Most assume that utopianism had all but vanished from the Soviet landscape by the time Brezhnev’s walking corpse stumbled down the Kremlin halls. After all, socialism was all but ossified in content and form. Brezhnev’s speeches sounded like cobbled together phrases lifted from his past speeches. Still among some among the USSR’s aspiring engineers, utopian innovation still stirred the imagination. Take, for example, Viktor K. Gordeyev’s gas powered boots. One day they would, in his words, “become a device for moving humanity.”
Well they didn’t. And though Gordeyev and his colleagues at Ufa State Aviation Technical University showcased the boots to the Soviet Army, which caused them to be classified as a military secret until 1994, in the epoch of Russian capitalism, they found that there is just no market for gas powered boots. Thus, for the NY Times, Gordeyev’s boots are yet one example of Russia’s “inability to convert that talent into useful — and commercial — merchandise outside of the weapons business.”
But back to the boots. I mean who really cares about social-economic symbolism when you have gas powered boots. How do they work you ask?
A step down compresses air in the shoe as in a typical sneaker, said Mr. Enikeev, who was a designer on the project. But then, a tiny carburetor injects gasoline into the compressed air and a spark plug fires it off. Instead of fastening a seat belt, the institute’s test runner, Marat D. Garipov, an assistant professor of engineering, strapped on shin belts at a recent demonstration. Then he flicked an ignition switch.
Before running down a university corridor, he jumped in place a few times to warm up the engine. Mr. Garipov then ran laps for about 10 minutes, going about 12 miles per hour, with the two-stroke boots emitting small puffs of exhaust.
A test runner once topped out at 21.7 miles per hour, despite the risk of being sent off-balance.
The tanks in the shoes hold a third of a cup of gasoline each and will take the runner three miles; that means the boots get about 70 miles per gallon.
Don’t believe the Times? Just watch the running fool in the video above.
But alas the problem with the boots is not just that they “throw a wearer off balance or cause knees to buckle.” It’s that their two pound weight makes it “more tiring to run with the motorized footwear than without it.” So much for moving humanity.
As Anfis G. Saibakov, a former student who demonstrated the boots at Disney World in 1998 told the Times, “They should work like a Kalashnikov. Reliable in anybody’s hands.”
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By Sean — 12 years ago
Dmitri Minaev, who runs the Russia history blog De Rebus Antiquis Et Novis, submitted the following article about the strange incident involving a human rights group called Froda and their run in with the FSB in Novorossiysk. The article is a compilation to two posts Minaev did on the story. I’ve demarcated the break between the posts below.
I should note that this incident was followed by a raid on Institute of War and Peace Reporting by North Ossetian police in Vladkavkaz. There is no direct connection whatsoever between the two incidents except to say, as Valery Dzutsev, IWPR’s North Caucasus coordinator, put it to the Moscow Times, “The problems with the authorities began a month after the NGO law went into effect last April.”
You can draw your own conclusions.
In the meantime, I present Dmitri Minaev’s article on the incident in Novorossiysk.—Sean
Attack on Civil Rights?
By Dmitri Minaev
I found this shocking news by serendipity, it could have passed by totally unnoticed:
Nine members of Froda, a group that campaigns for ethnic minority rights, were found guilty of holding an illegal meeting and fined after they had tea with two German students visiting a friend in the southern city of Novorossiysk. … “We were told that, under the new law, any meeting of two or more people with the purpose of discussing publicly important issues had to be sanctioned by the local administration three days in advance,” Mrs. Karastelyova said.
More details in The Telegraph. Frankly, the story is so weird even for Russia, that I would like to find more information before posting this bit, but the same weirdness of the event gives me creeps so huge that I just can’t put it aside.
It seems to be a very strange organization, this Froda. They don’t have a web-site. They are not mentioned anywhere in the Internet, with two exceptions: the article from The Telegraph (reproduced in a number of other newspapers) and the 2004 report on human rights practices in Russia. The more I read, the more I suspect that there is something wrong with the whole story. Or, at least, I hope there is.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. The story was not fake. The newspaper Noviye Izvestiya writes (article in Russian) that on January 23, a group of human rights activists from Novorossiysk and students of local universities were meeting their guests from Germany in a local children’s art school. The German businessmen visited an exhibition of children’s drawings and they went to a room where a table was set for them all. An interpreter and an operator of a local TV channel were also present. The visitors planned to discuss the idea to spread tolerance towards ethnical minorities with posters and friendly football matches. At this moment, a group of 15 men dressed in the police uniform came in. The group was led by an FSB lieutenant colonel Dmitri Fedorenko. The group also included Anatoly Nilov, head of the culture department of Novorossiysk administration. They checked the documents of everyone present in the room. When asked what were the legal pretexts, they did not give an answer. Some time later, one of the policemen said that they should have notified the city administration of the planned meeting. The participants referred to the Constitution, but major Ovcharenko said that the meeting was not sanctioned by the authorities and falls under the law on demonstrations, rallies and picketing. The Germans consulted the embassy and decided to leave Russia, even though they had all documents and visas.
The authorities say that it was a usual raid of the immigration service and that the visit to the art school was not planned in advance, that it happened by chance.
Anyway, some days ago the human rights activists were officially accused of holding the meeting without notifying the authorities in advance. The participants and the principal of the school (Marina Dubrovina, Vladimir Serdyuk, Vadim Karastelev and Tamara Karasteleva) were found guilty and fined 500 to 1000 rubles. Tamara Karasteleva (or Karastelyova), on of the activists’ leaders, explained that the people were just sharing impressions, making acquaintance and watching photographs, but the judge Vera Abshtyr said that it must be done at home, not at a school. The activists intend to appeal.
On February 12, the Novorossiysk Human Rights Committee issued a press-release. It says that one more participant of the meeting, Vladimir Pyankov, was fined 1000 rubles.
BTW, I couldn’t find the name Froda in any of these articles. The Karastelevs couple are known as the leaders of the School of Peace foundation (the web-site was working two days ago but it is down now. For what reason and for how long, I do not know), an organization that promoted tolerance towards ethnic minorities and protects the rights of children from ethnic minorities. They are known for the activity in protection of human rights of Meskhetian Turks, who were removed by Stalin to Uzbekistan, fled from pogroms to Russia in 1989, but were given a cold shoulder here and forced to emigrate to USA. This activity of the School of Peace became the hidden reason for the closure of the organization in 2003.
By Sean — 13 years ago
Since I’ve been giving some attention to the Presidential election in
, I decided to enlist my friend, “Predsedatel’ Mike” for his impression of things in Almaty. “Mike” was kind enough to write something to post on this blog. The following is his thoughts. “Mike” is a scholar who has been in Kazakhstan for several months researching his dissertation. His view from the street gives a much needed picture of the situation concerning the Nazarbayev government’s use of paranoia and intimidation to influence the electorate as well as the status of the opposition, and the expat community’s inability to understand Kazakhstan without Western colored glasses. — Sean Kazakhstan
“An atmosphere of intense fear, and 10,000 phantom hooligans: A report on the Kazakh elections, from a foreign scholar on the ground”
by “Predsedatel’ Mike”
Almaty. Saturday night, December 3rd. The Night before the elections. I was called by a friend, a local, who cancelled our plans to go out to a club. Apparently, there was a curfew in effect. I couldn’t believe that news of this curfew had hit me so late – I hadn’t seen it posted anywhere, I hadn’t seen anything on television, and no one told me. I immediately phoned up my landlord. He “strongly advised” me not to go out that night, and not to go out the next day. There was going to be trouble surrounding the elections. Even if I didn’t confront hooligans and revolutionaries, there were so many police, army and special forces out on patrol, with itchy trigger-fingers, that they might target me, he said. “We could be facing disorder on the level of ‘ the December Events’ ” (In 1986, mass riots surrounding the replacement of a Kazakh party secretary with a Russian one, which resulted in a massacre of over 1000 people). “Just…don’t go out, okay?”. I was scared shitless. So I stayed in.
The next morning, I watched election news. The media outlet Khabar (owned by one of the Nazarbayevs – his daughter, I think) was interviewing people on the street in the lead-up to the elections. “Will you let these disturbances keep you from participating in the election?” “Can anyone stop this election – what do you think of these hooligans, will they succeed?” – Hmm, such pointed questions. I got into a taxi, and went to the expat pub for a quick bite and some darts. The streets were completely deserted. Not a soul. I had never seen it like this, particularly on Sunday, which is such a popular shopping day. I asked my driver why. “People are afraid, because of the hooligans. You know that the opposition has bused in tens of thousands of mambety (rural Kazakhs, typically seen as a dark, drunken, violent force from the countryside – the equivalent of ‘redneck’, or ‘yokel’) to do their evil work, and destroy our democracy”.
Rumors flew around town about these tens of thousands of hooligans – knuckle-dragging apes from the countryside, ready to rape and pillage. To disrupt the elections. To stage a color revolution. Even the opposition spoke of them, claiming that Nazarbayev himself had purchased this lumpenproletariat-for-hire, in order to make them look bad, and to justify further repression. The scary thing is, no one doubted their existence. Somewhere in the city, perhaps hiding in an abandoned factory, there were tens of thousands of barbarians waiting to be unleashed, by one side or the other. People were afraid. Too afraid to go out.
I met up with some friends at the Pub – marines, who hadn’t heard of the curfew. They had gone out the night before, and when the marines ‘go out’, let me tell you, that they go out all night, and all over the city. And they had seen nothing. No one had. Not one smashed window, not one broken bottle. The only violence I saw that night was between an Australian and an Irishman over
Suddenly, all was becoming clearer. The regime was cultivating this atmosphere of fear among the population, in an attempt to get more votes cast for the party of order, the OTAN party, the incumbent President Nazarbayev. They spread rumors of hooligans, of curfews (officially, it turns out, there wasn’t one), of dark forces plotting the overthrow of stability. The regime had even gone so far as to air a television special in the weeks preceding the elections – a documentary on the brutality of revolutions, and how they do nothing but destroy families, peoples’ lives, and entire nations… The fact is, none of this fear is necessary to the stability of this regime – it is the result of a typically Soviet paranoia.
During my time here, I have challenged embassy workers, scholars, and other expats, for their criticism of the Kazakhstani government and Nazarbayev. In making their analyses, they impose so much of the west, so much of what we think democracy is, how a society should be run, and what every decent human being should want, that they look everywhere for real, liberal democratic opposition to the Nazarbayev regime. And they find it everywhere – in the countryside, in poetry competitions, in competing clans, and in murdered ‘opposition’ leaders. Nurkadilov, who was taken out weeks ago, was part of Nazarbayev’s regime until very recently. He was the former mayor of Almaty, and the governor of several oblasts, during his career – all positions which are appointed and important, and which indicate a degree of trust and closeness to Nazarbayev. Their falling out had more to do with the fact that Nurkadilov was more visibly and openly corrupt and brutal than others in the establishment, and was thus harming the public image of the OTAN party. This man was no western liberal democrat reformer, and neither are the rest of the goons that surround him.
The problem is, these expat academic types and government officials talk to the wrong people. They talk to other academics, journalists, and dissidents. But they don’t talk to anyone else. When I say that I think Nazarbayev is truly popular, they look at me with mouths dropped wide open. No. He can’t be. No one would want to live under a democratic facade. Everyone is simply scared.
They’re partially right. Everyone is scared. But, much like the Soviet people living under Stalin, it isn’t all about fear. I consider my informal taxi-driver and shopkeeper political surveys more accurate than the very limited elite that the rest of the expats are talking to. According to my survey, even if the elections were not rigged, the opposition not suppressed, the atmosphere of fear lifted, Nazarbayev would still easily win by a large margin. Because he is truly loved. Sure, people grumble. They complain. Even the staunchest supporters will talk about corruption, and note that Nazarbayev is directly involved. However, he has the following going for him: He is the founder of the state. He moves deftly in international politics, balancing the influence of
America, Russiaand China, and always emerges with a good deal for (66% of oil revenue extracted by foreign companies, for example). His encouragement of foreign investment brings Kazakhstan Kazakhstanreal economic development – this ‘stan is an economic tiger, and the jewel of Central Asiaamidst the collapsing, dilapidated states surrounding it. He balances nationalities policy between advancing a Kazakhstani civic identity, while very gradually encouraging “Kazakhization” in schools and government – with a very fair target of completing the transition to Kazakh in government and public affairs by 2030 – even the Russians think this is acceptable (compared to the situation in Estonia, for example), and are beginning to send their children to Kazakh schools in droves. But most of all, Nursultan Nazarbayev gives the people hope – hope in the future of this country on the world scene. People are proud of this country, and the man at the helm. In a free and fair election, he would easily win somewhere between 70-80% of the vote. Once confronted my assessment, the other expats begrudgingly admit that I’m right.
That being said, Nazarbayev is paranoid, in a frighteningly Soviet way. It seems he can only feel secure with an overwhelming mandate, of 90-95% of the vote. And so, he stages forced rallies of students, workers, the army, etc. He bullies the opposition. And sometimes, people disappear. Nazarbayev is insecure. He doesn’t believe in the genuine love of his people. He considers it fickle, the people stupid, disloyal and easily swayed. And so he terrorizes them as well.
The day that Nurkadilov was killed, everyone spoke in hushed tones. “Did you hear? THEY killed Nurkadilov…”; “THEY murdered him, and threw him in a ditch”. And even the staunchest supporters of Nazarbayev fell silent in some sort of strange mourning. For they genuinely loved their father. But he didn’t need to scare them all into loving him. His irrational outbursts frightened the children, so they crawled into a corner, rocked back and forth, cried, and hugged each other, sharing in their inability to comprehend how father could be so cruel, and attempting to reconcile their love and their fear. With one eye, of course, peering into the darkness under their beds, waiting for ten thousand bogeyman to jump out.
By Sean — 12 years ago
The absence of Hama and Hezbollah from Russia’s “List of 17” terrorist organizations was been met with charges of hypocrisy, suspicion, and scorn. The omission certainly didn’t sit well with the Israelis or the Americans. The absence of the Kurdish Workers Party even angered Turkey. Such is the problem with the term “terrorism.” Its application is completely relative in relation to national interests, foreign and domestic policy, and cultural and historical factors. Russia has been curt in its explanation. Hamas and Hezbollah weren’t listed because they don’t pose a direct threat to Russia’s national security.
Andrei Smirnov doesn’t buy it. Writing for the Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasian Daily Monitor, Smirnov accuses Russia of listing mostly “virtual groups”, groups whose existence can no longer be confirmed. Two of Russia’s top ranked groups, the Supreme Military Council of the Caucasian Mujahideen and the Congress of the Nations of Ichkeria and Dagestan, have not been heard from since 1999. There is question whether the Islamic Party of Turkestan or the Egyptian Al-Ghamia-al-Islamia still exists. Further, Smirnov charges that the list makes one wonder if Russia really knows who they are fighting in the North Caucuses since they don’t list the three most active organizations in the region: the Chechen State Defense Council-Majlis-ul-Shura, Dagestani Sharia Jamaat and the North Ossetian Kataib-al-Khoul.
In addition, if Russia’s list only includes groups that pose a direct threat to Russia, then how do they explain including the Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Toiba or Jamaa al-Islamiya but not the Shura of Iraqi Mujahideen, which claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and execution of Russian diplomats in June. Smirnov goes on to point out more inconsistencies in the Russia terror list.
But the real issue is their leaving Hamas and Hezbollah of the list. This is where politics enters the fray. Even though FSB terror chief Yuri Sapunov admitted that Hamas and Hezbollah both “use terrorist methods in their national liberation struggle,” according to the Ekho Moskvy, this statement was omitted from the published interview in Rossiiskaya gazeta though it was in the original Interfax interview. Here is Smirnov’s explanation why Hamas and Hezbollah are absent:
It is not surprising that Hamas and Hezbollah are excluded from the Russian terror list, as the Kremlin is known to be sympathetic towards these organizations. Earlier this year Russian President Vladimir Putin invited Hamas representatives to Moscow to meet Russian officials, while Hezbollah is supported by Syria and Iran, two countries that have close ties with Russia. Nevertheless, Sapunov hinted that the Russian government could add the two groups to the list in the future. He said, “We recognize international terror lists, for example, the lists of the United Nations and the lists of such superpowers as the USA and the European Union. We consider them when we communicate with the special services of various countries.”
The Russian authorities do not recognize Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations not only because they believe they pose no threat to Russia, but also because the Kremlin is very angry at Western countries that do not recognize the Chechen rebels as terrorists. During a press conference after the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg in July, Putin crossly said that if Syria and Iran are branded state sponsors of terrorism, then Great Britain should also earn that designation because London refuses to extradite Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakaev to Russia (Newsru.com, July 16).
The Kremlin’s decision to omit Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iraqi insurgency from the list of terrorist organizations sends a clear message that terrorist threats to the West will be recognized only if Western officials recognize the Chechen insurgents as terrorists.
As it stands now, the US State Department List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) does not list a single Chechen or Caucasian terrorist group.
Perhaps a better explanation for certain groups’ absences on Russia list has to do with its policy in the Middle East. According to Pavel Baev, Putin’s Middle East policy has to do with a pragmatic approach to the region that is balanced with ensuring high oil prices and arms sales. Instead of the active role Putin hoped for in nuclear talks with North Korea in 2000, the Kremlin is now much more cautious with the Middle East. Even media coverage of the Hezbollah-Israeli war has been “remarkably balanced.” Writes Baev,
Moscow’s self-confidence is also supported by the assessment of the conflict dynamics in the Middle East that suggest a very probable strengthening of its quietly advanced position in a matter of a few weeks. This position is by no means moral but entirely pragmatic: No international framework for Lebanon could be negotiated without involving Syria; no agreement with the government of Lebanon could be implemented if Hezbollah is not a part of it; no stable arrangement for Gaza could be hammered out against the resistance of Hamas. The Kremlin calculates that it would take a few weeks for Israel to recognize that the spectacular devastation of Southern Lebanon could not significantly weaken the military capabilities and political influence of Hezbollah, much the same way as the full-blown invasion in 1982 did not bring about the destruction of the PLO. Meanwhile, the outrage in the Arab states and the indignation in Europe about the scale of the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe would predictably reach such levels that a ceasefire becomes imperative whatever reservations Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice might state. That is why Moscow was not in the least upset by the failure of the Rome conference last week, where Syria was not represented, expecting that the forum would be reconvened when Washington is forced to swallow its objections against sitting at one table with a representative from Damascus.