Sound and fury, signifying nothing?
From brilliance to disaster, it’s history
80th Anniversary of Boris Yeltsin
American embassy life in 1937 P.06
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
of Manned Space Flight
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News in Brief
Sports Is handing out citizenship a good way to boost athletic performance?
American Athletes Turn to Russia for Sport
Suicide Bombers Continue Strikes Warnings about continuing attacks after last month’s Domodedovo Airport blast came true in recent weeks as a wave of suicide bombings swept through the North Caucasus. At press time, suicide bombers had killed two interior ministry officers in Dagestan; in Grozny, rebels blew themselves up after being holed up in a building. Meanwhile, media reports indicated that the Domodedovo Airport bomber, who killed 36, spent more than an hour strolling around the airport before detonating, according to The Moscow Times.
J.R. Holden escapes Lithuania’s Rimantas Kaukenas during the 2008 Olympics.
Literary Stars Launch Khodorkovsky Book
For the first time, Russia has begun to hand out passports to international athletes with Olympic potential. Yet, even sports officials have mixed feelings about the push. Yulia Taranova Russia Now
barrage of criticism from all sides. “Most of my friends and family were surprised I was accepted by the Russians to receive a passport and play for the national team,” Holden said of his decision to represent Russia in the Olympics. “People in the press and media were very critical of me. But hey, that is life, and with a lot of great opportunities there is a lot of good and bad to deal with.” Holden said he started his life in Russia with his own stereotypes: He thought that Russia was a cold place with cold people. “Like most Americans, I thought Russia would be like the movie Rocky,” Holden told Russia Now of his move to Moscow. ap
Long known as the ultimate exporter of athletic talent, Russia is finally inviting foreigners to help replenish what has amounted to a serious talent drain. With the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi drawing closer, and the dark specter of losses at the 2010 Winter Olympics heavy on its shoulders, the country is changing its attitude toward foreign athletes. As sports officials begin to realize that naturalization has its benefits, more athletes are com-
ing to Russia, and some are finding success. But the new strategy is getting mixed reviews inside Russia and abroad. American athletes John Robert Holden and Rebecca Hammon, the most famous naturalized Olympic hopefuls, have become leaders of their respective Russian basketball teams. Figure skater Yuko Kawaguchi, a native of Japan and now a fluent Russian speaker, has become a national celebrity after representing Russia at the Vancouver Olympic Games. Becoming a naturalized Russian in order to compete here is fulfilling, the athletes say, but not without heartache. Athletes face a steep learning curve in language and culture outside their Olympic training. Even more taxing, at times, is the
Rebecca Hammon gestures while playing for Team Russia.
continued on page 6
Less than a month after jailed Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky was sentenced to remain in prison until 2017, a book of his writings and interviews was launched in Moscow at an event attended by some of Russia’s top writers and human rights figures. The book includes several essays that the former Yukos chairman wrote from prison, as well as interviews with leading contemporary writers Boris Akunin, Lyudmila Ulitskaya and Boris Strugatsky. Once Russia’s richest man, Khodorkovsky was sentenced to 14 years in prison in December with his business partner Platon Lebedev. Last week, an assistant to the judge in the case claimed her boss was pressured to hand down the verdict.
Tourists Trickle Back From Egypt About two million Russians travel to Egypt, the second most popular travel destination for Russians after Turkey. Five leading tourist operators said they would finish bringing back their clients after three weeks of protests, during which 300 people were killed. There has been no violence in resort cities, but quality of services and availability of food is dropping at the Red Sea resorts of Huhada and Sharm el-Sheikh. It remained unclear how much business tourist operators will lose over the “Nile Revolution.” No estimates were available for the number of outbound tourists arranging trips independently.
In this issue OPINION
Reform New law responds to majority of Russians who have become deeply cynical toward police
Moscow’s young policemen talk to Russia Now about their work, public opinion, their paychecks and work on the streets.
Mikhail Menshenin, 25, has served on Moscow’s police force for the last three years after completing a stint in the armed forces.
Artem Zagorodnov russia now
Sergeant Mikhail Menshenin is trying to hush a screaming 86-year-old retiree while parrying her flailing swings. Menshenin and his partner were called to the woman’s apartment by a social worker, Lyudmila, who said the pensioner attacked her. “She’s gone completely mad,” Lyudmila said between sobs. Back in the patrol car, calm restored, Menshenin was thankful the woman did not have her cane. “They’re lethal with those things,” he said. Police officers Alexander
Kuzminov, 23, and Menshenin, 25, patrol a district in southwestern Moscow. They speak proudly of their devotion to duty, but as officers in Moscow’s militsiya, as the police are called in Russia, they are members of an institution that is widely derided as hopelessly corrupt. “I like my job,” Menshenin said. “I get to talk to people, do good. It’s tough psychologically, but hard work gets rewarded. The salary may not be great, but we get bonuses. If you do your best, you can make enough.” Menshenin earns about 25 thousand rubles a month, or approximately $850, which is a penurious sum of money in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and all the more so
for a married man with a twoyear-old son. The low pay and lack of benefits pushes many officers into accepting bribes, and corruption has significantly tainted the reputation of the police. In the latest survey by Levada, an independent polling organization, 60 percent of Russians said they were dissatisfied with the performance of the police. It is the routine solicitation of small bribes, often after they are stopped for minor traffic infractions, that has so soured Russians on their police. “What do you expect for the money we make?” asks Alexei, a police lieutenant in another district who did not want to reveal his last name. Continued on page 3
A Force to Be Reckoned With
Taking the Temperature Would Russia’s youth follow the example of Egypt? Turn to page 4
The Imported Locavore
Tales of a culinary schizophrenic Turn to page 5
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News in brief
Markets Foreign drug companies invest more in Russia
Local Drug Industry Gets Kremlin Injection Rachel Morarjee
Business new europe
Late last year, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin unveiled a new two-decade-long plan to modernize the country’s pharmaceutical industry and to give local firms a greater presence in international markets, with $3.9 billion in government funding. Putin said he wants 90 percent of Russia’s vital medicines and 50 percent of its medical equipment to be domestically produced by 2020. He is also determined to increase exports eight-fold. Foreign pharmaceutical companies and medical equipment manufacturers will face new restrictions on selling their goods in Russia if they do not bring their technology and manufacturing facilities into the country, he warned. “We will have restrictions for them on our market if there are no imports of manufacturing facilities and technologies,” Putin said. But he added that the trade barriers would be implemented in a gradual way. Dmitry Genkin, CEO of Russia’s Pharmasynthez, which raised $17.6 million in a November 2010 Initial Public Offering (IPO), said Russia has long struggled with the Soviet legacy of building most of the pharmaceutical industry in Eastern Europe. “It left us with a huge gap between fundamental sciences and applied science, like medicine, when the Soviet Union collapsed,” he explained. Russian firms have long awaited government support, but current spending levels in Russia fall far short of the money spent to
support drug research and development (R&D) in Europe, Genkin said. “The money being spent by the Russian government is still peanuts compared to R&D spending by the European Commission or the U.S. National Institutes of Health,” he said. Nevertheless, Russia’s pharmaceutical market is growing twice as fast as the United States and European markets and has already become a key battleground for pharmaceutical companies whose sales have stalled in Western markets as patents expire. “The pharmaceutical market boosted by consumer and government spending is set to outperform Russian GDP, while the fragmented regional pharmacy segment offers big consolidation potential to leading chains,” said a representative from Russian brokerage Uralsib. Unsurprisingly, foreign companies’ initial reaction was skeptical. International pharmaceutical companies working in Russia say more dialogue with the government is necessary as the domestic market undergoes changes stemming from the recently adopted state strategy for the sector, The Moscow Times reports. The newspaper reports that a straw poll of participants in a conference on the future of Russia’s pharmaceutical industry showed that more than 80 percent of them view the latest regulatory efforts as “ill-considered and creating additional barriers.” However, Western drug giants are also determined not to be trapped by import barriers and are setting up domestic manufacturing bases in Russia to cash in on the market’s growth potential. Just before Christmas, Swiss giant Novartis said it would in-
vest $500 million in Russia over five years, building a manufacturing plant in St. Petersburg to focus on local manufacturing and R&D partnerships with local companies. Switzerland’s Nycomed and Denmark’s Novo Nordisk have also announced plans to start producing in Russia, while Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline struck a vaccine deal in November with Moscow-based Binnopharm. Already this year, French giant Sanofi-Aventis appointed a new emerging markets management team to boost their market share in Russia, which it considers one of its key markets. Meanwhile, Russian companies are also looking at markets overseas. Pharmasynthez said it will use part of its IPO funds to purchase pharmaceutical producers in Europe, as well as in the United States and Israel. Pharmasynthez is looking for small, growing and profitable companies that own production facilities, Genkin said. With the push to promote domestic pharmaceuticals, the Kremlin has begun a new effort to diversify the Russian economy. Analysts are excited by the government’s initiative, as it gives them a new sector: In the last week of January, Russian investment bank Uralsib launched a resurgence of research into the pharmaceutical sector with a report entitled “Just what the doctor ordered.” “Russian pharma producers offer an excellent domestic story and access to defensive market niches and strong cash flows. The relative low performance of Russia’s pharmaceutical market by comparison to other BRIC markets is compensated for by the market leaders’ higher margins and consolidation potential,” Tigran Hovhannisyan, Uralsib’s analyst, wrote in the report.
Foodies can celebrate, in Europe at least. Official exports of sturgeon caviar to the European Union have resumed after a nine-year ban, according to the Russian Federal Fisheries Agency. Russia allows the sale of nine tons of black caviar from the wild sturgeon on the domestic market each year. But the Federal Fisheries Agency has decided to begin allowing exports of caviar from farmed fish to Europe. Fish farms in Russia will soon be producing up to 15 tons of caviar, the agency stated.
Box Office Hits $1 Billion
The domestic market is set for a new growth spurt, and foreign companies are staking claim before facing restrictions.
Caviar Exports Resume After 9 Years
Russia’s pharmaceutical market presents a great opportunity for investors in the near future.
Pharmaceutical Market Projection
billion of state funds will be injected into the Russian drug market.
of Russia’s medicines are to be domestically produced by 2020.
is the estimated growth rate of the Russian pharmaceuticals market in 2011.
Source: DSM Group
Business Russians’ love of literature could turn a profit in the form of electronic books
Rachel Morarjee Graham Stack special to rn
It is no secret that Russia has one of the richest literary traditions, and favorite classic writers like Alexander Pushkin and Leo Tolstoy continue to enjoy superstar status, even today. Until recently, the publishing industry has failed to catch up with Russians’ love of books. Yet it appears that e-books and digital readers could revitalize the
Russia is one of the most well-read nations, meaning e-books could be the publishing industry’s new bright spot. In the Moscow metro (pictured), it is easy to see the transition from paperback novels to ebook readers in every car.
beleaguered publishing industry, opening up a new publishing market across the former Soviet Union, industry observers said. “Russia has very little physical distribution of books. There are no nationwide chains like Barnes and Noble or Waterstones,” said Simon Dunlop, founder of digital download company Bookmate.ru. At the moment, 80 percent of books in Russia are sold in Moscow and St. Petersburg, with only 20 percent sold in the regions, according to estimates from booksellers Bookmate and Ozon.ru. But digital distribution of literature could overcome the huge logistical challenges of selling books across the vast territory in Russia. “With digital media, there are no border controls, no customs and no transport costs,” Dunlop said, adding that with nine time zones, no other market in the world is quite as suited to e-books. One of the former Soviet Union’s claims to fame was to be a “nation of readers,” and Russia remains a highly educated society with literacy rates on a par or higher than that of its peers in Western Europe. Internet piracy has held back the development of the publishing industry, with illegal downloads robbing publishers of the revenues they need to promote young and up-andcoming authors. E-books are already thought to be the leading legally downloaded product on the Russian Internet by industry experts; the number of downloads from Bookmate has been growing exponentially in the last year, according to Dunlop. The rising popularity of e-books is easy to see. It seems that every car on the Moscow metro has at least one or two people clutching an e-book reader. And the rising demand for affordable readers has already been met with a popular and effective Ukrainian-pro-
duced e-reader. Oleg Naumenko, the 29-year-old Ukrainian entrepreneur who launched the best-selling Pocketbook e-reader, realized that an e-reader designed for the Russian-language market could profit from the huge amount of free files on the Internet without itself infringing in any way on copyright laws. Before the Pocketbook, the drawback of such files was the inconvenience of reading from printouts or LED displays. Naumenko’s Pocketbook e-reader range, which costs around $300, does not come cheap, but users recoup their investment quickly if they use it as a substitute for buying hard copies of books. The crisis year of 2009 was a breakthrough for Pocketbook; it sold 142,000 devices in 2009, earning $37 million. Around 60 percent of the devices were sold in Russia and most of
GLOBAL RUSSIA BUSINESS CALENDAR 30th annual world russia forum
E-Book Boom is a Page Turner The surge in e-book sales has led to a variety of products being developed specifically for the Russian market. Experts feel the boom is just beginning.
Russia’s box office sales passed the $1 billion mark in 2010 as the Russian movie market became the second largest in Europe. By Nov. 2010, the value of Russia’s movie distribution market had reached $1 billion, up 40 percent from the 2009 box office season. Companies have been racing to build modern cinemas across the country. Two American films, “The Tourist” and “Gulliver’s Travels” attracted bigger audiences in Russia than any other market in the world. Both films were major disappointments in their own markets. Russian ticket sales outpaced Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. Foreign investors have yet to arrive in this market, which is dominated by Russian distributors. Consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers said that the Russian entertainment market will continue to expand.
march 29-30, Washington D.c.
the rest in Ukraine. Pocketbook captured 43 percent of the Russian market, with Sony a distant second with 24 percent, according to SmartMarketing. Pocketbook’s success is expected to continue in 2010, with earnings estimated at $150 million. The company has grown so fast that it has only now started to build up a sales network. Eighty-five percent of 2009 sales were made via the Internet. Naumenko has also established an e-book where licensed files cost a fraction of hard copy. With 150 million Russians and 110 million of its near neighbors currently online and double-digit growth in the spread of Internet capability, the market has huge growth potential. “As long as people have an Internet connection, you can start to use the power of technology to crack open new markets,” Dunlop said.
The event uses the 50th anniversary of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight into space to discuss and generate new ideas for the development and broad expansion of U.S.-Russia business, political, science, education and cultural cooperation. ›› www.RussiaHouse.org/wrf.php
5th annual open russia conference: partnership for modernization march 24-25, world trade center, Moscow
An annual meeting of Russian and foreign entrepreneurs, experts, journalists and representatives of federal and regional authorities organized by the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the AER Group. ›› www.moscowcongress.ru/laying_place/index.htm com/en/ xrc034
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Politics & Society
Film Grappling with Stalin’s Camps
Wanted: A Good Gulag Film
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
Russian directors finally enter the realm of the Gulag, provoking attention but not yet earning box office success. STEPHEN M. NORRIS
SPECIAL TO RUSSIA NOW
“The good officers just take bribes for minor stuff. You know, a few rubles from someone violating immigration rules or something, just to make ends meet. “After 13 years on the force, I make roughly $700 a month. How am I supposed to raise a family on that? I’m saved only by the fact that I work weekends at my uncle’s company. My wife tells me each day to quit the police,” he added. A 2009 supermarket shooting spree by Police Major Denis Yevsyukov, which grabbed national headlines, prompted President Dmitry Medvedev to call for an overhaul of the police. Staff cuts and pay raises were announced, while a new “Law on Police” was posted online for public discussion. To build trust, Medvedev suggested reverting to the czarist-era “police” name rather than the current “militsiya,” or “people’s militia,” a relic of Soviet times. The final law incorporated those changes as well as some suggestions posted online by ordinary people. An officer’s authority will now be limited to his precinct, people will be given the right to make a free phone call after they are arrested and Russians will now enjoy their own equivalent of Miranda rights. Medvedev also proposed significant pay raises to reduce the incentive to take bribes. The bill is set to be enacted on March 1. Some lawmakers, however, are skeptical that the bill will curtail corruption or ease popular discontent. “Instead of a new force, we get the same militsiya with a new name,” Gennady Gudkov, deputy chairman of the Security Committee in the Duma, the lower house of parliament, and a member of A Just Russia, an opposition party, told Russia Now. He said the pro-Kremlin United Russia party blocked at-
Aleksei Uchitel’s new film “The Edge” is the latest in a group of recent Russian films set in Stalinist camps. Known mostly as an art house director, Uchitel received backing from Russia’s state-owned Channel One for his film and declared in interviews that he had made a “Hollywood-style” movie. A critic at gazeta.ru proclaimed that the film was “the best in the history of our new cinema to Russify the form of the Hollywood blockbuster.” The film did not become the first Gulag blockbuster, but it did make some waves. In September, the Russian Oscar Committee selected “The Edge” as their official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film. The film did not make the Academy’s shortlist, but it did become a finalist for the Golden Globe, garnering some attention from Western critics. “The Edge” is an unusual film for several reasons. Set in late 1945, it tells the story of a war veteran, suffering from concussions, who arrives in a Siberian labor camp populated by deported enemy nationalities. The veteran, Ignat, pursues his passion for working on locomotives. He gets involved in the workings of the camp and disturbs its delicate balance when he discovers a German woman. The film reflects a Russian society newly concerned with “deStalinizing.” The new presidential adviser for human rights, Mikhail Fedotov, has been charged with this process. In May 2007, Russia’s leading film journal, “The Art of Cinema,” published a round table that declared that the lack of Gulag films represented “a significant absence” in Russian culture. Daniil Dondurei, the journal’s editor, worried that “our country has not outlived the tragedy of Stalinism as a national catastrophe” because too many Russians treat the Stalinist past, particularly the Gulag, with indifference. The historian Aleksandr Daniel argued that Russians have not yet atoned for Stalinist crimes. A good Gulag film, the participants agreed, might help matters. The journal’s editors convened the round table because Nikolai Dostal’s television series “Lenin’s Will,” based on the life and work of Varlam Shalamov, had just aired. It was one of a handful of serials set in the Gulag. “Lenin’s Will” followed on the heels of Dostal’s “Penal Battalion” (2004-2005), which explored the use of Gulag prisoners as cannon fodder during World War II. In Jan. 2006, Rossiia aired a 10-part adaptation of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “First Circle,” which led the ratings and attracted a lot of media coverage. These small-screen explorations also won awards, and attest to this characterization: The episodic nature of many Russian works, including Shalamov’s “Kolyma Tales” and Solzhenitsyn’s novels, make for good television.
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Yuri Matyukhin’s men prepare to patrol Moscow’s streets after their morning briefing.
“Instead of a new force, we get the same militsiya with a new name,” Gennady Gudkov, deputy chairman of the Security Committee in the Duma, said. tempts to subject the police to greater public scrutiny. “We proposed increasing public oversight via grass-roots organizations,” he said. “They denied it.” Some senior police officials are also skeptical of the reform and said there needs to be a broad attack on corruption, targeting both state institutions and public attitudes.
or about 33,000 rubles, will be the average monthly salary of a Russian police lieutenant after the reforms.
of Russians living in major cities entirely trust the police, according to a Levada Center survey.
or approximately 460 billion rubles, was allocated for the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the 2010 federal budget.
part of a “broader dissatisfaction with state institutions.” “In my personal experience, there was nothing particularly bad about the police,” Petrov said. Indeed, Matyukhin said few institutions have attempted to combat internal corruption as aggressively as the police. “I challenge you to show any government body in Russia that is
“If we don’t reform other institutions along with the police and clarify who’s responsible for what, no staff cuts or increases will make any difference,” Police Chief Yuri Matyukhin of Moscow’s Southwest District said. Nikolai Petrov, a security expert with the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, said the public’s low regard for the police is
doing more to transparently fight corruption and purge its own ranks than the militsiya is already doing,” Matyukhin said. But Petrov said the militsiya cannot police itself and still expect to restore public confidence. “What’s needed is outside control over the police by public organizations,” Petrov said. “What we don’t have is responsibility like in the U.S., where sheriffs are elected and removed if they don’t do their job.” Back on the beat, Sergeant Menshenin said that whatever the implications of the bill, layoffs had already begun and had even had a positive effect: “They’ve already fired a lot of the bad apples in our ranks who were harming the reputation of the police.”
Civil Society Demonstrations took place on Jan. 31
SPECIAL TO RUSSIA NOW
It is Monday and the last day of January, a typical rush hour in Moscow’s center. But it is no average gridlock at Triumph Square, where Russia’s emerging opposition movement has come together just as they have on the 31st of each month that has 31 days. They are here to defend Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, which guarantees the right of assembly. The crowd chants: “Russia without Putin!” The protests in Egypt are on everyone’s mind, and those who speak for the opposition here do not hesitate to compare Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to now-deposed Egyptian Hosni Mubarak. The difference here is that the Moscow demonstrators, numbering fewer than 1,000, are crammed into a tiny public square and besieged by 2,000 police officers and soldiers. Last November, authorities in the capital finally approved this demonstration in Triumph Square, although they did so
action to recent events. “Street protests have become popular across Russia, and authorities are obviously overwhelmed,” Petrov said. “But it’s easier to go after ‘goateed people’ (as Putin calls opposition activists) than a worked-up crowd of football fanatics.” On Dec. 11, a group of 5,000 youth clashed violently with law enforcement under the walls of the Kremlin. Putin has since accused the liberal opposition of having started this destructive trend. It is true that there was a rise in street protests throughout 2010. The authorities, however, did not share Medvedev’s sentiments and never really loosened their grip. Remembering the adage “united we stand, divided we fall,” leaders of the democratic movements united under the banner of the Party of People’s Freedom in order to field candidates in the 2011 elections and a presidential runner in 2012. However, during his annual televised conversation with the public, Putin openly stated that he would not allow the opposition to “reach the feeding trough”—in particular, Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Ryjkov. “That day, Putin sealed the fate of democracy,” Ryjkov ex-
Protestors in Moscow call attention to Article 31 of the constitution, granting the right to free assembly.
plained. “He kicked off the 2012 election campaign by making it perfectly clear that there would be no democratic transfer of power.” But what does not kill the opposition will likely make it stronger. “The authorities want to frighten those who come out against them, but we will continue to defend the constitution,” Yashin of Yabloko said. Despite the seething anger of the opposition, they have yet to build a real base of support. Denis Volkov of the Levada Center said this is because their political message has remained too abstract for ordinary Russians who do not see the use of the
right to assembly. And Nemtsov, for all his political persecution, has inspired very few with his leadership potential. “People are ready to defend their own rights ... but they don’t see in Nemtsov a man who is interested in their problems,” the sociologist said. According to Petrov, it is only a matter of time. “The problems that are troubling society won’t be solved in 2011; discontent will only increase. The opposition is uniting. When the protesting catches on and those who are dissatisfied are looking for spokesmen, the opposition will be there.”
Big screen Gulag films have not proven as successful. Vladimir Lakanin’s 2006 “Lucky” was about a young naval officer sentenced to 25 years in the camps. When he arrives, the officer, nicknamed “Lucky,” gets involved in a war between two rival criminal gangs. He manages to survive and even earns early release. The film was anything but lucky at the box office, however: It received a limited release and appeared on only 26 screens. Dostal continued with the Gulag theme, shooting a 2009 feature film, “Petya on the Way to Heaven,” about a mentally handicapped teenager who pretends to work as a transport policeman in a prison camp near Murmansk. Scripted by Mikhail Kuraev and based on his 1991 novella, the film won the St. George Prize at the 31st Moscow International Film Festival. The movie, which cost $2 million to make, earned a paltry $22,000. One year ago, Nikita Mikhalkov’s “Burnt by the Sun 2: Exodus” seemed like a sure thing for Russia’s Oscar bid. The film, which debuted for Victory Day 2010, famously flopped, leading Mikhalkov to announce he did not want the committee to consider it. It too entered the world of the Stalinist camps. Mikhalkov’s protagonist, General Kotov (played by the director), survived his death at the end of 1994’s Oscar-winning “Burnt by the Sun.” He was instead sent to the camps. The film opens with the disgraced
Too many Russians treat the Stalinist past , particularly the Gulag, with indifference. officer escaping from his camp after Nazi planes strafe it. Kotov eventually joins a penal battalion. “Burnt by the Sun 2” became a press sensation because it performed so poorly at the box office. At the same time, it earned more money than any other post-Soviet film that includes the Gulag. Uchitel’s “The Edge,” by comparison, earned back $5.1 million of its $11 million budget. “Burnt by the Sun 2” and “The Edge” perfectly capture the state of the big screen Gulag film. It is no longer possible to state that there is a significant absence—the two films garnered a great deal of press coverage. Uchitel’s film, however, is not as much about the special settlers as it is about the trains Ignat races. The deported prisoners provide mere backdrop to the thrilling sequences featuring locomotives. The fact that “Burnt by the Sun 2” opens in a camp is just a convenient way to explain Kotov’s remarkable resurrection. It is more about Mikhalkov’s belief that God returned to Russia during the war. The films employ blockbuster special effects on train races or battle sequences. Both are in many ways as indifferent about the Gulag as the round table participants believe most Russians are. As a result, the new Russia still awaits its first truly good Gulag movie.
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without relinquishing their right to massive shows of force, dragging away activists, often violently. Last Dec. 31, opposition leaders were arrested and sentenced to between five and 15 days imprisonment. They made international news and gave human rights activists pause. Upon their release, opposition activist Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister; Eduard Limonov, leader of the National Bolshevik and Other Russia parties; and Ilya Yashin, leader of the Yabloko party’s youth wing, described the crackdown as the “lukashenkization” of Vladimir Putin’s regime. Like Alexander Lukashenko, who was recently reelected in Belarus after violently repressing dissidents, they say Putin is attempting to try to hoard all power for himself. These parties represent several small anti-Kremlin movements that are not cohesive and do not particularly get along with one another, but they agree on this point. Nikolai Petrov, scholar-in-residence at the Moscow Carnegie Center, is more nuanced in his analysis. He says he is not convinced that the crackdown on protests reveals a new strategy of repression. In his view, it could also be a short-term re-
Following the Opposition From Thaw to Freeze Authorities have tightened their grip on small-scale protests, giving fresh ambition to a dispersed opposition.
Is “The Edge” about the Gulag, or an obsession with trains?
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Another bomb, more words event. The Muslim population of the problematic regions of Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya know all too well what the hard line in Russian politics means. Corruption and fear reigns in the North Caucasus, where power resides in a complicated system of clan loyalties and corrupt political appointees. Moscow ships endless amounts of cash to keep things quiet, but the money never finds its way to the impoverished, unemployed population; it disappears in the deep pockets of regional officials. While many people can’t even afford a car, the traffic police in Dagestan patrols the roads in Porsche Cayennes. The real terrorists walk free, and the local population pays the price. The disparities have caused an increase in local support for terrorism. Hours after the airport bombing, messages of support were posted on Russian extremist websites. Throughout the Caucasus, people have turned their heads away from the Kremlin. Among locals, rumors are rife that federal security representatives don’t even try to hunt down the real terrorists, they just symbolically blow up buildings. After all, if the real terrorists are found, the money from Moscow to fund security operations will stop. The loneliest man in Russia may be Alexander Khloponin. The economist and businessman was appointed almost exactly a year ago as presidential
The people of the Caucasus know all too well what the hard line means for them.
screening devices. A metal detector located at the entrance hasn’t worked in about six months. In the aftermath of the bombing, security was worse than ever, according to eyewitnesses. Arriving passengers wandered through the departures terminal.
No branch of the security apparatus wanted to take responsibility for lax procedures at the airport, although former employees of the airport security service at Domodedovo told The Moscow News that cuts, first in wages and later in personnel, had damaged the abil-
COULD RUSSIA’S YOUTH FOLLOW EGYPT? Georgy Bovt
Special To Russia Now
he spate of uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and other Arab countries has been dubbed the “Facebook Revolution” and the “Wikileaks Revolution,” among others. By bestowing labels on the events, people have tried to get to their core, to define who or what it is that drives these mass movements and inspires millions of people to take to the streets. But it is useless to try to dissect these uprisings. First of all, unrest begins spontaneously; secondly, the main driving force is young people; and thirdly, people are called to revolt through online social networks and mobile phones. Paradoxically, the authoritar-
ian Arab political regimes place significant value on education, seeing it as a form of immunization against Islamic extremism; at the same time, a younger and more educated generation cannot find fulfilment in the political conditions of authoritarian, corrupt regimes where social mobility is impossible and there are no functional judicial systems to encourage honest careers. In Russia, political analysts are becoming increasingly attentive to the events in the Arab world. Many Russian analysts have tried to project the situation onto their own country, asking: Could the same thing ever happen in Russia? It is first important to acknowledge several fundamental differences between Russia and the Arab countries. Russia
New Patriarch Wins Over the Public A poll by vciom found that patriaRch kirill is increasingly known and supported by russians.
Most respondents correctly named the head of the Orthodox Church, who replaced Patriarch Alexei in 2009. Most of those familiar with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church hold him in high esteem, with that number increasing each year (53 percent compared to 44 percent in 2009). Twothirds of those surveyed said that church policy reflects the interests of the public.
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does not have the same demographic pressures as Egypt, for example. Until recently, Russia’s birth rate was falling. The working-age population is decreasing, and the number of pensioners is growing. As a result, unemployment levels are low in Russia. As the state plays a more active role in the economy, a growing number of young people are finding themselves jobs in the public sector, by definition a more stable option, where there are large number of law enforcement and security agencies. The second difference is that Russia does not have a powerful ideological force to informally counter the secular authoritarian regime, a void that in Egypt is filled by Islam. The Russian Orthodox Church adopts a steadfastly statist position.
Young people in Russia are not overly concerned with politics, and Russian society as a whole, contrary to relatively widespread belief, is more focused on individual concerns than banding together to help the whole. The youth of Russia are beset with different problems, especially the influence of radical right-wing and extremist ideas. There are more than 200 extremist organizations in Russia, with a combined membership of about 10,000 people, mainly between the ages of 16 to 25, according to the prosecutor general. The majority of them do not belong to the fringes of society: They are either in higher education or studying at mid-level special professional institutes. In the past two years, there has also been growth in the number of crimes
ity of the service to provide adequate screening. Unable or unwilling to face the hard questions of what happened and why, politicians are left taking the hard line rhetorically, and the attacks keep coming. In fact, in the Caucasus itself, terror is an everyday
committed on nationalistic grounds as well as the number of extremist acts committed in public. This tendency was made especially clear at the rally in the center of Moscow in December last year. Yet the threat of nationalist extremism in Russia, including extremism among youth, is one that should not be exaggerated. The predominant aim of the younger generation is to adapt to existing conditions, and to use these conditions for their own personal benefit, such as self-realization, building a career and improving their quality of life. The subculture of nationalistextremists (skinheads) is embraced by no more than 60,00070,000 people throughout Russia, and those with a tendency toward violence number no more than 25,000-30,000. If extreme nationalist views are shared by 15 percent of youth, this figure decreases to 4 percent among older respondents, according to the Levada Center. Long-term success in stamping out extremism and nationalism will not rely on the rela-
Olaf Koens is a Dutch journalist based in Moscow who has traveled extensively throughout the Caucasus.
ime and time again, Russian leaders have vowed to track down and punish terrorists responsible for deadly bombings, yet after every attack the real problem is ignored. After the late January bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport that killed 36 people and injured more than 100, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered authorities to “bring the culprits to justice and destroy their organizations.” And after last year’s bombing in the Moscow Metro, Medvedev vowed to “continue the operations against terrorists without hesitation, and to the very end.” Medvedev is trying to imitate the harsh tone of his mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who famously promised in 1999 to “wipe the terrorists off of their toilets,” and recently said it was “a matter of honor for the security services to drag the terrorists from the bottom of the sewers into the light of God.” These are strong words, but they have produced weak results. After the airport attack, the police in Moscow announced additional security measures, but in practice they mean next to nothing. Shortly after the bombing, passengers inside Domodedovo, afraid of missing their flights, walked around
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envoy to the newly created North Caucasus Federal District. He embarked on a new route to improving the situation in the region by encouraging economic development and offering an alternative to fundamentalist Islam. Last summer, Khloponin announced a program to combat clan and ethnic conflict along with Islamic extremism, starting with a series of priority economic development projects: constructing an oil refinery in Chechnya, redeveloping ports in Makhachkala and Derbent, along with the development of tourist infrastructure. But investment has been hard to come by. “The approach of using jobs and economic development to halt terrorism does not seem to be working,” Anna Nemtsova, a Newsweek correspondent, said the day of the Domodedovo bombing. Instead of announcing new investments, Khloponin stated recently that Chechen militant Doku Umarov has been linked to the airport bombing. Shortly after the attack, President Medvedev delayed his departure to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he had intended to give a speech touting Russia as a safe place for investment—particularly encouraging foreign interest in the development of the North Caucasus as a sports resort. Russia still dreams of its Caucasus Mountains as a tourist destination to rival the Swiss Alps. Every attack moves this dream further from reality.
tively high level of tolerance for other ethnicities, a legacy of the Soviet Union. Instead, it will depend on how successfully Russian youth are able to find a place and opportunity for creative progress. When viewed in
these terms, the general situation in Russia still does not look as bleak as the one in Egypt. Georgy Bovt is a Moscowbased political commentator.
RIGHT-SIZED bureaucracy John Earle, Scott Gehlbach
ith great fanfare, President Dmitry Medvedev has announced his intention to slash the bureaucracy by 20 percent. It is a bold attempt to deal with an unmanageable government apparatus, perhaps the chief cause of the country’s persistent economic problems. It is also profoundly mistaken. The push to shrink the Russian bureaucracy is founded on two myths. The first myth is that the bureaucracy is unusually large. The second is that larger bureaucracies necessarily impede private economic activity. There is no empirical support for either proposition. The myth of the mammoth Russian bureaucracy has its roots in an undisputed fact: The government is largely corrupt and inefficient. It does not immediately follow, however, that the bureaucracy is corrupt and inefficient because it is too big. Indeed, the Russian bureaucracy is quite small by world standards, even after substantial growth in recent years. Consider these numbers: In 2009, public administration employment at all levels of the Russian government accounted for
2.5 percent of the employed labor force. By comparison, public administration in members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, constituted, on average, 9 percent of the labor force in the early 1990s, according to the single available cross-national study of government employment. Indeed, there was not a single OECD country with a smaller bureaucracy in the early 1990s than Russia has today. Of course, the more appropriate comparison may be with Russia’s peers among developing and transition countries. Yet even by this standard, Russia’s bureaucracy appears small. In the early 1990s, the typical post-Communist bureaucracy accounted for more than 4 percent of total employment—far smaller than in the wealthy states of the OECD, but larger than Russia’s today. As to the high-performing developing economies that are Russia’s foremost competitors for international capital, the bureaucracy in China was close to 3 percent of total employment in the early 1990s, and in Turkey close to 4 percent. However one slices the data, Russia’s bureaucracy does not look large. Surely, the argument goes, any bureaucracy can be cut to
the benefit of private economic activity. This is the second myth behind the Kremlin’s illconsidered drive. Without a concomitant push to cut red tape, shrinking government employment may leave entrepreneurs even more at the mercy of venal public servants. If it’s hard for a private firm to get a license or permit today, imagine what it will be like when the line backs up because
merous Russian firms, suggests that precisely this dynamic was at work during the first decade and a half of the post-Communist economic transition. Our analysis takes advantage of large variation across regions in the size of the Russian bureaucracy. After stripping away the effects of other factors— population, urbanization and the like—what is left is regional patterns of public employ-
The effects of bureaucracy on private economic activity can be estimated in Russia.
The problem is that the bureaucrats Russia has aren’t responsive to the people they serve.
of staff cuts. Desperate to get to the front of the line, owners and managers will be even more tempted to grease the wheels by providing side payments to those with the authority to make or break their businesses. Alone behind the counter, Russian bureaucrats will be like store clerks in a Soviet establishment: all power and no responsibility. This is no mere theoretical possibility. Our research with David Brown of Heriot-Watt University, based on the statistical analysis of data from nu-
ment that appear to be rooted in Soviet-era development priorities. Therefore, Russia offers a sort of experiment by which the effects of bureaucracy on private economic activity can be estimated. First, public servants actually appear to work more responsibly and honestly in regions where bureaucracies are relatively large. Firms in those regions report spending less time and money acquiring licenses from the state, and they pay smaller kickbacks for government contracts. Second,
private firms are more productive (relative to state enterprises in similar industries) in regions with relatively large bureaucracies. With a less-hostile state apparatus, private-enterprise owners and managers face fewer constraints when taking actions that raise their productivity—for example, seeking out new markets, laying off redundant employees, starting new product lines and so forth. The proposal to cut Russia’s bureaucracy is a misguided solution to the wrong problem. The country’s problem is not that its bureaucracy is too large. It’s that the bureaucrats it does have aren’t responsive to the people they serve. There are no easy solutions to that problem, but concentrating power in the hands of a few state officials runs the risk of making the situation worse, not better. John Earle is professor of public policy and economics at George Mason University and professor of economics at the Central European University. Scott Gehlbach is associate professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Originally published in The Moscow Times.
most read The many faces of Islam
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YELTSIN ON OUR MIND THE LEGACY OF A PRESIDENT the legislature, leading to his Pyrrhic victory on Oct. 4. The episode was a terrible setback for rule of law in a country that needed it badly. That Yeltsin had lost touch with the economic needs and fears of average Russians was demonstrated clearly in the Dec. 1993 elections when Yeltsin’s team was decisively beaten. Yeltsin accepted the electoral outcome but never learned how to deal with a non-compliant parliament. Every important leader makes mistakes, but Yeltsin made two of surpassing stature that permanently blot his historical record. Russia faced a genuine problem of public order in the Northern Caucasus in 1994, but the unleashing of war against the Chechen people was a failure of judgement and of humanity redolent of Soviet leadership. The carnage not only turned the region into a bloodbath, it eviscerated political reforms in Moscow and decisively turned much Western thinking against Russia. Yeltsin wanted his country to be accepted by the West as having triumphed over Communism. He told one associate that his two finest moments were August 1991 and his appearance before a joint session of the U.S. Congress. The war against the Chechens became the perfect instrument of Russophobia in Europe and America, perfect because it was of Russian manufacture. Yeltsin’s second blunder was in standing for a second presidential term, when he (and everyone) must have understood he was in no condition to serve. Sadly, Yeltsin was too easily convinced that only he could prevent a return to power of the Communists, a message urgently communicated from Washington. This was nonsense. There were ample alternatives to Yeltsin. None of them were ideal, and most were not well-known in the West, but any of them would
ur world is fortunate indeed that the collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire was presided over by two men of intelligence and moderation. It might not have been so. For all the opprobrium they have received at home, Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev will be remembered in the long view of history as positive, albeit limited, leaders. Gorbachev and Yeltsin are linked in a Janus-like embrace, resent it as they might. Allies in the early years of perestroika, as each recognized the strengths of the other, they became bitter rivals. Each blamed the other for, in essence, going with the flow of history. From his years as CPSU boss in Sverdlovsk, Yeltsin understood the Soviet system from the inside as few others could. Like many of his peers, however, it was not till he encountered the real world that he understood how much a failure his country had become. During his first trip to America, Yeltsin was astonished at the contents of an average supermarket and that “workers” were allowed to shop there. On his return, after describing these wonders to one of his closest advisors, Yeltsin blurted out, “Our system is shit!” That recognition led him to break with it. At this remove, it is difficult to recognize the political and personal courage required of a member of the Politburo to break openly with the Party and set out on an independent political course. By rights, Yeltsin should have disappeared. Through charisma, brashness and good luck, he prevailed, first in Moscow and then as leader of the Russian Federation. Yeltsin was extremely fortunate in his timing and in the character of those who fumbled the August 1991 putsch. In such a moment, Yeltsin knew what to do. In the aftermath, his experience and instincts were inadequate. One had to be present to recall how immense Yeltsin’s charisma was with a Russian crowd in those days. The man could dominate a room just by walking in. In one briefing with a prominent American television journalist, I compared Yeltsin’s force-of-nature magnetism and masculinity with that of Lyndon Johnson. She replied, “More.” Yeltsin had great faith in youth and in talented people with “Western” concepts. He was not a hands-on manager of the application of Western prescriptions to the Russian patient, being more like an FDR trying one thing after another until something might work. Sadly, none did. Yeltsin was always inspired by a crisis, but lacked follow-through and the stamina to bring reforms to fruition. Even after he obtained a renewed popular mandate in the April 1993 referendum, Yeltsin could not use it effectively to produce constitutional reform. He then resorted to illegal means in September to prorogue
have done a better job than Yeltsin, whose declining years in office alternated between failure and farce. To those who recalled Yeltsin in his great years, the contrast was literally painful. How would Yeltsin, at the end, evaluate his own choice of successor? He must have recognized that Putin represents the end of the post-Soviet transition and is emblematic of Russian leadership for years, if not decades, to come. Did he feel he had no better choice, that he had misjudged or simply that events had taken Russia back into familiar channels? Given his mixed legacy, why should one look back with respect on the leadership of Boris Yeltsin? Above all, because he was the antithesis of a Russian Slobodan Milosevic, thank God. We are all the beneficiaries of Yeltsin’s performance during the critical months of 1991 to 1992. We should remember Yeltsin for the vision he could not bring to fruition. Yeltsin was a Russian leader unafraid of the Russian masses. He believed that if the Russian people could be empowered both politically and economically, all would be well. How to achieve that, he had not a clue. Aleksandr Yakovlev said of his mentor that Gorbachev was by nature a democrat but afraid of democracy. Yeltsin was by nature not a democrat, but not afraid of democracy. He did not want to mobilize or harness or discipline or control his people, but to empower them. He failed. Yeltsin could not achieve his vision because the task is so immense and because so few of the so-called democratic forces in Russia even shared his trust in the people. One of Yeltsin’s closest Kremlin aides reportedly described the Russian people as “the manure of history.” It is an axiom that all political careers ultimately end in failure. Yeltsin’s did, but how long may it be before Russia again produces a national leader who believes the people should be empowered rather than mobilized? Wayne Merry was chief of the domestic political reporting section of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in 1991-94.
HOW WE RECALL HIM Peter Cheremushkin
Special to Russia Now
resident Boris Yeltsin is of our time. We don’t have the distance to evaluate him fully, or unequivocally. There are many people alive who remember him very well. Many of my friends worked closely with him, as journalists in his traveling pool and as his speech writers, photographers, interpreters and advisers. They remember how he spoke and how he moved, when he was rude or cracking jokes, drinking champagne and vodka. To some of us, it seems only yesterday when he made his famous pronouncements: “Default is not going to happen!”; “I will lay down on the railroad tracks if the prices will go up!”
Yeltsin looked like a doer, a fixer, someone who could bring about real change. And he did. It was only after 1998 that he became exhausted by struggle. I talked to him only once, in 1990. I was a young TASS reporter in Moscow attending his meeting with a delegation of Polish parliament. He was just elected to be a chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation. After the meeting I was supposed to get his clearance for the text. Yeltsin said: “As far as I can see, you are an experienced man (it was not true by any means). It will be up to you to decide.” He shook my hand with his big one. I saw him again at Dom Kino (the cinema house), where he
gave a bear hug to Polish dissident Adam Michnik. Once he was expelled from the Politburo of the Communist party, I picked up his portrait and placed it on the bookshelf in our house. My wise grandfather threw it away and said: “Don’t be an idiot. While they are fighting for power, you are taking sides.” My friends evaluate him differently. Most who worked with him say he was a great statesman with enormous charisma. The best characterization came from Strobe Talbott, who once said that Yeltsin had a volcanic character. He could be unpredictable, but his political instincts were without comparison on the Russian political scene. Some are of the opinion that Yeltsin brought the country to its knees, and that he made several crucial mistakes—including the process of privatization, during which mobs and thugs took over Soviet property. He also started a war in Chechnya and brought into power as his successor “someone we won’t be able to get rid off for a long time.” But for me this is a simplification. His proponents say that Yeltsin brought Russian freedom and liberty. The mid-1980s was a period of expectations. Yeltsin looked like a doer, a fixer, like someone who was capable of bringing real change. And indeed he brought it. Yeltsin revised and changed the traditional Communist ban on private property. And that was his most significant achievement. Yeltsin did not make everyone in Russia happy; complicated ethnic conflicts in the Northern Caucasus—the aftermath of Soviet policy and the result of a vacuum of power in the societies where feudal instincts were still quite strong— did not give him much choice. I understood the fragility of the economic model that he built in the early 1990s and predicted the default of 1998, which was a turning point. From 1998, he was a different Yeltsin, exhausted by political struggle and plagued by bad habits. He started to criticize America and openly argue with his friend Bill Clinton, the U.S. president who cared and devoted more attention to Russia than any other. He was no longer the same person we pinned our aspirations and expectations to. At his resignation, he again showed himself to be the same man we liked so much a decade earlier: A human being who was capable of a gesture, of a step, of a deed. He asked for forgiveness. That is something that not many politicians can do. I would remember Yeltsin as someone who cared about his nation and as someone who always felt himself to be on the side of the virtue of good, on the right side of history. Peter Cheremushkin is an Interfax News Agency correspondent in Washington, D.C.
Special TO Russia Now
in their own words
An American writes Russia American author Ken Kalfus has a longstanding fascination with Russia. Two of four works of fiction are set in the country: “Pu239 and Other Russian Fantasies” and a novel, “The Commissariat of Enlightenment.” His short story “Pu-239” was adapted into a film in 2007. Tatiana Shabaeva recently interviewed him for Rossiyskaya Gazeta. What do people in the United States know about classical and modern Russian literature? A typical American reader will be likely to have read a greater number of 19th-century authors from Russia than from any other country, including the
U.S. Soviet-era authors are known less well, but Babel, Zamiatin, Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn are perennially in print. You may judge the wide interest in Russian letters by the wide acclaim received by a recent collection of essays, “The Possessed,” by an American critic, Elif Batuman. Post-Soviet writers are less well-known, but every year several of their books are published and receive critical attention. Vladimir Sorokin and Ludmilla Ulitskaya are among the writers I myself have reviewed recently. Who promotes Russian literature in the United States? Why
do people there come to know one or another author? Who makes the choice? How does cooperation with publishers happen? There are no organizations that I know of that specifically promote Russian literature— but if there are, please tell me! As an author, I don’t know much about how publishers acquire their titles—sometimes they seem to do so with their eyes closed, in the dark, underwater. And drunk. But I presume that an acquisitions editor needs at least a chapter and a summary of the book, in a decent translation. Usually it’s submitted through an agent.
Which Russian writers are most interesting for you? Which American writers should Russians know more about? My favorite contemporary Russian writers include Tatiana Tolstoya and Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, whose recent collection of stories, published here as “There Was a Woman Who Wanted Her Neighbor’s Baby,” was electrifying. I also recently read, in Snob, a compelling story by Vikotoria Tokareva. I’m hoping Snob will continue to publish more fiction and literary work. The American novel that made the biggest splash in 2010 was Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom,” which measures the difficulties of liberal indi-
vidualism in a society of boundless choice, political stagnation, useless affluence and environmental degradation. These themes should resonate with Russian readers. I know that Gary Shteyngart’s novel, “Super Sad True Love Story,” has already been published in Russian—it’s one of the truly hilarious dystopian novels. I also recommend another novel from last year, “The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight,” by an American writer, Gina Ochsner, whose limited experience of Russia is more than made up for by her powerful imagination. (My review of it is available on the New York Times Web site.) The novel is set in Perm, and it rings true to me. I think Russian readers will be very entertained by it.
The Snowdrop is Me Nora FitzGerald
snowdrop in Russia can be a flower, or something hidden but horrible. Russia Now reviews A.D. Miller’s first novel, a fast and furious thriller. In the opening chapter of A.D. Miller’s “Snowdrops”—set in the hectic swamp of Russia in the ‘90s—the reader encounters its first snowdrop and finds that it is a corpse in the snow. Much like Russians call speed bumps “lying policemen,” detectives call dead Russians found outside in winter “snowdrops.” The opening chapter sets the tone, clean and swift. It takes the entire novel to find out the identity of this corpse (unless you are a clever reader and guess early). Miller took a serious risk in offering readers a weak-willed and morally aimless protagonist. While it is tough to empathize with Nick, the expatriate, and his scheming Russian love as they tumble into a moral abyss, it is equally impossible to put the book down until their deed is done. A former Moscow-based correspondent for The Economist, Miller has received enthusiastic praise for his debut novel, “Snowdrops,” in his native England. Miller’s edgy thriller is original, but his fascination with Russia is not. Russia is the muse for many writers these days. Some, like Miller, are attracted to the turbulence of the country, and use it as a mirror to discuss not dead souls, but lost ones. The plot of “Snowdrops” involves an elusive mix of haunted personalities—Nick, Masha, Katya
and the elderly Tatiana—who get caught up in a brutal and exhausting property scheme. The expatriates arguably come off even worse than the Russian characters. The protagonist, Nick, is a kind of morally deteriorating Dorian Gray without the picture. Miller describes another recognizable type: the drifting, troubled, stayed-too-long-at-the-fair, frayed-around-the-edges kind of expat, embodied by Nick’s friend, Steve Walsh. He is a classic expat journalist, and every current and former hack who ever worked in Moscow knows a Steve. Miller said the Steve character is a composite, and no single foreign reporter. “But there is a little bit of all of us in Steve, including me,” Miller said. The characters are a far cry from the warm personalities in Miller’s first book. “The Earl of Petticoat Lane” is a personal history of his family, Jews who emigrated from Eastern Europe. It is not only a family portrait but a distinctive and intimate history. The warmth of “The Earl” does not make it into “Snowdrops.” There is one sympathetic character in the novel, Oleg Nikolaevich, and I wanted to know more about him. He seems to act like Nick’s Greek Chorus. But Nick never seems to hear what he is saying. Oleg tends to talk in short Russian proverbs, all of them real proverbs. At a certain point, however, Nick understands he is a kind of snowdrop. Miller deftly uses the corpse in the snow as a metaphor for the specters that haunt us from the murky swamps of our own pasts. “Snowdrops” is available in the United States (Doubleday) and Canada (Harper Collins).
The Imported Locavore Jennifer Eremeeva
Special to Russia Now
am a culinary schizophrenic. I divide my time between the messy and energetic Russian capital and Northampton: the politically correct epicenter of the galaxy, nestled in the heart of the bucolic Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. I did this to become a saner human being, but it has completely backfired. “Have an olive,” I urge Vladimir over drinks in Moscow, “they’re from Spain.” “Have some hummus,” I invite Caitlin at a poetry reading in Northampton, “the chickpeas were grown three miles from here in a humane solar-powered greenhouse cooperative.” In Northampton: “Do you or your partner have any food allergies?” Your guest responds: “We eat everything, except of course red meat, caffeine, chickens and eggs from non-local humane farms. No alcohol, of course…no sugar, obviously, and, oh, no farmed fish or processed dairy.” Contrast this with a recent exchange in Moscow: “Come for Sunday lunch,” I e-mail Posey St. Edmonds, mother of three. “I’m making Bouef Bourguignon.” “Awesome,” she answers. “What can I bring?” In Northampton, everyone is a passionately committed locavore, consuming only food that is humanely grown within biking distance. Ground Zero for Northampton locavores is the Tuesday farmers’ market, known simply as “Market.” When I first moved to town, I was totally fired up for “Market.” I bought the tote bag and hid my car in the adjacent multi-story car park, doing what I hoped was a credible imitation of someone who
biked everywhere. I felt sure the sisterhood of writers, poets and fascinating friends I planned to make would all be there. Two hours (and a desperate trip for some locally made rum raisin ice cream) later, I reluctantly concluded that “Market” was great if you wanted to live on kale salad. I feel curiously off the hook when I return to Moscow, where even the most committed Northamptonite would be forced to agree: you can’t subsist on a diet of local beets, sour cream and cabbage. It’s all about imports here in the Big Potato—a sushi bar on every street, a German beer in each refrigerator. Shopping for imported food at a decent price is an all-day contact sport with my wingman Tolya-The-Driver, the gas-guzzling Land Rover, and a full water bottle. Oh, the thrill of METRO! Much harder work than “Market,” but infinitely more satisfying. I feel like a mighty Neanderthal huntergatherer, forging through Leningradski Prospekt. I push the oversized, lopsided trolley around surly staff re-stocking in their forklifts. On goes my coat for a plunge into the chilly meat room: Lamb chops from Wellington, chicken breasts from Lille! Forward to the Dairy Annexe for Finnish milk. Alas, this day is not a complete retail slamdunk: no Australian wine, but compensation is found in the form of Greek melting cheese and Israeli limes. Tolya and I celebrate with Quarter Pounders made from beef raised just outside of Moscow. We don’t want to be accused of not supporting local food producers or anything. Jennifer Eremeeva is a longtime resident of Moscow; she blogs at www.rbth.ru/blogs and www.dividingmytime. typepad.com. She is currently working on her first book.
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MOST READ Zaraisk, the “Grandfather City” http://bit.ly/e5j4m4
Traditions Tracing vodka’s Russian roots
remained a state monopoly until the 18th century when Catherine the Great granted distillery rights to select members of the aristocracy. They vied with one another to produce the purest and most sophisticated brands of vodka, producing flavored versions that, as Moscow’s Vodka Museum points out, used, “all the letters of the alphabet … cherry and pear, blackberry and acorn, caraway seed and dill, bird cherry and sage!” Prohibition has reared its ugly head more than once in Russia, though in each case,
JENNIFER EREMEEVA SPECIAL TO RN
It was February of 1865 when renowned chemist Dmitry Mendeleev defended his doctoral dissertation, “On Combining Water and Alcohol,” in which he began the exploration of the rati os, concentration and weights of various concentrations, which would lead to the publication, in 1894, of Mendeleev’s state standards for vodka production. Mendeleev’s 40 percent has remained the standard by which Russian vodka is produced to this day. Vodka can be traced as far back as the 8th century when it was more commonly used as medicine. Multiple sources credit ambassadors from Genoa for bringing the first hard spirits to the court of Prince Dmitry Donskoi in Russia in the 14th century. They called it aquae vitae, or “water of life,” and although it was considerably lower in alcoholic content, it was much stronger than mead or beer, which made up the liquor cabinets of the 14th century boyars, or merchants. Having just seen off the Tartar Mongols, the Russians were ready for a stiff drink, and took to aquae vitae like ducks to water. Russia’s rulers kept close control over the distillation and distribution of vodka, which
Among Russians, vodka has always been considered a cure-all for anything that ails you. legislation designed to curb alcoholism only fanned the flames since addicts turned to illegal hooch to satisfy their cravings. Prohibition issued as a patriotic measure in 1914 by the Imperial Duma was only repealed in 1925 by the Soviet government; and the roller coaster years of perestroika and the Wild ‘90s were made even more miserable by Gorbachev’s unpopular move to limit the production of liquor. In fact, vodka is used in all kinds of original ways in Russia today, and here are just a few: Medicinal Vodka has long been considered a cure-all for anything that
might be wrong with you. When vodka was first introduced to Russia, it was largely used for this purpose, which may be why Russians all drink “To your health!” when they start to knock it back. Got the runs? Or the opposite? The cure is the same: Take a shot of vodka with a heaping teaspoon of salt and, strange as this may seem, it acts like a kind of intestinal cement. I was forced to try it on (I kid you not) the road to Samarkand, and it gets the plumbing sorted out in record time. Throw away your Imodium. Vodka rubbed on the chest and back of an infant is the quickest way to bring down a fever—if you don’t mind your two-year-old smelling like the inside of Kazan railway station, that is. Vodka mixed with pickle juice or a delicate mixture of tomato juice, horseradish, Tabasco, celery salt and Worcestershire sauce (depending on your ethnic origin) is a good way to vanquish the excesses of the previous evening! Housekeeping My cleaning lady looks askance every time I wave the vinegar bottle at her as an eco-friendly, cost-effective cleaning agent. She prefers Mr. Proper (a Slavic cousin of Mr. Clean), but if that’s not available, she has the vodka bottle out quicker than you can say “Stolichnaya” to get rid of mold on chrome, smears on glass or any stubborn residue or stickiness. It’s cheaper than Mr. Proper
Black caviar, when one can afford it, remains the preferred companion to vodka.
Russia’s National Vodka While “Stoli” (Stolichnaya) may be the best-known vodka brand connected to Russia in the U.S., domestically it has been outpaced by “Russkaya.” In 1941, the first bottle of Stolichnaya was cracked open in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). But February marks a double anniversary: 40 years ago the first bottle was sold in the U.S. By then Soviet vodka was already available in several European countries. Its big break in the West, however, came when it caught the attention of Donald Kendall, the founder of PepsiCo. He purchased the rights to distribute Soviet vodka in the United States and, in exchange, was allowed to open a Pepsi plant in Novorossiysk.
Photography Unique exhibit of the embassy life
An American Lens on Moscow Emlen Davies, the ambassador’s daughter, recorded her experience in photographs, revealing an alternate vision of Moscow in the 1930s. NORA FITZGERALD
Newly restored photographs on exhibit at the Hillwood Estate Museum in Washington, D.C., offer a powerful chronicle of diplomatic life in Moscow in the late 1930s. The work reveals an elite American family soaking up the culture and beauty of Russia and an ambitious ambassador in the throes of prewar diplomacy. Located at the Hillwood estate dacha, a traditional Russianstyle summer cottage, the exhibit is also revealing for what viewers do not see: A Soviet Union in the depths of Stalin’s terror. In 1937, Emlen Davies took a year off from Vassar College to go to Moscow with her father, Joseph Davies, the second ambassador of the United States to the Soviet Union. Ambassador Davies divorced Emlen’s mother and was remarried to the heiress Marjorie Post Davies, who became the renowned hostess of Spaso House, the diplomatic residence. It was this posting to Moscow that began Marjorie’s metamorphosis into one of the most important collectors of Russian art, which is now housed at Hillwood, her former estate.
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Emlen Davies in Moscow, 1937.
“It feels like Emlen is taking you with her,” Estella M. Chung, the museum’s curator, said. Emlen recorded her life in Moscow in photographs, developed into 2X3 prints. The photos were her personal mementoes, and were kept in a box for about 60 years. When Mia Grosjean first saw
a small print of her mother in Moscow in 1937, she didn’t think too much of it. Then her mother mentioned that the image was syndicated in the late 1930s because of the Kremlin in the photo. “What Kremlin?” Grosjean asked. “The one in my sunglasses. We weren’t allowed to take photos of the Kremlin.” Grosjean made a large digital copy and, sure enough, there was the reflection of the Kremlin. Grosjean carefully enlarged
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the photos and put them together with recollections from her mother, culled from Emlen’s diaries, scrapbooks, private letters and unpublished memoirs. “Thanks to Mia,” Davies wrote in the Hillwood brochure about the exhibit, “my private collections have taken on a life of their own.” “It feels like Emlen is taking you with her,” Estella M. Chung, the museum’s curator and historian, said. “Mia has done a beautiful job restoring the photos, letting us walk into the images. What we see with visitors is an interest in the digital photography too. This shows what you can do with personal materials. We are so happy to have it.” The photos also include images of Lenin’s tomb with cars in front of it, taken from the embassy limousine; the Victory Park sidewalks covered with snow; and the outside of the Bolshoi Theatre, shot on Galina Ulanova’s opening night. Nothing visible seemed to be off limits for Davies. “They were able to do whatever they wanted; they took photos of everything,” Grosjean said. Nothing was ever confiscated. In fact, Marjorie left the country with an enormous amount of prerevolutionary and early Soviet art, artifacts and porcelain that makes up the core of the Hillwood collection today. A few photos show Emlen’s stirring sense of another Moscow separate from the world she participated in. The harshest image is that of a pale and unhappy-looking flower vendor in front of a toy store on Krasnaya Presnya Street. The vendor is selling the miniature bunches of lily-of-the-valley in green tissue that are still sold on the streets today.
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The Stoli brand quickly became famous in the U.S. thanks to a clever marketing strategy pursued by PepsiCo. Stoli was not really the number one spirit at home; its close rival, “Russkaya” vodka, though far less popular abroad, beat sales records in the U.S.S.R. at 187 million boxes in 1982 alone and achieved high popularity in Europe.
and smells much, much, much better. I recently advocated taking all the dubious cheesily branded vodka bottles you receive for New Year’s and pouring them into the hole where the windshield wiper goes: a lot more effective on those -30 degree mornings (the kind where your contact lenses begin to stiffen) and, as any Russian will tell you, it’s a lot more “ekologitcheskiy chisto,” (ecologically clean). Finally, I have seen with my own eyes just how effective Russian vodka can be as a deicing agent. If, however, you are not that creative, you can always fall back on vodka’s culinary charms. If you are a man, that is. Vodka is not really a tipple for girls in Russia since it is taken straight, no chaser, out of a shot glass. You order vodka by the grams here: Fifty grams (about an ounce and a half) is a small
shot, and the barman measures it out from the bottle into your shot glass. Ideally, vodka is somewhat chilled, but that is by no means a deal breaker. Like tequila, there is a ritual to taking a vodka shot: get your vodka poured and hoisted, take a massive sniff of some black bread, exhale vigorously, knock back the vodka, then grab a pickle, a piece of dried fish or, if there is nothing salty to hand, the bread you just stuck up your left nostril and bite into it. Lather, rinse and repeat. Vodka today is still a thriving business in Russia and a favorite take-home souvenir of foreign tourists, many of whom seem baffled that, once opened, the half-liter bottles cannot then be recapped. If asked, a Russian looks bemused and wonders why on earth you would need to recap a bottle of vodka. Happy birthday, Russian vodka!
Can Americans Realize Dreams in Russia? CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., Holden was picked up by several European basketball teams after failing to make the NBA. Eventually, he settled on CSKA Moscow, which reportedly pays him $3.5 million annually, and acquired Russian citizenship in order to play on the national team. Holden led CSKA to two Euroleague championships, and Russia’s national team to the European Championship in 2007 with a last-minute basket against Spain. Hammon, who plays on the women’s national basketball team, came to Russia to become an Olympic champion. After eight years playing for American teams, she failed to get selected to play for Team USA. She received a lot of backlash in the United States for her decision. Anne Donovan, U.S. women’s team head coach, even called Hammon “unpatriotic” and “a traitor.” “Oh, the things I had to hear back home,” Hammon exclaimed in an interview to Sovetsky Sport. “I was almost accused of treason. I explained to everybody: Guys, I’m not a spy, I just want to play Olympic basketball. And if I were selected for the U.S. national team, I would’ve given it my all for America.” Kawaguchi came to St. Petersburg to train under the famous coach Tamara Moskvina.
GLOBAL RUSSIA CULTURE CALENDAR FIND MORE IN THE GLOBAL CALENDAR
From medicine to home cleaning agent, vodka can be a panacea for what ails Russians. The beverage celebrates its birthday.
A Russian Spirit, Cleaner and Ancient Cure-all
Yuko Kavaguchi now skates with partner Alexander Smirnov.
Kawaguchi was so impressed by the performance of Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics that she wrote to Moskvina asking her to coach her too. She was granted Russian citizenship. Russia’s Olympic Committee President and Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov also believes there is nothing wrong with the new practice. “There will be naturalized foreign athletes competing for Russia, and this is nothing to be ashamed of,” Zhukov told RN. “But I don’t think this should become the norm.” Not all Moscow officials are on the same team. “Naturalization of foreigners to compete for a national team is the wrong
choice,” Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said. Handing out passports to foreign athletes has long been the norm in some countries. For example, 22 percent of Germany’s national football team players are not natives. Some sports officials believe a transfusion of foreign athletes will improve Russia’s lagging athletics: “Foreigners are being naturalized not only for Russia’s chances to perform well in Sochi but also for creating a good, competitive environment for Russian athletes,” Sergei Averyanov, Russia’s Olympic Committee press-service chief, said. “When they train together with stronger opponents, their own skill level will inevitably increase.”
PERFORMANCE OF “EVERY GOOD BOY DESERVES FAVOR”
PREMIERS FEB. 19-20, 2011 PERM ACADEMIC THEATRE, PERM, RUSSIA
MAY 15, 2011 NATIONAL CATHEDRAL, WASHINGTON, D.C.
British writer Tom Stoppard offered this ‘70s take on Soviet repressions via imprisoning a dissident in a mental hospital. The theater will be performing its own version of the play this season.
Conductor J. Reilly Lewis leads the Cathedral Choral Society and the National Cathedral School Girls Chorale in the return of its popular Russian Riches program, featuring works by composers like Alexander Gretchaninov and Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov.
Published on Feb 22, 2011