Archive for the 'Russian myths' Category

04
Mar
11

Russian leaders speak about Mikhail Gorbachev

As Mikhail Gorbachev turns 80, some prominent Russian leaders have been asked to tell what they think about USSR’s last leader… Not to say they do not all agree!

Petr AvenPresident of Alfa Bank. Gorbachev came to give us freedom, and he changed our life for the better. He may not have known what he was doing, but I think he did a good job. He made a huge breakthrough, renewing our country without blood and violence. 

Alexander TkachevGovernor of the Krasnodar Region. He is the man associated with the greatest geopolitical drama in Russia’s contemporary history. As a result of huge imbalances in the alliance of forces in the international arena, he became “the best German” and the best friend of the West, but for most of our great Motherland’s people, his name is associated mainly with countless problems and irrevocable losses. 

Alexander Lebedevco-owner of the National Reserve Corporation and Mikhail Gorbachev’s partner in planning an independent democratic party in Russia in 2008. He is the embodiment of the Socratic principle that the best should rule. He taught us moral values at the highest level. This man changed the entire world for the better, not just the material aspects of his personal life, as is the case with many politicians.   

Alexander Rahr, Director of the Berthold Beitz Center at the German Council on Foreign Relations, author of Gorbachev’s biography. He is the only living man to have changed the course of history. They don’t like him in Russia because he destroyed the empire, but he did it together with Yeltsin, at least. He is a mystery for me, I still don’t quite understand whether he had expected what was to happen, whether he really wanted to give freedom to nations, or he was simply too weak.

Mikhail BarkovVice President of TransneftAs many knowledgeable people in the West, I consider Gorbachev to be short-sighted, cowardly and greedy. At a sharp turn of history he showed himself in the negative light, although there were some good moments at the beginning. He had no idea where he was leading the country.  

Nikita BelykhGovernor of the Kirov Region. I am grateful to Gorbachev, because he gave freedom to the country. Yes, he did make mistakes, but who didn’t? Gorbachev has really done a lot to change the country for the better. 

Andrei IlnitskyDeputy Head of the Central Executive Committee of United Russia. He is the first Soviet politician who did not resort to violence in order to keep the respect of the woman he loved. The history of Gorbachev’s success is the history of his love. He considered himself unworthy of his wife, and he had always tried to prove that he was the right man for her. I did not have much respect for him during the 1980s and 1990s, but now I think I understand him, and I now have great respect for him as a person, and sympathy for him as a politician. 

Mikhail Yemelyanov, member of the State Duma for A Just Russia. He is a political loser. He tried to head the country during a difficult transition period, but he was not up to the task. Everything he did led to the collapse of both the system and the country.  

Alexander Pochinoka member of the Federation Council, Tax Minister in 1999-2000. Gorbachev is the savior of the world, who helped reduce the threat of a third world war. This threat had been a nightmare for decades. With difficulty, he eased the great standoff of the bipolar world. It is only for this reason that Gorby will always be remembered. They all say: This could have been done better, but why then didn’t anyone do it better?   

Vladimir PekhtinFirst Deputy Head of the United Russia party in the State DumaI believe that Mikhail Gorbachev is a demagogue and traitor. He unleashed perestroika to meet his own political ambitions, and he ruined the country shamefully. And now, he speculates in a dignified tone on how efficient the president, government and United Russia are. It doesn’t take much to criticize and advise, but when Gorbachev had a real opportunity to care about Russia’s well-being, he not just missed this chance, but he plunged the country into chaos and absolute decline. We are still dealing with the negative implications of his reforms. 

Grigory Yavlinskya member of the Political Committee of the Yabloko Party. Gorbachev is the man who brought freedom to people. What they did with it is not his responsibility. 

Ruslan Khasbulatov, Head of the Supreme Council of the Russian Federation, 1991-1993. He brought democracy to our country – something neither Yeltsin nor Putin were able to do. At the same time, the huge number of Gorbachev’s mistakes will always be remembered. His economic reforms were not just abortive but they destroyed the powerful country. 

Vladimir Khotinenkofilm directorIt is too early to judge, Gorbachev left politics not so long ago. But I am convinced that he was the man Russia needed at the turning point in its history. Gorbachev played no role in my life, because I have never depended on the political situation. 

Alexander KiselyovGeneral Director of Russian Post. The greatest figure in the 20th century history, he has played a huge role in both Russian and world history, and he has already immortalized his name. In May 1985, he made his first visit as General Secretary, coming to my native Leningrad. I was lucky to see Gorbachev at an arm’s length: He went out to the people, passing the guards, and began to talk with us. I liked this openness.

Ilya Yashina member of the Political Council of Solidarnost. He opened Russia’s borders and changed the entire country. Despite his contradictory reforms, he gave freedom to millions of people. No doubt, he is part of our history.

Valery KhalilovHead of the Defense Ministry’s military band service. Gorbachev is the symbol of the past era, which saw the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the collapse of the Communist Party and the Communist ideology. To everything there is a season, and at that time Gorbachev was the right man. I see him in a rather positive light, though there are some weak points, too.     

Igor YurgensChairman of the Management Board of the Institute of Contemporary Development, Vice President of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. He is the man who taught me the word “consensus.” Before Gorbachev, it was either abusive or unknown. He introduced it not just to the political vocabulary but also to our life. I know that Gorbachev had an opportunity to cling on to power up to the last moment, and he had a better chance compared to the current leaders in the Middle East, for example. Guided by his ideas about consensus, however, he chose not to do so and brought violence to a minimum. This alone is worth a monument.

Alexander RutskoiVice President of Russia, 1991-1993 (in 1993 he led the standoff with the then-President Boris Yeltsin). For me, Gorbachev is the man who betrayed his country and his people. Some politicians credit him with democratization, but I think democracy could have been built without the destruction of the country.    

Kseniya SobchakTV host (and the daughter of Anatoly Sobchak, leading democratic reformer of the early 1990s). He is certainly a man of his era, and he can be assessed differently. He left politics, he lost the love of his life, but he remained a Man with a capital M. His reforms were rejected by the elite, I myself do not understand certain things, but he was driven by idealism, which is much better than the pragmatism and cynicism we have now.

Valery SemyonovVice Chairman of the regional parliament of the Krasnoyarsk Region. There would have been no changes in the country hadn’t it been for Gorbachev, and Russia would not be part of the international community now. He gave us freedom to think, move and travel abroad. The only thing that cannot be justified is the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

Anatoly LokotFirst Secretary of the Novosibirsk Regional Committee of the Communist Party of Russia. He is the man who disappointed the hopes of a great nation. With his policy, he brought the country first to an economic crisis, and then to political disintegration. Tellingly, he celebrates his birthday not in Moscow or the Stavropol Region, but in London, because no one needs him here.   

Pavel Sigal, Vice President of OPORA ROSSII, an organization of small-and medium-sized business.  He is an outstanding politician who initiated huge reforms in Russia and in the rest of the world. Future generations will appreciate that. What he accomplished is much greater than what he failed to do.

24
Feb
11

Soviet cartoons : history from a funny side

Below are some extracts of a very interesting work on cartoons during the Soviet era. This is obviously written with a Western hand, but I enjoy this type of untold History… Always enlightening!

When I was a child, our family had a prize possession that my sister and I could only use on special occasions. Known as “the sick puzzle,” it contained 81 one-inch wooden cubes whose individual sides had been painted red, white, blue, or yellow. The house rule was simple: the only time you were allowed to play with the sick puzzle was when you were actually sick.

Although my sister and I knew exactly where to find the sick puzzle, we always respected the rules of usage. As such, there was one toy that became a family heirloom and was put back into use soon after my niece and nephew were born. To this day, the mere mention of the sick puzzle can provoke a twinge of nostalgia for something that held a very special place in our hearts.

For many people, cartoon art holds a similar function. Different generations embrace different cartoons. Thus, the people who grew up reading Peanuts, Archie, B.C., and Dennis the Menace may have very different tastes and sensitivities than those who were raised during the heyday of Blondie, Ferd’nand, Pogo, and The Little King. While I’m currently drawn to Pearls Before Swine and Get Fuzzy, there is a special place in my heart for Berkeley Breathed’s ferociously brilliant Bloom County and, of course, Bill Watterson’s hilarious Calvin and Hobbes.

Whenever I’m feeling down or need a pick-me-up, all I have to do is open up one of my coffee table books of Calvin and Hobbes cartoons to be brought back to “a happy place.” Fifteen years after Watterson chose to discontinue his beloved comic strip, visions of Spaceman Spiff, Calvin’s diabolical snowman creations, or Miss Wormwood can instantly bring a smile to my face. The same holds true for images of Opus the Penguin, Bill the Cat, Gary Larson’s demented animals, and other figments of a cartoonist’s imagination that became cultural landmarks for so many of us.

All of these, however, reflect American culture. Most of us know very little about the history of cartoon art in the Soviet Union — especially political cartoons. 

During interviews with Boris Efimov (who died in 2008 at the age of 109), viewers of Stalin Thought of You will be astounded by how spry and alert the artist was at 104. Whether having his picture taken flanked by two statuesque blondes or examining a fellow artist’s renditions of Stalin and other famous Russians, Efimov enjoyed a long life. He offers viewers a remarkable perspective on Russian politics throughout the course of the 20th century.

Efimov’s political cartoons depicted Soviet politicians and their henchman from Stalin through Brezhnev, with plenty of drawings depicting Americans like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and George W. Bush. Sketches of controversial figures like Adolf Hitler and Leon Trotsky flowed freely from Efimov’s fingers.

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Using rarely seen footage from the Russian State Film Archives, documentarian Kevin McNeer (with help from the Soyuz Multifilm Animation Studio) has produced a fascinating documentary. What makes it even more interesting is that, during his interviews with Efimov, McNeer doesn’t quite seem to grasp how oppressive life really was under Stalin.

Efimov’s older brother, Mikhail Koltsov, was a Soviet spy and journalist who was much admired by Ernest Hemingway for his work in Spain (Koltsov inspired the character of Karkov in Hemingway’s novel.For Whom The Bell Tolls). While Koltsov’s ambition eventually led to his execution under Stalin’s regime, Efimov was allowed to live.

When the Nazis invaded Russia, Efimov was one of the Russians that Hitler’s troops had orders to hang upon capture. Although he had been blacklisted as the relative of a dissident, Efimov was spared exile in a Gulag and was eventually reinstated as Pravda’s top political cartoonist. Stalin was such a big fan of Efimov’s work that he would even make suggestions on how Efimov should draw certain characters like Dwight D. Eisenhower. 

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Like the best political cartoonists, Efimov mocked authority in the Russian press during a lengthy career that spanned most of the 20th century. He was lampooning events during World War II as well as during the Cold War. Although his cartoon work for Russia’s state-owned media helped keep him alive, he never recovered from the emotional wound of his brother’s murder. As a result, Efimov’s descriptions of the power struggles within the Kremlin bear personal witness to many of the changes that occurred within its walls.

The film’s trailer gives an insight into Efimov’s mental acuity late in life, the mischievous nature of his art, as well as a backstage tour of Russian politics under Stalin’s reign:

06
Feb
11

Enough with this fable of the wolf and the lamb!

Stereotypes die hard. In the western world, human rights defenders and the self-righteous are shocked by the fate that awaits Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The businessman, it appears, is the expiatory victim of a legal system kept under the thumb of Vladimir Putin. Simplistic historical narratives reassure. They place everyone in a box. The good on one side, the villain on the other… But truth, the truth, needs courage, clarity and intellectual honesty.

For ten years now, we have been led to believe that the man who finds himself behind bars today is an honest trader fleeced of his money by a mafia state. Yet, the exact opposite is true: Mikhail Khodorkovsky built a financial empire by stripping the carcass of the former Soviet empire.

Vladimir Putin did not settle a personal score by throwing the law at Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Instead, he embodied the rise of Russian nationalist fervour. A legitimate nationalist fervour, one is tempted to write. Need one remind that, in 1995, Mikhail Khodorkovsky bought for only USD 300 million the oil company Yukos whose real value was estimated shortly after at USD 30 billion? What country could accept to be robbed and show no reaction?

Today some people still believe that the lawsuits launched against Mikhail Khodorkovsky are the result of a manoeuvre orchestrated by the Russian government to break an oligarch who became too independent. They forget that at the time of his splendour, the all-powerful boss of Yukos did not stand for anyone getting in his way, anyone who might have possibly hampered his ambitions. Journalists in his pay praised his success, and turned him into the symbol of a generation. A new Russian capitalism, audacious, ambitious, triumphant… But the glossy front pages hid a far less salubrious reality. The success of Mikhail Khodorkovsky was built upon a gigantic system of corruption rooted in the heart of the state apparatus.

Backstage, the businessman resorted to sometimes underhand and ruthless methods to achieve his ambitions. The rise of the oligarch was sprinkled with numerous assassinations. The former head of Yukos’ security department, Alexei Pichugin, a trusted man of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was sentenced to life in prison for having organised several murders, notably the murder of Nefteyugansk’s mayor, Vladimir Petukhov, and of the businesswoman Valentina Korneeva. The facts were established in the course of a trial that had nothing Stalinist about it. It is by neglecting this sort of details that one ends up distorting the truth and convincing the world that it is not a wolf that is in a cage, but a lamb.

09
Nov
10

For Nato, Russia is not a threat anymore

Is it the end of the cold war? Or another sign of a diplomatic meltdown between Russia and the United States. Anihow, NATO’s top military and political officials assured Russia the alliance saw no threat from the country for the West, Russia’s envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin said on Monday.

Rogozin’s comment followed a statement by Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, who said that “in terms of politics” NATO has finished its preparation of its plan of the Baltic states’ defense.

European Voice weekly earlier said NATO’s defense plans implicitly singled Russia out as a military threat.

Despite the NATO officials’ pro-Russian statements, several alliance members continue to criticize NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s policy of establishing a strategic relationship with Russia, the envoy said.

Rogozin said he was very pleased “for the residents of the ex-Soviet Baltic states who could at last sleep peacefully facing the somewhat lurid menace threatening the young sickly democracies of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.”

27
Jul
10

Sagbo becomes the first black ever elected in Russia

Jean Gregoire Sagbo made history. This 48 years old real estator became last week the first Black ever to get elected in Russia. A significant milestone offering a more comprehensive approach of racial relations in Russia, far away from the apocalyptic description Western media usually offer.

People in the Russian town of Novozavidovo used to stare at Jean Gregoire Sagbo because they had never seen a black man. Now they say they see in him something equally rare — an honest politician.

Sagbo last month became the first black to be elected to office in Russia. Sagbo’s election as one of Novozavidovo’s 10 municipal councilors is a milestone. But among the town’s 10,000 people, the 48-year-old from the west African country of Benin is viewed simply a Russian who cares about his hometown.

He promises to revive the impoverished, garbage-strewn town where he has lived for 21 years and raised a family. “Novozavidovo is dying,” Sagbo said. “This is my home, my town. We can’t live like this.”
“His skin is black but he is Russian inside,” said Vyacheslav Arakelov, the mayor. “The way he cares about this place, only a Russian can care.”

Inspired by communist ideology, Sagbo came to Soviet Russia in 1982 to study economics in Moscow. There he met his wife, a Novozavidovo native. He moved to the town in 1989 to be close to his in-laws.

29
May
10

Robert Amsterdam: the man beneath Khodorkovsky’s propaganda

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once the richest man in Russia, is in jail. Everybody agrees to say that his trial was far from being fair and no one knows if he’ll eventually be freed one day! Nonetheless, Khodorkovsky’s American lawyer (and PR guy) Robert Amsterdam has been building for years a biased image of Khodorkovsky. A biased image Western media widely buy…

Let’s get a few facts straight. Khodorkovsky has never been a democrat or even a “liberal” as he is often portrayed. He was a brutal businessman who built his fortune “stealing” USSR public companies. I don’t particularly blame him, all the so-called oligarchs did so. But Khodorkovsky did not get in trouble because he was a democrat, he got in trouble because he tried to mess with Putin’s authority. Robert Amstedam cheap propaganda may fool some journalists but can not totally erase reality .

The whole story is perfectly explained in an article (The fall of Khodorkovsky) from the Austrian magazine News which I have translated below:

The fall of Khodorkovsky

Through out of context quotations, unfaithful translations and other approximations, a certain image of Russia is being presented to western public opinion. Russia, the nasty authoritarian regime; the West, liberal and democratic.

Quite apart from the simplistic Manichaeism, the term “liberal” is not neutral in Russia but has a very pro-western connotation; it is disparaged because it is unpatriotic. At least since 1991, the start of the Yeltsin era, when Russia’s collective unconscious came to equate liberals and reformers with economic pillage, social chaos, the law of the jungle and oligarchic rule. That the most prominent of them all, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, should now be portrayed as a herald of democracy in the purported autocracy of the Putinian system is surprising to say the least!

What is more, this strange analysis is fortunately accompanied by much solicitude, the self-styled whistleblowers again explaining to the Russian people what is good for them. Save proof to the contrary, exporting a model has never worked so far.

Canadian lawyer Robert Amsterdam, whose network and capacity to finance intensive lobbying activities has brought him a measure of media exposure, is just one example of a professional lecturer. Using the remains of the Yukos empire to mobilise connections and finance think tanks, and turning rhetoric into a (very) lucrative business, is hardly honourable.

Raising public opinion to the status of judge and lecturing official judges is an original (and so far relatively unsuccessful) line of defence.

What would Robert Amsterdam have to say about the Enron affair, or the fate of Madoff and his Texan alter ego (Allen Stanford)? That their downfall was purely political, that the USA is an authoritarian regime? Unless the judges were simply doing their job, and the years those barons of finance will be spending behind bars for fraud were well-deserved.

Similarly, as soon as he came to power, Putin decided to make it clear that the anarchy and the looting of public assets were over. So he spelt out the rules of law to a well-known oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, revoking his licence to steal and bringing him, the wealthiest man in Russia, before the judges in court. The message was clear: Russian businessmen now conduct their business legally, and Russia is eligible to join the WTO (World Trade Organisation).

Why then set Khodorkovsky up as a victim?

22
Jun
09

Wishful thinking: for a smart and balance coverage of Russia

cherepanov-putin-democracy-

Getting a bit angry at Reuters these days… It seems that the once venerable agency has turned into a “Michael Moore-type critics of Russian authority.

In an article published last week and neutrally entitled “No Democracy needed for Russia, says ruling party think-tank”, Reuters’ journalist Amie Ferris-Rotman implies that despite Medvedev goodwill, Russian government (and ruling party) wants stronger leadership instead of democracy.

I hate when journalists use these type of shortcuts. Public Projects Institute, the so-called think-tank close to the ruling party is one of dozens of “think-tanks” (I don’t like this word especially for this kind of organization ).

Public Projects Institute and its chief MP Vladimir Pigin are notorously conservative not to say more. Their voice has indeed some impact in Russia but as many other. Not less, not more.

That’s my point and that’s when Reuters does “Michael Moore” or “gotcha” journalism as Sarah Palin said.

Who could imagine Reuters writing a story mentioning an organization close to the US government when NRA asks for legalizing the sale of machine guns.

It’s too easy to build a theory over the most extreme example. Russian political life is much more complex and yet interesting than that.