Feb 26, 2010

Russian Chimp is Drunk as a Monkey

Let me start by saying, this article has everything I've ever wanted in a story: booze, addiction, monkeys, and Russia.

So according to YahooNews, the Rostov zoo has sent Zhora, one of its chimps, to rehab, because he can't kick his beer-drinking and smoking habits.

"The beer and cigarettes were ruining him. He would pester passers-by for booze."

And yes, of course passers-by at a zoo in Russia had booze on them. Who goes to the zoo park without some beer? And for those of you who don't know, the Russian language is so awesome it actually has a verb that means "to get an animal drunk." The imperfective is опаивать, and the perfective is опоить. Yes, this is the Russia I fell in love with.

Feb 25, 2010

Cold War Flashback

If you’re interested, there’s an awesome retrospective on the bitter architecture wars which erupted between east and west during Cold War-era World Expos.

At the 1959 World Expo in Moscow, GE's canary yellow “modern kitchen” sparked the Nixon-Khrushchev kitchen debates. (Is that Leonid Brezhnev eyeing the self-cleaning oven?)

The Soviets responded with this monster pavilion at the 1967 Montreal World Expo, featuring the exhibition’s largest restaurant (stuff it GE).

Which, if anyone is keeping score, was a shameless rip off of Eero Saarinen’s 1958 design for the Main Terminal at Dulles airport.

Orange and Blue, Together at Last?

Only in the eyes of a Siberian Husky competing at this year's European dog sled championship in Donovaly, Slovakia.

(JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)

Feb 24, 2010

So I started watching the Russia-Canada game...

...10 minutes ago. The score was 4-1 Canada, which I'm like, wow, I only missed the first period and it's already a blow out. The score is now 7-2, Canada. So here's the thing...

1. It's the Olympics. This is supposed to be close competition
2. It's now 7-3, but still really bad, Russia
3. I miss the Soviet Union athletics program! I want crazy competition back!

All the same, go Canada!

Lenin Had a Sex Life?

We might have just found a new motto for Eternal Remont, compliments of Helen Rappaport’s new biography of Lenin during his pre-revolutionary exile:

“There it is, my fate. One fighting campaign after another — against political stupidities, philistinism, opportunism and so forth."
Amen, brother Vlad.

So why is everyone talknig about the biography of a Kremlin lawn ornament? Well, Rappaport jumps head first into Lenin’s sex life, particularly his long-whispered affair with Inessa Armand (pictured). Rappaport writes:

"His sexuality, seemingly, had long been subordinated—along with his emotional needs.”
Get Fabio on the cover and you've got a best seller.

EU Visa Regime Weakens

Don't worry. The EU still hates Turkey.

So after the meeting of the EU top diplomats in Brussels, the Italian Foreign Affairs Minister, Franco Frattini, reported that the EU will propose a visa-free regime for travel inside the Union for Ukrainian citizens. The EU wishes to establish strong relations with the administration of the newly elected President of the Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, known for being a bit more pro-Russian.

So Ukraine is being rewarded for picking the candidate the west didn't want? Ukraine, why didn't lean east earlier?

Feb 23, 2010

Montenegro Wants Its Own "Watermelon"

Not content to watch Serbia and Croatia fight it out over Serbo-Croatian, Montenegro now wants its own language.
"Montenegrin is different in many ways…Take the word for 'milk', for example. In Serbian it's 'mleko', in Croatian 'mljeko' and in Montenegrin 'mlijeko'."
Yeah, totally different. So different, in fact, that it’s hard to understand how Yugoslavians were ever able to communicate with each other. Ask for 'mleko' in Split and someone might just hand you an toilet brush.
"In Serbian, they say 'dinja' for melon, but in Montenegrin, that actually means 'watermelon.'"
Excellent point.

It might also explain why Yugoslavia disintegrated. I ordered watermelon!

Don't Dance Angry

Russia's Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin offer a little insight into why "Ice Dancers Are The Angriest People At The Whole Winter Olympics."

(Yuri Kadobnov / AFP/Getty Images)

Sarajevo in Winter

Time for a poll: Is Sarajevo 1) the most beautiful city in East Central Europe, or is it 2) not, not the most beautiful city in East Central Europe?

Answers in comments.

Feb 22, 2010

Photo Finish

Russia's Nikita Kriukov (left) won gold by a toe in the Men’s Individual Sprint Final. His teammate, Alexander Panzhinskiy (right), took silver and is now ordering really big boots for Sochi 2014. Congrats to both.

(Credite: Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Feb 21, 2010

But is it Racist?

You’ve heard of black face. Well, Russian ice dancers Oksana Domnina and Maksim Shabalin decided to do one better: black skin, body paint and eucalyptus leaves. Just like painting your face back and pretending you're a tap dancer, Shabalin thought this would be a great idea. But is it racist?

"We are respectful towards all competitors and all nations," said Shabalin.
*Stunned silence.

Alas, Russia enslaved its own people for centuries, rather than importing them from other places, and never enjoyed an all consuming discussion on race in society (examples here, here and here) like the United States.

But that doesn't make it right, Maksim.

Feb 19, 2010

Carpooling Win

Via KuvatON.com, the best place to kill 6 hours of your life.

Edmund Burke Would be Proud

Masha Lipman at Carnegie Moscow has an op-ed in today’s WashPost on the spate of protests poping up across Russia. At one protest in particular, Irkutsk residents came out in droves to oppose a pulp factory that will dump chemical waste into Lake Baikal.

“Although Putin’s decision will bring jobs back to the former factory workers, it caused outrage: Many people saw the lake’s water quality sacrificed as a favor to Oleg Deripaska.”
Meanwhile, isolated calls for Putin to resign are now ringing from Kaliningrad to Samara. Alas, Putin is too busy counting his money to care.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em

In a world where smoking is banned basically everywhere and smokers are treated as pariahs, one country has the yaitsa to let people enjoy their cancer sticks in peace. That country is Bulgaria.

According to the Sofia Morning News, the Bulgarian Parliament has decided to annul a full smoking ban. Why? "...The full ban would harm restaurant businesses and the tourist sector and would be frequently violated anyway." It sometimes amazes me that any laws are followed in our region.

Feb 18, 2010

528-pound Romanian Woman Gives Birth

According to YahooNews, a 25-year-old, 528-pound Romanian woman gave birth to a 6 lb 4 oz. baby girl today. The baby, "the fruit of the love between [the mother] and [her] future husband who is slimmer, weighing just 70 kilograms (154 pounds)," was born by c-section.

Florin Costandache, who helped perform the operation, said: "It was a real challenge because she needed four times the anesthetic a normal person needs." So...

Let's get to my interest in this story: A 528-lb woman found love, and I can't get a date most weekends, and I assure you readers, I am hot and nowhere near 528 lbs and I'm fun. Yeah, I'm putting this under my "Really?! Really?!" files. I am disturbed and angered.

Why You Should Never Cut Costs on PhotoShop

"Turkish Airlines introduce the world's first Viagra-powered aircraft."

Via PhotoShop Dissasters.

Skittles Vodka, Need We Say More

A public service announcement from Eternal Remont:

By placing Skittles candies in a bottle of vodka for a day or two, you can make a tasty, sugary infusion that's a perfect change of pace.

Here's how...

What Does Your Latte Say?

If only my cheery, slightly anthropomorphized milk could talk.

(Thanks to a friend of ER for the pic!)

Feb 17, 2010

Biggest Loser, Sovereign Debt Edition

Not a sustainable financial policy either.

This Greek business has everyone a twitter over sovereign debt. Remarkably, our region has managed its debt rather well. Only Hungary cracks the top 20 (as a % of GDP) of the world’s most indebted countries. The highlights:

--United States, 20th place, external debt 95% of GDP.
--Hungary, 18th place, external debt 124% of GDP.
--Ireland, 1st place (or last depending how you look at it). The country’s external debt totals a whopping 1,352% of GDP.

While official statistics are hard to come by, roughly 1,350% of that is owed to Polish guest workers.

Feb 16, 2010

Where are the Russians?

So yesterday, Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo of China won gold for the ice skating pairs competition. Um...what? For those of you not keeping track, since 1964, Soviet or Russian skaters have won the pairs competition. This year, no Russian pair even won a medal. Oleg Vasiliev, a 1984 Olympic pairs champion, has some thoughts as to how this could have happened:

"The breakup of the Soviet Union essentially cost Russia a generation of pairs skaters... The pipeline of government funding — free flowing in the sports-as-propaganda time of communism — began to dry up. Rinks closed to be transformed into other businesses, like car dealerships and shopping malls. Some top coaches left to work in the United States, where they could be assured of teaching private lessons and getting paid."

It is the end of era.

Is there a pretty airport?

So this one of the more bizarre rankings I have stumbled on. Apparently, the US magazine Travel and Leisure made a list of the ugliest airports. The stand outs:

1. JFK, NY: “More than dysfunctional, it’s completely bananas,” says Museum of Modern Art design curator Paola Antonelli.

2. CDG, Paris: It is described as "a symbol of a fiendishly technocratic world where nothing works and nobody cares". And British design guru John Thackara believes the airport “has rendered everyone who works there sociopathic. Its staff are literally unable to empathize with the appalling experiences they inflict on passengers.”

And finally from our region...
3. Sheremetyevo International Airport, Moscow: "“Sheremetyevo was built in the ‘70s in the ‘heroic’ international style" ... yeah enough said.

10. Vrazhdebna, Sofia: “The old terminal is, as you’d expect, an unpleasant amalgam of styles and additions,” the magazine writes. “The new one should have been an improvement—with many of the characteristics of today’s best airports, like lots of glass and high ceilings—yet it wound up looking like one of those impressively shiny but irredeemably wrongheaded post-Communist showplaces.”

To be fair, according to the magazine about 90% of the world’s airports—from jam-packed hubs like Frankfurt to dusty outposts like Muscat, Oman—could easily compete for the title of world’s ugliest. Still... ouch!

Feb 14, 2010

It's Official

Just going to let the AP do the talking:

Ukraine's Central Election Commission says opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych has won the presidential election according to the final official count.

This comes one day after Tymoshenko went on television to claim the vote was rigged.

Even American voters can attest, close votes expose all the dirty parts of the democratic process. But as Al Gore learned in 2000, it's hard to keep your mojo high when the other guy has been declared the winner.

Then again, Tymoshenko has a lot of mojo.

Feb 13, 2010

So Sad

Here's a CBS sports report on the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili. Be warned, the first few seconds are intense.

Feb 11, 2010

Sochi's Enron Economics

As all eyes turn to the start of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, we thought it’d be a good time to check on the status of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

The good news: according to Prime Minister Putin, "private" investors have agreed to pitch in $16.5 billion towards Sochi's construction costs.

The bad news: the total cost of the Games now tops $34 billion, leaving the Kremlin to cover $5 billion more than originally planned. The short-fall alone is enough to pay for half of the cost of the Nord Stream pipeline or pick up the tab for the entire financial bail-out of Dubai.

Strangely, the Kremlin has repeatedly stated that it expects to turn a profit on the venture. How it arrives at this conclusion is baffling.

Even if you doubled the current annual tourism revenue from the entire Krasnodar region, it would still take 103 years before the Kremlin & Co. break even on their up-front costs. And that doesn’t even consider depreciation, facility and infrastructure maintenance, and cyclical changes in the tourism market over the next hundred years.

Then again, once you get to the point where can bury a $5 billion loss and still claim to make a profit, the laws of rational economics have long ceased to be an issue.

Happy Winter Games, everyone!

Feb 10, 2010

Berezovsky: I have feelings too

After being accused by the Kremlin (and its wholly-owned subsidiaries) of masterminding every high profile murder in Russia for the last half-decade, Boris Berezovsky finally speaks out:
"I have been portrayed as a man whom people should fear," he said. "This affects my relationships with everyone who is not already a close personal friend."
He offered that insight to a British judge as part of his lawsuit against Kremlin-owned RTR Planeta. The channel accused him of murdering Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.

Still no word if Berezovsky also denies Ramzan Kadyrov's charge that he murdered human rights activist Natalia Estemirova. But if the Chechen president has any assets in the UK he might want to hire some lawyers. Berezovsky can litigate for decades.

Keep on rockin' in the free world, Boris.

Feb 9, 2010

"Never Give Up" is a Poor Life Motto, Yulia

Like the friend after a party who just won't leave, this could really get awkward.

Ukrainskaya Pravda reports that Tymoshenko has privately vowed to contest the election results, wants a third round of voting and will “never recognize the legitimacy of Yanukovich’s victory.”


Whispers like that even forced Joao Soares over at the OSCE to step in front of a microphone: "It is now time for the country's political leaders to listen to the people's verdict and make sure that the transition of power is peaceful and constructive."

And just to be safe, team Yanukovich triggered a flash mob (wearing blue trash bags?) in front of the Central Election Commission to “celebrate their candidate's victory.”

Gotta hand it to the man, he learns fast. But if anyone starts calling this the Blue Revolution, his media people will have earned their pay.

Feb 8, 2010

Say it Slowly: President Yanukovych

From the looks of it, Viktor Yanukovych has pulled just enough suport to win the presidental vote in a narrow (3.4%), but legitimate, victory over Pani Yulia.

Tymoshenko hasn’t conceded, yet. In fact, she postponed a Monday press conference for 24 hours and has been on radio silence since the results were released. Not that it matters much one way or the other. Yanukovych doesn’t look like he’s got the stuff to be a new Kuchma. And while that's bad for Eternal Remont (think of the content) its good for Ukraine.

I suppose that we can accept it.

(You see, Tymoshenko. It’s not that hard.)

Feb 5, 2010

Polanski is in Switzerland, so Kazakhstan can do what it wants?

You may recall, back in September, that Kazakh Human Rights defender Yevgeniy Zhovtis was sentenced to a 3-year prison term after a most unfortunate car accident. The case has gotten a lot of attention, because those individuals running the investigation and trial were not too good at following procedure and obeying laws. In any case, the good people at Foreign Policy recently interviewed Kazakh Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev and asked him his thoughts on the case.

"Mr. Zhovtis was born and raised in our country and he had not had any problems with the law before but because he was involved in the tragic accident that led to the death of another person, he plead guilty and this is it. I don't even want to comment on this issue. On the same grounds, within that time period 200 people were convicted on the same grounds. The actual penalty foreseen is from three to eight years of imprisonment. Mr. Zhovits was given near the minimum sentence, so why don't you speak about the other 199 convicted?

Switzerland, for example, is not extraditing Mr. Polanksi -- but that is not being discussed at such levels."

Um...what?! I really fail to see the connection there.

Feb 4, 2010


What does Google look like in Russia?

And yes, someone is having a little fun. (Click to enlarge.)

Moscow's New Man in the North Caucusus

There’s a new sheriff in the North Caucusus and his name is Aleksandr Khloponin.

Appointed directly by Moscow, he’s apparently got the local strongmen nervous about job security. So nervous, that eternal over-achiever Ramzan Kadyrov pulled out all the stops to whack a local resistance leader last week and has promised to deliver the head of Doku Umarov (another honcho) on a platter.

Oh, and Ramzan, he now cares about human rights issues. According to some excellent reporting by Jamestown:

“Following Putin's suggestion to provide protection for human rights activists, Kadyrov immediately [said] that Boris Berezovsky was behind the murder of the well-known Chechen human rights activist, Natalia Estemirova.”

And the dog ate his homework. You got a problem with that? Then we can let Grozny go back to this:

Downtown Grozny, 1995.

Feb 3, 2010

"Tymoshenko’s Looming Defeat"

Just three days before Ukraine’s second round presidential vote, one of the best English language blogs on the subject has all but declared Tymoshenko dead on arrival:

“Entering the last week of 2010 presidential campaign Tymoshenko finds herself in a complete political isolation. None of the candidates, who lost in the first
round, are willing to rally their supporters behind her candidacy.”
Apparently, "years of hateful rhetoric and irresponsible accusations" are to blame. However, we’ve said all along that Tymoshenko could add 15% to her numbers if she’d just dye her hair fluorescent red -- thus raising her appeal among Yanukovich’s core babushka demographic.

Live and learn.

Update: If you're interested, check out Taras Kuzio's vicious rebuttal to the original blog post. (Thanks Leopolis!)

Is Russia Today the New CNN?

It looks like Russia Today has now become the most-watched foreign news channel in the United States, besting Al Jazeera, Deutsche Welle, France 24, Euronews, and China Central Television. The problem is that RT is supposed to be a news channel. The Nielsen numbers don’t shed any light on the number of viewers who watch because RT also happens to be the best comedy channel on television.

The ratings are so impressive, however, that guys like Steve Randall over at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting now argue that channels like RT "are comparable to CNN" when it comes to international reporting.


But until RT pays Dr. Sanjay Gupta to wear a pastel tie, adopt an affected British accent and tell us that a rural hospital in Magadan has just cured cancer, we’re not buying it, Steve.

Feb 2, 2010

Happy Birthday McDonalds!

FP writes: "Yes, this post is largely an excuse to feature the above photo of Comrade Stalin munching on his McFries, but this week marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of the first Russian McDonalds."

(Thanks Igor and ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Eastern Europe at Work

The Boston Herald has put together an awesome photo essay on "The World at Work.” Highlights from our region:

A Belarussian border guard's dog runs over the backs of soldiers some 130km northwest of Minsk in the town Smorgon on January 22, 2009 at a military dog training facility. (VIKTOR DRACHEV/AFP/Getty Images)

A Kosovo Albanian miner shows his hands as he works in the Stari Trg Trepca mine on January 21, 2010. The centrepiece mine of Trepca complex in northern Kosovo, near by the town of Mitrovica, renewed its production for the first time after the 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo. (Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty Images)

An employee pours molten aluminum at United Company Rusal's Bogoslovsky aluminum smelter, Russia. (Rusal via Bloomberg)

A visually impaired man works at a hi-tech call center in Moscow, Russia on December 18, 2009. Once encouraged to take dreary factory-line jobs making electric plugs and curlers, blind people in Moscow now have a new option: working at a hi-tech call center. The center in northern Moscow employs almost 1,000 blind and visually impaired people, a bold experiment in a nation where people with disabilities can struggle to find interesting jobs - or indeed any job at all. (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images)

An employee monitors the blast furnace at the ArcelorMittal Ostrava steel plant in Ostrava, Czech Republic, on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010. (Vladimir Weiss/Bloomberg)

The Nabucco Con

Buried in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (page B9, right above the weather) was a curious interview with Nabucco Pipeline Director Reinhard Mitschek. In addition to revelations that Mitschek chalks up a lot of frequent flyer miles, he drops this bomb:
"Nabucco is not designed to substitute Russian gas…Nabucco is designed to offer complementary alternative gas quantities.”
Hold the phone.

After serving as a centerpiece of the EU’s import strategy for more than a decade, the icon of non-Russian diversification, the subject of endless conferences, op-eds, reports, and speculation -- hell, the Czechs even made Nabucco an agenda item for their once-in-a-generation EU presidency -- the pipeline was never designed to substitute Russian gas?

What the hell, Reinhard?

If true, then: 1) Nabucco is the greatest con ever perpetrated on the European people, or 2) Mitschek is desperately trying to spin the fact that he’s building a pipeline to nowhere and can't live up to the hype.

We suspect it's answer #2. But let's at least try for a little honesty.

Props to Lyudmila Putin

Here's a little known fact: Lyudmila Putin, yes that Lyudmila, is an Honorary Board Member of the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Here's a wider known, and sad fact: Russians are frequent victims of human trafficking. According to the UN's most recent report on the subject, Russians accounted for an alarmingly large number of human trafficking cases in:

Spain: 347
Germany: 182
Turkey: 157
Netherlands: 24
Poland: 12
Italy: 8
Bosnia: 5
Cyprus: 5

Keep up the good work Lyudmila!

Shame on you, Spain.

Feb 1, 2010

I want my GTV!

According to BBC, "First Caucasian" has been blocked in Russia. Now because the details are so convoluted, I'm going to list them. I have no idea how to construct a cogent sentence from all of this:

1. "First Caucasian" is a Georgian-owned television station (hence G TV)
2. "First Caucasian" is a Russian-language channel
3. "First Caucasian" is transmitted by the French satelite operator, Eutelsat, but the company has halted transmitting it, possibly because of pressure from Russia
4. Eutelsat has signed a lucrative contract with a Russian firm called Intersputnik, whose clients reportedly include the Russian state-controlled firm, Gazprom Media.

So we have in play: Georgia, Russia, France, media, and Gazprom. Not at all suspicious. Is there a way to involve China?

Well, I'm not going to argue whether any of this is legal or moral, but I do want to know, is there any good programing on "First Caucasian"? If it's all propaganda, fine, I really don't care what happens, but what if there's an amazing buddy comedy "Irakli and the Bear"? Don't deny the people entertainment.