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.

cuba-c

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.

cuba-a

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.

cuba-flags

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.”

ad-z

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.

maidan-d

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.

maidan-f

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.

maidan-c

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

maidan-g

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.

maidan-e

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.

maidan-h

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

maidan-a

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.

maidan-b

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.

Save

Save

Moscow Then and Now, part 1

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

theatralnaya-square-1950

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.

moscow-backup-one-794

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

moscow-backup-one-792

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

kutuzovskiy-ave-1976

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.

8-24-11-moscow-562

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.

8-24-11-moscow-556

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).

ad-ice-cream

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.

pavel-sheremet-z

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…

Russians React to USA Election

trump-45
Donald Trump 45th President of USA.

There is a popular Russian joke that goes: “Unlike here in Mother Russia, those poor Americans have to wait until the votes are counted to know who won.

There is a truckload of truth in that humour as elections in Russia have become much like elections in the Soviet period–citizens cast votes already fully aware of the winners and losers. The surprise for Westerners is that Russians really don’t mind fewer choices as they find comfort in “stability” over the uncertainty of unexpected change.

trump-tv

Stability: therein lies the fascination with American elections. Russians marvel at how Americans deal with constant change of leadership every four years, and the prospect of a different political party in power. While they are curious, it is not something most wish to adopt. The single brief period of truly free elections for the Russian people came soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and those were days of  overwhelming disruption in every aspect of life from the availability of food, long periods between payment of salaries, changes in the political system, rampant crime, devaluation of currency, etc. Perhaps it is unfair, but most associate those memories with “democracy” and they do not wish to repeat those experiences.

In this political cycle there was unusual interest in America’s presidential campaign. Following the lead of Vladimir Putin who intensely dislikes, perhaps despises would be a better description, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, most Russians seemed to hope that anyone except Hillary be selected.

trump-good-morning
“Good Morning, America.”

Donald Trump, not a traditional politician, reminds them more of wealthy Russian Oligarchs. Russians have a love/hate affair with their oligarchs, hating them for being crooks, but being immensely jealous yet prideful of their success and wealth.

trump-liberty

Like it or not, the election of American presidents does impact Russia. As just one example, with the election of Donald Trump, the Kremlin hopes that Western sanctions over the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s war in Eastern Ukraine will be lessened, if not dropped altogether.

trump-serve-fatherland
“Serve the Fatherland!”

We should note that Ukrainians are hoping that a Trump administration might be more helpful than the current Washington government in assisting Ukraine against Russian aggression.

trump-shoe-shine
Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko buffing American shoes is how many Russians view Washington’s response to the current proxy war Russia wages in Eastern Ukraine.

So, here is a peek at how Russian social media is digesting the USA election:

trump-putin-counts
Russian social media image of Mr. Putin sitting inside an American voting machine while counting votes.

The image above was accompanied by a heavy dose of sarcasm with the headline that Trump was “gaining 146% of the votes” an obvious dig at the Crimean referendum in which the Russian Federal Election Commission first published that the annexation succeeded with 146% of the votes. Embarrassed, the Kremlin later revised the totals to under 100%.

trump-putin-baby

 

trump-hatchet
Time to free the (Oval) Office.

Many Western readers may not understand the next image:

trump-putin-kiss

During the Soviet era two leaders embracing with a kiss was sometimes called the socialist fraternal kiss. Perhaps the most memorable instance came in 1979 when Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev kissed East German leader Erich Honecker in celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

The photo was circulated worldwide by the French magazine Paris Match in the late 1970s. Then, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, artists began to paint political messages on the few remaining sections of the wall. In 1990, artist Dmitri Vrubel painted a giant version of the photo and titled it the “The Kiss of Death.” Today you can still find it on display at Berlin’s East Side Gallery.

On a more serious note, Russian president Vladimir Putin sent a message of congratulations to Donald Trump on his victory in the US presidential election on Wednesday, the day after the election. Mr. Putin expressed his desire to work together to lift Russian-US relations out of the current crisis, resolve issues of international interest, and look for effective responses to global security challenges.

Putin signaled that he is confident that Moscow and Washington can establish a constructive dialogue based on the principles of equality, mutual respect, and genuine consideration.

(Jim Mendeleyev)

SAM_0336 ed

 

 

Recent European Birthdays

almaty-pano-pd
Almaty, the former capital and still a major city of Kazakhstan. Birthplace of the apple, and turned 1,000 years old recently. Coming in at a not even close second is KLM airlines, the Royal Dutch Airline at 97 years old!.
 

One of the most beautiful Kazakh landmarks is the Ascension Russian Orthodox Cathedral, sometimes called the Zenkov Cathedral after the esteemed architect who designed it, was completed in 1907. The Soviets turned the building into a museum and the regions radio station transmitters were housed in the bell towers.

almaty-ascension-cathedral
 

Although it is the second tallest wooden Cathedral in the world, not a single nail was used in the construction. Today, many experts believe that the technique of interlocking joints, instead of nails, made it possible for the Cathedral to withstand the great Central Asian earthquake of 1911.

 

KLM is one of our favourite airlines. Why? Certainly not because they wimp out by taking the first 3 rows of coach, place a “not available” sign in the middle seat, and declare the section to be first class. No, it is because they are Dutch, and “if it isn’t Dutch–it isn’t much!”

moscow-backup-one-594
Who remembers their daughter airline, ALM, that for years served the Antilles and the Caribbean?

New Duma Open for Business

Less than 16 hours ago President Vladimir Putin opened the seventh convocation of the State Duma (parliament). During his address he welcomed the newly elected Members of Parliament from Russia’s 85 regions, including those from the annexed regions comprising Crimea and Sevastopol.

putin-duma-address

Mr. Putin stressed the need to curb corruption as an impediment to development of private business interests and he called on the country to continue development of Russia’s Far East regions.

As for key initiatives, he singled out a key issue for Parliament to address: What is this issue? Of course, special attention should be paid to reaching objectives in education, healthcare, housing policy and the environment. That is, in areas that directly influence people’s well-being and social and demographic development.

Putin named Vyacheslav Volodin, formerly the Kremlin’s deputy chief of staff to the position of State Duma Speaker. Putin thanked former speaker Sergei Naryshkin who has been appointed as the new chief of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service.

Few opposition candidates were allowed to run in the recent elections and so this is expected by many to be a “rubber stamp” body for the Kremlin.