Jan 28, 2010

Lenin for Sale

According to YahooNews, the city of Voronezh (a city South of Moscow) cannot afford to repair its bronze statue of Lenin, so the city intends to sell the statue. It's win freaking win, baby. Wait, what's the catch?

"[The statue] is under state protection and the law dictates that the owner is obliged to provide free access to it."

What the heck is the point of buying a Lenin if you have to share him with the people? You can't mix capitalism with communism! If you sell a statue it has to become personal property. Get your own Lenin!

Jan 27, 2010

Za Yanukovycha!

Because we didn't cause enough controversy the last time we pondered the mysteries of Yanukovych’s voter base (Meet Team Yanukovych), someone has clipped together a video of "Yanukovych’s electorate."

But where are the cute girls in the blue windbreakers and baseball caps?

(Thanks Leopolis!)

Jan 26, 2010

Fuzzy Math

In his most recent grain of wisdom, Chechen President Kadyrov has told the Moscow Times that he supports polygamy among Russian Muslims because it reduces sexual promiscuity and prostitution. He asked that age old question “Is it better to have 20 lovers rather than four lawful wives?” If it's simply a question of numbers, isn't it better to have one lawful wife than four lawful wives and twenty lovers?

In spite of this strong support for polygamy, Kadyrov said he is not seeking to change the law prohibiting multiple marriages. Makes sense, the law is really more of a guideline anyway...

Jan 25, 2010

"Holy" does not mean "clean"

...especially in Russia. According to YahooNews, over 100 Russian Orthodox believers were hospitalized today after drinking "holy" water during Epiphany celebrations in the eastern city of Irkutsk. Many Russians consider any water obtained on Epiphany — which they celebrate on Jan. 19 — to be holy. The water these brilliant folks chose was from a well near the church. The source of that water was a stagnant lake.

Russians, get yourself a Brita or go full on Russki and leave the water in a pot with a spoon to filter it, but please, never drink from any of your lakes, ever. That is all.

Dutch Disease

So I'm reading the Sofia Morning News, as I love to do, and I find out that Romania is the #1 exporter of prostitutes in Western Europe. Get it? Dutch Disease? Prostitutes are a natural resources and legal in the Netherlands... I'll try harder next time.

Other countries from our region in the top ten for exporting prostitutes: Bulgaria, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Poland, and Hungary. I'm not an East European prostitute, so I can only speculate, but I think these countries wanted or hope to join the EU to get different types of professional jobs in Western Europe. Just saying.

Jan 22, 2010

It's Good to Be King

Russians will get to feast on flame-broiled goodness now that Burger King has opened its first venture in Moscow.

“Now is the appropriate moment to launch the brand on the Russian market in cooperation with the local partners,” said John Fitzpatrick, Burger King’s senior vice president for development and franchising in Eastern Europe.
Translation: we promise to only use Russian-speaking chickens.

International Lingerie Scandal!

Of course, our region is involved. According to the Sofia Morning News, Bulgarian designer Iskren Lazarov is accusing Beyoncé "Bootylicious" Knowles of plagiarism. He claims the lingerie she wears in her video with Lady Gaga for "Video Phone" is a flat out stolen version of his design which was inspired by Picasso's painting "Girl in a Mirror". Lazarov's design received a Triumph Inspiration Award in May 2009.

Now, there is a trial pending in Munich, Germany. Both parties involved in the dispute - Triumph, the underwear manufacturer, and Sony, the video and music giant, will be represented. Meanwhile, Triumph is preventing "Video Phone" from being played on German music channels... Wow.

Say It Ain't So, Turkmenistan

This is a dark day for our region. In an act of unforgivable patricide, President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov has announced plans to remove the Turkmenbashi's golden statue that rotates to face the sun.

How can this be? He was the father of the Turkmen people!

You are the worst dentist ever, Berdymukhamedov.

Economic Freedom Index Released

Why am I so in love with ranking systems? I don't know. I just am. The Heritage Foundation recently released its rankings for economic freedom throughout the world in 2010. Here we go.

The failures? No surprises here. Turkmenistan came in at #171, beating out the likes of Zimbabwe and North Korea. Surprises, the rest of Central Asia did better than Ukraine, which came in at #162. Uzbekistan is more free (economically) than Ukraine.

Successes. Well no country from our region came up as "free", but in the "mostly free" category: Estonia (#16), Georgia (#26), and Lithuania (#29). These countries beat out some of the big dogs including Norway and France. Good work!

Jan 21, 2010


How many times have I called Medvedev "Medvezhonok" or my "little bear" since August 2009? The answer is nine times, making today number ten. And how fitting is it that today I find this awesome Elustrator cartoon?

I love you Elustrator!

Who will police the police?

According to RIANovosti, yesterday, the heads of Russia's leading media outlets sent an open letter to the interior minister demanding protection for journalists and society against police arbitrariness after a court fined a photographer for covering an anti-government rally. The fine was about $17, but it's the pinciple of the thing! The letter said the journalistic community is alarmed the incident may set a precedent for prosecuting journalists "while they perform their professional duty" in Russia.

Is it wrong that all I can think is "at least he wasn't poisoned or shot"?

Jan 20, 2010

Roman Kupchinsky is Dead

This is a sad day. Kupchinsky's death is a great loss. He was 66.

Cold War Fash Back

This civil defense poster from 1985 was designed to guide the good citizens of Portland, Oregon through their first nuclear war.

Where the hell was this poster when I needed it? The exact same steps could have come in handy during an average night out in Moscow, c. 1998. Comfort the dying, isolate the corpses. Check and double check.

(Click to enlarge.)

Thanks makezine.

But it's finger-licking good!

Um, yeah, Russia is banning American chicken now. According to the New York Times, the government imposed an open-ended ban on American chicken imports that started Tuesday, ostensibly because the US companies had failed to adhere to new food safety regulations. The move will probably make chicken prices go up in Russia, but people will be more proud, the Times claims.

What is your pride worth, Russia? More expensive chicken? More expensive chicken that was not made more meaty and wonderful with the overuse of hormones and synthetic chemicals? Yes, the American chicken is fattier. But come on. One American chicken could get a child through an entire Moscow winter. That's just a fact. Source? Me. I made it through a Moscow winter on one American chicken boiled down into the fattiest soup I ever had. But I digress...

Apparently, many Russians have been choosing not to buy American chicken lately anyway because they're full of chemicals. As always, Elustrator is here to amuse us:

Red Crescent Banned in Bulgaria

According to the Sofia Morning News, yesterday a Bulgarian court ruled that the non-profit organization Bulgarian Red Crescent was illegal on the grounds that it violated international conventions under which a country can have only one organization called “Red Cross” or “Red Crescent”. The good news I guess is that at least there is a Red Cross somewhere in Bulgaria. Excellent organization. Anyway, the founders must pay court expenses. Interesting note on the founders...

The organization was registered by the brothers Ali and Yuzeir Yuzeirovi - Bulgarian citizens and ethnic Turks (break out your Gellner). Outside of starting the Red Crescent, in October, the two also built an illegal monument - “Monument of the Unknown Turkish Warrior”. The monument was promptly removed. To be honest, I don't think a monument to the Turkish warrior would bother me, but another monument in C/E Europe would destroy my eyes. Don't we have enough statues?

Jan 19, 2010

Amber Room Found (Again)?

Don’t look now, but someone has again claimed to solve one of the greatest mysteries of World War II, the location of the stolen amber from Tsarskoye Selo.

According to "historian turned journalist and lecturer" Sergei Trifonov, the amber is in Kaliningrad.

“Believe me or not, it’s there, 12m down in the sub-soil,” he said, pointing to the entrance of a bunker that sheltered the Nazi high command in the last hours of the Battle of Koenigsberg. “This place was built [in February 1945] with two aims: accommodating the headquarters of General Otto Lasch and storing the treasures of Koenigsberg, a city under siege.”
Others are not convinced.

“He’s a good storyteller who can’t prove anything,” said Vladimir Kulakov at Russia’s Institute of Archaeology.

Maybe so, but that’s what they told Indiana Jones and he recovered both the Ten Commandments and the Holy Grail from the Nazis.

Keep following your heart, Sergei.

"Kosovo is our Jerusalem"

Remember that sick feeling you got when you learned that Georgia’s Minister of Defense, Davit Kezershvili, was only 28 years old?

Well guess what, your life sucks that much more.

We just learned that Serbia’s Foreign Minister, Vuk Jeremic, is only 34 years old. Oh, and he’s a quote machine. Bonus!
“This place, Kosovo, is our Jerusalem; you just can’t treat it any other way than our Jerusalem,” said Jermic.
Only, it’s not Jerusalem, Vuk. But nice try.

Death by Decree: Kazan State University

Facebook has lit up with a slew of indignant posts by students at Kazan State University. Apparently, President Medvedev has decreed that the historic home of Tatar higher learning – prized by many Tatars as their own – will now be unilaterally restructured “into a faceless Privolzhskiy Federal University.”

And as many have just discovered, one can’t challenge a presidential decree in court. The deed is done.

Some posters are concerned by the lack of transparency and consultation in the decision. Still others are openly worried about the decision’s impact on academic freedom.

Unfortunately, academic freedom was left out of Tatarstan’s 2007 power-sharing treaty with Russia. On the other hand, the treaty does allow Kazan to insert a page in the local propiska that’s written entirely in Tatar.

Lose a university; gain a page in the passport. That sounds about right.

Papal Assassin Conspiracy Theories

I will say, for the record, this is probably only news to me. Recently, Mehmet Ali Agca, attempted assassin of Pope John Paul II, was released from a Turkish jail. Upon his release, he said, "I proclaim the end of the world. All the world will be destroyed in this century. Every human being will die in this century...I am the Christ eternal." Turkish authorities then promptly announced that Mehmet would be going to a hospital.

So what's this have to do with the region and my ignorance? I had no idea and maybe others had no idea, that the attempted assasination of Pope JP 2 was a suspected Soviet plot. And, Mehmet claims to have received two months of training in weaponry and terrorist tactics in Syria as a member of the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine paid for by the Communist Bulgarian government... Of course, nothing was ever proven. If only Mehmet or "Christ" wasn't crazy. Maybe we would know what really happened.

Jan 18, 2010

Feeling Blue?

The title fight is set.

Viktor Yanukovich (35.4%) and Yulia Tymoshenko (24.9%) placed first and second in Ukraine’s initial round of voting. Alas, voters sharply rebuked President Yushchenko, fallen hero of the Orange Revolution.

Adding insult to injury, Intrade Prediction Markets say the man who tried to steal the last presidental election from Yushenko will almost certainly take his job.

Jan 16, 2010

Ukraine's Political Depression

As part of it's Ukraine election coverage, the BBC introduces us to Ruslan and Oleg (pictured) -- the best political analysts ever.

"I don't know who to vote for," says Ruslan (on the left). "There is no-one worth voting for, we're in a state of political depression."
Of course, there are meds for this condition. However, side effects include: suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, short-term memory loss, change in libido and dry mouth.

...Pretty much the same effect as staring at a shirtless poster of Putin for ten minutes. Pick your posion.

Jan 15, 2010

The Memory Hole

(Photo: EnglishRussia)

Meet Team Yanukovich

“Together, we have suffered through this Orange nightmare... Let us consign this history to the black pages of our lives.”
--Viktor Yanukovich, the man who could be the next president of Ukraine.

ECHR: A Toothless Kangaroo?

In a big step, the Russian parliament moved to ratify the country's participation in the European Court of Human Rights. And it’s about time, since fully one-third of all complaints filed in the court are against Russia. That's probably significant.

But hold off on the Georgian champagne for now. In order to secure Russia's participation, European officials had to promise that the court will have no powers to actually enforce its rulings in Russia. As an additional sweetener, Russian judges will also be involved in reviewing complaints against Russia.

No word if these will be the same judges which violated Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s constitutional protection against double jeopardy, or the ones who sent him to prison in the first place.

So yeah, this is a great day for human rights.

Jan 14, 2010

The 2008 U.S.-Russia War? It Almost Happened

How’s this for a nightmare scenario…

Four days into the Russia-Georgia war, the White House considered bombing Russian forces to halt their progress against Georgia. That’s the scoop in a new book by Ron Asmus (A Little War That Shook the World: Georgia, Russia and the Future of the West). Thankfully:

“Bush cut off the discussion [after] a top-level White House meeting produced ‘a clear sense around the table that almost any military steps could lead to a confrontation with Moscow.’”



Siberian Tiger Fail

Bird win.
(Photo: Seattlepi)

Don't Kick the Hippo

Igor sends along this awesome update to the story of our escaped Montenegrin hippo:

Zoo owner Dragan Pejovic insisted Nikica was not dangerous "unless someone attacks and kicks her."
Thanks for the safety tip, Dragan. However, if someone actually tried to kick a hippo, we’re pretty sure the universe has pre-ordained the outcome.

Jan 13, 2010

Freedom loses popularity in Central Asia

So yesterday, Freedom House released "Freedom in the World 2010," annual survey of global political rights and civil liberties. You know where this is going...

Kazakhstan and Failed-tulip-revolution-stan (Kyrgyzstan) entered the not free category this year, joining the ranks of Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. So what I'm saying is: Central Asia is not free.

Also, good news, we've been reporting a lot of shady news about Ukraine in the last year, but apparently Ukraine is considered free...free to sell its votes.

Jan 12, 2010

Tymoshenko's Gauntlet

As the first round of the Ukrainian presidential election approaches, hostility is really starting to come out of the woodwork and smacked Yanukovych in the face. After fellow candidate Viktor Yanukovych refused to join her in a televised debate, current Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko threw out some real fighting words:

"I cannot but take your refusal to hold open honest discussions as other than common cowardice...If you don't think you have the brains and political experience to take part in televised debates, you should admit that you are not ready to lead the country, rule it or represent it in the world."

Oh snap! Yanukovich's reply? 10 paces, pistols, and a meeting at the old oak tree? Too much to hope for.

Instead, he told a crowd that: "Yulia Tymoshenko has begun imitating Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and thinks she will benefit from that " (subtext here "Damn! Why didn't I think to try that). All I can say is if Yulia takes Putin imitation to the next level and begins appearing topless riding a horse bareback while hunting large game I'm not sure Yanukovich can compete with that...it's awful cold out....

Was Princess Leia Russian?

Calm down nerds, she’s still from Alderaan.

However, we couldn’t help but notice a similarity in this costume photo from Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1908 play “The Blue Bird.” It premiered at the Moscow Art Theatre and went on to inspire five film adaptations and a Japanese cartoon series in the 1980s. The actress is Maria Germanova.

Princess Leia, eat your heart out.

(Thanks to jamesgrassick & TYWNIWDBI.)

Run Nikica, Run!

What happens when Nikica, an 11-year-old hippo at the Montenegro zoo, escapes from her enclosure? Hilarity, of course:
"When I got out from my house to feed my cow, I saw a hippo standing in front of the stall," said villager Nikola Radovic. "I thought I was going mad."
Since the flood waters which facilited her escape have yet to recede, zoo owner Dragan Pejovic has decided to allow Nikica an extended stay in the village.

Let's hope the cows don't mind.

(Big thanks to Igor for sending this along.)

Boyko Borisov: Quote Machine

In cased you missed it, The Economist has a profile on our favorite Bulgarian Prime Minister’s penchant for saying what’s on his mind ("Foot in Mouth").

“Everybody in the country is trying to contact me,” Borisov complained. “Tomorrow, some guy will get divorced and then come to ask me to give him back his wife."
Maybe, but it's that kind of hands-on leadership which inspired the Bulgarian village of Kapatovo to rename itself "Borisovka." Suck-ups.

Democracy Has a Price, Literally

What is the price of a democratic and free society? In Ukraine, the answer is: $37-$63.

That’s the going rate for a vote in Ukraine's upcoming presidential election. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, voters now advertize their prices online.
"For sale: my vote in Ukraine's election on Sunday. From 300 to 500 hryvnias ($37-$63). Can gather others who want to sell," said one poster.
Here's another:
"I don't believe in our democracy and so I am selling my vote in the elections. Maybe there will be 10 other votes for sale. The only discussion on price will be upwards."
Since Ukrainian officials regularly buy crowds to show their political muscle, it is only logical that citizens assume votes can be bought and sold as well.

Now the question: is it a protest, or is it a business opportunity?

Cyrillic on the Internet, and Brazil is angry?

You may recall that back in October, we reported that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was supposed to vote on whether or not to allow non-Latin letters in Web site addresses. Well it seems, that they voted to allow non-Latin charaters, because according to the Sofia Morning News, Bulgaria held a survey on what Bulgaria's domain name should be. The results?

The two most popular choices were ".бг" with a third of the votes and ".бгр" with a fourth of the votes. So why is Brazil miffed? Brazil's Latin charactered domain name is ".br", and they're afraid the two look too similar.

".бг" ".br"

Do you see what happens? Do you see what happens when you allow non-Latin letters on the Internet? Children are going to be researching Bulgaria and think that Emperor D. Pedro I was the first ruler of a Bulgaria that just won its independence from Portugal. You did this, ICANN.

Jan 11, 2010

"Physically Destroyed"

We weren't the only ones who took notice of President Medvedev's recent remark about "mercicellessly liqudating" rebels in the Caucasus mountains. In fact, Russia Today tried to clarify the statment, but Medvedev would have none of it.
“As far as militants are concerned, our policy remains unchanged. They should be physically destroyed,” said Medvedev.
Haven't we heard this before--?

"A dull-witted people...Believe me, they can't do anything, nor can they learn anything either. Our Kabardians or Chechens might be bums and tramps, but at least they're brave fighters."
From Lermontov's Hero of Our Time (1840), another tale of Russia's efforts to liqudate rebels in the Caucasus mountains. It also happens to be the creepiest Chechen love story of all time. Double bonus.

John Lennon, the Opera?

Our congratulations go out to Ivo Josipovic, the new president of Croatia. Josipovic defeated his opponent in the run-off on a pro-EU, anti-corruption platform. Nothing interesting there. But what is interesting, is this aside by the NYTimes:
"[Josipovic's] friends say he still plans to use his spare time to compose his first opera, about the life of John Lennon. "
How's that for box office gold. What says opera like John Lennon?

As Homer Simpson quipped on the opening night of Planet of the Apes -- The Musical, “I love legitimate theater!” But good luck trying to top that staggering work of genius, President Josipovic.

"Stop the Planet of the Apes I Want to Get Off!"

Another twitter revolution on the horizon?

So according to GeorgianDaily.com, it is predicted that by the end of 2010, more than a million Russians will be signed up with Twitter and that political implications are inevitable. The article goes on to highlight one twitter feed in particular, and I would like to highlight it as well.

Compromat.org was forced of .ru last year, but continues to report on the misdeeds of Russian leaders, and now, it has a twitter feed: http://twitter.com/anticompromat. It is completely in Russian. I suggest you all check it out. It lists cases I had never heard about in the international press. Very informational. Go Twitter!

Jan 8, 2010

"Mercilessly Liquidated"

Yesterday, President Medvedev said that all rebels in the Caucasus must be "mercilessly liquidated."

Did you know there's an app for that?

Jan 7, 2010

Happy Orthodox Christmas!

In his Christmas message to Russian Orthodox believers, Patriarch Kirill offered his view that the country had “progressed” despite the financial crisis. With President Medvedev in the audience, Patriarch Kirill also said that state “authorities should be thanked for avoiding the reoccurrence of the economic crisis in 1990s.”

Thank you authroities.

Sorry God, we're not thanking you. Talk to Kirill.

Bishkek Does Soccer Right

One of Der Spiegel's 51 Greatest Photos of 2009.

Russian Roulette for Kids

How did we miss this before Christmas?

So the question: is Russian roulette really Russian?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term first appeared in a short story published in Collier’s Magazine (1937) by Georges Surdez.

“…did you ever hear of Russian Roulette?’ When I said I had not, he told me all about it. When he was with the Russian army in Rumania, around 1917, and things were cracking up, so that their officers felt that they were not only losing prestige, money, family, and country, but were being also dishonored before their colleagues of the allied armies, some officer would suddenly pull out his revolver, anywhere, at the table, in a café, at a gathering of friends, remove a cartridge from the cylinder, spin the cylinder, snap it back in place, put it to his head, and pull the trigger.”
Not that it’s going to stop us from posting about it.

Special thanks to sommerfugls selvmord!

It sucks to live in Turkmenistan

As you know, I adore rankings, and International Living recently released its 2010 Quality of Life Index. The big winner? France. Try harder Australia (#2). Anyway, how did our region do?

The standout success stories: Hungary made it into the top 20, and Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia made the top 30, all beating Sweden (so much for universal health care).

The standout losers: Turkmenistan has the worst quality of life score for our region, but beat out at least 30 other countries like Zimbabwe and Haiti. Kazakhstan only ranked a bit higher. Iran was ranked higher than both.

Stand Outs in the Break Downs
Leisure & Culture: Sweden wins. Moldova is best and Turkmenistan is worst.
Environment: Brunei wins. Latvia is #5 and Turkmenistan is worst.
Freedom: Over 20 countries including Poland, Estonia, Slovenia, and Czech Rep. scored a "100". Turkmenistan scored a "0".
Infrastructure: USA wins (eat it China). Czech Rep. just missed the top 10. Turkmenistan made the bottom 10.
Climate: Zimbabwe wins (they had to win something sometime). Slovenia is best (but not in the top 30) and Kazakhstan is worst. Turkmenistan actually is the best climate out of all of Central Asia.

Jan 6, 2010

Is Russia is Stealing Magnetic North?

Alright, Putin hasn’t stolen it – yet. However, scientists do report that the magnetic north pole has accelerated its southern drift towards Russia.

According to National Geographic, the pole is moving towards Russia at a rate of 40 miles each year -- the fastest rate of change ever recorded. Are we watching the start of an apocalyptic shift in the magnetic field? The earth undergoes such a change every 300,000 years.

Nobody knows.

But if the Mayans get their way, we’re all toast in 2012 anyway.

Might be time to rethink that big purchase of 2 year treasury bills.

Everyon Relax, the Pelican is Safe

We're happy to report that emergency workers near Volgograd have saved a pelican from freezing to death on an ice drift.

Make that one very cold and disorientated pelican, stranded in the Volga, 400 miles from the nearest body of water. According to the hard-hitting investigators at RIA Novosti:
"The pelican tried to escape from the rescuers on water but could not fly as it was apparently too weak."
The pelicube is now safe and warm in a local rescue station. Just don't ask why it was doing a penguin impersionation in the middle of the frozen Volga. Eternal Remont has reported on the untimely death or wrongful imprsionment of hundreads since it started and we're not about to mess up a happy ending with explinatons about private zoos and the mistreatment of exotic animals in Russia -- or worse, broken pelican GPS.

Besides, if the pelican wants company, it can go live with Tymoshenko's tiger.

Slovakia - Apparently Czech Rep. was the brains of the operation

So, according to YahooNews, on Saturday Slovak authorities decided to test security by hiding real bomb parts in the luggage of unwitting passengers en route to Dublin. What could go wrong?

1. Slovak authorities forgot to tell Dublin authorities. It took 3 days to notify Dublin...

2. One man's bomb parts were not detected and made it to Dublin. The man didn't find out about the explosives cache until Irish police raided his inner-city apartment Tuesday morning.

3. Police had been led to believe the man was a terrorist and not a variable in an insane Slovak experiment. A major north Dublin intersection was shut down and neighboring apartment buildings were evacuated as a precaution while Irish Army experts inspected the explosive. The man was released without charge after several hours' detention.

What the hell were you thinking, Slovakia?

Jan 5, 2010

Revenge of The Ruthenians

Timothy Garton Ash offers this awesome anecdote about everyone’s favorite lost people: The Ruthenians.

Professor Turyanitsa tells me the classic East European joke about the old man who says he was born in Austro-Hungary, went to school in Czechoslovakia, married in Hungary, worked most of his life in the Soviet Union, and now lives in Ukraine. "Travelled a lot, then?" asks his interviewer. "No, I never moved from Mukachevo."
Turns out, the Ruthenians/Rusyns/Transcarpathian-Rusyns/rusnatsi (take your pick) have a government, and they want a state. What could go wrong here?

And speaking of lost peoples, don’t look now but someone in the Kremlin just stepped out of the time machine. Apparently, Circassias now present one of the greatest threats to Russian security in the North Caucasus.

Circassians? Weren’t they wiped out in the Clone Wars?

(Thanks Leopolis!)

Irony of the Decade (Too Soon?)

The irony of the decade has arrived: Kazakhstan is now the Chair of the OSCE.

The last time Kazakhstan held an election, the very same OSCE used words like “below international standards,” “lack of transparency,” and “restrictive legal provisions” to describe the process. Voters didn’t even have a chance to offer their say on 9 of the country’s 107 seats in parliament, since local governors used ESP and other ancient mysteries to determine the popular will then appoint the MPs directly.

Even better, the country that has never held an vote the OSCE could stomach will now lead the OSCE's own election mission to scrutinize Ukraine’s election later this month.

There are a lot of things to love about Kazakhstan, boiled horse lung for starters (it turns white when cooked to perfection), but Team Nazarbayev has clearly under-fulfilled the democracy plan.

/High-five Kazakhstan

(Photo credit: msykos)

Lukashenko: Eat It, Kaliningrad

The Russia-Belarus tiff over oil export taxes just got interesting.
WSJ reports: “On Monday, Belarus upped the ante by threatening to interrupt electricity transfers to Russia's Kaliningrad region.”
There's a plan, stick it to Kaliningrad.

It might be a bad time to mention this Lukashenko, but threatening to flash freeze Russians in the dead of winter is probably not the best negotiating decision.

But good luck with that.

What is to be done about Somali pirates?

The Sofia Morning News really tackled this issue today. According to one Bulgarian expert, nothing can be done... by sailors that is. Captain Nikola Hristov, Chair of the Bulgarian Association of Ship Brokers and Agents, argued that the costs of sailing all the way around Africa are too great and sailing through the Gulf Aden. Plus I think changing the route would only encourage new pirates of different nationalities, no? Anyway, he provides some figures to support this and then adds:

"But it is best if – instead of facing any risk, NATO and the UN put together a special force and go clear up the mess. Just as the British Royal Navy did it back in the days. It is ridiculous to talk about piracy with today’s means of communication, intelligence, and control. Unless there is some sort of secret support for the pirates which aims to destabilize the regions there."

Yeah, he just said a lot there. Basically, the world needs empires and apparently has empire like structures that aren't doing their jobs, possibly on purpose. Meanwhile, former Bulgarian Foreign Affairs Minister and current socialist MEP, Ivailo Kalfin, has called on the Bulgarian government to be more actively involved in the efforts to prevent Somali pirate raids in the Gulf of Aden.

And while these men focus on the long term solutions to ending Somali piracy, "pirate expert" (God, I want to be a pirate expert) Dr. Peter Lehr, of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, has suggested that a ransom of between USD 2-3 M will be requested for the two Bulgarian crewed ships hijacked last week. Good luck to those sailors on board.