Few Choices for Merkel in Russian-Ukrainian Conundrum

Putin and Merkel in 2007 (Frank Augstein|AP)

Putin and Merkel in 2007 (Frank Augstein|AP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is between a rock and a hard place these days. Being the leader of the country that’s financially propping up the European Union is tough enough without throwing in a balancing act when the Russian president flies off the handle while holding the EU’s natural gas pipes in one hand and Ukraine in the other.

Background

If you have had a hard time following this whole ordeal with Ukraine, here is how the whole thing got started, in a nut shell. Late last year, the Western half of Ukraine wanted to become more integrated with the European Union -you know, break down some trade barriers and sell some grain to their neighbours (Ukraine is the world’s 3rd largest grain exporter)-.   The Eastern part of Ukraine is very pro-Russia and no so very pro EU. Viktor Yanukovych was the president at the time, and he was from the East and has a lot of Russian Support. (For a much more analytical, visual, and rather pro-Western Ukraine explanation, check out Max Fisher’s blog post for the Washington Post)

Clashes between Western protesters and the government get out of hand and Yanukovych flees (deeper explanation on Fisher’s Blog). The Ukrainian parliament decides to make the chairman of parliament the acting president. Putin decides that Yanukovych is still the president, and that parliament’s actions are unacceptable; so Putin gets the Russian parliament to grant him permission to use military force. Russian troops move into Crimea (a section of the Eastern part of Ukraine), in order to “quell protests,” but also to set the scene for Crimea to be annexed by Russia (something that the Ukrainian parliament is now set t vote on).

The UK prime minister, David Cameron, and the US president, Barack Obama, are working with Chancellor Merkel in trying to find a way to deescalate tensions in Crimea.

Merkel’s Dilema

Obama has already put a hold on bank accounts and travel documents for Russians and Ukrainians who support Putin’s actions and undermine Ukrainian autonomy. Merkel, on the other hand, is in no such position to hold Russia accountable.

As you can see from this lovely map that Wikier Samuel Bailey shared on wikipedia, most of Europe’s natural gas comes from Russia. This means that Merkel has to be very careful in dealing with the man who has his hand on the tap.As NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, pointed out on The Rachel Maddow Show that this dynamic was forcing Merkel to play “good cop” to Obama’s “bad cop.”

Major_russian_gas_pipelines_to_europe

John Cassidy, a political blogger for The New Yorker, seems to think Merkel is the key fixing this situation:

If there is a solution to the crisis, it may lay in Berlin, in the personage of Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor and the de facto leader of the European Union. Since the Russian troops moved into Crimea, Merkel has said little publicly, confining herself to a few anodyne comments about “preserving the territorial integrity” of Ukraine. Behind the scenes, though, she is at the center of things. And, if anybody can persuade Putin that it is in his interests to order his soldiers back to their barracks, she might be the one.

On March 12th, Merkel quit playing “good cop” and gave a speech making it clear that military intervention would not be an option on the side of the EU or its member states. She did, however, say that it Russia were to take Crimea away from Ukraine, it would severely impact the relationship that Russia has with the EU and that Russia’s economy would suffer.

A video with English subtitles of her speech can be found here (unfortunately not many sites have an English translation because American media is currently focused on the disappearance of a Malaysian airplane). If you sprechen Sie Deutsch, you can watch Merkel’s full speech, below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UX-iWr3WGBc

As you can imagine, the whole situation has been cause for great angst all over the world, and European bloggers have been particularly vocal about it. Many are vocal purely in the sense that they are history buffs or news junkies and unlike the media, who recounts the events of the day, they want to give you a holistic picture of the whole affair. One such blog was written by Jean Quatremer, with help from Lorraine Millot, of the French news site Liberation. The duo try to present the facts of the entire situation in an unbiased manner for their readers.

Other blogs offer less of a picture and more an opinion. A user called vincimus, on the German blog site Terra-Germania, is outraged. He (or possibly she) plays the  role of the conspiracy theorist. He writes in short sentences with vague references to different events and explanations of the situation. Vincimus asserts that Americans and Unkrainian “oligarchs” stormed parliament to overthrow the elected president and states that 10o,000 voices have been allowed to make the decisions of 44 million people.

In a political blog post on Stern.de, Von Lutz Kinkel agrees with Merkel, for the most part, but asserts that she’s just going through the motions. He believes that essentially, Crimea has already been lost to Russia. He says that Merkel can’t admit this, because if she does it essentially tells Russia that annexing other countries is acceptable and they can continue doing such things with no consequences. Kinkel appears to support the idea of the EU and Germany sanctioning Russia, but balances this thought by asking if they can morally implement sanctions when Germany has gone against international law in the past.

As for you, Dear Reader…

If you were to ask me, I would actually advise not to read any blogs about this situation. The fact is bloggers (including myself) get things wrong. If they had the necessary expertise to tell you the whole story, they wouldn’t be a blogger; they’d be a journalist, historian, or academic. Bloggers have interesting opinions, but they often like to present them as fact.

What you should really do is follow a news service like the BBC, who covers the context of the situation, the politics involved, and gets the first hand interviews with the people -from the politicians to the refugees- on the ground. Alternatively, you could follow Human Rights Watch, who has boots on the ground during situations like these and aggregates first hand accounts into reports and press releases.

Blogs, in these situations, are really just a bunch of noise; and it makes me hate to read them. 

Putin: President, Athlete or Superhero?

In the eyes of many, Vladimir Putin is a complete badass.

Vladimir Putin

In Russia, sports are very popular to all ages, but as I have made clear in my previous posts, Russia’s view on popularity is distinct from others. From Formula 1 racing to chess boxing (yes, it really exists), it seems Russian’s desire for adrenaline is unlike all counterparts.

Chess Boxing in Russia

This need for adrenaline seems to be present in Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin as he enjoys hang gliding, sky diving and scuba diving.  Putin has played a major role in the development of sports in Russia. In 2007, Putin made a fully fluent English speech that resulted in a successful bid for Sochi to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.  He aided Russia in earning the right to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup for the first time.  Currently very popular online and through social media, Putin has been seen doing outlandish acts to promote sports and a healthy way of life to Russians.

Unlike the U.S.A. in my opinion, Russia has a greater appreciation for sports outside of the most popular ones (football, basketball, baseball and soccer).  Maybe this is because Putin leads by example.  Putin participates in alpine skiing, formula 1 racing and big game hunting, and at the same time,  people enjoy watching him.  Much like President Obama has been reported playing basketball with the University of North Carolina among other places, Putin competes, just at a more adventurous level.  Recently,

Adorned in white overalls – to resemble a bird – Vladimir Putin spent some of Wednesday leading in a different capacity, heading a flock of crane birds in flight from a hang glider. The stunt already has the Russian blogosphere alight. –RT.com

Such stunts have become a trademark of Vladimir Putin since he first became President in 2000. He once shot a rare tiger with a stun dart before putting a tracking device on him, and two years ago shot a whale with an arrow containing a tracking device from a crossbow. –RT.com

Putin flies with rare cranes 

In February 2011, Vladimir Putin promised to learn to skate well enough to play hockey. He started training with Alexei Kasatonov, a famous hockey player, and just two months later Putin was a confident skater. Recently Putin played in an event featuring Russian Legends of hockey against an amattuer team that Putin played with.

You read that correctly. Putin took the ice for an amateur hockey team that was squaring off in an exhibition game against a group of some of Russia’s biggest hockey legends. The match took place literally hours after Putin was sworn in. The fact Putin played in a hockey game might be surprising as is. The fact Putin set up the game-tying goal and scored the game-winning goal in a shootout is remarkable. –Bloguin

Vladimir Putin plays hockey vs. Russia’s Legends

At the age of 60, there are backlashes from Putin’s actions on the ice.  Recently reports have surfaced that:

Russia’s sky-diving, wolf-hunting, horseback riding president has suffered a “sports injury,” according to his spokesman, but some Kremlin watchers insist something more serious is afoot. – The Atlantic Wire

The injury is often talked about in the twitter world as well as people are concerned about the health of Putin, and how this lifestyle effects the President.

Twitter voices concerns on Putin’s health.

The fact that Putin leads the charge by playing sports and living a healthy life surely plays a role in the promotion of athletics, but how big of a role is uncertain. I think it would be exciting to see Barrack Obama strap on a helmet and pads and take part in the NFL Pro bowl, but I don’t ever see that happening.  I doubt it would be viewed  highly by Americans if our President was spending time shooting tigers and whales, but I personally would enjoy watching him do it, especially if it would promote young people to go out and be adventurous.

 

Putin: an end to match-fixing

Would you ever “throw” a sports game?
What if you were offered $100,000?

It is wrong to damage the integrity of the game, no matter how large the benefit is. For years there have been conspiracies of match-fixing in almost every sport. Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is trying to end this misconduct in his home country.

1919 Black Sox Scandal

When the topic of match-fixing comes up, the most famous event that comes to mind is the “Black Sox” Scandal that took place during the 1919 World Series. “Sport” Sullivan, a gambler from New York, offered $80,000 to eight Chicago White Sox players to “throw” the series so he could cash in on a bet. The scandal was brought to light and all eight players were suspended from Major League Baseball for life.

Match-fixing is still commonly talked about on Twitter, especially after a referee makes a bad call. Whether the accusations are true or not, people love to talk about it.

Twitter on Match-fixing

In Russia, there have always been conspiracies of match-fixing, and rightfully so, with the numerous instances that seem obvious. The Fix Is In, home of the nation’s most skeptical fan and #1 sports conspiracy theorist, listed many times match-fixing may have played a role in sports. To point out a few from the list that  occurred in Russian sports :

1970s-80s – During the height of the Russian hockey program, its greatest team was known as the Moscow Red Army (TSKA). During this time, the team’s skate sharpener, the president of Sparta Moscow (TSKA’ chief rival), TSKA St. Petersburg team president and the president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation were all murdered by the Russian mafia. Most believe all of these murders were linked to gambling and game fixes.

2003 – Belarus goalie Valery Shantolosov was arrested for attempting to fix two Euro qualifying matches. Though Shantolosov did not play in either game, he was connected to Russian gamblers and accused of attempting to bribe and otherwise influence the outcome of these games. His team lost both contests.

2009 – The WTA looked into a suspicious ending of a tennis match between U.S. Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki after she unexpectedly retired from a match winning 7-5, 5-0 (meaning she was a single game away from winning). Wozniacki claimed afterwards that she was injured early in the first set, and her father instructed her to quit when she did, afraid of her further injuring herself. Betting on the match had swung heavily to her opponent prior to Wozniacki quitting.”

Putin discussing match-fixing

President Putin has decided to step up his effort to end corruption in Russian sports. Putin will introduce a bill into Russia’s parliament that increases jail time for anyone involved in match-fixing. Violaters will be subject for up to seven years in prison, which also includes fines up to 1 million roubles ($32,000).

Reported by Gennady Fyodorov of Oztips on Yahoo Sports, “FIFPro, the global union for professional players, published a survey of nearly 3,400 players from Eastern Europe this year that attributed match-fixing in Russia was as high as 43.5 percent.”  While I think the new law is a step in the right direction, 43.5 percent is a significant amount of corruption.  It remains to be seen how effective these measures really are when the odds are stacked against them. Just how big of an effect can this really have, considering the scope of this worldwide problem? I can’t respond with a definite answer, but at least we have a starting point.

With Russia set to host the 2014 Winter Olympics and 2018 World Cup, there is no room for match-fixing. It is important for Russia to implement these laws promptly, before they are set to be on the world’s stage.

 

In Soviet Russia, Meme Makes You! – Top 5 Russian Memes

Troll Family

Self-Portrait of Author and Family

Disclaimer: This is a somewhat picture intensive post written with my horrible excuse for humor. Also some memes are explicit. Deal with it.

Okay, so you’re asking yourself – what is a meme? How do you even say that word? To be honest I mispronounce “saLmon” so I am probably not going to be the best person to tell you. Thank God for the interwebz though as Dictionary.com says this:

Meme: a cultural item that is transmitted by repetition in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes.

Analogous to the biological transmission of genes indeed, Sir!

The web is a scary place that wears a nice clean UPS uniform so soccer moms can get their “50 Shades of Gray” from Amazon without ever having to face the dark netizens lurking just below the surface. Peel back a layer and it’s Alice in Wonderland all over again.

Memes are the spawn of the internet subculture that is increasingly becoming a force to be reckoned with. The use of memes is even seen during this year’s elections.  NPR wrote an article showcasing the emergence of what some call an internet subculture in political campaigns.

NPR: Political Memes: Fast, Cheap, And Out Of Control?

and Politico.com has a gallery featuring some of the funniest memes from this election

BUT I am soooo tired of all the politics lately, as I am sure you are too my dear reader – cause your here – on this site, so grab your binders full of women or if you prefer, women full of binders and lets explore something that you might have to explain to your kids someday. Like why I put a trollface over my daughter. And why it’s hilarious. Despite what my wife says.

I love memes. I really do. And you should too. If you haven’t already swallowed both pills and dove headfirst down the rabbit hole into the wonderful world of memes, lolcats and ragefaces like I have then come, friend – I have some things to show you. (Stifles sinister giggle)

 

Rage Face Indeed

mmhm, yes.

Here’s a quick backstory to what the hell all of this is. Just blame 4Chan. It’s the proverbial evil red-headed step-child that grew up when you were out with your “real family” – and he just stole your truck. Well, you had that one coming – but really 4chan and places like it are the beloved dingy attics and basements of the internet where netizens hang out, post pictures, news, humor, anything goes really – and the result is memes.

They are ideas that are warped and shaped by society. They change depending on whoever is making them and for me that’s the best part. You can see evolution in progress as an idea or image is shaped by each person interested in adding their own touch. So, “transmitted by repetition in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes” is actually a fairly accurate description of how memes are created: interwebz sex. Just kidding. They are a conglomerate of whoever made them, where they came from, and now they’re in politics.

Meanwhile in Russia

Putin: FFFFFFUUUUUUU!

Okay, okay – I promised to stop with the politics. But clearly Putin is a force of nature, and has spawned countless memes. So I think it’s fair to include him on this list. Oh yeah – the list. Well, the whole purpose of this post was to introduce you to Russian memes and here I am spouting off about the history, culture, blah blah boring. So! Without – much particular order other than my own personal preference and further – further ado…

5) In Soviet Russia…

Known as the Russian reversal – no that’s not something you can try in the bedroom – it was created by this guy:

Yakov Smirnoff

Welcome to the interwebz friend, I will be your guide.

Yakov Smirnoff is a Ukrainian born American comedian who came up with the classic Russian reversal back in the 80’s. The jokes goes something like this:

In America, you put ‘In God We Trust’ on your money.
In Russia, we have no money! 

It’s funny cause it’s true. (Right?) I actually have no clue, but you get the idea. The Russian reversal is now a staple of internet memeology (I totally made that word up.) The Russian reversal has taken on new forms since being brought back from 80’s and variations on this theme are a popular way to satirize what is happening in Russia.

It’s sister meme, if there is such a thing, would be the “Meanwhile in Russia” theme that has those words usually captioning some ridiculous thing that happens only in Russia. Like you know, Bear Cavalry.  Knowyourmeme.com is a great resource to find the backstory on any meme which means that’s pretty much where I “got” my expansive knowledge on this subject. But here’s the source.

An example of a modern take on this meme:

in Soviet Russia, Waldo Finds You

Waldo – Much bigger when you meet him up close.

4) Preved Medved!

Prived Medved, - Russian Bear Surprises Campers

Pictured: Preved Medved, distant relative to Pedo-bear

A painting by John Lurie was adopted and evolved into a Russian meme that’s been popping up all over the Federation (A much cooler name than just Russia), faster than a case of Yakov Smirnoff. Hitting it’s peak sometime in June of 2007 it’s still a great example of good ol’ Russian shenanigans.

Twitter screen grab of Preved Medved

Hint: It’s all about Preved Medved

A query on the Russian search site Yandex.ru (slightly explicit) brings up good examples of the evolution of this particular bear.

It’s even alive on the glorified facebook status site Twatter. I refuse to bring myself to take that site seriously and there’s nothing you can do to change that. (Clasps ears, lalalalalalala)

If any of you know Russian, welcome my fellow spies, you will notice that Preved is a wrong spelling of Privet (Hello). It’s on purpose. I am not quite sure I understand the reasons but apparently it’s a play on words. I guess you just have to be Russian. I am only a half-ling.

Combination Pedo-bear and Killroy was here with a healthy dose of political satire, Preved Medveds entire premise for a joke is just his presence.

Cracked does a great article on two of the memes I am mentioning. Also this.

3) Putin – Brosef Ballen’?

Putin in a Bear Coat

I can certainly see where he gets his charm.

 

Not much has to be said to know where this is going. I am fascinated by this man. He really is a force of nature. The man brought Russia back from the brink of economic ruin but at the cost of judo-chopping freedom in the neck.

This is where Prived Medved gets his political kick from. Medved is a play on Medvedev – the now former Russian President, who was largely seen as a lackey to the man George Bush once referred to as “Cold Blooded”.

If any of you haven’t been keeping up with the news from the Motherland; Medvedev served his term and Putin was re-elected – for his third term in office – because you know, why not? Oh and possible election fraud. But hey, what’s a good election without some scandals, or choice?

The man himself literally is a walking meme-generator. He took controls of a plane that was putting out wildfires since he was a trained pilot (not) and proceeded to show the pilots how putting out fires is all about. Prezident style.

When he’s not busy kicking fires in the teeth, he hunts tigers – with tranquilizer darts so it’s humane, judo chops his way into possibly competing in the Russian Olympic team, drives formula 1 race-cars like it’s no biggie, and generally likes to show everyone just how much bigger and badder his Machismo is by literally doing anything that looks cool.

Oh and let’s not forget he is a former KGB spy.

He’s got an incredible PR campaign that follows him around and records him doing stuff like this:

Putin hunting shirtless

Can we make our President’s do this?

 

You can see that this guy is a gold-mine. He’s got  pop songs written about him. Girls are sending him calenders full of “Tasteful” pictures for his birthday. Bensozia does a quick blurb on him and and to get you started on your journey to Putin picture land, here’s a magazine with some of his best bits.

Essentially Putin wants to be seen as this guy that can do anything. Wildfires? No problem. Terrorists – Bury them. Domestic resentment? Putin smash! And the image is working for him. This guy knows what he’s doing and he’s got a long term plan. I just hope I am on his good side.

Putin Flying on a Crane

Delivering babies to all Russian mothers himself.

2) PhotoExtreme

This is kind of like planking. Someone lies facedown across or on top of unique places and someone else takes a picture. This joke is someone planking. Russian’s probably didn’t get it as ending up lying face down on benches is a pretty common sight over there, or so I’ve heard. In PhotoExtreme the goal is to come up with a scenario and act it out with your friends then take a picture and post. Fun right? Well, as usual bonus points are awarded for “creativity” or as Russians like to call it, danger.

 

Russian Photoextreme meme

Apparently – this happens often

Passerby’s were treated to similar scenes all over Russia as netizens had some fun with their cameras. The goal is to depict some kind of scene. The weirder the better. This meme has elements of the flashmob as people in character chase zombies with chainsaws, hang out of windows, or take bath’s in the street all in broad daylight. It’s no wonder Russian’s never smile in public, they’ve probably seen some things man. It’s the wild west out there as far as the limits go. Cracked breaks it down even further.

1) Russian Youtube Videos

Russia itself has become a meme. It has become a symbol of extreme behavior. Youtube is filled with examples of students chugging vodka before class. Dashcam’s capture crazy driving on a seemingly daily basis and gangs of teenagers roam the city using the buildings as their own playground/gym. You gotta love it. Simply type Russia in Youtube and the world shows you how busy this country is.

From drunkards fighting in the streets to people throwing themselves in front of cars for insurance scams; this place has become the standard for extreme behavior.It’s really the level against which

Because anyone willing enough to do this has a lot more pirozhki’s than I do:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORA9CGTAR8w

Russian Homemade Bungee Jump

Did you watch that? Cause you should – it’s a homemade bungee jump. Let me re-emphasis the “homemade” in that sentence. In no way is this safe. Yet it’s the kind of behavior that’s prevalent amongst our Russian comrades on the side of the world – at least the virtual world.

Well what about other extreme sports? Parkour for example? Parkour? No problem. Here’s Russia’s answer to Parkour:

Russian At It Once Again

Yep – whatever it is, Russia probably has a more extreme version of it somewhere. I bet if they got a hold of that flying suit, they’d probably see how drunk they can get while they jump.

 

Manliness Level Russian meme

Why? Because Russia – That’s why

Lolwut?

So that’s it in a nutshell. Welcome to the wonderful world of memes. If this is your first time joining us it won’t be the last time seeing us. This is internet pop-culture and it’s going to be heard. The beauty of memes is that they’re made by the people. Anybody with a computer can create one about anything in the world. And it can go viral. That brings with it a certain weight that shouldn’t be disregarded.

I really think they should be given a lot more attention as an important part of public voice.  The ability to shoot your message all over the internet and have it be seen by millions of people. Then watch as it evolves, changes and ultimately becomes part of the internet culture can be extremely rewarding. So try making your own, it’s really not hard:

http://memegenerator.net/ – basic meme builder

 http://ragegenerator.com/ – rage comic builder

 

– Dima

A Punk Band’s Prayer – Deliver Us from Putin

“Open all the doors, tear off your epaulets

Come, taste freedom with us.“

Pussy Riot

Russia’s literature and music has always had a political connotation to it. With no outlet to vent their frustrations, Russia’s artists, writers and poets have been some of their country’s greatest patriots and also its biggest critics. The recent controversy over the state’s punishment of a punk bands “concert” has ignited the passions of Russia’s youth about the issue of free speech. The band Pussy Riot performed a controversial anti-Kremlin concert in a Moscow cathedral to the delight of their fans and to the disgust of the authorities all the way up to Putin himself.

Hooliganism is an official charge that can carry a sentence anywhere between 3 to 8 years in prison and it’s the state’s official charge brought upon the bands member. It’s also likely to stick. This is Russia – and sometimes it shows just how different it can be.

 

What drives these young women’s hearts? Nadezhda Tolokonnikova explains in her closing statements.

“We were searching for real sincerity and simplicity, and we found these qualities in the yurodstvo [holy foolishness] of punk. Passion, total honesty, and naivete are superior to the hypocrisy, mendacity, and false modesty that are used to disguise crime. The so-called leading figures of our state stand in the Cathedral with righteous faces on, but, in their cunning, their sin is greater than our own ” – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

 

The road to free speech in Russia has long known the heavy hand of the state. Demonstrations have historically been met with riot police, tanks, tear gas and paramilitary police forces. Yet today’s tech-savvy generation has given dissidents a new voice through social media. With the ability to organize protests through online services like Facebook and Twitter, Russian authorities have a hard time in reacting to the growth of such gatherings. Pussy Riots lyric’s might be considered crude by some but they deliver a powerful message of dissent that Dostoevsky would be proud of.

In a way, the band’s usage of Orthodox imagery signals a return to a kind of pure spiritualism that was pervasive amongst Russian literary legends. The nihilistic search for truth, a kind of purity and transparency guides the band’s political and spiritual goals.

“It was our search for truth that led us to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. I think that Christianity, as I understood it while studying the Old and especially the New Testament, supports the search for truth and a constant overcoming of oneself, the overcoming of what you were earlier.”

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

Pussy Riot’s case is easy to categorize as a simple matter of state vs. free speech, however Vadim Nikitin, a contributor to The New York Times in his article “The Wrong Reasons to Back Pussy Riot” points out that the band had a bad tendency to actually incite riots. Despite the apparent “Kangaroo Court” put on by the state, the band does have some legitimate criminal offenses to answer for. Nadezhda’s moving words in her closing statements seems to be an effective smoke screen for her participation in a public orgy – while pregnant as a form of protest – (Nadezhda’s profile). Vadim says,

“The members of Pussy Riot are not liberals looking for self-expression. They are self-confessed descendants of the surrealists and the Russian futurists, determined to radically, even violently, change society.”source.

He may have a point as the bands message promotes rebellion against all state organizations not just corrupt ones.

-source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grEBLskpDWQ

An American expatriate blogger in Russia, Почемучка aka “Pochemuchka” (the one who asks a lot of questions) disagrees. The bands more racy activism is irrelevant in the context of their message. She points out that the sheer bravery to stand up so defiantly to the government and corrupt church officials is the real message that needs to be taken away from this case:

“Almost every Russian will tell you outright that the democracy of their country is a farce. But many also support sending these women to prison. In my opinion, seeing these two things as solid opposites prevents any kind of cultural analysis. However, “it’s part of their culture, so it’s okay” is a statement that disregards any universality amongst human beings–like the idea of “basic human rights”… my opinion on the Pussy Riot case is that the sentence these women received for what I see as a logistically simple act of civil disobedience far outweighed the physical damage actually incurred against the church.

This case gives a very exciting perspective into the younger Russian activists and the culture that they are promoting. Despite obvious flaws in their incendiary approach, their message remains the important takeaway. That voice of dissent – delivered through, somewhat unorthodox means was heard loud and clear in the Kremlin. It is interesting to see a new generation of Russia’s warrior poets and their influence on Russia’s historically closed off society.  The question remains to be seen whether this unique approach to activism will lead to any changes in the Russian state’s attitude toward free speech and lend encouragement to others to voice their dissent.

 

Or will their efforts just promote a government crackdown while alienating themselves from the rest of Russia’s citizens?

Please comment and let us know what your views are on the subject. Is this type of behavior justified in the pursuit of free speech and how are these women punk rock activists unique amongst their community? Would this even be an issue in the United States or other countries?

Thanks

– Dima

Interesting links regarding this topic:

Pussy Riot’s Twitter page

Pussy Riot’s Closing Statements

The Pochyemuchka Diaries – American Expat in Moscow

The Wrong Reasons to Back Pussy Riot – Vadim Nikitin’s Op-Ed in The New York Times

Punk Punishment: Pussy Riot’s ‘unholy prayer’ splits society – RussiaToday

Pussy Riot profile: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova – The Guardian’s story on the Pussy Riot’s “Evil Genius”

 

Putin’s politically charged pin-ups

by Ben Frentzel, Travis Cornejo, and Sebastian Martinez

Calendars for Putin

In early October, news organizations and blogs picked up a very interesting story about Russian journalism students. A brewing battle between supporters and protesters of Vladimir Putin had erupted in a very visual way.

The students, all from Moscow State University, have released calendars for Putin. The first to appear was filled with 12 months of lingerie-clad women praising and flattering Putin for his birthday.

Then, a rebuttal surfaced – from the same school. A new calendar of more journalism

http://sasha-utkin.livejournal.com/147833.html#cutid1

students spoke out in protest this time. The women were covered in black and their mouths were taped shut. Captions like, “Кто убил Анну Политковскую?” were written on the pages asking, “Who killed Anna Politkovskaya?”

The captions referred to recent killings of journalists all over Russia and to Putin’s suspected influence in those actions.

Blogs erupted because of this battle. Some made fun of the calendars by posting some funny versions. Others gave full photo spreads to the pictures.

Putin

What do you get the Russian Prime Minister who has everything?

I mean, how can you top murdering a journalist (birthday No. 54) or a rare tiger (birthday No. 56)?

(The gift came just a few weeks after Putin shot an escaped Siberian tiger with a tranquilizer gun – saving a Russian television crew.)

Students at Moscow State University felt a racy calendar would be fitting. And it is. Putin, or at least his PR team, have worked hard throughout the past few years to promote his image as a badass, to say the least.

His most recent display came in August, when he shot a whale with a harmless dart from a small motorboat. OK – a tiger, a whale… what other stories are out there about Putin and wildlife?

  1. 1. Tiger
  2. 2. Whale

So let’s put the tiger at No. 1 (Go Tigers?) and the whale at No. 2. What else makes the list?

  1. 3. Polar Bear
  2. 4. Leopard
  3. 5. Seals

To rip off a joke from Joshua Keating – Putin’s turning himself into the Steve Irwin of world leaders. What’s next, “Vladimir Putin’s Russia”?

When the media just reports on these antics of his, it’s hard to think of him as a threat to the freedom of speech.

Freedom of Speech in Russia

Oksana Teslo, Vyacheslav Plotnikov, Gadji Abashilov, Shafig Amrakhov, Vyacheslav Yaroshenko, Natalia Estemirova, Konstantin Popov, Bella Ksalova.

These are a few of the more than 200 journalists who have been killed in Russia since the early ’90s. Of these 200 murders, about a fourth have gone to trial. Of these, even fewer have resulted in a conviction.

On the 7th of October, 2006 Anna Politkovskaya was found dead on the floor of the elevator in her apartment, having suffered gunshot wounds to the chest, shoulder, and head. Politkovskaya was a journalist, an advocate for the ending of the Chechen conflict and an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin. Her murder gained international prominence, and brought attention to similar murders of Russian journalists, especially those who spoke out against the government, that had gone unsolved and often uninvestigated.

This begs the question, to what extent does free speech truly exist in Russia?

Obviously, compared with countries like North Korea or China, Russians are relatively free to speak their minds. However, if they are public figures, or journalists, or in any position of prominence, and they have negative things to say about the government, or are running a story on human rights abuses, this freedom is apparently forfeit.

Much like in Brazil or Turkey these abuses are swept under the rug. Very few people, outside those countries, have an idea of the oppression that goes on behind the scenes. Thus it’s nice when something, other than murders, like a calendar brings international attention to this issue.