Jul 31, 2008

Where the Streets Have Too Many Names

VOA: In 1990, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Moscow City Council changed the names of many, but not all, city streets that honored communist leaders associated with Soviet atrocities. Today, Russian civic activists are calling for a completion of the renaming process. But, many city residents are comfortable with current names and are not aware of the bloody history they represent.

1905 Street in central Moscow is named after a violent uprising against the czarist regime that year. Activists today are seeking to return the street's pre-Communist name, New Jerusalem St., saying people would associate it with peace and God, rather than guns and bloodshed. But a randoly sampled college student admits he does not know enough history about the 1905 uprising and the earlier name of his street, New Jerusalem. But given what little he knows, he says he likes the name '1905' better.

Historian Vladimir Lavrov suggests that ignorance of history is reflected in the contradictory results of a recent public-opinion survey to name the 50 greatest Russians. Coming on top were Czar Nicholas, who was murdered by the communists, and Josef Stalin - arguably the greatest mass murderer in history.

Ura! Bulgaria Survives No-Confidence Vote

VOA: Bulgaria's center-left government has survived a no-confidence vote prompted by a suspension of EU subsidies. All 150 representatives of the 3-party ruling coalition voted against the motion, which won the backing of 84 deputies.

The European Commission, last week, suspended nearly $800 million in aid to the government. EU officials said Bulgaria's push against corruption and criminal gangs is not producing needed results. Prime Minister Stanishev acknowledged what he called "serious problems" in many Bulgarian institutions. But he also cited "positive steps" in recent months, including new laws on conflict of interest.

Jul 30, 2008

Russian Emigrants in PA Charged with Asylum Fraud

YahooNews: A group of Russian-born immigrants made $3 million helping 380 asylum-seekers file bogus applications over a 4-yr period. David Lynn, 33, posed as an immigration lawyer and coached natives of eastern Europe on how to claim persecution on religious, sexual orientation or other grounds, prosecutors said.

He charged $8,000 per person or $10,000 to $12,000 per family, according to officials who said they found $560,000 in cash and two gold bars hidden in floorboards of Lynn's home during a 2007 raid. Federal authorities also moved to retain more than $1.3 million in seized cash and other assets, including funds kept in a Swiss bank account.

Despite a reputation that spread through the eastern European community in NE Philadelphia.

Free Advice: Marry an American. It's cheaper than paying that dude.

Jul 29, 2008

And Now There is a Mini-Submarine Gap

YahooNews: A Russian mini-submarine on Tuesday reached the bottom of Lake Baikal in Siberia, setting a world record for the deepest dive in a lake, the crew told organisers from the vessel. "Mir-1 is at 1,680m" (5,512 ft), a crew member could be heard saying in a radio link-up with a special barge near Olkhon Island that had lowered the Mir-1 and Mir-2 submarines into the waters of the world's deepest lake.

Lake Baikal was previously believed to be a max of 1,637m deep and scientists say they could find new life-forms in its unexplored depths. This is a world record for a submarine diving in fresh water.

WW2 Might Have Been Different Had the Bombs Actually Exploded

YahooNews: Hungarian police evacuated 1000s of people in Budapest on Tuesday where experts prepared to defuse a huge World War Two bomb found on a construction site. The 2-ton bomb is one of the biggest found in the Hungarian capital, which was heavily bombed by the Allies during WW2. Earlier this month another part of Budapest was evacuated after a 1/2-ton bomb was discovered.

"It was found after a mill was demolished in which people had worked for decades without knowing what was down there," he told Reuters. He said defusing it might take well into the night because it is embedded in concrete in a deep hole.

Return to Glory

(and hopefully not in a Notre Dame football sort of way... I mean what the hell is Charlie Weis doing?...anyway)

NYTIMES: Fears of losing Olympic ascendancy have impelled Russia to spend the last several yrs pumping billions of dollars from its oil-soaked coffers into rebuilding an athletics infrastructure left to rot when the USSR crumbled. The investment has shown impressive results. Last Sept, the nat'l basketball team won the European championship for the 1st time since 1991. In May, the nat'l hockey team beat Canada for its 1st world championship in 15 yrs and St. Petersburg’s Zenit soccer club won the UEFA Cup championship. Last month, the nat'l soccer team created a frenzy by advancing to the semifinals at the European championship. In tennis, 5 of the top 10 women are Russian. At the Beijing Olympics, Russia is expected to contend for supremacy at the top of the medal table — as usual.

Vyacheslav Fetisov, the former Nat'l Hockey League star, is the head of Rossport, the gov't agency charged with overseeing Russia’s athletic development. He said his budget for building up the country’s athletic infrastructure soared from a couple hundred thousand dollars in 2002 to $1 billion today. The gov't has also deployed Russia’s cadre of Kremlin-friendly billionaires to help in the effort. The country’s 10 richest businessmen, in addition to aiding other athletic projects, have donated about $12 million to the Fund for the Support of Olympians, which will give cash awards to medal winners in Beijing.

So this leads to a question...What the hell are Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey doing?! Get on the ball!

Jul 28, 2008


A version of the award-winning television show “The Office” will be made in Russia, BBC News reported. As a result of a licensing deal between Channel One in Russia and BBC Worldwide, 24 half-hour original episodes of the series will be produced. The British show, created by Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais and starring Mr. Gervais as the nightmare boss David Brent, has been seen in more than 70 countries. The American remake, which features Steve Carell in Mr. Gervais’s role, completed its fourth season in May and won Emmy Awards in 2006 and 2007. Versions of the show also appear in Chile, Canada and France, which in 2006 became the first country to produce a foreign-language version.

The hardest task will obviously be finding the perfect actor to portray the alcoholic co-worker. Good luck finding a "Meredith"! You'll need it.

German Expert: Bulgaria Is Like African Country

Says Bulgaria: Nuh uh.
Says Africa: Dude! We're trying.

The Sofia Weekly: The German expert Philip von Walderdorf said Tuesday the situation in Bulgaria was like in some African country, and that it could not be tolerated. Von Walderdorf, who is a business consultant and a former officer of the German Chamber of Trade and Industry, pointed out that the Bulgarian politicians were to blame for the country's situation, and that terminating the EU funding for the country was the best way to punish them.

"As a German taxpayer, I cannot accept the fact that the money from my taxes would sink somewhere in Bulgaria, stolen by various mafia organizations, and that everything would be in vain", von Walderdorf stated. He further expressed his indignation by saying that "these are outright African manners. All states paying this money are really angry, and don't want to pay for Bulgaria any more."

According to the German expert, the Bulgarian politicians had to be pressured from all possible directions to rectify the situation.

Jul 25, 2008

Chief of BP Joint Venture Is Forced to Leave Russia

I guess it's not so joint anymore.

NYTIMES: The British energy giant BP moved closer to losing control of its joint venture in Russia after the operation’s chief executive was forced to leave the country Thursday because he could not get a work visa. The development is the latest twist in a rising nationalism that is shutting Western oil companies out of energy-rich regions and has wide implications for BP, which pumps about a quarter of its worldwide oil output in Russia.

While BP retains ownership of 50 percent of the TNK-BP venture, the departure of the executive, Robert Dudley, an American, will probably lead to the passing of greater operational control to the Russian partners. Mr. Dudley called his departure “temporary,” but it was unclear when he might return, or how he would manage the company, which has more than 60,000 employees and nearly 100 subsidiaries, from outside the country. About 50 expatriate staff members remain at TNK-BP, though not all have received work visas.

The article does not mention why Dudley's visa was denied. Speculations?

Jul 24, 2008

Anyone Who Poisons You with Dioxin is Not Your Friend, Vik

VOA: Ukrainian President Yushchenko says he believes a former ally and friend could have been involved in his nearly-fatal poisoning four years ago. At a news conference Thursday, Yushchenko made allegations about the possible involvement of David Zhvania, a member of a pro-presidential parliamentary faction and godfather to one of his children. The president gave no evidence for his claim. The charge marks a sharp departure from the president's previous refusal to identify who he thought was responsible.

It follows Zhavania's claims earlier this month that the president suffered only from "food poisoning." He accused Mr. Yushchenko's staff of inventing the poisoning story to gain the sympathy of the Ukrainian people.

How Will Russian Children Express Their Angst???

Oh right. By drinking.

(Thanks to Slonichka for the story) NME.com: A new Russian law could make being an emo kid illegal in the eastern European country. Legislation is currenting being formulated in Russia to heavily regulate emo websites and ban emo and goth dress style in schools and government buildings. The new laws are apparently being driven by fears that these "dangerous teen trends" encourage depression and suicide.

The legislation was presented last month at a hearing held by the State Durma, where critics claimed that the "negative" emo culture encourages anti-social behaviour and glorifies suicide. Emo kids were described as teenagers who wear black, have facial piercings and black hair with fringes that "cover half the face."

Russia Might Consider Renaming "Medvedi" to "Chelovekvedi"

Here's a thought, maybe Russia should consider fixing the environmental factors that are forcing these bears to eat people. I mean shooting them all might work, I don't know. I'm not a scientist.

NY TIMES: Russia’s bears have traditionally been a national symbol of pride and potency, mythologized in fairy tales and depicted in advertisements and on the flag of Russia’s top political party. Today, however, Russia’s bears are on the attack.

Hungry due to a lack of salmon, some 30 gigantic and ravenously hungry Kamchatka brown bears have already killed and eaten 2 men at a platinum mine in Russia’s Far Eastern Kamchatka region and appear to be hunting for more. People in the region have been forced to cower in their homes waiting for hunters to dispose of the animals, which can stand 10 ft tall and weigh up to 1,500 lbs.

Local officials have considered exterminating the creatures, and a group of hunters has already been dispatched to the region where most of the bears have gathered. Hunters killed at least 300 bears last year and poachers shot about 600 more illegally.

Jul 23, 2008

IMF Linked to Tuberculosis

And all this time I just assumed it was linked to corruption...

Zeitgeist (sweet new blog, check it out: http://zzzeitgeist.blogspot.com): A new study links the rise in tuberculosis in Eastern Europe and Russia with IMF loans to post-Soviet countries. Though disturbing, it should not be surprising that IMF loans, which advocate government thrift (often by cutting social programs), result in a rise in disease. Government doctors lose jobs when socialized medicine is cut and disease rates go up - especially TB, which requires short term care and intensive medical supervision. But ideally, as economic growth spreads through the private sector, health care should become a social privilege available to most, if not all.

So it looks like we're just not to the ideally part yet...I'm sure we can get there with a 5 year plan to be completed in 4.

Jul 22, 2008

What Year Is It, Again?

I didn't realize Cuban Missile Crises were cyclical like the secadas....

Washington Post: Russian bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons could be deployed to Cuba in response to US plans to install a missile defense system in E. Europe, a Russian newspaper reported Monday, citing an unnamed senior Russian air force official. The report in Izvestia, which could not be confirmed, prompted memories of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when the United States and the Soviet Union came to the brink of nuclear war after Khrushchev put nuclear missiles on the island. The weapons were eventually withdrawn in an apparent Soviet climb-down, but Kennedy also secretly agreed to remove US missiles from Turkey.

Some Russian experts dismissed the possibility of a new Cuban crisis. "It's very silly psychological warfare," said Alexander Golts, an independent military analyst. "Putin and Medvedev are very militant in words but very cautious in practical issues. I cannot see any reason to raise this threat against the US" But "if it's true, it looks like a repetition of the Caribbean crisis" he said, using the common Russian term for the Cuban missile crisis.

Make Rakia a Part of Your Balanced Breakfast....It's GRRREAT!

The Sofia Weekly: After his meeting with the Mayor of the Bulgarian city of Stara Zagora, the action movie star Dolph Lundgren jokingly admitted he occasionally had rakia as part of his diet to keep fit. The star from Universal Soldier and Rocky IV is in Bulgaria for the shooting of his new movie Command Performance.

In Command Performance Lundgren will star as the drummer for a Russian band who is the opening act for a major American rock group. Their concert in Moscow with the Russian Prime Minister in the audience gets interrupted as a group of terrorists take over. The band's drummer, however, happens to be an ex-Marine, and salvages the situation.

I can't believe Lundgren stole my movie idea. Of course it seems he will be making it an action flick and not a comedy. We'll see how that works out...

Jul 21, 2008

Holy Crap, They Did It

As of today, the most wanted war criminal in Europe, Sr. Radovan Karadzic, is in prison.

Bloomberg reports, "The Bosnian Serb wartime leader, was arrested by Serbian security forces after spending 13 years in hiding to avoid charges of genocide over the murder of almost 8,000 Muslims..."

As Thomas O. Melia over at Freedom House quipped, "It's no coincidence that the Serbian government appointed a new head of security on Friday and this arrest happened just three days later."

To be fair, Karadzic's location was the worst kept secret in Serbia. His taylor knew where he lived, as did his grocer, the grandmother who suspiciously eyed his door through her peephole, and most of the Serbian government.

Still, if Slobodan Miloshevich's trial is any indication, Karadzic will die warm in his bed, after endless appeals, attended by the best doctors in Europe.

But some will still remember, Srebrenica.

Jul 18, 2008

Russia Becomes a Net Importer of Prostitutes

CNN has a very depressing story on the illegal traficking of women in Russia.

Whereas tough economic times made Russia a net exporter of prostitutes in the 1990s, the economic boom has forced mafia gangs to import women from as far away as Nigeria.

Here's the video, if you're ready for it.

Jul 17, 2008

The Subtle Pleasures of the Ukraine Customs Service

Our good friends over at the US-Ukraine Business Council sent their members a wonderful email detailing typical expierences in getting packages through customs. For anyone who has ever interacted with a Eastern European customs agent, it makes for a hillarious read.

The highlights:

--A major soft drink company imports samples of plastic bottle caps with their logo on them...Shipment is not released because Ukrainian customs requires an official letter from the company that the bottle caps will not be used for medical purposes.

--While on a business trip a person forgot his pants in the hotel. The hotel sent them to the person in Kyiv by express mail indicating a value of $50. Ukrainian customs increased the value to $400. The person refused to pay the $40 duty required by customs for his own pants. Pants shipped back to hotel.

--Online shoppers living in Ukraine you must be prepared to undergo the following steps to customs clear an express shipment (books, a teddy bear, t-shirts, set of screwdrivers, etc):

a) Prepare copy of your passport, translated invoice, detailed description of the content;
b) Produce a hard copy of the declaration M-16
c) Spend an hour or so in a line to the customs chief to have the name of inspector who'll be dealing with your case;
d) Spend another hour plus in line to see "your" inspector
e) Wait 1 to 2 hours until shipment physically checked (Customs maintains the Soviet policy of 100% control over every package!)
g) Spend 30 minutes in line to pay the duties

NOTE: This is the best case scenario. If there's a single deviation (e.g. $1 difference between the declared and actual value) the whole process starts over again from the beginning.
The US-Ukraine Business Council also informs us that, amazingly, Ukraine has the highest return rate for express packages in the world.

How is that possible?

Jul 16, 2008

God Bless You Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Beating all odds, Alexander Solzhenitsyn is still alive...and apparently still paying the bills.

Yesterday, the AP reported that Solzhenitsyn had authorized the release of an “uncut” English language version of The First Circle. (His translator died in 2005 and the project was put, as Solzhenitsyn would say, ‘in the drawer.’)

This is both good and bad.

Solzhenitsyn stands among the giants of the 20th century, both for his literary prowess and as one of the few people to tell both the Soviet Union and the United States to go to hell. Throughout his public life, he did it all in a very Solzhenitsyn kind of way. This ensured that neither the Kremlin, nor the editors of the New York Times, fully understood what on earth he meant.

Just was with his 1978 Harvard commencement address, the prospect of an “uncut” English language translation of First Circle is a mixed bag. This is especially true since his more recent works have been prone to spasms of self-indulgent prose.

Solzhenitsyn aficionados of the world, prepare yourselves.

Medvedev Speaks: it all sounds familiar

This week, President Medvedev granted Prime Minister Putin unprecedented authority over foreign affairs. This move is a clear break from Medvedev's March 2008 promise to retain presidential control over international matters, and demonstrates how state authority (de facto and de jure) is shifting to Putin's office.

As a result, it comes as little surprise that President Medvedev sounded remarkably similar to Putin during his first major speech on foreign policy. “With the end of the cold war, there is no reason to have a bloc mentality,” he said without the least hint of irony over the SCO. Medvedev added, “There is also no reason for paternalism, where some countries decide everything for others.” Instead, he would prefer that Russia assume “greater responsibility for solving problems on both a regional and global scale.”

A capital idea!

Medvedev could begin by making good on Russia’s agreements to resolve frozen conflicts in Moldova and Abkhazia/Georgia. In addressing broader issues of global importance, like energy security, Medvedev can also uphold Russia’s commitments to the G-8 and resume oil deliveries to the Czech Republic.

Unfortunately, there is little indication that Medvedev has the authority, or desire, to act on these issues. Instead, the Kremlin’s rhetoric will remain unplugged from reality. That's bad news for the world, but good news for Eternal Remont. To steal from Mark Katz at George Mason University, Putin has saved everyone's career from ruin.

Jul 15, 2008

Not. Remotely. Subtle.

Jamestown reports: "On July 8 in Prague the United States and the Czech Republic signed an agreement on a U.S. radar system on the Czech Republic’s territory as part of the antiballistic missile shield. On July 10 Russia’s oil pipeline monopoly Transneft announced that oil deliveries to the Czech Republic were being cut...Transneft did not mention the reasons for this deep cut and did not specify whether supplies would fully resume after July."

But don't think the shut-off contradicts Russia's pledge in the final communique from the St. Petersburg G-8 Summit. You remember, the part where the Kremlin agreed to uphold "open, transparent, efficient and competitive markets for energy production, supply, use, transmission and transit services as a key to global energy security."

Besides, that was two whole years ago.

Don't Take Your Pigs To Town...in Mazeikiai, Lithuania

From Jen, courtesy of the Baltic Times:

"Just to prove that the English speaking world doesn’t have a monopoly on NIMBIES (not in my back yard) people from the northern town of Mazeikiai rallied outside the Danish embassy in Vilnius July 6 in anger at a Danish pig farmer whose operation they say is will create a nuisance that they can not stomach. The owner of the farm, Erwin Nissan, plans to expand his farm permit from 3,000 to over 12,000 pigs. He had previously attempted to get a permit for 54,000 pigs..."

Jen adds, "So they're okay with a Soviet-era refinery (which blew up in a horrific fireball not too long ago) but these little piggies must all the way home...to Denmark."

And for the record, the pig is a brave and noble animal. Send your love letters someplace else PETA.

Jul 14, 2008

Youngest World Leaders

If Barack Obama wins the U.S. presidential election in November at the age of 47, he will become one of the youngest Americans to assume the presidency. But Barack would still be older than these guys:

1. The King of Bhutan is 28.
2. The Prime Minister of Dominica is 36.
3. The President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is 37.
4. Prime Minister of Macedonia (one of the least happiest places on Earth, as mentioned recently on Remont) Nikola Gruevski will be 38 at the end of August.
5. The President of Nauru will be 38 come October.
6. The King of Swaziland turned the big 4-0 this year.
7. The President of Georgia turns 41 in December...God willing...Abkhazia is looking pretty dicey these days.
8. The President of Togo is 42.
9. The Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Sergei Stanishev, is also 42.

And the 10th youngest world leader, Russia's most democratically elected president and biggest Putin fan boy, Dmitry Medvedev. He will be 43 in December.

Looking good, boys.

If Someone Invites You to a Laser Show in Russia...

DON'T GO! They are trying to blind you!

Thomson Reuters: Dozens of partygoers at an outdoor rave near Moscow last week have lost partial vision after a laser light show burned their retinas, Russian health officials said on Monday. Moscow city health department officials confirmed 12 cases of laser-blindness at the Central Ophthalmological Clinic, and daily newspaper Kommersant said another 17 were registered at City Hospital 32 in the centre of the capital.

Attendees at the July 5 Aquamarine Open Air Festival in Kirzhach, 80 km (50 miles) northeast of Moscow, began seeking medical help days after the show, complaining of eye and vision problems, health officials told Reuters. "They all have retinal burns, scarring is visible on them. Loss of vision in individual cases is as high as 80 percent, and regaining it is already impossible," Kommersant quoted a treating ophthalmologist as saying.

Thanks to Igor for the story. "It's like a bad Sci-Fi movie."

Jul 11, 2008

Homage to The Oil State

Igor writes, here's an article in Gazeta, titled: "Famous conductor YuryTemirkanov is dedicating his performance to the recovery of the ninth million tonne of oil"... That's in Khanty-Mansyisk, where they just held the EU-Russia Summit.

Couldn't make that up if I tried, way more powerful stuff than in the Onion...

Update: The Volga is Dirty

Jen sends in this story about life along the Volga. It turns out, years of dumping waste into the river have not been good for the enviornment.

Chicago Tribune, July 8, 2008: "The Volga River has been Russia's lifeblood for centuries, and is as cherished there as the Mississippi is in the United States. But now, segments of the river serve as dumping grounds for factories along its banks, and the river is edging toward environmental ruin.

"'In recent years, industrial activity has been on the rise in Russia, and that's very dangerous because the wastewater-cleaning facilities at industrial plants date back to Soviet times,' said Galina Chernogayeva, a scientist at the Institute for Global Climate and Ecology, which studies water pollution in Russia," adding, "in 10, 20 or 30 years we may find ourselves in a situation when part of the country's territory will be unfit for living"

Moscow: Nest of Spies

It’s that time of year again, time to lay out amid the trash and sunbathers along the Moscow river, and time for the FSB to go through the list of British Embassy to staff pick a random "spy."

Last summer, UK Trade Representative Andrew Levi got an early ticket home after the FSB accused him of being a spy. This year, Chris Bowers -- head of the UK Trade and Investment Office -- wins the prize: an unexpected trip to London for an even more unexpected English summer.

As it happens, Bowers served as a stringer for the BBC in Uzbekistan during the 1990s. This makes him a spy, according to the FSB.

Even if Bowers is a spy – and who can tell these days – the timing of his expulsion is less than subtle. The battle for control of TNK-BP will only get wosre.

It is not known, however, why the Kremlin is taking so long to issue BP a bill for “unpaid taxes,” conveniently equal to the company's market capitalization. At current prices, that’s just over $200 billion -- a sum which BP has no doubt declined to pay the Russian government.

Problem solved: BP gets booted from the country, the Kremlin gets control of the Siberian fields, the lawyers get rich, and nobody gets called a spy.

McCain Threatens Mouthy Friend with Post in Minsk

The Today Show reports that after Paul Gramm told the Washington Post that Americans are suffering from a "mental recession" and are just a nation of whiners, US republican presedential candidate John McCain threatened his, one assumes soon to be ex-, economic advisor with an embassy post in Minsk, Belarus. The Today Show goes on to describe Belarus as an "outlaw state [that] is far worse than Siberia in the old days." You gotta respect McCain for diverting attention away from his former top choice for Secretary of Treasury to Belarus. Didn't see that coming.

Jul 9, 2008

Russia Celebrates Day of Family, Love and Fidelity

This is also known as: "Oh My God, Everyone Over 14 Get It on Today before Our Population Disappears and Our State Becomes Inviable as Predicted by the Smartest Man to Come out of Rhode Island" Day (sorry that some of that was a little inside). In any case, it was baby-making day in Russia, so if you called your friend and he didn't answer...he was little preoccupied.

NYTIMES: Russia celebrated the first Day of Family, Love and Fidelity, a holiday that is the government’s latest attempt to help halt Russia’s population loss. Last year, Putin declared 2008 the Year of the Family. On Sept. 12, a holiday called Family Contact Day encouraged Russians to stay home and engage in marital intimacy in the hopes of producing children on Russia Day, 9 mo. later, on June 12. The new holiday extends Russia’s promotion of procreation, urging couples not only to have children but also to provide those children with two-parent, stable family lives. It is a sign that the new president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, will continue the move under Mr. Putin to be more active in promoting morality and optimism about Russia’s future.

Commentary: I have a bone to pick with NYTIMES. You can already guess what they titled this article. "A Holiday From Russia With Love" And with that, I am going to start my own lobby group that only lobbies for an end to the use of the "From Russian With Love" cliche in article titles. You're writers. Think of something clever!

Jul 8, 2008

Foreign Policy Publishes Top 60 Unstable Countries

Don't worry, you know our favorite countries came to join the party. While it seems that Africa dominates the top 20, Central Asia holds its own. Uzbekistan tied with Kenya and the Congo as the 26th most unstable country in the world, while Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan stole 39th and 40th place (Take that Egypt!). Sans 'bashy, Turkmenistan took 46th place.

And don't worry, Central/Eastern Europe couldn't stay away. Moldova, recently rated one of the top 5 unhappiest places on earth, just made the top 50 at 49th place. Belarus and Bosnia took 53rd and 54th places. And, representing the Caucasus, Georgia takes 56th place; better luck next time, Armenia.

If you interested in what FP takes into account when ranking these countries, well it's a great number of indicators of instability, including demographic pressures, refugee and IDP counts, the economy, public services, human rights, etc, etc. Check out the chart and scoring here: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/images/fs2008/failed_states_ranking.jpg.

A Modernized Version of Dobrij Doktor Ajbolit

This just warmed my heart despite its sarcastic undertones. I love Doktor Ajbolit! "V Afrike, v Afrike, na limpopo!"

Jul 7, 2008

Not Guilty with a Defense of Drunkedness

I would love to see a Bulgarian version of Law and Order.
DA: We'll see how much your client likes it when he's in prison!
Defense Attorney: My client isn't going to prison. Notification of a not guilty defense due to drunkedness.
DA: You won't get away with this!
Defense Attorney: We'll see how the jury feels. If I get one man on that jury with a drinking problem...my client will walk.
*Chink Chink*

Sofia Weekly (Ern's Favorite Weekly): 3 young men from the Ryahovtsi village, Gabrovo District, were sentenced Monday for profanation of the Bulgarian national flag. On the night of May 19, 2007, the 19-yr old Hasan, the 20-yr old Ibrahim, and a younger boy with initials H.P. tore down the Bulgarian flag from its pole in the center of the village, threw it on the ground, and started to step on it. After that they tore it into pieces.

The young men could get up to 2 yrs in prison, but were only sentenced to pay fines because this was the first crime they ever committed. Hasan was sentenced to pay BGN 1000, and Ibrahim - BGN 1500. The 3 men admitted of committing the crime but explained that they had done it after they were coming home drunk from a disco. They deny having had any ethnically motivated reasons for insulting the Bulgarian flag.

Leopolis on AFP, on the Poles, on Missile Defence (get that?)

This week, Secretary Rice packs for another magical mystery tour of self-discovery through Prague, Sofia, and Tbilisi. Just to get everyone in the mood, our good friends over at Leopolis offer up an excellent look at AFP's reporting of Polish attitudes towards the Missile Defence system.

It turns out, Kaczyński still doesn't like Tusk, the French report what they please, and the Poles are divided -- but it depends on who you ask.

So everyone can relax, the world is in order.

Jul 2, 2008

A Hedonist’s Guide to…Almaty & Astana

These days, a friendly visit to the local Kazakh Embassy will get you an armful of books on the joys and wonders of everyone’s favorite Central Asian oil state.

Eternal Remont’s personal favorite, compliments of the Embassy staff, is A Hedonist’s Guide to…Almaty & Astana.

Did you know, for example, “There are not many clubs in Astana that don’t have a striptease, and Seoul Plaza (located at 16/2 Respublik Ave., Tel 320 010 or 328 462) is no exception….if you’re making a night of it, and you happen to be Russian Orthodox, you won’t have long to wait after closing until the bells start ringing for the next-door cathedral’s first service.”


Thanks Embassy of Kazakhstan!

World Happiness on the Rise...

...well not in our beloved region of the world.

The Today Show: the least happiest places on earth...

1. Zimbabwe
2. Armenia
3. Moldova
4. Belarus
5. Ukraine

The happiest place on earth is apparently Denmark. So, Zimbabweans, Armenians, Moldovans, Belarusians, and Ukrainians...maybe look into Denmark?

Jul 1, 2008

Hackers Tag Lithuanian Web Sites With Soviet Symbols

NYTIMES: Hackers attacked about 300 Web sites in Lithuania over the weekend, defacing them with Soviet symbols and anti-Lithuanian slogans, officials said Monday. The Web sites were vandalized two weeks after Lithuania, a former Soviet republic, outlawed the display of Soviet symbols, a ban that touched off new tensions with Russia. Lithuanian officials did not directly accuse Russian hackers of initiating the attacks, but said they had come from foreign computers and were most likely related to the ban.

All this Remont blogger can say is: OH MY GOD, THE SOVIET UNION DISSOLVED, GET OVER IT ALREADY! YOU LIVE IN RUSSIA, NOT THE USSR! YOU ARE RUSSIAN, NOT SOVIET! Are Americans British because they used to be a part of the British Empire? NO! They are American! Why is it so awful to be proud of being Russian?

I'll Take Russian Double Jepordy for $1,000

Mikhail Khodorkovsky is going back on trial. However, Khodorkovsky hasn't committed any new crimes since he was locked away in a Siberian prison. As a result, Russian prosecutors have decided just to charge him with the exact same crimes as before.

"What is 'the definition of Double Jepordy,' Alex?"

According to Khodorkovsky's attorneys, "'The defense has not been able to understand what is actually 'new' after reading a 145-page...file. It was the same set of absurd and baseless accusations of misappropriation...of all oil extracted over the six years of Yukos' life."

Worse yet, Khodorkovsky's lawyers are hoping that President Medvedev will intervene and show just how committed he really is to the new crusade against legal nihilism. "We are convinced that whichever legal gimmicks may be in the works, the referral of the case to a court with the slightest sign of independence will cause these far-fetched charges to fall apart," they said.

It just like all of those Gulag prisoners of old who furtivly wrote letters to Stalin to protesting their innocence.

...Stalin had signed their arrest orders.