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By Sean — 10 years ago
Russia tries to keep up the momentum as it looks to face Spain on Thursday. Ger Clancy, our ever loving Irishman, breaks down Russia’s run and their chances for the cup.
After more than 16 years in the doldrums, Russian football is finally going places. Not since Euro ’88 have Russian footballers seen the second round of any international major tournament. Now their inspired victory over a highly-rated Dutch team, who had swept away all before them, has landed them a Euro 2008 semi-final spot against Spain. Sure, the Russians have not been without some good fortune in their quest. Nevertheless they are certainly deserving of a semi-final place and their attacking football in the last two games has won them over on the side of many neutrals. The Russians are a win away from a finals appearance, and two from a championship win. This was a possibility unthinkable a mere two weeks ago. But it was an outcome easily divined once coach Guus Hiddink’s brought in Andrei Arshavin (even though he was suspended for the first two games). Hiddick’s move has defined Russia’s tournament.
If you would have suggested that Russia would be a semi-final contender two weeks ago would have been greeted with doubt if not raucous laughter. After all, Russia couldn’t have begun the tournament any worse than they did in their opening game with Spain in Salzburg. In spite of a decent start, in which they held the ball well but lacked urgency, Russia conceded a very cheap goal when Fernando Torres skinned Denis Kolodin to set up David Villa. Everything went to pieces after that. The Spaniards eventually won 4-1, with Villa netting a hat-trick, a rare thing in international football and harsh lesson for the Russians. The Slavs performance was atrocious. Poor passing, no running off the ball, no pace to their game, and suicidal defending greased Spain’s victory. The Russians, however, would learn from the defeat.
Russia’s next match against Greece was a do-or-die game for both teams. Both had lost their opening games. The Greeks went down 2-0 to Sweden in an insipid performance. Although Russia improved immensely from the first match, their play was extremely nervous and uncertain. Their fate hinged on a goalkeeping disaster at 33 minutes when Nikopolodis charged rashly from his line to deal with a hopeless through ball from Bilyatidinov. Sergei Semak beat Nikopolodis and crossed the ball for Konstantin Zyrianov to push it into an empty net. It gave Russia 1-0 lead and the precious lifeline they desperately needed. The second half petered out into possibly the worst game of the tournament. The expected Greek lacked effort and their comeback never materialized. Three precious points for the Russians now meant a win against Sweden would take them through to the last eight.
Arshavin came back just in time to duel with the Swedes. Russia looked immensely improved to battle their medieval rivals. After a shaky start, the Russians took control of the ball and hardly lost it for almost an hour. By half, they had an unassailable 2-0 lead against a Swedish team which simply forgot to show up. Arshavin skinned Mellburg and Nillsonn time and again on the Swedish right, immediately validating Hiddick’s move to bring him onboard. After a number of misses Russia finally took the lead on 24 minutes when Anyukov crossed to an unmarked Pavluchenko who slotted home. Russia kept Sweden on the ropes until their second goal when Zhrikov crossed for Arshavin to calmly slot home.
Russia lost a lot of control in the game from that point on, easily and often surrendering possession, but there was no need to worry. Sweden’s strikers couldn’t hit the side of a barn. Russia could have gobbled up more goals on the break, but 2-0 satisfied their hunger. And so, for the first time ever, a Russian national football team reached the second round of a major tournament. Finally some joy for their long-suffering fans.
Much has been written about Russia’s victory over Holland. And frankly, much of it is rubbish. There is no doubt Russia outplayed them, even embarrassed them. But much of the analysis fails to take a number of important factors into account. First, Holland went up in smoke. This is not unusual and football fans are well aware of the Dutch tendency to implode when the world is at their feet. Secondly, the management on the Dutch bench was as incompetent as it was lazy. No attempt was made to change things significantly, especially on the tactical front. It was clear from the start that Sneijder, Van Der Vaart and De Jong were being cleaned out by Ignashevich and Kolodin. Although Robbin Van Persie did come on at half time, Anyukov simply disappeared. The Dutch were also clearly exhausted and the Russians obviously much fitter.
None of this is to take away from Russia’s excellent performance. It was probably the single best performance ever by a Russian national team. From early on they took the game to Holland and eventually were rewarded early in the second half when Semak crossed for Pavlyuchenko to score. From this point on, a Dutch comeback was expected but it never happened. Laboured, tired and listless, the Dutch were consistently beaten to 50/50 balls and were reduced to sporadic shots that went hopelessly wide or over. The Russians motored on and kept the Dutch at arms length in total comfort, until disaster struck right at the end when Van Nistelrooy headed an inswinger past Akinfeev from close in. That was hard blow to the Russians, but in extra time they took up where they left off and almost completely dominated in midfield. Early in the second period of extra-time, the Dutch finally collapsed when, for the umpteenth time Arshavin skinned Andre Oijer and crossed for Torbinskii to finish sweetly. A short time later Arshavin himself killed off the Dutch with a cool finish at the far post. With that, Moscow exploded.
So, can Russia really win it all? The Russians are now at the centre of much speculation and indeed betting, and they certainly can win the tournament. They are without a doubt the darlings of the championship and loved by neutrals for their attacking football. Beating the Dutch would have won them a lot of fans around Europe too. But is all this enough? A lot of comparisons have been made, especially with Greece in 2004, but I’m sure Hiddink would prefer another role model. Greece was the most unpopular winners ever, owing to their atrocious style of play. Russia in ‘08 is more like Denmark in 1992: swashbuckling, all-attack and hugely entertaining. There is no doubt the Russians can beat Spain, and may well do so.
Still, Russia is not without its problems. Kolodin and Torbinskii are suspended and the former is likely to be replaced by Vasilli Berezutskii, an off-form player who hasn’t kicked a ball in the tournament yet. He’s facing a long night marking Fernando Torres. Spain will be battled hardened and wily after their bruising encounter with Italy, and the Russian habit of standing off forwards and allowing them to run at Ignashevich and Berezutskii will be punished, just as Denis Kolodin was against the Greeks. Russia’s weakest link by far is their goalkeeper Akinfeev, who is surely the poorest left in the tournament. Also the game with Holland may have taken a lot out of the Russians both physically and mentally. Performances as big as that are very difficult to follow up. Hiddink however, has, as usual, come up trumps so far, so too have the players and it may not be beyond the Russians to bring the cup home….
Russia v Spain, Euro 2008 Semi-Final, Thursday June 26th 22.45 MSK, 19.45 GMT, 14.45 EST 11.45 PSTPost Views: 559
By Sean — 5 years ago
This week’s Russia Magazine column, “Russia’s Widening Wealth Inequality,”
The Putin years have been financially good for many Russians. Petrodollars have trickled down to a large portion of the population. Overall, Russians are wealthier than ever before. Economic stability and prosperity are pillars of the Putinist social contract, Putin’s personal longevity as Russia’s head honcho is tied to the country’s continued economic prosperity. But Putinism is not just based on a rising tide lifting all boats. It’s rooted in the ability of Russia’s wealthy elite to get even wealthier. The concentration of Russia’s wealth into a few hands is bore out in recent statistics reported in Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report 2013.
The report presents some startling findings concerning Russia. The gulf between Russia’s haves and have-nots is ever widening. Despite increases in Russian household wealth from an annual $1,650 in 2000 to $11,900 today, a mere 110 billionaires own 35 percent of Russia’s $1.2 trillion in household wealth. According to the report, 93.7 percent of the population owns $10,000 or less, and dispelling the notion of a monetary middle class, a paltry 5.6 percent own between $10,000 and $100,000. Poverty fell over the last decade, but inequality rose. “Russia has the highest level of wealth inequality in the world, apart from small Caribbean nations with resident billionaires,” the report concludes. The report’s authors seem surprised by this wealth concentration. Perhaps it’s because they ascribe to the ideological notion that Russia’s transition from communism to capitalism should have produced a vibrant middle class. “At the time of transition there were hopes that Russia would convert to a high skilled, high income economy with strong social protection programs inherited from Soviet Union days. This is almost a parody of what happened in practice,” the reports states with its own parody of a tired tenet of liberal teleology.
Photo: DrugoiPost Views: 813
By Sean — 5 years ago
Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova was denied parole on Friday. No surprise. This is not to say that the court session was without drama. In fact, it appears that Judge Lidiia Yakovleva of the Zubovo-Polyansky District Court in Mordovia suffered from a bout of schizophrenia. The court ran eerily by-the-book until, well, it didn’t.
From the beginning, Masha Gessen described the court proceedings as running “well and even very well.”
At first, it seemed to me that I was on a taping of “Court Hour,” joked Irina Khrunova [Tolokonnikova’s lawyer] . . . ‘The bailiffs please hand me the documents,’ doesn’t happen in real life. In real life who presents the documents hands them [to the judge].” Judge Yakoleva conducted herself as if this was a show trial, in the educative-demonstrative sense, not in the other meaning. Like a judge on television, except that, perhaps, in America.
According to Gessen, the whole thing was surreal. The court’s press secretary brought journalists extra chairs. The court staff was polite and proper as opposed to the usual provincial rudeness. All of this had a “mystical effect,” wrote Gessen, “at some point the court’s participants, and the spectators behind them started to suddenly believe they were in a real court where decisions aren’t predetermined.” During testimony period, Gessen described a scene where the defense lawyers and prisoner representatives discoursed without interruption. “It was as if [the judge] disappeared.”
Then Judge Yakovleva’s other personality suddenly kicked in.
Then something strange happened although no one could avoid noticing it was all strange from the beginning. Yakovleva declared a break so she could familiarize herself with the documents Khrunova presented. What was strange about this was that no one asked her for a break. Was she taking courtesy to a new level?
After ten minutes the judge came back a different person. She didn’t hide her impatience and began to shout at the court participants. Her hands trembled. She gave the floor to the prosecutor, who testified against parole, but didn’t give it to anyone after. She announced that the court would retire to render a decision. At first, Khrunova, after quickly saying something the fleeing judge about having another statement, stood speechless. Cameras snapped pictures from tripods and spectators whispered to each other. “What is this?” They led Tolokonnikova away, and then Khrunova started shouting about fifteen years and about procedure.
Voina tweeted this last bit: “This is the first time I’ve seen this in fifteen years of practice,” Khrunova about the fleeing judge who refused the defense the last word.”
“ВИЖУ ТАКОЕ ПЕРВЫЙ РАЗ ЗА 15 ЛЕТ ПРАКТИКИ” – адвокат Хрунова про убежавшую судью, отказавшую в последнем слове осужденной.
— группа война (@gruppa_voina) April 26, 2013
Later Khurnova told reporters that the judge’s action was a “serious violation of the Criminal Procedure Code because the verdict can be considered illegal.”
Tolokonnikova had prepared a statement to read before the court, but the judge, who suddenly left, refused to hear it. Tolokonnikova was ultimately denied parole because she hadn’t sufficiently “repented.”
Has the convict started down the road to rehabilitation?” This is the question asked when a request for parole is reviewed. I would also like us to ask the following question today: What is this “road to rehabilitation”?
I am absolutely convinced that the only correct road is one on which a person is honest with others and with herself. I have stayed on this road and will not stray from it wherever life takes me. I insisted on this road while I was still on the outside, and I didn’t retreat from it in the Moscow pretrial detention facility. Nothing, not even the camps of Mordovia, where the Soviet-era authorities liked to send political prisoners, can teach me to betray the principle of honesty.
So I have not admitted and will not admit the guilt imputed to me by the Khamovniki district court’s verdict, which was illegal and rendered with an indecent number of procedural violations. At the moment, I am in the process of appealing this verdict in the higher courts. By coercing me into admitting guilt for the sake of parole, the correctional system is pushing me to incriminate myself, and, therefore, to lie. Is the ability to lie a sign that a person has started down the road to rehabilitation?
It states in my sentence that I am a feminist and, therefore, must feel hatred towards religion. Yes, after a year and two months in prison, I am still a feminist, and I am still opposed to the people in charge of the state, but then as now there is no hatred in me. The dozens of women prisoners with whom I attend the Orthodox Church at Penal Colony No. 14 cannot see this hatred, either.
What else do I do in the colony? I work: soon after I arrived at Penal Colony No. 14, they put me behind a sewing machine, and now I am a sewing machine operator. Some believe that making political-art actions is easy, that it requires no deliberation or preparation. Based on my years of experience in actionism, I can say that carrying out an action and thinking through the artistic end-product is laborious and often exhausting work. So I know how to work and I love to work. I’m no stranger to the Protestant work ethic. Physically, I don’t find it hard to be a seamstress. And that is what I am. I do everything required of me. But, of course, I cannot help thinking about things while I’m at the sewing machine (including the road to rehabilitation) and, therefore, asking myself questions. For example: why can convicts not be given a choice as to the socially useful work they perform while serving their sentences? [Why can they not chose work] in keeping with their education and interests? Since I have experience teaching in the philosophy department at Moscow State University, I would gladly and enthusiastically put together educational programs and lectures using the books in the library and books sent to me. And by the way, I would unquestioningly do such work for more than the eight hours [a day] stipulated by the Russian Federation Labor Code; I would do this work during all the time left over from scheduled prison activities. Instead, I sew police pants, which of course is also useful, but in this work I’m obviously not as productive as I could be were I conducting educational programs.
In Cancer Ward, Solzhenitsyn describes how a prison camp detective stops one convict from teaching another convict Latin. Unfortunately, the overall attitude to education hasn’t changed much since then.
I often fantasize: what if the correctional system made its priority not the production of police pants or production quotas, but the education, training, and rehabilitation of convicts, as required by the Correctional Code? Then, in order to get parole, you would not have to sew 16 hours a day in the industrial section of the colony, trying to achieve 150% output, but successfully pass several exams after broadening your horizons and knowledge of the world, and getting a general humanities education, which nurtures the ability to adequately assess contemporary reality. I would very much like to see this state of affairs in the colony.
Why not establish courses on contemporary art in the colony?
Would that work were not a debt, but activity that was spiritual and useful in a poetic sense. Would that the organizational constraints and inertia of the old system were overcome, and values like individuality could be instilled in the workplace. The prison camp is the face of the country, and if we managed to get beyond the old conservative and totally unifying categories even in the prison camp, then throughout Russia we would see the growth of intellectual, high-tech manufacturing, something we would all like to see in order to break out of the natural resources trap. Then something like Silicon Valley could be born in Russia, a haven for risky and talented people. All this would be possible if the panic experienced in Russia at the state level towards human experimentation and creativity would give way to an attentive and respectful attitude towards the individual’s creative and critical potential. Tolerance towards others and respect for diversity provide an environment conducive to the development and productive use of the talent inherent in citizens (even if these citizens are convicts). Repressive conservation and rigidity in the legal, correctional, and other state systems of the Russian Federation, laws on registration [of one’s residence] and promotion of homosexuality lead to stagnation and a “brain drain.”
However, I am convinced that this senseless reaction in which we now forced to live is temporary. It is mortal, and this mortality is immediate. I am also certain that all of us—including the prisoners of Bolotnaya Square, my brave comrade in arms Maria Alyokhina, and Alexei Navalny—have the strength, commitment, and tenacity to survive this reaction and emerge victorious.
I am truly grateful to the people I have encountered in my life behind barbed wire. Thanks to some of them, I will never call my time in prison time lost. During the year and two months of my imprisonment, I have not had a single conflict, either in the pretrial detention facility or in prison. Not a single one. In my opinion, this shows that I am perfectly safe for any society. And also the fact that people do not buy into state media propaganda and are not willing to hate me just because a federal channel said that I’m a bad person. Lying does not always lead to victory.
Recently, I got a letter containing a parable that has become important to me. What happens to things different in nature when they are placed in boiling water? Brittle things, like eggs, become hard. Hard things, like carrots, become soft. Coffee dissolves and permeates everything. The point of the parable was this: be like coffee. In prison, I am like that coffee.
I want the people who have put me and dozens of other political activists behind bars to understand one simple thing: there are no insurmountable obstacles for a person whose values consist, first, of her principles and, second, of work and creativity based on these principles. If you strongly believe in something, this faith will help you survive and remain a human being anywhere.
I will surely use my experience in Mordovia in my future work and, although this will not happen until completion of my sentence, I will implement it in projects that will be stronger and politically larger in scale than everything that has happened to me before.
Despite the fact that imprisonment is a quite daunting experience, as a result of having it we political prisoners only become stronger, braver, and more tenacious. And so I ask the last question for today: what, then, is the point of keeping us here?
Photo: Maxim Shipenkov/EPAPost Views: 660