Annual “Moscow Day” celebrations

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Participants of the International Military Music festival will perform a series of free concerts and marching displays in Moscow on the city’s annual “Moscow Day” celebration on 6 September.

At 12:30 Moscow time the marching Republican guards of Kazakhstan will perform live on “Red Square.” Most Russian and Ukrainian cities have an annual “city day” and the Moscow celebration showcases civic pride and includes a procession of floats and city officials, fairs, street entertainers, contests and live music.

All over the city, but especially in the centre on Russia’s famous “Beautiful Square” (mistakenly called “Red Square” by Westerners), the parks and open spaces are filled with picnics, and food and drinks kiosks line the streets of Moscow all the way to the Kremlin gates.

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Beer drinking in Russia

пиво “pe-va” is the Russian word for beer, the number two alcoholic drink after водка “vodt-ka” and many Russians view beer as a healthier, almost non-alcoholic alternative beverage.

Beer production fell by 1% for the year 2008 in Russia but that doesn’t necessary mean that Russians drank less beer because many new outside brands from Europe continued to find shelf space in Russian markets.

Beer

Above: Interesting beer billboard advertising: Beer is свежесть дня (the freshness of the day) and yet интрига ночи (intrigue of the night).

Baltika 3Russians categorize beer by color rather than by fermentation process: Light, Red or Semi-Dark, and Dark. Light is a more or less equivalent to Lager and the last two are close to Ales. There are also super-strong beers (6-10% of alcohol) which are very popular in Russia.

There are a lot of brands of Russian beer and almost every region of Russia is proud to have its own brewery. One of the largest is the Swedish owned Baltika brands produced in Saint Petersburg.

There are also microbreweries and brewpubs which are popular in major cities like across the vast Russian Federation.

Russia’s State Duma (parliment) continued its efforts to reduce beer drinking, unanimously approving a tougher version of restrictions on public beer sales and consumption that the Federation Council had earlier rejected for being too soft.

The English Invasion of Russia

It almost seems that Russians these days are plunging headlong into a conversion to English, and the concern about it has gotten the attention of the Kremlin where President Medvedev is consulting with Russian scholars about ways to preserve the purity of the Russian language.

Of course most languages borrow words from each other, that is common. A word brought into use from another language is called a “cognate.” It’s borrowed from another language and culture and sometimes it means the same and sometimes it doesn’t.

Language professionals speak of cognates as “friends” or as “false friends.” A friend is a word with the same meaning from one language to the next. A false friend is a word that means something different.

Some examples include:

директор ‘di-rek-tohr’ means director.

банк ‘bah nk’ is bank.

кофе ‘Koh-feh’ is coffee.

кафе ‘kah-feh’ is cafe.

лампа ‘lah-pah’ is lamp.

водa ‘vah-dah’ is water.

Bankomat

Above: банкомат–‘bahnk-o-maht’ is an ATM machine. This location belongs to AMI Bank and as the sign says, is open 24 hours.

False friends include words like Артист which sounds like ‘ar-teest’ but means “actor” or Кабинет that while sounding like ‘cab-i-net’ means “office.” Other false friends are Магазин, spoken like ‘mag-ah-zine’ but means “shop or store” and of course there is журнал and while it sounds like the kind the ”jour-nahl’ in which you’d record a diary, the real meaning is “magazine.”

Juice

Take this sign for a кафе (cafe) which serves juice and healthy foods as just one example. The Russian word for juice is Сок, “sok.” But more and more English words are being brought into everyday Russian speech. This cafe is named JUICE, using Russian letters to form the sound. The letters you see are the cursive Cyrillic for Джус, “deh-zheh-ooh-ehs” or “juice.”

Here is yet another example of the English invasion:

How to make a genuine sandwich
The ad reads “How a real sandwich is made.” But wait, the Russian word for sandwich (sandwiches in Europe are open faced with bread only on the bottom) is бутерброд, ‘boo-ter-BROdT.’

Fact is, бутерброд is a German cognate the Russians took from the German word meaning “bread with butter.”

So along comes this advertisement about a сандвич (sandwich) ‘sahn-Vich,’ clearly creating a cognate from English. Not many American sandwiches really look like this, but the idea sure looks appealing!

The English invasion of Russia might look American, but this is Europe and so the way words are spoken sounds more like continential English (British style).

We’ll have follow up reports on how the English language is invading modern Russia.

Restarting merger talks for Russia and Belarus

Next Thursday the Presidents of the Russian Federation and Belarus, Dmitry Medvedev and Aleksandr Lukashenko will work on restarting the agenda to eventually fold Belarus into the Russian Federation.

There were more disagreements than harmony in the waning days of the Putin Presidential administration and Russian President Medvedev is hoping to give the idea a boost with next Thursday’s meeting.  The two countries have much more in common than the sticky points might indicate and many observers were surprised when talks were dropped a couple of years ago.

Recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia will be an issue as well as loans Moscow has made to keep the Belarussian economy afloat. Belarus is an important partner for Russia in routing of gas pipelines to the European market.

Russian Prime Minister Putin will also meet with President Lukashenko to discuss economic issues regarding the formation of a common economic space among Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

Renewing the famous “kitchen debate”

The Kitchen Debate was a series of impromptu exchanges between then USA Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at the opening of the American National Exhibit at Moscow’s Sokolniki Park on 24 July 1959.

For the exhibition, an entire house was built that the American exhibitors claimed anyone in America could afford. It was filled with labor saving and recreational devices meant to represent the fruits of the capitalist American consumer market.

The exchange was recorded on color videotape, a new technology pioneered in the U.S.; during the debate Nixon pointed this out as one of the many American technological advances. He also boasted achievements such as dishwashers, lawnmovers, supermarkets stocked full of groceries, Cadillac convertibles, makeup colors, lipstick, spike-heeled shoes, hi-fi sets, cake mixes, TV dinners and Pepsi-Cola.

It was Nixon’s emphasis on America’s household appliances, such as the dishwasher, that helped give the event its title, “The Kitchen Debate.” Nixon knew that these were things, common in the West, but out of reach for the vast majority of Soviet citizens.

Both men argued for their country’s industrial accomplishments, with Khrushchev stressing the Soviets’ focus on “things that matter” rather than luxury. He satirically asked if there was a machine that “puts food into the mouth and pushes it down”. Nixon responded by saying at least the competition was technological, rather than military.

Kitchen remodeled small

Внимание! (Attention/Warning) Most Russian kitchens you’ll encounter are not as modern. This photo is taken from a remodeled Moscow apartment.   We chose this photo for as much to showcase things you may find in a kitchen as for things not found in most Russian/Ukrainian kitchens.

Starting at the bottom: the wood floor is an added upgrade. Most standard construction features include a rolled out floor. Wood and tile are certain upgrades, usually added later after construction is completed. From the bottom left to right: The giveaway that this was a more recent remodel is–you guessed it, the double stainless sink. Far more Russian kitchens have a single sink configuration.

Next is something almost never found in older apartments–an automatic dishwasher. This is uniquely modern. Next are the wood drawers. If this is like most other kitchens, those are probably the only drawers in this kitchen. As you can see from the wall above the counters, Russian housewives generally love to hang their utensils on display rather than hide them in a drawer.

This is followed by a very modern electric stove-top with an oven. Just a comment on the abundance of cabinets–by Russian standards this is a very large configuration of cabinets. Most housewives would dream of such spacious cabinet space.

Working our way back from right to left: Microwaves have become common in younger family kitchens but if you visit Russia, don’t automatically expect to see a microwave in the kitchen. First off, even at $80 dollars, a microwave is likely equal to a retired adult’s monthly government pension. Thats a lot of money just to warm up food, especially in a culture that is not fast-food oriented and in which most meals are actually prepared and cooked, not opened from a package.

Then you have the issue of what a microwave does to food. While we have one in our Phoenix home, our Moscow apartment does not. A lot of Russian housewives are convinced that a microwave does more harm than good to food.

Next to the microwave is a toaster. Definitely the sign of a young family. Toasting bread isn’t part of Russian tradition so lots of Russian kitchens have no use for a toaster.

Then to the left of the toaster is a чайник. Some mistakenly call it a tea pot because of the word чай (tea). It’s a чайник all right, but tea is never made inside the pot. This is an electric hot water pot, usually quickly boiling water for tea, but for other hot water uses too.

Do you see the oven hood? The burning question is where is that thing vented. Except for the very new apartment buildings most apartments were not pre-vented in the original construction. Some remodeling jobs are fortunate in finding easy outside access (I’ve seen venting go thru a kitchen window pane!), but usually it just goes up into the ceiling above and that is about as good as it gets.

Now, find the light installed above the counter. It’s white, just under the top cabinets left of the stove-top. This is a common add-on. You can buy these little light fixtures at kitchenware kiosks near most Metro stations. It has a couple of screw holes to attach to the undersides of the cabinet. We have one in our remodeled kitchen. Russian apartments don’t have an over abundance of electric outlets so this kitchen owner probably had to have an outlet run to one of the cabinet interiors where the light is plugged in out of sight.

A modern refrigerator is to the left, just out of sight of this photo. Finally, that tile back splash above the counters is an add-on too. Its a nice touch to this kitchen.

Kitchen vocabulary:

кухня = kitchen   “KUKH-nya”

Холодильник = refrigerator   “khala-DIL-nik”

морозильник = freezer   “mah-rah-ZEl-nik”

духовкa = Oven   “du-KHOF-ka”

Плита = stove   “PLEE-tah”

стол = table   “STOL”

стyл = stool/chair   “STUhL”

микроволновая печь = microwave oven   “mik-ra-vol-na-vaya  PYE-ch”

лампa = lamp     “LAhM-pa”

раковина = sink   “RA-kavina”

тостер = toaster   “TOE-styer”

кухонный шкаф = kitchen cabinet   “KUKH-nee  SHKAF”

Стиральная машина = (Clothes) Washing machine   “Sti-ral-naya  mah-zhina”

Russian phramacies to be investigated

Apteka storefront

Calling price hikes in Russia’s pharmaceutical industry an example of “impudent profiteering,” Russian president Dmitry Medvedev lashed out at the industry’s reported 50% product markups on medicines most used by Russian citizens.

The Russian word for pharmacy is аптека (aph-teka) and unlike most Western phramacies which sell products ranging from toothpaste to chocolate to laundry detergent in addition to medicines, Russian pharmacies are dependent solely on revenue from drugs and health related products.

apteka blue

The president ordered Russia’s Federal Anti-Monopoly Service to open an investigation into alleged overpricing by pharmacies. Officials believe that in over 20 Russian regions many drug store chains have increased prices by more than the law allows in the first six months of the year. Russia has official price control laws on the books.

Russian healthcare differs dramatically from the West with most prevention and nutrition done in home and among families.  Doctors are cheap or free if the care is part of an employer or the state, but they have little to offer as far as medicines or materials, and people complain that medical professionals seem to have very little interest in their patients. Natural and home remedies often constitute a significant portion of an individual’s health protocol.

It is believed that nearly 3/4 of pharmaceuticals sold in Russia are imported while the rest have imported ingredients. The Anti-Monopoly Service said in a statement that drug prices have been affected by the euro and dollar exchange rate as well as inflation.

The first 10 years of Vladimir Putin’s Rule

Today marks the 10th anniversary of Владимир Владимирович Путин (Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin) in control of Russia.

Putin photoWith his domestic popularity rising, and in virtual control over Russian government even in time of economic crisis, Putin’s opposition admit that unless unforeseen factors intervene, Putin could remain in power for another 10 or even more years.

As leader of government Putin has enjoyed high prices for Russia’s main exports of gas, oil and metals during most of his tenure and political analysts credit him with restoring order to what was a shattered land in danger of collapse when he took the reins from an ailing Boris Yeltsin not long after being named as Yeltsin’s prime minister August 9, 1999.

During his regime Putin reined in Russian regions seeking independence, curbed powerful governors and tamed the country’s powerful oligarchs, establishing what he termed a strong “power vertical” for Russia.

This week Putin make certain the Russian people see him as youthful and fit. The bare-chested Prime Minister who controls his personal choice of President, Putin rode horses, went fishing and swam in a Siberian river. All carefully orchestrated naturally to remind the Russian people that the 56 year old “almost dictator” is still in charge.

Even Russians admit that despite his popularity, he has steadily rolled back democracy, weakened human rights and made puppets of Russian media. The independent Levada Centre, a Russian polling and public opinion centre, reports that the Putin easily enjoys a 78 percent approval rating. That is only 10 points down from the maximum he reached just after Russia’s war with Georgia last year.

Levada director Lev Gudkov commented, “even if the economic situation gets worse, Putin has a reserve of patience and trust among the people which will last probably another year and a half. The crisis is developing quite slowly in Russia and people have had time to adapt to it.”

The next Presidential election in Russia will be held in 2012 and opponents point to constitutional changes pushed through last year that will extend the next president’s term by two years more than the period being served by his ally and hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev. Observers and opposition leaders say it’s doubtful that the current unusual power-sharing arrangement, dominated by Putin, to last beyond the 2012 election.

As a young boy Vladimir Putin was fascinated with the history of the Tsars and of stories of Russia at the height of Romanov glory. But he was also a strong admired of the Soviet system and at 16 years of age knocked on the door of the KGB headquarters in Leningrad, now St Petersburg, and offered his services to the Communist spy agency. He was encouraged to continue his education and with the study of law and languages, young Putin was contacted to join the KGB at the age of 23 in 1975.

Putin studied at the KGB University and realized that the country would need a strong hand to survive the future. Friends say he has always seen himself as that man who would save Russia. He learned how to hunt out dissidents and was so good at it, he was sent to East Germany to help apprehend former Soviet citizens who had fled to West Germany.

At the fall of the Berlin Wall, Putin had risen to chief KGB officer in East Germany and called for the Red Army to act. Moscow was silent and Putin returned to Russia. He lamented the fall of the Soviet Union “the greatest catastrophe in the 20th Century.”

Putin quietly aligned himself with the winning side as Russians threw off 70+ years of horrible communism. But friends say he remained secretly allied to the old communist ideals of control. Promoted to head of security for the city of St Petersburg, Putin was outspoken in his belief that cruelty to be a valid and important part of law enforcement.

Putin defends the Soviet-era intelligence service to this day. In recent comments to a writers’ group in Moscow, he even seemed to excuse its role in dictator Joseph Stalin’s brutal purges, saying it would be “insincere” for him to assail the agency where he worked for so many years. Fiercely patriotic, Putin once said he could not read a book by a Soviet defector because “I don’t read books by people who have betrayed the Motherland.”

Putin and Yeltsin smallAppointed as an Assistant Prime Minister in August 1999, it was only a matter of time and on 31 December 1999, when Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned, Putin became Acting President of the Russian Federation according to the constitution. Since then, Russian citizen’s haven’t looked back.

After eight years as president, Mr. Putin handed the presidency over to his personally chosen successor, Dmitry A. Medvedev, and assumed the position of prime minister. But Putin remains popular and Russians understand that he has the upper hand in the power sharing arrangement.

Even with a new title his blended rule of KGB style Stalinism with a veneer of democracy rolls forward. Todays Russians mark the 10th year of Putin rule, and for better or worse it appears that the rule of Vladimir Putin in Russia shows no sign of relinquishing control.

Below is a special broadcast about the rise and rule of Vladimir Putin: