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By Sean — 13 years ago
The Ukraine’s Orange “Revolution” continues to hover over Russian politics. In a speech given at Stanford University, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed concern about the growing number of Western NGOs in Russia. Given the influx of Soros money and the other financial backing of Ukrainian groups, especially the youth organization Pora, the Putin government has much to be concerned. For a while now, Administration officials have accused Western governments of funding Russian opposition forces. His comments, however, particularly targeted American NGO interference in Russia politics. As Lavrov told his Stanford audience:
“We appreciate that the USA has legitimate interests in the post-Soviet space, both in the field of combating terrorism and in accessing energy resources. These are entirely legitimate interests, which we do acknowledge, but we would want the methods by which they are realized to be understandable and transparent.”
“The number of non-governmental organizations in Russia is going up. The only thing we will not tolerate is for these organizations to be used to finance political activities, particularly from abroad. This would distort the national political process, thereby undermining the country’s development in the future.”
I can’t help relish the fact that Lavrov said this at Stanford, the traditional center of rabid anti-communism and to some extent, anti-Russianism. I also like Lavrov’s swipe at Stanford alumnus and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “I suggest she read extracts from Russian publications with criticism of the Russian Federation authorities.” This isn’t Lavrov simply posturing. If you read Russian, and Condi does, you will find a lot of criticism of the Putin Administration in Russian print media. Far more that you’ll find of the Bush Administration in the United States. You won’t, however, find that same criticism on Russian television. Most of the major networks are either under the control of or are voluntarily sympathetic to Putin.
In other news, Putin will answer callers’ questions on a live television broadcast next Tuesday. He has conducted these live question and answers shows since 2001. He used his December 2003 live show to announce his running for a second term. There is also speculation he will address whether he will seek a third term as Russian President. Such a move would require changes to the Russian constitution.
The London Guardian has a story of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Dagestan. The article is just another example of the rapidity the Chechen War is spilling over into neighboring provinces. Many have been pointing out that the increased bombings in Dagestan and the rise of militancy threatens to engulf the region.
The show trial of the Andijan15 is underway in Uzbekistan. The fifteen are accused of attempting to overthrow the Uzbek government in May 2005. The Uzbek government blames the uprising on Muslim extremists. According to independent investigations, Uzbek security forces massacred up to 700 people. The government claims only 187 people died in the uprising. Since May, Uzbekistan has prevented the return of Andijan refugees who are in UNrefugee campsin Romania and arrested and tortured scores of alleged “conspirators,” according to a recently released report by Human Rights Watch.
In an what I think is an unprecedented story, Boris Kostruba, a Russian metro officer has been sentenced to 9 years in prison for shooting a 20-year-old migrant worker from Tajikistan, Rustam Baibekov, as he tried to enter the Moscow Metro without paying. According to Mosnews, “Kostruba detained Baibekov, found he had no Moscow registration, started demanding money from him and after a refusal shot him in the mouth.” All I can say is: What the fuck!? Moscow Metro militsia are known as rather violent and corrupt bunch. The list of their activities include: bribery, hassling and beating non-Russians and tourists, and even raping young women as they travel home late at night. Usually nothing ever happens to them. So the surprise for this story is not the fact that Kostruba shot Baibekov in the mouth for skipping the metro fare. It’s that he was actually sent to prison for doing it.Post Views: 1,380
By Sean — 14 years ago
So I promised to tell about my trip to Ryazan. Ryazan is a Russian provincial town located about a three hour train ride south from Moscow. I left on a Monday morning on the [7:15] train. The ticket cost about $10. The train ride was quite pleasant. I spent most of my time staring out the window because I’ve never seen what Russia looks like outside of Moscow. Peppered between Moscow and Ryazan are small towns and villages. By villages I literally mean villages. Some seemed to only consist of several houses. There were no paved roads, and thanks to the recent rains full of mud. Some of these villages looked like they haven’t changed in over 100 years.
I was greeted in Ryazan by Pavel Tribunskii, a scholar Stephen Frank knows from Ryazan (Stephen is one my dissertation advisors at UCLA). Pavel is a really great guy. He is a young historian who teaches at a Ryazan art school for high students. He set everything up for me—a place to stay, access to the archives, and even gave me a quick tour around town to show me where all the libraries were. The only thing he asked for in exchange is to speak to his students, and even better do so in English! Pavel felt that this would be good for them since many of them are learning English and get few chances to listen to native speakers, much less Americans from Hollywood.
The family I stayed with, the Uskovs, were the nicest people ever! Sasha, the father, is a foreman at a local factory that makes building materials. Nadia, the mother, teaches chemistry at the local secondary school and institute, and Irina, their daughter, studies English at the local pedagogical institute. They were all very welcoming. In fact, Nadia wouldn’t stop feeding me. Not being hungry didn’t seem to register in her mind (but neither did me not being in a relationship for over 13 years and not married as well as Heather and I not wanting children. This last one seemed completely unacceptable, even though I explained that we have a dog and that was enough.). With the three dinners I had there, Sasha broke out a bottle of vodka which we both drank dry. The funniest part was that Nadia would scold him for “forcing” me to drink, but then would suggest that we have another drink! They were all interested in America and what it is like to live there and in LA in particular. I think we hit all the topics from economics, politics, war, history culture, relationships, employment, education . . . Irina spoke English really well and I tried to only speak to her in English to give her some practice.
Work in the local archive also went really, really well. When I arrived at the State archive for the Ryazan Oblast (GARO), which is also the former archive of the Communist Party, I was greeted by a very small old woman named Elena Mikhailovna. When I showed her my letter from UCLA asking to work in the archive, she promptly read it to a friend. She was also excited about my interest in the Komsomol, as long as I told a ‘positive’ history of the organization. She was very friendly to the point that at one o’clock she would escort me to the cafeteria (it seems that every archive has a cafeteria where you can purchase a hot luck for about a buck and a half.), made sure I got my food, showed me to a place to sit, got me silverware, and then told me to return at 2 o’clock.
Elena was also very interested in the United States and asked similar questions as the Uskovs. However, she had a few, how should I say, interesting questions. My second day there she asked if I had any ‘black’ in me, that is was I full white person or were some of my relatives ‘mixed’. Now this was about the strangest question I’ve ever been asked. Especially since by American racial standards, there is no question: I am white. But I guess Russians have a different measure of whiteness. I assured her that I was indeed a ‘full’ white, if anything to put her racialism at ease.
Another interesting moment was when Elena told me that she didn’t like people from Ryazan, though she’d been living there for like 40 years. When I asked why, she said that Ryazantsy were ‘stupid’. She was from Tver where the people are ‘intelligent’. Whatever. As I discovered the week before, people have some identity issues with this intelligent thing.
But I should say a bit about Ryazan itself. The apartment I stayed was really comfortable even though the street it was on was pretty muddy from the rain. Ryazan is a pretty dirty city in the winter, though Sasha assured me in the spring and summer it was quite beautiful. I assumed that the winter, with the bare trees, mud, and stagnant water (I should say that Moscow doesn’t drain very well either), is not a good representation of Ryazan. In addition to the mud, there are about three military schools in the city, so young guys in military getups are everywhere.
To get to the archive I had to take these minivans (marshruty) which cost about 7 rubles (or $.25). According to Pavel, these were the only efficient transportation because the bus system really sucked. Let me tell you, the marshruty are not the pinnacle of auto safety. All the regular minivan seats are torn out and instead welded in their place other seats. About 15 people can fit in a marshruty. Three in the front, including the driver, and 12 in the back. But I should point out that there are only 10 seats in the back. The driver will pick to two extra people, who have to crouch/stand until someone gets off. My initial fears about riding in them (seatbelts do not exist) was dispelled about a few rides. I can’t imagine what these are like after a snow and the road is slippery.
Ryazan is also a good example of uneven capitalist development. That is, parts of it are quickly modernizing and have all the things you would find here in Moscow. At the same time, you have some building that look 100 years old. Sometimes the new buildings are right next to the old ones, as with this new hotel they were building around the corner from the archive. Ryazan is a very old city, perhaps over 600 years old. The Kremlin looks very beautiful from the outside.
All in all, I look forward to spending two months there. . .
Oh, one last thing, it the first snow in Moscow was yesterday. Yeah!Post Views: 470
By Sean — 13 years ago
Alright already. To my utter surprise, many people have asked me why I haven’t posted anything to this blog in a while. I have no real excuse besides the proverbial laziness. Sometimes it is difficult to come up with things to write. Often it is more difficult to actually put things into writing. So here is a promise to my ever so concerned readers (which btw are all friends): I hereby promise that I will be more consistent in my postings.
I have a few things planned for this blog. Not only will I continue posting about my happenings in Russland; I will try to speak a more about my personal (mis)adventures. I also plan on continuing this blog after I return to the US of A in September. I figured the blogging thing has become such a trend that I might as well hop on the bandwagon. I personally find the whole blogging thing fascinating and I will probably comment more on blogging as a phenomenon in the future.
As you can see to your right, I’ve begun listing links to various things. Most are news sources and journals on a leftist nature as well as a few noteworthy blogs. I especially recommend Professor Juan Cole’s Informed Comment and Dahr Jamail’s Iraq Dispatches for news and analysis on the Iraq War. If you are into sex columns and are hankerin’ for some advice, I highly recommend Dan Savage’s Savage Love.
For those readers who can read Russian, I point your mouse to Neprikosnovennyi zapas, a hip Russian political and cultural journal. There is a limited English portion. I encourage all you other non-Russian readers to check it out.
I will expand the link list over time so keep an eye on any changes.
I don’t have much more to say now except thanks for reading and keep reading!Post Views: 479