive

Wally Shedd has some interesting and original ideas about Russia’s paranoia about NATO extension over countries around its border. He says,

In fact, I would say this alarm is strictly a Russian situation. No other country in the world is so paranoid about having strong countries on their borders, as Russia.

Actually this is not quite so. India – Pakistan, China – Taiwan, Armenia – Turkey – Azerbaijan are the most evident examples. Then we need to look at more “civilized” countries: South Korea and Japan hate each other like no one else. Turkey and Greece (both of them NATO members). If you read Turkish or Greek newspapers you’d think these countries are on the brink of a full scale war. Indonesia and Malaysia – it a mystery why there’s no war between them. Then some “mild” examples: Spain and Marocco, UK and Argentina, Chile and Bolivia. As for Africa almost every country on the continent is so paranoid about its neighbors being strong that local wars almost never stop. To sum it up – universal generalizations, like “no other country in the world”, are usually very, VERY weak arguments.

Here’s another passage from Wally’s post –

Now, Americans who might be reading this ... try not to laugh ... but many Russians really believe that they are going to be invaded again someday. No really, I told you not to laugh. Stop laughing now. There is more than ice and tundra in Russia. Really, I've been there. Many Russians believe they could be attacked for their resources. Oil, metals, wood, what have you.

Let us test this passage by inversion

Now, Russian who might be reading this ... try not to laugh ... but many Georgians really believe that they are going to be invaded again someday. No really, I told you not to laugh. Stop laughing now. There is more than mountains and sheep in Georgia. They have a lot of democracy, that Russia currently needs desperately.

You see, now Russians are laughing but Americans are very serious. So serious that they find nothing funny when Wall Street Journal publishes an article by Nino Burdzhanidze Russia Is Making Very Dangerous Noises. In this article Nino states without doubt that Russia is planning to invade and occupy poor Georgia soon, probably tomorrow. Mind it – Nino's delirium is published not in Onion and not in National Enquirer. WSJ is considered serious and respectable.

Talking about paranoia – in the world of big business only paranoiacs survive. This is true for international relations in the long term. Nobody in Russia believes that the country will be invaded tomorrow or next month but what about in 20 years? In 30 or 50 years? Can anyone look so far ahead into the future? Do you believe in 50 years the world would be paradise of peace where a lion will lie with a lamb? Such a huge and scarcely populated country as Russia survived only because it was paranoid about its security. Indian tribes in North America were not paranoid.