Internet advances in Russia

In the “good ole days” of Moscow Internet, Mrs. Mendeleyev and I would walk our small dog around the neighborhood several times a day. We still do, but it was so much fun back then as Internet was new and so thrilling for us and the dog.

Yes, Internet was exciting for the dog too. You see, he’d stop at every tree and sniff for the scent of other dogs. To us, it was a sure sign that he was reading doggie emails so we’d chuckle and ask if he was keeping in social contact with his friends? He’d bark, and of course that means “yes” and I know that because he is my doggie son and we understand each other.

At some point during our walks he’d raise a hind leg and show us how fast he could “stream” which as you can imagine made us very happy. Doggy Internet “streaming” had come to Russia! We were such proud parents.

In those days we’d meander back to our high rise apartment because there was no real hurry since the FREE internet provided by the city of Moscow didn’t start until midnight. We had dial up for day emergencies and my office had what was considered high speed at the time, but frankly there were days when the doggie “stream” was faster than the Internet streams at work. We’d enjoy a nice dinner and relax with tea and read, you do remember how people used to read before Internet came along, right?

When the clock struck midnight we, and thousands of other Muscovite’s would crowd around our tall desktop, similar to my childhood days with those big over-sized radios found in most homes, and we’d “log on.” For those of you who grew up after the advent of today’s high speed, in the olden days one had to start up the computer and log onto the internet. If only a few thousand in our part of town was on, you could stay logged in, but if things got congested the system would bump you off after a while, forcing you to either give up and go to bed or log on all over again. But after midnight it was free, so who cared?!

Today we’re happy to announce that the Internet has and continues to spread nicely across Russia and neighboring countries like Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and Georgia, etc. Shoot, even old grandma’s, we call them babushki here, are getting online!

The Russian answer to Facebook is

Not to be left behind in the wave to technology advancements such as the popular doggie “streams” even cats are enjoying the benefits of a high speed Internet connection.

Russian cats use Meow recognition software.

Oh, and yes the doggie steams are still a part of life. Technology keeps us moving forward.

Belarus: 4,436,800 Internet users as of Jun/10, 46.3% penetration

Moldova: 1,429,154 Internet users as of Dec/11, 33.1% penetration

Russia: 61,472,011 Internet users as of Dec/2011, 44.3% penetration

Turkey: 35,000,000 Internet users as of Jun/10, 44.4% penetration

Ukraine: 15,300,000 Internet users as of Jun/10, 33.9% penetration


September 1: “Day of Knowledge/First Bell” for school and “Day of Moscow” celebrations

Russia may be a big country but it will be a very busy place this Saturday. 1 September (1 Сентября), is the traditional Первый звонок (“First Bell/Call”) and День Знании (“Day of Knowledge”) to begin the school year, and as Saturday is considered a work day on the calendar the first day of school across the former Soviet Union will be September 1 as per tradition.

1 Сентября = 1 September; День Знании = Day of Knowledge

From Russia to Ukraine to Georgia and all across the region, the first day of school is widely celebrated as a holiday in the Russian speaking world and traditionally celebrated on the first of September, except Sundays.

The children get to bring parents to school on this day and one of the first things you’ll notice are flowers, tons of flowers, as giving flowers to teachers is a time honoured tradition. Of course will be a speech given by the school director/principal and some light skits, singing of songs and recitations of poetry.

Первый Звонок (“First Bell”) is used often for primary and middle school students and День Знаний (“Day of Knowledge) for high school and college students.

On of the most revered traditions of the ” first bell/first call” tradition is the outside school courtyard event in which a young first grade student, typically a girl, is hoisted up onto the shoulders of an older male pupil and all the kids fall in line to ring in the first day of school. In the classroom seats are assigned, parents meet teachers and all in all the first day is more fun than study.

Many schools require uniforms for students. (photo: Oleg Shel)

Students in many schools wear uniforms and everyone dresses up for the first day of school. Little boys in ties and little girls with bows and ribbons make it a delightful day. Russian students generally attend the same school for all 11 years as most schools are smaller with just a few hundred students and designed as neighborhood schools as opposed to the mega school district concepts in the West.

Academics are generally rigorous and include required numbers of science, math and language units before graduation. A national test is administered at the end of each school year and successful passage is required in order to move to the next grade level or graduate.

Generally the first day isn’t for intense academics, rather a celebration of the idea that education is important and it changes lives.  Russians have an adage, “Азбука – наука, а ребятам бука!” (Alphabet is a science, but a bogyman for children!)

This year the first day will be very short for some students. Moscow is celebrating her annual city day or “Day of Moscow” and being the 865th birthday, a hearty celebration is in order! School officials have planned very short activities for Moscow students so that they and parents can spend the bulk of the weekend celebrating Moscow’s birthday. (

Shortened school festivities are also planned in Novosibirsk where citywide celebrations with educational themes are being observed. More on the calendar of events in Novosibirsk at this link:

In northern Russia, school children will have a full day in the Arkhangelsk (Архангельск) region. For that schedule, see this link:

Universities in Russia and most of Europe and Asia begin on the first of September as well. Study in a University setting is naturally more rigorous and the Russians have a saying for that too, “Корень ученья горек, да плод его сладок” (The roots of learning are bitter, but the fruit is sweet)

1September also marks the official end of summer and the beginning of autumn.

“Other Russia” activitist Taisiya Osipova sentenced to 8 years on drug charges: have Soviet courts returned to Russia?

Less than two years after then-President and current Prime Minister Medvedev ordered charges delayed for an executive review of a prior court verdict, Judge Yevgeny Dvoryanchikov of the Zadneprovsky Smolensk regional court today sentenced “Other Russia” party activist Taisiya Osipova (Таисия Осипова) to eight years in prison on drug possession charges even thought state prosecutors had asked the court for a  four year sentence.

Taisiya Osipova, Smolensk jail, 2011. (photo:

The primary defense witness Anton Mandrik had told the court that he’d received threats from police not to testify and passed a lie detector test after the claims were challenged by the prosecution.

Agora human rights.

Osipova, who is diabetic and the mother of a 6 year old daughter, has been remanded to a low security prison colony. Her attorneys pledged to begin immediate appeals. The court rendered the verdict despite the fact that the prosecution’s chief witnesses are alleged to have ties to the Kremlin and United Russia party. She has been in jail since November 2010. Ms. Osipova has been represented by local Smolensk attorney Natalya Shaposhnikova and attorney Svetlana Sidorkina from the human rights association Agora.

There have been prior claims even from liberal sources that she was a drug user including during an “Echo Moscow” radio show last year hosted by journalist Yulia Latynina who said that Osipova was a drug addict, a charge her husband denied.

Osipova’s attorneys say that the drugs found in her apartment were planted by officers in an illegal search in retaliation for her refusal to provide information on her husband, Sergei Fomchenkov, who lives in Moscow and is an activist with the unregistered Other Russia opposition party associated with Eduard Limonov, Sergei Aksenov and Sergei Udaltsov.

Osipova first made headlines in 2003 for smacking then-governor Viktor Maslov in the face with a bouquet of carnations. She was given a one-year suspended sentence for that incident. In 2011 she was sentenced by the same judge to ten years for possession and sale of drugs under Article 228.1, Paragraph 3 of the Criminal Code, however Russia’s President at the time, Dmitry Medvedev, immediately ordered the sentence vacated and reviewed because of glaring illegalities in the prosecution’s case.

What will happen to Osipova’s daughter, Katarina Fomchenkova?

The World Organization Against Torture had twice asked authorities to release Osipova. The traditional “Strategy 31” opposition rally at Triumfalnaya Square on 31 December 2011 was dedicated to Taisiya and political prisoners across Russia.

Mid East Christians grateful for Russia’s UN veto on Syria

Middle Eastern Christians are grateful to Russia for vetoing the USA-led resolution In the United Nations for tougher measures against Syria. From Bosnia and Serbia to Iraq and Egypt, UN efforts to topple governments have led to displacement, torture and murder of minority Christian populations as is happening now in Egypt. More and more one can see cartoons and posters like the one below.

Below: the funeral of Syrian Defense Minister Daoud Rajhi in the Church of the Holy Cross in Damascus July 20, 2012. He was part of the minority Christian culture in Syria, predominately a Muslim nation. .

The Syrian Church still uses the oldest surviving liturgy in Christianity, composed by the Apostle James late in his life. It is conducted in Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic spoken by Jesus Christ and his Apostles, as its official and liturgical language. The church is led by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch.

Remembering war hero Irena Sendler

Perhaps you had the opportunity to see Tina Kandelaki’s television feature on war hero Irena Sendler. For those who missed it, Irena was a Polish/German woman who at the start of the war knew the German’s plans for exterminating Jews in Poland and so she sought and received work in Warsaw, the city of her birth. The Germans invaded Poland in 1939 and she began rescuing Jews by creating false documents to help Jewish families escape the Ghetto.

Irena in 1942 before her arrest and torture.

Her job as a director of the Social Welfare Department meant that she had a special permit to enter the Ghetto to check for signs of typhus. She created a false bottom in her ambulance toolbox to carry small children out of the ghetto but had to rely on a burlap sack for older children. She went in and out of the ghetto each day accompanied by a dog trained to bark when Nazi soldiers approached. Co-workers began to assist with the effort and children were smuggled out by various methods from hiding under bricks in wheelbarrows to hollow compartments in trucks.

Photo: German Federal Archives, Herrmann, Ernst – Bildbestand (N 1576 Bild).

Eventually her activities were uncovered but before her arrest she and colleagues had smuggled out around 2500 children. The identities of the rescued children were kept buried in jars so that after the war it would be possible to reunite them with their relatives. Many of the children were sheltered in Catholic convents until they could be placed in homes with new identities.

When caught she was tortured, and even after both her arms and legs were broken, she refused to tell the Nazi’s where the children had been placed and refused to reveal their identities. She was sentenced to be executed but narrowly escaped being shot with assistance from the underground. After the war she assisted in the effort to reunite children with parents but most of the parents had perished in the Nazi gas chambers.

In 2003 she was honoured with the Polish Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest award. Israel’s Holocaust museum awarded her the title of “Righteous Among the Nations.

She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

Irena Sendler, seated at left, in black.

Late in life, in a letter to the Polish Parliament, Irene wrote that “Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory. I feel guilty that I didn’t do more …

She died on 12 May 2008.

Irena Sendler (née Krzyżanowska)

A movie about her life, The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler was filmed in 2009 in Riga, Latvia.


The Pussy Riot that just won’t end

More repercussions from last week’s sentencing of the girls in the Pussy Riot briefly staged “concert” inside Moscow’s main church, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. It looks as if this will be “The Pussy Riot that just won’t end” as authorities are now looking to arrest more members of the group to be tried in court.

Pussy Riot trial: Tatiana Romanova demonstrated against verdict.

The latest development is that protesters who demonstrated outside the court where the initial trial was held are being prosecuted for illegal demonstrations. Shown in the photo above is Tatiana Romanova, who protested against the guilty verdict and sentence for the group Pussy Riot on the day the sentencing. Ms. Romanova was found guilty of Part 1 of Article 19.3 of the Administrative Code – disobedience to the police and fined 500 rubles.

For those wondering, 500 rubles is rather light, just under $16 dollars.

Media presence at sentencing phase of the Pussy Riot trial.

Media coverage of the sentencing in the Pussy Riot trial was intense.

Iceland got it right, the USA got it wrong. It is time for a change.

When the world crashed financially in 2007, Iceland was one of the nations to be hardest hit. It was a total meltdown for their financial system. But they took a very different view of how to handle it–they let their banking system go belly up and no big bank or financial firm was “too big to fail.” Their big banks and stock firms crashed and burned.

In the USA, the government told citizens that American bank and financial institutions were too big to fail. Taxpayers took on TRILLIONS of dollars in worthless debt to bail out the very institutions that had criminally screwed over the American people. Generations of USA taxpayers still yet to be born will pay over their lifetimes to prop up the rich fat cats.

In Iceland today, the banking system rose from the ashes despite having been figuratively burned to the ground. Employment that once threatened to swallow the small nations’ workers, is now 6.2 and trending downward each month as Icelanders are again finding full-time work.

The difference you ask? Iceland’s citizens aren’t straddled with debt. The banks and financial institutions failed and the fat cat speculators failed, but the average citizen is better off and mountains of debt isn’t going to be passed along to Iceland’s unborn future taxpayers.

Politicians in the USA got it wrong. Very wrong.

It is time for a change.