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February 14 2014

“Celebrating Valentine's Day Is a Direct Way to Hell” in Tajikistan

According to a recent survey [tj], one out of three residents of Tajikistan are celebrating Valentine's Day today. Although these findings seem a little bit exaggerated for the country as a whole, they do appear to be accurate for the country's main cities. Over the last two decades, many young Tajikistanis have embraced the tradition of giving their loved ones cards, red roses, and other love-themed presents.

However, similarly to some other holidays such as Halloween or New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day struggles to gain broader acceptance in Tajikistan. During the week before February 14, social media users in the country argued about whether or not “the day of love” should be celebrated.

Many Facebooka nd Odnoklassniki users in Tajikistan have shared this image today. The text reads:

Many Facebook and Odnoklassniki users in Tajikistan have shared this image today. The text reads: “Comprade! Don't give in to the bourgeois crap! February 14 is an ordinary day!”. The image originates in Russian-language social media.

Some netizens contend that the holiday has no place in a Muslim society. For instance, on blogiston.tj, Vatandust writes [tj]:

Бародарону хоҳарони тоҷик. Нодониста намонед ки ҷашн гирифтани валентин роҳи рост ба ҷаҳаннам. Боре дар бораи кӯдакотон фикр кунед. Имруз шумо валентин ҷашн мегиред – фардо онҳо бо хайвонот алоқаи ҷинсӣ мегиран.

Tajik brothers and sisters, you should know that celebrating Valentine's Day is a direct way to hell. Think about your children. Today you celebrate Valentine's Day – and tomorrow they will have sex with animals.

Siyovush adds [tj]:

Иди занону валентину ва гайра хамаш як сафсата каме нест!!! Чаро лубой иди гарбиву русиро чашн мегиред??? Идхои точики исломи дорем бас нест??? Агар форадатон брен ба Москва ё Амрико ва унчо чашн гирен чизе ки хохен. Диндорои точик бояд ба мардум фахмонан таърихи валентин чиву маънош чи. Хукумат бошад бояд фуруши валентинкахову хар як бозичахои дилдорро манъ кунад.

Women's Day, Valentine's Day – these are all nothing but nonsense!!! Why do you have to celebrate every western or Russian holiday??? We have Tajik and Islamic holidays. Aren't they enough? If you want, go to Moscow or [United States] and celebrate whatever you like there. Tajik religious leaders should explain the history and meaning of Valentine's Day to people. The government should ban the selling of love-themed cards and toys.

Under an article on ozodi.org, Muhammadi claims [tj]:

Вокеъан, агар ҷавонони тоҷик ки будани Валентинро медонистанд, аз тачлили ин рӯз даст мекашиданд.

Indeed, if Tajik young people only knew who [Saint] Valentine was, they would not mark this day.

While Sham asks [tj]:

Магар хамон кавми Валентину Иванову балову бадтар идхои моро чашн мегиранд, ки шумо ба онхо пайрави мекунед??? Боре дидаед,ки онхо иди рамазону курбон чашн гиранд???

Why do you imitate Valentine and Ivanov [common Russian surname] folks when they don't celebrate our holidays??? Have you ever seen them celebrating Idi Ramazon [Eid al-Fitr] or Idi Qurbon [Eid al-Adha]???

On Twitter, @onlytajikistan mentions some stereotypes associated with the holiday:

However, many people in Tajikistan do not see a problem in celebrating Valentine's Day. Khusrav sees [tj] the holiday as part of a global culture:

Мо хохем ё нахохем дар ин дунёи глобали одату маданияти гарб ба расму одатхои мо таъсири худро мерасонанд. Хозир давраи озодии фикру рафтор шудааст ва на мулло ва на вазири фархангу маърифат пеши ин корхо шуда наметавонад.

Whether we want it or not, western culture and traditions have an impact on our cultural practices in this globalized world. We live in the time of freedom of thought and freedom of behavior, and neither mullahs nor Minister of Culture can prevent this.

Mila writes [tj]:

Charo ki in ruzro jash nagirem? Kase oshiqu mashuq hast marhamat metawonand jakdigarro dar in ruzi oshiqon khursand namoyand, wa mekhostam dinro ba in mawzu omekhta nakuned!

Why shouldn't we celebrate this holiday? Those who are in love can make each other happy on this day. I would also like to [ask everyone] not to link this topic to religion.

Meanwhile, on blogiston.tj, netizens put together [ru] lists of best romantic movies to watch on Valentine's Day and discuss [ru] different ways of celebrating the day. Tomiris congratulates the readers of her blog, writing [ru]:

Всех с этим замечательным праздником! Любите и будьте любимыми! Любовь делает этот мир прекраснее!

I would like to congratulate everyone on this wonderful day! Love and be loved! Love makes this world a better place!

Tajikistan is not the only country where debates about the appropriateness of celebrating Valentine's Day have occurred. Some countries have banned the holiday. In the neighboring country of Uzbekistan, the authorities force students to sign contracts affirming that they will not celebrate the holiday. In Kyrgyzstan, officials in the southern city of Osh have banned the celebration of the holiday in schools. A Kyrgyz MP has even called [ru] Valentine's Day a “Devil's Holiday”.

February 13 2014

Did Turkmenistan Get Cold Feet Before the Sochi Winter Olympics?

There were many plans to send a team from Turkmenistan to the Winter Olympics 2014 in Sochi, but none of them materialized.

“We will certainly take advantage of the Russian invitation to take part in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, for which it is necessary to begin the appropriate preparations already today,” President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov said back in 2007. 

In the event, Turkmens awaiting the appearance of their national team in Sochi saw only their president at the star-studded opening ceremony. 

CA all

President Berdymuhamedov (top left corner) greets Kazakh athletes.
Caption from BBC coverage of the opening ceremony.

Turkmen netizens have been fairly active in their discussion of the Sochi Olympics. On etir.com, a micro-blogging service, many expressed a sense of envy towards the President, as well as surprise not to see a single participant from Turkmenistan. ‘A MEMORY' comments [tr]:

Ýa nesip!

Lucky him!

Berdymuhamedov, who has taken a back seat in the sporting stakes ever since an infamous face-plant took the sheen off an otherwise uncontested victory in a horse race back in Ashkhabad, pleased many by attending the games in a business suit rather than a sport suit. NepesX joked [tr]:

yarysha gatnasmasa bolyala

as long as he doesn’t participate in the race, it’s alright

At the same time visitors to the opposition website chrono-tm stressed the deterioration of the country's youth as the main reason for the absence of Turkmen athletes at the Olympics.

‘Sochustvushii’ [Сочувствующий] comments [ru]:

А кого посылать вся молодёж сидит на норкате тесты на употребление допинга из туркмении никто не пройдёт

There is no one to send [to the Olympics]. All young people use drugs. No one in Turkmenistan will pass the doping tests.

Turkmenistan had built a fine winter stadium in 2011, and seemed on the cusp of entering their first winter games, so their non-entry is even more perplexing.

Jorabay asked [ru] hopefully:

Pochemu turkmenskix hockeistow ne otpravit’ w sleduyuschiy raz — w 2018 godu?

Why not send Turkmen hockey players for next Olympics in 2018?

And ‘lale' took solace [ru] in the country's hotter climate:

Zima y nas teplaya …vot pochemy nety spotsmenov k zimney Olimpiade,

Our winter is warm…this is why we have no winter athletes.

‘Anonim’ [Аноним] disagrees:

скоро подрастут фигуристы и хоккеисты …. а так больше не вижу ни в каких вида спорта переспектив

 Soon our figure skaters and hockey players will come of age…Other than that I don't see any other promising types of sports [for us].

Turkmenistan has a sport and health-oriented public policy. The country is preparing to hold the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games and is building an Olympic Village. The country’s ambitions also include hosting the Asian games and Olympics in 2023.

These occasions would certainly give the country with the fourth largest gas reserves in the world a chance to show off its wealth, but one gets the impression that for all the records he has won in his own country, what President Berdymuhamedov craves more than anything else in the world is that elusive Turkmen Olympic medal. So far the republic's forgettable record at the games reads: Entered 5, Won 0. 

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

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.

Tajik Team at Olympics Opening Ceremony Included a Russian “Tourist”

Following the Olympics opening ceremony, many people in Tajikistan were shocked to find out [ru] that one of the individuals who walked into the ceremony in Sochi alongside Tajik athletes under their nation's flag had little to do with the country. Vladimir Vladimirov, a Russian entrepreneur and member of a municipal assembly, wore the Tajik team's outfit and waved the country's flag as he walked into the stadium where the event was held with an athlete and several officials from Tajikistan.

In an angry outburst on LJ, Icekandar writes [ru]:

Pardon my French, but this is a total f**k-up!!! Letting some foreigner walk with our country's athletes behind our flag is much worse than all that crap that everyone ridicules us for. Only a very miserable country could stoop so low. We always feel insulted when they laugh at us, and when Russian media portray us as uneducated savages. But perhaps we deserve such treatment? Which other country showcases foreign tourists instead of its own athletes at the Olympic Games? Which mother-f**ker gave a Tajikistan team's outfit to this Russian? And why the f**k did this all happen under the president's nose as he waved his hand at our athletes with a happy smile?..

“Dreamlike Kyrgyzstan” As Seen by a Photographer

Kloop.kg presents [ru] a collection of photos from “dreamlike Kyrgyzstan” by Russian photographer Danil Korzhonov.

Image from kloop.kg, used with permission.

Image from kloop.kg, used with permission.

February 10 2014

Tajik Bloggers Ask to Meet With President

Every year, the president of Tajikistan meets with selected members of the national intelligentsia in Dushanbe, in late March. These meetings normally feature long speeches by the president followed by endless praise of his work and his answers to carefully scripted questions from the audience. 

As the authorities begin [ru] putting together a list of “intellectuals” to attend this year's meeting with the country's leader, Tajikistani bloggers ask to be invited, too. Shukufa writes [ru]:

We should try and push [the officials] to send invitations to a couple of bloggers who would ask the president real questions. We could discuss the list of real and most pressing questions here [on blogiston.tj], on Facebook, [or other social media sites]. Bloggers are a real force, although the authorities do not understand it yet. We should help them understand this.

Russian Chronicles of Tajikistan, Tomiris, and Digital Tajikistan have supported Shukufa's initiative by re-posting her call on their blogs.

February 09 2014

Media Overblowing Extreme Right's Role in Ukraine's #Euromaidan Protests

Euromaidan protesters sing songs as they warm by the fire barrels near the barricades on Hrushevskoho Street in Kiev, Ukraine on 2 February, 2014. Copyright Demotix

Euromaidan protesters sing songs as they warm by the fire barrels near the barricades on Hrushevskoho Street in Kiev, Ukraine on 2 February, 2014. Copyright Demotix

This post is part of our Special Coverage Ukraine's #Euromaidan Protests.

A group of domestic and international scholars of Ukrainian nationalism have warned that an increasing number of media reports are misrepresenting the role of Ukraine's far right within the anti-government protest movement Euromaidan. 

Ukraine has been rocked by the massive demonstrations for more than two months now, with thousands of Ukrainians from all over the country maintaining a camp in the capital Kyiv and many others joining on weeknights and weekends. The movement began as peaceful, but the short-lived passage of laws limiting the right to protest sparked violent clashes between demonstrators and police.

The movement is highly diverse, with Euromaidan protesters representing a wide range of ages, income, education and abilities

The scholars’ assessment was part of a collective statement released on change.org titled “On the role of far-right groups in Ukraine's protest movement, and a warning about the Russian imperialism-serving effects of some supposedly anti-fascist media reports from Kyiv”. To counter these misconceptions of protesters’ political affiliations, they stated:

Both the violent and non-violent resistance in Kyiv includes representatives from all political camps as well as non-ideological persons who may have problems locating themselves politically. Not only the peaceful protesters, but also those using sticks, stones and even Molotov Cocktails, in their physical confrontation with police special units and government-directed thugs, constitute a broad movement that is not centralized. Most protesters only turned violent in response to increasing police ferocity and the radicalization of Yanukovych’s regime. The demonstrators include liberals and conservatives, socialists and libertarians, nationalists and cosmopolitans, Christians, non-Christians and atheists.

Anton Shekhovtsov, a blogger and a researcher of far-right movements in Europe, published an extensive investigation into what he alleges is an organized effort to defame Ukrainian Euromaidan protests in the West. He wrote:

Every single mass political mobilisation in Ukraine has been accompanied by the attempts to compromise the popular uprisings by associating them with the extreme right. And not only uprisings or protests, but big events too. For example, a few weeks before the start of the Euro-2012 football championship, British media hysterically accused Ukrainians of racism and xenophobia, and warned that any non-White person going to see football matches in Ukraine would definitely and immediately be killed. After the championship was over, no British media outlet apologised to the Ukrainian people when it turned out that not one racist incident involving Ukraine fans had been reported during the tournament.

The current campaign to defame the Euromaidan protests is so far the strongest attack on the Ukrainian civil society and democratic politics. Similar attacks took place in the past too [ru], although their intensity never reached today's level. During the “Orange revolution“, the Ukrainian semi-authoritarian regime under President Leonid Kuchma was also trying to defile democratic presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko by associating him with the extreme right.

According to the author, the ongoing defamation campaign involves a number of individuals and groups that form a wide network aimed at promoting anti-Western, pro-Russian and pro-Eurasianist ideas in the EU, Canada and the US. He noticed that several individuals involved in the effort are regular commentators of Kremlin-sponsored Russia Today and Voice of Russia.

Shekhovtsov concluded by demonstrating how the tone of the Euromaidan defamation effort aligns with the official rhetoric of the Russian government:

The large network consisting of pro-Russian authors and institutions is a hard/extreme right breeding-ground of all kinds of conspiracy theories, Euroscepticism, racism and anti-democratic theories. Today, this is also one of the main sources of the articles, op-eds and statements that are one way or another trying to discredit the Euromaidan protests by associating them either with neo-Nazism or with the alleged US expansionism. The rhetoric of these authors fully conforms to the remarks made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov who has recently slammed Western support for Euromaidan and declared: “What does incitement of increasingly violent street protests have to do with promoting democracy? Why don’t we hear condemnations of those who seize and hold government buildings, burn, torch the police, use racist and anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans?”.

The Ukrainian government has also persistently referred to protesters as “extremists” and “radicals” [ru]. However, many Internet users are skeptical about such assessments and have humored them with messages like this [ru]:

At Ukrainskyi Dim [an expo center seized by the protesters] extremists have attacked the floor – with mops. Minister of Interior is concerned. #euromaidan #євромайдан

This post is part of our Special Coverage Ukraine's #Euromaidan Protests.

Russian Commentator Apologizes for Mistaking Uzbekistan for Tajikistan

Renowned Russian sports newscaster has apologized for mistaking the national team of Uzbekistan for that of Tajikistan during a live television broadcast from this year's Winter Olympics opening ceremony. Responding to thousands of angry messages addressed to him through social media sites, Dmitry Guberniev posted [ru] an apology on his website:

Dear residents of Uzbekistan!

I would like to apologize for a mistake I made while reporting from the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games in Sochi. I will try to be more accurate in future.

I wish your athletes success [at the Games]!

February 08 2014

Three Main Blogging Platforms in Kazakhstan

Mr Wow! introduces [ru] the three most popular domestic blogging platforms in Kazakhstan:

A decent and law-abiding blogger in Kazakhstan inhabits one of the three reserves: Yvision [yvision.kz], Gonzo[gonzo.kz], or Horde [horde.me]. 

I've Got 99 Sochi Problems

One of the rings fails to open during the Olympic opening ceremony -- a minor setback in an otherwise masterful performance. YouTube screenshot.

One of the rings fails to open during the Olympic opening ceremony — a minor setback in an otherwise masterful performance. YouTube screenshot.

Last week foreign journalists descended on Sochi, and tweets and photos of unfinished construction quickly made headlines in the west and in Russia. Journalists complained about everything from rusty water to faulty door handles. A Twitter account called @SochiProblems was launched, mocking the alleged disaster of the Russian Winter Olympic games.

For example, one CNN reporter complained that only one of the rooms booked for his group was available, and posted a photo of himself in his hotel room with the curtain rod fallen down:

Many Russians were less than pleased with the negative publicity. One blogger alleged [ru] that the reporter could have done the damage himself to create a story:

[...] гражданин, скорее всего, сам отломал держатель карниза, и теперь всем демонстрирует моральное убожество режима резидента Путина.

[...] this guy likely broke the rod himself, and is now demonstrating the moral squalor of the Putin regime to everyone.

Meanwhile, a Levada Center poll [en] released on Wednesday found that 53% of Russians approved of Russia holding the Olympic Games in Sochi. However, 38% of respondents also felt that corruption was the main reason for the Games. The RuNet seems to bear out both of these feelings. Many feel that the criticism is justified and necessary, while others (like noted writer Boris Akunin [ru]) think that people should concentrate on supporting the athletes, and ignore the problems.

DemVybor's Kirill Shulika wrote [ru] on his Facebook about the importance of speaking out and criticism. Otherwise, says he:

Проблема-то тут как раз в том, что все разговоры о заговорах и желании навредить в проведении Олимпиады опасны тем, что и дальше все будет то же самое. Я имею в виду гигантские затраты и при этом ржавую воду, отсутствие душа или наличие граждан России, которым в нарушении всего отказано в посещении соревнований, несмотря на купленные билеты.

The problem is precisely that all this talk of conspiracy and desire to do harm to the Olympics is dangerous because afterwards everything will remain the same. I am referring to the huge costs accompanied by rusty water, no showers, or Russian citizens, who in violation of everything have been denied access to events, despite having purchased tickets.

Blogger and Alexey Navalny's second in command, Leonid Volkov, also felt [ru] that negative reactions to criticism were out of line:

Ничего обидного нет ни в @SochiProblems, ничего страшного нет в том, что какие-то вещи не доделаны, и какие-то косяки случаются. Страшна и позорна, невероятно постыдна только неадекватная реакция на иронию – поиск “врагов” и “заговоров”, истории про “журналистов, которые специально отрывают дверные ручки.”

There is nothing offensive in @SochiProblems, nothing horrible in that some some things aren't finished, and there are some screw-ups. What is terrible and shameful is the incredibly shameful and inadequate response to the irony – the search for “enemies” and “conspiracies,” stories about “journalists who deliberately destroy doorknobs.” 

Regardless, he will still watch the Games, said Volkov.

The Dependence of Russian Independent Television

Who is to blame for the demise of TV Rain? Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

Who is to blame for the demise of TV Rain? Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

In the last two weeks, seven satellite and cable television providers decided to stop broadcasting TV Rain, Russia’s only independent news station, cutting [ru] its national audience from just over ten million households to about two million. The catalyst for TV Rain’s troubles was a January survey the station conducted about the WWII Siege of Leningrad, which self-described Russian patriots interpreted as offensively worded. The apparent crackdown on the channel sparked a wave of anger from Russian Internet users, many of whom accused the Kremlin of forcing cable providers to abandon TV Rain.

TV Rain’s chief investor, Aleksandr Vinokurov, said at a press conference [ru] on February 4, 2014, that the station is “absolutely sure” that the companies now dropping the channel are doing so “under pressure.” Though he refused to name names, Julia Ioffe of The New Republic reported days earlier that Vladimir Putin’s deputy chief of staff, Alexey Gromov, and another high-placed figure, Sergey Chemezov, have both called cable and satellite operators several times, demanding that they “boot” the station.

While Vinokurov’s February 4 comments in part reaffirmed the widespread perception that TV Rain is currently battling political censorship, he also seems to have precipitated a backlash against the station, leading some bloggers to highlight the financial backstory that perhaps diminishes the degree of political persecution at work.

In his comments, Vinokurov offered [ru] to let cable and satellite operators broadcast TV Rain for free during the 2014 calendar year. Writing for politcom.ru, analyst Tatiana Stanovaya asked [ru] why Vinokurov is trying to address a political problem with “marketing” solutions. (In a Facebook post [ru] hours earlier, Stanovaya went so far as to call Vinokurov “naïve.”) For others online, the press conference’s focus on “marking solutions” similarly turned attention away from ‘crackdown by the bloody regime’ toward questions about the television business and TV Rain’s troubled past in that industry.

Why, after all, does Vinokurov’s offer extend only to the end of the year? What is the incentive to sign TV Rain, if operators must renegotiate new (paid) contracts in 2015? Stanislav Apetian, the blogger known as Politrash (who is notorious for ties to the Russian establishment and for attacks on opposition leader Alexey Navalny), seized on this detail, writing the next day on LiveJournal and Facebook that TV Rain’s troubles are more financial than political.

Drawing on a June 2013 report in Forbes.ru, Apetian cataloged TV Rain’s growth since April 2010, pointing out that the station’s problems with cable and satellite operators are as old as TV Rain itself. In the past, the chief dispute with operators like “Tricolor” has been who should pay whom. For the first year that the station existed, virtually no one was interested in carrying TV Rain, unless the channel agreed to pay for the privilege. Moscow’s biggest cable provider, Akado, broadcasted the station for a week in 2010 and then dropped it. Months later, the satellite company NTV+ agreed to carry TV Rain, but only after Sindeeva appealed to Natalia Timakova, a close friend who happened to be the press secretary for then-President Dmitri Medvedev.

In late 2011 and early 2012, Vinokurov, whose private fortune bankrolls TV Rain, actively sought outside investors to share the burden (and hopefully the future profits) of running the station. He courted the money of Mikhail Prokhorov and Alisher Usmanov, two of the richest men in Russia, both of whom have close ties to the Kremlin. Vinokurov couldn’t reach a deal with either of them, telling Forbes.ru that their offers to invest in TV Rain were underwhelming. The failure to tie the station to a powerful elite group like Prokhorov’s or Usmanov’s would later have great costs for TV Rain. Instead, Vinokurov and Sindeeva appear to have ‘bet on the wrong horse,’ placing their hopes in President Medvedev.

Even from the start, loyalty to Medvedev was never easy. In late March 2011, Sindeeva actually pulled the channel’s most popular show, “Poet and Citizen,” off the air, claiming that a lyric in the program directed at Medvedev was excessively critical. After a Facebook post explaining her reasons for the censorship, Sindeeva even appeared [ru] on TV Rain itself to defend the decision, on-air.

President Medvedev visits TV Rain's studio, 25 April 2011, Kremlin photo service, public domain.

President Medvedev visits TV Rain's studio. Medvedev center, Natalia Sindeeva right. 25 April 2011, Kremlin photo service, public domain.

TV Rain is often described as a product of the political thaw that occurred in Russia during Medvedev’s single term as president between 2008 and 2012. While this sentiment seems to imply that TV Rain bloomed into existence spontaneously, Apetian points out that the station failed to attract serious cable and satellite coverage until April 2011, when President Medvedev (less than a month after the “Poet and Citizen” scandal) personally visited the station’s office in downtown Moscow. Within weeks of Medvedev’s visit, Akado was broadcasting TV Rain again, even paying the station a “symbolic” 28 dollars per month for the rights. Before long, upward of 13 different operators were beaming the channel across the country—all suddenly amenable to TV Rain’s refusal to pay them any money.

Many of those cable and satellite companies are now backing away from TV Rain. Some are jumping on the bandwagon of moral outrage, faulting the station for its Leningrad Siege faux pas, and others cite business grounds. The suits running Russia’s cable and satellite operators have leapt at the chance to ditch TV Rain. That opportunity exists thanks to the mounting hostility of Russian apparatchiki and the decline of Medvedev’s political influence. But would a bit of bluster in the Duma and a few angry phone calls from a former arms-export official so easily sway an entire industry, if that industry wasn’t already itching to be rid of TV Rain?

Echo of Moscow pundit Anton Orekh asked this exact question in a blog post [ru] on February 4, arguing that cable and satellite operators can kill two birds with one stone by dropping TV Rain now, appeasing the conservatives in the Russian establishment and jettisoning a troublesome content-producer they never wanted in the first place.

In Russia, you can run a successful television station without turning a profit, if you’ve got the right political sponsors. But you better rake it in, if nobody has your back. TV Rain lost its patron before gaining the momentum necessary to stand on its own. Now the country's politicians and businessmen seem determined to watch it wither and die. That could very well happen—and soon.

February 07 2014

Russian Commentator Mistakes Uzbekistan for Tajikistan at Olympics Opening Ceremony

Although this year's Winter Olympics in Sochi have just kicked off, social media users in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are already angry at Russia, the country hosting the Games.

Thousands of people in the two Central Asian nations turned on their TVs earlier today to watch the opening ceremony for the Olympics shown live on ”Russia-1“, a state-owned Russian television channel (available via satellite in the both countries). As athletes from Uzbekistan were walking into the stadium behind an Uzbek flag, renowned Russian sports commentator Dmitry Guberniev [ru] announced, “Tajikistan”. He thus confused the two countries that were once part of the Moscow-dominated Soviet Union and have had a strained relationship over the last decade.

“That moment when Uzbekistan was called Tajikistan”. Image circulating widely on social media sites.

It did not take too long for angry reactions to appear on Twitter. Below are just a select few from hundreds of tweets posted by netizens from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Many of these tweets are addressed to Guberniev (@gubernievd), shaming the commentator and demanding an apology.

Calling Uzbekistan Tajikistan? Guberniev, go perform harakiri [kill yourself]!

Guberniev, burn in hell

I hope, I believe that the commentators will be takes to a ravine nearby and executed [shot dead] any minute now

[Text in the image reads, "Here is Tajikistan". "It is Uzbekistan, you idiot!"]

Guberniev, I wish I could give you a globe and put you behind a school desk so that you learnt not to confuse Uzbekistan for Tajikistan #sochi2014problems

The commentator made a mistake when athletes from Uzbekistan were entering [the stadium]… he introduced them as being from Tajikistan… I think he should apologize!!!

@gubernievd You have to offer an apology to Uzbekistan, Dmitry. We are not Tajikistan, with all due respect to our neighbours.

What the hell is Guberniev saying? Uzbekistan is not Tajikistan! He should offer Uzbekistan an apology now!

What an opening for the Sochi Games! D. Guberniev, apologize to us, to Uzbekistan! UZBEKISTAN IS NOT Tajikistan.

@gubernievd You should at least learn your Russian Cyrillic letters. When a word ends in “-istan”, it does not always mean “Tajikistan”!

@gubernievd You called our country Tajikistan rather than Uzbekistan although the correct name was there, written in three languages.

What an idiot could confuse the national team of Uzbekistan with that of Tajikistan?

This is offensive! Uzbekistan, not Tajikistan!

Russians urgently need to study geography and flags in order to learn to tell Uzbekistan from Tajikistan. Is this the country that wants to rule [Central] Asia?

A Riot Within Pussy Riot?

boohoo

Since their release from jail late last year Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, members of the feminist punk collective Pussy Riot, have gone on a worldwide publicity tour, visiting countries in Asia and Europe. At the time of their release they had announced that their new goal is the fight for human rights, specifically the rights of Russian prisoners — political or otherwise. Last night, Feb 5, as part of this tour they appeared at an Amnesty International-organized concert in New York.

According to [ru] journalist Anton Krasovsky (who himself was at once point persecuted for his sexual orientation) the concert wouldn't have been possible without the help of Russian billionaire and erstwhile presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov and his sister Irina. During their segment the Pussy Riot girls spoke about human rights abuses in Russia, and educated the audience about the Bolotnaya Square case, which many view as political in nature:

We are in New York, and there are 15,000 more people who know about the #BolotnoeCase. Starting today. And yes, we believe in caring

While in New York they also met US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, who called them “brave troublemakers” in a tweet, and appeared on the Colbert Report. (The founder of the nationalist online publication Sputnik & Pogrom pointed out [ru] that they were probably the first guest Colbert interviewed through an interpreter.)

Unfortunately, all of this publicity may have ruffled a few feathers back home. The day after the concert, other, anonymous members of Pussy Riot (the reader will remember that although 3 persons were arrested, at least 5 women were involved in the punk performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior) made a statement on their LiveJournal page, pussy-riot.livejournal.com [ru]. In this statement [ru] they proclaimed that Tolokonnikova and Alekhina are no longer members of Pussy Riot, because their human-rights activism is necessarily in opposition to the violent disruption at the heart of of the Pussy Riot method:

Мы очень рады освобождению Маши и Нади. [...] К сожалению для нас, они настолько увлеклись проблемами в российских тюрьмах, что начисто забыли о стремлениях и идеалах нашей группы: феминизм, сепаратистское сопротивление, борьба против авторитаризма и культа личности [...] Правозащитная деятельность не может позволить себе критику норм и правил, лежащих в основе устройства современного патриархального общества, потому что она является институциональной частью этого общества [...]

We are very happy Masha and Nadya were released. [...] Unfortunately for us, they are so concentrated on the problem of Russian prisons, that they forgot about the goals and ideals of our group: feminism, separatist insurgence, struggle against authoritarianism and the cult of personality [...] Human rights activism can't criticize norms and rules that are at the base of the modern patriarchal society, because it is an institutionalized part of this society [...]

They also criticized the Amnesty International concert, which billed Tolokonnikova and Alekhina's involvement as the first legal performance of Pussy Riot. “Pussy Riot doesn't do legal performances” — say the anonymous members. In fact, the whole idea is inimical to the concept of punk protest. They also stressed anonymity as an integral part of the Pussy Riot image, so it is unclear if Ekaterina Samutsevich, who previously had a falling out with Tolokonnikova and Alekhina when she took a plea bargain [Global Voices report] for early release, is still part of the collective.

Is this an attempt to hijack a worldwide, popular brand? Or, perhaps, Pussy Riot is indeed larger than its two most famous members. In any case, the group behind the statement is unequivocal:

Раз уж теперь мы оказались с Надей и Машей по разные стороны баррикад, разъедините нас. Запомните, мы больше не Надя и Маша, они – больше не Pussy Riot.

Since we are now on opposite sides of the barricades with Nadya and Masha, separate us. Remember, we are no longer Nadya and Masha, they are no longer Pussy Riot.

February 06 2014

Kazakh Bloggers: Some Dine With Mayor, Some Get Jail Terms

alm

Almaty Mayor and selected Kazakh bloggers, February 5, 2014. Image by @evlaman, used with permission.

A court in Kazakhstan has sentenced three bloggers to 10 days in jail on “minor hooliganism” charges. Nurali Aitelenov, Rinat Kibraev, and Dmitry Shchyolokov were detained by police outside a restaurant in Almaty, where the city's mayor, Akhmetzhan Esimov, was meeting with selected bloggers on February 5. The three young men were prevented from entering the restaurant because they had not been invited to the meeting. They were also not allowed to film the restaurant. Police detained the three bloggers after they unfolded posters saying ”Esimov Talks To Tamed Bloggers Only” and “Esimov! Come Out”.

‘Corrupt bloggers’

The meeting with the mayor has split the Kazakh blogger community. Those who had not received an invitation to the event accused the invited bloggers of being “venal” or “corrupt”. One of the detained individuals, Aitelenov, tweeted one day before the meeting:

Tomorrow at #Esimov's lunch… [Text under Esimov's photo reads, "Dear corrupt bloggers"].

Shortly before his detention, Aitelenov tweeted this image:

Rally against corrupt bloggers

Several social media users found it strange that the bloggers who had frequently criticized the Almaty mayor were dining with him at one of the city's most expensive restaurants, apparently at his expense.

I hope at least some of the bloggers attending a lunch meeting with Esimov have taken out their wallets and paid for their food?

Some netizens interpreted the meeting as a deliberate tactic by the mayor to divide the blogger community and improve his own image.

Brilliant move by the [mayor]: If bloggers don't come to the meeting, they don't want to hold a conversation. If they do come, they are corrupt.

Blogger Ernar Prediktor suggests [ru] that the Kazakh public views bloggers as “just and independent”. He argues that the meeting with “not the most prominent or popular” bloggers was part of the Almaty mayor's public relations campaign:

[P]ебята, вас просто поюзали. Использовали имидж блогера для достижения своих целей. Теперь на каждом углу будут говорить (писать), что аким такой распрекрасный и демократичный, без проблем встречается с представителями алматинцев, решает совместно проблемы и пр..

You have been used, guys. They have used the blogger's public image for their own benefit. Now they will claim everywhere that the mayor is good and democratic, that he easily meets with the representatives of the residents of Almaty and solves problems jointly with them, etc.

‘Useful’ meeting

But those who attended the meeting and some of their followers on social media sites thought the event was useful.

Judging by the bloggers’ meeting with Esimov, he has made a good impression and evoked their empathy.

Following the meeting, bloggers have also responded to criticisms.

If someone thinks that an opportunity to have at least some kind of a civilized conversation and discuss problems is a matter of who pays the bill at the restaurant, unfollow [me].

Only recently they all complained that they could not get hold of #Esimov; now those who are not at a meeting with him curse those who are there. Typical #Kazakhs.

Bloggers Samson keeps a record of online discussion related to the Almaty mayor's meeting with bloggers here [ru].

Moscow School Shooting: Firsthand Accounts and Mistaken Identities

PioneerBarrels

Tragedy struck a Moscow school Monday morning when a straight-A student brought two hunting rifles to class and killed his geography teacher, also shooting two police officers that tried to apprehend him (one of them later died). As is often the case in the modern era, some of the tragic story played out online.

One girl, who attends the same school, wrote a post [ru] on the social network VKontakte about what happened:

Сегодня в моей школе было вооруженное нападение, утроенное одним из учеников 10 класса. Убит учитель географии – Кирилов Андрей Николаевич (светлая память !!) [...] У Андрея Николаевича 5-ти летний сын. Мне бы безумно хотелось, что бы эта ПАДЛА оказался на месте сына учителя. Имя террориста – Гордеев Сергей. Предположительная причина – 4 в четверти по географии. Парень шел на золотую медаль. Теперь парень пойдет в тюрьму.

Today there was an armed attack at my school, perpetrated by one of the 10th grade students. The geography teacher has been killed – Andrey Nikolaevich Kirillov (bless him !!) [...] Andrey Nikolaevich has a 5 year old son. I really want that ASSHOLE do end up in the place of the teacher's son. The name of the terrorist is Sergey Gordeev. Suspected reason – a B in geography last quarter. The guy was aiming for a gold medal [valedictorian - A.T.]. Now the guy will go to jail.

Another girl, who apparently goes to a nearby school posted an Instagram selfie [ru] (later deleted) of students making faces at the camera, commenting: “f*ck.” Later that day an alleged first-hand account by one of Gordeev's classmates was was published [ru] by former Kremlin PR guru Gleb Pavlovsky on his Facebook page. The source is anonymous, and gives gory details of the murder:

Вдруг кто-то стучиться в дверь.[...] Появляется лицо Гордеева. [...] Андрей Николаевич не успел ничего сказать, как Серёга стрельнул ему в лицо. Андрей Николаевич сделал пару оборотов, сбил у художника с парты вещи и упал на пол, хлестая кровью. [...] Серёга говорит:”А теперь вопрос на оценку, почему он ещё не сдох? Я же его убил” Потом говорит:”всем два балла” и стреляет ещё пару раз в Андрея Николаевича.

Someone knocked on the door. [...] Gordeev's face appeared. [...] Andrey Nikolaevich didn't have time to say anything, Sergey shot him in the face. Andrey Nikolaevich turned a few times, knocked some art materials from the desk and fell to the floor, bleeding. Sergey said: “And now a question for a grade, why isn't he dead? I killed him” Then he says: “everyone gets a D” and shoots Andrey Nikolaevich a couple more times.

According to this student, Gordeev then took the class hostage and started talking to them about his life and his belief in god. When his mother called, he talked to her, calling himself a “psycho” and saying that he wanted to die. Later, Gordeev's father showed up, and after some negotiation managed to disarm him and free the students.

Legislative troll Vitaly Milonov memefied: The shooter was a 10th grader and a straight A student - we should ban the 10th grade and straight A students. Anonymous image found online.

Legislative troll Vitaly Milonov memefied: “The shooter was a 10th grader and a straight A student – we should ban the 10th grade and straight A students.” Anonymous image found online.

Later it became known that Gordeev's father is an officer in Russia's security forces, a fact that was pounced on by opposition bloggers. Alexey Navalny tweeted [ru] that this probably meant that the beat policeman didn't check Gordeev-elder's gun permits and storage safes. Other bloggers referred [ru] to the shooter as the “son of an FSB agent” or “son of a secret policeman,” and jokingly wondered [ru] if this mean the parliament would ban security officers from owning personal weapons. At the same time, yet more [ru] bloggers [ru] wondered [ru] why no one is mentioning the fact that the father is allegedly affiliated with the security apparatus. This led Sultan Suleymanov, an editor at Tjournal (a tweet aggregator), to sarcastically tweet:

Whew, good thing that the student's father turned out to be an FSB agent. Before that people didn't know what to hate him for — he wasn't a migrant, a nationalist, or gay

A case of mistaken identity caused some of that hate to be wrongly aimed at a different Sergey Gordeev, for a time. Journalist, blogger, and notorious internet troll, Maxim Kononenko (f.k.a. mrparker) found a VKontakte photo [ru] of a Sergey Gordeev which he posted on Facebook and tweeted. He caveated the photo, saying it was “preliminary.” Other twitter users, and later mainstream Russian media, picked it up [ru] without fact checking and ran it in publications (likely illegally because the individual is a minor). The Gordeev in question later posted a picture of himself holding a newspaper [ru] with his face on the front page, as a way to prove that he wasn't the guy. He wrote:

Ребят, вы извините дурачки 1) Я Сергей Гордеев это правда!!!!!! 2)Я не стрелял не кого (просто ошиблись, тоесть ТВ врет) 3)Если это был я я бы сейчас не фотался с газеткой!!!(Кстати сегодня был в “Комсомолькой правде” Там все прихуели когда меня увидели…….)

Guys, sorry but you are idiots 1) I am Sergey Gordeev, that's true!!!!! 2) I didn't shoot anyone (it's just a mistake, the TV is lying) 3) If it was me I wouldn't be taking photos with a newspaper right now!!!(By the way, I was at Komsomolskaya Pravda [newspaper] today, they all sh*t their pants when they saw me……)

Kononenko later apologized [ru] for his faux pas, reiterating, however, that he wasn't the one to publish the photo in mass media.

“I was so brutal because of computer games” says Stalin. Anonymous image found online.

Meanwhile, Russian members of parliament, eager as ever for something to blame, blamed [ru] guns, violent movies, video games, and American influence. RuNet funny man, poet and journalist Ivan Davydov tweeted in response:

The MPs are thinking small. To avoid school shootings, you shouldn't ban guns, you should ban schools  

February 05 2014

Surname Change As “National Duty” in Tajikistan

Following a controversial assertion by Tajikistan's Prosecutor General, senior officials in the country continue claiming that citizens whose surnames end in “-ov” or “-ev” are not patriots. Speaking to journalists today, Gavhar Sharofzoda, the head of the Tajikistan Language and Terminology Committee, said [ru], “Getting rid of Russian endings in surnames is a national duty of every citizen of Tajikistan”.

Kharsavor responded [ru] in his blog:

“National duty”? What kind of “national” duty? When will our ignorant officials finally realize that only the constitution can define what a “national” duty is? Serving in the army is, for example, a duty for guys. While a decision regarding how to write one's surname is something private.

When will they finally understand that Tajikistan is home to people from different [ethnic backgrounds]? I am an Uzbek, for example, and every fifth person here is an Uzbek. There are also Pamiris, Russians, Kyrgyz. Why in the world do officials define for us which surnames are “national” or “patriotic”? They have already renamed all villages and streets. Do they now want to do the same to people?

As with previous similar statements, Sharofzoda's comments have also triggered a wave of angry reactions on Facebook.

February 04 2014

Tajikistan Is “Besieged by Snow”

A massive snow storm has hit Tajikistan. Over the last three days, the country has been getting record-breaking amounts of snow, causing a nightmare for hundreds of thousands of people. 

The authorities have closed schools, universities, and kindergartens throughout the country. Two major airports, in Kulob and Qurghonteppa, have been shut down. Many flights have been cancelled at the airports in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, and Khujand. The snow has also left some parts of the country cut off from the rest. Avalanches have been reported across the mountainous nation.

Snow in Dushanbe. Image by ASIA-Plus, February 3, 2014, used with permission,

Snow in Dushanbe. Image by ASIA-Plus, February 3, 2014, used with permission.

The snow has also left Dushanbe “at the edge of a collapse” [ru]. The municipal authorities have been unable to remove snow from all but several main streets in the city. As a result, the public transportation system has all but stopped, leaving thousands of people unable to get to work or hospitals. Multiple car crashes have further paralyzed the city's roads. The snow has also caused frequent power cuts in the city where nine out of ten residents rely on electricity to heat their homes.

One blogger wrote [ru]:

Душанбе – в снежной осаде. Это красиво, даже в чем-то волшебно, но очень неудобно.
Шла сегодня с работы домой пешком. Около часа. Транспорта нет, да и ездить на том, что есть, опасно.

Dushanbe is besieged by snow. This is beautiful, even somewhat magical, but very inconvenient.
I had to walk home from work today. It took me about an hour. There is no [public] transportation, and whatever transportation is available is too dangerous to ride.

Municipal services in Dushanbe are short of special equipment and rely on street cleaners to remove snow from the city's roads.

Municipal services in Dushanbe are short of special equipment and rely on street cleaners to remove snow from the city's roads. Image by ASIA-Plus, February 3, 2014, used with permission.

On Facebook, a prominent Tajik journalist wrote [ru] (in a post that has got more than 120 likes and has been shared by users on various pages):

Думаю в какой же отсталой стране мы живем: 
снежный покров в 14-16 см великая проблема для городских служб; 
спецтехника, включая “Скорую помощь” ограничена в движении, следовательно десятки (если не сотни) людей не получать помощь; 
тысячи людей не добрались на работу, учебу…; 
общественное питание самоограничилась; 
мобильные операторы не обспечивают скорость Интернета; 
и что еще хуже: НИКТО и НИ ЗА ЧТО не отвечает! ((((

I think that we live in a very backward country:
- 14-16 centimeters of snow is a huge problem for municipal services;
- special services, including ambulance service, is limited in terms of the places they can reach; as a result, tens (or even hundreds) of people will not get the assistance they require;
- thousands of people have been unable to get to work or [schools and universities];
- [restaurants] have closed down;
- mobile service operators fail to ensure fast Internet service;
- and, what is worse, NOBODY is responsible FOR ANYTHING! (((

On social media sites, many Tajikistani users share pictures of snow-hit Dushanbe and wonder whether this winter is going to be as bad as the winter of 2008.

See more images and videos from snowy Dushanbe here and here

February 03 2014

Human Rights Video: 2013 Year in Review

A video by WITNESS on the Human Rights Channel of YouTube wrapped up some of the most significant protests and human rights abuses of 2013. Dozens of clips shot by citizens worldwide are edited together to show efforts to withstand injustice and oppression, from Sudan to Saudi Arabia, Cambodia to Brazil.

A post on the WITNESS blog by Madeleine Bair from December 2013, celebrates the power of citizen activism using new technologies including video, while readers are reminded that the difficulty of verification and establishing authenticity remains a big obstacle.

“Citizen footage can and is throwing a spotlight on otherwise inaccessible places such as prisons, war zones, and homes,” says Bair. “But given the uncertainties inherent in such footage, reporters and investigators must use it with caution.”

Reposted byiranelection iranelection

February 02 2014

13 Olympic Memes as Sochi Games Approach

As the Sochi Winter Olympics are fast approaching (the opening ceremony is this coming Saturday), RuNet Echo takes a look back at some of the funnier jokes that the Russian online community made about the logo, the torch, and other Olympic accouterments during the years of preparation for the games.

1. The logo itself has been the butt of various memes, the most ubiquitous of which is its pairing with a “saw” mascot, as a play on the verb “to saw,” a Russian slang term for “embezzlement.” This is, of course, contextualized amid years of accusations of wasteful spending and embezzled funds during the construction process:

The friendly embezzling saw. Anonymous image distributed online.

The friendly embezzling saw. Anonymous image distributed online.

2. A more succinct joke comes at the expense of the easily parodied font:

“A f*cking shame” reads the modified Olympic logo. Anonymous image found online.

3. Another Olympic accusation of corruption — this is one on behalf of Russia's students:

“The Olympic flame burned your stipend” reads the caption of this alternative logo. Anonymous image found online.

4. A 2010 competition to design a mascot to go with the logo, organized by Russia's Olympic committee, resulted in several meme-worthy entrants. This one utilizes the ancient RuNet “Превед медвед” (“Preved medved”) meme. (This meme was at one point so widespread, it has its own KnowYourMeme entry.)

“Preved!” says the bear. Anonymous image distributed online.

5. Bears are an easy sell for Russian-hosted Olympics — ever since the lovable 1980 mascot. This entry into the 2010 contest uses the well known “Pedobear” meme:

Skiing-kuma. Anonymous image distributed online.

Skiing-kuma. Anonymous image distributed online.

6. Fans of Lovecraft had their own approach:

Ktulhu for President (of the Olympics)! Anonymous image distributed online.

Cthulhu for President (of the Olympics)! Anonymous image distributed online.

7. And fans of the classic Soviet kid's cartoon “Cheburashka,” their own (albeit similar):

Cheburashka fhtagn! Anonymous image found online.

Cheburashka fhtagn! Anonymous image found online.

8. The most popular entry (although it later turned out it was part of an astroturf campaign to raise contest popularity) was the Arctic hypno-toad nicknamed Zoich, created by cartoonist Egor Zhgun.

2014 sort of looks like ZOIЧ, a mix of English and Russian characters.

9. The mascots that were eventually selected, drew accusations of plagiarism both from Russia's last Olympics:

“Plagiarism is when you take someone else's thing and make it worse.” One of new mascots side by side with the 1980 Mishka the Bear. Anonymous image found online.

10. And from foreign Olympics:

“F*cking shameful,” reads the caption. Salt Lake Olympic mascots on the right. Anonymous image found online.

11. The Sochi Olympic torch relay, plagued as it was with the flame constantly going out [Global Voices report], also became the butt of jokes. Some pointed out its similarity to a Vodka logo:

“Russian” brand vodka looks suspiciously like the Olympic torch. Anonymous image found online.

12. Others noted the similarities between this bearded relay runner holds his torch, and the way Chechen guerrillas hold their guns:

Olympic terrorists. Anonymous image found online.

Olympic terrorists. Anonymous image found online.

13. Perhaps the harshest meme of them all, this Olympic Bingo sheet has been translated from the Russian original by RuNet Echo. Various versions of the meme are widespread on Russian imageboards and forums. All deal with some form of failure on the part of the Russian hosts. This, folks, is Russian fatalism at its most depressed:

Anonymous image translated by RuNet Echo.

Anonymous image translated by RuNet Echo.

Russians are fond of self deprecation. Hopefully the 2014 Winter games will prove them wrong.

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