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September 28 2014

Anton Nossik on the Coming End of Facebook, Twitter, and Google in Russia


A Russian apocalypse might be headed for social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

Severing Russia’s connection to American Internet giants looks increasingly likely. Earlier today, September 26, Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) revealed it has formally demanded that Facebook, Twitter, and Google obey a new law requiring “organizers of information distribution” to store on Russian soil six-month meta data archives, making them accessible to Russian police. Also, the Duma is poised to pass the final reading of amendments to another law that will require websites and certain apps to store all user data on servers located inside Russia by January 1, 2015, rather than September 2016, as the law originally planned.

For months already, speculation that the Kremlin will cut off access to American online social media has been a regular feature of commentary about the RuNet. Now, one of the Russian Internet’s most respected voices says he’s confident that websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google will soon be things of the past in Russian cyberspace. Writing on LiveJournal today, media expert and founding member of the Russian blogosphere Anton Nossik explained why he thinks the end is nigh in Russia for websites used by billions around the globe.

With the author’s permission, RuNet Echo is making Nossik’s blog post available to English speakers.

“Facebook, Twitter, and Google: the Mechanics of Disconnection,”
by Anton Nossik

Roskomnadzor has started preparing to block in Russia the servers of Facebook, Twitter, and Google.

The original plan was to block these services in the second half of 2016, but Duma deputies suddenly changed their minds this week, approving revisions to new legislation that move the disconnection date to January 1, 2015. But Roskomnadzor is hurrying to create the preconditions for this shut-off even sooner.

The technology for disconnecting is two-stage. First, the government will present foreign Internet companies with clearly impractical demands to relocate all user data to locations under the control of Russia’s FSB [the Federal Security Service]. Then, for failing to comply with these demands, state officials will disconnect them. More accurately, they’ll disconnect us from them.

After being registered by Roskomnadzor as an organizer of information distribution, a website must maintain “on the territory of the Russian Federation information [from the past six months] about the reception, transmission, delivery, and (or) processing of communication by voice, writing, images, sounds, or other electronic means between users of the Internet.” Failure to fulfill these demands carries a penalty of up to 500,000 rubles, Roskomnadzor explains.

Maybe you're thinking the journalists at Izvestia left out an important nuance: just exactly whose data needs to be stored on Russian soil. Does this concern only Russian citizens, Russian-speaking Internet users worldwide, or citizens of any country, who happen to be on Russian territory, when accessing the Web?

In fact, Izvestia’s journalists aren't guilty of anything here. Of course, they could have asked the Roskomnadzor official this interesting question, and maybe even did ask, but simply weren’t permitted to print the answer. The raw truth is that the answer isn’t actually written in the federal law passed by the government. There was no effort to limit the jurisdiction of the Duma’s laws and the legitimate sphere of interest of Russia’s FSB—not by the criterion of citizenship, not by language, not by geography. If you read Federal Law 97 as it was actually written and passed, you’ll see that it concerns the reception and transmission of anyone’s data—American and European, Japanese and Canadian, Israeli and New Zealander, without any kind of restrictions. And the law’s definition of a blog is also quite generous. Allow me to quote the law, as you probably won’t believe me:

The owner of a site and (or) particular page of a site on the Internet, on which there is publicly accessible information and which attracts more than 3,000 daily visits from users of the Internet, (henceforth referred to as a “blogger”) is obligated to observe the laws of the Russian Federation, when distributing and using this information, including the distribution of said information on the website or website’s page by other users of the Internet.

Here it’s plainly clear there aren’t restrictions of any kind. Not by citizenship, not by language, and not by geography. If you’ve got 3,000 unique visitors in a day, you’re on the list, so please fall in. Even if your language is Indonesian and your entire audience is on the island of Java. Either you recognize the jurisdiction of a flock of sheep [i.e., Russia], or we’ll block you. That's what the law says.

Naturally, nobody is planning to enforce this law as it was passed. From the beginning, the task has been something else. Still ten days before the law went into effect, Roskomnadzor’s Maxim Ksenzov explained to everyone that his agency wouldn’t enforce any provisions of this law in any way except as selective political censorship.

We do not aim nor have we ever aimed to organize a census of all popular Russian-language Internet users. This would be a pointless exercise, and the law isn’t about that. […] The blogger registry created by the law, which Roskomnadzor will launch on August 1, wasn’t created to provide statistical calculations […]. We see no specific need for a preliminary assessment of the number of Internet users who potentially fall into the law’s “blogger” category. The statistics will be gathered as the law is enforced and will be flexible.

Flexibility is perhaps the defining quality of Russian law enforcement this season. Whomever they point the finger at tomorrow will be the next one visited by this “flexibility.” But the top priority now is blocking Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s services in Russia. The Duma has set a deadline of January 1, 2015, but Roskomnadzor is hurrying to get it done even earlier.

I don’t know what brought on this rush. In any event, for now we’re only talking about the kind of disconnection technology that is easily overcome with the help of proxies and VPN.

This text is a full English translation of an article by Anton Nossik that appeared in Russian on Nossik’s LiveJournal blog on September 26, 2014.

Written by Kevin Rothrock · View original post [en] · comments (0)
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September 23 2014

Un bateau de croisière affrété par un tour opérateur allemand fait escale à Yalta en Crimée Germans…

Un bateau de croisière affrété par un tour opérateur allemand fait escale à Yalta en #Crimée

Germans ignore international embargo against Russian-occupied Crimea :: khpg.org
http://khpg.org/index.php?id=1411386086

On Sept 17 ‘Ocean Majesty’, a Greek luxury cruise liner operated by the German tourist agency Hansa Touristik GmbH flouted the international embargo and sailed from Sochi in Russia into the Crimea, arriving in Yalta at around 8.30 Kyiv time.  While the FSB carried out an 11-hour search of the Mejlis and men with machine guns raided a Mejlis member’s home, a major Crimean Tatar charity and the Mejlis’s newspaper Avdet, 500 German tourists basked in the Yalta sunshine.
(…)
Ukraine issued a directive on July 15 whereby it closed the ports in Yevpatoria; Kerch; Feodosia; Yalta and Sevastopol to international shipping. That information was passed to the International Maritime Organization and its members, as well as to representatives of foreign companies with IMO accreditation

Ukraine is entitled to demand that ships which have illegally docked in Crimean ports are arrested in any port in the world. According to Oleg Alyoshin, partner in the law firm Vasyl Kisil and Partners, this is in full accordance with the International Ship and Port Security Code. Alyoshin explained to Interfax Ukraine that Ukraine has a wide range of legal means for defending its interests including arrest of ships which enter Crimean ports while the Crimea is under Russian occupation. It can also seek a ban on their entry into the Crimea by citing the same code.

L’affaire vue par RIA-Novosti,…
http://cdn4.img22.ria.ru/images/102509/38/1025093835.jpg

July 23 2014

02mydafsoup-01
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Einen aussagekräftigeren Nachweis über seine meinungsbildende Nachhaltigkeit hätte sich der hochklassige deutschsprachige Qualitätsjounalismus nicht wünschen können.

Spiegel-online link via fefe
Reposted bydarksideofthemoon darksideofthemoon

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

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.

Ukrainian Revolution Rattles Russian Nationalists

Photoshopped image of politician Yulia Timoshenko, released from jail by the opposition controlled Ukrainian parliament. Many view her as a strong candidate in the coming presidential elections. Anonymous image found online.

Photoshopped image of politician Yulia Timoshenko, recently released from jail by the opposition controlled Ukrainian parliament. Many view her as a strong candidate in the coming presidential elections. Anonymous image found online.

Remarkably, it is now a fait accompli that the Ukrainian opposition has taken control of the country's political process. President Yanukovich's fall from power was in no small part due to the radical nationalists who made up the core of the street activists standing opposite Ukrainian riot police for the last three months. Nationalist parties like Svoboda, and radical organizations like the “Right Sector” (see this early YouTube video [ru] of Right Sector leader Yarosh talking about taking the fight to “Ukrainian” lands in Russia) contributed to the eventual victory of the Maidan movement, and now appear to be in a unique position to influence Ukrainian policy making.

At least this is what Russian nationalists fear — not only that the new Ukraine will look towards the West, rather than Russia, but that the Russian speaking population in Ukraine will come under attack from radicals who will attempt to “derussify” them. The prominence of Ukrainian nationalists in the opposition movement gives fodder to these fears. A Russian radio-host Ilias Mercury, for example, tweeted about statements previously made by leader of the Svoboda party Oleh Tyahnibok:

Tyahnibok declared that the Russian language in Ukraine will be made illegal. Clear?

and 

Tyahnibok declared that Russians living in Ukraine will be made “non-citizens of Ukraine.” Clear?

It doesn't matter if such policies will ever come to pass. The very thought of them scares nationalists who feel that Russian-speaking Ukrainians are also Russian.

Some Russians blame Yanukovich for this turn of events. Blogger and publicist Egor Holmogorov wrote [ru] recently that:

Судьба Януковича – великолепный урок всем мелким тиранам, предающим русских. Он мог бы сделать русский язык государственным и править опираясь на русскую половину, которая постепенно стала бы русским большинством. Он предпочел прямо противоположный путь.

Yanukovich's fate is a great lesson for petty tyrants who betray Russians. He could have made the Russian language an official state language and rule relying on the Russian half of the country, which over time would become a Russian majority. He chose an exactly opposite approach.

This language map by Kiev National Linguistic University shows the split between Russian speaking east and Ukrainian speaking west.

This language map by Kiev National Linguistic University shows the split between Russian speaking east and Ukrainian speaking west.

In general, language appears to be a major point of contention for nationalists on both sides. In the past couple of days the new opposition controlled Rada has passed several laws, one of which was to repeal of an older law that gave Russian the status of a secondary official language in Ukraine. This led nationalist philosopher and founder of the National Democratic party Konstantin Krylov to proclaim [ru] the new regime “anti-Russian.” Krylov claims that such laws diminish political freedoms and Ukraine, and calls for new policy that would allow Ukrainians to easily acquire Russian citizenship, if they so choose.

Nationalist publication Sputnik & Pogrom also commented on the law repeal, saying [ru] that it fits with their predictions of increased nationalism in Ukraine in the case of an opposition win. S&P also criticized Alexey Navalny for supporting the Ukrainian opposition movement, as it seems contrary to his claims of looking out for the interests of Russians. S&P also published an address to “all Ukrainian Russians,” [ru] in which they call on them to self-organize and create “Russian national organizations,” because, “that's the only way to create a European Ukraine.”

Conservative publicist and radio-show host Dmitry Olshansky, on the other hand, made a more emotional appeal [ru]:

Можно себе представить, что было бы, если бы не было 1941 года, и существовали бы те, кого убили, и их потомки, – а Рада отменила бы идиш в качестве регионального языка.

You can imagine what would happen, if there was no 1941, and all of those who had died and their descendants would now be alive – and the Rada took away the regional status of Yiddish.

Truly, Russian nationalists are vehemently against any kind of ethnic discrimination — unless, of course, they get to be in charge.

Reposted byepimetheus epimetheus

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 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).

Olympics Overshadow Evictions in Tokyo

反五輪の会のフェイスブックページに投稿された写真。ロシア政府は、19世紀にアレクサンドル2世によってチェルケシア人口のおよそ90パーセントが殺害されたか土地を追われたチェルケシア虐殺についていまだ認めていない。

Photos of an anti-Olympics group in Tokyo posted on Facebook. Banners show messages of opposition to holding the Sochi Olympics on the land of genocide and the 2020 Olympics in Japan. (photo by 反五輪の会[han-gorin-no-kai] used with permission)

[All links lead to Japanese-language pages unless otherwise noted.]

While many people in Japan are happy with the country's results of the Sochi Winter Olympics – notably, Ayumu Hirano, the youngest medal winner on the snowboard half pipe and Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan's first Olympic gold in men's figure skating, just to name a few – there are some who are speaking out against the Olympics, present and future.

Given some tens of billions of dollars are used to host the international sporting event, the Olympics are never without criticism. At the opening ceremony for the Sochi Olympics, courtesy of the so called “anti-gay propaganda” law that Russia passed last year, the US President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were among those absent [en]. Human Rights Watch has been urging the International Olympics Committee [en] to investigate over non-payment of compensations for construction workers for Sochi game-related facilities. Animal rights groups are anxious that the stray dogs swept out of Sochi would be killed [en]. 

But Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended. Yuji Kitamaru, a Japanese columnist in New York, referred to the lack of human rights awareness in not just the leader, but its citizen:

The reason why all the European leaders being absent at the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony was because of an overwhelming domestic pressure to increase pressure on Russia, rather than the leaders themselves putting pressure on Russia. This is domestic politics rather than a diplomatic move. Abe was able to attend not just because of his lack of awareness of human rights, but also because there is a lack of human rights pressure in Japanese public opinion.

The lesser known problem may be the history of Sochi [en]. The Circassian people has demanded [en] that the Russian government acknowledges the 19th-century Muhajir [en] (Circassian Genocide), during which about 90 percent of the local Circassian population was killed or displaced by Tsar Alexander II. “NoSochi2014“ is a website created to put more pressure on the Russian government and to gather support for the cause.

Japanese anti-Olympics group “Hangorin-no-kai” showed their solidarity with NoSochi2014 and published a message on Facebook[en/ja] declaring that they do not welcome 2020 Tokyo Olympics for the forced evictions it may cause:

To the people around the globe fighting against the 2014 Sochi Olympics, we send you a message of solidarity from Tokyo, the host city of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games.

We understand that Sochi 2014 is being held on a land where Circassian people were massacred by the Russian Empire, and today Russia is running the games on the biggest budget in the history of the Olympics.

We also recognize that for the Olympics development, more than 2000 people were displaced from their homes and extreme levels of environmental destruction were brought to the land.

[…]

Here in Tokyo the unnecessary redevelopment for the 2020 Olympics has already started with evictions of low-income populations from their homes.

The radioactive contamination by the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster is nowhere near stabilisation, let alone “under control” as Prime Minister Abe proudly announced to the IOC.

Tokyo is only swimming in the cloud of an illusion, while the people in Fukushima and many nameless radiation-exposed workers at the power plant are left without sufficient support from the state.

The Olympics is nothing but a nightmare.

What is happening in Sochi today, is what might happen to us in 6 years.

The concerns of the group are the evictions that often take place before hosting large international events. There have been cases where homeless people staying in public parks were forcefully moved out of their tents when big events took place nearby.

The group mentioned [ja] past examples on Twitter: Before the 2002 FIFA World Cup and the 2007 World Athletics Championships, homeless people squatting at Osaka's Nagai Park [ja] were forcefully evicted. Prior to the Aichi World Expo, tents of homeless people in Nagoya city's Shirokawa Park [ja] were forcefully removed. And, evictions in Tokyo already started in early March last year with tents and belongings of the homeless forcefully removed when an International Olympic Committee inspection group visited Tokyo.

2013年12月15日(日)反五輪の会が主催したデモの模様。写真:mkimpo.comより許可を得て掲載

Protesters organized by an anti-Olympics group march in Tokyo on December 15, 2013. Photo by mkimpo.com. Used with the permission

Eviction is not only for people squatting in public parks. According to AFP [ja], about 2,000 households at the Kasumigaoka public housing apartment in Shinjuku, Tokyo are facing eviction. Most of the residents are elderly.

A blogger named “定年おじさんのつぶやき”, which translates to “Blurbs of a Retired Old Man” wrote about the shadows of the Olympics:

日本での最初の五輪開催は、まさに日本が経済成長を遂げ先進国の仲間入りを果たしたことを世界に誇示する最高の舞台だった。
だが晴れの舞台の陰には多くの人々の犠牲がついて回る。
昔から「開発」という行為には必ず自然や環境の「破壊」ということばがついて回った。

戦争は何も生み出さない最大・最悪の「破壊」行為であるが、五輪開催という大義名分には中々反対の声は上げにくい。

とりわけ立場の弱い人たちは、「お上」の命令には逆らうことができない。
54年前、アジアで初めての五輪開催を控えて都は老朽化住宅の建て替えを始めた。

当時は建て替えられた新しいアパートに再び入居することができたが、そのアパートも逐50年も経ち高齢になった住民は、2020年の五輪に向けて追い出されることになった。

When Tokyo hosted the Olympics for the first time [in 1964], it was a great milestone to show off to the world that Japan has grown into a developed country thanks to economic growth.

But a grand occasion in the spotlight often comes with sacrifices.

Through the ages, an act of development always was followed by destruction of nature and environment.

War is the biggest, worst example of destruction that does not generate anything good, but when it comes to a good reason like the Olympics, it's hard to speak against it.

Especially marginalized people can never go against the orders of authorities.

Fifty-four years ago, Tokyo began reconstruction on old housing prior to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. People who had been asked to leave their old houses were moved to a newly built apartment building.

But that apartment building, now 50 years old, and its old residents face another eviction for the 2020 Olympics. 

For Kohei Jinno, a 79-year-old resident of the Kasumigaoka apartment building, it's his second time facing eviction because of the Olympics. According to Japan Times [en], his home and business were torn down to make way for an Olympic park around the main stadium for the Tokyo Games in 1964. Now he has been told he must move again to make way for the stadium’s redevelopment and expansion in time for 2020. 

Unlike the anti-Olympics group “Hangorin-no kai”, most people in Japan are not against hosting the games themselves, but some are against tearing down the existing stadium to build a new, larger one. 

A YouTube video made by architect Ken Aoki using Google Earth shows a 3D model based on information made public in March 2013 of the new national stadium:

Edward Suzuki, a Japanese architect, suggested on his blog fixing up the already existing national stadium rather than simply building a new one and called on people to join the campaign on online petition platform Change.org. The petition “Saving Meijijingu Gaien and National Stadium for Future Generations (unofficial translation) argues that throwing large amount of taxes away to build a new giant stadium which would be too huge, raising issues with emergency guidance and risk management in the event of disaster, will only prevent recovery efforts for areas affected by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of 2011 and will destroy the city's scenery, such as Ginkgo trees and the blue sky. All this, the petition warns, will become a burden for future generations.

With the city headed toward a development push for the Olympics, Twitter user Nakajimayuki commented on the role of citizens:

Tokyo residents, as the leading actors for the city, must stay strong and pay close attention to this massive change that Tokyo will go through “for the 2020 Olympics”, not just the plan to rebuild a new stadium, so that such development will not proceed in an non-transparent way.

The thumbnail photo is from Hangorin-no-kai's Facebook page
The post was edited by L.Finch

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

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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. 

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