Posts tagged ‘russia’

11 April 2011

The irrational in Russian history and culture

Conference in Moscow next week from 14 to 16 April 2011, at the German Historical Institute. Programme:

Thursday 14 April 2011
9.30-9.45 Welcome
9.45-12.00 Panel 1: The Irrational and Religious Experience

  • Michail Dmitriev (Moskva) 0b irratsional’nom v traditsionnoy pravoslavnoy kul’ture Moskovskoy Rusi i Rossii
  • Ekaterina Emeliantseva (Bangor) Emotional Styles within Ekaterina Tatarinova’s Spiritual Brotherhood (1817-37)
  • Irina Paert (Tallinn) Preternatural, Irrational, Bizarre and the Russian spiritual elders (startsy)
  • Page Herrlinger (Bowdoin College) Healing Russia: Religious and Secular Perspectives on the “Miraculous” powers of brother Ioann Churikov in St. Petersburg, 1894-1917

12.00-12.20 Coffee Break

12.20-14.00 Panel 2: Anthropology/Narodnaya kul’tura

  • Jule Herzberg (Munich) On the Rationality of Dreams: Visions, Nightmares, and Dreams in Peasant Writing from Tsarist and Soviet Russia
  • Anton Salmin (Sankt-Peterburg) Znacharstvo u chuvashey kak irratsional’noe yavlenie
  • Ekaterina Chodzhaeva (Kazan’) «Sumasshedshie» i militsionery

14.00-15.30 Lunch

15.30-17.15 Panel 3: Literature

  • Mariya Mayofis (Moskva) Sumasshestvie, slaboumie ili sotsial’nyy nevroz? Poet Aleksandr Kvashnin-Samarin
  • Ilya Vinitsky (Pennsylvania) Mystical Undercurrents of Russian Realism
  • Nikolay Bogomolov (Moskva) Simvolizm kak pogranichnoe sostoyanie: vzglyad iznutri i izvne

Friday 15 April 2011
10.00-11.45 Panel 4: Psychology

  • Michail Velizhev (Moskva) Chaadaevskoe delo 1836g. i istoriya bezumiya v Rossii
  • Sabina Maier (Moscow) Analyzing Dostoevsky: Concepts of the Irrational in Early Russian Psychoanalysis
  • Gregori Dyufo (Paris) Ratsional’naya organizatsiya dlya bol’nych umov? Psichiatricheskie uchrezhdeniya v Sovetskom Soyuze 1920-ch godov

11.45-12.15 Coffee

12.15-13.50 Panel 5: The Irrational Self

  • Lynn Patyk (Florida) The Terrorist State of Mind: I. Kaliaev
  • Julia Mannherz (Oxford) Occultism and Irrational Insight
  • Polina Barskova (Hampshire College) The Super-Fantastic Reality of Historical Disaster: The Siege Self in Contact with the Irrational (1941-1944)

14.00-15.30 Lunch

Trip to Muzey istorii Moskovskoy gorodskoy psichiatricheskoy bol’nitsy im. N.A. Alekseeva

Saturday 16 April 2011
10.00-11.45 Panel 6: Musical and Literary Aesthetics

  • Rebecca Mitchell (Urbana-Champaign) In Search of Orpheus: Music and Irrationality in Late imperial Russia
  • Amrei Flechsig (Hannover) The multi-faceted Russian irrational in Music: Alfred Schnittke’s opera Life with an Idiot
  • Yelena Karlinsky (Rutgers) Performance Vision: Psychic Break and Aesthetic experience in Andrei Monastyrskii’s Kashirskoe shosse

11.45-12.15 Coffee Break

12.15-13.50 Panel 7: Science

  • Nikolay Mitrochin (Bremen) Sovetskaya intelligentsiya v poiskach chuda: religioznost’ i paranauka v SSSR v 1953-1985 godach
  • Aleksandr Panchenko (St. Petersburg) “Sacred energies”: History of Science and Esoteric Culture in Twentieth Century Russia

12.55-14.00 Concluding Discussion

3 December 2010

Russian bloggers and political change

Via Global Voices, a community portal reporting on blog and citizen’s media around the world, I came across a story about Marina Litvinovich, blogger, civic rights and human rights activist in Russia. (Her Russian blog here.) She talks about the increasingly important role of blogs as investigative journalism in Russia.

First we have to talk about a special place that LiveJournal plays in the Russian blogosphere. LiveJournal blogs have a tremendous impact on politics and news agenda. Mainstream media are losing their foothold as a sole provider of information and blogs are stepping up. Bloggers are also independent interpreters of events. In many news events, the first interpretation is very important. When the blogosphere interprets the news, it is like a soup that is being cooked in front of your eyes.

28 September 2010


This is the kind of ironic critique of common-sense that I love. Even though it’s a Mail on Sunday (!) blog. (I have mixed feelings about Peter Hitchins: interesting take on Russia and on “the West’s” approach to post-Soviet Russia; dubious take on the EU.).

As Ukrainians force Russians to turn their back on their language and change their names, I ask, is this the world’s most absurd city?

Imagine some future Brussels edict has finally broken up Britain and handed Devon and Cornwall over to rule by Wales.

Imagine the Royal Navy, much shrunk and renamed the English Navy, being told it has to share Plymouth with a new Welsh fleet; that is, if it is allowed to stay there at all.

Picture the scene as cinemas in Plymouth and Exeter are forced to dub all their films into Welsh, while schools teach anti-English history and children are pressed to learn Welsh.

Street signs are in Welsh. TV is in Welsh. Police cars patrolling Dartmoor have ‘Heddlu’ blazoned on them, banks have become ‘bancs’ and taxis ‘tacsis’.

Meanwhile, Devon and Cornwall are cut off by a frontier from the rest of England, closing down industries with English links, and people are issued with new identity documents with Welsh names.

Utterly mad and unthinkable, you might say. And you would be right. But something very similar has happened in what used to be the Soviet Union, and we are supposed to think it is a good thing – because Russia is officially a bad country, and its former subject nations are therefore automatically good. […]

I think our treatment of Russia since the fall of communism has been almost unbelievably stupid and crude. We complain now about the autocratic rule of Vladimir Putin. But it was our greed and our bullying of the wounded bear that created Putin and his shady, corrupt state. […]

No, I am not an apologist for Comrade Putin. I like Russia, and wish it had a better government. I think it would have done if we had been more thoughtful after 1991. […]

This sublimely silly development meant that Russia’s main naval base [Sevastopol] was suddenly in a foreign country, and its inhabitants became aliens in their own land. It gets more ridiculous. On one side of the harbour, a fortress bears the slogan ‘Glory to the Russian navy!’ A strongpoint a mile away is adorned with a banner proclaiming ‘Glory to the Ukrainian navy!’

Sevastopol’s deputy mayor, Pyotr Kudryashov, knows all about this rivalry. By an accident of history, his son Sergei, 30, and his daughter Anna, 35, are both serving at sea as naval officers – but Anna is in a Russian ship, and Sergei is in a Ukrainian one.

Both wanted to join a navy, and each joined the one that was recruiting when they graduated. In theory, if the New Cold War ever turns hot, they could be firing missiles at each other.


…with thanks to Athol for keeping me up-to-date on media discourse on Russia!

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26 September 2010

Russland als Gaskammer

At least that’s how the Bild Zeitung translates “gas vault” into German! Bildblog reports.

6 September 2010

Digital Icons

Issue 3 of Digital Icons: Studies in Russian, Eurasian and Central European New Media is now available online.

Between Big Brother and the Digital Utopia: e-Governance in Post-Totalitarian Space

This issue of Digital Icons explores the practice of e-participation and e-governance in post-Soviet, post-communist countries, focusing on three main geographical areas, Central Europe (Slovakia), Russia, and Central Asia. The use of information and communications technology to overcome traditional difficulties associated with the interaction of the state and its citizens represents a double-edged sword in post-totalitarian space. For many, the coming of digitized governance heralds an end to needless bureaucracy, countless hours wasted in queues, and access to hitherto unavailable government services. For others, however, the expansion of the state into the virtual realm is a harbinger of a dystopian future where the panopticon is always watching, and even the most private thoughts of citizens are monitored and recorded by the state. This issue of Digital Icons aims to examine the inherent tension between these two extremes.

3.0 Editorial (Vlad Strukov)

3.1 State of Ambivalence: Turkmenistan in the Digital Age (Annasoltan)

3.2 E-government and Transparency in Authoritarian Regimes (Erica Johnson and Beth E. Kolko)

3.3 Citizens Speak Out: Public e-Engagement Experience of Slovakia (Anton Shynkaruk)

3.4 Digital Citizenship and the Future of the Discipline (Interview with Stephen Coleman) (Vlad Strukov)

3.5 Cultural Citizenship in the Television/New Media Interface (Sudha Rajagopalan)

3.6 ‘Electronic Russia’: Reality or (Empty) Promises? (Interview with Ivan Ninenko) (Polina Baigarova)

3.7 Reports and Commentaries

3.8 Book Reviews

The full issue is available online on in English, German and Russian.

24 February 2010

Russia Europe’s largest economy by 2050

New term to add to LEDC, NIC, LDC, etc. Someone recently termed Germany one of the NDCs: Newly Declining Countries. A recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers provides support:

PricewaterhouseCooper’s head of macroeconomics, John Hawksworth, believes by 2050, Russia will be Europe’s largest economy, while China, the US and India will lead globally.

PwC predicted that Russia would become Europe’s largest economy by 2020. What are the underlying assumptions of this forecast?

In terms of purchasing power parity, which corrects for variations in price levels, Russia’s GDP is already the second largest in Europe after Germany.

Germany’s economic growth, especially given its ageing population, is projected to be less than 2pc per annum over the next 20 years, allowing Russia to catch up by 2020. The price of natural resources should remain relatively high because of demand from India and China and should support Russia’s growth. (Report by Artem Zagorodnov on Russia Now.)

11 October 2009

The Yeltsin Scandal

Who’s ruining Russian democracy? Stephen F. Cohen has long been arguing that Gorbachev was the real democrat and it all went to anti-democratic hell with Yeltsin, long before Putin turned up, or Medvedev followed.

A recent interesting media analysis by William Dunkerley, media business analyst and consultant, points to a similar argument. The media scandal, says Dunkerley is “the Western press’ inexplicably lenient treatment of the Yeltsin presidency, especially in comparison to his successors”. Some extracts:

[The Yeltsin Scandal begins with a drunken Boris Yeltsin hailing a cab in his underwear across from the White House in Washington. But that’s just the beginning. This story includes murder, unthinkable acts of military aggression, and journalistic malfeasance. At its heart, it’s really a story about the media and how they have bungled the coverage of Yeltsin and his successors. You’ll never look at media reportage of Russia in the same way!]

Over the years, Yeltsin has been characterized variously as a hero who brought down communism, as the foremost proponent of Russia’s transformation to democracy and a market economy, and as a stalwart of Russia’s free press.

Beyond that popular imagery, however, there was a less attractive side. Yeltsin presided over a looting of state assets that created a circle of newly-minted tycoons that helped to protect Yeltsin. In addition, acting against the constitution, Yeltsin dismissed the duly elected parliament. And when the members refused to go, he brought in tanks to shell the parliament building in a confrontation that ultimately claimed approximately 150 lives. Somehow he was able to win reelection in a contest where he held roughly a 5 percent approval rating going into the election season. Ultimately, Yeltsin led the country into a financial collapse near the end of his presidency.

A Closer Look at Yeltsin

As a case-in-point, I examined the New York Times coverage of Yeltsin’s shelling of the parliament in 1993. That was one of Yeltsin’s most egregious acts. The Times ran a story entitled “SHOWDOWN IN MOSCOW: Tactics; Yeltsin Attack Strategy: Bursts Followed by Lulls.” Here are some excerpts illustrating how the Times covered the story:

“The assault on the Russian Parliament building today was a textbook example of the decisive application of military power…

“And as the daylong assault went on, it was clear that Mr. Yeltsin’s commanders had decided on gradualism…

“The Russian troops were looking for Bolshoi Devyatinsky lane … where the defiant lawmakers had maintained their headquarters…

“With the outcome of the battle never in doubt, the clear preference of the military was to scare the anti-Yeltsin demonstrators into surrendering and to limit casualties…

“The only question was the number of lives that would be lost. And that was largely left up to the rebels as they were alternately bombarded with shells and appeals to surrender.”

Just note how soft this coverage is. I’m not taking sides on whether Yeltsin’s actions were appropriate or not. But, the Yeltsin side is characterized as valiant and measured. The other side is characterized as defiant and to blame for its own fate. The story has a factual basis. The president really did launch a tank assault on the parliament. However, the circumstances clearly seem to be spun in a way that tempers that stark reality.

1 August 2009

Only 4% Ukrainians approve of government

Gallup has released data of approval rates of governments in 12 of the 15 former Soviet republics. Only 4% of Ukrainians polled answered yes, they approve of their country’s political leadership, whereas 77% approve in Azerbaijan and 71% in Kazakhstan. Russia comes in fourth at 56%.


Showing once more that statistics can be tied into any number of narratives and discourses, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reports the results under the headline “Gallup’s Index of Fear”, saying that it should be clear to all that these results indicate nothing more than the fear of voicing one’s true feelings about the government in these country’s which scored highly.

They may have a point. But the story does indicate that there is no possible way in which public events or comments in, say, Azerbaijan could be interpreted positively by RFE/RL. If they scored poorly, that shows that the leadership should be changed. If they score highly, that shows the leadership should be changed. Here’s to the future of self-reflexive journalism.

And as for Ukraine, RFE/RL echo the words of George W. Bush, when he said he was pleased that there was such vocal protest about the war in Iraq during his visit to London, since that showed true democracy was alive in the UK.

It’s true that Ukraine’s political situation is a mess. But at least people there aren’t afraid to say so. And that means something.

15 May 2009

Political / gas satire in Russia

And they say political satire in Russia is dead..

Option 1: it never died.

Option 2: it has been resurrected under Medvedev

…video thanks to oldag

31 March 2009

Projection onto Moscow

Here we are, in a time of crisis, and once again Russia operates as a space onto which “western” (in this case, German) fears can be projected.

Moscow, so the German state television channel ZDF tells its viewers (at prime time this evening), is a city of mega-rich and shockingly-poor. While the rich ignore the crisis and continue to party, drink champagne and eat caviar (fade in: image of ballroom dancing, tuxedos, etc), the poor get poorer (fade in: image of poor homeless couple, freezing, being picked up by the police).

The strong implication of the rhetoric in the opening minutes of this “documentary” is that these issues are specific to Moscow’s glittering elite.

Such excess would never be relevant in Germany or anywhere else in the West/North, now would it? Especially not during a financial crisis.

Or would it:

  • Partyelite Berlin. Vodka only 60 € for 1 litre
  • “JPMorgan Chase, beneficiary of $25 billion in taxpayer bailout dollars, plans to spend $138 million for swank corporate jets and a new hangar”
  • AIG’s infamous payout of $165 million in bonuses in this same crisis year. (Plus public backlash)
  • Sir Fred Goodwin’s pension of £703,000-a-year. The former chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s “departure from RBS was negotiated on the weekend of October 11/12 [2008] when the bank was saved from collapse by an injection of £20bn by the taxpayer.”
  • “Bob Diamond, the hard-charging boss of Barclays’ investment banking arm […] has suffered a brutal £4m cut to his annual remuneration – leaving him last year with a meagre £17m in cash and shares.”
  • Josef Ackerman, Deutsch Bank boss, also took a massive 90% pay cut, leaving him with only 1.39 million euros ($1.89 million) earnings last year.

And at the same time:

  • “Numbers of Homeless Increase as Nation’s Financial Crisis Continues” (USA)
  • “From June 2007 through May [2008], PADS [Lake County’s homeless shelter] saw a 17 percent increase from the previous year in new clients and a 48 percent increase in children.” (USA)
  • Estimates place Germany’s number of homeless people between 300,000 and 860,000. (More on Günter Wallraff‘s experiences)