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 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.

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 7, 2013

Shame and Loathing in Kharkov

Filed under: education, Soviet Union — Tags: , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 3:30 pm

This Monday was Labor Day in the US, but our number one geo-political enemy celebrated the Day of Knowledge.  Before the Soviet Union croaked and it became necessary to spruce up the old Soviet holidays, the occasion wasn’t known as the Day of Knowledge.  It was simply September 1, the first day of the new school year, celebrated on the first weekday of September.  It was, and it still is, a huge deal for the entire country.  The high point of the day is the quaintly sexist assembly during which the tallest and the strongest Senior boy carries the cutest littlest first grade girl on his shoulder in front of fellow schoolmates, parents and teachers lined up around the perimeter of the school yard, and the girl, outfitted in holiday uniform and giant white bows, rings a bell.

Somewhere in Russia in 2011. Imagine perfect childhood

There is much to say about this holiday, which, on balance, was not bad, and I’ll post about it one day.  What got me reminiscing is an Instapundit link to an essay on culture shock by a student from India.  This is how he chose to start:

  • Nobody talks about grades here.
  • Everyone is highly private about their accomplishments and failures. Someone’s performance in any field is their performance alone. This is different compared to India where people flaunt their riches and share their accomplishments with everybody else.
Of all things American he singled out that, and oh, how I understand him.  When I was growing up in Kharkov, Soviet Union, we had no notion of grade privacy.  It’s not just that inquiring about a classmate’s grades wasn’t bad form, we didn’t’ need to.  Our grades were announced in front of the whole class or posted next to our names in a hallway.  Students who did well were often praised in front of the collective, while those at the bottom were shamed.
All teachers, including the nice ones, discussed our grades — such was the custom; most shamed students, and some did so with gusto.  I recall my 8th grade Russian lit teacher taking entire class hour to belittle a student for using words and expressions she didn’t understand.  The girl survived the humiliation, and, being a happily average girl, kept pulling average grades through high school.  The teacher, I’m pretty sure, was KGB because a) somebody in our school had to be KGB and b) her husband was a general, and they spent several years in Cuba.
(Not all abuse in my school was strictly emotional.  Most of the spanking went to troubled kids, about which I didn’t feel particularly bad then, and don’t feel particularly bad now, even though I realize in a long term this kind of discipline was probably useless.  But once my elementary school teacher hit a quiet, lonely girl for not following directions.  That episode remained ingrained in my mind because I didn’t understand why the teacher hurt her.  In retrospect I realize that the girl was autistic, and the teacher, who had 37 of us in her classroom, lost her temper.)
Before the onset of puberty, shaming discouraged failure in certain cases and prompted many middle of the road students to improve their grades.  What kid wants to be called a “fool” and a “cretin” in front of his friends?  Even those of us who were pretty sure we wouldn’t be singled out, set trembling as our elementary school teacher, a stunningly attractive woman with hourglass body, announced test marks.  Now she’s going through the bundle of 5’s (out of 5, that is), and now 4’s, and then 3’s.  We’d rather hear a 4 than a 3.
An unintended effect of shaming was discouragement of achievement.  Once we grew up a bit and got more introspective, we started talking of rather having a 2, the failing grade, than a 3.  A 2 looks like we didn’t care, but 3 made it seem like we tried, but didn’t get very far.
And think of it from the perspective of the student who regularly flunks a tests: he, a 7-year-old son of an alcoholic mother and no known dad, already resigned himself to be the whipping post of the teacher whom he hates, fears and admires at the same time.  But as soon as she’s done with him, some smarty pants kid, the one who gets a yummy sandwich out of his briefcase every afternoon at lunchtime, gets praise.  What, he thinks he’s better than everyone else?  Guess what, the delinquent also needs an outlet.
I, for one, allied myself with not too bright girls who were on good terms with the hooligans, and allowed them to copy my tests just so that they could put in a good word for me.  I also made sure to get a few 4’s each quarter.
In grade school, we were already well on our way of embracing mediocrity, disliking being both on top and on the bottom.  It’s not just that the Soviet economic system disincentivized achievement, and political system punished it, the entire culture was driven by envy and at odds with anything or anybody who dares to be extraordinary.
Add to it the ethnic dimension.  Not all Jews were nerds and there was no shortage of uber-brainy Russians or Ukrainians, but often, and stereotypically, the kid with exemplary grades had dark curls and sad eyes and his tormenters were Slavs.  And even if an otlichnik (a straight A student) was not himself a yid, at least not to his knowledge, it was no guarantee that racial epithets won’t fly when the hooligans give him what was coming.  Any questions about  the Soviet brain drain?
There is much not to like about American schools, particularly the insidious self-respect movement that treats students as fragile little things who need to be showered with praise.  Well, at least I can reasonably expect that teachers will respect my children’s humanity.

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.

February 5, 2013

No Country for R&B

Filed under: parenting, politics, Russia — Tags: , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 2:16 pm

Leslie Loftis requested “that heaping scorn” on account of Vladimir Putin’s hiring of Boyz II Men to combat Russia’s sub-European birth rates.  I’ll try to not disappoint.

The R’n’B band is to play some sort of a part in Russian state’s ongoing effort to convince ordinary men and women to be fruitful and multiply:

The story comes from the Moscow Times, which writes: “The stylish trio of Boyz II Men, the most successful R&B group of all time, is coming to Moscow on Feb 6. The group will perform a selection of their classic and new romantic ballads, hopefully giving Russian men some inspiration ahead of St. Valentine’s Day.” The Times insists that the band will be lending their “powerful voices” to Putin’s fertility campaign. Whether or not the Russian kingpin personally got on the phone, tracked down their agent and demanded that they “do the show right here” is pure speculation on the newspaper’s part. It’s a little hard to believe … but it’s also not impossible to imagine. [My guess is Boyz have no clue about Europe's demographic woes.  Russian newspapers, however, are prone to overstatements. -- ed.]

For Putin has declared war on empty cots with classic Putin bravado. He’s often insisted that having lots of babies is key to Russia’s internal security, to Russia becoming more “influential” on the world state. Why have a great democracy or a flourishing economy when you can simply outnumber everyone else? Putin puts the desirable figure at three babies per household and, in 2007, one province helped things along by declaring a Day of Conception. The idea was that if Russians got the day off work then they might stay at home, put on some Boyz II Men, close the curtains and help bring back the good old days of Soviet hegemony. Women who gave birth 9 months later could win a refrigerator.

Which makes sense.   I can’t think of another top 40 band that’s all soft light and kitchen counters.

Boyz’s 1994 hit “I’ll Make Love to You”

If you, my reader, are a snob like me, you probably spend countless Friday nights complaining about the current sorry state of American popular music.  I hope you realize that much of today’s American pop sells very well abroad, and that even if Americans suddenly abandoned their music idols, many performers would do just fine.  Truth be told, American pop in decline does not sound that bad compare to what musicians around the world have to offer.

Russia one horrid example of horrid taste in horrid popular music.  The country’s President is a noted connoisseur of “popsa” (Russian slang for particularly annoying tunes).  Remember his inspirationally sexed-up 2012 Presidential campaign?  Well, in 2007/2008 it was Putin copying Obama, not the other way around.  Shortly after Obama girl went viral, Putin lent his likeness to a video with two babes who singing ditties about him:

A few years ago I went on a facebook-like Russian site where I found some old friends and made a few new ones.  Most of them were Russian-speaking Ukrainian women, about my age, college educated, either gainfully employed or with a husband providing for the family, and with a kid or two.  Often times our conversation turned to the little ones; specifically they wanted to know how much does the United States government pay to have a baby.  I got the impression that their sole reason for striking a conversation with an American woman was to pose that particular question.

Turns out, all Ukrainian women are promised a one-time stipend for each child — “promised” is the operative word here because in their experience the money doesn’t always materialize.  They were bitter, which was understandable.  I’m not sure how much sense it makes for the state to beguile its citizens short term.  Our government is also making promises on which it’s not going to deliver (think Social Security), but those are long term promises.  By the time the the populace realizes that its been had, the politicians who designed the system are long dead and buried.  Anyhow, Russia touts fertility measures similar to Ukraine’s, with second baby currently worth 9K.  Russian women find it equally easy to discuss such prizes.

Now, I’m all for people being practical about breeding.  People other than myself that is (I got pregnant with my first while on our honeymoon).  It’s just that on the surface of it, at least, the women in Russia and Ukraine do not appear to be practical enough.  I had to explained that in the US children are seen mainly as expenses.  It costs upwards of a half a mil to raise a child, which dwarfs any tax write off a middle class American family can possibly take advantage of.  Kitchen appliances are a sorry compensation when you have another mouth to feed.

What is interesting is when middle class American women think “how can I afford it”, their Russian speaking counterparts think “who pays better”.  That’s the difference between freedom and personal responsibility on the one hand and slavery and hand outs on the other.  Arguably, American fertility subsidies are obscured through our tax code.  We still have subsidies (as we should as long as the government provides for retirement), they are just not obvious.  Yet I don’t know a single family that would calculate exemptions prior to trying to conceive.

The fertility rate in Russia is up from under 1.2 child per woman at its 1999 low to about one and a half child for each woman of childbearing age.  The rate of population decline is down, and Putin is claiming victory.  I remember Russians here, in Cali, being surprised by that Russian style baby boom, and quipping that maybe it’s caused by mothers too drunk to get themselves to abortion clinics.  They were not too far off.  Then there is the argument that the uptake in fertility is partially caused by the increase in the number of ethnic minorities and the calls for awarding “maternal capital” to ethnic Russians only.  Still, the current fertility uptake is partially caused by the women born during the 1980s mini-boom now reaching peak childbearing age.  Once they age, Russia is due for another bust.

From Putin’s point of view it must be now or never.  He really does need to get as many children as he can out of Russian women today because, he must realize, there is no tomorrow.  The generous sums of money offered to moms at the time when state revenues are declining are really a sign of desperation.  Putin bought off Russia’s middle class with petroleum money, but with development of new technologies of oil and gas extraction, the world is not willing to pay top dollar for Russia’s resources.  Russian mothers might be looking for another owner.

Putin’s goal is to encourage every Russian woman to have three children, and this billboard, photographed in Moscow metro, is a part of the state’s natalist campaign. “Your country needs your heroic achievements,” reads the top. “Every minute, three people are born in Russia”. I don’t see Russians reacting to this poster with anything but laughter.  The talk of “heroic accomplishments” is reminiscent of the Soviet era mythical mother-heroines who gave birth to a large number of children.  Ordinary Soviet people didn’t know anyone like that.

And Putin might do better if he had a whole different population of women to work with.  Russian-speaking women are just not that into large families.  I personally know of five Russian-speaking women of my generation who had more than two kids, and by more than two I mean three.  Two of them live in Israel (one is an ethnic Russian), one is in New Jersey, but spent several years in Israel.  Another is in the Bay Area, and her third child was an accident.  And, by the way, had she stayed in Belarus, the boy would had been summarily aborted, and so would had been several of his siblings.  Only one lives (and has always lived) in Ukraine, but she was always a bit odd. Not that there is anything wrong with being odd.

It’s not just that tough economic times drove families to postpone parenting.  Russians have an easy attitude about divorce and out-of-wedlock birth.  A sizable number of Russian women would rather stay single than marry Russian bachelors.  Even those who marry and stay married simply don’t want large families.  One or two kids were a norm for generations, and it’s hard to imagine that this norm can change in the near future.

January 7, 2013

Depardieu To Adopt An Orphanage

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

Kidding.  I’m sure everyone heard about Gerard Depardieu’s decision to renounce his French citizenship and move — first to Belgium, and now to Russia.  For one, Russians offer a better tax deal:

If Mr. Depardieu chooses to take up Russian citizenship, he would potentially trade steep French income tax rates, which he said now claim 85 percent of his income, and even Belgian rates of 60 percent or higher, for Russia’s flat 13 percent income tax. The value-added tax, a sales tax on goods and services, is 18 percent in Russia compared with nearly 20 percent in France, while Russian social security taxes are 30 percent compared with 50 percent in France.

On its way out of communism Russia, like many other former Eastern Block countries, had adopted a flat tax. And if Gospodin Gepardieu thinks that 13% is too high, no worries — few Russians pay income taxes to begin with, and the country relies heavily on its oil and gas revenue.  Sure, Mihkail Khordokovsky is doing time for tax evasion, or so we are told, but given how the actor was caught admiring Putin’s foray into popular culture, I don’t think he needs to worry about such things:

If it’s the low flat tax rate that interests Depardieu, why not chose Georgia or the Czech Republic?  Putin continued:

But aside from tax savings, Mr. Putin suggested that French officials were too brusque in their response to Mr. Depardieu’s complaints and that he might find that Russians simply understand him better as an artist. “Actors, musicians and artists are people with a special, delicate psychological makeup and, as we say in Russia, the artist is easily offended,” Mr. Putin said at the news conference on Dec. 20. “So I understand Mr. Depardieu’s feelings.”

I assume he understands Pussy Riot as well.  Not to say that Pussy Riot is anywhere near Depardieu’s talent, but we are talking bohemian sensibility here, not talent.  Then again, perhaps Putin does know something about artists, many of whom, like our former Frenchman, like dictators.

Depardieu might want to review Russian ideas about immigration.  If a Russian is to renounce his citizenship, he’ll be seen as a traitor by many of his ex compatriots.  Actually, in that part of the world one doesn’t need to leave the country to rise to the status of Benedict Arnold.  When I was growing up in the Soviet Union, virtually any activity that involves moving from one group of people to another, like switching places of employment, was considered treasonous.  Things changed in the 90s, at least for a short time, but it looks like today’s popular opinion is back to the Soviet assumptions.

After the Pussy Riot “trial” last year, I was looking through Russian chatrooms.  The general consensus there was that the young women had it coming, and that in other countries the punishment for their performance would be even harsher.  One individual opined that Pussy Riot are traitors to their motherland, and that in the US they would be put to death for [high] treason.  It was a well-liked opinion.  Last November Putin broadened the legal definition of treason, giving himself a green light to go after dissenters.

Regardless the Russian views on dissent and treason, the new arrival will get to keep more of his money.  How will he show his gratitude?  Russians don’t have the tradition of charitable giving akin to the one we have in America.  When we arrived to the US, we were moved to see people donating their money, time and possessions to help us settle in the new country.  It was all new to us.  Perhaps Gerard Depardieu, a Westerner, knows how charity is done.

The Russian population of parent-less children is now greater than it was at the end of World War 2.  There are children starving in Russian orphanages, and now, because Putin is playing politics with their lives, they can not be adopted by American families.   Surely an actor known for creating humane characters can not remain indifferent.  He should contribute to an overhaul of the Russian orphanage system and perhaps adopt a kid or two.

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