Are there any more questions about who’s in charge? I think this says it all . . .
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Russian sports is glaringly absent from this blog. Though I’m a big fan of sports my interest is solely on American professional sports, specifically basketball and baseball. I’ve been tempted to comment on a few Russian sports related stories, especially Andrei Kirilenko’s threats to dump the NBA and his lucrative $63 million contract with the Utah Jazz to return to CSKA Moscow. Kirilenko apparently fell back in love with European ball when he helped Russia win the European tournament and was named MVP this summer. There is no doubt that AK-47 can dominate far more in Europe than he can in the States. Kirilenko’s possible move also seems to be spurred by a bit of nationalist calling. “I would like to be where I am needed and right now I feel that my country needs me,” Kirilenko told Sport Express.
Alas, basketball is not the sport in Russia. It’s football. This is why I’m happy to post this article that Ger Clancy, aka the Irishman sent me about Russia’s upcoming showdown against England. According to Kommersant, tickets for the October 17th match went in a matter of hours. Ten thousand people stood in the rain to snatch up one of the 6,800 tickets on sale at Luzhniki stadium. 570,000 people applied directly to the Russian Football Union for one of the 74,000 available seats.
What is more is that where there are victories in sport, politics is never too far behind. In an attempt to capitalize on Russia’s success on the football field, United Russia has made sure that some of its high profile members will be seated in Luzhniki’s VIP box seats looking to bask in any television camera rays. How Russia’s political parties utilize sport is an interesting topic in and of itself.
But putting that issue aside for now, let’s turn to the real matter at hand: the upcoming match itself.
Last Chance Saloon for Russia at Luzhniki
By Ger Clancy, the Irishman
The Head Coach of the Russian national football team, Guus Hiddink, is a man under pressure. After overcoming a shaky start to his first campaign in charge, including two draws with table-toppers Croatia and a good victory in Skopje, Hiddink is now facing a must-win situation against England in Moscow. Russia’s collapse last month at Wembley has left them two points behind England and anything less than three points for the Russians at Luzhniki Stadium will almost certainly lead to elimination from Euro 2008. Hiddink was hired as Russia coach in the summer of 2006, following a solid performance as boss of Australia in the World Cup, as well a semi-final run with South Korea, in 2002, and Holland (his native country) in 1998. His appointment was high-profile and is widely believed to have been for a six-figure sum. Hiddink’s brief was very simple; drag the Russian national team out of second-world football status. The main reason for his appointment was his ability to make do with limited player resources, as he has done with both Korea and Australia. Although Hiddink has four year contract with the Russian Football Union, ostensibly aimed at preparing the Sbornaya for a crack at a World Cup quarter-final in 2010, failure to reach the European Championships will be more than a disappointment. The disaster at Wembley was a trip down recent memory lane for them and their poorest performance since their 7-1 dismantling in Lisbon under Georgy Yartsev in 2004. But Hiddink can only work miracles with the willing and the believers. The question is can Russia find a resilience and consistency that no Sbornaya has shown since the late 1980s?
Soviet, and later Russian football, has never fully recovered from defeat at the hands of Holland in the final of Euro ’88. At the time the team was loaded with superstars including Vasily Rats, Igor Belanov, Anatoli Demianenko, Renat Dasaeyev, Sergei Alyenikov, Alexander Zavarov and Oleg Protasov. Belanov scored four goals at Mexico ’86 and was crowned European Footballer of the Year six months later. Dasaeyev was widely considered the best goalkeeper in the world at the time. The rest of the team was renowned and feared across Europe. At the height of their powers in 1985, on the way to the World Cup in Mexico, they beat England 2-0 at Wembley in one of the best away performances of the whole decade, and they routed Hungary 6-0 at Irapuato at the finals. Their counter-attacking style was awe-inspiring. The team routinely conceded control of midfield to the opposition and defended using a high-back line a few yards from their box, with a sweeper behind. The Soviets could play percentages with the opposition for two main reasons: the presence of Dasaeyev in goal and Khidiatullin at sweeper, neither of who were easily beaten, and their own potency in attack. They scored countless goals by dispossessing the opposition near the Soviet eighteen-yard line, followed by a lightning break-out up the field of only two or three pin-point, long range passes and a clinical finish at the other end. This was the last golden age in Soviet football.
The Soviets waltzed to the final of Euro ’88, thumping Holland, England and Italy on the way. However, a Gullit-Van Basten inspired Holland were reborn in the final and beat them 2-0, ushering in a new superpower in European football. From there onwards the decline began. The Soviets qualified for Italia ’90 but were unceremoniously dumped out in the first round out by Romania and Argentina. The defeat to Romania in particular had huge effects on the European landscape. Not only did it signal the end of the road for the USSR as a football power, it shifted the balance of soccer dominance in Eastern Europe from Moscow and Kiev to Bucharest and to a lesser extent Sofia, Belgrade and Zagreb. A re-built Soviet team qualified impressively for Euro ’92 in Sweden (playing there as the CIS) only to tamely bow out at the hands of an already-eliminated Scotland. By this time the Soviet nation had collapsed and at start of the 92/93 season, for the first time ever, a Russian national team was attempting to qualify for a tournament, World Cup USA ’94.
The tale of woe since the birth of the Russian national team has been almost unrelenting. Russia have qualified for four tournaments in the period 1992-2006, and failed miserably on all of the occasions to get out of the first round. Almost always rumors of trouble within the camp surfaced in newspaper articles. This was especially true of 1994, when a players’ spat with coach Pavel Sadyrin soured morale in the team. Both reigns of Oleg Romantsev ended in scandal and recrimination over favouritism to Spartak players and dire performances on the pitch. Their exit from the World Cup in Korea-Japan in 2002 was especially shambolic. The defeat to Japan (which may or may not have helped ignite a drunken riot in Moscow) and the astounding collapse against Belgium brought Russian football to new lows. The incidences where they failed to qualify for tournaments at all were even worse. A last-minute goalkeeping disaster against Ukraine in 1999 not only dumped Russia out of Euro 2000, it gave four points out of six to their bitter rivals. It should also be noted that Russia failed to qualify for France ’98, meaning they went six years without reaching a major tournament – an unheard-of situation for fans of the old USSR in the 1980s.
Russia’s poor showings in the last 15 years are down to a number of factors. In 1992, it was widely thought that the backbone of the Soviet/CIS teams had been Ukrainian and hence any Russia team would struggle without stars from Dynamo Kiev. But this has not been borne out by results. Not only have Russia been awful, Ukraine have been too. Ukraine qualified for nothing until Germany 2006 and even then was one of the poorest teams at the tournament. Their second-round match with Switzerland was probably the single worst finals match ever played. Also, in 1990-1992, the Soviet team disintegrated – there were almost none of the eighties superstars left at that stage. Poor coaching of the national team, in particular a failure to either control strong personalities in the dressing-room or inspire players on the field, has certainly contributed. It is also plain that Russia has been without world-class footballers in key positions for a long time (in particular on the left) and this will hinder any coach. But the chief protagonists in this long dark period are the players themselves. With the possible exceptions of Victor Anopko, Alexei Yevseev and Alexander Mostovoi , no Russian player has performed consistently well through the course of a whole qualifying tournament and finals. It is time the players themselves stood up and firmly took responsibility for their own performances on the field. Through 15 years of dark times, coaches, tactics and all types of variables have changed, but poor showings from the players have remained the same. The match at Wembley was a nightmare from Russia’s past. However, England are already missing players through injury for the rematch in Moscow including Emile Heskey, who tormented the Russians last month. A draw will not be a disaster but realistically Russia need to win if they wish to progress. Both Arshavin and Sychov are dangerous forwards and if the Berezutskiis and Malafeev can hold it together at the back, Russia may just get the three points they need. If the Russian players themselves can get their act together, Hiddink, as wily a coach as one could find, can lead them at last into a new future.
Russia vs England, 17th October 2007 Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow [19:00] MSK.Post Views: 222
T-minus five days and counting. Here’s today’s roundup. The Christian Science Monitor, which I heard was once known for its objectivity, has apparently dumped it. In an editorial titled “Putin’s Potemkin Election,” CSM states that the Duma elections signal the end of Russia’s multi-party system. “In reality Russia is becoming a one-party state. One need only examine the coming parliamentary elections to see how this tragedy is happening.” Only two parties will remain in the Duma–United Russia and the Communists. Changes to the electoral law has made it “harder to run for elections.” In 2004, the law was changed to say that a political party must have a membership of 50,000 (up from 10,000) to register and 200,000 signatures to be on the ballot. This and other changes are what makes the Duma election “Potemkin.”
This is really funny, especially when you consider electoral law in California. For a new political party to get registered in the Golden State, it must have 88,991 people (or one percent of the state electorate) complete “an affidavit of registration, on which they have written in the proposed party name as the party they affiliate with.” To get on the California ballot, a party must have 889,991 signatures (or ten percent of the state electorate) from California alone. Strangely, I don’t recall any articles about California elections being referred to as “Potemkin.”
Such pontificating and hypocrisy are expected from the West. In addition to noting the obvious facade of the Duma elections, Western governments are continuing to line up to condemn the arrests of participants in anti-Putin protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg. To think President Bush had to nerve to throw his two cents in. “I am deeply concerned about the detention of numerous human rights activists and political leaders who participated in peaceful rallies in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Nizhniy Novgorod, and Nazran this weekend,” he said. “I am particularly troubled by the use of force by law enforcement authorities to stop these peaceful activities and to prevent some journalists and human rights activists from covering them.” You gotta be kidding me. I don’t recall any statement when the NYPD locked up 1000 people protesting the RNC Convention in 2004 in what became known as “Guantanamo on the Hudson.”
It should come as no surprise that Moscow’s Meshchansky Court upheld Kasparov’s arrest.
Sure it’s easy to point to the hypocrisy. But I have one more. Or really it’s a request. Can anyone explain to me what Anne Applebaum’s point is in her column on Slate called “The New Dissidents“? Among other things like comparing Other Russia to Soviet dissidents of yore, she writes, “Odder still is the fact that we hear anything about [Other Russia] at all.” What!? When is the last time she’s done a Google News or Yandex News search? Apparently she’s the only one that finds the voluminous amount of reporting in English and Russian on Kasparov et al. as “odd” I mean Kasparov is a contributing editor of the Wall Street Journal of all things.
The Russian Duma elections will not be fair or perfect by any standards. Sure Putin’s United Russia is popular and would win even if they had one hand behind their back. Even so, that doesn’t mean that in some nefarious ballot stuffing won’t take place in Russia’s nether regions. The election might be a hark back to the days of Stakhanovism when competitions between factories pushed productivity quotas beyond capacity. I’m sure no regional governor is going to let the other eclipse his own sycophantic pandering to the center. No one seems to deny this. A senior election official quoted in the Moscow Times says that “have been ordered to make sure that United Russia collects double the number of votes it is expected to win in State Duma elections on Sunday — even if they have to falsify the results.” How would this be done? The best way according to this unnamed official is to change the polling station’s protocol, that is the record of how many people vote and how many votes go to a party. “During past Duma elections this was the most common way to falsify the results,” he told the Times. “We would do it in front of foreign observers because they didn’t understand anything on what was going on.” If this is true, I sure hope that whatever elections monitors arrive, they aren’t as stupid as the last ones.
I assume this how election monitors from Nashi will spend their time. According to Lentna.ru, Nashi, along with VTsIOM and FOM, will be conducting exit polls. Exit poll monitoring will be one of the ways “Our Elections,” a coalition of Nashi, Young Guard, and Young Russia, will ensure that the ballots don’t get hijacked by colored revolutionary wreckers and saboteurs–all of which they label one kind of fascist or another. One wonders if they will do something like posing as “vampires” of votes, rather than vampires of blood like they did in an action to get Muscovites to donate blood in September. I can see it now. Nashisty running around saying “I’ve cum to suck yur votes!”
The Kremlin appears ready to fight election fraud of its own. Election Commissioner Vladimir Churov called upon voters to “not subvert” the elections by drawing “smiley faces, horns, or any other drawings” on or next to parties on ballots. Voters are also urged to not make the ballot an editorial. So, he warned, no one is to write “this party is the worst of all” next to the party of their choosing. Also, election workers are to avoid engaging in “boisterous discussions” with voters who share different opinion. Man, Churov is taking all the fun out of voting!
And by far the best election story of the day comes from Dagestan. There, Nukh Nukhov, a candidate for SPS, has been charged with “hooliganism,” “causing bodily harm,” and “illegal possession of weapons.” According to Lenta.ru, the story began way back in March this year. On 11 March, during the regional Dagestani elections, a “skirmish” broke out between Nukhov, who was then standing for reelection, and four of his people with Mohammed Aliev, who is the head of Dakhadaevksii district and United Russia, and his brothers. When the smoke cleared two of Nukhov men were killed and two, including Nukhov, were wounded. Aliev and his men fled the scene but a subsequent investigation landed his brothers in jail. Nukhov is said to have “fled with help of his contacts with security organs.”
Nukhov has been in hiding all this time. Or so says the Dagestani prosecutor. But Nukhov dutifully showed up to the court to answer for his behavior. There was even a 200 person strong protest calling for his immediate release. OMON quickly showed up and cordoned off the square.
The Nukhov-Aliev brawl makes me wonder. How much of this election is really about politics and ideology? Perhaps, especially in the localities, it is about clans from the top of the power vertical to the bottom securing their continued right to plunder. If this is the case, perhaps it’s time to dump all the finger wagging about “democracy” and see Russian politics for what it is, rather than what we want it to be.Post Views: 259
The post election political lull appears to be over as Russia’s politicians gear up for Medvedev’s presidency. As everyone already knows, Medvedev is expected to nominate Putin as Prime Minister. No one expected any opposition to this, since denying Putin dominance over Russian politics is like preventing tidal wave from hitting the shore. But it seems that Zyuganov’s Communists will make a show of opposition. The KPRF threatens to oppose Putin’s nomination because they haven’t been invited into any discussion about the future cabinet or Putin’s candidacy. According to Zyuganov, any candidate for Prime Minister “has a duty to meet with all [Duma] factions and give his opinion on how he will carry out his administrative and economic duties and how he perceives the administrative system.” Deputies from the other Duma parties, however, don’t see what Zyuganov is griping about. Sure, there might be a custom for an aspiring PM to meet with Duma leaders, says LDPR deputy Igor Lebedev, but “I think that Vladimir Putin can’t be bothered with it.”
The Duma pasted the third reading of a law that places new restrictions on national referendums. According to the Moscow Times, the law abolishes referendums on the federal budget, taxation, treaties and presidential terms. The Communists’ 57 members walked out of the vote. KPRF deputy Alexandr Kulikov stated that the passing the bill meant “we’re asking people to shut up.” United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov touted the bill as as a effort to maintain political stability. “We don’t need any political forces promoting the idea of a referendum, playing on the destabilization of the political situation,” he told reporters.
Gryzlov’s days as United Russia head appeared to be numbered. Putin is expected to be named party leader at its congress on April 14.
Russia’s self-proclaimed oppositions are also making moves and giving ultimatums. Last weekend, oppositionists met at the “The New Agenda for Democratic Movement” conference in St. Petersburg to plot their next move. 200 delegates from 30 regions came together with the to hope of forming a broader united democratic opposition. Until now, Russia’s liberals–Yabloko and Union of Right Forces–have declined joining up with Garry Kasparov’s Other Russia coalition. But given that Yabloko and SPS are on the precipice of political irrelevancy, it seem they need all the friends they can get.
However wide the democratic movement may be, it certainly is in no position to make ultimatums. But that didn’t stop the conference from passing a resolution that informed the Kremlin that they are prepared for a “constructive dialog with the state” and to have “contact with the state” on a variety of questions, namely, “the dismantling of authoritarianism.” Then came the ultimatum to President-elect Medvedev. Their demands were:
A review during the first hundred days after inauguration of all political issues including the Khodorkovsky case, securing the rights of citizens to assemble and demonstrate, the revoking of media censorship, and most important to change the electoral laws and prepare to conduct a special parliamentary election.
Let’s see, the chances of any of these happening are about, well, zero. But you have to give them a gold star for persistence.
The fact that the “orange threat” has been declared over hasn’t stopped the FSB. On Tuesday, FSB director Patrushev accused foreign NGOs of aiding terrorists. “Emissaries of foreign terror and religious extremist organizations, exploiting socio-economic problems and ethnic and religious differences, are trying to conduct recruiting efforts,” Patrushev said. “Individual foreign nongovernmental organizations provide information support to them to a large extent.” No specific NGO was mentioned. Patrushev’s comments were made with the announcement that the number of NGOs operating in Russia has dropped from 600,000 in 2002 to 227,577 in 2007. Human rights activists are expected an additional 15,000 to 20,000 to collapse this year. It seems that Russia’s new NGO registration law is doing its job. 11,000 NGOs were denied registration and another 8,274 were closed by the courts.
Aida Edemariam notes that Antonia Shapovalova’s Nashi wear is part of a wider phenomenon of political panties.
Quibbles about the usefulness of a political statement generally hidden under outergarments notwithstanding, a bit of digging reveals that there is quite a precedent for this kind of thing. In the run-up to the 2004 US election, for example, an outfit called Axis of Eve organised what they called “Operation Depose and Expose”: gaggles of women flashing red, fuschia, black and lavender drawers at TV cameras. It was the slogans that were the point, however. “Weapon of Mass Seduction”, many of them read. “My Cherry for Kerry” and “Expose Bush”. This time round BarelyPolitical.com has got in on the act, selling skimpy red boy-shorts with “OBAMA” written in big white lettering across the back.
And just this February Agent Provocateur, not generally known for its serious political leanings, designed a pair of Guantánamo Bay orange knickers, accessorised with a tiny pair of handcuffs, some fetching black ribbon, and the slogan “Fair trial my arse” curling across the rear. Vivienne Westwood (whose son runs Agent Provocateur) sent some down the catwalk at London Fashion Week. Even Gordon Brown was presented with a pair. The effectiveness of pants in the fight for justice across the world is unrecorded. But cavilling seems churlish. After all, in a healthy – or aspiring – democracy, everyone must do their bit.
In this case, that “bit” includes wearing only a little bit.
Natalia Morar, who was banned from Russia as “a danger to the safety and security of Russia,” has lost her appeal in Russian court. The court gave no reason for denying her appeal to get the ban removed. According to her lawyer Yuri Kostanov, “I have no proof but I suspect the case has a political subtext,” he told reporters. “As far as I understand it, Morar has not done anything subversive. But her activity is journalism and she published a great many political articles, including about VIPs. I cannot exclude that namely these people applied some leverage, and this may be the root cause (for the decision). I cannot rule this out.” No, really, you think?
And finally, it seems that Putin could only contain himself for so long at the NATO-Russia Council last weekend. This is despite the fact that Western diplomats pleaded that he tone down his rhetoric. But apparently Putin could only contain himself for so long. According to reports, Putin “lost his temper” during discussion about Ukraine’s possible NATO entry. One diplomat told Kommersant that at one point Putin turned to Bush and said, “You do understand, George, that Ukraine is not even a state! Part of its territory is in Eastern Europe and considerable part was given to them by us!” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that Putin ever made any such statement. Nevertheless, I’m sure that after hearing this, there are many Ukrainians who can’t run into NATO’s arms fast enough.Post Views: 219