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Tag: Russia

Boris Nemtsov and the tyrant

Sunday, 1 March, 2015 0 Comments

In his final interview, hours before he was shot dead on Friday night, Boris Nemtsov said that he was a patriot, but one who regarded the Russian flag as a “symbol of freedom” from Soviet tyranny. Vladimir Putin has revived that tyranny by creating an atmosphere of hatred, driven by an hysterical propaganda offensive that portrays opponents as traitors. Boris Nemtsov, who “died in the streets”, just outside the Kremlin, is the latest victim of the evil that W. H. Auden so brilliantly depicted during a former age of tyranny. It is a tragedy that Russia is again ruled by such wickedness.

Epitaph on a Tyrant

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

W. H. Auden (1907 – 1973)

The Tyrant


And the Oscar for best foreign-language film…

Sunday, 22 February, 2015 0 Comments

… goes to Leviathan. Well, that’s what we hope. Andrey Zvyagintsev’s film exudes contempt for modern Russia. Its story of corruption and cruelty is an indictment of the entire system. A win for Leviathan tonight in Los Angeles will be a black eye for the Putin regime and a victory for creativity. How the characters in the film feel about their country’s perverted history in captured is one of the film’s best scenes: a picnic with some local policemen, lots of bottles of vodka, semi-automatic weapons and an array of Soviet-era portraits — Brezhnev, Lenin, Andropov… the entire gallery of thugs.

Vladimir Medinsky, the Russian Minister of Culture, has called for new guidelines to ban films like Leviathan, which “defile” Russia and her culture.” Leviathan is a glorious defiling; a film that reviles what it loves with grief-stricken rage.


Russian word of the day: maskirovka

Monday, 9 February, 2015 0 Comments

The contours of the European response to Putin’s aggression are emerging and at this stage one can say that the strategy for the Minsk talks seems to be based on a zero-leverage approach. Athens is threatening to block new sanctions against Russia and Berlin to striving to prevent new defence aid reaching Ukraine. Grim.

Moscow, on the other hand, is deploying maskirovka: deception and propaganda. And it is winning on both fronts. Maskirovka is the trademark of Russian warfare and the word, which translates as “something masked,” was made flesh last year in the form of masked unmarked soldiers in green army uniforms carrying Russian military equipment. Those who dreamed of perpetual peace and prosperity in Europe got a rude awakening when the little green men popped up in Crimea and Ukraine. Maskirovka had arrived, and it won’t go away if all that greets it is appeasement. Before sitting down with Putin on Wednesday, Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande should brush up on the central components of maskirovka:

Dezinformatsia: disinformation
Kamufliazh: camouflage
Demonstrativnye manevry: manoeuvres intended to deceive
Skrytie: concealment
Imitatsia: the use of decoys

maskirovka in action


Finalities

Sunday, 8 February, 2015 0 Comments

The past week was dominated be one image: The burning to death in a locked cage of captured Jordanian pilot Muadh al- Kasasbeh by the Islamic State. Even by the brutal standards of radical Islam, this was barbarous beyond belief. Other harrowing images from recent days came from the town of Debaltseve, where terrified people were forced to flee their homes by Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine.

In Finalities, CP Cavafy uses irony and skepticism to address the calamities that can so swiftly sweep away our certainties. His poem was written at the beginning the of the 20th century but it has lost none of its relevance.

Finalities

Amid fear and suspicions,
with agitated mind and frightened eyes,
we melt and plan how to act
to avoid the certain
danger that so horribly threatens us.
And yet we err, this was not in our paths;
the messages were false
(or we did not hear, or fully understand them).
Another catastrophe, one we never imagined,
sudden, precipitous, falls upon us,
and unprepared — there is no more time — carries us off.

CP Cavafy (1863 — 1933)


Bartosz Kosowski illustrates

Wednesday, 21 January, 2015 0 Comments

“I am an illustrator working in Lodz, Poland” is the very simple “About” statement of Bartosz Kosowski. Such modesty. The the Society of Illustrators in Los Angeles has just awarded him its Gold Medal for his “Lolita” poster, which was created for September’s Spoke Art Stanley Kubrick exhibition in San Francisco.

Talking of last September, on the 24th of that month, Bartosz Kosowski posted the following entry in his blog: “Yesterday I learned that my portrait of Putin was used without my knowledge and permission by a Russian nationalist website Sputnik & Pogrom. First, it is a blatant copyright infringement and there is no excuse for that. Second, I would never allow any nationalist media to use my illustration!” When he positioned their website graphic beside his mock-up of a TIME cover, Kosowski added, “Actually they did award him this title a few years back (sic!).”

Person of the Year

Note: The TIME Magazine Person of the Year 2007 was Vladimir Putin: “His final year as Russia’s President has been his most successful yet. At home, he secured his political future. Abroad, he expanded his outsize — if not always benign — influence on global affairs.” Bartosz Kosowski’s mock-up captures perfectly the man behind the mask, at home and abroad.


Watch out for the currency traps

Tuesday, 2 December, 2014 1 Comment

“We cannot go on with this euro. We must improve the European monetary policy and achieve equality of the dollar and euro interchange,” said former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at the Forza Italia party’s ‘No Tax Day’ rally in Milan on Saturday. “We must bring back our right to print money and establish monetary market exchange.”

Meanwhile, Tehran’s economy minister, Ali Tayyebnia, warned yesterday against “frenzied behavior” as Iranians dumped their rials. And in Venezuela, the dollar is now worth 1,700 percent more on the black market than the price the government charges those lucky enough to obtain it legally. Then, there’s the collapse of the ruble. This entire currency business is treacherous so it’s not surprising that when the Financial Times listed its Best books of 2014 at the weekend, the “trap” metaphor appeared prominently in the top titles reviewed.

Traps


Elon Musk warned about old Russian rocket engines

Wednesday, 29 October, 2014 0 Comments

There’s nothing quite like fireworks to light up a front/home page, is there? Background: Yesterday evening, the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded just six seconds after lifting off from the Wallops Island spacepad in Virginia. NASA says that all personnel in the area have been accounted for, and there were no injuries.

Rockets have a history of exploding and the cause of the Antares failure is not yet known, but relying on old Russian engines may not be the wisest use of critical components. Which brings us to Elon Musk, the brilliant innovator and entrepreneur, CEO of Tesla Motors and founder of SpaceX. Two years ago, to the week, he said the following to Chris Anderson of Wired:

“One of our competitors, Orbital Sciences, has a contract to resupply the International Space Station, and their rocket honestly sounds like the punch line to a joke. It uses Russian rocket engines that were made in the ’60s. I don’t mean their design is from the ’60s — I mean they start with engines that were literally made in the ’60s and, like, packed away in Siberia somewhere.”

Four days ago, Musk’s Dragon capsule safely landed in the Pacific Ocean, returning some two tons of cargo and science experiments to Earth from the International Space Station. Instead of relying on rusty Russian parts, Musk is making rockets using an advanced technology called stir welding:

“Instead of riveting the ribs and hoops, you use a special machine that softens the metal on both sides of the joint without penetrating it or melting it. Unlike traditional welding, which melts and potentially compromises some metals, this process works well with high-strength aluminum alloys. You wind up with a stiffer, lighter structure than was possible before.”

Yes, SpaceX has had its setbacks, but nothing as spectacular as yesterday’s Antares fail.


Russia has become dangerous again

Sunday, 20 July, 2014 0 Comments

So says David Frum: “It’s not as dangerous as it was, but it’s more than dangerous enough. Nearly 300 bereaved families in the Netherlands, Britain, Canada, and elsewhere have suffered what hundreds of Ukrainians have suffered since Russian sharpshooters opened fire on peacefully protesting crowds in Kyiv last winter.”

The danger is not abstract, either: “And we are all more vulnerable to that danger because we have let atrophy the institutions necessary to meet and contain that danger. It’s time — past time — to build those institutions back. That’s been the meaning of the Ukraine crisis from the start. The terrible heartbreak of MH17 might have been averted if we had absorbed that meaning early. But better to absorb it now than to leave it any longer.”

Time to act.


Conchita Wurst for the prize; Malta for the holidays

Saturday, 10 May, 2014 0 Comments

The hot money is on Tom Neuwirth, aka Conchita Wurst, to win the Eurovision Song Contest for Austria in Copenhagen tonight with Rise Like a Phoenix. After the gender neutral Tom/Conchita had been selected to represent the Alpine republic, the Ministry of Information in Belarus received a petition calling on BTRC, the state broadcaster, to edit his/her song out of its Eurovision presentation, claiming that the performance would turn the event “into a hotbed of sodomy.” A similar petition surfaced in Russia, but as both nations are represented in tonight’s final round, their peoples will have to endure the “Western decadence”.

Meanwhile, Rainy Day is placing a side bet on Malta. Coming Home is a delicious pop/folk song inspired in no small way by Mumford & Sons.


Twitter’s third column

Friday, 9 May, 2014 0 Comments

As Twitter rolls out a new look that adds a third column for users accessing the service with a web browser the message is clear: your tweets are front and centre. The new, full-sized layout centralizes tweets and moves secondary information to the sides. The “Who to follow” widget has been moved from beneath the profile bio on the left to the right, where it sits above the Trends block.

Twitter

Language note: Ernest Hemingway included the word “column” in the title of his only play, which he wrote in Madrid while the city was being bombarded during the Spanish Civil War. It was published in 1938 as The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. It is said that Emilio Mola, a Nationalist General, told a journalist in 1936 that as his four columns of troops approached Madrid, a “fifth column” of supporters inside the city would support him and undermine the Republican government from within. The term spread then beyond the borders of Spain and came to define any group of people who destabilize a larger group, such as a movement or nation from the inside.

Political note: In an address to Parliament on 18 March this year, Vladimir Putin “raised the spectre of ‘a fifth column’ — a ‘disparate bunch of national traitors’ — sowing discord inside Russia.”


Democracy defined

Monday, 5 May, 2014 0 Comments

Jonathan Dimbleby attends a party in St Petersburg and discovers that the concept of “democracy” is not very well rooted there. But what is democracy. In 1943, when democracy was under threat, E.B. White attempted to define it for readers of the New Yorker. Snippet: “Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is a letter to the editor.”