Thursday, March 30, 2006


A couple of years ago it was somewhat amusing to read Andrei Illarionov’s rants. I think the main reason Putin paid him salary (he was Putin’s advisor) was simple, “Do exactly the opposite to what Illarionov says and the country’s economy will prosper.” Andrei Illarionov for the last seven years was making horror doomsday forecasts – “Next month Russian economy will definitely crush! It’s already crushing! Crushing! Ahhh!” Kirill Pankratov has a great article on the state of Illarionov’s professionalism. You can find it here.

Illarionov is a charlatan like this. Many of his economic "ideas" are pure nonsense. The list is too numerous. I'll just give a couple of examples.
Among his two main recurring themes there are: a) Russia does not need foreign investments, and should push every available dollar out of the country lest they will cause ruble appreciation and decrease competitiveness; b) economic growth in the last few years is solely attributable to prices and increasing volumes of oil and other export commodities, i.e. more revenues from export coming into the country.
Aside from both being silly, these two things are in direct logical contradiction with one another. If more foreign currency coming into the country is bad for economic growth (a), then much higher export revenues from oil and other commodities would kill growth completely, rather than be its main driver (b). Any sane person pausing for five seconds would see that (a) and (b) are mutually exclusive. Illarionov and his coterie of admirers do not.

Since Illarionov banged the door of his Kremlin cozy office his rants became even worse – totally delirious. He definitely competes with Kasparov for the title “Russian Political Lunatic of the Year”. Ilaarionov’s letter was published today in Moscow News. Andrei was mad with one Beliakovich’s article in which it was proved beyond doubt that Illarionov is a moron.

Beliakovich's letter accuses me of "either utter ignorance or purposeful misrepresentation of commonly known facts and easily accessible information." Let's look at whether this accusation is grounded.

Illarionov nowadays is developing a theory that economic growth in any country depends only on the level of its political and social freedoms. “Freedom” here means – what rating a country gets from Freedom House. This fundamentalist neocon organization always gives the highest rank to the US no matter what. When Putin started disagreeing with Washington advisors, Freedom House began lowering Russia’s rating and in 2006 this country became “not free” having the same rating as the Soviet Union had back in 1989. I once wrote how uninformed and unprofessional FH analysts are. For anyone who didn’t live in the USSR in 1989 and who doesn’t live in Russia today – comparing these two countries is like saying that in 2006 Afro-Americans in Louisiana are as free as they were in 1859.
So, Andrei Illarionov sincerely believes that because Russia’s FH rating is “not free” this country has no other choice but to stop growing economically, collapse into crisis and slide down to Cave Age. This should happen in one year or so. Here’s a proof he believes is irresistible:

Even for small oil countries like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the pattern seems to hold. For most of the last 30 years they were partially free, sliding into a non-free status relatively recently. In meantime, GDP per capita declined in Qatar from $57,000 in 1973 to $13,000 in 2005, and in UAE from $37,000 in 1974 to $22,000 in 2005.

Wow! Andrei forgot to mention that the population of these countries grew almost six times since 1973, an average family had 4,6 children on average in these years, life expectancy grew 18 years and women were almost completely ousted from productive activities. There’s difference between GDP produced by nomadic Bedouins or by office clerks and spa hotel workers.
It’s certainly cynical to say, but from purely economic point of view negative population growth, small families and high number of gastarbeiter help Russia in its GDP per capita growth.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Havel and Ukrainian elections

Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic, wrote an article in a German newspaper Die Welt on the hot topic of Ukrainian parliamentary elections. Among other things he contemplates on the positive side of Ukraine joining NATO and then pronounces:

Dar?ber m?ssen die Ukrainer selbst entscheiden. Nur so k?nnen sie ihre postrevolution?re Ern?chterung ?berwinden.
Ukrainians should decide themselves about this . Only this way they can overcome their disappointment.

The funny thing – the German word’s Ern?chterung main meaning is sobriety or sobering up. It is used in the meaning ‘disappointment’ figuratively. Well, I think the best way to overcome sobriety is getting drunk.

Mr. Havel might be a good guy but it doesn’t excuse lying. He writes:

Vor kurzem nannte Putin den Zerfall der Sowjetunion gar einen tragischen Fehler.
Not long ago Putin called the disintegration of the Soviet Union a tragic mistake.

This is a lie. First, Putin said not ‘tragic mistake’ but ‘geo-political catastrophe’. Second, by this he meant – and he said about it right after these words (they are ALWAYS omitted when Western corporate media cites the quote) – millions and millions of refuges, destroyed economy all over pose-Soviet Union, wars, massacres, genocide, poverty. What is it if not a catastrophe?

Again, like 15 months ago, Western corporate media is painting all Ukrainian parties in ‘pro-Western’ (good guys) and ‘pro-Russian’ (bad guys). This way it seems as if the forces of Evil Empire are counter-attacking. I think that painting Ukrainian politics in black and white is a very grave mistake. Before labeling someone pro-Russian one should think about some simple and obvious things. First, a huge share of Ukrainian citizens is ethnic Russians. Second, even a bigger share of ethnic Ukrainians consider Russian their native language. Exactly, like ethnic Irish or Scots consider their native language English. One can be 100% Irish without any knowledge of the Celtic language. Third, ‘pro-Western’ course didn’t bring root – grass any tangible benefits but a lot of blah-blah about ‘democratic values’ or such cynical stuff as ‘Ukraine without Russian is better than Ukraine with Russia’. The fact that so many Ukrainians don’t want to join US/EU cordon sanitaire around Russia shows that Ern?chterung is really coming.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Who is Mr Lukashenko?

From Financial Times comes this editorial comment Bully boy of Belarus:

Mr Lukashenko, brightly dubbed Europe's last dictator, made sure he won by a margin unprecedented in the region since Soviet times. His 82 per cent vote is an insult to Belarusans and a reminder to other Europeans that even their own continent is not yet free of the scourge of dictatorship.

Not true. Mr. Saakashvili in Georgia had 97% vote and FT editors were treating that result as an unprecedented victory of democracy and freedom.

Apologists for Mr Lukashenko argue he has genuine support among Belarusans who value political and economic stability. This is true. But the country is heavily dependent on subsidised Russian oil and gas.

Statement on Russian subsidized gas is weak. Until 2006 Ukraine paid the same price for gas as Belorus but it didn’t bring political and economic stability. Price of $110 that Moldova, Georgia or Armenia pay for Russian gas should also be considered subsidized but it doesn’t help these countries.

Lukashenko's 82% of vote is quite probable although I think 70-75% is more realistic. There are several important reasons for this result:

1. Lukashenko is a super-populist. First, he doesn't stick to any ideology or rather his ideology fully coincides with a way 'a man from the street' thinks. He almost never does anything 80% of Belorusans don't agree with. Second, he's a very talented speaker who is not afraid to answer any kind of questions - and he does it well. Third, almost everything he does is focused on everyday needs of 'ordinary' people. Forth, in their everyday life only police or government officials suffer from the dictatorship. I'm not sure if I should add journalist or opposition leaders here. ALL Belorusans I know personally don't believe in their sufferings.

This is very important – I would say 90% of Belorusans PERSONALLY don’t feel like any of their freedoms are limited including freedom of speech: newspapers, radio, internet are fully available and unrestricted. Revolutions are made by people who personally feel that they are not free. Belorusans can and do travel to their neighbor countries and they can see for themselves that their living standards are higher.

2. Lukashenko's economic system is a kind of capitalism with a human face. For example, companies with high profits should buy underperformers. It takes a lot of time to register a business but rules of play are clear and corruption or racket are almost non existent. CEO of a large company is happy with $1500 monthly pay - a low skilled worker at the same company gets $400 monthly (in comparison in Russia it's $100 000 on one side and $100 on the other).

3. Social security is much better than in anywhere in the post-Soviet state including the Baltic States, although GDP per capita in Belorus is several times lower. Pensioners (the most active voters) enjoy quality of life many full-time working Russians don't have.

4. Lukashenko's war on corruption brought incredible results - in Belorus I often met government officials who were as helpful as waiters at American restaurants. Organized crime is very low and could be found only around drugs or illegal gambling.

5. The country is open - there are no problem going to work in Russia, for example. Belorusans don't need visa, work and residence permit to find a well-paid job in this country.

Ok, I can go on but as I said I'm not a Lukashenko apologist. All above mentioned points are necessary to stress the following argument:

1. Opposition in Belorus has nothing to offer to an ordinary person. They can only appeal to "capitalists" so to say who could make much more money without Lukashenko or to youth who sincerely believe that only Lukashenko is guilty they cannot become filth rich "capitalists" right now.

2. Lukashenko always points an accusing finger to Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgystan or Moldova saying, "Look! Those idiots believed in a Western-type democracy! What did they get? Total chaos, poverty, inequality, corruption and wars. We are poorer economically than Russia but we live better." Opposition has no arguments here.

3. Opposition in Belorus is anti-Russian. Actually Western NGO's all over post-Soviet sphere subsidize ONLY anti-Russian opposition. No exceptions. This is a great mistake. The same as being anti-Semitic in Israel.

Knowing all this take yet another comment from the FT editor:

Also, Mr Lukashenko's approach is politically unsustainable. As incomes rise, Belorusans are demanding the same freedoms as others. It is no accident the greatest opposition is in Minsk, the richest city.

I doubt it strongly.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Stories from Orthodox

Orthodox makes best comments on forum. One can read all of his satirical stories here (knowledge of Russian is required). Here’s my translation of his latest comment.

Pro-American Post-Soviet States (PAPSS) should get stronger support from the US government demands US Counsil on Foreign Relations. In a secret amendment to the report we find concrete action points on how to make this kind of support stronger.

1. American Ambassador pats PAPSS on the shoulder. Stronger – Embraces PAPSS lovingly and kisses them in the lips.
2. Say that Russia has no right to raise prices on natural gas. Stronger – Russia has no right to sell natural gas at all.
3. Promise PAPSS that they’ll join European Union. Stronger – Promise they’ll join the USA.
4. Promise that soon PAPSS will get everything. Stronger – Promise that SOON is really coming! It’s coming! Coming!
5. Promise to bring PAPSS to NATO. Stronger – NATO HQ will be relocated from Brussels to the capital of PAPSS.
6. Bush visits PAPSS. Stronger – Bush buys rancho in PAPSS and spends vacations there.
7. Promise to give money. Stronger – Promise that Europe will give money.
8. Bring democratic values. Stronger – Double. No, triple the supply of democratic values.
9. Bring PAPSS troops to Iraq. Stronger – Use PAPSS troops to attack Iran.
10. Make a new geo-political block out of PAPSS. Stronger – Bring every country around Russia into this block. There’re so many na?ve idiots there.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

US-Ukraine Cooperation

Christian Science Monitor published an article “Keeping democracy alive in Ukraine” by Howard LaFranchi. Howard writes:

But now as a system insider, Ukraine Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko is discovering firsthand the hard work of building a new democracy. In Washington recently to advance US-Ukraine cooperation on justice and international crime, the youthful Mr. Lutsenko says he's learned that creating a clean and fair national police force is one of the most important determinants in a young democracy's success.

US-Ukraine cooperation on international crime? Does it mean Ukraine sends more troops to Iraq?

Friday, March 10, 2006

March, 8 and Equality

I know that most of American and European women view the way Russians celebrate the 8th of March as machismo and anti-feminism. Why on earth human species with ovaries get gifts from human species without them? Before sneering at Russian women (and men) being so retrograde and so far behind from modern gender equality I would note that Russian women came to this “inequality” voluntarily and the hard way.

In the 1930’s the Soviet Union was far “ahead” in gender equality than any other country on earth. Being a housewife was almost a felony. Three months before birth of a child, three months after – and back to work. Salaries were strictly equal for men and women. Women were CEO’s, pilots, drivers, construction workers and heavy machinery operators. The 8th of March actually was a Soviet holiday to promote feminism and to glorify working women. Such capitalistic things as makeup, perfume or fashionable clothes – intended to keep women in imperialistic kitchen slavery – were frowned upon.

One of the things that surprised me greatly at American universities was that so few women (almost all of them foreigners) study engineering, accounting or medicine. I thought that American women, being so feministic, would love to study engineering. At school we were always told by our teachers that girls are better at mathematics and chemistry than boys.

Understanding that traditional gender roles were not capitalistic or imperialistic started in the USSR in the 1960’s and soon the 8th of March became, first, a kind of Mothers’ day and then as a holiday for every woman. Soviet women didn’t like the idea of being just human species with ovaries.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

8th of March - Women All Over the World, Unite!

Long live the International Women's Day!
Our friendship is unbreakable!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Failing Stalin Tests

Sarah E. Mendelson and Theodore P. Gerber - conducted sociological research in Russia and were horrified by the results. That’s what they wrote in Foreign Affairs:

Imagine that a scientific survey revealed that most Germans under 30 today viewed Hitler with ambivalence and that a majority thought he had done more good than bad. Imagine that about 20 percent said they would vote for him if he ran for president tomorrow. Now try to envision the horrified international response that would follow.
Of course, most contemporary Germans revile Hitler. But ask young Russians about Stalin, and you get answers very similar to those above.

The rest of the article is hysterical rants and ravings about bad Russian young people who "do not view Stalin — a man responsible for millions of deaths and enormous suffering — with the revulsion he deserves."

Can you imagine this?! Young Russians dare to disagree with the one and only possible opinion about Stalin as formulated by Big Democratic Brother!

Talking about the research results. First, contemporary Germans for having certain opinions about Hitler that don’t coincide with the official version could find themselves in jail. Then, “scientific” researchers a priori know that Stalin and Hitler are almost the same. I think Stalin should be better compared with Mao or Napoleon. And Hitler is better compared with the Japanese emperor Hirohito who is fully responsible for genocide of Chinese and Koreans. Actually, what contemporary young Japanese think about Hirohito? Third, the questionnaire of the research is very sloppy and unprofessional. Just for this question: “Do you agree that Stalin was directly responsible for the imprisonment, torture and execution of millions of innocent people?” they should’ve gotten F at their Sociological Research 101 class.

Ironically, Soviet students would’ve had straight A+ for their Stalin test from Mendelson and Gerber. Only in the 70’s they were allowed to think that Stalin did played a certain role in the Soviet victory in the WW2.

Irrespective what I personally think about Stalin and his deed I’m very glad that Russian youth have diverse opinions and views, that they don’t paint the world in black and white, that they are not afraid to speak their opinions out loud even if those opinions don’t coincide with the official schoolbook version.

The first thing most Russian students learn in the US or Europe – memorize what opinions are correct and what are not correct. Having incorrect opinions means that you will be socially ostracized and labeled as racist, anti-Semite, homophobe, machist, sexist, atheist, etc. etc. Sometimes I thought that many Americans had little Brezhnevs in their heads.

In this respect here's an interesting post from Owen who is a graduate student at St.Petersburg University.

What I still find astonishing is the level of openness to different ideas over here. I presented in a panel with graduate students of the best Russian universities, some of which held the standard Russian distrust of NATO. My presentation is somewhat hawkishly pro-NATO, and you would expect sneers and derision. Instead, there was genuine interest in what I had to say. The academic freedom dwarfs that in the United States. In college, I was always afraid to say anything that ran counter to the accepted views of academia, and we all know what those views are. Before speaking in front of a professor, I would always make sure I knew what they thought about the issue. And if my grade was on the line, I made sure to parrot what they said, or at least not stray too far from it. I can count on one hand the number of truly fair-minded professors I came across. That is truly a shame, and a detriment to the development of our civil society.

Fair and open debate is essential to the proper functioning of both society and government, and it's astonishing that elite Russian universities understand this better than elite American ones. Perhaps it's because they better understand the negative effect that thought control has on a country.