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The Woman Who Brought Home Mortages to Russia
The Siberian Born Legend of American Music Irving Berlin
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011
NEWS IN BRIEF
Elections Russians elect national parliament for the next five years
Ruling Party Challenged While the ruling United Russia party finished ahead of rivals in recent elections, its popularity drop means it will have to build coalitions. RIA NOVOSTI
Russian Tanker Fuels Alaskan Town in Winter
ARTEM ZAGORODNOV RUSSIA NOW
After an Alaskan barge failed to deliver fuel supplies in time to the isolated town of Nome, local authorities have concluded a deal with a Russian tanker used to supply isolated communities in the Far East with fuel, the Associated Press reported. The deal is expected to save Nome’s 3,500 residents from a predicted $9/gallon gas price and shortages of fuel to run ambulances and road plows. The tanker, owned by the Russian firm Rimsco, will first head to South Korea to be loaded with fuel. If the ship fails to reach Nome by the end of December as planned, a mile-long hose may be used to offload the fuel to the town.
Russian NGO Pitches Anti-corruption to UN The Committee for Fighting Corruption — a Russian NGO uniting state institutions, private businesses and civil society — pitched a new program aimed at advancing the UN Convention Against Corruption in 2011-2020 at the UN office in Moscow on Dec. 9. Evenlynn Brown, CEO of the U.S. Whistleblower Advocracy Group, hoped the program would “provide leadership and collaboration among colleagues working toward international ways to prevent corruption.”
An estimated five to ten thousand people — the largest political demonstration to hit Russia’s capital in years — turned out in the freezing rain to protest against election fraud. “In the 1990s, we failed to make proper use of freedom,” TV host, writer and RN contributor Dmitry Bykov told a cheering crowd. “It came down from above. But over the past few years, a real civil society has been formed in Russia, and it won’t disappear. Never before in Moscow was there such a feeling of unity and determination.” Following the Dec. 4 elections, United Russia maintained its leading position in Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, but finished much lower than the 64.3 percent it achieved during the last elections in 2007. The party can now count on 237 of the 450 seats in the State Duma, down from the current 315. The remaining seats will be proportionally divided among the other three parties that crossed the 7 percent threshold. Most importantly, Russia’s ruling party has lost its 2/3 constitutional majority, which allowed it to alter Russia’s constitution without the support of any other political parties. “We will have to form agreements through coalitions and blocs [in the next State Duma],” commented President Dmitry
Medvedev, who headed United Russia’s party list, at party headquarters. “This is democracy. Our partners from other parties have said they are prepared to do this, and that makes me very happy because it means our democracy is strengthening.”
Free and Fair? “We remember what everyone
was saying before: [United Russia] has a constitutional majority, in all likelihood it will manipulate the elections to maintain its dominant position,” Medvedev said. “[Instead, United Russia] performed adequately; it represents roughly 50 percent of our population, pending final results. It’s the result of real democracy in
action, no matter what anyone says.” “[These elections showed] the authorities and ruling party have clearly understood that … if they try to inflate their results, they will have the opposite effect and lose trust among the population,” commented former opposition politician and Duma deputy Irina Khakamada.
“I felt the pressure on elections officials and regional governments from the Kremlin [to generate strong results for the ruling party] was considerably less than during the last elections,” Nikolai Petrov, a political expert at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, said.
Russia’s parliamentary election in early Dec. is seen as a litmus test for presidentialcandidate Vladimir Putin.
CONTINUED ON PAGE 3
Politics The U.N. is creating a short road from U.N. resolution to regime change
Security Council Resolve Russian-style Vitaly Churkin is concerned that resolutions for humanitarian assistance are triggers for intervention and regime change. JEAN-LOUIS TURLIN
SPECIAL TO RN
Russia vetoed a United Nations resolution condemning the Syrian government because it fears that such measures have become a trigger for regime change rather than the protection of civilians, Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, said in an interview with Russia Now. Churkin, who has been the ambassador to the U.N. since 2006, assumes the rotating presidency of the Security Council this week. Earlier this year, Russia supported one resolution on Libya and abstained on a second, but Churkin said that the members of the Security Council were assured before voting that the nofly zone was designed to protect civilians. He was assured it was not an effort to bring down the regime of Col. Muammar Gaddafi. “After all those assurances … very quickly, we were told: well we will have to change the regime basically and go after Gaddafi in order to carry out this resolution,” Churkin said. “We
Russia’s Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin speaks outside the U.N. Security Council.
did not take that well, because it was a flagrant case of misusing the prerogatives of the Security Council, which, as you know, was undermining the prestige of the Council, and undermining its ability to act effectively in the future.” The Russian veto of an October resolution condemning Syria, which was supported by
China, drew strong criticism from the United States, France and Britain. “The courageous people of Syria can now clearly see who on this council supports their yearning for liberty and human rights, and who does not,” Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said. Churkin rejected the criticism
and said Russia has its own reading of events in Syria. “Yes, there were large peaceful protests in some parts of the country, but there was also violence used against government institutions, and that tendency was increasing as events started unfolding,” the ambassador said. “So what Russia was doing, was in continuous talks with the Syrian authorities, the Syrian opposition and calling on all members of the international community to push towards dialogue, because we believe that in order to start dialogue, the people who really want change in Syria need to dissociate themselves from violent extremists, and the international community must call on everybody to enter into dialogue. We do not accept the premise that somehow the Assad regime cannot change, that there cannot be progress under that regime.” Churkin contrasted the impatience of the Western powers over Syria with their willingness to negotiate over many months to secure the departure of Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and United States calls for dialogue, not endless protests in Bahrain. “We are very happy we have just had a political settlement signed in Yemen after months of negotiations on the formula for that — it took months and dozens of various drafts,” he said. “The international community was able to show patience and encouraged both parties to hold dialogue, even though in Yemen, I think there was more bloodshed over those
past few months than in Syria. So we believe that in such situations, the international community should be consistently in support of a political outcome through dialogue rather than stirring up more domestic trouble.” Churkin also reiterated Russia’s longstanding belief that diplomatic engagement remains the most effective means to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. And he said he saw little new in the most recent International Atomic Energy Association report on Iran’s research and development activities. “We are analyzing it,” he said. “But at first sight, it did not add anything to the general knowledge of allegations about Iran. It was played up, unfortunately, as a major PR exercise when the media started [quoting from it] well before it was published, and then it was leaked from IAEA. This is not a good thing. So from the outset, it was clear that the intention was to use it for some psychological and political gain rather than to deal seriously with the situation in Iran.” Churkin also said that Russia is opposed to a new round of sanctions, fearing that they will not be focused on the actual threat but on affecting the domestic situation in Iran. Previous rounds of sanctions have been expanded by the United States and European Union “to place limitations on other countries in their dealings with Iran. As a matter of principle, we think that this is wrong,” he said.
Read an opinion by the author at www.rbth.ru/13924
Kennedy Center Receives $5M Gift From Potanin On Dec. 1, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., announced a $5 million gift from well-known Russian investor and philanthropist Vladimir Potanin. The Kennedy Center Golden Circle Lounge, located on the Box Tier level of the Opera House, will undergo an extensive renovation this summer, funded by the Vladimir Potanin Foundation, and be renamed the Russian Lounge upon reopening in fall 2012. The renovated lounge may include a multimedia zone to highlight Russian culture and museums, as well as feature unique museum collections from the foundation’s archives. The Russian Lounge will be the Center’s fourth lounge dedicated to a country or region of the world. Read the full article at www.rbth.ru/13901
ONLY AT RBTH.RU ITAR-TASS
Protests in Moscow: Fighting for a Fair Vote RBTH.RU/13910
The Beauty of Brital Soviet Architecture RBTH.RU/13883
MOST READ Can Russian Restaurants Compete? rbth.ru/13865
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BUSINESS IN BRIEF
International A legendary businesswoman discusses two decades of success
American Venture Pioneer Patricia Cloherty, 71, is one of the most influential women in the venture capital world.
Patricia M. Cloherty
SPECIAL TO RN
NATIONALITY: AMERICAN AGE: 71 STUDIED: INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS
Patricia Cloherty, one of the pioneers of Russian and American business relationships, was appointed by then-President Bill Clinton in 1995 to the U.S.-Russia Investment Fund with $440 million in capital. Forbes Magazine has named her one of the 100 most influential dealmakers in the world, and her passion for Russia has never waned. Long before she became the darling of Russian capital markets, however, she made her name in the U.S. healthcare sector — and not without controversy. Most famously, she backed the Scottish project to clone sheep that produced a particular protein cheaply. Her enthusiasm for medical research remained, and she went on to invest in the project that eventually produced the cocktail of drugs used today to fight HIVAIDS. “It won’t work in Russia, as there is still no enforceable intellectual property laws that protects the heavy capital investment you need in this kind of work,” said Cloherty, speaking about medical research. Cloherty knows well what works in Russia. She has been investing in the country since 1994, when Clinton asked her to come along on a trip to visit Boris Yeltsin. “I was sitting in my offices on 57th and Park Avenue in New York when I got a call from the White House,” she remembered. “‘We need a deliverable on the fund issue for Clinton’s trip to Russia,’ they told me, and asked if I would go over with Clinton and head up the fund.” She was the president of the U.S. Venture Capital Association at the time, and her reputation clearly preceded her. Cloherty set up her first private equity
Holiday Shoppers to Spend More
Spar operated over 200 supermarkets in Russia in 2010.
“Russians learned how to do business from watching movies like ‘Wall Street.’ fund, Apex Partners, in 1969. It started life with $2 million under management and had more than $10 billion under management by the time she left. As soon as she landed in Moscow, in true fund manager style, Cloherty hired a helicopter and flew off to visit a couple of factories to see what life on the ground was really like. Her first stop was Sun Brewery, run by an Indian, Shiv Khemka, and one of Russia’s first really successful foreign investments. Then she went on to a chipboard plant on the Finnish border. “They made fiber board the old way, by hand,” Cloherty said, sitting in a swank café in the foyer of her office, a stone’s
throw from the newly renovated Bolshoi Theatre. “Babushki [grandmothers] were testing the finished boards by hitting them with a hammer and listening to see if there were any holes in the boards. The whole place stank.” Rather than being put off, Cloherty said, “The whole experience only energized me.” “After the trip to Moscow, the State Department rang again and said things weren’t gelling and would I go back,” Cloherty said. “I left the next day. I didn’t want to give myself the time to change my mind.” Clinton appointed her the head of the investment fund, and by 2004 Cloherty had set up Delta Private Equity Partners, a U.S.-backed private equity firm dedicated to developing and funding fast-growing companies in Russia. Since it was founded, Delta has invested more than $550 million in 55 Russian companies through two funds: the U.S.-Russia Investment Fund,
established in 1994, and Delta Russia Fund, a successor private fund formed in 2004. Now, however, the fund is winding down now and has sold all but four of its investments, earning an impressive 27 percent return on equity in the process and scoring some major firsts along the way. Probably Cloherty’s most lasting legacy was the creation of Delta Capital, Russia’s first dedicated mortgage bank, which she sold to GE Capital in 2004 at four times book value. The mortgage industry in Russia is still in its infancy, but the number of new contracts being issued has been doubling every 18 months or so, and the government says the total number will triple in five years as the business finally starts to take off. “The thing that really struck me about the mortgage business is Russians are honorable borrowers — if they take a loan, they bend heaven and earth to repay it,” she said. “Owning
their own place is important to Russians, and they don’t want to lose it by defaulting on their loans.” Another of her legacies was to train a generation of young Russian financial professionals. “The first thing I did on taking over Delta was sack all the expats,” said Cloherty. “We hired [in their place] Russians, Ukrainians, Belarussians and Georgians.” Kirill Dmitriev, who was appointed this summer by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to run the Kremlin’s $10 billion Russia Direct Investment Fund is probably the most famous alumnus of the Cloherty school of asset management. Cloherty has also been a pioneer in several other sectors, investing into Russia’s first successful supermarket chain, a bottled water company and a packaging company, to name a few. But not all the deals went smoothly. One of Cloherty’s very first investments was into a diesel engine plant, but the fund’s money almost immediately disappeared. “I tracked the money to a suitcase that was delivered to Vienna, but lost the trail there,” Cloherty said. “We found the
Cloherty earned a Bachelor’s degree in 1963 from the San Francisco College for Women and two master’s degrees from Columbia University. She began her career in venture capital at Apax Partners, Inc., which she joined in 1969, later she became president, co-chair and General Partner of the firm. In 1995 President Clinton appointed Ms. Cloherty a board member of the U.S.-Russia Investment Fund with $440 million of investment capital. In 2003 she became Chairman and ceo of Delta Private Equity Partners.
partner, but not the money.” And the Russians have lauded Cloherty. Until recently, she sat on the Russian foreign investment council and the board of Skolkovo. And she is deeply enmeshed in the rhythms of Moscow life. Currently, she shares her apartment with a 17-year-old dancer who is one of the few Americans studying at the Bolshoi. “It’s a little bizarre, as I keep having all these young Russian and French ballerinas ringing up in the middle of the night,” Cloherty said, laughing, still a dynamo of energy at 71. She remains committed to Russia and believes that it is right at the start of the transformation process. “You have to remember everyone in Russia was someone else a decade earlier,” Cloherty said. “People learned how to do business from watching movies like ‘Wall Street.’ That is why recreating things that already exist elsewhere can be so difficult. But then look at the growth rates, and that in itself is a testament to the Russian ability to learn.” Read the full article at www.rbth.ru/13928
A recent survey revealed that Russian consumers intend to set aside an average of $575 for holiday costs, a rise of 11 percent from 2010, reported The Moscow Times. Around half of that money is to be spent on gifts, with the remainder going to food and entertainment. Eighty-seven percent planned to buy “useful” gifts (up from 79 percent last year), and 67 percent will buy discounted or generically labeled products. Meanwhile, Europeans’ average holiday spending is expected to decrease by .8 percent this year to $785. Not surprisingly, the survey reported optimism among Russians about their financial future: 67 percent reported their purchasing power increasing over the past year, with another 40 percent expecting to see an increase in 2012. Interestingly, half of respondents feel that Russia’s economy is still in recesssion. The survey was carried out by consulting company Deloitte among 1,104 adults in six cities.
Yekaterinburg: Expo 2020 Bid Following successful Russian bids for the APEC 2012 summit, the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Cup, the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg (see article below) has filed an application to host Expo 2020. Yekaterinburg’s bid is titled “Global Mind: Uniting All Humanity in a Single Conversation.” “The idea will allow us to have a substantial dialogue between big and small countries, modern and ancient cultures,” said Russian Industry Minister Viktor Khristenko. The winner will be chosen at a special session of the Bureau of International Expositions in 2013. The last Expo took place in Shanghai in 2010 and was titled “Better City — Better Life.”
Investment Local authorities in Sverdlovsk hope they can expand Boeing’s success in the region with a special economic zone
American Planes Find Their Compass in the Ural Mountains DARYA KEZINA SPECIAL TO RN
When U.S. aerospace company Boeing announced during President Barack Obama’s visit that it would invest $27 billion into Russia over the next 30 years, authorities in the 4.3-million strong Ural Mountains region of Sverdlovsk were jubilant. The company had just launched a $70-million joint venture (Ural
Boeing Manufacturing) to construct aircraft components with local company VSMPO-AVISMA, the world’s largest producer of titanium. Eighteen billion dollars of the proposed investment was earmarked for acquiring titanium products. Two years later, several titanium components for Boeing’s Dreamliner jet, as well as landing gear beams for the 737, are manufactured in the Sverdlovsk region before they are shipped to Boeing’s factory in Portland, Ore., for final assembly. “The efforts of the Sverdlovsk regional authorities to create a
positive investment climate have not only allowed one of Russia’s oldest titanium manufacturers to lead a major modernization of their production facilities, they have also provided the opportunity for international industrial integration,” commented Ural Boeing Manufacturing General Director Gary Kessler. Despite producing 25 percent of the world’s titanium and being a major supplier to Boeing and EADS, VSMPO-AVISMA remains little known outside Russia. The local capital of Yekaterinburg, an industrial hub with
Components of the Boeing Dreamliner are made in the Ural Mountains before being shipped for final assembly to the United States.
900 Miles from Moscow
The plane parts are manufactured in the Sverdlovsk region.
more than one million citizens, has a relationship with the United States — and France — that goes back to the 19th century, when the Ural region supplied the metal for the frame of the Statue of Liberty. A strategic closed city of the Soviet defense industry, Yekaterinburg opened up its doors
to international manufacturing giants in the mid 1990s in an attempt to reorient defense production. American firms currently lead the way with $1.8 billion in trade turnover in 2010 alone, with major investments coming from companies like 3M and Hewlett Packard. “Unlike in Moscow, there aren’t that
many American companies operating in Yekaterinburg,” commented Igor Chernogolov, president of Penetron Russia. “That’s why regional authorities give us a lot of attention.” Forbes magazine recently ranked Sverdlovsk the second most attractive Russian region for foreign investors.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin unveiled the formation of a “Titanium Valley” special economic zone in the region to attract foreign investment. The project will involve $530 million in federal investments, with the hope of creating 15,000 jobs.
Survey Pricewaterhouse Coopers survey says whiter-collar crime is down
Report Sees Economic Crime Decline By More Than 30% They said it could not happen, but a Western firm stands by the unexpected result of its latest survey.
Types of Fraud incidence
HOWARD AMOS THE MOSCOW TIMES
Reported cases of economic crime have declined in Russia over the last two years against the background of recovery from the 2009 financial crisis, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) biannual survey released Tuesday. Of the 126 respondents, 37 percent said they had been a victim of economic crime in Russia over the last 12 months. That was 3 percent higher than the global average of 34 percent, but a big decrease from 2009, when the figure for Russia was
Percent of respondents who experienced economic crimes in the past 12 months. Respondents were able to select multiple options.
71 percent. John Wilkinson, a partner at PwC, said the decline in the number of economic crimes was not necessarily linked to a drop in the willingness of organizations to report incidents, but a reflection of an absolute reduction. “In 2009, in the depths of the economic crisis, there were additional motives for management to misrepresent figures and for individuals to want to [illegitimately] obtain bonuses or other benefits because of a shortfall in the cash that they had,” he said. Irina Novikova, PwC director for accounting investigations, fraud risks and controls, said the drop could be the consequence of a reduction in the rate of detection. She also linked this to
the fallout from the 2009 crisis when many companies reacted by firing back-room staff, including control officers and accounting staff — making fraud and other transgressions more likely to go undetected. Almost one-third of respondents said they had suffered more than 10 instances of economic crime in the preceding year. And losses were substantial: Twenty-two percent of participants who had witnessed a transgression said they had suffered a case where losses were more than $5 million. Seven percent reported damages between $100 million and $1 billion, and large businesses were affected more than small businesses. As in surveys from previous
years, bribery and corruption accounted for a much higher percentage of economic crime observed by respondents in Russia (40 percent) than for the rest of the world (24 percent). But the Russian figure showed an 8 percent drop from 2009, when corruption accounted for 48 percent. This decline contradicts other international measures of corruption in Russia that show an increase. Transparency International placed Russia 146th in its 2009 corruption perception index; in 2010, the country ranked 154th. Wilkinson told The Moscow Times that an increase in the number of respondents to the anonymous PwC sur vey showed a growing willingness
to discuss the issue and was an indicator of greater transparency. For the first survey in 2003, not a single participant admitted to an incidence of economic crime, meaning that the survey was obligated to report a zero percent rate for Russia. Those invited to take part in the survey included about 3,000 executives from the country’s top 1,000 companies, including multinational ventures. One hundred twenty-six individuals replied, up from 87 in 2009. Respondents to the 2011 survey were not optimistic about the future — 73 percent said their organization will continue to be highly vulnerable to economic crime.
MOST READ Election results keep fueling public indignation rbth.ru/13920
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Politics & Society
Young Russia activists celebration this year’s Day of National Unity with a concert in Moscow.
Music This land is your land from Vladivostok to the Baltic Sea
Lyrics Get More Political This Season Although Russian artists have often taken to political metaphors in music, this year they are making their lyrics more explicit.
Noize MC (Ivan Alekseev)
What do corrupt cops and civil servants, powerful politicos, sycophantic bureaucrats, top officials and oligarchs all have in common? They have provided material for Russia’s rock legends, rappers and independent songwriters ahead of the Dec. 4 State Duma elections. Perhaps one of the most notable election melodies is veteran Russian rocker Andrei Makarevich’s ballad about an imaginary place called “Kholuyovo.” The name of the town is derived from the Russian word “kholuy,” which translates roughly as “sycophant,” or “toady.” The people of Kholuyovo are preparing for a visit from presidential candidate and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin: “They painted the grass green and the sky blue.” But Putin never comes to Kholuyovo, a kind of Potemkin Village, so all their preparations are in vain. The song became an Internet sensation in Russia in October, soon after Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev announced that they would swap positions. “I don’t like what is happening today,” Makarevich said. “We’ve already been told who our president will be. It’s not about Putin, but the sense that we are being deprived of what little choice we have. That’s all.” He insists that the song is not about Putin, but “about the sycophantic attitude toward the
Musician, poet, artist and the founder and leader of group DDT. Has begun his career in the 1980s with an anti-war song “Don’t Shoot.” In the ‘90s, he made several trips to the Chechen Republic where he gave concerts to soldiers and was repeatedly under bombardment. After the presidential election of 2008, Shevchuk began to actively criticize the authorities and to take part in opposition actions, and has recently had a surge of international renown due to his criticisms of the Russian government.
During Perestroika, musicians wrote politican anthems to be sung at stadiums and barricades.
Musician, rapper and actor. Ivan Alekseev (Noize MC), became famous as a student, when he gave concerts and fans began uploading his videos on YouTube. In recent years, he has been known for his courageous freestyle-rhymes that have gotten him arrested. In the summer of 2010, Alekseev was arrested and spent 10 days in prison after he portrayed the police in a harsh light. Alekseev wrote a mock video apology to the police officers, which later became a refrain of his song “Ten Days in Paradise,” describing time spent under arrest.
authorities that prevails in the Russian provinces.” Although Russian recording artists have long and often attacked the establishment in their songs, rockers and singer-songwriters have traditionally relied more on allegory and metaphor. Their songs were not so much topical as moralistic; they were not so much satire as civic poetry.
In a 1982 song, Russian rock star Yuri Shevchuk, wrote a tribute to an unnamed hero who found himself in the “planet’s hot spot.” Everyone assumed that the song was about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but the fact that it did not point a finger at anyone specific made it acceptable for the official Soviet anti-militaristic ideology. The same metaphoric references are found in another hit by Makarevich’s band Mashina Vremeni (Time Machine), entitled “The Turn.” Its key line, “To be frank, we’re all afraid of change,” carried an unambiguous topical message, but on its face was just a general philosophical observation about some hypothetical conservatives. Around the time of Perestroika, there was a period when musicians pulled no punches and produced political anthems that were fit for being sung in stadiums and even at barricades. But there was no irony in them. While Vladimir Vysotsky and Alexander Galich were poets who made indictments of society and the state with searing irony and directness, even they addressed
phenomena in the abstract, seldom giving names and pointing fingers. “Many times we were silent, but of course we were silently for, and not against,” Galich wrote about his songs. Today, however, the most popular satirical songs refer to specific individuals and events. They aim not to create an allencompassing artistic image, but to name a person or subject and describe what the author thinks about them. Popular rapper Ivan Alexeyev (also known as Noize MC) devotes a song to a tragic accident on Moscow’s Leninsky Prospect involving a car belonging to the vice president of the oil company Lukoil. The song begins with an introduction: “Let me introduce myself, my name is Anatoly Barkov…” The monologue that follows neatly sums up the credo of Russia’s current overlords: “We are people of a different mold, we are creatures of a higher order, we do not know of any problems that a bribe couldn’t solve.” When a conversation gets personal, the lyrics may lose some of their poetic sensitivities, but
the message becomes clearer. This is what topical satire is all about. The song “Kholuyovo” uses the same method. The song does not just show provincial bosses going out of their way to prepare a red carpet to welcome some abstract federal bigwig; it reports that “Putin is coming to Kholuyovo.” The effect is rather like alternative news, the kind
Today’s most popular satirical songs refer to specific individuals and events going on in Russia. you don’t see on federal TV channels where criticism of government officials and events they take part in is taboo. Another Russian Internet hit in recent weeks talks about mental hospital patients “voting for Putin.” It leaves it up to the audience to decide whether to join them. That clip, like “Kholuyovo,” never went beyond the blogosphere. Today’s Russian political satire
is both effective and somewhat paradoxical. In the most revolutionary and turbulent periods of Russian history, when censorship was swept aside and long pentup passions were finally expressed, the songs were not so much about the leaders and their legion of lackeys, but about some inner degeneration in all of us. Now, when there are certain tangible ideological taboos, when life has to follow tacit notions and when the media lament social apathy, there is suddenly a groundswell of songs that are hard-hitting and critical, similar to speeches at opposition rallies. So far they are only as popular as the number of people who have listened to them on the web, but the figures are growing steadily. Perhaps these are the makings of a new musical mainstream that will usher in a new era. In any case, there are enough catchy satirical songs in Russia today to fill a themed festival that might become a version of the one in Kiev’s Maidan Square, the cradle of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. But it would be better if it became a version of Hyde Park.
Regions The trouble with voting in some of Russia’s most remote locations
Ruling Party Campaign Falls on Deaf Ears The Siberian electoral battle was fierce and many interviewed said they were more than tired of the promises of the ruling party. SERGEI TEPLYAKOV
SPECIAL TO RN
United Russia candidates in Barnaul, the capital of the Altai Territory, created a poster campaign that is more suitable for opposition candidates. In one of them, a stately matron asked: “Who doesn’t know our countryside is choking?” The poster did not elaborate on what it is exactly that is choking the Russian countryside. There are a wide range of options, including meager pay, unemployment and environmental pollution. But this kind of campaigning by the ruling party provoked a storm of emotions among the people who pointed out that United Russia, after 10 years of running the country, should be asking these questions of itself. The posters were changed after Siberians took their vitriol onto the Internet. United Russia officials, down in the polls suddenly, were surprised by the unusual blowback. Then United Russia’s campaign slogan read “more state support.” Vladimir Nebalzin, who lived in Barnaul, considers this campaign — a promise of funds to the region if they vote for United Russia and a veiled threat if they don’t — to be a way of coaxing voters to vote. In response, he filed a complaint with the regional electoral committee. “The slogan is a patent violation of the law on State Duma
Ballots are collected near Nevel, Sakhalin Island by helicopter.
United Russia’s initial opposition-style poster campaign stoked the ire of Siberians.
Many Siberians say they will not vote for parties who are likely to win seats in the Duma anyway.
elections, which says that pecuniary benefits cannot be promised to electors, yet this is exactly what is happening here,” Nebalzin said. “I have written to the electoral commission, but they said they could see no violations there. I wrote a complaint to the regional Prosecutor’s Office, but I didn’t get a timely reply. Now I have filed with the Prosecutor General’s Office and I am preparing to file a lawsuit.” Nebalzin filed these complaints as an ordinary voter. But he is also the co-chairman of the Altai branch of the People’s Freedom Party, one of the sidelined parties that are unregistered. He is only one of many Siberians who have very few warm words to say about the “party of power.”
“I will vote for the Communists,” said Yelena, also from Barnaul, who declined to give her last name. “In my opinion, it is the party least affiliated with government. Obviously they are all ‘pocket parties,’ but I don’t hear as many ugly stories about the Communists as about the others.” Yelena is a young woman with a good job in a local firm. She is the kind of person the pro-business, liberal party Right Cause should appeal to, but since expelling it’s best-known member, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, Right Cause has again sunk into a political coma. “It’s hard to understand who is in the party, what they are up to and whose side they are on,” Yelena said. “What do we
Siberians stand to gain if Russia, as they argue, joins the European Union? I have been voting for the Communists for several years now.” “I might vote for Yabloko, their intellectual and reasonable approach appeals to me,” said Sergei, a poet at heart who ekes out a meager living, making 6,800 rubles ($220) a month. “But they are unelectable. So I will choose between the Communists and the Liberal Democratic Party, especially since its leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has come up with a meaningful program for the first time in many years.” Many Siberians say they will not vote for parties whose seats in the Duma are, according to opinion polls, guaranteed. These are United Russia, the KPRF, the LDPR and Just Russia. Since the “against all candidates” box, another popular option, has been deleted from the ballots, pensioner Valentin Khanovich thought the best thing under the circumstances would be to waive his right to vote and ask the electoral commission to strike his name from the roll of voters. The electoral commission refused to do this and the trial court upheld its decision. “I am preparing to file a suit with the regional court,” Khanovich said. “If that fails, I’ll go to [the European Court of Human Rights] Strasbourg.” “While growing protest is not uncommon, a growing desire to give vent to such sentiments is something new,” Sergei Andreyev, of the voter’s rights group Golos, said. For their part, the electoral commissions are sparing no effort or money to make the elections look proper. They have printed election ballots in Braille for the blind; in the Irkutsk region, early voting will be organized for people living in remote places, using helicopters, snowmobiles and boats; and in Khakassia, the ballot sheets will be in two languages, Russian and Khakassian, although few people can speak, let alone read Khakassian. They are leaving nothing to chance.
United Russia Takes First, Loses Constitutional Majority The Next Five Years CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
“Let’s not forget that a number of politicians lost before the elections even started,” commented Igor Yurgens, head of the Institute for Contemporary Development, a Medvedev-backed think tank. “I’m talking about P.A.R.N.A.S. and others.” Yurgens was referring to the Party of National Freedom (P.A.R.N.A.S.), a coalition of opposition-minded politicians that was denied registration as an official political party by the Justice Ministry earlier this year. “We have received thousands of calls from regional offices, confirming massive violations and fraud,” the BBC reported Communist Party deputy head Ivan Melnikov as saying. Police detained more than 170 protesters with various political backgrounds in downtown Moscow throughout the course of the day.
This is the first State Duma to be elected for a term of five (instead of four) years following constitutional amendments passed in 2008. The next elections, scheduled for 2016, will have a lower threshold for entrance: five percent, which may clear the way for more parties to gain representation. “In Spain, Greece and a number of other countries, ruling parties were voted out of office this year. We managed to maintain our leading position,” Boris Gryzlov, one of United Russia’s leaders and speaker of the State Duma, said. The party has controlled the largest proportion of seats in the State Duma since 2003. “Just Russia will now feel a serious mandate from its voters as the government will have to build coalitions in parliament,” Petrov said. “I think this will affect the party’s behavior.”
Who Will be in the State Duma?
SOURCE: CENTRAL ELECTION COMMISSION
“United Russia remains the largest political force to make it into the State Duma,” said Medvedev. “It performed adequately and in proportion to its political influence. The next Duma will reflect the real balance of political forces in the country.” “Putin had a different plan for this year’s United Russia campaign from the start,” Petrov said. “He’s planning to launch serious reforms after his likely return to the presidency next year, which means he needs the government to have a higher degree of legitimacy in the eyes of the population.” More than 700 foreign observers were officially following the elections in Russia. Voter turnout was recorded at just over 60 percent, with more than two million absentee ballots filed by Russian citizens outside the country’s borders. READ MORE ON PAGE 4
MOST READ A democratic deficit – or just sheer apathy?
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SORTING OUT THE RESET Andranik Migranyan SPECIAL TO RN
ecently, President Barack Obama’s administration has had its fair share of criticism on the subject of the Reset with the Russian Federation. Accusations that Russia has not upheld its part of the deal by putting more pressure on Iran are rampant, and there is speculation that the Reset policy was misguided. But I would like to offer the readers a few comments to clear apparent misconceptions on Russian policy and the overall state of the Reset with Washington. The first point is that we have to take the Russian stance on Iran as a given: The Russian Federation has repeatedly stated its position that it is against Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. Russia supports the use of nuclear energy for civil purposes, which is why it engaged in the Six-Party Talks with Iran to help it realize its ambition for peaceful nuclear energy use. The Russian position on Iran is unchanged: that Iran’s obtaining of nuclear weapons goes against Russian policy in the region. Russia opposes further sanctions against Iran based on precedent: it didn’t veto the sanctions against Libya, but those snowballed into regime change with unclear consequences and factional civil war in the country. And Libya only followed in the footsteps of Iraq and Serbia when sanctions led to regime change. When it comes to Iran, Russia doesn’t want to risk having a newly unstable state on its borders with all of the uncertainty and civil war potential that a new regime implies. Where is the guarantee that we won’t get an even worse crisis on our borders if we impose more sanctions?
The last point ostensibly spoiling the U.S.-Russian relationship is the situation with Georgia. Second, efforts to portray the Reset as some sort of favor to Russia and the START as a gift by the United States are misguided. These signaled a normalization of relations that had nearly disintegrated under the Bush administration. If Republicans have a problem with the Obama administration’s push for START, it isn’t because of the Reset with Russia. Upon my speaking with the most prominent opponent of START in the U.S. Congress, Senator Kyle, he affirmed that opposition to START was because he wanted the Obama administration to allot more money for modern-
ization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, not because he opposed improved relations with Russia. Russian cooperation with the United States on Iran and Afghanistan is a principled position, not a quid pro quo item to be traded in return for START, which is merely a continuity of U.S.-Russian bilateral commitment to nuclear weapons’ reduction. If someone is unhappy with the Reset policy, I would like them to propose an alternative: the U.S. troop withdrawal from the Middle East will jump-start an even bigger turmoil in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan; all the while the Iranian threat of nuclear weapon acquisition running in the background. The sooner American policy analysts accept that this is beneficial for both sides, the better. It is wishful thinking that Americans can somehow punish Russia by withholding cooperation, as the United States
would be the only one punished in such a scenario. As concerns the United States’ plans to deploy anti-missile defense elements in Europe, the Obama administration hasn’t halted the plans — it merely rearranged them as to deploy anti-missile elements on vessels around Spain and in Romania and Turkey, instead of on Polish and Czech territory. Turkey is even closer to the Russian borders than the Czech Republic is, and our analysts still believe the U.S. anti-missile shield is aimed at countering our nuclear deterrent. NATO has to date refused to present Russia with written guarantees that the missile shield wouldn’t threaten us. So there has been little to no reset there, and the Obama administration certainly hasn’t made a compromise to reassure Russia: thus accusations of wasted U.S. goodwill are baseless. The last point ostensibly spoiling the U.S.-Russian relationship
for which Obama is being attacked is the situation following the war with Georgia. It is noteworthy that the secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have themselves placed their territory under Russian protection, and have never had any desire (much less de facto belonging) to Georgia. The regions were placed in Georgian borders under the Stalin Constitution of the USSR, but even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, they voted for their independence from Georgia. Two successive Georgian presidents then waged war on the regions to no avail. The end of the Russia-Georgia War and the peace agreement between President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and President Dmitry Medvedev specified the withdrawal of Russian troops from the territories before they were declared (and recognized by Russia) as independent. Their newly minted independence began with treaties, between Russia on the one hand and Abkhazia and South Ossetia on the other, that Russia would provide troops for protection. The Russian troops are stationed there by the power of the same type of agreement that legitimizes NATO troops in Kosovo. Following the precedent of Kosovo, there’s little reason to state that “Russia is occupying Georgian territory,” particularly after a war that Tbilisi unilaterally provoked on its own supposed people that now have no incentive to want a return within Georgian borders. Thus, wishful thinking in Washington notwithstanding, the Obama team can hardly be faulted for regional ethnic policy over which they have no control. Andranik Migranyan is director of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation.
NEW PARTY ON THE HORIZON Dmity Babich SPECIAL TO RN
t’s already clear that for the first time since 2003, United Russia did not receive the majority of the popular vote. That doesn’t mean that United Russia won’t have the majority of seats in the State Duma; the biggest party in Russia traditionally profits from the votes cast for smaller parties that didn’t win enough votes to get into the Duma. However, psychologically, what happened is of course an important turning point in Russia’s domestic politics. The period of United Russia’s absolute domination, which began with the Duma
vote of 2003, seems to be at an end. Before the elections, think tanks predicted a certain fall in the electorate’s sympathy for United Russia, but none of them put the vote for United Russia as low as 49 percent. The Levada Center, traditionally viewed as close to the opposition, predicted one week out that United Russia would receive 53 percent of the vote. VTsIOM, which is considered closer to the authorities, gave the same figures. The preliminary results mean that the Russian electorate is still capable of producing surprises. Despite a few scandals, it seems that there were few incidences of fraud or vote-rigging, since the
No Trust in the Opposition
results of the exit polls do not differ much from the initial results provided by the Central Election Commission. “I don’t think the authorities would dare to make the final result [for United Russia] much higher than the one provided by the sociologists, since this would drastically reduce the people’s trust in the state,” said Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy director of the Levada Center. United Russia’s poor performance can be explained by economics. In 2007, when the last elections were held, the country was prospering. But the effects of the global financial crisis on the Russian economy do not tell the whole story. People are also disillusioned by
unpopular reforms in education and health care. Economists agree that President Dmitry Medvedev’s term in office was decisive in terms of dismantling the last remnants of the Soviet social system. So, Russians were put out with the ruling party not only because of the deteriorating economy, but also because of some government policies that were not properly explained. Foreign policy played a marginal role in the elections. Ordinary voters seem to be more concerned with the military reform or with their own income than with the country’s place in the world and spending on the international stage. The biggest intrigue of these
elections, however, is how the other parties fared. Political scientist Stanislav Belkovsky thinks that many Russians simply sat the election out. Belkovsky views this electorate as a potential electoral base for a “national democratic” party, which has not yet been registered and remains in the making. Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Milov are viewed as potential leaders of such a movement, according to Belkovsky. Whether this project is feasible and whether it won’t degenerate into plain xenophobic nationalism remains to be seen. Dmitry Babich is a political analyst and RIA Novosti and regularly comments on politics.
THE THIRD ANGLE
THE INTERNET GENERATION Konstantin von Eggert SPECIAL TO RN
s President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin appeared on Russia’s TV screens the night after the Russia’s Duma elections, their faces told the story. Tense smiles could not hide the disappointment of the country’s two top leaders. United Russia, their party, was massively snubbed by the Russians. Its share of national vote fell from nearly 64 to around 50 percent. This, despite massive vote rigging carried out across the nation. What was embarrassing to them is that Moscow and St. Petersburg and other major cities produced the lowest results for United Rus-
The recent election was a de facto referendum on United Russia’s decade in power. sia. If not for massive fraud, the party may have well ended third in the two capitals. In a country where, to paraphrase Tip O’Neil, all politics is central, this adds insult to injury. What we have witnessed on Dec. 4 was a return of politics to Russia — when everyone thought it was nearly dead. There are several conclusions to be made. Firstly, this election is a de facto referendum on United Russia’s decade in power. Even if we consider the official results impeccable (which they are definitely not), a very serious signal was sent to the country’s ruling class. It is not yet a message — different people voted against the dominant party for different reasons — but definitely a sign that the population is tired of United Russia’s political monopoly and corruption associated with it. Secondly, it is true that many in Russia still believe that United Russia are a bunch of “bad boyars” at the court of the “good tsar” Vladimir Putin. However, it is also clear that for a large number of people this was a chance to show their dissatisfaction with Putin personally. In this respect, December voting can be seen as a kind of “round zero” of Russia’s presidential elections, scheduled for March 2012. Putin is widely expected to be elected to his third term in power, but the Duma election has cast a shadow over it. If in spring Putin goes into the imitation battle that most previous elections were, he would loose even more credibility. Internal strife inside the Kremlin seems not very likely now, but this could actually change in the coming months.
THE SOVIET JAMES BOND
DESPITE PROTESTS AGAINST THE RESULT OF ELECTIONS, AN INPEPENDENT POLL SHOWS RUSSIANS DON’T HOLD MUCH TRUST IN THE OPPOSITION
Forty-nine percent of Russians feel that opposition parties — regardless of political background — lack a clear and coherent policy for improving the country’s wellbeing. Approximately one-fifth, however, have confidence in one of the antigovernment movements. The poll was carried out by the independent Levada Center in November 2011.
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Alexei Pankin THE MOSCOW TIMES
ast week, the army ceremoniously laid to rest retired Colonel Vitaly Shlykov with a three-volley salute and an honor guard marching under the Russian flag. At the memorial service, Valentina Melnikova, secretary of the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers, recalled how Shlykov had helped make that organization truly professional and effective back in the early 1990s. Such a wide range of recognition is the key to understanding this incredibly versatile figure. National security was Shlykov’s primary concern in life, and he believed that an important component of that was civilian control over the military. In recent years, the media has focused a great deal of attention on Shlykov’s activities as a Soviet-era spy. In particular, the TV Center channel aired a documentary in November about Shlykov made by Leonid Mlechin. It portrayed Shlykov as a Soviet James Bond who enjoyed beautiful women and high risk while working to protect his homeland.
However, his exploits at home deserve to become just as legendary as his feats behind the front lines of the Cold War. At the request of the leadership of the foreign military intelligence, or GRU, Shlykov created a think tank to assess the military and economic might of NATO following his return in the mid-1980s from Switzerland, where he had served a two-year prison term on charges of illegally crossing the border. That agency found that the Russian General Staff vastly overestimated the threat of war. And they did so with selfish intent: The more tanks and other weapons the top brass produced in response to the “threat from the West,” the more stars and perks the colonels and generals could earn. Shlykov opposed the military chiefs and looked for a way to inform political leaders of the truth. He later recalled: “Fortunately, intelligence officers were not banished or ground into dust by that time, so the worst they did to me was to fire me on practically the same day I reached retirement age in 1988.” From 1990 to 1992, Shlykov served in the government of then-President Boris Yeltsin as deputy head of a committee for public security — the fore-
His feats at home deserve to be as legendary as those on the front lines.
runner of the current Defense Ministry. While at that post, he developed a concept for radical economic reform based on the post-World War II experience of the United States. He argued that the United States had managed to make the transition to a booming peacetime economy without inflation or
Thirdly, this was the last election in which state-controlled TV still played a decisive role. Internet penetration in Russia grows massively. It has reached from 32 million monthly users in 2008 to 50 million active users in 2011. Unmasking the vote-rigging would have been impossible without smartphones, Facebook and Twitter. True, real politics is always about direct interaction with people. But this time, online activism made offline selforganization not only possible, but effective. This is why it is possible that the government will attempt to introduce restrictive legislating regarding the internet — which is a development to watch in 2012. This brings us to the fourth conclusion. This was the first Russian election in which Russia’s nascent so-called “middle class” — the self-sufficient, English-speaking, iPad juggling 30-somethings really went out to vote. This is the generation that benefitted most from the “fat decade” — the first two terms of Putin’s presidency in 2000-2008. These were the oilboom years, which made a lot of these people well off. Lots of them ignored politics altogether, while some supported Putin and United Russia. Economic crisis, political stagnation and corruption turned them off. The problem is, they will never come back. Loosing support — or, at least, indifference — of Russia’s future is not something to be shrugged off.
By 2016, when the next voting cycle starts, 80 percent of voters may have online access. Fifthly — and finally — the more the authorities resort to strong arm tactics, the more opposition they will produce. With politics back on their minds, the Russians still do not see too many alternatives around. There are no credible political forces on the center-right, there is no one to cheer for the approximately 30 percent of the moderate nationalist electorate. Such exclusion is a fertile ground for populists and demagogues. The biggest danger for Russia now is the potentially dangerous void that could suddenly open if steps to modernize and free Russia’s obsolete and inefficient political system are not taken soon. Konstantin von Eggert is a commentator and host for radio Kommersant FM. He was a diplomatic correspondent for Izvestia and later BBC Russian Service Moscow Bureau editor-in-chief. He was also once vice president of ExxonMobil Russia.
unemployment within just two years of having devoted 45 percent of gross domestic product to wartime defense. He considered Yeltsin’s neoliberal reforms — the exact opposite of his own proposals — to be a national catastrophe. However, he never had a bad word to say regarding former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar. “He was an astute and intelligent person,” Shlykov said in an interview published posthumously by Russian Reporter. “But how could he have known anything about the military economy if everything connected with it was highly classified during the Soviet era?” Shlykov began working on army reforms after leaving the government and taking a post with the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. His ideas provided the groundwork for many of the reforms implemented by Anatoly Serdyukov, the first civilian defense minister. And it is largely to Shlykov’s credit that the media has responded positively to those reforms: He was able to explain complex matters in simple language. Even journalists covering defense questions who are extremely skeptical of the military establishment held an unequivocally high regard for Shlykov. His death is a terrible loss for Russia. Alexei Pankin is a political and media analyst based in Moscow.
MOST READ From Punk Rocker to Holy Fool
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THE IRONY OF FATE: A GREAT DECADE FOR FILM “Taxi Blues,” an acclaimed film that helped set the stage for great post-Soviet directors.
Nora FitzGerald SPECIAL TO RN
Irony of Fate 2 (2007)
he past decade was an exciting time for film, and a complete reversal for some directors from the chaotic madness of the 1990s, when most theaters were shuttered and there was nowhere to show a good film when one happened to be made. In contrast, the 2000s saw a resurgence of art-house film in the tradition of the master, Andrei Tarkovsky. Directors felt the love of state support, even for alternative film. Irina Pavlova, renowned film critic and program director of the Moscow film festival, said that many arthouse films are creating a buzz in Russia. “In larger cities they are released in theaters. Smaller towns and rural areas typically gain access to them through the Internet. There is a buzz preceding an anticipated art-house project – people share their impressions on social networks and recommend certain films.” There was also terrific commercial successes with the invention of the homegrown Russian blockbuster (Nightwatch) and the construction of thousands of theaters countrywide. The nagging problem, directors say, is the continued bureaucracy and overweening involvement of the state. Whatever stagnation may go on in the institutions, there is no lack of creativity on location, from the great masters like Alexander Sokurov, to new director Slava Ross, who spent a decade filming his most recent film in Siberia. Russian directors often dominate the festival circuits, and this year, Sokurov finally won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Lights, camera, action!
“The Return” is a haunting and stunning film exploring the heartbreak of family.
“Irony of Fate 2” is a sequel to the most beloved Soviet comedy shown on New Year’s Eve.
of the most astonishing films ever made.” An eccentric French aristocrat walks the grand halls of the State Hermitage Museum, encountering eminent historical figures as he goes. Remarkably, the film shows off 33 rooms to the melodies of three orchestras, with 2,000 actors milling about. Russian Ark is the only film ever created in one single take and one long continuous shot. A must-see for any film student. Take a snow day, get cozy and enter this magical history tour.
ed by Andrei Zyagintsev, the film was universally acclaimed for its cinematography and psychological depth. The Return, a William Kennedy-style story, explores the relationships and ensuing tragedy when a Dad tries to make amends and come home to his children. The Return won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
The Return (2003) Russian Ark (2002) America’s ubiquitous critic Roger Ebert called Russian Ark “one
This hauntingly beautiful film focuses in on the echoes of heartbreak in one family. Direct-
Nightwatch (2004) The first of the homegrown Russian blockbusters after the collapse of the Soviet film industry, the fantasy thriller spawned a new genre somewhere between The Matrix and Twilight. Part one of a trilogy, it is based on the novel by Sergei Lukyanen-
MOSCOW’S SURREAL OSCAR BATTLES Stephen Norris SPECIAL TO RN
he decision to nominate director Nikita Mikhalkov’s “Burnt By the Sun 2: Citadel” as the country’s official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film reflects an ongoing fight over what sort of Russian film should be. Bashing Mikhalkov seems to be the rage in Russia these days, and who can blame those taking part in it? When the Russian Oscar committee decided this autumn to forward Mikhalkov’s “Burnt By the Sun 2: Citadel” as the country’s official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film, the resulting furor generated front-page headlines. This controversy followed Mikhalkov’s 10,000 word conservative manifesto, “Right and Truth,” which he issued last October. It also came on the heels of the director’s unlicensed use of a “migalka,” or blue siren, captured by commuters on cell phones this past May, showing the director weaving in and out of Moscow traffic. Mikhalkov, it is fair to say, has become a polarizing figure in Russia, a focal point for many complaints about the state of Russian politics, society and culture. When “Burnt By the Sun 2: Citadel” premiered in May, it became the most widely panned film in Russia since last May’s appearance of “Burnt By the Sun 2: Exodus.” Collectively, the two films cost more than $50 million to make and earned less than $10 million. Critics savaged both; audiences by and large dismissed them. Most interpreted the films as shameless attempts
Evidence suggests that the more arthouse foreign films stand a better chance for selection. to capitalize on the renewed interest in World War II in Russia and to promote a brand of state patriotism. The decision to choose the second sequel as Russia’s Oscar candidate smacks of egoism and nepotism, ironically two attributes Mikhalkov denounced in his manifesto. Moreover, Mikhalkov serves on the Oscar committee and put his own film forward. In a year that saw Andrei Zvyagintsev’s “Elena” win a special jury prize at Cannes and Aleksandr Sokurov’s “Faust” capture
the Golden Lion at Venice, the committee was hardly short of good candidates for a film that could potentially make the American Academy’s final list. Russian media reports mostly agreed that picking Mikhalkov’s flop meant that the cronyism rampant in Russian politics spilled over into the cultural world. And, given that Mikhalkov has made no secret of his love for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the charge is a sound one. When the committee held its vote, chairman Vladimir Menshov, the Oscar-winning director of “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears,” broke with tradition and went public. He argued that there was something not quite right about a committee member advancing his own film and that the film was critically drubbed and commercial-
ko, a psychiatrist. The film has an international cult following. Nightwatch has catapulted its director, Timur Bekmambetov, into the limelight, and he is now sought after in Hollywood.
The Island (2007) Filmed on the lonely, harshly beautiful shores of the White Sea, the movie patiently films the tortured solitude of Anatoly. A monk who served aboard a barge during World War II, he was captured by Germans and coerced into shooting his captain to save his own life. This act pushes him to the brink of insanity, but it does not stop him from playing the edgy prankster and an oracle to local villagers. A story of a wise fool healer atoning for a wartime crime, “The Island” asks the favorite Russian question: Who is guilty? And to that, it adds another: How can we be redeemed? Pavel Lungin directed this meditation on spirituality. Lungin is also the director of
ly unsuccessful, calling on Mikhalkov to reconsider. Even Mikhalkov’s brother, Andrei Konchalovsky, came out against the decision, declaring that it made no sense to submit the second part of a sequel. He also stated that he had quit the Oscar committee three years ago because it was not capable of making the right decisions. “Cinema history is full of follow-ups far inferior to their predecessors, but rarely has it thrown up a sequel quite so contrary to the spirit of the film that spawned it as “Burnt by the Sun 2: Exodus,” wrote Leslie Felperin in Variety. “Given that ‘Exodus,’ reputedly the most expensive post-Soviet Russian pic ever made, crashed and burned even in home territory on May release, offshore auds are hardly likely to warm to this much more than their Russian counterparts did.” But beyond the squabbling, it is not hard to see why a Mikhalkov film would be selected. “Burnt By the Sun 2: Citadel” is the fifth movie by Mikhalkov to be forwarded to the Academy. His previous track record is impressive. His 1992 “Close to Eden” made the final Oscar list. His 1994 “Burnt By the Sun” won. “The Barber of Siberia,” Mikhalkov’s 1998 epic, was disqualified apparently because the print did not arrive on time. His 2007 “12” made the final list. Mikhalkov’s movies have therefore made the final cut more than all other Russian films submitted since 1992 combined: Sergei Bodrov’s 1996 “Prisoner of the Mountains” and Pavel Chukhrai’s “The Thief” in 1997 were the only other finalists. Given this history, unparalleled in Russian cinema, there is logic to forwarding one of his films for the Academy’s consideration. The decision reflects an ongoing fight over what sort of Russian film should be chosen. The last decade’s submissions have alternated between more traditional art-house movies, which most foreign viewers interpret as “Russian,” and popu-
A sequel to arguably the most beloved Soviet comedy, “Irony of Fate,” this film was created on the 30th anniversary of the original, which involves a magical night between two strangers, a night that starts with a drunken mix-up that is also a comment on how all Soviet architecture and cities began to look the same. In the sequel, their children try to revisit the past, and they find more than notsalgia. It isn’t wise to watch the sequel without first watching its precursor, a film that is shown every New Year’s Eve on television in Russia and features songs that offer a peek into the Russian psyche. Another film by stand-out director Timur Bekmambetov. Polish film star Barbara Brylska became an international sensation in the original, and appears again in the sequel.
Stilyagi (Hipsters in English, 2008) This film crossed the contintental divide and appeared in U.S. theaters under the title “Hipsters.” A wonderful jazz film, it portrays young, hip Russian communists in the 1950s trying to set their own spirits free to the beat. It is a Soviet subculture virtually unknown to Western audiences. The film managed to be an indie hit, a musical and cult film in the United States all at once. Actor Maxim Matveev’s career took off after this film, and he appeared subsequently in “I Won’t Say” (2010). These are our editors’ picks. If you have your own, please them send to firstname.lastname@example.org
Nora FitzGerald was the Moscow correspondent for ARTnews and is a guest editor for RN.
lar blockbusters that marry Hollywood-style effects and techniques to “Russian” themes. Zvyagintsev’s 2003 “The Return,” Andrei Kravchuk’s 2005 “The Italian,” and Anna Melikian’s 2008 “The Mermaid” were all art-house, critical successes that did not earn huge box office returns. None of them made the final list. Timur Bekmambetov’s 2004 “Night Watch” and Fedor Bondarchuk’s 2005 “Ninth Company” are the epitome of the new Russian patriotic blockbusters that have done well in theaters and still earned critical acclaim. They too did not make the Academy’s shortlist. Last year, the Oscar Committee chose Alexei Uchitel’s “The Edge,” set in the special camps of the postwar Stalinist system. Uchitel, previously known for his art-house films such as “His Wife’s Diary” (2000), which the Russian Committee selected, openly declared he made “The Edge” in the style of a Hollywood blockbuster. Meanwhile, Mikhalkov’s “12,“ based on Sidney Lumet’s “Twelve Angry Men,” was the last Russian film to make the shortlist and was a commercial success with an art-house feel. While many voices within the Russian film community believe that the American Academy wants to see Hollywood-style foreign fare, the evidence suggests that the more art-house and “foreign” a film, the better the chance for selection. All three of Mikhalkov’s films to make the shortlist conformed to what many believe a “Russian foreign film” should be like: deliberately placed and philosophical. Of course, the same could be said of many films that did not make the final cut. There were one or two American critics who praised the film, however, stating that Russian critics were a bit tough on their former favorite. Still it seems that the committee submitted the film because of Mikhalkov’s previous record, or from a belief that the film could make the shortlist because it was an American-like blockbuster. Dr. Stephen Norris is Associate Professor of History at the University of Miami in Ohio.
RN CONTINUES ITS READ RUSSIA COLUMN, WHICH FEATURES AUTHORS AND NOVELS TO BE PRESENTED AT BOOKEXPO AMERICA IN NEW YORK CITY JUNE 4-7, 2012, WHERE RUSSIA WILL BE THE GUEST OF HONOR.
AN IMPENDING DOOM? Phoebe Taplin SPECIAL TO RN
TITLE: LIVING SOULS AUTHOR: DMITRY BYKOV PUBLISHER: ALMA BOOKS LTD
magine the chaos ensuing from the discovery of a new fuel — one that renders Russian oil irrelevant. That is what happens in Dmitry Bykov’s brutally ironic novel “Living Souls.” In the much-anticipated novel, newly translated into English, Russia has descended into civil war. Fictional ethnic groups, the northern “Varangians” and southern “Khazars” battle endlessly for dominance and for their own version of history; meanwhile, the true natives, the gentle “Joes” and “Wolves,” are caught in the crossfire. In the Varangians, Bykov satirizes mindless belligerence and nationalism, but the opposing Khazars — liberals, Jews, revolutionaries — are also powerhungry and duplicitous. Bykov, who is himself Jewish, has referred to his own ironic work as “anti-semitic.” A well-known journalist, Bykov has written several novels and a prize-winning biography of Pasternak, but “Living Souls” is the first to be translated into English. The paperback edition is out this year. That Bykov has subtitled his novel “A Poem” resonates on several levels. The complex and varied use of language, morphing between folk tale and contemporary political tract, laced with songs and prophecies, occasionally comes closer
to surrealist poetry than narrative. The 19th century satirist, Nikolai Gogol also subtitled his novel, “Dead Souls, A Poem”; the English version of the title was clearly chosen to reinforce this allusion. The four groups of characters, whose destinies form the crux of the story, all become wanderers, travelling across Russia’s vast distances in search of love, freedom, safety or meaning. The fact that their peregrinations are often circular is symbolic. Circles and rings, wheels and garlands are central to the pagan rituals of the natives. “The year goes round in a circle,” explains Asha to her lover, Borozdin, governor of a Siberian province, before they flee into exile. Russian history itself is portrayed as an endless cycle of tyranny and terror, followed by thaw, chaos and revolution. Volokhov, a wandering major, is “terribly tired of this sad merry-go-round.” The literary roots of the tale’s quest for national identity reach back beyond medieval Italy to Greek and Roman poetry. There are references to Homer. Gromov, another itinerant military leader, is described as “Odysseus without his Ithaca.” Bykov’s characters question the ancient epics, as they do all histories. The native peoples have their own secret versions of events, kept alive against the odds. If this jumble of characters and overlapping journeys sounds confusing, it is. Bykov’s ambitious novel perhaps attempts too much, though there is a comic element that saves the novel from perishing under its own burdens.
TIS THE SEASON TO BE JOLLY Jennifer Eremeeva SPECIAL TO RN
imes may be tough, but I’m pleased to see that Russians are not skimping on an essential fixture of the corporate calendar: the New Year’s party. This annual Saturnalia bears little resemblance to its Western version of a modest gallon of apple cider and a half-hearted Secret Santa exchange, as I found out during the first year I worked at The Firm and got roped into event planning by Alexei Soloviev, the firm’s COO, who asked me what I thought would make an ideal holiday party. “I don’t know,” I hazarded, “maybe a lot of beer and some ABBA CDs?” Alexei sighed deeply and shook his head. I was instructed to watch and learn. Holiday parties must be lavish, must take place in glamorous venues and headline famous bands or celebrity hosts. No one cares too much about the food, and as for the drink: quality is emphasized over quantity. The target audience, I learned, are the upwardly mobile secretaries and downwardly mobile middleaged tea ladies, who emerge from daylong marathon sessions at the hairdressers completely unrecognizable in gravity-defying up-dos and sateen cocktail dresses. Senior management, on the other hand, simply shrug on their jackets and make docile token appearances around the periphery of the event, lulled by the knowledge that once this is over, they can decamp to Klosters or the Maldives for three weeks. “Alexei,” I shouted the first year, as a band called “Uma2Rman” hit chords that bounced off the marble interiors of the Tseretelli Gallery in Moscow. A normally silent driver, released
from his duties by a team of outside drivers hired to drive our drivers, did a credible imitation of Mick Jagger, surrounded by admiring secretaries and tea ladies, “This is the tackiest thing I have seen since the Sound of Music bus tour in Salzburg.” He nodded happily. “Alexei,” I wrote on a cocktail napkin, the following year, as we groped our way to the bar in the murky darkness of a hotterthan-hot nightclub called Rasputin. “Do this math: If you took what we are spending tonight, and divided it evenly by the number of employees at The Firm, do you realize that every single person could go, air-inclusive, on a week’s holiday to Turkey in a five star hotel?” The final year I worked at The Firm, a multinational corporation was buying us out and honed in on our revels. They bought out the entire evening performance of “Cats,” which was experiencing a lackluster run that season at “The Young Komsomol Theatre.” I agreed with Alexei that it would be a disaster. It was. The tea ladies and drivers sat stiffly in their holiday finery utterly baffled, squinting at the stage as they tried to figure out the gist of a non-existent plot, performed by actors dressed like cats for reasons they could not fathom, speaking words that made no sense at all. Alexei and I stood together at the back of the room, knocking back bad white wine and shaking our heads. “This is a fiasco,” Alexei said. “I think,” I said, “I think I’m going to write that book.” Jennifer Eremeeva is a a freelance writer and longtime resident of Moscow. She is the curator of the culinary blog, www.moscovore. com, and the humor blog www.russialite.com.
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Stereotypes Moscow has struggled to overcome its Soviet reputation, but contemporary visitors and residents alike find it fascinating
Revising the Moscow in Our Minds night is 10-20 euros. Beware of vendors selling fur hats in the Center. To get the best bargain, you have to know the right places. “Souvenir shops are to be avoided at all costs, especially in central Moscow, as their prices could bankrupt small countries,” Laura Gardner, 26, from Manchester, England, said. “Markets are the best place to look for that cheap, authentic piece of Russian culture that you just can’t live without.” One of the most famous souvenir markets is located at the picturesque Izmailovsky Kremlin. The average prices there are lower than in the shops and, most important, you can bargain. Expats and tourists agree it is a great place to practice your fledgling Russian. Learn to ask “How much?” Then learn to walk away when you hear the answer. The price goes down when they see your back. It works every time.
Some stereotypes are based on a kernel of truth, while others are stuck in the time warp of Soviet film. Here, tourists and expats are candid about the real deal. INNA LEONOVA
Is Moscow More Expensive Than Other Cities? Many foreigners agree that Moscow is by no means an inexpensive city. Though some agree with reservations: “Housing is expensive,” said Lucie Pokorna of the Czech Republic, who has frequently been to Russia as a tourist. “Transport and culture are rather cheap in comparison to western Europe.” “I think Moscow can be expensive, but there’s also a lot of ways to save money as well, especially on food,” Brandon Para, 22, said. “Eating street food and eating in places that serve cafeteria-style food like Mu-Mu, helps to save on food costs. The number one piece of advice I would give visitors from America is to eat at plac-
Red Square is not a famous launch site for Mickey Mouse hot air balloons.
es like this, because you can still get a lot of food for the price. Also, using the metro is a lot cheaper than taking taxis, so you can also save on transportation costs that way.” Considering that an average business lunch in a Moscow restaurant costs 300 rubles ($10) and a metro ride costs 28 rubles (about 90 cents), hotels are by far the most expensive part of a trip to Moscow. A recent survey by the hotel. info portal revealed that the average cost of a hotel room in the Russian capital this autumn was 140 euros (more than $200) a day, which makes Moscow the second most expensive capital in terms of hotel accommodations, after Oslo. Part of the reason for the high prices is the shortage of hotels in Moscow. There are 215, according to official statistics. Things are looking up though: In 2011, three new hotels were opened in Moscow, four more will open before the year is out and 14 hotels in the center are due to open in 2012. According to City Hall, by 2020 the capital
GOOD TO KNOW
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Free Call Center Aids Travelers Lucie Pokorna There is now a 24-hour call center for tourists in Moscow. Operators speak both Russian and English and are ready to answer questions about the capital’s places of interest and methods of transport. They can also help in case of an emergency by calling the police or a tourist’s embassy. The call center can be reached by dialing 8-800-220-00-01 or 8-800220-00-02.
Stereotypes owe much to the Cold War and the Iron Curtain, when only a few people could see for themselves what things were really like “over there.” Twenty years have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and to quote singer Michael Stipe, it was “the end of the world as we know it.” After talking to many expats, Russia Now found that Moscow has a visceral impact. Rarely did we meet someone who is blasé about the place. It punches them in the gut and woos the imagination. For some expats, their time in Moscow is a very creative time. For all, it is memorable. Living or visiting Moscow is an opportunity to experience and master — to varying degrees — a steep learning curve. To know what foreigners think about Moscow, Russia Now interviewed a couple dozen expats and tourists aged between 22 and 50.
SPECIAL TO RUSSIA NOW
Housing is expensive. Transport and culture are rather cheap in comparison to western Europe."
26, CZECH REPUBLIC
Moscow is no more dangerous than London. Advice is not to flash your cash and not to speak loudly in a foriegn language.”
22, SHEFFIELD, U.K.
will have 535 hotels capable of accommodating 150,000 tourists.
Few conferences are held during that period, and only 10 to 15 percent of hotel capacity is used, according to Moscow’s Tourism Committee. Another way to save is to find a hostel. They are springing up like mushrooms and are already making inroads in the market. There are officially 55 hostels in Moscow, almost all of them in the center. Twenty were opened in 2011. The average price per
The Keys to an Affordable Visit Try to save by choosing the right season for your visit: January is considered to be the off season, which includes the three Christmas weeks (in Russia, Christmas is in January and there is a holiday for most of the month).
The stereotype is that Moscow is big, crowded, a city of business and that people are always in a hurry. This is all true! However, it is possible to find quiet back streets to wander through.”
48, CHESTER, U.K.
Dangers at Every Step? “I am sure it is like any big city,” said 31-year-old Tessy McKee, an English teacher from Louisiana who lives in Moscow. “However, I do not feel unsafe at all. I was very cautious in the beginning. I had been warned about pickpockets, etc. So far, I have not been the victim of a crime. I do not know anyone personally who has been a victim.” According to The Village portal, 15 percent of expats interviewed are afraid of nationalists — and not without reason. “While living in Moscow, and since leaving, I have routinely heard disparaging and insulting comments made about people from Africa, the Caucasus and China in particular,” said Cole Margen of California. “If you are a minority going to Moscow, don’t let the comment I wrote above discourage you. Most Russians I met were very loyal, friendly and generous. However, there are a few bad apples mixed in as well, and you probably will come across
them at some point during your stay.” The advice offered by travel agencies and seasoned travellers to first-time visitors to Moscow is pretty much the same as for any other city: Do not stray onto unknown streets after dark and keep away from groups of strangers.
A Chaotic Sprawl “As for finding your way around, the Metro is really pretty clear and simple,” Elliott Estebo, 25, from Minneapolis, said. “The masses of people can be a bit intimidating if you get lost, but if you’re underground you can find your way. Above ground, the streets can be confusing, and they’re not always clearly marked.” Street signage is increasing, and you can always ask directions from a passerby — the younger the person, the more chance he or she speaks English. And one stereotype is true: There are beautiful women walking around in stylish clothes, just as you might imagine. You can even ask them directions. But an elder Babushka (grandmother) is more likely to take you by the hand and show you your train. Are Muscovites unfriendly? People do not say “have a nice day” upon departing (unless they just finished their customer training with a Western company). On the other hand, if they say something nice to you, it is genuine. And if they invite you to their home, they don’t cancel, and you are well fed. “The stereotype is that Moscow is big, crowded, a city of business and that people are always in a hurry,” Andrew Close, 48, of Chester, UK, said. “These are all true! However, it is possible to find quiet backstreets to wander through, and some of Moscow’s parks are wonderful. I particularly enjoyed Tsaritsyno Park.” If you try a few words in Russian, you will hear excessive praise and wild applause. No one will tell you your Russian is terrible; instead, you will be encouraged to speak more.
Music Berlin’s family escaped the pogroms, and their son found his talent in New York’s cafe society
Dreaming of the Genius of Irving Berlin
Irving Berlin’s commercial good fortune continued in his civilian life. After he had left the army, he started up a company for publishing his own works and opened the Music Box Theatre on Broadway.
YELENA FEDOTOVA SMENA MAGAZINE
Irving Berlin began his career in New York’s cafe society, when he wrote the song “Marie from sunny Italy.” The song was so successful that it was immediately published. The publishers gave the writer of the song his first royalties, and also a new name. Berlin was born Israel Baline in the Siberian city of Tyumen, to a family who immigrated to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He became Irving Berlin because of a mistake at the printers. Jerome Kern, the famous Broadway composer, once said of this man “He doesn’t have a place in American music. He is American music.” Berlin was just 14 years old when he got his job at the Pelham saloon. It wasn’t his first job, however. He started work as a paper boy following the death of his father, an event which left the Baline family fending for themselves in a tiny
flat on the Lower East Side. Moisey Baline’s family left Russia in 1893, following a pogrom in the small Belorussian town of Tolochin, where they had moved from Tyumen. Before Berlin’s gig at the Pelham, Berlin’s musical education consisted of a few trips to the synagogue with his father, who made a bit of extra money as a cantor. Having received his first royalty (of 37 cents), Berlin started to write the lyrics for other songs, and involved various composers to set the words to music. But he was never quite satisfied with the results of this sort of collaboration, and so he decided to start composing the music himself. Irving Berlin was not able to write the music for his melodies on his own, and he dictated the tunes of his first songs to the composer Arthur Johnson. But Berlin’s most popular songs were transcribed by his assistant, Helmy Kresa, who stood by him throughout almost the whole of his creative career. Berlin only learned how to play the piano unassisted at the age of 45. It was with her help that Berlin wrote his first hit — “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” — in
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1,500 songs were written by Berlin, including scores of 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films. He was nominated for several Oscars.
Jerome Kern, the famous Broadway composer, once said of Irving Berlin: “He doesn’t have a place in American music. He is American music.” His songs are still hits today.
Irving Berlin, the embodiment of American culture, was born to a Jewish family in a far-flung corner of Siberia.
Berlin’s “White Christmas” defined nostalgia for a generation.
1911. This song was sung by all the American jazz legends; Al Jolson, Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Murrey and Liza Minelli — followed by Emma Carus. Three years later, in 1914, Berlin finished his first musical,
“Watch Your Step.” This happened at about the same time that Berlin was conscripted into the U.S. Army. In 1918, during the First World War, Berlin’s commanding officer asked him to do some fundraising to build a shelter for soldiers’ relatives.
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Berlin decided to do what he did best and put together a musical called “Yip Yip, Yaphank!” which included the famous songs “Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” and “God Bless America,” which he put away in the desk drawer.
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Irving’s wife Ellin Mackay was not blessed with easy births, and her second was especially difficult. The composer’s newborn son lived 25 days and died Christmas Eve 1928. When he finally returned to work, Berlin went into his office and said to his musical assistant: “Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written — heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!” Helmy Kresa transcribed “White Christmas,” a nostalgic song about the sort of happy Christmas that the composer had not had for 10 years: “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the one I used to know…” “White Christmas” became the most popular American Christmas song ever written, and Bing Crosby’s single, the first rendition of the song, is one of the best-selling singles of all time. The original version of “God Bless America” was first released in 1938. Anticipating the outbreak of war, Irving Berlin took out a plan for the song that had been lying in his desk drawer for 20 years, and a few days later he gave the music for the song to the popular singer Cat
Smith. The success of the future anthem was ensured by a terrible coincidence: the day “God Bless America” was released, America found out about the Night of Broken Glass. In 1942, New Yorkers had just one thing on their lips, the musical “This is the Army,” and the songs “This is the Army, Mr. Jones” and “God Bless America” became the original wartime hits. Following a successful premiere on Broadway, Berlin took the musical around to all the other parts of the country. A charity for helping the wounded and war widows and their families received $2 million. In 1943, a film was made, and future president Ronald Reagan played the lead. At the end of the 1950s, Irving Berlin compiled several other successful Broadway musicals. But in the ‘60s, times were changing. Irving Berlin’s final musical could not even be saved by President John Kennedy — following the premiere of “Mr President,” Kennedy congratulated Berlin on his latest Broadway hit. But it was not a hit. Americans couldn’t get enough of Elvis and Marilyn; they bought out Bob Dylan’s debut album, sang Beatles songs, said “no to war” and voted for Kennedy. And three years later, Steven Spielberg released an animated feature film titled “An American Tale,” which was based largely on Irving Berlin’s biography — a story that epitomizes the American dream. He died at the age of 101.
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Russia Now supplement distributed with the Washington Post in the US. December edition