Nov 30, 2009

Polar Bears...

...For the hell of it, and because posts from the last few days (terrorism, genocide, dead cows) are too depressing.

Postcards from Bulgaria

A cow lies on the ground, slaughtered for the celebrations of the first day of the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha in the Rhodope Mountains village of Ribnovo, Bulgaria, 210 km south of Sofia.

(Credit: Nikolay Doychinov/AFP/Getty Images)

When POWs Become the Criminals

The word “genocide” gets thrown around a lot in our region. But lest we forget what genocide looks like, we note that the trial of retired Ohio auto-worker John Demjanjuk just got underway.

Unlike others who claimed to be following orders, Demjanjuk’s lawyers claim he “had no choice” but to help murder 27,900 people at the Sobibor death camp in Poland (pictured). As a Ukrainian POW, Demjanjuk was just a prisoner of the same in-humanity.

Oh boy. Time to brush up on famous POWs-turned-collaborators. This one is going to get messy.

Nov 28, 2009

Terrorist Attack in Russia

As you all probably already know, on friday night a train traveling from Moscow to St. Petersburg derailed killing at least 26 and as many as 39 people. Nearly 200 people were hospitalized. It was revealed today that the derailment was caused by a bomb that was planted on the tracks of the high-speed Moscow-to-St. Petersburg train route. A terrorism investigation has begun.

According to YahooNews, the derailment of the upscale train, which was popular with government officials and business executives, was Russia's deadliest terrorist strike outside the volatile North Caucasus region in years.

There's not much else to say. Our thoughts are with Russia.

Nov 25, 2009

Propaganda for Sale

The collision of materialism and Soviet propaganda never ceases to impress. The picture above is a screen grab of a Samsung website. It deconstructs at a number of established techniques from communist-era propaganda and reassembles them into a post-modern, commercial format. Amazing.

All the way down to the flags in the background. Nice touch.

Thanksgiving in Siberia

In commemoration of Thanksgiving, we note the trials and tribulations of one intrepid blogger who tried -- and failed -- to cook a bird in the tundra.

Feeling cocky, I then did a tasting sample and nearly choked. The gravy was incredibly salty and exceedingly chunky. I added more water, but there was no change. For the next 20 minutes, I kept adding water and stirring. The gravy just kept getting chunkier, tasted horrible and actually began to smoke!
If that fails, you could always take some tips from TGI Friday's top chef in Moscow on how to prepare a "traditional American turkey." Wait, TGI Friday's?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Nov 24, 2009

Foreigners Cannot Roam in Russia

Today, I was chatting with a friend who happens to be vacationing in Russia. (Yes, dear readers, my friends and I are actually fans of Russia, deal with it.) I discovered an interesting fact about Russian pay-as-you-go mobiles...

1. When you purchase a phone, you are required to provide a passport.

2. Foreigners are not given permission to roam on their cell phones.

3. "International access" (making a call from Russia to a number abroad) is not available on pay-a-you-go plans.

I am reluctant to speculate on these measures. But come on. Are we literally trying to prevent foreigners from roaming around Russia to report on what's happening?

United Russia’s Family Feud

Last week, United Russia held its annual party congress. Usually this is a carefully scripted affair. Not this year. In fact, no-one seemed to have any idea who's really in charge or what's the plan.

In his speech "Forward Russia!", President Medvedev proposed that the country move ahead with rapid modernization. After the golf clapping subsided, Parliamentary Speaker Boris Gryzlov proposed a full throttle reversal away from modernization and back to “Russian conservatism.”

"It means we shall go forward with Russian conservatism," Gryzlov later tried to explain.

Oh, I’m sorry Boris. That’s not the right answer.

For his part, Putin chose to phone it in – saying little of interest aside from a brief shout-out to his new “cash for clunkers” program.

One day at a time, buddy. One day at a time.

7 Million Euros for a Car & a German's Soul

According to YahooNews, Adolf Hitler's original Mercedes has been sold to an unidentified Russian billionaire for several million euros. The anonymous billionaire's middleman approached Duesseldorf-based vintage car dealer Michael Froehlich and asked him to track down the dictator's dark-blue 770 K model. Said Froehlich:

"I was really torn. After all this was about the car of a horrible mass murderer."

But then 7 million euros made him stop pondering his moral dilemma and find the car.

For serious, had the billionaire already gold-plated everything in his house? Because what do even do with Hitler's car? Aside from it being weird to want anything that Hitler owned, what do you do with the car? Unless he's going to destroy it and make an awesome youtube video, I'm not sure I understand the point...

Nov 23, 2009

Ukraine Meddles with Media

What year is it? This is why color revolutions are BS.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Odessa city officials barred reporters from entering their offices in the Odessa Television and Radio Center and then cut the power supply to their newsrooms and transmitter, silencing 12 independent broadcasters. Only the broadcasters’ office in the municipal building had their power supply cut; the building’s other tenant, the Odessa Public Utility Service, which leases two top floors to the broadcasters, has continued to work undisturbed.

It is believed that critical reporting on corruption in the city administration and its poor financial policies have prompted official retaliation ahead of the 2010 mayoral and presidential elections.

Nov 20, 2009

3 is a Magical Number

The number three occurs frequently in Russian fairy tales, because of its symbolism and connection with the holy trinity (amongst other things). I mean, Russians even drink in three's right? But today, the government has made three another kind of magical number.

Observe in this RFE/RL Slideshow how not one but four (if only it was three it'd be so much more consistent for my tirade) one man protests magically transformed into three-man protests. A little slight of hand and one man holding a sign in protest of the detention of Eduard Limonov, a leader of the Other Russia coalition, becomes three men and, therefore, an unauthorized demonstration according to Russian law. Man those extra protesters start to look familiar... Do not look at the man behind the curtain...

Russia: The Capital of Fraud

Not to be outdone by Transparency's corruption perceptions index, PricewaterhouseCoopers has released it's own report on economic crime. Alas, Medvedev is epic fail as a crime fighter.

According to the study, Russia represents the world's most fraudulent economy. Worse yet, fraud and economic crime have actually increased 12 percentage since Medvedev set about his legal reform agenda two years ago. Russia is 30 percent above the global average and by far the worse country among all CEE or BRIC countries.

Says PWC: "Economic crime is and will remain a very serious risk ...The economic downturn is changing the nature and scale of the fraud and integrity risks that organizations face. The speed of change is such that opportunities to commit fraud will be prevalent."
Eventually, someone is going to have to govern this country. When that happens, millions for PR budgets and publicity stunts are not going to be enough.

Love in a Time of Swine Flu

Since it's not technically possible to have too many photos of Pani Yulia, we have to say that hospital blue really brings out her eyes.

Meanwhile, the great H1N1 panic has sparked a related panic over garlic shortages in Serbia. AP reports that prices have spiked in Belgrade's markets and "public places are smelling of the little white bulbs as people munch them as if eating apples."

That must make for some very romantic evenings.

Nov 19, 2009

CIA in Lithuania

So, I often get misunderstood by our more critical readers as not liking Russia. (Completely false, I love Russia.) And, I often get called out for not pointing out America's flaws when I point out Russia's flaws. I never really see the point of that. The blog is about the former USSR not the US, but today, you get your wish oh critics of ER's Ern. The US is being accused of having a secret CIA prison in Lithuania.

According to the Washington Post, today, a Lithuanian parliamentary committee is investigating whether the CIA operated a secret prison for terrorism suspects in a forest from 2004 until late 2005. Moreover, according to several people interviewed, this was pretty much common knowledge among the citizens of Lithuania. Why common knowledge needs to be investigated is kind of baffling.

Secret prisons. Oh Bush's America... I will say three things.

1. Not a bad place for a secret prison. Never would have guessed Lithuania.

2. However, while it was kept secret from me until today, not so much a great secret if every Lithuanian passing by knows you're interrogating/water boarding possible terrorists there. Maybe you should have sound-proofed the place, jerks.

3. What the hell are we paying Kyrgyzstan so much money for? We really only get the Manas Air Base out of that deal? They couldn't throw in a shady secret CIA prison? We had to go to a forest in Lithuania? For reals?

Moldova Gets Creative

AP reports: "Moldova's army is feeding its soldiers onions and garlic to help them ward off swine flu."

Seeing that we couldn't get an H1N1 shot either, we have to applaud Moldova's ingenuity. Even my grandmother would approve, since garlic will ward off the both the flu and rabid fans of "New Moon."

Meanwhile, "Russia's top health official has proposed that the country's fashion designers create trendy face masks to combat swine flu." Unfortunetly, ripped t-shirts don't count.

(Thanks Leopolis!)

"все буде добре"

Ukraine's presidential election is heating up. And even if her poll numbers have slipped, Tymoshenko's media machine is running on jet fuel.

Given the millions of dollars she is spending on the campaign, we do wonder why Yulia's people settled on: "Everything is going to be alright."

It's inspiring, the way a dentist's promise that "it will only hurt a little" is inspiring.

In addition to being a common phrase, however, this was also the slogan for Moscow's Русское Радио. Conspiracy? Maybe.

(Photo: New York Times.)

What is Eternal Remont?

I strongly disagree with some of the captions, but for video like this, we created Eternal Remont.

Azeribaijan is Pissed

After all this time, the Azeris are finally showing some fangs over the EU's to-be-or-not-to-be attitude to pipelines.

“If Europe takes too long putting together a solution, then all the gas in the Caspian will go to Asia,” said Elshad Nassirov, a vice president at State Oil Co. of Azerbaijan, or Socar. “It’s more serious than it seems.”
And by “serious,” Nassirov means cash – mountains of it.

According to Bloomberg, “China has offered Turkmenistan $4 billion in loans in return for access to energy, while pledging $25 billion to Russian companies and as much as $13 billion to neighboring Kazakhstan.” And that’s just the cover charge. China needs the supplies to support a planned $30 billion pipeline that will streach 10,000 km (!) – from Turkmenistan to Xinjiang.

“The serpent that did sting thy father's life, now wears his crown,” Europe.

And speaking of heirs to the throne, we just discovered that Leyla Aliyeva has a Facebook page. "If you know Leyla, add her as a friend on Facebook."

Done and done. Hottest heads of state, here we come!

Violence in Moscow

And other things I've sadly come to expect from our beloved Russia.

According to a YahooNews and plenty of other sources, a confrontation between far-right youths and anti-racist activists erupted into Moscow's streets yesterday after the fatal shooting of 26-year-old anti-racist activist Ivan Khutorskoi (AKA the Bonebreaker).

Khutorskoi was gunned down in his apartment building on the city's outskirts Monday night. A day later, dozens of masked men pelted the headquarters of the pro-Kremlin youth group Young Russia with stones, trash and steel rods, Young Russia's leader said.

Let's do the list:

1. Appalling that people continue to get murdered for their ideals in Russia.
2. Appalling that people with ideals could also be violent. I'm judging both sides here.
3. What is happening to Russia? Declines in population. Crime on the rise. Violence on the rise. Rampant corruption. Putin, Medvedezhonok, whoever is in charge, take care of your population.

Nov 18, 2009

Transparency International Ranks Corruption

You know how much I love rankings! Who made it in the top ten most corrupt from our region?

Uzbekistan leads the way at lucky #7, while Turkmenistan tied for 8th place with Iran, Haiti, Burundi, Guinea, and Equatorial Guinea. Turkmenistan, come on. You're gonna let Uzbekistan steal the spot ahead of you? For shame.

Who was amongst the least corrupt? No one from our region. Those Scandinavians are such show offs. Jerks.

Breaking up with Belarus, Awkward Call to WTO

As if waking up to discover that Belarus isn’t nearly as hot as he remembered from the club, Putin has changed its mind for the third time in six months on WTO membership.

Back in June, Russia formally abandoned its bid to join the WTO, opting instead to join as a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Immediately afterwards, Belarus and Russia launched a bitter trade war over milk imports. This marked the first time in living memory (human history?) that two members of a prospective trade union would use such an agreement to launch a trade war -- with each other.

Sadly, the hilarity could not last. Putin has again reversed course and informed the WTO that:

1) Belarus didn’t mean anything to him;
2) “Kazakhstan is just a friend, honest!”
3) He’s really matured in their time apart;
4) He really, really wants to get back together…

…for real this time.

(Who said international trade policy was dull?)

Nov 17, 2009

Medvedev Puts on His Skinny Pants

If you believe Plutarch, when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer. When Medvedev did the same of Russia, he opted to consolidate the time zones.

Indeed, few mortals have ever possessed such power. While 4,000 miles will still separate Moscow from Vladivostok, Medvedev wants to bend time itself -- eliminating three time zones and shrinking the difference between both cities to just four hours. (The equivalent of putting everyone between New York and Los Angeles on Eastern Standard Time.)

Somehow, this is supposed to make Russia’s far-flung Eastern regions more manageable. Instead, it’s like watching someone cope with weight gain by wearing their skinny pants.

Keep trying, Medvezhonok.

Turkmen Teens Banned from Driving to School

Go back to your roots, Turkmen children! The 'bashy rode horses his entire life, I'm sure...

So according to the Turkmen Intiative of Human Rights, in September students were banned from driving their own cars to higher educational establishments. Road police officers were authorized to levy fines on violators. Police are now spending their days in back streets and yards, adjacent to the university buildings in search of cars belonging to students.

Quick Questions: 1. Is Turkmenistan so awesome that they had to create new crimes to give the police something to do? 2. Is it worse to be a young person in Turkmenistan and not be able to drive, or worse being a kid in Belarus, where Santa lives in a 8 X 8 prison cell?

Anyway, apparently, these are all signs of returning to 'bashy days, when students were forbidden to have gold crowns, use mobile telephones, or drive their own vehicles to classes. Maybe if they make a Rukhnama iPhone app they'll be cool with mobile phone use.

Nov 16, 2009

Letter to Santa: We will arrest you

You might remember back in October, we covered a story about a group of Santas that turned themselves in to Belarusian authorities as an unregistered Santa Claus organization that participates in unsanctioned Santa Claus activities. You may also remember that I made a joke about looking forward to their impending trials, well, Belarus isn't laughing.

According to the Assembly of Belarusian Pro-Democratic NGOs, in a letter addressed to the admitted unregistered Santa Clauses, prosecutors stated that the activities of unregistered public associations on the territory of the Republic of Belarus is prohibited. It was also noted that "if a systematic and organized participation of individuals in the activities of an unregistered public association are proved, the individuals may be prosecuted."

The Santas' lawyer basically said something akin to "Prove what? They turned themselves in."

Yeah, this is far from over. I'm going to run out of poster board with all the protests this year.

Up In Smoke: Ulyanovsk Arms Depot

Something went horribly wrong at the Ulyanovsk arms depot last week. No, the ammunition exploded just fine. Instead, the improper disposal of ammunition was to blame for two deaths and a flurry of camera phone video on the web.

Sure, it's not as compelling as last year's depot explosion in Albania. However, with so many post-communist depot explosions from which to choose, we can afford to be picky. Come to think of it, we’re a little disappointed that the remaining stockpile in Transnistria hasn’t blown yet (without the loss of life, of course). Oxygen, fuel and a catalyst could finally do what the OSCE can't seem to accomplish.

Loads more camera phone video of the Ulyanovsk blast, if you're interested.

Nov 13, 2009

Great Press Photographs

The Guardian has an amazing look at “100 Years of Great Press Photographs.” Our region features prominently.

1968, Prague: “Josef Koudelka’s images of Russian tanks rolling into Prague in 1968 are an extraordinary chronicle of the mass protest that greeted their arrival. Devoid of movement, this image of an anonymous passer-by, whose watch records the exact time of the invasion, records a moment in which time seems to stand still.”
Photograph: Josef Koudelka/Magnum

1992, Sarajevo: "'This was not the story of a mum who was crying because she was sending her son away...I was actually going with him on the bus...Instead, I was trying to hold back my tears because I knew that I was leaving my beloved country, which had been ruined by the folly of the war.' Gordana Burazor, evacuated from Sarajevo in 1992."
Photograph: Tom Stoddart/Getty Images/Hulton Archive

1999, Kukes, Albania: “Refugees from the war of secession from Serbia in Kosovo. Guzy, a working-class American, clearly empathises with the ethnic Albanian children savouring freedom from fear in the northern Albanian mountains.”
Photograph: Carol Guzy/TWP

Is Putin a Hip-Hop Idol?

You know the answer is yes!

Reuters: “Putin, wearing a turtleneck sweater and jacket, went on stage to present awards to participants in ‘Battle for Respect,’ a hip-hop music contest run by Muz TV, a Russian rival to MTV. ‘It would have been cool to record a joint track with Vladimir Putin because he is a legendary man and our idol,’ sang rapper Zhigan who won the contest. "Let's make so much noise in his honor that the whole world can hear."
After presenting an award to the hip-hop personality who showed him the greatest sycophantic deference, Vladimir Vladimirovich then offered his 50 cents on the genre:
"I do not think that 'top-rock' or 'down-rock' breakdance technique is compatible with alcohol or drugs," Putin said.

Yo, Putin. I'm really happy for you. And I'm gonna let you finish, but Nancy Reagan had the best "Say No to Drugs" PSA of all time!

Twitter Revolution: History is Blogged by the Victors

Moldova’s new government has dropped all charges against Natalia Morari, the catalyst for the "Twitter Revolution."

Officially, the decision frees Morari from house arrest (she continues to run a blog at RFE/RL). Unofficially, this means that Morari can retrun to her true life's work: inspiring good looking people to become revolutionaries.

Take that Emma Goldman!

Nov 12, 2009

Say What?

In his State of the Union address on November 12, President Dmitri Medvedev announced that Russia will regain its former superpower status by adopting new ideas. This requires a break from the Soviet past: "Oil and gas industry complexes, which provide the lion's share of budget income, nuclear weapons that guarantee our security, industrial and housing facilities - this all was made mostly by Soviet specialists."

And so, moving on to some totally new bases for power and cooperation, Russia is going to build new oil and gas industry infrastructure (just take a peek at the Arctic Strategy through the year 2020) and, instead of relying on Soviet-era nuclear weapons, construct 30 new ground and sea-launched ballistic missiles, three nuclear submarines, and other modern military weaponry (including inflatatanks). Man, I'm so glad we're moving "вперёд"...

Blown Up

As we all know, the Russian military has been trying to put a brand new coat of paint on its aging weaponry and maybe even ::gasp:: replace said weaponry with new stuff. How to accomplish this within today's constrained budget has been the question... until today.

Now the Russian military will only need to pay a fraction of the cost to fill its quotas. The answer? Inflatable missiles, tanks, and air defense weapons... Half the price, but twice the fun!

On a side note, this is actually a pretty ingenious disinformation tactic. The Allies and the Germans used similar moves in WWII, but no doubt it took longer to inflate those weapons in the days before electric airpumps.

Nov 11, 2009

Donkey Bloggers Sentenced to Two Years

As you all know, we've been following the case of bloggers Adnan Hajizada and Emin Milli in Azerbaijan for months now. Unfortunately, today, RFE/RL reports that the bloggers have been sentenced to 2.5-year jail sentences.

Quick reminder, the men were arrested in July for hooliganism after they themselves were attacked my "sportsmen". They happened to be attacked after they lampooned the government with a YouTube clip involving a donkey. This just in, Azerbaijan really doesn't have a good sense of humor. Said Adnan's father, Hikmat (also a well known activist):

"This case is humiliating for Azerbaijan's image and for Azerbaijani citizens. I cannot understand how and for what reasons the court did this. I have no answer to these questions."

The case will certainly be appealed. Please contact your local embassies and consulates to support the bloggers and free speech in Azerbaijan.

Happy Birthday, Kalashnikov!

Red Army tank commander Sgt. Mikhail Kalashnikov, who invented his first machine gun in 1942, turned 90 this week. 90. Again, it really pays to be a Soviet somebody. It extends your life expectancy by like 40 years. And, Medvezhonok tried to ride someone else's coattails yesterday by decorating Kalashnikov with the country's highest order, the Hero of Russia. What did he do to earn it? He invented the AK-47...

The AK-47, along with its various modifications, has been recognized in the Guinness world record book as being the most common machine gun worldwide. For national armies and paramilitary guerrillas alike, it has been a weapon of choice for more than six decades.

Really, where would the Caucasus be without you, sir? But seriously, you're a World War II hero, and that makes you not just a Russian or Soviet hero. Позравляю!

Nov 10, 2009

Vladivostok: Future Capital?

Borrowing from South Park: "Say what you will about Dmitri Trenin, but the SoB sure knows story structure."

Trenin's plan for "Russia Reborn" (published in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs):
“If Peter the Great were alive today, he would decamp from Moscow again – only this time to the Sea of Japan, not the Baltic. As such, Russia would do well to think of Vladivostok as its twenty-first-century capital.”
Until today, I had never imagined 6 foot 7 Peter the Great walking through Seoul with an iPod, drinking the kids in a Korean Internet parlor under the table and then stealing their girlfriends.

Thank you, Dmitri. Thank you so much.

Russia's Death Penalty Debate

After 13 years, Russia's death penalty moratorium is set to expire at the end of next month -- unless the Constitutional Court issues an extension.

This is no small matter. In addition to the war on alcoholism, Gulag historians and Georgian pop music, the Kremlin has also tagged the death penalty as "one of the goals of the judicial reforms being carried out in the country."

Conveniently, a return to the death penalty is one way to deal with Medvedev's pesky legal nihilists problem. However, we're pretty sure that the president does not wear a WWSD (What would Stalin do?) bracelet.

So, he's kind of shot himself in the foot.

Nov 9, 2009

Berlin Wall: You've Come a Long Way Baby

"Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" - Ronald Reagan, June 12, 1987

What once divided East from West... now a backdrop for the MTV Video Music Awards.

You've come a long way baby.

Putting the Squeeze on MOL

Over the last six months, Russia’s attempt to seize control of MOL (Hungary’s major energy company) has generated more plot twists than a telenovela.

Budapest has asked the real owner of Surgutneftegaz – the buyer – to step forward. Yet whispers continue that Hungary could experience “technical difficulties” along the Druzhba oil pipeline if the government continues to resist.

Meanwhile, everyone is holding their breath for a new energy dispute in Ukraine, possibly coinciding with a presidential election. Either way, we're settling in for a long winter. Energy crisis season is upon us.

More hot cocoa anyone?

Nov 6, 2009

Georgians Can't Stop Gambling, Either

It looks like Russians aren’t the only ones hooked on slot machines. EurasiaNet has a fantastic photo essay on the proliferation of gambling in Georgia.

"One of Soloxashvili’s patients, a heroin addict, first walked into a Tbilisi slot parlor three years go and won 40 lari (about $24). He returned daily after that, and although he has been off heroin or a year-and-a-half, he continues to play the slots."
As in Russia, gambling is especailly prevalent among Georgia's poor and unemployed.

Nazarbaev's Roman Holiday

What happens when Nazarbaev makes a visit to Rome? Underpaid wire reporters have to start articles with:

“Italy's Silvio Berlusconi praised the virility of Kazakhstan's men during a visit to Rome by its president, Nursultan Nazarbaev… the 73-year-old Italian leader, who often boasts of his own virility and has been in trouble for hosting parties with prostitutes…”

Stay classy, Berlusconi.

Unfortunetly, Nazarbaev didn’t have time to share any of his own virility secrets. Instead, he left for a meeting with the Pope to showcase Kazakhstan as "an example of how [people] live together in peace and tolerance."

The Pope declined to offer his views on the out-migration of ethnic Russians, strict limits on political opposition, or tight controls on independent media inside Nazarbayev’s peaceful zen garden.

The "Soviet Silicon Valley"

Here’s a fun fact: "During the last years of the Communist regime, Bulgaria produced 40 percent of the computers used across the Soviet Union and was known as the Soviet Silicon Valley."

Here’s another: These computers were built using technology which then-KGB agent Vladimir Putin was in charge of stealing from West German companies.

It takes a village.

Oddly, many of the factories still exist today. They remain a point of national pride for millions of Bulgarians. And, yes, they’re really located in a valley. Just don't make any jokes about communist-era computers. It doesn’t go over well.

Bulgaria now wants to use it's computing prowess to compete with India as an IT outsourcing hub. This will make my next call to Dell’s tech support people even more hilarious.

“No, seriously, what’s your real name…Ted? No, I'm not looking forward to The Christmas. My computer is broken.”

Nov 5, 2009

Postcards from Blade Runner

On the banks of the Moscow River, next to the third ring road, you can now glimpse a scene from Blade Runner. When completed, the 365-meter Federation Tower will be the tallest in Europe and dwarf the city's jealous Seven Sisters.

(Credit: Creative Commons, awesome stuff guys.)

Calling Sukhumi by way of Moscow?

Remember the controversy over Abkhazia’s Facebook designation? Well a new furor is stirring over telephone area codes.

As of November 16, Abkhazia will adopt Russian area codes for telephone service. This means than everyone trying to reach Uncle Bagrat in Gagra will have to call Russia and not Georgia.
Clearly, the Georgian government is upset. However, they keep getting a busy signal when they call to complain.

(Thanks to Scraps of Moscow for the photo.)

Not the Solution to Bulgaria's Population Crisis

Her name is Kordeza Zhelyazkova. She lives in Sliven, Bulgaria. She gave birth on her wedding day. Oh, and this might be important, she is 11 years old.

"I'm not going to play with toys any more - I have a new toy now," said Kordeza.
And before anyone asks, her 19 year-old husband faces six years in prison.