So, what is the balance-sheet of transition? Only three or at most five or six countries could be said to be on the road to becoming a part of the rich and (relatively) stable capitalist world. Many are falling behind, and some are so far behind that they cannot aspire to go back to the point where they were when the Wall fell for several decades. Despite philosophers of “universal harmonies” such as Francis Fukuyama, Timothy Garton Ash, Vaclav Havel, Bernard Henry Lévy, and scores of international “economic advisors” to Boris Yeltsin, who all phantasized about democracy and prosperity, neither really arrived for most people in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The Wall fell only for some.On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall Branko Milanovic looks at how the transition to capitalism worked out for the ex-communist countries of the USSR and Eastern Europe.
Most people in the English-speaking parts of the world missed Putin's speech at the Valdai conference in Sochi a few days ago, and, chances are, those of you who have heard of the speech didn't get a chance to read it, and missed its importance. (For your convenience, I am pasting in the full transcript of his speech below.) Western media did their best to ignore it or to twist its meaning. Regardless of what you think or don't think of Putin (like the sun and the moon, he does not exist for you to cultivate an opinion) this is probably the most important political speech since Churchill's “Iron Curtain” speech of March 5, 1946.Via includes tl;dr of top 10 points
BBC: Russia will turn back its clocks for the last time on Sunday to permanently adopt winter hours. It will also increase its time zones from nine to 11, from the Pacific to the borders of the European Union. For the last three years, Russia experimented with keeping permanent summer time, but it proved to be highly unpopular with many Russians. The Soviet Union introduced Daylight Saving Time in 1981. [more inside]
Бумбокс: a 'funky groove' trio from the Ukraine. Funky and mellifluous. Slick video production and 0.5 megapixel performances. Too many links? Try one of the following for a potential jumping-off point... [more inside]
Russiatrek.org's blog has a nice collection of Soviet propaganda posters. Soviet space program 1958-1963 Part 1. Part 2. International Workers' Day. Soviet Patriotism. Soviet propaganda - the beginning 1917-1923. Stalin's Soviet Union tourism posters. Socialism vs. Capitalism. WWII Part 1. Part 2. Soviet posters of the 1970's. The blog's art category.
During the late 1970s, the Warsaw Pact states had the Intervision Song Contest, an ideologically-sound Communist alternative to Eurovision, held in the Polish seaside resort of Sopot and attended by mostly Soviet-aligned and non-aligned states. The contest as such last ran in 1980; 1981's was cancelled due to the rise of Solidarność and the protests in nearby Gdańsk and it never returned as an international spectacle. But now, Russia is reviving the Intervision contest, after a 34-year gap. [more inside]
The Dying Russians In the seventeen years between 1992 and 2009, the Russian population declined by almost seven million people, or nearly 5 percent—a rate of loss unheard of in Europe since World War II. Moreover, much of this appears to be caused by rising mortality. By the mid-1990s, the average St. Petersburg man lived for seven fewer years than he did at the end of the Communist period; in Moscow, the dip was even greater, with death coming nearly eight years sooner.
In honour of Labour day, enjoy a documentary on Jewish anarchism at the turn of the 20th century, and the story of The Free Voice of Labour, their Yiddish newspaper that ran from 1890-1977. [more inside]
Russia has invaded Ukraine opening a second front to the south to open a land-bridge between Russia and Crimea. The Southern Front Catastrophe – August 27, 2014 translated from Ukraine has military details. Map of Operations Aug 10-27 (detail Mariupol and detail Lugansk pink/red is separatists). So far it's been a stealth invasion and slow escalation, today Russian troops, armor columns and artillery have openly crossed the border (video). Thousands more Russian troops are amassed. Ukraine has announced a reinstatement of the draft to commence in the Fall, and is demanding EU military assistance. An emergency UN meeting is currently in session (the 24th). Russia claims "No Russian forces are crossing in any point the border of Ukraine."
A Soviet take on Rambo (brief clip; Rutube) is "unique in its violence and anti-Americanism." A Russian point of view on James Bond remarks that "so widespread was the interest in Bond that an official Soviet spy serial ... was released." But the spy novel / miniseries Seventeen Moments of Spring (somewhat digestible in 17 highlights with commentary: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17) is for interesting reasons not a Soviet counterpart to James Bond or Rambo. See also Seventeen Moments fanfic, two pages of jokes about its hero, and how he figures in the present. [more inside]
Watching The Eclipse - "Ambassador Michael McFaul was there when the promise of democracy came to Russia—and when it began to fade."
In the three months between McFaul’s appointment and his arrival in Moscow, a great deal changed. Putin, feeling betrayed by both the urban middle classes and the West, made it plain that he would go on the offensive against any sign of foreign interference, real or imagined. A raw and resentful anti-Americanism, unknown since the seventies, suffused Kremlin policy and the state-run airwaves. As a new Ambassador, McFaul was hardly ignorant of the chill, but he launched into his work with a characteristic earnestness. “Started with a bang,” he wrote in his official blog. During the next two years, McFaul would be America’s primary witness to the rise of an even harsher form of Putinism—and, often enough, he would be its unwitting target.[more inside]
After several days in legal limbo, the world's most notorious whistleblower, Edward Snowden, has been granted a three-year stay in Russia. This is amid breaking news of Russia's issuing of a menu of its own sanctions against U.S./E.U. countries, et al. The former NSA employee has been stranded in Russia for more than a year. Recently, new leaks by other, as yet unknown whistle-blower(s) other than Snowden have surfaced, according to U.S. authorities. The leaks detail certain "rules" for targeting of people for surveillance (including merely searching for privacy software), as well as details on the kind of activity or relationships which may put innocent people on terrorist watch lists.
The Sci-Fi Writers' War. "A pro-Western, NATO-backed Ukrainian government faces a stubborn insurgency in the pro-Russian East. Fighting rages around Donetsk, with civilians dying in artillery fire and airstrikes, while Russian troops mass on the Ukrainian border. The latest headlines? No, a two-novel series by Russian-Ukrainian science-fiction writer Fedor Berezin: War 2010: The Ukrainian Front and War 2011: Against NATO. In a startling plot twist, Berezin, a 54-year-old former Soviet Army officer and Donetsk native, is now living inside a real-life version of his own story: He is deputy defense minister of the embattled 'Donetsk People’s Republic.'"
Russia bans apples from Poland due to health regulation violations. Ukrainian cornmeal and McDonalds are also on the hit list. Russia has a pattern of banning the products of countries it has disputes with — under the guise of sanitary violations — in order to impose political pressure. [more inside]
"...it's social media that has helped build the public case against Russia" in Ukraine. One example is liveuamap.com, who "gather information from open sources and put it on the [Google] map" using familiar Google Maps markers for a Reds (Pro-Russian) vs Blues (Pro-Ukraine) theater map. Shaded regions indicate the Donetsk People's Republic (DNR; Red), Lugansk People's Republic (LNR; Purple), the MH17 crash site (Yellow), and the MH17 ceasefire zone (green). The posts linked to by each marker include a link to the source via a chain icon at the bottom of the post.
According to Malaysia Airlines, they have lost contact with flight MH17, in Ukraine, near the Russian border. The plane is reported to have originated in Amsterdam, with 280 passengers and 15 crew members on board. Multiple news organizations are reporting that the plane was shot down in an area where "the Ukrainian government has been fighting pro-Russian rebels."
An enormous hole has appeared (YouTube, 0:34) in Russia's Yamal Peninsula, near the Bovanenkovo natural-gas field. 'We can definitely say that it is not a meteorite. No details yet,' said a spokesman.
Ирина Плещева: Russian cosmonaut Max Suraev (@Msuraev) youtubes day-to-day events from the International Space Station.
Inside the Soviet Union's Secret Erotica Collection (The Moscow Times). "Across from the Kremlin, the country's main library held a pornographic treasure trove." Photogallery. "Legend has it that Soviet henchmen used to come to the archive".
In fact, we have no idea. "LGBT organizations declared foreign agents in one fell swoop, gays being blacklisted by banks, employers, and landlords—welcome to the new reality of being LGBT under Putin." [more inside]
How Russia’s Troll Army Hit America. The documents show instructions provided to the commenters that detail the workload expected of them. On an average working day, the Russians are to post on news articles 50 times. Each blogger is to maintain six Facebook accounts publishing at least three posts a day and discussing the news in groups at least twice a day. By the end of the first month, they are expected to have won 500 subscribers and get at least five posts on each item a day. On Twitter, the bloggers are expected to manage 10 accounts with up to 2,000 followers and tweet 50 times a day.
In November of 2013, I found myself the lone bidder of a Russian high altitude space suit on an auction website called RRauction. Since then, I’d been scheming how to best use the suit. I have been revisiting my childhood love for space and my obsession was growing stronger and stronger. It was only natural to use this suit to project the inner child in me, still dreaming about space. With that, I present to you: "A day in the life of Everyday Astronaut".
Use a trampoline. “The cancellation of the space shuttle may be the biggest blunder ever made by the United States,” Kraft said. “It’s fairly obvious that no one in the government thought through what they were about to bring about when they made that decision.”
Russia wants to nix plans to use the ISS after 2020, prohibit the United States from visiting the space station after that date along with preventing the US from using Russia made rocket engines for military launches. NASA says it hasn't received any official word, as US Congress critters begin asking questions
There is a place in Russia called the Kola Penninsula that is just a jump away from both Norway and Finland. At this remote locale, people can visit a crumbling cinder block building in the middle of nowhere that is surround by debris. Amongst this debris is a nondescript metal cap secured with a dozen rusting bolts. Beneath this cap is the deepest hole in the world. [more inside]
In Russia today, it's illegal to engage in "homosexual propaganda", and "anti-Russian propaganda" can attract ugly attention. So on May 1, there was a "Monstration" in St Petersburg. Absurd signs and costumes had no prosecutable meaning, but the message was unmistakable. In Novosibirsk, a little further from the Kremlin, the message was more direct. [more inside]
The Ket from the Lake Munduiskoye (2008, 30 min.) The Ket people are an indigenous group in central Siberia whose population has numbered less than two thousand during the past century. Although mostly assimilated into the dominant Russian culture at this point, a couple hundred of them are still able to speak the Ket language, the last remaining member of the Yeniseian language group. Recent scholarship has proposed a link between Ket and some Native American language groups.
Xenophobic Chill Descends Upon Moscow [NYTimes] “...For now, we have not encountered real aliens. However, the ‘fifth column’ of national traitors in Russia has unfortunately become an incontestable reality.”
It has been said in half-jest that Pepsi was the official soda of the Cold War. Vice President Richard Nixon shared a Pepsi with Soviet Russia's Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, at the opening of the "American National Exhibition" in Moscow on July 24, 1959, after the famous "Kitchen Debate" (CBS newscast on Archive.org; transcript with two photos from the day). But how was it that Pepsi was the only Western soda-pop available there that day? Look to Donald Kendall, a long-time pal of Richard Nixon, who starting out in 1947 selling fountain syrup in New York, and rose through the ranks to be President of Pepsi Cola International by 1957. [more inside]
We can't create Jurassic Park era (yet) but there is a place on Earth lost to time, a modern proxy of the Pleistocene (35,000 to 12,000 years ago). Other than the mammoth and a few other species, the flora and fauna remain largely unchanged, even the climate is similar to the last ice age (cold and dry). There are wild horses, reindeer, saiga antelopes, argali sheep, wolverines and snow leopards. The Altai and Sayan mountains of western Mongolia and southern Russia (map)... [more inside]
Britain will betray the United States and Ukraine to keep laundering dirty Russian money. "The city has changed. The buses are still dirty, the people are still passive-aggressive, but something about London has changed. You can see signs of it everywhere. The townhouses in the capital’s poshest districts are empty; they have been sold to Russian oligarchs and Qatari princes."
While you can still follow live events in the Ukraine, with either the compulsively complete live Reddit feed or the constantly updated BBC feed being good choices, there has been increasingly useful analyses of the history and politics of the situation. Yale Professor Timothy Snyder, an expert on the region, wrote a piece in the New York Review of Books describing the roots of the recent uprising, with a great overview of how "people associated with Ukrainian, Russian, Belarusian, Armenian, Polish, and Jewish culture have died in a revolution that was started by a Muslim." Other history is provided by a detailed explainer by the Guardian, in maps by National Geographic, and the dueling arguments about the roots of the conflict from the the semi-official Russia Today and the US State Department.
Dozens of armed men in Russian-marked military uniforms occupied an airport in the capital of Ukraine's strategic Crimea region early Friday, Obama warns Russia against any military intervention in Ukraine. But what is so dangerous about Crimea, and what is 'The Budapest Memorandum?'
Writer and sports personality Brittney Cason thought she had been recruited for what seemed like a legitimate network job covering the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Only days before she left, flags started going up.
Our Comrade the Electron. Maciej Cegłowski (previously) delivered a talk at Webstock in Wellington, New Zealand on theremin inventor Lev Termen (previously), futurism, the Dutch Golden Age, and the modern surveillance state.
Pussy Riot's new song and video, "Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland", rocks. This video features both Nadia and Masha (just released from jail) performing in public and hugging the Winter Olympics mascot - before being beaten with whips by cossack soldiers. And the song is actually catchy...
Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine (NYRB) An analysis of the Ukrainian revolt by Timothy Snyder, Housum Professor of History at Yale and a visiting fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. He is the author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. [more inside]
Figure skater Evgeni Plushenko (wiki) withdrew from the men's individual event at the Olympics in Sochi and announced his retirement from amateur skating (NYT) only days after winning gold in the team event. Plushenko has won medals at four Olympic Games* (2006 gold: Short Program, Free Skating; 2014 gold; 2002: SP, FS, 2010: SP, FS); he has won 17 gold, 8 silver and 2 bronze medals in major competitions in spite of a 2006-2008 hiatus and he holds 10 titles in the Russian Nationals in a career spanning over 17 years. He was famous not only for his technique, but also for his grace and showmanship. [more inside]
Vadim Makhorov and Vitaliy Raskalov climb the 632 meter Shanghai Tower, the second tallest building in the world after the Burj Khalifa. The video of their climb, Shanghai Tower (650 meters), is riveting.
What Does Pussy Riot Mean Now? "With all eyes on Russia, two members of the country’s most notorious band of shit-stirrers are free after nearly two years of political imprisonment and enjoying the rock-star treatment during their first trip to the U.S. But the group’s unlikely journey from art-school project to international icons shows just how rotten Russia has become and how much the mission has changed."
"Putin needs external enemies and internal enemies. The external enemies are the U.S. and Europe. Internal enemies, they had to think about. The ethnic topic is dangerous. Two wars in the Caucasus, a third one, nobody knows how it would end. Jews? After Hitler, it's not kosher. We—" she waves a hand at herself and Zhenya—"are the ideal. We are everywhere. We don't look different, but we are. It's our turn. Just our turn." A GQ reporter visited Russia to speak to gay rights activists, and also to their enemies (some of whom, warning, describe committing acts of violence). Previously.
Alexander II was known as the liberator of serfs, because under his rule, in 1861, serfs were granted the freedom to marry without having to gain consent, to own property, and to own businesses. In 1862, Alexander II signed off on the ethnic cleansing of Circassians that began as a simple resettlement, and led to (by official Tsarist documents, more by other accounts) over 400,000 deaths. Circassians in fact protest the 2014 Olympics in Sochi being that it was the supposed site of their final expulsion. [more inside]
In 1959, MOSFILM released "Ballad of a Soldier," made during the Khrushchev Thaw . It chronicles a young soldier, Alyosha, and his six-day trip home from the front during World War II, which "sweeps you, with feeling, into the physical and psychological world of Russians at war." And it is on YouTube. [more inside]
Eleanor Roosevelt and the Soviet Sniper "Lyudmila Pavlichenko was a Soviet sniper credited with 309 kills—and an advocate for women's rights. On a U.S. tour in 1942, she found a friend in the first lady." [more inside]