Jun 29, 2007

Aliyev: The War Ain't Over

Remember all those worries that Azerbaijan would plow it's oil money into weapons, and perpetuate the frozen conflict in NK? It's happening. Even better, Preseident Aliyev Jr. is showing off his war-paint.

"If the military budget of Azerbaijan was $135 million in 2003, this figure raised to $1 billion in 2007. The war has not yet ended," he said at the graduation of students of a Military School this week.

"I said two years ago that military expenses of Azerbaijan will be equal to Armenia's state budget, and it happened....Armenian Armed Forces are lacking in the front lines. The negotiations are going on for 13 years, it can not be continued 13 more years." Read it here.

Jun 28, 2007

Feral Children Take Note

Georgian authorities have lowered the age of criminal responsibility to 12, in the wake of a murderous crime wave on the part of children.

IWPR reports the story in all its disturbing detail.

Commies love darwinism and evolution...

...shocking, I thought they would be huge proponents of intelligent design.

THE BLOODY ALLIANCE: DARWINISM AND COMMUNISM - For more of the funniest videos, click here

Christianity is the opiate of the people...

...but communism is the opiate of Polish bishops. I know, I just blew your mind.

Yahoonews: Documents in secret police files showed about 12 bishops still alive had ties to Poland's communist-era secret services. Other prominent clergy have also resigned over similar allegations. The revelations have forced the church, revered in Poland for its resistance to the communists, to confront an issue believed to have compromised a minority of clergy.

The Polish church — and the late JP II, the former archbishop of Krakow — are credited by many with helping hasten the communist regime's demise in 1989. Church officials and historians say that, while the church was a pillar of resistance, about 10 to 15% of Poland's priests cooperated with the secret police.

Auschwitz Gets a Name Change, Kinda

After a long fight on the part of Poland, the United Nations will rename the Auschwitz death camp on its list of World Heritage sites to make clear it was run by Germans not Poles.

From now on, Auschwitz will be known as "Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi German Concentration and Death Camp."

The U.N. won't stop genocide in Darfur, but it will sure rename a death camp for you -- after the fact. That's nice. And is it possible that people are under the impression Auschwitz was a Polish Nazi Death Camp?

Go get em Poland.

(But everyone is still going to call it Auschwitz.)

Chavez Gets the "Small Hall"

Reuters: "In a barnstorming speech lasting more than an hour at a reception in Moscow, [Chavez] quoted the works of Bolshevik revolutionary Vladimir Lenin and thanked Putin for showing solidarity in Venezuela's feud with the United States."

Here's the best part:

"In a signal the Kremlin wants to keep Chavez's visit low profile, the pro-Kremlin majority in parliament overturned an earlier decision to invite the Venezuelan leader to address the full chamber on Friday, moving him to a smaller hall instead."

How many submarines does a guy have to buy to get the full parliamentary treatment?

Putin Gets Pumped

Is it Fake, or Not?

Jun 27, 2007

The Bunnies Do Borat

The Starz bunnies are at it again. This time they've done Borat in 30 seconds.

America is not the only country to f*ck up health care

Way to go, Poland!

From Yahoo News: Poland is campaigning to encourage families to have more children, but as children born in a 1980s boom reach fertility, they are straining a system which constitutionally must provide free services to all Poles.

Since 2004, more people have been born than died each year in this predominantly Catholic nation, although emigration by Poles seeking work means the population of around 38 million is still shrinking. So, the government has led a campaign to persuade Polish women to have more babies to "save the nation from disappearing."

But Poland's economic boom has not led to major improvements in the state's healthcare system and it is poorly placed to deal with a big increase in demand on any front. Pregnant women are often sent away because the hospitals have already spent all their budget for births. Hospitals get a pool of money from the state-run health fund to offer services and once the money is gone, the hospital has no other recourse but to cut back services. Women's organizations advise couples planning babies to try to make sure they are born before the last quarter of the year, when budgets are notoriously tight.

Luzhkov Wins Another

Good news for everyone who just woke up from a coma.

Yuri Luzhkov will serve yet another four year term as Moscow Mayor. With this latest victory, Luzhkov is well on his way to winning the Saparmurat Niyazov lifetime achievement award for excellence in democratic government.

Jun 26, 2007

Moskovsky Komsomolets is Decadent and Depraved

In the interests of journalistic integrity, it is our duty to report the facts with an unflinching eye, no matter how difficult.

Reuters: "Women perform during the Miss Fatty contest in Moscow June 24, 2007. The contest was part of festivities organised every year by Moskovsky Komsomolets."

Moskovsky Komsomolets: a newspaper of record with its finger on the pulse of the Russian public...if it can find one.

CNN wants to know our thoughts

Let's hope the same rules apply as in a Church confessional...

But really, CNN wants to know what people think about Russia then and now. And, if it's interesting enough, they'll post it. So have at it.

Jun 25, 2007

Armenia and Azerbaijan Can't Play Nice, Both Sides Loose

The Euro 2008 Group A matches between Armenia and Azerbaijan were cancelled when neither country could agree where to play each other. Both teams were thus awarded zero qualifying points.

Always a peacemaker, Eternal Remont had suggested that Armenia and Azerbaijan play a "for keeps" match in Nagorno-Karabakh. But that game was also canceled when no one could guarantee the safety of the goats.

Jun 22, 2007

Who is writing for Putin these days...

And how does he still have a job?! Yeah, let's start excusing the purges again. Great plan.

RFE: Speaking to social-studies teachers in Moscow on June 21, President Putin said in reference to Soviet leader Josef Stalin's purges that "in other countries, even worse things happened," news agencies reported. "No one must be allowed to impose a feeling of guilt on us," Putin said in a televised address. "Let them think about themselves. But we must not and will not forget about the grim chapters in our history," including the purges, which reached their peak in 1937. Putin took swipes at the US, saying that its use of the atomic bomb in 1945 and defoliants and bombing campaigns in the Vietnam War were worse than what Stalin did. He also argued that Russia never produced any system as vile as "Nazism." He said he "regrets" that some Russian history textbooks are published with grants from abroad, implying that they contain distortions directed against Russian interests.

Chavez Considering Submarine Purchase During Moscow Visit

What a great idea! Russian submarines have earned such a great reputation for quality and not becoming undersea tombs for their passengers...

VOA: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says he could buy a fleet of Russian submarines when he meets with President Vladimir Putin later this month in Moscow.

In recent years, Venezuela has purchased 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles from Russia, along with military helicopters and Sukhoi fighter jets. Venezuela has said it is planning to build a Kalashnikov rifle and ammunition factory.

Last year, the US banned arms sales to the Venezuelan government, citing its links to Iran and Cuba. The US says arms sales to Venezuela do not help stability in South America.

Venezuela's president is a fierce critic of the Bush administration and says it supported the coup against him in 2002. US officials have denied the charge.

Jun 20, 2007

Berlin hotel recreates East Germany

Why would ANYONE pay money to live like the East Germans used to live? Next thing you know they'll rebuild the wall for sentimental reasons...

Yahoonews: The Ostel offers a renewed whiff of life in the former German Democratic Republic, welcoming travelers with portraits of communist leaders adorning the walls.

Furnishings — except for mattresses, bed linens, sink and toilets — are the real thing, dug up by founders Daniel Helbig and Guido Sand from flea markets, friends, family and eBay.

But Helbig made clear it was not about pining for a return to the police-state. "We had the idea of preserving a bit of GDR culture ... (but) we are not crying for the East German regime," said Helbig.

The Ostel, which opened on May Day represents a broader phenomenon known as Ostalgie, or fascination with life in the former East Germany. The Ostel, located in an old Communist-era building just steps from the East Side Gallery, the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall, takes pains to be as authentic as possible.

There are rooms that replicate bedrooms from typical East German apartments, from about $50. At the other end of the scale, $12-per-bed Pioneer Camp dorm rooms feature two bunk beds and spartan living conditions evocative of the summer camps of the Free German Youth, the party youth organization.

Ostel employee Liliana Lehmann, 25, whose early childhood was spent under communism in East Berlin, said the hotel was a break from the bustle of today's capitalist capital.

An email joke from Poland

The current administration in Poland has given an opportunity for the biting humor of the communist era to return. Here is an email forward concerning the infamous teletubby scandal.

Subtext: This is the only way any sort of controversial programming can make it on TV.

Jun 19, 2007

A "Baltic Bangkok?"

Reuters: "Latvia's capital risks becoming a Baltic Bangkok and local girls need to be steered away from one-night stands with tourists, organisers of a media campaign to stop sex tourism says....This would eventually lessen the image of Riga as a destination where cheap alcohol and girls are the main attraction for male tourists, the organisers say."

And here we are, traveling for the cultural heritage.

Our Way of Life Is Under Attack!

Makes you wonder who the real terrorists are.... You bastards!

RFE/RL: The European Parliament has backed a definition of vodka that purists fear will water down their favorite spirit. EU lawmakers decided that while vodka is a spirit made from grains and potatoes, it can also be made from other ingredients such as apples, raisins, and sugarbeets as long as the labels properly indicate the contents. Parliamentarians from traditional vodka-producing countries such as Finland, Poland, or Sweden, had pushed for stronger rules that would have included molasses among the ingredients allowed but banned vodkas made from anything else from using that name. But countries that use sugarbeet and grapes in their vodka, such as Britain, France, Italy, and Spain, have opposed that definition.

Says Putin, "I am what I am"

RFE/RL: U.S. Representative Tom Lantos (Dem, CA), who is chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, told Reuters in Washington on June 18 that Putin's verbal "muscle flexing" with the West in recent months derives from massive oil and gas revenues, much as the muscle flexing of the cartoon character Popeye is the result of eating spinach. Lantos suggested Russian leaders are "eating the spinach of petroleum revenues, and the billions are flowing into the Kremlin, and with every billion...Putin's muscles bulge more powerfully."

Lantos, who is scheduled to meet with legislators from the State Duma on June 21, added Russia will probably become more cooperative when it becomes accustomed to its new-found wealth. Lantos nonetheless referred to Putin's recent threat to target Europe with missiles as "incredibly stupid," and cautioned him against again publicly comparing the United States to the Third Reich.

Jun 18, 2007

It's Frank's Favorite Time of Year

Fund for Peace releases failed states index scores for 2007. http://www.fundforpeace.org/web/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=229&Itemid=366

And how did our favorite region fair? You will be happy to know that they didn't reach number one as the worst failed state; that belongs to Sudan. Here are the numbers though.

Uzbekistan tops our list at 22, and is the only former soviet state to be listed in the "red zone." Red meaning in the same league as Iraq.

Then our beloved countries make a strong showing under "orange alert", meaning WARNING: Don't become Uzbekistan! In the orange alert: Tajikistan is at 39, Kyrgyzstan can go to hell with its revolution because it's at 41, while Turkmenistan is at 43. Moldova is at 48, Belarus is at 51, Bosnia is at 54, Georgia and its revolution are stuck at 58, while Russia has been kind enough to share 61 with Azerbaijan. Serbia takes 66. The big surprises: Kazakhstan is 103, Ukraine is 106, Albania at 111, and then Bulgaria and Croatia end the orange alert at 128 and 127.

Finally, while the rest made it in the moderate zone, it may surprise you that Montenegro made the moderate zone at 136. Seems like ditching Serbia was the way to go.

In any case, looks like we have job security for at least another year...

It's like they don't want us there anymore...

...why else would they make Moscow so expensive?

Moscow remains the world's most expensive city for expatriates, with London close behind. A survey carried out by the U.S. consultancy Mercer says Seoul is the third-placed city, followed by Tokyo and Hong Kong. Copenhagen, Geneva, Osaka, Zurich, and Oslo made up the rest of the top 10 places.

The survey measures the comparative costs of more than 200 items including rent, transport, food, clothing, household goods, and entertainment. It ranks 143 cities against each other, with New York as the benchmark. Moscow was 34.4 percent more expensive than New York, up just under 11 points on last year.

Mercer said the rise was due to the appreciation of the ruble against the dollar, which with soaring rents had driven up the cost for expatriates. Paraguay's Asuncion was the cheapest for the fifth year running.

Jun 16, 2007

Dancing Bears Freed in Bulgaria

What the hell are they going to do for work now?

Yahoo News: After a lifetime of brutal treatment, including walking on burning embers, Bulgaria's last three dancing bears will get to rest their paws at a mountain sanctuary, in an apparent end to the centuries-old performance tradition in the Balkans.

Bulgaria is believed to have been the last country in the Balkans where dancing bears still performed, even though the practice was outlawed in 1993, when there were 20 to 30 such bears in the country. The three bears will join another 20 brown bears on Mount Rila at a 30-acre sanctuary for former dancing bears 110 miles south of Sofia.

Jun 15, 2007

All in the (Dracula) Family

AP: "Romania's government on Thursday defended its decision to return 'Dracula's Castle' to members of the former royal family, denying allegations that the decision was illegal."

No word yet on what they're going to do with Castle Ceau┼čescu.

To Health

The good news just keeps on commin'.

Reuters: "Heavy drinking, including alcohol-based liquids not meant to be ingested, such as cologne or cleansers, caused nearly half of all deaths among working-age men living in Izhevsk, Russia...non-beverage alcohol products -- such as cologne, medicinal tinctures, and cleaning agents -- have very high concentrations of alcohol and are up to six times cheaper than vodka."

Jun 14, 2007

Moscow Comes in Last

Vedomosti reports that Moscow has ranked last among the world's 50 leading commercial centers trailing Warsaw, Sao Paulo, Johannesburg, Beijing and Mumbai, according to a survey conducted by Master Card. Among criteria used to classify cities on the Worldwide Centers of Commerce Index, Moscow scored worst in terms of its legal and political framework, economic stability, and ease of doing business.

Getting stopped for an illegal propiska inspection, $25
Paying off the tax authorities, $2,500
Bodygaurd, Kevlar, Gently Used Armored Mercedes, and a Prostitute Mistress, $90,000

Knowing you live in the World's most disfunctional commercial center? Priceless.

Jun 13, 2007

Funny village names in Russia

I thought we had posted this, but apparently not. In any case, it's as funny the second time around as it was the first.

Jun 12, 2007

Albania Hearts Bush

Russian Ninja Arrested

So, inspired by the legend of Robin the Hood, this Russian soldier ran around Italian farms, stealing from the rich (i.e. pensioners), failing to distribute to the poor? Oh, and he was dressed in medieval English costume, like Robin Hood, who was well know as an elite ninja, clad in black with night vision goggles.

That's like me being Kevin Federline for Halloween and wearing a respectable suit and contributing in some small, meager way to society. - JCE

From BBC: Italian police have arrested a Russian "ninja" who had been spreading fear across farmlands in the north of the country. The man, camouflaged in an all black suit, had robbed several farmers and their families at knife point, police say. Police had been searching for him for several weeks. He targeted isolated farms late at night forcing farmers to hand over cash and valuables at arrow point. His victims were usually so afraid they didn't report the attacks until some days later.

But on Monday night the "ninja" was outwitted. As he smashed through the door of a farmhouse, a feisty old pensioner was waiting for him. Police eventually trailed him to an abandoned farmhouse where he was arrested. He was later identified as Igor Vaclavic, a former soldier from the Russian army. When asked about his chosen disguise, he told police he had been inspired by his boyhood idol - Robin Hood.

Stinky Fertiliser Breaks Up Anti-Kremlin Protest

From Yahoo news (Thanks, Vika!):

The stench of dung stopped anti-Kremlin protestors rallying in the Russian city of Murmansk on Tuesday. Opponents of Putin had hoped to rally on the porch of the Culture Palace but city authorities closed the building, took away the porch's steps and spread dung around it, said Yelena Vasilyeva, local leader of the United Civil Front opposition movement.

"The stench was so strong you couldn't breathe, so only the most tenacious stayed," she said.

Dung was spread around a landmark building to fertilise the land, said a police spokesman in Murmansk, a city not far from Russia's borders with Norway and Finland. Around 150 people braved the smell and carried on with the protest shouting "We need a different Russia" and "Out with Putin", Vasilyeva said.

Moldovan Journalists are Armed and Considered Dangerous

From the International Herald Tribune (Thanks John!)

Moldova's defense minister was dismissed by Pres Voronin after a civilian was killed during a shooting demonstration where the minister allowed journalists to use automatic rifles. Voronin fired Plesca late Monday, and prosecutors said that an investigation was under way to determine how a man was shot dead during a shooting practice where journalists fired Kalashnikovs at a military base near a Moldovan village.

28 journalists took part in the shooting exercise designed to help them "become familiar with Army activity." It was illegal because civilians are not allowed participate in shooting exercises at military bases, prosecutors said in a statement. After the shooting practice, the body of a man was discovered nearby who had been fatally wounded by an automatic weapon, the statement said. No further details were provided about the man, who was not a journalist.

Jun 10, 2007

Notes from Bulgaria III

A visibly pregnant woman is smoking near the entrance to the Maternity Ward of the Sofia Central Hospital. She chats with the father-to-be as he lights his own cigarette. Nobody seems to notice or care.

Following one of the most dramatic declines of fertility rates in all of Europe, the pendulum has reversed, and the Bulgarians who remain are now making babies with reckless abandon. Pregnant women are everywhere Sofia. All of those who are not pregnant are either pushing strollers through the city’s treacherous sidewalks or scheming to become pregnant.

When all else fails, they come to Dr. Bogden – the leading fertility specialist in the Balkans. I was introduced at his office inside the Central Hospital. He poured me a glass of whiskey and lit a cigarette. It was 11 o’clock in the morning. We talk about the only possible topic of conversation in Sofia these days: Bush. “Half my staff won’t be able to get to work," he says.

For two days, Sofia will be under a blockade and everyone gets the day off. The highways will be closed. Buses won’t run. The main road from the airport is lined with American flags and police officers, one every fifty meters. In the city’s kiosks, newspapers give front page coverage to the arrival of the President’s security team. All flights from the International Airport are canceled – in or out – while the President is on the ground. And then there’s the Macedonian medical student in Stara Zagora. He was arrested yesterday for threatening Bush's life on an Internet forum. The student won’t be charged, but only released after the President departs.

Hours before the entire city center is to be closed and evacuated of all people, we pass by the gold and black statue of Sofia near the former headquarters of the Bulgarian Communist Party. A group of eight American Secret Service agents walk past wearing Oakley sunglasses, wrinkle resistant Dockers, and golf shirts. They are trying to blend. “Welcome to Bulgaria,” a friend says in halting English. “Thank you,” one says, somewhat taken aback. “Glad to be here."

Jun 8, 2007

Are you as smart as a government official from Ulyanovsk?

Remember this post from February? MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) -- Bureaucrats in a Russian region have been sent back to school to improve their spelling and grammar. 2000 officials in Russia's Volga River region of Ulyanovsk -- the birthplace of Bolshevik leader Lenin -- had to take a special test on spelling, punctuation and spoken Russian on Thursday after the local governor grew tired of seeing documents full of mistakes.

Well, here is the test they had to pass. It turns out with my spelling skillz I could hang out with the boys of Ulyanovsk.

http://www.rg.ru/test (Thanks, John!)

Jun 5, 2007

After 19 years, man wakes to changed Poland

Thanks, Jennifer!

WARSAW, Poland - A railway worker who emerged from a 19-year coma woke to a radically altered Poland and thinks "the world is prettier now" than it was under communism. Wojciech Pstragowski, a rehabilitation specialist, said Grzebski was shocked at the changes in Poland — especially its stores: "He remembered shelves filled with mustard and vinegar only" under communism. Poland shed communism in 1989 and has developed democracy and a market economy.


Jun 4, 2007

Putin calls himself the world's only 'absolute democrat'

Thank you, Igor.

MOSCOW, June 4 2007-Vladimir Putin has described himself as an "absolute democrat" whose credentials are so pure that he has no peer in the world.

"Of course I am an absolute and pure democrat... the tragedy is that I am the only one, there are simply no others in the world," he told foreign journalists.

"Since the death of Mahatma Gandhi, there has been no one to talk to," he said, in an apparently ironic reference to the Indian independence leader who preached non-violence.

"Look what is happening in North America. The horror: torture, homelessness, Guantanamo, imprisonment without a court or trial," he told the foreign journalists on Friday.

"Look what is happening in Europe: the harsh treatment of demonstrators, the use of rubber bullets, tear gas in one city and then the next, the murder of demonstrators in the streets."

Police have been condemned for using tear gas against protesters in Germany ahead of Wednesday's summit, while Russia has accused Estonian police of a heavy-handed response to recent protests by ethnic Russians in Tallinn in which one protester died.

"And I'm not even talking about the post-Soviet arena," Putin said. "There was one hope, in the guys in Ukraine, but they have completely discredited themselves and events are moving towards sheer tyranny."

In recent months, Russia has been accused by the West of using special forces to clamp down on peaceful protesters in a wide-spread attack on pro-democracy groups in the country. The Group of Eight summit at the Heiligendamm resort on Germany's Baltic Sea coast will bring together the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.