Russians Go Head Over Heels for Yoga

A new craze is taking Russia by storm. Russians, at least wealthier Russians, are jumping for anything Indian. Yoga studios have been popping up like Starbucks and a few weeks ago world renowned spiritual leader, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, went on a tour of the largest country in the world, during what has been declared Неделя Йоги (National Yoga Week).

A yoga exhibition in Saint Petersburg.

This fixation started a few years ago, and even the government has gotten involved. The federally sponsored Федерациа Йога России (Russian Yoga Federation) was created in 2008 under President Dmitry Medvedev, a known practitioner of the South Asian discipline.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar - Creative Commons

It is interesting that a country in which many are still fixated on material wealth, after the hyper-capitalist explosion of the 90s, should take so readily to a philosophy that emphasizes spiritual wealth. This seems especially contradictory, considering that it is the wealthy in Russia who are driving this trend. In fact, at a stop on his tour of Russia, Shankar was asked about being rated one of the five most influential people in India by Forbes magazine. He responded by saying, “Love is the greatest wealth.”

There are many contrasts, though, between the yoga craze in Russia and the yoga craze in the United States. Yoga first came to prominence the United States in the 1960s, as part of a counterculture youth movement that embraced eastern philosophies. ISKCON, whose followers were popularly known as “Hare Krishnas” was founded in the mid ’60s in the U.S. as well. At the same time, in Russia, yoga was strictly prohibited by the Soviet government, which saw it as nonsecular, and superstitious.

Now, Russian yuppies are making up for lost time. Being a member of a yoga club is as much a mark of wealth as wearing designer suits or owning a flashy car. Hopefully, though, the philosophy of yoga will catch on as well. The emphasis on spiritual wealth could do a lot to quell many Russians’ fixation on material wealth, and potentially even live more fulfilling lives.

Nazi Soccer

Soccer derbies are always games of particular interest. The last game between Hamburger SV and FC St Pauli was no exception. Most fans are simply looking forward to a great and exciting game, some idiots see derbies as a chance to not only beat their opponent, but to beat up their fans and sometimes even players as well. Unfortunately, violence and soccer come together every once in a while, but when three Hamburg hooligans beat up Pauli-keeper Benedikt Pliquett, a right wing party saw this as a sign. Their conclusion: If three fans attack the Pauli-keeper – St. Pauli is notoriously left wing (if soccer teams are political) – many HSV fans are in favor of violence against left-wing ideas. At the next home game,  the NPD set up a booth to advertise their ideas.  Fortunately, this really is the exception in Germany and racist or right-wing fans have largely been eliminated from stadiums since the 1980s.

Maura Zarate saluting the team

Italy, sadly, is a different story and racist fans are notoriously violent. Just a few months ago, Italian newspaper “Il Messaggero” published a picture of Lazio’s Maura Zarate raising his right arm to salute the team. This, at least in Rome, is not an exception. Former team captain Paolo di Canio is known to the European soccer world for mainly two things. His tattoo saying dux, which is latin for Führer (Führer here does not mean Hitler but Mussolini, whom he admittedly admires) and his unacceptable gestures toward the Lazio fans.

Not convinced yet? Romanian Adrian Mutu of Fiorentina was insulted and booed at after the wife of an Italian Marine was allegedly killed by a Romanian the week before the game. When playing Werder Bremen in the European Cup, Lazio fans responded to banners against racism (“Zusammen gegen Rassismus”) by celebrating Italian dictator Mussolini. During the game, Werder’s Ivorian forward Boubacar Sanogo was mocked with monkey noises.

Paolo di Canio

Still not convinced? During the derby against AS Rome, a left-wing club, Lazio followers displayed banners saying “Auschwitz is your homeland – the ovens are where you belong!But radical soccer fans are not a Roman phenomenon. In Sicily, soccer fans killed a police officer in riots after he testified in a trial against rightwing extremist fans.

Neither is it a solely Italian phenomenon. Racist fans have become a problem in France, Spain and Poland, as well. But what can be done to prevent these nasty incidents that spoil the excitement of the games? German soccer fans have set a great example. When politicians and club officials were unable to fight racism, the fans took matters in their own hands.

In an interview with 11 Freunde magazine, Hamburg fan Bernd Kroschewski stated, that he and other fans were embarrassed by racist insults toward Hamburg player Souleyman Sané.

Natürlich haben mich auch früher schon Dinge gestört, etwa die rassistischen Rufe von irgendwelchen Neo-Nazis gegen Souleyman Sané. Damals habe ich mich wirklich geschämt, dass es um mich herum solche Leute gab, die im gleichen Stadion stehen und den gleichen Verein anfeuern.

When neo-nazis tried to take over the stands, most fans helped getting rid of advertisement stickers on the stadium walls and simply did not support any kind of agitation against, for example, colored players. The fan body did not allow neo-nazis to take over. Today, the German Bundesliga is comparably family friendly and dads can bring their sons without being afraid of getting caught in between violent fan groups. This is largely due to the fans themselves.

It will be interesting to see how Italy copes with the increased violence. Lately, Italian Minister of the Interior Giuseppe Pisanu announced that he does not have a problem with closing stadiums to the public or even cancelling games. But as Germany has shown, the fans themselves have the biggest influence on what happens in the stands. After all, soccer is just a game that everyone should be allowed to enjoy. Violence and violent ideologies cannot be tolerated.

Lazio fans

Musical Dialects

Photo Courtesy of aemde at

In America, dialect differences rarely blur the line between to-MAY-to, to-MAH-to.

Sure, some might say “bye y’all” while others say “see you later, you guys”. Some might ask for a pop in a restaurant, while others ask for soda or soda pop (and some just call everything Coke). Bottom line: in the U.S. you’d have to go pretty far out of your way to get to a place where you couldn’t understand what the people around you were saying.

Not so in many parts of Europe. In Germany, for example, dialect differences are so distinct, even a distance of a few kilometers can make the language difference feel like you’re in another country. To an Ostfriese, Bayerisch (dialect spoken in Bavaria) might as well be Greek.

Even though most people in Germany speak a main common language, high German (Hochdeutsch), there has been a resurgence of pride in regional dialects, partly out of efforts to preserve regional identities. People are more interested in strengthening those distinctive language differences that allow people to pinpoint a person’s place of origin. You can see this in the surge of German bands that use dialects in their lyrics.

One of my all-time favorites: Fettes Brot’s “Nordisch By Nature”.

At the beginning of the video, the conversation between the old man and the younger one at the dock is entirely in Plattdeutsch. He’s complaining about the music and all the “singen und bumsen” (which means, shall we say, “fooling around”). And one look at the lyrics and even a student of German will no doubt be clueless. (Wisst ihr, bi uns in Norden is dat schwer to verstohn!)

But like they say in the song, that’s just Fettes Brot speaking Plattdeutsch in the Disco! Plattdeutsch is the main dialect spoken in northern Germany in cities such as Hamburg. According to Deutsche Welle, traditional Platt replaces Hochdeutsch as the predominant language in the highest parts of Germany, but in general, most people speak a mixture.

(One phrase to remember if you travel North: “Moin! Moin! “ means hello.)

Other bands/artists that use regional dialects in their lyrics include:

Kä Thäma (Pfalzish)
Pomm Fritz (Schwabish)
Claudia Koreck (Bavarian)

But alas, this trend of German dialects over the airwaves is not catching on for everyone. As one blogger observes, many native German speakers waver between public and private use of dialects because of a stigma attached to them. It sounds similar to the “y’all” stereotype here: the assumption that a pronounced accent means you must be just a simple country bumpkin with a home-grown education to match.

I just call it taking pride in your roots.

Y’all come back now, ya hear?