Patriarch Kirill on Predatory Loans

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Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill is calling on the Russian Duma (parliament) to curb the growth of predatory micro-credit consumer loans. Speaking yesterday (26 January) to assembled participants at the 5th annual Christmas parliamentary meetings, His Holiness observed that the unchecked onerous loan practices of many consumer loan operators have crippled low-income families and individuals across Russia.

Many micro-credit loan operators have targeted the elderly and young adults who are either underemployed or unemployed. Loan applications of some lenders require the listing of extended family members and if the loan recipient fails to repay, current law is often ignored and lenders seek repayment from others who were not signatories to the loan.

Noting that many of these loans are rapacious usury in its manifestation, the Patriarch called on the state Duma to address the practice of high interest rates that are often impossible to repay for those on small and fixed incomes. As some debtors have lost their homes in the process, the Patriarch described the current situation as robbery, and said that such operations must be stopped by force of law.

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In 2010 the Duma passed Federal Law No. 151-FZ on Microfinance and Microfinance Institutions. While attempting to provide oversight, it also led to explosive growth of so-called “pay day” style loan operators along with legitimate small business micro loans.

Patriarch Kirill recounted his personal experience in India where micro-credit banks were helpful, offering small loans to individuals at low interest in order to start business, etc. He described such low interest micro-banks as supporting the poor.

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Saint Tatiana Day, Татьянин день

25 January is a special day for students. It is the end of the winter semester and signals a two-week break until the spring semester begins, similar to “spring break” in the West. The holiday is celebrated for Saint Tatiana, considered to be the patron saint of students in Eastern nations such as Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.  It is also known as “Students Day” (день студента) and is a public holiday.

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Saint Tatiana was a deaconess of the early Christian church who as martyred in the 3rd century after refusing to renounce her faith during the rule of Roman Emperor Alexander Severus. She was a young woman when arrested and authorities demanded that she make a pagan sacrifice to Apollo. Refusing, she prayed to God for strength and a sudden earthquake destroyed the statue of Apollo and much of the pagan temple.

Her prosecutor was the Roman regent Ulpian, a man responsible for killing many Christians. She was blinded and then two days later thrown to a hungry lion in the circus. However, the lion laid at her feet instead of attacking. Upon regent Ulpian’s orders, Roman soldiers then beheaded her.

It was January 25, 1755 (January 12 old calendar) that Lomonosov Moscow State University (Московский государственный университет имени М. В. Ломоносова or МГУ) was founded after two men, Ivan Shuvalov and Mikhail Lomonosov, approached Russian Empress Elizabeth with the idea of establishing a grand University in Moscow. Today, Moscow State University is the most prestigious school in Russia.

Many university students attend the Church of the Holy Martyr Tatiana, opened in 1830 near the original site of Moscow State University. The chapel was a reconstructed theatre inside an old Moscow mansion. It features an elegant chapel in a semi-circular shape and overlooks the corner of Bolshaya Nikitskaya and Mokhovaya Streets.

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The Soviets banned the holiday because of the religious overtones, but in the waning days of the Soviet Union, University president/rector Viktor Sadovnichy gained approval to return Saint Tatiana’s Day to students.

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Students in Crimea visit a local chapel to learn more about Saint Tatiana.

Moscow students traditionally gather at the skating rink near the GUM Mall on Red Square to enjoy not only skating, but concerts by Russian pop-stars. This marks the end of the outdoor skating rink on Red Square until the next year’s holiday season.

Был белый снег, шёл первый день каникул,
Целый день вдвоём бродили мы с тобой.
И было всё вокруг торжественно и тихо,
И белый-белый снег над белою землёй.

Но вдруг зима дохнула вешним ветром,
Когда я на снегу у дома твоего
Два слова начертил обломанною веткой:
“Татьяна плюс Сергей”, и больше ничего.

Была земля белым-бела, мела метель,
Татьянин день, Татьянин день.
А для меня цвела весна, звенел апрель,
Татьянин день, Татьянин день, Татьянин день.

Вновь шли снега, и было их немало,
Но тот Татьянин день забыть я не могу.
Судьба нас не свела, но мне всегда казалось,
“Татьяна плюс Сергей” пишу я на снегу.

Пройдут снега, на мокром тротуаре
Для девочки другой начертит кто-то вновь
Те вечные слова, что мы не дописали,
“Татьяна плюс Сергей равняется любовь”.

Была земля белым-бела, мела метель,
Татьянин день, Татьянин день.
А для меня цвела весна, звенел апрель,
Татьянин день, Татьянин день, Татьянин день.

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Terror X2 in Turkey, X1 in Berlin

The terror in Turkey that took the life of Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov may have begun two days prior, and while there is a Syrian connection, it is not clear if the two terror incidents in Turkey were directly related. On 17 December, an alleged member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) crossed illegally from the northern Syrian town of Kobane to the Turkish border town of Suruç.

The bomber stole a car in Sanliurfa and drove it to the city of Kayseri via the Central Anatolian province of Malatya. According to investigators, the car was filled with nearly 200 kilograms of explosives. The target of the suicide-bombing, which so far has claimed 17 lives, was a military transport bus carrying Turkish soldiers.

The driver of the bus is also a suspect as investigators believe that he knew the car bomber and had attended rallies for the Kurdish PKK. Investigators believe that DNA will confirm the car bombers’ identity, and they speculate that he may have received military training in Kobane, a city in the Aleppo Governorate in northern Syria, immediately south of the border with Turkey.

Hours after a deadly bombing targeting military personnel in Kayseri, several violent demonstration marches were staged against Turkish opposition party offices across Turkey.

Two days later, in the capital Ankara, Andrei Karlov, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, was assassinated while speaking at an art exhibition in Ankara’s central Çankaya district. Karlov was rushed to the Güven Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 7:53 p.m. local time. Three others attending the speech were wounded before the attacker was shot dead by police.

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Turkish investigators have identified the attacker as Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, a 22 year old police officer who was from the western province of Aydın. Altıntaş was a graduate of the police academy in Izmir and had been on Ankara’s riot police force for two-and-a half years. The gunman reportedly shouted in Turkish “We die in Aleppo, you die here” and then “Neither you, nor me are going to leave here alive” before firing shots.

Ankara is generally considered to be one of the safer cities for diplomats and Karlov was known to travel often without security protection. That evening he traveled to the art gallery with his wife, without a security detail.

The assassination took place while Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was on his way to Moscow for tripartite talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Tuesday, 20 December. Lavrov and Çavuşoğlu will hold a press conference regarding the killing in Moscow.

Ambassador Karlov was born in Moscow in 1954 and was a diplomatic graduate of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He had previously served as the Russian Ambassador to North Korea, then as Deputy Director of the Consular Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, and was transferred to Ankara in July 2013.

Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president have pledged cooperation in fighting terrorism in the wake of Karlov’s assassination.

Meanwhile a terror incident in Berlin at an outdoor Christmas market killed at least 12 people and left 48 others injured. Authorities now believe that the man who drove a truck into a crowd on Monday evening had come to Germany as a refugee from Pakistan this past February. It is reported that he had a criminal record in his home country.

Castro Dead – Cubans Breathe Easier

Castro is dead. His critics note that like Stalin and Hitler, Fidel Castro was a brutal dictator. In terms of population percentage, the number of political prisoners under Castro was proportionally three times greater than that of Stalin or Hitler.

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Prime Minister from 1959 to 1976 and then as President from 1976 to 2008. He promised to make the lives of Cuban citizens better, but assigned Cuba to endless poverty with centralized control of the economy and one-party Communist rule.

The dates of 14 to 28 October 1962 marked what became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, 13-days of nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union over the placement of Soviet nuclear missiles on the island.

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Castro was born on 13 August 1926 into the family of a wealthy Cuban rancher. The Cuban government broke the news of Castro’s death saying that he had died quietly at 10:29 p.m. local time on Friday, 25 November 2016. Cuban state media announced that his cremation was scheduled for early Saturday and the government set the date for an official funeral on 4 December.

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One very obvious difference was the message from outgoing American president Barrack Obama, versus president-elect Donald Trump. The Obama announcement was conciliatory to the Castro family and failed to mention Castro’s reign of terror and death. The Trump announcement said, “Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”

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Maidan Revolution Anniversary in Ukraine

It was the night of 21 November 2013 with public protests on Independence Square (Maidan) in Kyiv (Kiev) that began the revolution that for this generation has shaped Ukraine. Within days the number of protesters swelled to over 50,000 and by January would average over 200,000 amid snow, ice, cold winds and sub-zero temperatures.

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Protesters demanded closer ties to Europe after President Yanukovych changed his position and secretly signed a deal to forge closer ties to Russia. The protest quickly took on the name “EuroMaidan” (Євромайдан) meaning “Eurosquare” and pronounced as Euro-My-Dahn.

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The government ordered riot troops to disperse the crowds and soon the mood became violent…and deadly. The killing escalated when elite sniper troops, rumoured to be from Russia but likely from Ukraine’s interior ministry, killed 21 protesters in a single day on 20 January.

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Citizens watched as their brothers and neighbors were arrested and in many cases beaten while in custody of government forces.

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By February (2014) Yanukovych and many of his cabinet had fled the country seeking refuge in Russia. Led by defectors from his own Party of Regions, the Ukrainian parliament, called the “Rada,” then impeached Yanukovych and removed him from office.

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One of the first actions by the new government was to release from prison Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Prime Minister who was a political prisoner of the Yanukovych goverment.

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The 130 protesters who perished in those dark days are now commonly called the “heavenly hundred.”

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Today we honour those who stood tall for their freedom and rights, and especially those among the “heavenly hundred” who sacrificed their lives for the sake of others.

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In spite of having to go into battle with bats, bricks and shovels against armed troops, they were willing to pray the price for the future of their families and countrymen.

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Moscow Then and Now, part 1

This is Sverdlova Plaza (Площадь Свердлова), in 1950.

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Sverdlova was later named Teatralnaya Plaza (Площадь Театральная) reflecting that the area includes the Bolshoi Theatre and the Teatralnaya Metro station. These photos are from 2015.

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Below is the Bolshoi Theatre and the backside (perhaps appropriately) of the statue honouring Communist Karl Marx.

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Next is Kutuzovskiy Avenue in the summer 1976, near Victory Park (which hadn’t been built then).

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A more modern look at Kutuzovskiy Avenue (2012) captured how Kutuzovskiy looks in more recent years as shown around the famous Triumphal Entry overlooking Moscow.

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It was here on this hill in 1812 that Napoleon and his French army sent riders down the hill to inform Moscow that the French midget had arrived and expected an unconditional surrender along with the ceremonial keys to the city. The Tsar’s generals sent word back that Napoleon could shove his proposal as there would be no surrender. They set the city on fire before the French army could arrive. Napoleon was eventually defeated and his army decimated.

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Oddly, Napoleon is somewhat of a hero figure to Russians, as if they feel a sense of pride that he would think enough of them to march across Europe to invade their country. In fact, some believe that they did name an ice cream after him–the one with chocolate, vanilla and strawberry swirls (although others say the name is Neapolitan).

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The Murder of Pavel Sheremet Still Stings

In just a few days those who loved and admired Pavel Sheremet will recall that fateful day, 20 July 2016, when one of the most outspoken and influential journalists of this region was murdered in a fiery car bombing while idling at an intersection in Kyiv (Kiev), Ukraine.

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Closing in on four months later investigators still have not named a single suspect. Perhaps, some say, that is because investigators believe the murder was the work of one of the Russian security services. If that were true, the two countries are already at war in Eastern Ukraine, and revealing details of the murder might lead to a wider regional conflict was the response from one source.

One week after the bombing, police released video footage from CCTV cameras of two individuals seen near the parked car in the early hours of that morning. The footage showed a man and woman in loose-fitting track suits. Baseballs caps prevented their faces from being seen and police say the video shows the woman planting the bomb while the man was the lookout.

Writing in the KyivPost, Taras Kuzio, a leading expert in Ukrainian political and security affairs remarked that the Sheremet murder, “was a direct attack on Ukrainian democracy. And, if Russia is behind the murder, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) is not any better at “investigating” – especially as it seems there are Russian spies in the structure.”

Meanwhile, we wait…