sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

June 19, 2014

Dear Parents of Russian Federation, Are You Nuts?

Filed under: parenting, politics, Russia — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 11:39 am

Echo Moskvy, one of the few opposition media sources (this is not an all-out endorsement, there are some despicable opposition figures in Russia) retells a personal story, corroborated with pictures, that previously made the rounds in Russian social media.  The event took place in late May:

Sick and sunburned, my daughter Ksenia returned from a Saturday celebration staged for Putin on St. Petersburg’s Isaakievsky Square.  5000 people, most of them from children’s’ choirs were appropriated to sing songs for the leader!  It was titled “The Limitless Wonder of the World”.

It was 30 degrees Celsius [~90 F – ed.] in Peter [St. Petersburg -- ed.] that day.  All 40 under the sun!  The children were sent off at 8 am.

Prior to the entrance to the square, the children’s choir was thoroughly searched. Documents were required (my child is 12, so I provided her birth certificate), then bottled water and juices brought by children were confiscated.

And then as usual – everyone waited several hours for the tzar, who’s always behind the schedule.  A five-thousand-strong crowd was blazing under the sun until noon.  The only entertainment was watching the snipers that swarmed all the roofs around Isakievsky Square.  Six out of the 37 children in our choir fell ill, and, our daughter observed, people were fainting right and left — volunteers and doctors were barely able to take them away and treat them with water.

Putin appeared for about 3 minutes in the middle of the concert, took pictures against the background of several thousand children (the leader and children — always a good picture!), then gave a short speech and departed.  The concert went on until 2 pm.

Ksenia did not last until the end of performance. She regained consciousness in medical tent where they threw water on her.

With all the traffic jams, the children returned to Sestroretsk by 4:30.

The child was hungry — she was not allowed to take any food — sunburnt, and in wet clothes, so she refused to go to the Birthday party of our friends’ child.

She also missed school on Monday because she wasn’t feeling well.

She is still not 100% after this show-off (Russian показухa — ed.) for the leader, which should really be called “The limitless shame of Peter”…

Words fail me.

Words fail me too, but for a different reason.  It’s not merely that the children got sunburnt — kids get sunburns — or even that so many of them fainted. It’s that the parents allowed the state to use their kids for propaganda purposes, when they should have expected the state to use them up and spit them out.

How to raise a slave

When in 2008 a group of Beverly Hills parents encouraged their children to sing a silly ode to then presidential candidate Obama, at least half the country was vocally disgusted by the creepy production.  But note, that was parents raising their own kids.  And while some of these parents surely think, in abstraction, that children belong to the “community”, they do not realize that the logical outcome of this line of thought is wholesale child abuse.

The fatalistic submission of St. Petersburg parents is not at all surprising.  When I was growing up in the former Soviet Union, subjects, young and old, were herded to all sorts of mass events.  We went because we went. Adults had their own parallel holiday — gave to Caesar what was Caesar’s and had a semi-discreet swig of vodka.  Children came, and our little selves were twisted into submission early on.

Not much has changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  It did not occur to the parent, who obviously dislikes Putin, to excuse her child from the event, however easy that would had been to do.  Nobody called in sick. Everyone knows their place.

March 28, 2014

Second Revolution Underway in Ukraine?

Or third, if we count the Orange Revolution of 2004.  The Orange Revolution peacefully reversed election theft by Russia-supported Viktor Yanukovich.  For a moment, Ukraine united behind democratically elected nationalist Viktor Yushchenko supported by the West.  Yushchenko eventually deflated, receiving a mere 5.5% of the vote in 2010 presidential election.  He was replaced by his former arch-nemesis Yanukovich (they’d since kissed and made up), now democratically elected.

In November 2014, demonstrators demanded the resignation of Yanukovich, who by now signed an agreement to enter Russia’s Customs Union, leaving the EU association.  Demonstrations, that had support of about 1/2 of the country quickly turned violent.  The violence was perpetrated by neo-Nazi groups Svoboda and Pravy Sektor.  One of the three chief leaders of Euromaidan, as the protest became known, was Oleg Tyagnybok (I’m going to spell his name with g‘s because I can and with an y because it sounds funny to a Russian speaker — inside knowledge, I know) of Svoboda.  Those protests were marked by chants of “Moskolej na nozhi” or “Stub moskals (derogatory for Russian) with knives” and wild hopping teens screaming “Kto ne skache, tot moskal” or “The one who doesn’t hop is a moskal”. Certainly, there was more to it.  Most Ukrainians, whatever their political leanings, were clearly fed up with poverty and corruption.  Many wanted to be a European country.  Most understood that neither the EU not NATO are in a position to include them.

Protesters waved the black and red flags of the Nazi-collaborating Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists/Ukrainian Insurgent Army alongside Ukrainian flags.  Nazis attacked riot police.  In other words, if Occupy or the Tea Party were doing it, they wouldn’t last a day.  Because we are not a failed state.  Yet.

Maidan leader from Svoboda party Oleg Tyagnybok

The protesters achieved their goal of overthrowing Yanukovich and installing their own “people’s trust” government.  Ukraine’s south-east, which voted for Yanukovich, is not exactly pleased with this turn of events.  Wasting no time, Putin chopped off majority ethnic Russia Crimea.  His previously waning popularity soared among the Russians; the nation was Crimea-crazy since the break up of the Soviet Union.  Now, the US, along with Britain and France found themselves in a curious bind.  Being the signatories to Budapest Memorandum, we promised to guarantee Ukraine’s territorial integrity in exchange for nuclear disarmament.  Needless to say, we have no appetite for going to war.  But why did we recognize the current government in the first place?  So far they’ve achieved two goals: Replacing one set of oligarchs with another and moving up the regularly scheduled election by a whopping 9 months.

Now, I’m happy Ukraine is disarmed because their current equivalent of secretary of defense is a Nazi, as are many other members of the provisional cabinet.  There are moderates in the cabinet, of course.  Among the Kerensky figures is the “people’s trust” PM Arseni Yatsenyuk who looks like a mix of a grass-hopper and a rabbit.  He proclaimed himself a “kamikaze” ready to make unpopular economic decisions.  That he did.  In the meantime, Putin annexed Crimea waiving the carrot of higher pensions and capital investment before the residents of the peninsula.

“Brilliant green” Yatsenyuk. The political leader was assaulted in the north-eastern city of Kharkiv in February. In the country where politicians are flamboyantly charismatic, this one was destined to be a kamikaze

The provisional Ukrainian government turned off Russian television and is readying prosecution of separatists from the south-east.  To behead pro-Russian opposition, “lustration” of political adversaries, Yanukovich’s Party of Regions is in the works.  Pravy Sektor, displeased with the slow speed of “lustration” and general lack of revolutionary progress, vowed a new, more radical revolution to accomplish the goals of Maidan.

In the meantime, former Chechen fighter and Pravy Sektor YouTube super-star “Sashko Bilyi” filmed on multiple occasions threatening and assaulting officials in the Western Ukrainian city of Rovno (Rivne), was shot and killed by local law enforcement, allegedly resisting arrest.  Rovno is the territory of Batkivshchina, the moderate nationalist party of Yatsenyuk and formerly jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Some call Tymoshenko the drama queen of Ukrainian politics

On the other hand, in the opening salvo of her Presidential campaign Tymoshenko released that audio of herself promising to “kill Russian-speaking Ukrainians with nuclear weapons”.  This didn’t deter Pravy Sektor, who, in the aftermath of Bilyi’s death immediately pledged to avenge him, from surrendering the Ukrainian Parliament, the Vekhovna Rada.  The radicals who strong-armed the revolution and now found themselves in positions of power don’t poll well, so it’s in their interest to start a civil war.

To add to this mess, Russian tanks are positioned on the Ukrainian border, and Russian TV aired national weather forecast that included Ukraine’s north-eastern regions of Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk.  Protests across the south-east are ongoing, sometimes calling for federalization of the country, sometimes — for restoration of Yanukovich and/or the Soviet Union and /or the Russian Empire withing the 1917 borders.  Since Sacramento, CA, which boasts a sizable Russian and Ukrainian population, was not a part of the 1917 borders, the US might be off the hook.  But neither Poland nor Finland are.

Many observers anticipated that after the victory Kyiv nationalists will relocate their protest onto the enemy soil of south-east Ukraine, but that didn’t really happen.  Some Pravy Sektor revolutionaries did attempt to occupy government buildings in these areas, but they were kicked out.  A few shoot-outs notwithstanding, Maidan presence on the Party of Regions strongholds was limited.  Revolutionaries stayed home, parading through the streets of western Ukraine, and, being the only armed group there, harassing locals.

In a highly televised (in Russia) video, the citizens of the eastern Ukrainian industrial region of Donbas attempted to stop a Ukrainian tank.  (X-rated Russian language, real action starts at about 5:05):

Interesting times lie ahead for Ukraine.

March 17, 2014

The Bear Roars

Filed under: Russia — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 9:57 pm

Russia is back, mostly due to incompetence of the US foreign policy.

You might had heard of a state Russian TV host opining that Russia is the only country in the world capable of turning the US into radioactive dust.  This might be grandstanding, but, on a more low-key note, Russia wants to litigate Alaska back:

I couldn’t find an English translation, but trust me, English-speaking readers, this is what this very serious TV segment is all about.  Actually, half of the Russian-speaking people around the world is not quite sure how the large-breasted kept her face straight through this segment.

One thing for sure, though, we need a new president.

February 14, 2014

Cuckoo Clock in Sochi

Filed under: Russia — Tags: — edge of the sandbox @ 10:41 pm

Friends and readers, here is my post about the Sochi opening ceremony at Legal Insurrection.

September 24, 2013

Russian Claims to “Exceptionalism” in Brief

Filed under: politics, Russia, Soviet Union — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 9:44 pm

Having recently caught the largest pike in the world, Russia’s “President” Vladimir Putin felt emboldened to write an New York Times op-ed.  Either that or he ate Barack Obama for breakfast.
In that op-ed of his, Vlad the Shirtless insisted that American exceptionalism as “dangerous”.  I’m sure the main reason Putin focused on American exceptionalism is because he was addressing America’s own wishy-washy elites.  Still, lets not forget taht Russia has it’s own wanna-be exceptionalism issues. Check out this from The Primary Chronicles, the manuscript, compiled in 1113 in Kiev, widely recognized as the first attempt at Russian history:

Invitation to the Rus’

860-862 (6368-6370) [The four tribes who had been forced to pay tribute to the Varangians--Chuds, Slavs, Merians, and Krivichians] drove the Varangians back beyond the sea, refused to pay them further tribute, and set out to govern themselves. But there was no law among them, and tribe rose against tribe. Discord thus ensued among them, and they began to war one against the other. They said to themselves, “Let us seek a prince who may rule over us, and judge us according to custom [po nravu]“. Thus they went overseas to the Varangians, to the Rus. These particular Varangians were known as Rus’, just as some are called Swedes, and others Normans and Angles, and still others Gotlanders, for they were thus named. The Chuds, the Slavs, the Krivichians and the Ves then said to the Rus, “Our land is great and rich, but there is no order in it. Come reign as princes, rule over us”. Three brothers, with their kinfolk, were selected. They brought with them all the Rus’ and migrated. The oldest, Rurik, located himself in Novgorod; the second, Sineus, in Beloozero; and the third, Truvor, in Izborsk. From these Varangians, the Russian land received its name [prozvalas’ Russkaia zemlia]. Thus those who live in Novgorod are descended from the Varangian tribe, but earlier they were Slavs. Within two years, Sineus and his brother Truvor died. Rurik gathered sole authority into his own hands, parceling out cities to his own men, Polotsk to one, Rostov to another, and to another Beloozero. The Varangians in these cities are colonists, but the first settlers in Novgorod were Slavs; in Polotsk, Krivichians; in Beloozero, Ves; in Rostov, Merians; and in Murom, Muromians. Rurik had dominion over all these folk. Two of Rurik’s men [Askold and Dir] who were not of his tribe but were warriors [boyare] sought permission to go to Tsar’grad [Constantinople] with their tribe. They thus sailed down the Dnepr, and in the course of their journey they saw a small city on a hill. They asked, “Whose town is this? ” The inhabitants answered, “There were three brothers, Kii, Shchek and Khoriv, who built this burg, but they have since died. We who are their descendants dwell here and pay tribute to the Khazars [ID]“. Askold and Dir remained in this city, and after gathering together many Varangians, they established their dominion over the country of the Polianians. Rurik ruled in Novgorod. [Bold is mine, --ed.]

“Don’t thread on me” this isn’t.

I don’t think there is anything exceptional about this kind of history, and, to be fair, a republican government existed in Novgorod in the middle ages.  Novgorod was eventually swallowed by Moscow, whose then Prince Ivan the Terrible went on to call himself a tzar, the name derived from Latin Cesar.  After the fall of Constantinople into the hands of the Ottomans, Russians took to thinking of themselves as the third Rome.  C. 1520 Russian monk Philotheus wrote: “Two Romes have fallen, but the third stands, and a fourth there will not be.” Not exactly a match for American exceptionalism, but, clearly, Russian rulers thought of themselves as very special people.

Having conquered the Republic of Novgorod in 1478, Moscovy went on to expend its empire which become the world’s largest a few centuries later, occupying half of Europe and stretching all the way to the Pacific.  Russiana wasn’t exactly bringing civilization to Lithuanians or freedom to the cossacks of Zaporozhian Sich.  The 19th century Russian populist socialist Alexander Herzen called his native land “prison of the peoples”.

The Bolsheviks toppled Romanovs and undermined Orthodox Christianity, but the dream of empire remained.  Moscow became the sight of the Third International, a communist organization dedicated to fight:

by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and for the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the State.

The 1943 Soviet national anthem proclaimed that “Great Russia had assembled the unshakable union of the free republics” (a reference to the 15 “republics” of the Soviet Union), while the Soviet coat of arms superimposed hammer and cycle over the globe.  In a 1941 musical comedy “The Swineheard and the Shepard”, a young woman from Ukraine meets a young man from Georgia at an agricultural expo in Moscow.  They fall in love and coyly serenade each other: “I will never forget a friend if I met him in Moscow”.

“Proletariat of all countries, unite!” is written in languages of every republic, with the Russian version, naturally, at the center

In 1939 Stalin and Hitler divided Central Europe, and after the end of World War II, Stalin created a “buffer zone” well into Germany.  In 1979 The Politburo marched its troupes into Afghanistan, and a few years later Ronald Reagan referred to Russia as an “evil empire”. I remember my 90′s travel guide warning against attempting to communicate with Czechs in German.  Well, just try Russian.

Anyhow, I can see how annoying it is, from Russia’s perspective, to watch the US, a reluctant Third Rome.  I can see how frustrating, too, to observe Barack Obama, a bumbling fool fed on the ideology crafted somewhere in Lubyanka, and to think “We lost the Cold War — to THEM?”  Putin wants to restore Russia to its former glory, which is quite a task.  The US might be in decline, but so is Russia, and so is every other geo-political entity on this planet.  In any event, we are in his way.

September 14, 2013

In Honor of Conception Day in Russia: 70 Years of Combatting Demographic Decline

Filed under: Russia, Soviet Union — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 9:42 am

Glory to the Mother Heroine! by the seminal Russian poster artist Nina Vatolina.  It was created at some point in late 1940′s or 1950′s.  Lest a giddy feminist be deceived by the heroine’s androgynous glory (the face, the shoulders, the arms), this is not a work of art designed to subvert patriarchy: This mythic mother’s eldest sons are already a soldier and a sailor

This iconic Mother Heroine is an artifact of the decade following WWII.  Over 25 million Soviets died in that war, and after the Allied victory, the birth rate was stagnant.  Those worker bees had to come from somewhere.  In 1944 the honorary title of Mother Heroine was established by the Supreme Soviets.  Mothers with 10 or more children were awarded a medal and state pensions.

In the 70′s and 80′s, when I was growing up, documentaries about such mothers were on TV from time to time.  My thought was that, of course, in a country as large as ours somebody is going to have 10 kids.  But in my grandma’s opinion if such mother heroines existed at all, they were alcoholics who had kids to qualify for pensions and then turned around and neglected them.  No reasonable woman, she said, would have more than two in this day and age.  And to many families two kids were a luxury.  Mother Heroine was a target of sarcasm.

The worker bee situation

The chart above indicates that the current uptake in birth coincides with peak fertility years of those born during the modest uptake of the 1980′s.  A more careful study will show that babies are most plentiful in Muslim regions, and that the European part of the country is practically barren.

Much had been said about the post-Soviet demographic collapse, but it was a comparable plunge in the 1960′s that took the country to low fertility levels.  At some point in the late 1950′s Russia’s subjects decided to stop bringing new life into this world (I’m sure it can be somehow attributed to homosexual propaganda corrupting minors), and that attitude has proven to have remarkable staying power.  It’s not all doom and gloom, though.  This post-Soviet hot mama is infinitely more pleasant than the handsome Slavic Fraulein of the 1950′s.

Your country needs your heroic achievements. Every minute 3 new people are born in Russia

As you can see, a Russian women look particularly fetching after birthing triplets.  Unlike the post-war mother heroine, this girl next door does not appear to have a particularly broad neck and shoulders.  I suspect the advertizes couldn’t determine what kind of arms she’s supposed to have, so they obscured them with babies.  She didn’t gain too much fat in her middle, but her breasts are nothing if not appealing.  The viewer can see the seam on her bra pointing right to the nipple area.  Although she looks ostensibly European, an Asian chick could project themselves into this unassuming babe.

She’s less ambitious than the Stalinist prototype (three, not ten children), but less of a comrade, too.  Unlike her Stalinist predecessor, she radiates no knowledge of moral certitudes.  After the whole Soviet fiasco, Russians grew weary of moral certitudes — unless they get to lecture somebody in a New York Times op-ed.  One can see this new incarnation of Mother Russia put her children to bed, and then brush her luscious hair and join a group of close friends for vodka and pickles.  Unlike Vatolina, the ad agency that produced this poster didn’t set out to create a seminal work of art; their ambition is to be relatable to women and attractive to men.  But outside of Russia their natility propaganda is laughable.

August 2, 2013

Dump Gazprom, Anyone?

Filed under: Russia — Tags: , , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 10:26 pm

It’s one thing to be outraged by the Russian anti-gay law that was passed unanimously by Duma in June and signed by Putin the following month.  The law bans “homosexual propaganda” to minors, public manifestations of gay lifestyle and voicing support for the gay community.  88% Of the “citizens” of the country whose president runs sexed-up campaign ads approve of the bill.

Although some wide-eyed Americans think that the ban means something very narrow, like no more gay pride parades, we can realistically expect the law to be applied in whatever manner pleases the Kremlin.  All the while Nazi homophobes across the Russian Federation (and I mean Nazi homophobes*) feel emboldened.  In the wake of the law’s passing violence against sexual minorities skyrocketed.

Innocence: Russian teens beating up on a propagandist of “non-traditional sexual relations” around the time of Duma’s signing of the anti-gay law

Politics of Russian homophobia work in not so mysterious ways.  The increasingly unpopular Putin needs a scapegoat which he found in the increasingly unpopular sexual minorities (some attribute populist homophobia to weak masculinity).  Russia is dying, its birthrate is low, for which desperate elected officials blame homosexuals, which makes perfect sense considering that gays comprise about 1% of the total population.  Dear friends, “homosexual propaganda” must be the reason Russian women abort more than a million children each year (if we believe the likely conservative official number).  Westerners find it hard to imagine, but this one million figure represents a sharp drop from the Soviet-era highs.  And, oh, in the Soviet times homosexuality was criminalized.

Foreigners and their decadent news organizations are subjects to the same penalties as Russian nationals plus deportation.  A group of Dutch filmmakers arrested for interviewing a 17-year-old homosexual about his view of gay rights in Russia. But did you hear about the 50K sex trafficking victims in Moscow?  (For some reason it feels very satisfying to sprinkle my post with statistics in re Russian moral degeneration).  Many of said prostitutes are orphans Americans can no longer adopt.  I’m sure this whole mess has something to do with the said group of Dutch filmmakers.

With the 2014 winter Olympics coming up, Putin found himself in a sensitive situation.  Exception will be made for the Sochi games (or not).  I look forward to watching Putin maneuver between whipping up homophobia at home and needing to attract the Olympians and the spectators from abroad.  A side drama: the IOC having to coddle every petty dictator (and Putin is by no means a petty dictator) on one hand and appease the Western Left on the other.  Wow!  Pass the popcorn.

The reaction of the Western “LGBT” community was predictably inane.  Egged on by the likes of the eternal teenager Dan Savage, they came up with a novel idea — boycott something.  Something like vodka because vodka is a Russian word, you know.  And so gay bars across the US and Canada made a public spectacle of “dumping Stoli”.  Curious: Did they purchase some extra bottles in order to “dump” them?

And why Stoli?  Stolichnaya sold in Russia is a government-owned.  But Stolichnaya sold elsewhere is manufactured by a privately owned international corporation with only tenuous connections to Russia.  The company sponsors gay pride events worldwide, and, I’m tempted to think, it’s the overexposure that landed the vodka on community organizer crap-list.  The brand is so ubiquitous, it was the first thing to pop into activists’ minds.

Even if Stoli was made in Russia, private enterprise is not what’s wrong with the country.  Heritage Foundation puts Russia at number 139 of its 2013 Index of Economic Freedom worldwide.  It’s notoriously corrupt, the bureaucracy is vast, the laws are applied capriciously, capitol is hard to come by.  Only 22% of gross domestic product of Russian Federation is generated by small and medium size businesses.  Half of the country’s economy is the government, with natural resources comprising 17% of the GDP.  Former Russian sub-president Dmitry Medvedev correctly saw the public sector dominance as a problem.  (And how pathetic it is that 20-some years after the Soviet collapse there isn’t even a Russian consumer product for the West to boycott?)

In their latest video, Russian punk collective Pussy Riot attacked Russian Federation’s omnipresent oil and gas industries likening Russian Federation to Iran and UAE.  Most compatriots don’t share Pussy Riot’s views, of course. They think of the state as a benevolent provider and redistributor.  According to a December 2012 poll, nearly every other Russian dreams of working for Gazprom, a major state-owned natural resources company.  The number of aspiring Gazprom employees rose by more than 10% over three years.

This is not going to end well. Technological advances made drilling possible just about anywhere — in North Dakota, Australia, Israel — you name it.  The prices of fossil fuels are declining, and Russian economy is about to go in a tailspin.  This is the reason for rising opposition, and for the need to scapegoat gays and lesbians.  Empowering the individual to take care of his economic destiny is one way of addressing Russia’s problems.  Empowering the individual will also create a more tolerant society.  But I’m not holding my breath.


For the record: Gay Russian Neo-Nazis exist.  Everything Neo-Nazi exists in Russia.

Older Posts »

The Silver is the New Black Theme. Create a free website or blog at


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 268 other followers

%d bloggers like this: