Once-leper colony islet converts into a work of art.


Spinalonga is an islet located in east Crete, a territory of Greece. This tiny island is known as a popular tourist attraction today, but has a tremendous history expanded from Ancient Greek, Venentian, Ottoman, and finally in 20th century, it was used as a leper colony from 1903 to 1957.


That the island was once a leper colony was learned to a lot of people by a novel The Island in 2005, the story of a family’s ties to the leper colony. And this time, the islet has turned into a work of art by a renowned Greek artist, Costas Tsoklis.


Tsoklis titled the exhibition “You, the last leper,” which runs from June 2nd to October 31st.  In the exhibition’s official website, Tsoklis worte:

“In the ancient Greek tragedies, where the fate of the heroes is always gloomy, the beauty of speech arrives followed by the unexpected solutions to the complicated relationships and situations, to redeem the heroes, as well as the viewer. In the same manner, I aspire to identify the visitor with all those isolated from society, who saw their bodies and souls slowly melting away, and then redeem him through the charm of nature and art, leading him eventually to the realisation of his own luck, and thus enabling him to enjoy the gifts of life, of freedom and of art.”


A tourist who visited Splinalonga blogged about the exhibition and she said Mirrors played a big part in the exhibition,which the patients of that time didn’t have any. Also there was “a sculpture which was set out on a long bar above a large drop, depicting an inmate about to jump.” Then she added it struck her as odd as a tour guide said the island was actually a happy place where the patients were given medical treatment, food, water, and social security payments with no suicides.


However, I doubt whether the island was full of happiness. The patients were isolated from the outside world in a tiny island, and I think it is human’s instinct to want to know a different world and expand their horizons, which they were not allowed to.


Another blogger mentioned about the exhibition that “Sources of inspiration for the artist is the island itself and the ruins of the buildings, the hopeless desire to escape (“Incoming drop there any hope,” was written on the entrance), the desperate need to communicate with the outside world, many suicides, wear, lack of mirrors, the intense eroticism, death and births, the dirt and the tidiness and petty trade exercised over the island.”


Hansen’s disease used to be regarded as infectious disease, which is not true. This was widely thought not only in Greece but other countries, such as South Korea which has an islet called So-Rok-Do that used for leper colony. Some people call these islands as “islands of tears”. It is amazing how art can demonstrate things like Tsoklis does. It shed a light on our sad history and raises people’s  awareness to sympathy their pains.




Croussis Festival: Making an Artistic Beat

This fall Greece will see the 10th Croussis Festival in Corinth. The festival, making a non-annual schedule of its own, started in Athens in 1998. Since then it has traveled to Lefkada (1999-2001), Saint Petersburg (2003), and Arta (2008-2011).

The festival takes place through September and features, as its main draw, concerts from 128 artists total, fifty of them calling Corinth their home.

The concerts aren’t the only part of the festival though. From the 26th to the 30th there will be a type of fair for the general public where they can take part in seminars, classes, and food tastings from countries involved in the festival. These classes are being taught by people from all over and by all ages. Other events include workshops, clinics, and art exhibits.

Artistic director, Nick Touliatou, has made this year’s festival richer than ever as it spans the entire area of Corinth. Touliatou also worked on getting environmental issues involved, educating people on the problems at hand and what they can do to help.

Although the festival is taught by a wide range of ages and participated in by even more, the real goal of the festival aims at the younger crowd. They want to spark creativity in children who visit, even if it does not happen in percussion or one of the tents they stop by, they just want the kids to take an artistic path, to create and to imagine.



Appropriate college living?

For those of us lucky enough to attend college, I think we can all agree that living in a college dormitory makes for one of the most unforgettable memories of our lives. Your dorm room is the reflection of who you are during the part of your life that molds you into where you will end up in life. For a student attending the University of Missouri-Columbia, teenagers and young adults have a wide variety of rooming conditions to choose from. You might want the community style dorm: sharing a room with another lucky, hormonal teenager with a bathing room down the hall used by everyone on that floor. Or you might consider a suite style dormitory where a couple rooms share one bathroom. As far as the kitchens are concerned, some dorms have one kitchen shared between everyone in the building, while other dorms have kitchens on each floor. Generally speaking, whichever dorm you choose, someone will make sure your bathroom and kitchen are in clean conditions, user friendly, and are fixed as soon as possible if broken. Although the sanitation of your room is left up to you, I can guarantee the furniture that is provided by the institution will be reliable and will serve you for as long as you’re there.


But not everyone is as lucky as the college attendees of mid-Missouri. Due to the harsh dorm conditions of Russia, most Russian native students choose to live with their parents while others share apartments with friends. As I was researching the World Wide Web and trying to narrow down the information Google spewed out at me regarding the conditions of Russian university living accommodations, I ran across a very interesting website: www.sras.org. According to the home page they “specialize in study, research, and travel abroad to Russia and Eurasia” and they also “provide free info for students studying Russia and Eurasia” (JACKPOT!). So according to SRAS (The School of Russian and Asian Studies), the St. Petersburg State University has some pretty rough living conditions. The dorms are 45 minutes to an hour away from campus and the commute will involve “a bit of walking”. Internet is a paid service and is only available in some dorm rooms and the website clearly states “this is not always reliable” and offers a guide for alternatives to St. Petersburs State University’s unpredictable internet. For the lucky few, a television might be provided in their room (wonder what century that came from) and overall “conditions are livable, but they are not particularly well cared for”. According to this same website, the Moscow state university offers many options for living, mostly off campus. The only dormitory on campus provides you with your own room which includes a bed, desk, and wardrobe (all dated back to the Soviet Union times) with a shared entryway, toilet, and shower (also all original versions from the Soviet times). Here, kitchens are shared with the rest of the residents on the floor and do not always have functional refrigerators. And to top it all off, good luck meeting with friends for a midnight snack or a late night pity party! Guests have enforced restricted hours and each one must obtain a special pass consented by a resident. But surprisingly, the dorms do not have “lockdown hours” (curfew) like most other Russian universities!

A few people posted tours of their dorms in the following two YouTube videos:




I know I promised I wouldn’t post any more pictures of disturbing bathrooms, but Via Zyalt did a very thorough job of documenting the life of an average Russian at the Moscow University and I just felt like I absolutely had to share one of his pictures. He posted the following picture with the caption: “The restroom is one of the issues that bother students. The point is that there are just two restrooms on each floor and sometimes, a cleaning woman does not appear for days”.

For pictures of black mold that never leaves and always comes back even if you soak the entire building in bleach, click the photo above and it will take you to Via Zyalt’s article.

So now, we see that the living environment is clearly not the best, but what does the university do? According to the same article, absolutely nothing. The university is spending thousands and thousands on re-building their library and main buildings, but absolutely nothing to make the students’ home away from home any more welcoming than it is at this point.

So how do students survive in such awful conditions? And if the dorms are a reflection of our youth’s life and where they are going in life, then what does that say about Russians? And why is no one doing anything about this?



Is Merkel leaving German women behind as she rises to the top?

Stephen Greenblatt  gives an interesting perspective on the way we, as humans, understand culture. He speaks on the notion that culture is a concept that constraints us within society’s social norms, but when challenged, it allows for a movement to occur. When these social norms in culture are challenged, it stirs up riots, revolution, and social uplifts that push us forward into a new direction. Thus, a birth of a new culture; this is the circle of life.  He offers another intriguing concept he discusses when analyzing culture in literature and art.  In order to understand the literature or art’s culture you must have an idea of the context in which it is written or created. Deeper exploration into a particular culture will lead to a heightened understanding of the context in which the literature or art was produced. This calls for background knowledge and research.

For Stephen Greenblatt article, click here 

After reading Stephen Greenblatt’s article about culture, it gave me insight in how I should analyze the German political cartoonist (Rainer Hachfield) cartoon featuring German Chancellor Angela Merkel in an unusual way. She has a somewhat angry face with her fist pounding to a table as a heart necklace wraps around her neck and it the heart is a picture of her and Francois Hollande— current President of France. Behind her are posters and signs written in German stating, “minimum salary, quotas for women, and no party whip.”

Angela Merkel and François Hollande celebrated 50 years of Franco-German friendship this September 23 in Ludwigsburg. A brief respite for the Chancellor as she faces several difficult domestic policy issues.

Rainer Hachfield is a German playwright and political cartoonist that worked with the socialist daily Neues Deutschland 

Now when I first looked at this political cartoon, it made no sense to me. I didn’t understand what the message Hachfield was trying to get across so I had to do some searching of the questions that were running through my mind. Luckily the cartoon had a caption stating who the figures in the picture were, and with Google translate, I was able to find the meaning of the words on the signs.

  • kein fraktion zwang: no fractional forced
  • frauen-quote: female ratio
  •  mindest- lohn: minimum wage

My first question: Who is Angela Merkel, and what is her relation to Germany?

German Chancellor, Angela Merkel

Forbes list ranksAngela Merkel as No. 1 most powerful women in the world, and has earned the name the “Iron Lady”. She assumed office as the first lady Chancellor of Germany in 2005 as a candidate of the Christian Democratic Union, the second largest poltical party in Germany. She stands on the notions of emphasizing “Christian understanding of humans and their responsibility toward God.” She is often considered conservative on cultural, social, and moral issues, and advocates a social market economy. She plays a crucial role in the European Union managing the financial crisis at the European and international level.

Chancellor Angela Merkel states in the Economic Times, We have the duty to do as much as possible for domestic demand in Germany so that we can give… a significant growth push to the eurozone,”

 This meaning all European countries will have the same currency.

 My second question: Who is Francois Hollande? He is the current President of France and is the first Secretary of the French Socialist Party. As I familiarize myself with the platform socialists stand on, these politician stand for social movements to reform social issues of a country. They have a liberal view on the way things should run in a country compared to the conservative Christian Democratic Union.

These two leaders stand on opposite political spectrum’s in their own country, but they can agree on one thing. Merkel and Hollande marked their unity on the issue regarding Greece bailout.


Merkel and Hollande as they make a visit to Greece together.

We want, I want, Greece to be in the eurozone, it’s a desire we have expressed since the start of the crisis. It’s up to the Greeks to make the effort that is essential for that goal to be met,” said France’s Socialist president, standing alongside Merkel.

The Greece potential bankruptcy issue is an entirely separate issue that needs to be address, but Hachfield shows in his cartoon picture that Merkel is turning her back on the critical social issue at home in Germany while sharing bon bons with Hollande.

Current issue on quota of women in business

 German women in the workplace only make up 3 percent of the leadership and executive positions held in German corporate businesses. With this stubby percentage, German women are not satisfied and feel this social inequality needs to be addressed and revised. Businesswomen want to work for companies in which they have the opportunity to advance in and hold higher positions to reflect their growth in the company. Men in the companies are moving ahead while women stagger behind.

 Women in Charge: The Female Quota: Video

The Christian Democratic Union stands divided over the country’s need for a legal quota German businesses must maintain with women in leadership or if it should be the decision of the leaders of the the company. This will be a big topic of debate when it comes down to the German 2013 elections.  Upper legislative chamber, representing 16 German states, is demanding for a mandatory quota for women on companies supervisory boards. Now the decision is in the hand of the lower house, in which Angela Merkel coalition controls, and they are currently divided on the situation.

As a woman I am bias to the situation, because I believe women should have the opportunity to hold leadership positions in a company. The same issue woman deal with in America. I don’t believe Chancellor is purposely turning her back on the social inequalities that is occurring Germany. As a woman I don’t think she would not want women to have the same chance to move up in society as she did.

 Another Rainer Cartoon:

Rainer Handshake Friendship

 What do feel about the cartoon? Is this an accurate depiction of the current issue and how Angela is addressing social equality for women in Germany? Is she really turning her back on the important domestic issues in Germany as she focuses on keeping an old friendship strong with France? I would love to here your comments. 

Video of Gaulle speech that brings unity of France and Germany: http://www.france24.com/en/20120922-france-germany-celebrate-50-years-friendship-charles-de-gaulle-ludwigshafen-free



Secret’s, Secret’s Are No Fun; US and others crack down on Swiss Bank Secrecy

Photo taken from internationalbusiness.wikia.com


Surely everyone has heard about, or knows a little bit about the infamous Swiss bank accounts. If you don’t know much about them, let me set you up with a little bit of background.

For decades Swiss banks have been a haven for wealthy foreign investors who are seeking to evade their country’s taxes. This all came about in 1934 when the Swiss Banking Act of 1934 made it illegal for a bank to divulge any information about a client who has created an account. This act was first created to protect Jewish German accounts from Nazi confiscation. Since then Swiss banks have grown to be some of the largest and strongest in the world due to their strict secrecy practices. The link at http://www.swconsult.ch/chbanks/faq.htm can give you more information about Swiss banks.

Recently, the United States and Germany have begun cracking down on Swiss banks to prevent any further loss of their tax dollars. According to Tax Justice Network, tax evasion costs governments about 3.1 trillion dollars annually. And according to a report from the Boston Consulting Group, Swiss banks house around 2.1 trillion dollars, or 27%, of off-shore wealth.

The United States has taken the hardest stand on off-shore tax evasion. They have recently breached UBS (Switzerland’s largest bank), forcing them to pay a 780 million dollar fine, and present information on more than 4,400 accounts. Other countries such as Germany and Britain have also taken a stance against Swiss banking secrecy. Last year both countries negotiated with Swiss banks, forcing off-shore account holders to pay a lump sum of their unpaid taxes. However, with the German and British victory they have allowed the names of the account holders to remain anonymous.

After all of these recent defeats for Swiss banks, many believe that secrecy for the banks is dead. International wealth consultant Osmond Plummer told a gathering of bankers in Geneva that “Banking secrecy is no longer there. That’s gone. It is over.”

Several other prominent members of the Swiss banking community have also spoken about recent trends, stating their need to change their whole approach. Head of Swiss banking group Reyl & Co., Francois Reyl, told members at the seminar that “It is time to change. The storm has swept everything away. We need to open ourselves to new cultures.”

Swiss bank accounts have been under pressure for quite some time for aiding wealthy foreigners evade their taxes. Recently, Swiss banks have been further scrutinized by Americans when it became known that Mitt Romney, Republican nominee for the United States Presidency, has also opened Swiss-bank accounts in an effort to escape from paying taxes on some of his earnings.

With the recent news of Romney’s foreign account, and the state of the American and European economies I understand why this issue has come to the forefront. I do believe that the tax dollars recuperated through this crack-down on foreign accounts will greatly help struggling economies, as well as aid in improving current political issues such as schooling, healthcare, unemployment, etc. But with the backbone of Swiss banking becoming extinct, what will Swiss banks do to remain strong, and keep the Swiss economy among the best in the world?


Related articles:





NHL Lockout Open Floodgates to KHL

The NHL lockout is barely a week old, yet many players are jumping ship to the second best hockey league in the world, the KHL. 20 of the KHL’s teams are located in Russia and two thirds of the players are from Russia.

Hockey’s Future previewed the upcoming KHL season.  They point out that each KHL team may only sign three NHL players for this season and only one of those players can be foreign in the team is located in Russia.

So that means the six teams located outside of Russia can sign whomever they want from the NHL.  These regulations are one factor contributing to the exodus of NHL players to the KHL.

Another factor is that the last NHL lockout ended in a lost season. Many players do not want to take a chance and find out if an agreement is made.

A Yahoo Sports blogger said 2012 is different than previous lockouts because of the rate at which players are heading overseas.

“The floodgates are open in Europe; previous predictions that NHL players may not leave with the same frequency as in the 2004-05 lockout may no longer hold true.  We’re just over a week into the lockout, and three of the NHL’s top four offensive stars — Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and Evgeni Malkin — are overseas or, in the case of Stamkos, nearly there.”

A Bleacher Report blogger said he believes if the NHL is locked out this year it will deteriorate the chances of future lockouts due to the outpour of players to Russia.  The Russian league’s salaries are becoming more competitive and the quality of play is also increasing. If there is another viable location for top quality players to play at he believes future lockouts will be less likely.

I hope the NHL gets its act together and ends the lockout.  The league will survive it in the end and the top players will still get paid this year.  The ones who are really hurt by this are the broadcaster who will have to find a college team to announce for, or the concession worker out of work who used the extra income for their child’s Christmas.

If you would like a list of the players heading to the KHL click here.







Why Can’t We All Get Along: Racism in Russian Soccer

Last week, Brian Bondus and I talked about the biggest move in Russian Football: Zenit St. Petersburg’s expensive signings of Hulk and Axel Witsel.

Premier League Primer

Zenit Spending

These signings are obviously important because these are two of the top players in the world coming to play in Russia, but another reason it is important: they are not white. Zenit has a history of racism according not only to former CSKA Striker and rival Vagner Love (who is a dark-skinned Brazilian), but also from their former coach Dick Advocaat.

“In Russia similar things happened two or three times,” Vagner Love told the Brazilian daily Globo Esporte. “It was always during the matches against Zenit, which is the most racist team in Russia. … It’s their way.”

Their former coach Dick Advocaat once admitted that the club’s core fans prevented him from signing players based on their skin color. (via/rt.com)

Advocaat is no longer the coach, and Zenit seems to have welcomed stars Hulk (who is Brazilian) and Axel Witsel (half-Martiniquais, half-Belgian). If you look at Zenit’s recent sucess, they have done so with minimal help from foreign players. The closest Zenit have had to non-white players are the Portuguese Bruno Alves and Danny. People from Portugal are generally considered to be white Europeans, so this fits in Zenit’s profile. Zenit aside, Russia has recently been known for racism against Latin and black players.

Some fairly recent examples:

August 2010: Peter Odemwingie, an Uzbek player of Nigerian origin was traded to English side West Bromwich Albion. In response, his former team Lokomotiv Moskva put up banners with bananas drawn on them thanking West Brom for taking Odemwingie.

March 2011 and June 2011: Brazilian Roberto Carlos of Anzhi was holding a flag in a pre-game ceremony when a banana was thrown at him at Zenit. Later in June, Krylia Sovetov fans threw another banana in front of Carlos during play.

March 2012: Lokomotiv fans threw a banana on the field at Congolese player Christopher Samba of Anzhi.

This is not limited to Russia, as Spanish and Italian fans are also known for blatant racist displays against non-white players. Many of this is detailed in a great ESPN story about soccer racism. Part of the story talks about how there has not been a civil rights movement in Europe like the one in the United States. This is especially true of Russia, which is only a 21-year old country after the fall of the Soviet Union. According to ESPN, many of this is because of the lack of non-whites in many countries in Europe, especially in Russia. Those who are non-white can be abused in many of those countries.

Personally, being American and being here for 16 years (as opposed to the first 5 years in Russia/Ukraine) I can’t relate to racism in Russian soccer. I don’t see racism in sport or soccer here in the U.S. Black players are not only accepted as much as white players here, but they are also well-liked. French star Thierry Henry – part of the ESPN video – has been well received in New York after suffering years of monkey chants and thrown bananas in Europe. To me, it’s disgusting and unacceptable in sport.

Hopefully Zenit’s signing of two non-white players shows the management putting its foot down on a history of racism. We have the whole season to see if Zenit fans will continue to abuse players from other teams (especially Anzhi, who has several black players including Cameroonian superstar Samuel Eto’o) while cheering on their own Hulk and Witsel. Also interesting will be to see if Zenit gets a taste of its own medicine when they go to places like Lokomotiv or Samara where racism has previously occurred.









Latest Royal scandal brings up questions about privacy and celebrity obession

Every morning in Brussels when I walked down Boulevard St. Michel on my way to work, I passed an electronic sign that rotated between a stream of Dutch advertisements, which I could not read, and one ad for a French-language tabloid.  I was surprised that Europeans had tabloids. I thought Americans were the only ones who needed to see a photo spread of Snooki’s baby eleven days after his birth. After I noticed the ad for the first time, I realized how prevalent tabloids are in Europe. There is a preoccupation with the Brads and Angelinas from their own countries and what seems like an equally large preoccupation with our own Brad and Angelina.

I was surprised to find that, in the aspect of celebrity culture, the Europeans are not much different from Americans. I did not expect to see photos of celebrities (mostly American) plastered on newsstands with outlandish and scandalous headlines attached. I thought that a preoccupation with celebrities and their daily lives was something that was uniquely American. I was wrong. In Europe celebrities seem to be portrayed as more scandalous; the more controversial, the better.

My observation from my time in Europe was exemplified recently when photos of a topless Kate Middleton spread throughout Europe like wildfire.

A French photographer took the photos while Kate and her husband were vacationing in the south of France. The Royal Family’s attorneys are working hard to bring the publication, Closer, and the photographer, Valerie Suau, to justice, according to an article from The International Business Times. 

We will soon find out if the photographer legally snapped the pictures or not. Either way, the photos and the subsequent media firestorm are frustrating to me. Why would people want to see or care about this?

Admittedly, I’m a fan of William and Kate. I stayed up late to watch the Royal Wedding and I enjoy reading about their latest travels and work.

However, I think fascination with celebrities and their portrayal in the media has a line, and Valerie Suau and Closer crossed that line. The Royal Family are people too, and they deserve at least a semblance of privacy.

While the Royals are taking legal action in regards to the photos, Suau, who, according to The International Business Times, “has worked for some of the biggest news agencies in Europe,” claims that she was completely within her rights when she snapped the photos because she was not on private property.

A colleague of Suau’s told the Daily Mail:“There were other people around, including walkers and cyclists, as well as staff of the chateau. The Duchess was sure to have known this, and perhaps should have been a bit more careful about displaying her body in such a prominent position.”

Even if the photographer did legally take the pictures, I don’t think it makes it right. Kate Middleton did thrust herself in the spotlight by dating and eventually marrying the future king of England, but she still deserves privacy.

More importantly, what do the photos and their international publication say about journalism? Do journalists no longer respect privacy and integrity of people, famous or otherwise? I certainly hope not.

Do you think Valerie Suau was right in taking the photos? Futhermore, Do you think the Royal Family is right in taking legal action, and will they win the suit?

Student Athletes, or Just Athletes?

“Topping the Olympic medals table was one way that the USSR showed the rest of the world how powerful it was.”

The USSR pioneered training athletes at a young age, as sports boarding schools were a crucial part of their dominance at the Olympics.  Young athletes would practice a single sport or event everyday of the week, ignoring everything else, so they could eventually be the best in the world.  With the collapse of communism, the system has changed, but in many ways it remains the same.

Alen wrestling with a teammate at the Olympic Reserve School in Ekaterinburg, Russia.

At an Olympic Reserve School in Ekaterinburg, Russia, many young athletes train in hopes to represent their country in the near future. Students do not have to pay to attend this school, as Russian teen and Greco-Roman wrestling standout, Alen, has been training five days a week since he was seven. “At first it was just something to do after school. When I started doing well I wanted to make it my career”. One of the school’s best divers, and qualifier for the Olympics in 2012 started swimming before she could walk.

I found an article “How to Grow a Super Athlete”, by Dennis Coyle on his trip to Russia with Elena Rybina, who worked part-time for the Russian Tennis Federation.  Coyle visited Spartak Tennis Club, a dominant club in the tennis world, to see how young athletes train in Russia compared to youngsters in the U.S.  “Tournament pairings regularly became all-Spartak affairs, most memorably the 2004 French Open final, Myskina over Dementieva, the continuation of a rivalry the two began at age 7.” “We are lucky,” Rybina whispered. “The heat is working. When it doesn’t, the kids play in their coats.”  Spartak Tennis Club is another example of the dedicated young athletes have in Russia.

The youngsters of Spartak Tennis Club.

When Coyle arrived, the youngsters were already there sporting heavy coats, carrying tennis rackets, sports duffels and plastic grocery bags. The class was an assortment of 12 kids from ages 4-7 who make the hour long trip to Spartak on a subway three times a week. The kids began their workout with a tough 15 minutes of calisthenics before throwing medicine balls back and forth. In my opinion, that is a tough routine for a 4 year old 3 times a week and many young Americans couldn’t hack it. “Thus the lesson began, and with it the unspoken implication: the great, rusty Spartak machine was coming to life, carrying its cargo of mini-geniuses another step closer toward inevitable glory.”

A few studies have been conducted to try to determine the amount of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation young athletes have. Intrinsic motivation is the motivation the athlete already has without being  pushed by a coach, while extrinsic is motivation that is forced onto the athlete.  In 2011, Marijana Mladenović and Aleksandar Marjanović directed a study, with the hypothesis that there was no difference in intrinsic motivation, but a lot of difference in extrinsic motivation between kids from different countries. The tests showed that youngsters from Serbia and Montenegro had a much higher degree of intrinsic motivation than Russian youngsters.  This shows that the young athletes in Russia are being pushed harder by their coaches or parents than in other countries.

The importance of the Olympics in Russia is awesome because it shows the pride that the country has.  I don’t think it is always in the best interest of the kids to be taking it more seriously than school if that truly is the case.  The Olympic Reserve School system currently in place in Russia is a great idea as long as the kids like being a part of it.  In many eyes, it is more of an honor to go to one of these schools than to go to a high scholarly school in Russia.  From a young age, Russians learn what they are good at, and where their careers will go.


Would you let your child focus strictly on a single sport at the age of 5 with hopes to be an olympian?






Angela Merkel as Adolf Hitler. Really?

England’s Guardian newspaper cartoonist Kipper Williams must be having the time of his life during the current European economic crisis. One of my favorite cartoons from Williams is the prickly bearded Greek footballer wearing a German jersey during the Euro 2012 quarter final match between Germany and Greece.

We’re Greece – [Germany] is just our sponsors.

Referencing German control of their economy, the Greek football team, with ‘Germany’ smeared across the front of their blue jerseys, has fell victim in having to be sponsored by Germany. Even the confused expression on the refs face provokes a smile. He is dumbfounded as the Footballer, holding almost an indifferent expression on his face, explains the situation. Aiming to add a little ‘funny’ spice to the otherwise dismal situation, Kipper Williams stays within the rules of what is ethical and is able to depict the crisis in a soft, humorous, yet provocative way.

During the Euro 2012 Football tournament, cartoons like the aforementioned were making their way quite easily around social media outlets. It was a common discussion amongst my friends: “Hey, did you see that football cartoon? It was a riot! What did you think?” Whether the cartoon was directed toward Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, or even the Germans, it really didn’t matter as everyone was trying to better an otherwise unhappy situation. And while Germany was putting a whooping on Greece, it wasn’t just caricatures being drawn but also jokes being cracked.

@bill_easterly: ‘Greece at halftime of Euro match asks Germany for emergency loan of 4 players.’

To make jokes and sketch caricatures about the other less fortunate crisis-stricken countries is to be expected and as long as markets continue to fall worldwide, artists and jokers will continue to produce what they do best at the expense of others. As fellow writer David J Olsen observed back in June, “…joke-tellers across the globe continue[d] to savor the ever-increasing mountain of comedic material generated by the various races and ethnicities involved in the deepening crisis.”

I don’t see any harm in it as long as the humor (or idea) being presented doesn’t provoke violence, racism, or other similar evils; however, this is not always the case. While funny and humorous Euro crisis material was being spread throughout Europe before, during, and after the Euro 2012, so too was less humoristic, more offensive material.

Depicted in Europe’s media as an unappetizing short, extremely plump centerfold pinup or as a naked, ugly barbarian in hell, German chancellor Angela Merkel and her hard line stance on the Euro zone crisis has become perhaps the most popular popinjay. Many of the depictions are harmless; however, some artists are pushing the limits and meanwhile crossing moral and ethical lines. The most savage and unflattering images are of her as a Nazi.

In February 2012, the Greek newspaper Democratie published an image of Merkel wearing a Nazi colored uniform and carrying the famous Nazi armband on her left arm.

Chancellor Angela Merkel depicted as a Nazi

To reference the Nazis in Greece draws on a long history of national suffering during World War II and the Nazi occupation of Greece. The image led to a number debates in Europe: whether or not it is appropriate – at the very least fair to make such depictions. Nazi imagery is nothing new to the political world. Hitler and the Nazis are common references amongst people who feel subjugated and subordinate – here in America Obama has also been compared with and depicted as Hitler.

President Barack Obama as Adolf Hitler

Although her insistence on austerity rather than aid has been a sore spot amongst Europeans, her actions are a far cry from being anything related to the Nazi era. Comparing her to a past world leader that intentionally murdered six million + innocent people seems quite absurd.

Not everyone, however, feels the same as columnist Jakob Augstein states: “Her abrasive pro-austerity policies threaten everything that previous German governments had accomplished since World War II. …[Merkel] is a radical politician, not a conservative one.”

Although this observation does look to the past to find comparisons, I don’t believe Augstein is insinuating that Merkel is some sort of Hitler-type leader. She has simply failed to observe her predecessors’ achievements (post-Hitler) and has taken a course of her own. A course that Augstein apparently disagrees with.

In response to the images, chief whip of Merkel’s conservatives Michael Grosse-Broemer says “I am not worried (about Merkel’s image abroad) because the characterizations of the chancellor can be explained by her support for something other than simple, popular demands.” He goes on to say, “I think some emotionally-driven judgments about this great chancellor are off the mark.”

I am in agreement with Grosse-Broemer and would further state that the comparison is old, unintelligent, unfair, and disgusting. Many people do find Angela Merkel threatening, such as Mendi Hasan who says “Merkel is the most dangerous German leader since Hitler.” Such a statement, however, is over-the-top and, at the very least, very forgetful of what Hitler did while in power.

It is not the same as criticizing Merkel and saying she has veered away from her predecessors’ politics as Augstein suggests. Instead, Hasan’s remark deliberately inserts the Hitler comparison. To present Merkel as a barbarian or even the ever-so-frightening Terminator can indeed be on topic (as well as humorous) despite its absurdities, but to reference Adolf Hitler and his Nazi counterparts is uneducated, and, at the very least, over the line.

Angela Merkel as the Terminator

For too long Germans have had to deal with their bothersome shadows of the past. It is just fine to disagree, poke fun, and create humorous images of public figures. Whatever other European countries are going though, I can’t imagine it being worse than what people had to endure from 1933 until 1945.

Dresden, Germany after the allied bombings.

The comparison, in my mind, doesn’t even work. It is time to divorce these present day Germans (and their leaders) from their long removed Nazi past.

A protest and march in Athens, Greece.

Quick source reference:
http://www.newsfromtheend.com/2012/06/euro-zone-crisis-opens-floodgates-for.html (David J Olson)

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/politics/2012/06/angela-merkels-mania-austerity-destroying-europe (Mendi Hasan)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/28/us-eurozone-germany-merkel-idUSBRE85R0BM20120628 (Michael Grosse-Broehmer)

Made in Athens in the13th International Architectural Exhibition


The 13th Venice Architecture Biennale opened to the public Aug 29th, which will run until Nov 25th. The exhibition is one of the most influential international architectural exhibitions, which takes place every other year.  Under this year’s theme,  “Common ground,” 69 projects made by architects, critiques and scholars were spread in the Central Pavilion at the Giardini in Italy.

Among those displayed in each nation’s pavilion, “Made in Athens” in Greek pavilion draws attention with a reflection of the nation’s contemporary social, economic status.

Greek pavilion’s official press release described contemporary Athens as a city of two contradictions; “a city whose particular identity was shaped during post- World-War-II reconstruction, and a city tha

t was most stricken by the current economic crisis.”

Then it says these contradictions are shaping a particular dynamic in the city, creating conditions in Athens to “expand the links between architecture and the city, both during the economic downturn, but also after it has passed.”

ArchDaily critiqued that “the Greek pavilion aims highlight these positive forces emerging during his crucial present moment in an effort to foreshadow a better future for the city and its architecture.”

Another architectural review from GreekArchitects.gr said “’Common Ground’ at the Greek Pavilion not only is successfully expressed, but is the main protagonist as the pavilion’s visitor is invited to take ‘a walk into the city’, a metaphoric parameter that the curators cleverly integrated in its design.”

How familiar are you with a role of architecture in a society? The Roman architect Vitruvius in the early 1st century AD emphasized three aspects of it: Durability, utility and beauty, which means it should remain in good condition, function well and raise people’s spirits.

In this sense, Greek Pavilion in the exhibition delineated well the situation of the city of Athens, and presented the city identity and foreshadowed the new living and urban behavior in Athenian “Common ground.”








Russian Student’s Traditions – Are We Really That Different?

No matter what school you’ve attended, chances are some of your fondest memories, whether cheering for your favorite football team, or swimming in the fountains during finals week, were all part of a long standing tradition.  At least for me, traditions give us the backdrop against which we see ourselves as the successors to those that came before us. Repeating these same actions we tie ourselves and our hearts to those places where we spent so much of our time and efforts. I think it’s important to see how we remember those times because it’s such a common denominator across cultures.

School traditions give us a reason to connect ourselves to our Alma Mater and regardless of where that place might be located, all places have certain rituals that students will cherish and remember.

In Russia, the school year begins on September 1st known as День Знаний (The Day of Knowledge.) This is an exciting time in the lives of Russian students. Parents and students come to celebrate the 1st day of school and it’s marked with assemblies, speeches from local veterans and the faculty welcoming the students back and wishing them success in their studies. Flowers are often presented to the teachers, poems are read by the upcoming senior students and in some towns a 1st grade girl is hoisted on the shoulders of a senior male student and paraded around as she rings the “Первый Звонок” (First Bell) heralding the start of the academic year. After the assembly the 1st year students are led by 11th graders to their classes. This is a time honored tradition and despite its Soviet roots has easily made the transition to the present day. Comparing my own memories of the first day of school here in the United States, it sounds like Russian students might have a bit more fun during their first day back. – source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_Day

Opening Ceremonies – 1st of September – Simferopol

Uniforms are a big part of the Russian school tradition. Girls and boys dress in their best outfits, especially to mark the beginning and end of the academic year. Although not necessarily a requirement in all schools, the tradition is making it’s way back into the lives of Russian students as uniforms are expected to become mandatory.

 School Uniforms Coming Back?

Soviet Children on their way to School
Photo Credit: RIA NOVESTI

Uniforms usually consist of a suit and tie for the boys. Back in the days of the Soviet Union and even prior to that, during Tsarist times, the boys uniforms sometimes reflected military roots. Since most men upon graduation would find their way into the Armed Forces, it was only natural to begin some of their military education while still in school.

The dress code for girls usually consists of important items. A black dress is worn, over which goes a white apron. Stockings are worn but the fun part, as my mother recalled were the hair bows. Girls would compete to see who could wear the biggest bows and great care was taken to look your very best in front of your peers.

While there is a potential backlash against schools requiring uniforms; I would suspect that most people would generally want to wear whatever they choose. However, it seems that especially when it comes to holidays and celebrations, uniforms are just part of the culture. On those days students will wear a sash around them, but most of the time the sash is reserved for graduation and marks the wearer as a proud graduate completing his or her years in school.


More info on Russian school uniforms here: http://listen2russian.com/russian-culture/last-bell/last-bell.html

One of the biggest days in a Russian student’s life is Graduation Day. Although the experience is probably just as exciting from our own memories – Russian’s do love to put out all stops when it comes to having a last send-off for their students.

Graduation in Russian schools is the long-awaited cherished memory for many students. Just as in the beginning of the year, the Last Bell (Последний звонок) is rung to signal that school is finally over for the graduates. Usually around May 25th, the academic year comes to a close and many students take this opportunity to have one last party with their friends before departing for the next stage in their lives. To paraphrase a lesson from “http://listen2russian.com/russian-culture/last-bell/last-bell.html“, the getting ready and taking extra care to look sharp on their last day, students dress up in traditional school attire. The entire school gets involved in the preparations for these festivities. The day is marked by assemblies, speeches, tearful farewells and warm wishes for the future. Following the same traditions as on the 1st day of the year, a 1st grader accompanied by a graduating senior rings the last bell signaling that 11 years of academic studies are finally over for the graduates.


Just as in any country, students take the opportunity of their new found freedom to celebrate in their own style. The day is usually marked with parties, walking around the cities parks, and most students find their way to the fountains where it is tradition to splash around. Most can easily imagine what takes places at the end of the day when the recent graduates, realizing that this might be the last time with their school friends, get together for parties to mark the end of one chapter in their lives and the beginning of a new one. Although the party culture is as much a part of student life in Russia as it is in the U.S., I feel it’s interesting and different enough to warrant it’s own blog post. After all, they’re Russian students and that part of their culture is a rich and fascinating story all it’s own.

Despite having graduated from school, the students are not quite finished with their academic obligations. They now have to pass the official state exam for graduates and receive their diploma. The Единые государственные экзамены (ЕГЭ) – or Unified State Exams are held about one week after the completion of the academic year. The diploma won’t come for at least a month. But once it does, it’s time to celebrate again!

Russia’s equivalent to Prom takes place after everything else is finally over. It’s called the выпускной бал, (Graduate’s Ball) and the evening is filled with familiar prom dresses, dancing and a final conclusion to their time together much like the ones experienced in the U.S.


My best memories of senior year came from the last days of school. When the anxiety of exams is finally over, graduation has come and gone, and a last farewell party with friends still ringing in my ears, my thoughts turned toward the exciting realization that my next journey was up to me. It seems that my experiences are not so different from my Russian compatriots after all. Despite the differences in academic structure and even academic traditions, the desire to celebrate together and reflect on a closing chapter of our lives binds all students in their memories.

I am sure that there are a few traditions that I might’ve overlooked and I am very happy to invite you to share your own.  What traditions do you have at your school? Are any of these similar to your own?

– Dima


Some worthwhile links I found on this subject –

Quick overview of September 1st Holiday:


A small collection of photographs from that day:


Very interesting blog/article about the Last Bell celebrations. This one has a lot of information on the uniforms and traditions. I highly recommend giving it a click.


Great collection of photographs of a Russian school and it’s students:


An expatriates experience with the Russian school system:


Neo-Nazis in Greece

Since their election to Greek Parliament in June, the popularity of Golden Dawn, Greece’s fascist party, has been on the rise. After the elections, public support for Golden Dawn polled around six percent. In the four months since, Golden Dawn supporters have been associated with escalating violence against immigrants and increasingly nationalistic and jingoistic displays of “Greek-Only” pride, including “Greek-Only” food drives and blood banks.

Alarmingly, in a poll released late last week, national support for Golden Dawn was up almost four points with support for the party polling around ten percent. As the Greek economy continues to crumble, the conditions are ripe for a party scapegoating foreign powers and immigrants as responsible for Greek troubles. But what is perhaps even less surprising is that Europe has seen this before: a fascist party gaining power and popularity in the face of economic crisis and the imposition of harsh austerity measures.

You need not look any further than the rhetoric the party has adopted in the advancement of their platform to see some obvious parallels. The official party song is a direct translation of a “Nazi Stormtrooper hymn” and their motto, “blood, honor, Golden Dawn,” a direct translation of the motto of the Nazi SA. They even sell copies of Mein Kampf at their headquarters.

Watch a NYT video report on Golden Dawn.

Yet the news surrounding Golden Dawn is not all bad. The government, journalists and civil dissidents alike are beginning to stand against the party.

Last week, Justice Minister Antonis Roupakiotis announced that racially motivated crimes now carry a minimum three year sentence. Roupakiotis was blunt in his explanation of the legislation, saying:

“We condemn in the strongest possible way every act of violence, and especially actions by members and supporters of Golden Dawn against immigrants or other citizens. We believe this is an insult to our long-standing notions of justice and the defense of human rights. It is a threat to harmony in society and creates the conditions to develop fascist and neo-Nazi ideology.”

Greek hospitals have called Golden Dawn’s “Greek-only” blood drives “repulsive” and have promised to deliver blood based only on need, never on race.

Twice this year, unknown individuals have destroyed Golden Dawn offices, first in the town of Patras and mostly recently in Central Athens.

The Greek Federation of Journalists warned warned “Hitler nostalgics” that they would not be intimidated and would continue to vocalize their opposition to the party and its Neo-Nazi tactics.

While the mainstream response to Golden Dawn is heartening, the rise of the party is nonetheless deeply unsettling. As Americans, we view institutionalized racism and fascism as a thing of the past. We also tend to the dismiss the possibility of an authoritarian regime rising to power in a modern Western nation.

But the frightening reality is that we are watching this very situation unfold in Greece. Economic stress and uncertainty about the future has led at least ten percent of Greeks to express support for a party eerily reminiscent of the Nazi party in Germany. Conditions in Greece today and the Weimar Republic following World War I are not dissimilar. Unemployment and inflation have skyrocketed. Both nations owe or owed a tremendous debt to other European powers (ironically, Greece owes a substantial portion of its debt to Germany).

People in Greece are looking for answers and Golden Dawn is more than happy to provide them: the foreigners, the socialists and the EU are responsible for Greece’s problems. Blame them. Greece is for Greeks. And Golden Dawn will fight like hell to keep it that way.

Let’s hope like hell they don’t get that far.

Greek Theatre: Back from the Dead

The father of Greek tragedy will rise from the dead in Athens. Aeschylus won’t actually rise, but his great work, Prometheus Bound, will have another go in the Theatre of Dionysus. Kind of. Let me just break it down for you.

Let us first let the scene in a place where theatre came to be:  the Theater of Dionysus.  Built in 6th century BC, stands as one of the oldest stone theaters in existence, though it was rebuilt in 4th century BC by the same people; the rebuilding added the fine luxury of marble seating–how swank. Created in the side of a natural slope, the theater could seat up to 17,000 spectators in 64 rows, though only 20 still exist.

Theatre of Dionysos

Theatre of Dionysus

Before we go any further, we should talk about where this new work came from. Monologue, the title of the new piece, originated from Prometheus Bound. The tale, one that most people know, covers the story of Prometheus and his theft of fire from the gods. The piece derived its new title of Monologue because it bases itself off of two monologues from the original piece.


Depiction of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods

Next up we have our cast! Aeschylus, the great, although deceased, poet, and George Kouroupos, the talented man selected to revive the work of our dearly departed dramatist.  Aeschylus, rumored to be born in 525 BC, is credited as the creator of the second character, thus creating dramatic dialogue. This original thespian also gave birth to two major elements of theatre, scenery and costuming. Who knew that a man who fought in the battle of Marathon would make such a difference to theatre?

Our other cast member, George Kouroupos, created the new concert premiering September 22nd. Kouroupos also worked on the tribute to the great poet Odysseus Elytis and the 100th anniversary of Elytis’ birth. Elytis is seen as one of the greatest Greek poets of recent years, so composing a concert in his name really boosts résumé potential.

Monologues, dedicated to all the archeologists and preservationist of the Theater of Dionysus, opens on September 22nd in the south of Acropolis. This event should not be missed. Often, old theaters, such as the one mentioned above, is only used as a place to tour and nothing more. A type of ‘keep your hands and feet in the vehicle at all times’ ride. Without people, the theater has no blood. When the stage lacks a story, it renders the space brain dead. Monologues though, gives it a pulse, it brings it all back to life.