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February 27 2014

Chechen Dictator and Russian Nationalist NOT Taking Over Ukraine

A Yin and Yang of Russian trollitics, Leader of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov and nationalist blogger Egor Prosvirnin. Unlikely bedfellows. Images remixed by author.

Yin and Yang of Russian trollitics, highly unlikely bedfellows Leader of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov and nationalist blogger Egor Prosvirnin. Images remixed by author.

Time and time again Russian Internet users and Russophone mass media prove that they will fall for any hoax, no matter how bizarre or unbelievable. It's not as if it is the first time someone took the fake Twitter account of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov for the real thing. @KadirovRussia [ru] was started before the real Kadyrov joined Twitter and quickly gained a following. These days, however, almost everyone is aware that although Kadyrov does tweet at his own account, @rkadyrov [ru], he mainly uses it to link to his favorite social networking platform, Instagram [Global Voices report].

Nevertheless, multiple bloggers, forum users, and online media outlets were taken for a ride with a recent tweet by @KadirovRussia:

Prosvirnin and I are riding the “friendship train” to support Russians in Crimea.

Crimea is a primarily Russophone region of Ukraine currently protesting the change of power in Kiev. Crimeans are afraid that nationalist Ukrainians will infringe on their culture, and many Russians share their fear, stoked as it is my mainstream Russian media. A beach paradise not far from where the Sochi Winter Games took place, it is also home to a Russian naval base, and is currently a pressure cooker of ethnic tension between Russians, Ukrainians, and Crimean Tartars. Not a day passes that there aren't rumors of Russia deploying troops or Kiev sending its own militia to the region. The most recent development [ru] is that armed men have occupied a regional administration building and hung Russian flags from it.

In this climate the announcement that the gruff Chechen leader has joined causes with nationalist blogger Egor Prosvirnin (of Sputnik & Pogrom fame), who has been vocally advocating for Crimean independence [ru] for the past several days, fell on fertile ground. Never mind that Prosvirnin harshly mocks and lambastes Kadyrov, the news was reported by several Ukrainian outlets, including Ukrainian Komsomolskaya Pravda [cache], Obozrevatel [ru], and Korrespondent [cache], with commentary noting the increasingly violent climate in Crimea. Kadyrov's alleged involvement must have been particularly troubling — it was the Chechen “Vostok” Battalion that was in the lead during Russia's 2008 armed conflict with Georgia over the breakaway province of Abkhazia.

Prosvirnin himself was amused with the confusion, writing [ru]:

Разбудили звонком с НТВ, спросив, правда ли мы с Кадыровым едем в Крым. Спросонья ступил и сказал, что они там совсем что ли ебу дались, и уже повесив трубку понял, что НАДО БЫЛО ВСЕ ПОДТВЕРДИТЬ.

Was woken up with a call from NTV, asking if its true that Kadyrov and I are going to Crimea. I was still dozy and stupidly said that they were out of their f*cking mind, but as I hung up I realized that I SHOULD HAVE CONFIRMED EVERYTHING.

He said that the news might have scared the Crimean Tartars who are currently against any talk of secession. Later he also joked [ru] that Kadyrov has agreed to take charge of the western Ukrainian province of Lviv.

Chechen “Vostok” Batallion troops at a Crimean beach, or what it might look like if they were. Images remixed by author.

Meanwhile, the real Kadyrov has actually sounded off about Ukraine [ru] on his Instagram account:

Получаем информацию, что у проживающих в этой стране соотечественников появились серьезные проблемы с сохранностью бизнеса и личной безопасностью. Мы никогда не претендовали на чужое, но и своё защитим. Следует четко осознавать, что не дадим в обиду чеченцев и других россиян, где бы они не находились.

We have received information that our countrymen living in that country are having serious problems with safety of their businesses and personal safety. We have never wanted what isn't ours, but we will protect our own. It needs to be clearly understood, that we won't let Chechens and other Russians come to harm, wherever they may be.

A troubling statement — perhaps more troubling than any fake news of rapprochement with Russian nationalists.

February 26 2014

The Russian Familiarity Yanukovich's Fabulous Palace

Yanukovich's presidential palace, where dreams came true. (And then crashed back to Earth.) Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

Yanukovich's presidential palace, where dreams came true. (And then crashed back to Earth.) Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

When Viktor Yanukovich fled Kiev last week, he left home in a hurry. The crowds of ordinary civilians and journalists who later flooded the abandoned presidential palace, on the other hand, took their time, marveling at an opulence even Yanukovich's sharpest critics found shocking. When the first visitors arrived, they encountered a skeleton crew of guards, who actually led journalists on a tour of the property, inviting them to take photographs [ru] in order to “reveal how Ukraine's President lives.”

Popular Russian photo-blogger Ilya Varlamov gained access to the grounds, photographing various sights on the 140-hectare property. There was a private zoo filled with animals both domesticated and exotic. The garage hosted a collection of expensive classic cars. Docked at the shore of a private lake, a galleon served as a restaurant. And, of course, there was a private golf course. Ukrainians piled into the mansion to see their taxpayer money at work. An open invitation [ru] went out over Twitter inviting people to come and see the palace with their own eyes. 

Yanukovich's floating 19th hole. The galleon restaurant.

Curiously, the Russian blogosphere’s response was largely muted. Russians, admittedly, are already familiar with examples of their own politicians’ wealth and bad taste, as photos of their residences regularly leak onto the Internet. Vladimir Yakunin, president of the state-run company Russian Railways, starred in such a scandal last year, when anti-corruption blogger Alexey Navalny published materials [ru] on Yakunin's 70-hectare property outside of Moscow.

With this history in mind, one of Varlamov’s readers joked that Yakunin must envy Yanukovich's bigger mansion:

Ни в коем случае не показывайте эти кадры Якунину.

Don't see these photos to Yakunin.

Another Russian blogger, Oleg Kozyrev, reminded reader about a remark by Vladimir Putin in 2008, when he referred to himself as a galley slave.

Теперь понятно, что Путин имел в виду, когда говорил, что он раб на галерах. Вот галера Януковича

Now it is clear what Putin had in mind when he said that he is a galley slave. Here is Yakunin’s galley.

Lenta.ru journalist Andrey Kozenko tweeted:

Generally speaking, after seeing photographs of the residence, [I have to say]: all embezzlers have horrible taste.

Long lines to gaze upon Yanukovich's riches.

Journalist Alexander Plushev observed on Twitter:

I wonder how many of our people [Muscovites] would go to Novo-Ogarevo [Putin’s residence outside of Moscow]. (Let’s just say, if the appropriate circumstances arose.)

Vladimir Varfolomeev jokingly replied:

Hold on now—are they already taking reservations for tours? Damn. Once again, I've missed everything while on vacation.

Andrey Davidov offered the following novel solution:

You could create an electronic queue management system.

February 25 2014

Iran Watches Ukraine With Envy and Dismay

Ukraine protests

Ukraine's protest, as covered by Iran's Farda News


Ukraine's protests and change of power in Kiev were covered with enthusiasm in Iran's media. While Iranian officials saw a Western plot led by the United States and Europe, Iranians who once staged mass protests against their own regime were reminded of a revolution that eluded them.

Iran's minister of justice said Ukraine can't be compared to Iran, but many Iranians draw parallels to Green Movement protests after the presidential election in 2009.

Iranian blogger Abgosht writes [fa] that there are several reasons why Ukraine (and Tunisia) where able to accomplish what Iranians failed to do:

The short and useful answer is that the red line for Ukraine's and Tunisia's [opposition] movement leaders was democracy, while the Iranian ones would maintain the regime's [establishment] framework… their people are not traitors, their police and security forces are good people, ours are thugs who believe national interests take priority over individual ones.

On Twitter, Sarah makes fun of the head of the Iranian military forces, Hassan Firoozabadi who said that “Ukraine's revolution was escaping from independence toward dependency.”

She tweeted [fa] quoting Iranian writer, Ebrahim Nabavi:

I don't know why Iranian officials, more than the citizens of Ukraine, Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon seem to be so preoccupied with these countries’ independence.

Free Democratic Iran tweeted, quoting a headline from the very conservative Iranian newspaper, Keyhan:

@_Cafe tweeted with irony:

We are ahead of Ukraine. That's why I need anti-filtering software to be able to write these few words on the internet.

Nima Akbarpour tweeted [fa]:

Ukraine's situation reminds me of Zapata's movie where the revolutionaries conquer power and then follow the same path.

From Kiev to Moscow: Russia's Tired Protest Antics

Tires (for burning on barricades) in the shape of the Olympic symbol. Anonymous image found online.

Car tires (used for burning on barricades during Ukraine's Maidan protests) in the shape of the Olympic symbol. Anonymous image found online.

With the Sochi Olympics over, it is back to business as usual in Russia — futile protests for the opposition, reactionary repression for the government. On Monday, February 24, 2014 Moscow's Zamoskvoretsky Court sentenced eight political activists to several years in prison for participating in a May 6, 2012 riot near the centrally located Bolotnaya Square. The actual sentences in the “Bolotanaya Case” vary, from two years and seven months for Artem Savelov to four years for Sergey Krivov. Alexandra Duhanina, the only female defendant left after an earlier amnesty that freed Maria Baronova, received a suspended sentence of 3 years and 3 months.

An image showing the Bolotnaya prisoners and their sentences. Anonymous image found online.

An image showing the Bolotnaya prisoners and their sentences. Anonymous image found online.

The sentencing took place this Monday, rather than last Friday as was originally planned [ru], likely to keep from spoiling the Olympic closing ceremony with untoward headlines. Even though it was a week-day, hundreds of people showed up to the court building, and later to Manezhnaya Square, to protest against the court case, which many view as rigged and political in nature. Some of these protesters seemed to have been inspired by the revolution in neighboring Ukraine, where violent street action helped the opposition reach their political goals. Specifically, several people tweeted about the need to bring car tires to the protest — either a defiant gesture referring to the mounds of tires burned by protesters on Kiev barricades, or a call to build barricades of their own.

Ilya Azar, a reporter at Lenta.ru, was the first one to call for “tires at Manezhka,” tweeting:

не забудьте каждый взять с собой на Манежку хотя бы одну автомобильную покрышку

everyone, don't forget to take at least one car tire with you to Manezhka

He later deleted his tweet, perhaps rightly fearing that it could be construed as a call to violence by the humorless Kremlin, but not before people made screenshots [ru]. Others [ru] picked up on this call to action, one Twitter user also calling [ru] for empty bottles, gasoline and motor oil (Molotov cocktail ingredients), another using Aesopian language to avoid charges of extremism:

I need help! Around Manezhka I got a flat tire. Everyone who is coming, please bring a spare, it could be old or without the rim.

A few people heeded these calls, one of them Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot fame, who was apparently arrested while carrying one [ru]. Tolokonnikova later tweeted from a police van, describing [ru] her detention as “rough.”

A man getting arrested on Manezhnaya Square, holding a car tire. Grani.ru.

Indeed, the Moscow police reacted swiftly and ruthlessly, dispersing the protest and detaining several hundred people, among them putative opposition leader Alexey Navalny [ru], according [ru] to tweets [ru] by protesters. Some also described [ru] the police action as “unusually” brutal and impatient. Pro-Kremlin writer Eduard Bagirov tweeted [ru] that this was because of the Ukrainian angle; post-Maidan the riot police have a “moral right” to “execute” protesters, he maintains.

A burning Kiev barricade photoshopped to look like a Google

A burning Kiev barricade photoshopped to look like a Google “doodle.” The protesters are holding car tires. Anonymous image found online.

Yulia Arkhipova, an economics student who recently got into a Twitter flame war [Global Voices report] with radio talk-show host Vladimir Solovyev for being pro-Maidan, wrote [ru] a scathing criticism of the tire-debacle, arguing that the Russian opposition is adopting the trappings of Ukrainian protests without their spirit:

В России оппозиция насмотрелась на Майдан и теперь играет в ролевые игры. К Замоскворецкому суду приносят российский флаг, поют российский гимн. Протестующие кричат “Банду гэть!” и называют ОМОНовцев Беркутом.

In Russia the opposition has seen the Maidan and is now role-playing. They bring the Russian flag to the Zamoskvoretsky court, they sing the Russian anthem. The protesters yell “Down with the thieves” [in Ukrainian] and call the riot police “Berkut.”

Sure, that might look like the Maidan, she writes, but what these protesters lack is the willingness to quit their jobs and the commitment to stand in the cold for months at a time. Thus, what worked in Kiev, is unlikely to work in Moscow.

Meanwhile, the Bolotnaya Square prisoners will do hard time, although human rights defender Pavel Chikov hopes [ru] that the sentences are low enough that they might soon be released on parole, considering how much time they've already spent in jail. It remains to be seen if these eight men and women will become a mascot for the protest movement or a successful deterrent against it.

February 24 2014

Big, Bad Bullies of the Russian Media

The bullies of the Russian media. Dmitri Kiselyov, left, and Vladimir Solovyov, right. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

The bullies of the Russian media. Dmitri Kiselyov, left, and Vladimir Solovyov, right. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

The media environment in Russia is not good right now. Readers of RuNet Echo are already familiar with the high-profile attacks on TV Rain, Russia’s only independent television channel, as well as legal threats against Echo of Moscow, the country’s most popular radio station, and Alexey Navalny, Russia’s most famous political blogger. All of these cases involved some utterance published online that politicians and conservative media figures deemed offensively unpatriotic. TV Rain ran a poll asking viewers to assess abandoning Leningrad to the Nazis in World War II; Echo of Moscow published an article by Victor Shenderovich, comparing aspects of the Sochi Olympics with the 1936 Berlin Games; and Navalny made a cryptic joke about an assassinated judge in Ukraine, quipping that the same might await Russian judges.

While Russians can debate how offensive they find TV Rain, Shenderovich, or Navalny, beyond dispute is the prominence of the TV station and these two men in Russian politics. In that regard, for all the senselessness of modern Russia’s witch-hunt against supposed “traitors,” a certain logic guided the process of targeting persons and institutions.

Last week, the logic seemed to break down, when popular Russian TV and radio journalist Vladimir Solovyov dedicated an entire radio show [ru] to dissecting and denouncing the Maidan-supportive tweets of a handful of students from Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. (See Sultan Suleimanov’s detailed report on this scandal, in Russian.) Yulia Arkhipova suffered the brunt of Solovyov’s attacks, villified (in absentia) for being a homosexual-loving Ukrainian citizen.

Solovyov appears to have learned of Arkhipova thanks to Vitalii Milonov, the St. Petersburg city councilman infamous for launching Russia’s original legal crackdown on “gay propaganda” in 2011. Milonov engaged Arkhipova a day before Solovyov’s radio show, mocking her concerns about wounded protesters in Kiev [ru] and holding up her ‘misplaced’ worry as an example of Russian higher education’s failings. When Arkhipova later taunted Solovyov, writing [ru] on Twitter that “specially for him” she had dawned traditional Ukrainian clothes and cradled her Russian passport in her pocket, Solovyov responded by saying [ru] that her “soul remains rotten,” despite the wardrobe change.

Why did Solovyov hound a group of unknown university students over a few Ukraine-related tweets? Arkhipova herself theorized that Dmitri Kiselyov—a recently promoted, pro-Kremlin journalist who regularly shocks liberal society with assaults on the Russian opposition—has raised the bar for loyalty in the Russian mediasphere. Solovyov has long been a Putin-supportive polemicist, but his regular antics pale in comparison to Kiselyov’s, who made Milonov look like Harvey Milk, when (in 2012 on national TV) Kiselyov angrily championed burning the hearts of gay car accident victims. Popular journalism and public debate in the era of Kiselyov have become wildly sensitive to the two main tropes of Russian liberalism: criticism of the Kremlin and praise for the West.

While Solovyov may have been upping the ante by taking the good fight to twenty-somethings on Twitter, the larger objective was of course the Higher School of Economics, which Milonov has condemned [ru] as a “nest of liberalism.” In other words, the logic guiding Russian reactionaries may not have disappeared after all.

In the meantime, “Vyshka” (as the university is known colloquially) has done its best to remain above the fray in this controversy. On February 21, 2014, the school’s Facebook page published a note [ru] calling Solovyov’s behavior a “provocation.” The post also included a photograph of Mark Twain, with the quotation: “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

Image posted to Vyshka's Facebook page.

February 23 2014

Macedonian Court Fines Journalist and Magazine for Quoting Source

The top headline quotes the statement of former ambassador Igor Ilievski: “I left because of the pressure from Mijalkov”. The second headline reads: “Embassy in Czech Republic under bombing threats, Ministry for foreign affairs doesn’t lift a finger”. Photo by <a href=

The top headline quotes the statement of former ambassador Igor Ilievski: “I left because of the pressure from Mijalkov”. The second headline reads: “Embassy in Czech Republic under bomb threats, Ministry for Foreign Affairs doesn’t lift a finger”. Photo by NovaTV, used with permission.

After a controversial lawsuit in which one of Macedonia's last independent magazines, Fokus, was charged with defaming Director of the Security and Counter-Intelligence Directorate (UBK) Sasho Mijalkov, a court in Skopje ruled that the magazine must pay Mijalkov over 9,000 euros (about 12,500 US dollars) for damaging his reputation.

Mijalkov sued the daily publication, which has been shut down in the meantime and only the weekly edition of this Macedonian media house remains, for two published articles that were based on the statements of former Macedonian ambassador to the Czech Republic Igor Ilievski. Ilievski held this diplomatic position until December 2012, when he informed the media [mk] that his mandate ended before the official date, blaming Mijalkov for this.

In view of all the evidence available to the public regarding this case, it seems that the newspaper has been fined for transmitting their source's statements. The only potentially disputable statement claims, “Off the record, from before the holidays UBK Director Sasho Mijalkov is in Prague where he owns a business empire”, which alleges that Mijalkov was staying in Prague during that period, of which there was no evidence.

Vlado Apostolov, the journalist who wrote the articles involved in the lawsuit, and Editor-in-Chief of Fokus weekly Jadranka Kostova will have to pay 6,000 euros (about 8,200 dollars) in damages and some 3,300 euros (about 4,500 dollars) for the costs of Mijalkov’s lawyer during the trial.

Ilievski will also have to pay 10,000 euros (about 13,500 dollars) in damages to Mijalkov for having made a statement to the newspaper that the main reason why he resigned from his post as Macedonian ambassador to the Czech Republic was “the coordinated activity of the Chief of the Macedonian secret police, Sasho Mijalkov, with his ‘friends’ who are very well organized in the Czech Republic”.

He also stated that Mijalkov was pressing the Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikola Popovski and Macedonian President Gorge Ivanov to take their hands off the case. In his statement for Fokus daily, Ilievski said:

Сашо Мијалков го спречи тоа и почна масовен последен напад. За среќа, неуспешен. Мијалков беше нем набљудувач на четирите закани по мојот живот и трите закани за бомба на амбасадата

Sasho Mijalkov prevented it and started his last massive attack. Fortunately, unsuccessfully. Mijalkov was a silent observer of the four threats on my life and the three threats to bomb the embassy.

Vlado Apostolov said in an interview for A1on that the ruling is scandalous and that they have been sentenced for simply presenting the statements of former ambassador Ilievski.

As previously reported by Global Voices, the media landscape in Macedonia has become a somewhat dangerous place and Apostolov reminds the public of this in the mentioned interview:

Од едена страна паричната казна е голема и за Фокус е критична, ама од друга страна Македонија е земја во која што новинари одат во затвор, други загинуваат во сообраќајни несреќи под чудни околности, и со парична казна ни е треба дури да бидеме среќни

On one side the fine is very large and critical for the magazine Fokus, but on the other side, Macedonia is a country where journalists go to jail, others die in car accidents under strange circumstances, so with this fine we should be happy.

After hearing of the court's decision, Fokus Editor-in-Chief Kostova told Balkan Insight, “With this court criteria, we might as well close Fokus. Or perhaps that is exactly their goal.” She also noted that the last remaining weekly, Fokus magazine, that is critical of the government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski was already on the brink of financial ruin, mainly because of a series of lawsuits against it.

The court ruling also brought strong reactions from media and citizens on social networks.

Meri Jordanovska, a journalist for Fokus, posted on her Facebook profile:

И после ќе зборуваме за автоцензура? Па нормално дека ќе зборуваме!
Гарантирам дека после пресудата, ќе нема новинар што 3 пати ќе се запраша дали да пренесе изјава од некој! А во случајов тоа не е било кој, туку бивш амбасадор. Интервјуто и пренесувањето изјави ќе станат потежок жанр од истражувачкото новинарство!
Ај што луѓево одамна се плашат да проговорат, туку сега и оние што ќе сакаат да проговорат ќе нема кој да ги пренесе.

And are we going to talk about self-censorship? Of course we are!

I guarantee that after the verdict, there will be no journalist that will wonder whether to present a statement! And in this case it is not anyone, but a former ambassador. Interviews and presentation of statements will become more complicated over investigative journalism!

For a long time people are afraid to speak out, but now even those who wish to speak will have no one to present their statements.

In 2013, both the daily and weekly Fokus were closed temporarily because of the sudden death of their owner and publisher Nikola Mladenov, who died in a car accident that many suspect involved foul play. The daily newspaper was closed for financial reasons and several pending defamation lawsuits, while the weekly Fokus re-launched in July 2013 under the leadership of Kostova.

The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (ZNM) reacted strongly against the verdict, saying that it is “draconian” to punish the journalist and the editor of the newspaper for libel. In their statement, the Association said:

Ова е прва осудителна пресуда против новинари според Законот за граѓанска одговорност за навреда и клевета која може да се процени како сериозна непријателска порака кон новинарите на Македонија. Со пресудата новинарите се заплашуваат и обесхрабруваат да информираат и истражуваат за одговорноста на јавните функционери што е една од главните принципи на новинарството низ целиот свет

This is a first verdict against journalists according to the Law on Civil Liability for insult and defamation, which can be estimated as a serious hostile message to Macedonian journalists. With this verdict, journalists will be intimidated and discouraged to investigate and inform the public about the responsibility that the public officials have, which is one of the main principles of the journalism worldwide.

The Independent Journalists’ Trade Union (SSNM) also reacted, saying that this verdict is a clear indication of the attitude that the judicial system and the government have towards freedom of the press:

Казните за новинарите на Фокус е показател за исклучително непријателскиот и репресивен амбиент во кој функционираат новинарите во Македонија

The fines for the journalists from Fokus are an indicator of the extremely repressive and hostile setting where Macedonian journalists work.

International media organization Reporters without Borders strongly condemned the judicial harassment of Fokus in a statement of their own:

Репортери без граници силно го осудуваат судското малтретирање на Фокус, една од последните независни публикации во Македонија. Уште еднаш судот во Скопје го осуди Фокус на несразмерно висока парична казна со што, се чини, дека има за цел да се затвори последниот независен неделник во Македонија

Reporters without Borders strongly condemns the judicial harassment of Fokus, one of the last independent publications in Macedonia. Again, the court in Skopje condemned Fokus with a highly disproportionate fine, and it seems like the aim is to close the last independent weekly magazine in Macedonia

February 22 2014

South Korean Figure Skater Yuna Kim's ‘Robbed’ Sochi Gold Becomes Photoshop Meme

From elaborate posts, incredulous reactions and downright curses, net users, not limited to South Koreans, erupted in anger when Russian figure skater Adelina Sotnikova won gold over South Korean figure-skating legend Yuna Kim at the women's free skating event at Sochi.

Immediately after the results were announced, many questioned the crowning of Sotnikova, and even an insider alleged that the competition was rigged. News reports began to appear on the judges’ panel for the women’s free skate, which was comprised of four judges from Eastern Europe (Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, and Slovakia). The Russian judge is famously married to the general director and past president of the Figure Skating Federation of Russia, and the Ukrainian judge has a shameful past record of receiving a year-long suspension for a vote-trading deal.

For many online, it appeared to be a case of stolen gold for South Korea's beloved figure skating queen. Some net users took a proactive approach: an online petition demanding an investigation into the scoring decisions and a do-over judgment received 1.9 million signatures in less than two days. Others vented their anger with humor, giving way to images mocking the Russian player's stumble [ko] by photoshopping her into different scenes.  

I think I've seen her at a B-boy dance competition.

[Fake correction request] I heard that woman is a cover dancer for Exo [K-pop boy group], please remove your wrong post.

Many jokes were made about possible revenge at the 2018 Olympics, which will be hosted by South Korean city of Pyeongchang:

There were so many hilarious tweets about this result. One says, “Wait till we host the Olympics at Pyeongchang. We will make you watch [famous speed skater of South Korea] Lee Sang-hwa winning a gold medal at figure skating”. One tweeted, “The rigging? We have a few tricks up our sleeve for that. It would be none other than our National Intelligence Service and prosecutors who will be judging the Pyeongchang Olympic games” [a reference to the spy agency's election meddling scandal].

They say this is a preview of the Pyeongchang Olympics. [The photoshopped image shows a traditional drum performer figure-skating] lol.lol.

The real champion of women’s figure skating at the Olympics is … him.

Pro-Maidan Video Goes Viral Thanks to Pavel Durov, Russia's Zuckerberg

Screen capture from

Screen capture from “Fear Is Not Real.” YouTube.

Pavel Durov, the creator of Russia's most popular online social network, Vkontakte, is an unusual man. Young and fabulously wealthy (he made nearly half a billion dollars [ru] last month divesting from VK), Durov has something of a mixed reputation. In December 2011, he gained a reputation for defending civil rights, when he publicly defied a police request to delete certain Vkontakte groups formed in opposition to United Russia, the country's dominant political party. Early last year, however, Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia's best established anti-regime newspapers, revealed evidence that Durov may have cooperated with the authorities in more subtle ways. In the last year, Durov has been at the center of a shareholders conflict with United Capital Partners, an investment group that bought 48% of Vkontakte in April 2013. Last month, Durov sold his remaining 12% in the company to a close ally of Alisher Usmanov, preserving Mail.ru Group's majority control.

While he's no longer a part-owner in the website, Durov remains Vkontakte's CEO. That arrangement might not last much longer. Indeed, there is widespread speculation in Russia that Durov will soon be forced out of the company entirely. Durov has fought hard to remain at Vkontakte, but his recent divestment suggests he may finally be acquiescing. (Losing his creation undoubtedly costs him some sleep, but Durov can now toss and turn on a bed of 420 million dollars, thanks to the stock sale.) 

Besides selling off his shares, Durov did something else recently that could signify his impatience with keeping himself in the good graces of Russia's powerful. On February 20, 2014, Durov republished an evocative two-minute video featuring combat footage from Kiev, narrated in a dramatic male voice cheering on demonstrators. The video is thoroughly pro-Maidan, challenging protesters to overcome the fear of battle and encouraging them to continue resisting. At the time of this writing, Durov's post has almost 32 thousand views and over 17 thousand “likes.”

Given the political climate in Russia now, Durov's willingness to stake such an unabashedly pro-opposition position on the Ukraine crisis is rather astounding. Durov leads a multi-billion-dollar company—the “Facebook of the Russian Internet”—where an unpredictable competition between two investment tycoons will decide his future. Outside Vkontakte, Russian politicians have been on a spree of attacks against anyone who promotes “extremism” (read: any kind of support for Ukraine's opposition). As I've documented in past Global Voices posts, there have been assaults on television and radio stations, websites, and individuals—sometimes for behavior as innocuous as a bad joke. Is Durov's daring a show of open defiance? 

The video: “Fear Is Not Real”

Artist Alexander Makedonskiy originally authored the video that Durov published on Vkontakte. YouTube hosts the clip, as well, on Makedonskiy's channel and other accounts. The commentary in the video is a curious mix of dialogue from two Hollywood movies: the 2013 film After Earth, starring Will Smith, and the 2006 movie Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone's sixth and final Rocky installment. (The scenes harvested for the narration include father-and-son moments from each film, and the speech Rocky delivers to the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission, when he tries to renew his boxing license.)

What follows is a transcription [ru] of the “Fear Is Not Real” Maidan video, with the original English text from the two films mentioned above. The video itself, with English subtitles, can be viewed below.

Страха в реальности нет!
Страх живет в одном закоулке в наших мыслях о будущим.
Страх это плод нашего во брожения.
Он заставляет нас боятся того чего нет! И вероятно не будет ни-ког-да!
Это ж чистое безумия.
Ты только пойми меня правильно!
Опасность это реальный факт, но страх это твой выбор!
Я скажу то что для тебя не новость. Мир не такой солнечный и приветливый.
Это очень опасная и жесткая места.
Если толька дашь слабину, он опрокинет с такой сили тебя что больше уже не встанешь!
Не ты, не я не кто на свете не бьет так сильно как жизнь!
Совсем не важно как ты ударишь , а важно какой держишь удар.
Как двигаешься в перед будешь идти иди если с испугай не свернешь!
Толька так побеждают!
Если знаешь чего ты стоишь?! Иди бери свое!
Но будь готов удары держат!
А ни плакаться и говорит ” я нечего не добился из-за его из-за нее и из-за кого-то. Так делает трусы а ты не трус!!! Быт этого не может!
Если человек сам хочет за что то драться, хочет добиваться своего, кто правы остановит его?! А может кому-то из вас тоже чего-то хотелось.?! Чего-то о чем мечтал, чего-то не обычного. А его не дают “нет” говорят и точка.
Кто имеют права так говорит “кто?” Ни кто !
Человек сам решает в какую сторону ему повернуть. Права каждого быт именно тем кем он захочет быт!

Fear is not real.
The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future.
It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist.
That is near insanity.
Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice.
Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.
It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it.
You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.
But it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.
How much you can take and keep moving forward.
That’s how winning is done!  
Now if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth!
But you gotta be willing to take the hits.
And not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody!
Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that! 
Because if you’re willing to go through all the battling you've got to go through to get where you wanna get—who’s got the right to stop you? Maybe some of you guys got something you never finished, something you really want to do, something you never said to somebody—something!—and you’re told “No,” even after you pay your dues?
Who’s got the right to tell you that? Who? Nobody!
It’s your right to listen to your gut. It ain’t nobody’s right to say “No” after you earned the right to be where you want to be and do what you want to do.

February 21 2014

Russian Politicians Stick to Their Guns as Ukraine Burns

Ukraine's Trade Union House, headquarters of the protesters burns

February 19, 2014. Ukraine's Trade Union House, headquarters of the protesters burns as violence intensifies. Photo CC 3.0.

As the political situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate, and reports of fatalities grow, Russian politicians have been voicing their opinions on the crisis. Somewhat predictably, opinions on who is to blame for the worst political violence to grip Europe this century were sharply divided between government and opposition figures. Several members of Russia's ruling United Russia party sharply criticised the protesters and the West for the disturbances.

Deputy Alexey Pushkov, head of the Duma's foreign affairs committee, blamed Western pressure on Ukraine's government. Referencing the 2004 ‘Orange Revolution,’ Pushkov tweeted:

With their pressure on Ukraine's authorities, and attempts to pass off chaos as democracy, the West has opened the path to radicals, and now in Kiev there's Orange anarchy.

Deputy Robert Shlegel, who has long been an outspoken critic of American policy, sarcastically tweeted [ru] about US President Barack Obama's call for the Ukrainian army to exercise “restraint.”

Obama making demands of Ukraine's army. :-O Barack Husseinovich! Aren't you ashamed of yourself, once again you're digging yourself a hole with your colonial worldview.

Another prominent United Russia deputy, Sergey Zheleznyak, went on Facebook to voice his full support [ru] for the Ukrainian government's violent crackdown.

Совершенно очевидно, что с бандитами, взявшими в руки оружие, не может быть никакого перемирия, это не политическая сила, с которой имеет смысл вести переговоры, а преступники, которых нужно срочно выявлять, арестовывать и привлекать к уголовной ответственности! При вооруженном сопротивления преступников, угрожающих жизни и здоровью – уничтожать их без сожаления!

It's perfectly obvious that there can't be any sort of reconciliation with bandits who have taken up arms. This isn't a political force, with whom there's sense in holding discussions, these are criminals who need to be identified, arrested and brought to criminal responsibility! During an armed confrontation, criminals who threaten life and limb need to be eliminated without pity!

Russia's more liberal-minded politicians were less critical of the protesters. Ilya Ponomaryov, a member of the opposition party ‘A Just Russia,’ wrote rather ambivalently in his LiveJournal [ru].

я полностью поддерживаю право народа на восстание, считаю события в Киеве именно народным восстанием, но скорблю, что причиной этого восстания является манипуляция общественным мнением со стороны недобросовестных политиков со всех сторон. Преследуемая людьми цель – ложная, и люди со временем это поймут, но много позже, когда пролитой кровью воспользуются проходимцы.

I fully support the right of the people to rise up. I consider the events in Kiev such a people's uprising, but regret that the reason for this uprising is the manipulation of public opinion on the part of cynical politicians on both sides. The goal people are striving for is a lie and people in time they will get this, but only much later, only after the schemers have exploited the bloodbath.

Fellow party-member Dmitry Gudkov, one of the most outspoken oppositionists sitting in the Duma, was more openly critical of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Yanukovych has to quickly announce early presidential elections and carry out constitutional reforms or prepare himself for a meeting with Gaddafi.

United Russia has thrown its full support behind Yanukovych and is unlikely to be swayed in its opinion by mountaining casualties, which it blames ultimately on a combination of Western interference and far-right elements. Similarly, for Russia's opposition politicians, the bloodshed in Ukraine is a clear example of the dangers of corruption and an unwillingness for reform. For Russia's politicians, the battle lines over Ukraine have already been drawn, and now there can be no compromise. 

February 20 2014

Russians Eye Ukrainian Turmoil with Hope, Fear

Iron Maiden's

Heavy metal band Iron Maiden's mascot “Eddie the Head” gets a Ukrainian restyling in this meme. Anonymous image found online.

The latest development in a long running stand-off between the Ukrainian government and opposition, deadly clashes between protesters and riot police erupted near Kiev's Independence Square on Tuesday, February 18. As events unfolded, authorities halted the city subways, barricaded roads, and blocked a major opposition TV channel,  Channel 5 Ukraine [Ukr]. According to recent numbers as many as twenty-five protesters and police have died in the violence, over 200 people have been hospitalized, and over 1,000 have been otherwise injured. The numbers also include journalists and bystanders.

Russian bloggers have been carefully observing these events, so much so that many Russian Internet users have lost interest [Global Voices report] in the Sochi Winter Games in favor of protests on the Maidan. Positive commentary ranges from expressing sympathy for the protesters to demanding that Russia not meddle in Ukrainian internal affairs. At the same time pro-Kremlin bloggers and state-sponsored Russian media outlets have lambasted the protesters as extremists. 

As usual, members of the Russian opposition gave some vicarious analysis of the situation. Journalist Sergei Smirnov, formerly a member of the radical and banned National Bolshevik party, tweeted:

Seriously, 13 wounded armed cops equals urban warfare. That is, this means the opposition has several times more wounded.

Opposition politician Boris Nemtsov made the same comparison, lamenting the violence [ru]:

В Киеве продолжаются уличные бои. 9 убитых. 7- гражданских и два милиционера. И все потому что Янукович цепляется за власть и не хочет объявить досрочные выборы.

Urban warfare is continuing in Kiev. 9 killed. 7 civilians and 2 policemen. And all because [President] Yanukovich is hanging on to power and doesn't want to announce snap elections.

Vladimir Milov's second in command at DemVybor party, Kirill Shulika wrote [ru]:

Виноват, естественно, Янукович со своим маниакальным желанием удержать у власти группировку донецких бандитов. Да, можно говорить о вине оппозиции, но есть президент, который просто обязан не допускать этого. А если он уже не в состоянии контролировать ситуацию, ему надо уходить.

Of course Yanukovich is to blame, with his maniacal desire to maintain power for a group of Donetsk bandits. Yes, one can also fault the opposition, but there is a president who simply cannot not allow this [violence]. And if he can no longer control the situation, he should leave.

Some Ukrainians also tweeted in Russian. Singer Oleksandra Koltsova tweeted about the much-discussed split between Ukraine's Russian speaking East and EU-oriented West:

People in the east aren't “for Yanukovich.” They've also been robbed. They are also ready to trade him in for a better candidate, but they need concrete proposals and different faces [in the opposition leadership.]

In the end, though, RuNet discussions of the Ukrainian “problem” should remain online discussions, thinks Russian writer Maxim Kantor [ru]:

Началась украинская гражданская война. [...] Россия не должна участвовать в этой войне. Сегодняшнее украинское правительство дискредитировано, и его призыв о помощи (если будет) нельзя рассматривать как призыв народа. А народ ни о чем не просил.

The Ukrainian civil war has begun. [...] Russia should not participate in this war. The current Ukrainian government has lost credibility, and its call for help (if it happens) should not be seen as the voice of the people. And the people themselves haven't asked for anything.

Vladimir Putin, who reportedly ignored a recent phone-call from President Yanukovich, seems to be on same page.

February 19 2014

The Journalistic Purgatory of Eastern Europe

'The rose and the newspaper'

‘The rose and the newspaper’ by Borislav Dimitrov on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

We were told the end of totalitarian regimes would lead to a free press, but Central and Eastern European media is less free now than at any point in the past 20 years.

Governments in the region, long used to having unadulterated control over media content, have been reasserting authority. Strong-arming, threats, amendments to law, arrests, destruction of media equipment and property, and beatings have been documented throughout the region with increasing frequency.

In sitting down to write this piece, I was confident I could shed light on the worst examples of media repression from Eastern Europe, as I follow the subject daily and live in Serbia. But as I began looking at case after devastating case, I began to see a larger picture that taken together point to a media system that is badly broken.

To begin understanding, we must clarify the image the typical global reader has of Central and Eastern Europe from 20th century history. Countries in the region with the most threats on freedom of the press, regardless of whether they are EU member states, have double-digit unemployment rates and an enormous gap in income disparity. A very small percentage of extremely wealthy citizens are frequently connected to government, while the vast majority of citizens barely make ends meet. The strong, stable middle class that many Central European socialist countries maintained for some 50 years has been virtually wiped out.

Social and economic factors lay the foundation for the media landscape, because livelihoods depend on the decisions of their local and national government officials. This leads the citizens of most Central and Eastern European to pay close attention to local politics. Societies which follow their governments so avidly should have highly active investigative journalist networks. A host of factors mediates against this from happening in practice.

Follow the Money

Members of the media are very poorly paid for their work, often employed as part-time or outsourced staff, while operating budgets for reporting are minimal. Investigative journalism rarely occurs in this economic environment. Low wages also open doors to bribery of journalists and editors, cash payment for publishing articles and for pushing or ignoring stories based on non-journalistic interests.

Several Eastern European countries have started cracking down on significant investigative journalism. Macedonia, for example convicted investigative journalist Tomislav Kezarovski in October of 2013 and jailed conspiracy-theorist and journalist Zoran Bozinovski less than a month later. Although the vast majority of Macedonia's press is private, the government was among the 50 biggest media advertisers in 2012, securing a huge influence in both state and private media, say Macedonian journalists Tamara Causidis and Dragan Sekulovski in a guest article on Index on Censorship.

The media houses in all these countries rely mostly on advertising revenue to stay afloat. Business money is frequently connected to politics and political figures. The consequence is self-censorship. Eastern European journalists who write critically of those in power risk offending those who control the advertising money, and thus risk their livelihood and, at times, their physical safety.

In Albania, which last year ranked 102nd of 173 countries in the Reporters without Borders “Freedom of the Press Index”, the media market is so poor and overcrowded it's difficult to sustain, says Besar Likmeta in an article on Balkan Insight. “Most Albanian media are dependent on big corporate advertisers as their main source of revenue, and internal emails show that they can easily skew editorial policy,” says Likmeta.

The situation is similar in most countries of the region. Self-censorship can be further encouraged through unofficial calls from those in power, killing stories before they reach publication. Journalists and editors who publish regardless risk lawsuits, threats, harassment, and even violence.

OSCE Freedom of Media representative Dunja Mijatovic often expresses concern regarding increased media regulation. In Hungary, she has warned of disproportionately high prison sentences for defamatory video and sound recordings, saying such laws are easy to use to silence critics or differing views. In Romania in last year, she called on the Romanian government not to “re-criminalize free speech” saying it could have a chilling effect on investigative journalism through fear and self-censorship.

In Ukraine, before the ongoing Euromaidan protests in the country, many already drew attention to the lack of media freedom, that has only worsened since. Ukraine scholar Andrew Wilson wrote on openDemocracy in October 2013, just weeks before the anti-government protests began:

Now it is media freedom that is under attack. Ukraine’s biggest TV channel ‘Inter’ was still showing signs of independence around October; in February, however, it was taken over by the Head of the Presidential Administration, and a leading oligarch.[...]

Next in line is Ukraine’s most famous web site, Ukrainska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth).[...] Its founding editor, Georgy Gongadze, was a thorn in the side of the then authorities. He disappeared in September 2000, and two months later was found gruesomely murdered.

There are dozens more examples of conflict of interest, intimidation, bribery and corruption in Eastern and Central Europe. The media landscape of the region finds itself in purgatory.

Less Safety Online

Internet penetration rates in Central and Eastern European countries are high and their citizens have a historical habit of turning to alternative sources of information, due to the closed character of official media under communist and socialist regimes in the 20th century. Citizen media and social networks were for several years viewed as a way out of this stalemate, for some perhaps even as a “safe zone” for freedom of expression, due to the respective governments’ lack of monitoring.

This, however, has now changed drastically. Governments in Ukraine, Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria and Hungary now see the influence citizen media and social networks can have on politicians’ reputations and elections. They have responded with close monitoring, and attempts to control what users are uploading and saying. Without much success, of course, but the result is direct pressure on common citizens’ freedom of expression and added pressure on media.

In Serbia for example, online commentary and information was fairly freely passed between users in the late 90s during the Milosevic era, whose regime appeared not to view the Internet as a major threat and thus seldom monitored citizens in public online spaces. Today, personal websites and social network profiles are under direct attack in Serbia for sharing a satirical video of the Deputy Prime Minister and similar materials.

Significant political and economic news in most Central and Eastern European countries now spread through human networks by word-of-mouth and are often reshaped into rumor. Journalists hold back important news stories in their heads, or on post-it notes in their drawers, unable to research them, much less hand them in to their editors for publishing. Citizens, even when afforded a venue where they could express their opinions, now often choose not to. These countries and their media have visibly reached an informational stalemate.

But the tighter the grip of politicians on media, the greater the anger of the people. Media are either unable or unwilling to fight for journalistic freedom, a condition echoed in the development of democracy in the region. Now, in countries in which governments have stifled the free expression of their citizens on the Internet, people are beginning to rise against those in power, calling them out for corruption and incompetence.

After Bulgaria, Ukraine and others, Bosnia-Herzegovina is the latest country in the region to see mass protests both on the streets and online. On February 11, 2014, in the midst of protests in Tuzla and Sarajevo, the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo ordered “temporary seizure” of all media property documenting the protests in Sarajevo. Decisions like this to silence media only fuel citizens’ demand for access to information and freedom of expression. When all boundaries have been crossed, change is bound to happen.

Danica Radisic is the Central and Eastern Europe Editor of Global Voices. She is a corporate communications consultant, writer, blogger, poet, and native speaker of Serbian, English and Portuguese. A Serbian native, she was born and raised on the Iberian Peninsula, with some time spent in the Middle East and U.S. She is a mother of two and CEO of Krazy Fish Consulting.

February 18 2014

To Hell with the Games: Russians Turn from Sochi to Ukraine

A woman in Kiev reacts to the sight of two dead bodies (protesters killed in the violence). 18 February 2014. Screenshot from YouTube.

A woman in Kiev reacts to the sight of two dead bodies (protesters killed in the violence). 18 February 2014. Screenshot from YouTube.

Before the Sochi Winter Games kicked off less than two weeks ago, yours truly told US News & World Report that unrest in Ukraine might divert the attention of Russian Internet users from the Olympics. Today, after a relative lull, violence returned to Kiev’s streets, causing a dramatic shift in RuNet activity. Indeed, the images coming out of Ukraine depict something like a civil war.

While the news from Kiev is making headlines globally, comparative Twitter analytics demonstrate that today’s events in Ukraine galvanize Russian speakers to a degree distinct from the rest of the world. Indeed, in the last 24 hours on Twitter, Russian users’ interest in Ukraine has surpassed their attention on the Olympics. This reverses a trend in place since February 2, 2014, several days before even the opening ceremony, when Russians last tweeted more about Kiev than Sochi.

The trend among Anglophone Twitter users over the last month is similar, but interest in Sochi has always dominated. Even today, with Ukraine in flames, tweets about Kiev are just over half the more than 200 thousand tweets about the Winter Games.

While it’s no surprise that Internet users are drawn to the revolutionary display in Kiev, it is remarkable that the host of the Winter Olympics seems to have lost its home audience to a foreign event.

Russian-language tweets (click to enlarge):

Russian-language tweets about “maidan” or “kiev” (orange) versus tweets about “sochi” or the “olympics” (blue).

Russian-language tweets about “maidan” or “kiev” (orange) versus tweets about “sochi” or the “olympics” (blue).

English-language tweets (click to enlarge):

English-language tweets about “maidan” or “kiev” or “euromaidan” or

English-language tweets about “maidan” or “kiev” or “euromaidan” (orange) versus tweets about “sochi” or the “olympics” (blue).

February 16 2014

The Hilarity of Murder Among Russians

Alexey Navalny (left) and Irina Yarovaya (right). Images from Wikimedia commons.

Alexey Navalny (left) and Irina Yarovaya (right). Images from Wikimedia commons.

Where do you draw the line between a joke and a death threat? That question has been on Russians’ minds this week, after a controversial tweet [ru] by famed blogger and opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who described the assassination [ru] of a judge in Ukraine as a “greeting card” to judges in Russia. The murder victim, Aleksandr Lobodenko, was responsible for sentencing several protesters convicted of rioting in Ukraine’s Poltava region, leading police to believe the killing was politically motivated.

Duma deputy Irina Yarovaya quickly branded [ru] Navalny’s tweet “extremist,” interpreting it literally. Navalny’s message, she claimed, “not only mocks a man’s death, but transmits a positive attitude about murder.” Other state officials soon chimed in. Kirill Kabanov, a member of the President’s Council on Human Rights, implied that he believes Navalny was joking, but warned that some of his readers might misunderstand, saying, “Navalny has a pretty big group of fans, who aren’t always evenly balanced, and some of them might see [the tweet] as a call to action.” Georgy Fedorov, a member of Russia’s Civic Chamber, accused</a> [ru] Navalny of being a thug disguised as an activist, calling the tweet “reckless” and “twisted.”</p> <p>A day after his “greeting card” tweet, Navalny <a href=" http:="">responded [ru] to the backlash, addressing only Yarovaya. Changing the topic entirely, he pummeled Yarovaya for hiding a luxurious Moscow apartment in her daughter’s name. Indeed, Navalny first blogged about the secret accommodations nearly a year ago, in March 2013, when he republished [ru] findings by an opposition-leaning newspaper. At the time, Yarovaya denied the accusation, calling it “a dirty insinuation.” This week, Navalny presented on his blog a copy of a real estate title in the name of Yarovaya’s daughter for a four-bedroom apartment in a posh area of Moscow.

Navalny offered to delete his tweet about the Ukrainian judge’s murder, if Yarovaya could clarify how her daughter, at 18-years-old, managed to buy property worth an estimated three million dollars. Comedically undeterred, Navalny even offered, in the event of an explanation from Yarovaya, to compose a new tweet, “calling on people never to kill on-the-take judges or corrupt deputies.”

Navalny’s sarcasm has always been a major feature of his persona. Particularly before he became one of the political opposition’s most prominent figures, Navalny’s public image was foremost associated with his blogging. Though he rarely responds to comments on LiveJournal these days, and his blog posts now are heavier in information than opinion, Navalny’s voice online is still consistently snide and disparaging. This is not to say he’s meaner than most using the Internet, but Navalny’s manner distinctly remains a blogger’s style.

How else can we explain why Navalny considers it appropriate to issue a mock death threat to judges throughout Russia? In a year that has kicked off to multiple harsh reactions by authorities in response to ‘offensive utterances,’ Navalny is clearly advertising his fearlessness about pushing the bounds of free speech. Others elsewhere in Russia have responded with similar resolve (or stubbornness, depending on your point of view), when accused of speaking irresponsibly. TV Rain may have apologized and canceled a program, after it caught hell for a survey about abandoning Leningrad to the Nazis, but the station’s management refused to fire anyone. Victor Shenderovich, who enraged many by noting uncomfortable similarities between Russian and fascist Olympians, has stuck to his guns and defended himself against critics who say he crossed a line.

Navalny may very well think he’s rallying behind the country’s beleaguered and besieged civil society. His choice of resistance—turning a man’s killing into a jab at Russia’s own admittedly hated judges—may have been in poor taste, but Navalny is far from the only opposition member who’s alluded to prospects for Ukrainian-style unrest in Russia. Making this stand with a joke, however (and then refusing to defend it directly), suggests that Navalny and his generation have room to mature.

South Korea Lost Genius Skater Viktor Ahn, Who Won Two Medals for Russia

dddddddd

Image by Flickr User @CanadianPhotographer (CC BY SA 2.0)

Short-track speed-skating star Viktor Ahn, formerly known as Ahn Hyun-soo, has brought his adopted home Russia two medals, one gold and one bronze in Sochi Olympics. With his winning streak likely to continue, discussions sparked in South Korean online forums about what has driven this skating genius from his birth-country and criticisms mounted on the deep-rooted clique culture that perpetuates not only in the Korean skating world, but in Korean society in general and the media's sudden focus on Ahn ‘being a Korean'. 

Mr. Ahn made headlines on international level as early as back in 2002 Olympics with his unfortunate crash with eight-time medalist skater Ohno during the race. Four years later, Ahn surged back as Ohno's formidable rival by grabbing three gold medals and a bronze. However, Ahn failed to compete in the following Olympics in 2010. The official reason given was that it was due to his knee injury, but it was an open secret to net users that Ahn had a fallout with the Korea Skating Union and severely been bullied [ko] well before the 2006 Olympics and by the time around 2010 that Ahn was de-facto abandoned and cast out by the union. He left his country and became a naturalized Russian in 2011. For playing for Russian team, Ahn has reportedly been rewarded [ko] with much higher salary, benefits (private tutor and coaching staff) and even promised a stable job after his retirement.  

Too late too little

As Ahn won a bronze medal earlier this week, every media outlet has seemed to gain sudden interest to the unfair treatment he suffered– which happened several years earlier. Even the President made a comment about Ahn that ‘we have to look back on whether it (referring to Ahn switching his nationality) is because of irregularities lying in the sports world, such as factionalism, favoritism and judging corruption'. Politicians have chimed in and the ruling Saenuri party posted in their Facebook page a emotional photo with text [ko] that read ‘Sorry, But we will always be supporting you', although net users seem not that impressed with this belated response. Many Koreans seem rather happy for this under-appreciated star's newly-found happiness and seem unmoved, even offended by the Korean media suddenly emphasizing his nationality. Here are several tweets about Ahn. 

If only he'd been given full support and nourishment from the state, then one can trash-talk Ahn Hyun-soo and claim that he betrayed his country and left us for Russia. But no, that is not the case. There was no good support, but continued fights between cliques, and brutal beating he got (for not obeying the union's order) and no good environment for practice. There is no justification for trash-talking Ahn.

It was told that Ahn said that he loves skating, and he is not sure whether he loves it more than he loves his country. One thing for sure is that he wants to continue skating and that he will live in Russia forever. This shows that how country has driven geniuses out instead of embracing their talents. Viktor Ahn, you take that gold medal. We don't deserve you/the medal.

(1st tweet embedded) He became a Russian citizen and even changed his name. But those media keep insist calling him Ahn Hyun-soo. (2nd tweet) This player, after cannot take any more of the clique culture and power-wielding, changed his nationality. But when he wins gold medals, some media would pull those ridiculous cliche clauses, such as ‘His nationality may be Russia(n), but his heart beats for Korea'. LOL.

After hearing that there are groups of people who try hard to portray Viktor Ahn as ‘Ahn Hyun-soo who so loves his country, South Korea', I wasn't that surprised. When someone achieves success, they do so desperately try to link that success to the nationality. When it seems like a failure, they try to distance from them. (i.e. against some Korean-Chinese)

February 15 2014

Blood on the Ice, Fury on the Tubes

Vladimir Putin sees all of your shenanigans.

Vladimir Putin sees all of your shenanigans. Image mixed by Kevin Rothrock and Andrey Tselikov.

Drama is never far behind when the Russian and the USA national hockey teams meet on the ice. The latest match-up at the Sochi Olympics, where US won 3-2 in a series of shootouts, was no different. While Americans celebrated, Russian fans were incensed by what they view as an unfair loss — late in the game the Russians scored a third goal that was nullified by the referees according to IHF rules, because one of the US goal-posts was slightly dislodged. Arguably it was this call that cost the Russians their victory.

“There was a goal! Even we saw it.” says a Russian cosmonaut. Anonymous image found online.

The goal's position was so slightly out of kilter that most people watching the game did not notice it. Confusion over the reasons for nullification quickly turned to anger and conspiracy theories, fed by the fact that the referee was an American national. The Twitter account of the liberal cable channel Rain-TV tweeted:

By the way, the referee who didn't count the third puck in the American goal, because the American goalie moved the goal-post, is also American

The implication here being that while the IOC maintains that judges “don't have nationalities,” the American referee somehow chose to overlook the Russian goal to help “his” team. In a way, the outrage has united Russians from opposite sides of the political spectrum like few other things have in the past. Pro-Kremlin MP Maria Kozhevnikova also tweeted [ru] that the American goalie moved the post himself, while opposition MP Dmitry Gudkov couldn't believe that the referee is American, calling the fact “crazy [ru].” Nationalist publication Sputnik & Pogrom noted that in a way, the game reflects Russia's weakness on the international arena [ru] — first the Russians let Americans judge their game, and then they complain about the results, rather than questioning the entire setup.

Some chose to vent their frustration with outgoing US ambassador Michael McFaul, who was cheering the US team on Twitter. After McFaul tweeted “Victory!”, someone replied

@McFaul the American referee cheated, when he nullified the goal. Is this a national trait ?

To which McFaul responded with an exasperated “Come on man!” McFaul's defensiveness showed when he took seriously an obviously jocular tweet that was parodying the conspiracy theorists:

Ive seen it all now! RT@vdzyubenko The DC bosses and @McFaul stole our victory ))

Russia is still in the running for hockey gold, although the going will get harder now. And in the end, blaming the referee is a time honored tradition in both countries. Let's hope that Vladimir Putin, a hockey fan, doesn't take this loss as seriously as some memes imagine:

Putin over-reacts to Russia's hockey loss.

Putin over-reacts to Russia's hockey loss.

Gold Medal Winner's Touching Gesture with Peruvian Skier at Sochi 2014

Swiss skier Darío Cologna was awarded the gold medal on the 15-kilometer freestyle cross country ski race in the 2014 Winter Olympics held in Sochi, Russia. But in Peru he made the news due to a moving and exemplary scene: he waited for more than 20 minutes at the finish line for Peruvian Roberto Carcelén to shake his hand and hug him, for he knew Carcelen had competed although he had two broken ribs.

Carcelén broke two ribs during training, and nonetheless he decided to participate in a 15 kilometer race because he had already announced these would be his last Winter Olympics.

On Twitter, the news  didn't go unnoticed:

HURRAY for the Olympic spirit! Broken rib and he made it all the way to the finish line, Roberto Carcelén from Peru. Who do you think was waiting for him at the finish line?

A moment so sweet that the snow almost became snow cones. Roberto Carcelén competed today in Sochi – Russia.

February 14 2014

A Visitor Describes How it Feels to be Mugged by Bulgarian Police

Central Bus Station Sofia. Photo by Nikola Gruev, published on Wikipedia under CC-BY license.

Central Bus Station in Sofia. Photo by Nikola Gruev, used under Creative Commons-BY license.

Political scientist and blogger Anastas Vangeli described his experience of extortion by Bulgarian policemen on his way from Macedonia to Poland, in a Facebook post. On February 9, 2014, two armed officers “detained” him at a secluded area of the main bus station in Sofia, until he gave them some money. In conclusion, he wrote:

This was probably one of the most disappointing experiences in my lifetime. What added to the disappointment, however, were the comments and the double victimization by people when I told them this happened:

  • I was asking for it since I look “like a foreigner” and rich
  • I was asking for it since I was bragging with my China books and looked rich
  • I was supposed to know and expect this kind of things
  • I was supposed to hold my grounds better, e.g. not let them take me to a room, not let them get my money
  • I am supposed not to complain, as this stuff happens every day and I am not special

These are all statements that not speak only of the reality of omnipresent corruption and abuse of office and power, but about the complete lack of empathy, or even consciousness that one day it might be you. Moreover, it is an indicator that people have given up the hope that things will change; but also the responsibility that they should contribute to such change. At the end of the day, the state holds the monopoly of the use of force; I was mugged by those who are supposed to protect me (even though I don’t have a Bulgarian passport – no pun intended). So all kinds of relativizing comments are completely out of place on this.

These reactions are consistent with one of the key characteristics of “backsliding from democracy,” exposed at the Seventh Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy, held in Lima, in October 2012:

“…corruption becomes so widespread that citizens accept is as a norm.”

People commenting (in various languages) on Vangeli's Facebook post about the incident reminisced that such a “toll for foreigners” was common Bulgarian police practice during the dismal 1990s – but that they had not expected its resurgence in this day and age. Some of the commenters related similar experiences from other countries, from Russia to Kenya. Activist Besim Nebiu wrote:

Notice how they immediately asked you if you have a flight to catch at the airport. That gave them the ‘upper hand’ in dealing with you. A friend of mine who lives in Kenya, once wrote a blog post, in which he describes how corrupt police have “opportunity cost” (8 hours shifts in which they try to maximize revenue). They usually avoid “difficult customers,” so any strategy of acting dumb and not too upset should work, after 15 minutes, they give up on you, and move to someone easier to deal with.

Special Winter uniform of Bulgarian Border Police. Source: Ministry of Interior.

Special Winter uniform of Bulgarian Border Police presented [bg] on the website of Ministry of Interior Affairs. According to the victim, the officers in question wore green and carried badges of common police (“Ohranitelna Politsiya”), which according to the Ministry wears dark blue uniforms.

Bulgarian blogger Komitata translated Vangeli's post within his post [bg] titled “They Protect Us and It's No Theater,” which includes opinions about the local context of wasted state resources on questionable police actions praised by the relevant minister:

Системата на МВР не е реформирана. Предното неслужебно правителство положи големи усилия, но поради липса на решителност и политическа воля, реформите останаха скромни и далеч не необратими.

The system of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is not reformed. The previous government invested great efforts, but due to lack of decisiveness and political will, the reforms remain modest and far from irreversible.

In his post, Komitata also referred to Twitter discussion [bg] in which Bulgarians ask whether the police have the right to search them at the bus station, and pointed to information on citizen rights during police searches [bg].

February 13 2014

Welcome All to Russia's 2014 Olympic Hunger Games

President Putin at the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony. Anonymous image found online.

President Putin at the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony. Anonymous image found online.

As “toilet-gate” jokes[Global Voices report] and the hashtag #SochiProblems grow stale, another way to poke fun at Russia's hosting of the Winter Games has emerged: comparisons between the Olympics and the wildly popular Hunger Games franchise.

The Hunger Games story features a dictatorial leader, President Snow, who maintains control of a dystopic nation by forcing teenagers to compete in a televised tournament that must end in only one survivor. Of course, in practice, the Olympics has no similarities with the violence of this fictional death-match. For one, Olympians don't kill each other for their gold medals.

However, a combination of the word “Games” and President Putin's signature stern facial expressions (as well as his reputation as a strong authoritarian leader) has struck a chord with Internet users — enough to create numerous memes using Putin as the background for President Snow's quotations. One common meme a photo of Putin with the phrase “Welcome. Happy Hunger Games [to you.]” superimposed on the image:

“Welcome. Happy Hunger Games.” Anonymous image found online.

Other memes focus on a different aspect of the Hunger Games. There, the outfits of the characters from the ruling faction are notoriously flamboyant and appear ridiculous and frivolous to the working class of the fictional nation. One popular image currently circulating Twitter is of one of the women carrying country plaques during the opening ceremony, juxtaposed with a character from the recent Hunger Games movie who wears a somewhat similar retrofuturistic dress:

Character from the Hunger Games movie, and model carrying Argentina's plaque in the opening ceremony parade. Anonymous image found online.

Character from the Hunger Games movie (left), and model carrying Argentina's plaque in the opening ceremony parade (right). Anonymous image found online.

There is serious meaning behind the silly outfit comparisons — the Sochi Games, which are estimated to have cost over $40 billion, have been plagued by allegations of corruption [Global Voices report], horrible working conditions and lack of payment for the possibly illegal workers. The idea of an under-class looking with horror at the waste of the “Capitol” can be seen as an allegory for Russia's poor and disadvantaged watching the most expensive Games in history take place right in front of them, yet out of reach. One Twitter user wrote:

It's true. Same sh*t, the people are going hungry and poor, while the government is happy

Another user eschewed subtlety and embraced hyperbole in making his comparison:

The Hunger Games, like the Olympics, are controlled by the authorities, to entertain the slaves, and maintain an eternal president — all those who disagree are ruthlessly killed!

Not all comparison are this negative — most of bloggers take a humorous approach. One Twitter user humorously suggested that the Olympic Games would be improved if they were turned into Hunger Games for government officials:

It would be better if instead of the Olympics they stage Hunger Games … between members of parliament.

In some ways, this lighthearted approach to poking fun of the Olympics is a breath of fresh air compared to some of the harsher memes [Global Voices report] out there. At the same time, the RuNet has become a confusing hodgepodge of articles criticizing Sochi, and articles criticizing the critics, until the real point of the Olympic Games, athleticism and national pride, is almost completely buried in a pile of meta-criticism. 

February 11 2014

Prisoners Lists Stir Informbiro Memories in Former Yugoslav Republics

The recent publishing of lists of prisoners of Goli Otok, victims of communist purges in Yugoslavia from 1949 to 1956, has reignited dormant debates and opened some old wounds, across all the former Yugoslav republics.

Goli Otok is a Croatian island that was used as a prison camp during the so-called “Informbiro era” – the post-World War II breakdown between the communist leaderships of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. For many Yugoslavs, “Tito's historical ‘No!’ to Stalin” was a source of pride, especially because it solidified their country's role as an intermediary between the Western and Eastern Bloc. The purges that were part of the clash officially included persecution of alleged “pro-Soviet communists”. According to the victims and dissidents of the time, this was often just an excuse by the country's power-mongers to get rid of anyone they disliked for any reason and, thus, people of many other political affiliations were sent to the notorious camp.

Prison area of Goli Otok. Photo by Wikipedia (CC BY-SA).

Abandoned prison area of Goli Otok. Photo by Wikipedia (CC BY-SA).

During the last two months of 2013, Croatian portal Novi Plamen (New Flame) published two lists compiled by UDBA (Yugoslav State Security Service) from the State Archive of Croatia – the list of the 413 people [hr] who died in the camps, and the list of all 16,101 prisoners [hr] who had served sentences there. The second link spread widely through social networks and then through news portals in all six former Yugoslav republics.

Scan of the second page of Goli Otok prisoner list, displaying names, birthdates and codes for municipality, ethnicity, type of crime, dates of start and end of emprisonment... Published by Novi Plamen.

Scan of the second page of Goli Otok prisoner list, displaying names, birthdates and codes for municipality, ethnicity, type of crime, dates of start and end of emprisonment… Published by Novi Plamen.

Slovenian right-wing blogger Pavel noted [si] that the publishing of the lists coincided with the recent December 9, 2013, death of Jovo Kapičić [sr], who had allegedly been the man in charge of Goli Otok. In an August 2013 interview, Kapičić, a Serb, claimed [sr] that the Serbs had made up the majority of prisoners at the camp.

Twitter user ‏@flusteredcooler from Montenegro commented on this issue as well and, while people from all of the former Yugoslav republics often claim that their nationals made up the majority of those sentenced to serve time at Goli Otok, he noticed:

Legend says that most of the population of Goli Otok consisted of Montenegrins? The lists show that it was Yugoslavia in a nutshell [representing everybody]

A senior Macedonian blogger, among the oldest members of the local blogosphere, and a World War II anti-fascist resistance veteran, Buv (“Owl”), posted an announcement [mk] by the Association of former Goli Otok prisoners, advising caution in relation to the lists and offering first-hand consultations to all interested parties:

Темата за “голооточаните“.“информбировците“затвореници што ја издржувале казната во логорот Голи Оток е дел од пошироката историска тема за конфликтот меѓу СССР и СФРЈ.Не може да се зборува за казнениците на Голи Оток,без да се разгледуваат во комлесот на историските збиднувања.

Независно од тоа колку биле свесни/идејно свесни/за својот однос кон конкретните настани,учесниците во збиднувањата,што подоцна се нашле на Голи Оток,се учесници во еден политички судир кој има исклучително историско значење,за нив,за нивната земја,за пошироките светски движења.

Ова отклонување го направивме за да обрниме внимание на оние лесно искажани карактеристики што се даваат по повод на објавените списоци за голооточаните/информбировците/ и во други прилики.Без да се има во вид поширокиот контекст на случувањата,може паушално да се кажува се и сешто.Важноста на историската проблематика бара сериозен пристап.

Здружението Голи Оток,меѓу другото,ја има и таа задача да ја објасни,документира,да ја покаже историската вистина за настаните во кои независно од нивната волја се нашле и овие страдалници,што така строго ги казнила историјата.

The topic of the “inhabitants of Goli Otok,” the “Informbiro prisoners” is part of a larger historical topic about the conflict between the [USSR] and the [SFRY]. One cannot talk about the Goli Otok prisoners without taking into account the complexity of historical events.

Regardless of how much they were aware or ideologically involved in these concrete events, the participants who were detained on Goli Otok were engulfed in a political clash with exceptional historical importance, for them personally, for their country and the wider world movement.

We publish this notice to draw attention to the reactions that have been published with great ease after the lists of prisoners were exposed, as well at other occasions. Without taking into consideration the wider context of events, anyone can say anything without arguments. The importance of the historical issues requires a very serious approach.

The Goli Otok Association has the mission to explain, document and disclose the historical truth about the events which unwittingly encompassed these sufferers, who were so severely punished by history.

Informbiro activities left deep trauma in the collective former Yugoslav memory, parts of which were artistically expressed through popular cult movies like When Father Was Away on Business (1985) by then young Bosnian/Serbian director Emir Kusturica, and Happy New Year '49 (1986) by Macedonian director Stole Popov.

Russia's Patriotic Overdrive in Sochi?

Hans Woellke (left) and Julia Lipnitskaia (right) compared. Ashley Wagner's reaction-face meme responds. (Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.)

Hans Woellke (left) and Julia Lipnitskaia (right) compared. Ashley Wagner's reaction-face meme responds. (Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.)

The Soviet Union may have defeated Hitler, but modern-day Russia’s war against fascism wages on. In just the last month, Russian authorities have used their battle with “the rehabilitation of Nazism” as a pretext [ru] for attacks on three different media outlets.

In late January, Russia’s only independent TV station got into hot water, when it aired a survey asking viewers if the USSR could have saved more lives by abandoning Leningrad to the Germans. On February 7, 2014, a Russian Senator demanded [ru] that officials temporarily suspend the broadcasting of CNN, after it published a story (later deleted) calling the Brest Fortress World War II memorial in Belarus “one of the world’s ugliest monuments.”

Most recently, there is trouble at Echo of Moscow, Russia’s premier liberal radio station (and a major hub for opposition-leaning materials online), where satirist Victor Shenderovich (best known for creating a political puppet show that aired in the 1990s) published a controversial blog post [ru] about the politics of Russia hosting the Winter Olympics.

Speaking on the floor of parliament today, Vladimir Vasilyev, the deputy chairman of the Russian Duma, demanded that Echo of Moscow apologize for Shenderovich’s post. (Curiously, Vasilyev addressed only Echo of Moscow, though the text was originally published on the less-trafficked website Ezhednevnyi Zhurnal.) Echo’s chief editor, Alexey Venediktov, wasted no time refusing to apologize [ru], pointing out that Shenderovich’s piece was never broadcast over the radio and only appeared in his blog (hosted on Echo’s site). (Shenderovich has also refused to apologize [ru].)

The post in question, titled “Olympic War: Putin and the Girl on Skates,” describes how liberal oppositionists suffer from a certain “schizophrenia” during the Olympics, struggling to reconcile their love of Russia’s historical accomplishments (Tolstoy, constructivist art, and so on) with Vladimir Putin’s apparent exploitation of these feats to boost his own popularity. Most memorably, Shenderovich also likens fifteen-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia’s performance in Sochi this week to Hans Woellke’s triumph in the men’s shot put competition in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. “Something, however, prevents us from enjoying [Woellke’s] victory today,” Shenderovich adds, warning against pride in an authoritarian state’s Olympic athletes.

While many things undoubtedly do keep us from celebrating Woellke today (in the war, he served as a captain in the Waffen SS, and his murder precipitated the massacre of a village in Belarus in 1943), Shenderovich’s comparison has proved controversial for many Russians. Though the Internet-savvy might regard it as nothing more than quick service of Godwin’s law, Shenderovich’s decision to equate Russia’s newest national treasure—a charming adolescent girl, no less—with a Nazi jock couldn’t have come at a worse time.

With the Winter Games underway in Sochi now, Russia is (understandably) in patriotic overdrive. That means anyone toying with the World War II narrative—to this day, Russia’s most sacred unifying myth—better be careful. TV Rain’s survey about ditching Leningrad crossed the line. CNN’s mockery of the Brest Fortress went too far. Shenderovich seems to have committed an even greater sin by abusing young, pretty Lipnitskaia, but it’s possible that any of these offenses would have passed as minor kerfuffles, were it not for the Olympic adrenaline now filling the country’s veins.

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