Happy New Year in Moscow!

Last night just before midnight TV sets across the nation were all dialed into one source–the Kremlin’s Saviour Clocktower on Red Square.

Спасская башня in Russian, the Kremlin's Spasskaya ("Saviour") tower was built in the year 1491.

A series of “pings” (repeated sounds 3x just as in shortwave radio) were played and then in a tradition going back to Lenoid Brezhnev, President Medvedev came on the screen to give a brief New Year greeting. The clock rang at the stroke of Midnight, followed by the playing of the Russian national anthem and then the city burst with sounds and lights as firework displays began all over Europe’s largest city.

Here is what Russians watched:

From late afternoon on, Red Square was filled with thousands of onlookers who attended the annual New Year’s Eve concert and fireworks celebration. Here is how that looked in a special report from RT:


Nobody cares about Khodorkovsky?

The Kremlin owned and operated Russia TV was formed as primarily an English language broadcast service to put a positive “spin” on Russia in the Western world. That in itself is not a bad thing as there is much to love about holy mother Russia and her people.

But the mission of most media in Russia is rarely one to peel back layers of the Russian onion when it comes to corruption and misgovernance. So just in case you catch a broadcast which says that folks in Russia don’t care about real justice in the Khodorkovsky case, watch this. You won’t need to speak Russian in order to understand.

Some things, no matter what governments say, are obvious.

Carrying signs and chanting “Freedom” the crowd outside the Moscow courthouse of the Khodorkovsky trial is soon confronted by OMOH troops (riot troops) from the Interior Ministry whose mission is to protect the government from the citizenry. They are hard nosed and prone to terror which is why they’ve been given the nickname of “animals” by many everyday Russians.

Only disappointment, no surprise at Khodorkovsky verdict

(Time Magazine) Seated in the glass defendants’ cage that his lawyers call the aquarium, Khodorkovsky smiled and giggled as the guilty verdict was read, acting more like a ticklish child than a man whose freedom was on the line. But for Khodorkovsky’s lawyers, this seemed like the only logical response to a trial that has pushed the Russian justice system deep into the realm of farce.

From the beginning, the lawyers’ challenge in this case has been responding to a set of charges that seemed inherently bizarre. Khodorkovsky stood accused of stealing an incredible 350 million tons of oil (enough to fill a small lake) from his own oil companies, some of which never even produced the amount of oil Khodorkovsky allegedly stole. Even if the theft were possible, observers of the trial were left to wonder why Khodorkovsky would steal so much from his own companies. How did those companies keep from going bankrupt if all their oil was stolen? And how could the oil be siphoned off in secret if all the country’s pipelines were controlled by the state?

* Mendeleyev Journal note regarding the Russia Today TV report above. RT is owned and operated by the Russian government and there are several factual errors in the above report. First, the court did not find that Khodorkovsky guilty of privatizing anything–Yukos was already a private company. This second trial was supposedly about tax evasion, not privatization.

(Agence France Press) The Russian Foreign Ministry slammed “unacceptable” pressure over the Mikhail Khodorkovsky trial after the United States and some EU states criticized the Russian court’s Khodorkovsky “guilty” verdict.

In a statement, the foreign ministry said: “Attempts to exert pressure on the court are unacceptable.” It added: “We expect everyone to mind his own business, both at home and in the international arena,” using an unusually sharp tone for a diplomatic statement.

The ministry argued that “Assertions about some kind of selective application of justice in Russia are groundless: Russian courts consider thousands of cases related to entrepreneurs’ responsibility towards the law.”

Agence France Press notes that the verdict provoked a strong reaction in the West, with the White House saying it was “deeply concerned” about the “selective application of justice”. France called for rule of law in Russia, while Germany said the verdict was a step backward for Russia.

Odds and Ends regarding the trials:
After Khodorkovsky’s cassation appeal was dismissed, the Prosecutor General’s Office began a campaign against the lawyers to punish them for their involvement in the case.

– International lawyer Robert Amsterdam was roused from his hotel room the night after the failed appeal, told that his visa was cancelled and ordered to leave Russia within 24 hours or face arrest.

– Karinna Moskalenko, Yuri Schmidt and Albert Mkrtychev and other lawyers from the Khodorkovsky and Lebedev defense team faced various disciplinary proceedings brought by the prosecution, including efforts to disbar them from practicing law, a request later rejected by the Board of the Chamber of Lawyers of the City of Moscow.
– Female lawyers visiting Khodorkovsky’s prison in Siberia are sometimes required to remove all their clothes, even undergarments, during searches at prison entrances.

Attorney Yuri Schmidt says that the Khodorkovsky trials have revived “the worst moments of Soviet history.”

Christmas in Russia, skating on Red Square

Ice skating on Red Square? It’s an annual December to early January tradition. With the majestic GUM shopping mall to the left, Lenin’s tomb and the Kremlin to the immediate right, we’re just steps from the famous Kremlin clocktower, one of the 20 Kremlin towers to have survived over the centuries.

Ice skating on Moscow's Red Square.

Christmas in Russia, continued

Perhaps the most recognized Russian scene, and especially at Christmas, is the landmark shown above. The amazing thing is that nobody outside of Russia seems to know it’s real name!

Russia’s most recognizable landmark, at the north end of Beautiful Plaza (Red Square) near the Moscow River.

Don’t worry, if you say “Saint Basil’s Cathedral” to a Russian, they’ll know what you mean. Russians themselves sometimes fall into the same habit. After all, Собор Покрова пресвятой Богородицы, что на Рву (Church of the Intercession of the Theotokos on the Moat) is quite a mouthfull.

Built as a monument to Russian victory over the Kazan Khanate (1552-1554), after each major battle, a small wooden church was erected near the Trinity Church which stood here at that time. At the end of the war there were eight churches on the site and Tsar Ivan the Terrible ordered stone churches to be built in place of the wooden ones.

Designed by the architects and master builders Postnik and Barma, when completed they had created a monument whose composition had no parallel in the entire history of world architecture. There were eight pillarlike churches on a single foundation, placed symmetrically round the center chapel (the ninth), on a central pillar crowned with a tentlike roof. Two additional annexes were added later for a total of eleven. As there is no longer a moat on the site, it is commonly called Pokrovsky Sobor in Russian which literally means the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin.

Christmas Carols for the Psychologically Challenged

Christmas Carols for the Psychologically Challenged

1. Schizophrenia – Do You Hear What I Hear, the Voices, the Voices?

2. Amnesia – I Don’t Remember If I’ll Be Home for Christmas

3. Narcissistic – Hark the Herald Angels Sing About Me

4. Manic – Deck The Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office and Town and Cars and Buses and Trucks and Trees and Fire Hydrants and. . .

5. Multiple Personality Disorder – We Three Kings Disoriented Are

6. Paranoid – Santa Claus Is Coming to Get Us

7. Borderline Personality Disorder – You Better Watch Out, You Better Not Shout, I’m Gonna Cry, and I’ll Not Tell You Why

8. Full Personality Disorder – Thoughts of Roasting You On an Open Fire

9. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

10. Agoraphobia – I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day But Wouldn’t Leave My House

11. Senile Dementia – Walking In a Winter Wonderland Miles from My House in My Slippers and Robe

12. Oppositional Defiant Disorder – I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus So I Burned Down the House

13. Social Anxiety Disorder – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas While I Sit Here and Hyperventilate

14. Attention Deficit Disorder – We Wish You……Hey Look!! It’s Snowing!!!

Belarus opposition finished for good?

The Belarussian opposition might just be finished for a very long time. It appears that the Communist dictator of Belarus, who has publically lauded both Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin as two of his personal inspirations, has taken a page from history and used it against his opponents.

Soon after World War II, Josef Stalin invited Russian emigres to return home. Some of the Soviet Union’s finest engineers, scientists, educators and titans of business had fled the country in the years leading up to the war. Thinking that perhaps the war had changed Stalin’s outlook and missing their homeland, many accepted the offer.

However soon after arriving home Stalin began to systematically jail or execute the returnees as traitors, save for those who offered an immediate transferable skill needed to rebuild the Soviet Union after the war. The lives who were spared found themselves under constant surveillance as they were treated as traitors whose only reason for remaining alive was a skill that was expected to be shared with others deemed more loyal to the CCCP.

In the months leading up to the December 2010 elections in Belarus, dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko opened up the media and rights to free assembly to his opposition. Was he mad? Had he turned over a new leaf? Was the last dictator in Europe about to allow the transition toward a more democratic Belarus?

Public meetings replaced secret gatherings. The opposition came out of the woodwork and for the first time a real force for political change seemed to have emerged for the Belarussian people.

Belarussian TV was there to record meetings of the opposition.

As just one example, on 17 December a star-studded assembly of opposition voices was held in the assembly hall of gymnasium #23 on Melnikaite Street. Citizens who attended were given opportunity to meet leading opposition presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov. Sannikov had enlisted an impressive team: first head of independent Belarus Stanislau Shushkevich, well-known film director Yury Khashchavatski, former minister of defense of Belarus Pavel Kazlouski, director of Free Theatre Mikalai Khalezin, head of presidential candidate’s campaign office Uladzimir Kobets, People’s Artist of Belarus Zinaida Bandarenka.

December meeting of candidates and citizens in Minsk.

The large assembly hall was overcrowded. Even former aide to Alyaksandr Lukashenka and member of the “house of representatives” of the 1st and 2nd convocations Viktar Kuchynski came to the meeting.

A new гласность (openness) seemed to be in the air.

Ordinary citizens who had held little hope of change were suddenly energized by the apparent new гласность (openness). Meeting by meeting citizens ventured out slowly at first, and then by the hundreds as it seemed there was no resistance to the meetings by the government.

On the day after the election results were announced, independent exit-polls were indicating that in truth Lukashenko had garnered only 31% in the entire country. It looked as if he lost the election and a second round was to be expected. Charges of vote fraud rang thru the air.

Six major opposition candidates for President – Andrei Sannikov, Vladimir Neklayev, Rygor Kostusiov, Yaroslav Romanchuk, Vitaly Rymashevsky and Nikolay Statkevich called on people to come to October Square in Minsk at 8 pm.

The Belarussian government reported that "about 600" people demonstrated. The real number was over 40,000.

Some 40 thousand persons gathered in the square only to be greeted with news that the headquarters of Vladimir Neklayev had been raided by the special police forces. According to Chapter 97, activists of Neklayev’s campaign were supposed to bring loudspeakers to the square, but special police units seized the vehicle with the equipment. Mr. Neklayev was beaten up and driven away in an ambulance. The sound equipment was confiscated.

Nevertheless as bravely reported by Chapter 97 (www.chapter 97.org), several loudspeakers reached the square where candidates for President Andrei Sannikov, Nikolay Statkevich, Vitaly Rymashevsky, Rygor Kostusiov, Yaroslav Romanchuk, and Dmitri Uss had gathered. The candidates addressed tens of thousands of people who had assembled at the Square. Finally united in opposition, The candidates for President demanded to be let in to the Government building in order to hold talks.

A united oppositon calls for the government to open talks.

It was at that point that the meeting was met with force as KGB and riot police began making arrests and beating participants. Close to 700 persons were arrested in the following hours and the arrests continue as the KGB selectively visits those of influence who had dared hope that change was possible.

"Openness" over, special riot police attack demonstrators.

Today, hardly a week after the election, Lukashenko remains in power. The oppositon, whose leaders sit in jail, has been thoroughly “outed” and there remains no secrets of who in the country opposed the dictator. Lukashenko has betrayed his own people just as Stalin tricked intelluctal and skilled emigres who returned after the Great Patriotic War.

Baring a yet unseen miracle it appears at this point to have been a complete rout.