Monday, April 23, 2007 -- When Zhorik still wasn’t feeling any better on Wednesday, we called the first aid service. I’m still amazed that when you call the doctor in Russia, he comes to you. And since Zhorik is a soldier, there was no charge even though he wasn’t a bone fide resident here.
When they arrived, they looked more like a couple of fat, slovenly plumbers than medics, which – given that it was Zhorik’s plumbing that was bothering him – may have been appropriate.
Anyway, they wanted to put him in the hospital, which is what all Russian medics want to do to everybody. When he told them it was impossible, they instead advised him to take some activated charcoal and some strange powder mixed with water.
By Thursday, he was feeling well enough to catch the 3 p.m. bus back to Svetlograd, which would arrive there the next day, the 20th.
He was supposed to be back in Novosibirsk by today, the 23rd, which of course was impossible. He got a call from one of his army buddies yesterday telling him to call his unit. I called his father, thinking I’d catch him there, but his father said he wouldn’t see him before he was scheduled to leave Svetlograd today, but that he’d give him the message. I also put $ 10 on his mobile phone so he could call his unit, and then sent him an SMS telling him what I had done.
But I haven’t heard from him, so I have to assume he didn’t get the message and that he’s probably in trouble with his commander. Not my problem. I did everything I could.
I just hope it doesn’t screw up my plans to spend next New Year’s with him in Novosibirsk.
Victor, my fantasy of a few days last fall (Chapt. 213), suddenly called while Zhorik was here wanting to know if we could get together to resume sex.
“Did you take my camera last September?” I asked.
“No. What do you mean?”
“My camera disappeared when you left. Do you know anything about it?”
Well, what would you expect him to say? But the fact that he called at all makes me wonder anew if he really took it. But the fact that the only other people here were Zhorik’s former best friend Igor and Yuri, the homeless but honest BOMZH, still leaves me little doubt.
But I resolved the dilemma of whether or not to resume our sexual trysts by telling him that my situation had changed, and that I had a new boyfriend. Which is sort of true. Igor and I are sort of boyfriends, whether he knows it or not. There’s a very strong commitment between us and a lot of real affection and devotion – in some ways stronger than the bond with Zhorik.
Whereas Zhorik doesn’t like kissing or shows of affection, Igor and I frequently spontaneously kiss each other on the lips. I trust him absolutely. He has never lied or stolen from me.
Where does this put my and Zhorik’s plans to live here alone together when he gets out of the army? I’m not sure. Actually, I can envision the three of us living in a ménage de trois. But I don’t think that would ever happen, because neither is going to want to admit to the other that he and I are having sex – well, “playing” – together.
The newly minted three musketeers -- Igor, Zhorik, and Finish -- on the streets of Moscow. They spent a lot of their time "bukhating" - getting drunk. Bonding is so manly easier when you're drunk.
But they did develop a very deep friendship while Zhorik was here. Zhorik, Igor, and Finish were like the three musketeers (see photo). Igor really likes Zhorik, and I could tell that Zhorik really likes Igor – in a manly way, of course. In any case, we’ve got nearly 14 months to resolve the issue.
It’s taken a few days for Igor and me to get back into our sex routine. Thursday night he had Zhorik’s stomach ache. Friday night I asked him if he wanted to “play.” “Not today.” Saturday night: “Tomorrow night.” He didn’t come to bed till 6:00 this morning. “Do you want to play?” “Tomorrow. I haven’t taken a bath.”
So I filled the gap by playing with his semi and preventing another case of prostate cancer while he was asleep.
I don’t often agree with the Wall Street Journal, that pompous, blathering klaxon for right-wingers in general and the Bush Administration in particular, but I had to acknowledge last week that the fuckers got it right when they editorialized that “Peaceful protest is not a right accorded the subjects of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.”
The Kremlin’s steel fist is growing heavier and tighter with each passing week.
The use of cannons to swat at flies at last Saturday’s “Dissenter’s March” brought it all into the spotlight, which was probably the very thing organizers Gary Kasparov, Mikhail Kasyanov, and Eduard Limonov had in mind, since they have no hopes of actually influencing upcoming elections.
As anticipated, the Western press – including the WSJ -- deplored and condemned the police brutality. But even in its editorial, the WSJ felt compelled to exercise its usual sophisticated and subtle twisting of facts.
Kasparov, a contributing editor to the WSJ and long-time op-ed writer, “has won new prominence in recent years as Russia’s leading democratic activist…,” the WSJ declared.
New prominence where? Certainly not in Russia, where there’s always been a de facto news blackout on his activities – now made official (see below). Even when he first announced he was resigning the chess championship to become a full-time Putin oppositionist two years ago, almost nobody in Russia knew it. The only thing the state TV – which in Russia means all TV – reported was that he was resigning the championship.
Not a word was mentioned about why, and when I told my School #69 IBT class, they were shocked. They hadn’t heard a word about it (Chapt. 114).
So maybe Kasparov has taken on new prominence among readers of the WSJ in New York and Washington. But here he’s quickly being relegated by the state media to the trash heap of “ultra-radicals.” So it’s purely wishful thinking, if not irresponsible reporting, to call him a newly prominent bearer of the Russian democratic banner.
They did properly observe that protests like last week’s demonstrations “are the only way for the Other Russia to draw attention to its aims,” but again not in Russia, which the WSJ goes on to acknowledge: “…the outside world is the only opposition voice heard in Russia.”
A Moscow Times editorial in the meantime underscored the draconian idiocy of bringing in 9,000 riot police from five Russian regions to keep a paltry two-to-four thousand demonstrators led by three unelectables from destroying the Russian government and igniting a Ukraine-style Orange Revolution:
Former Prime Minister Kasyanov, “whose liberal economic credentials, along with allegations of corrupt dealings while still in the government, would make it impossible for him to win an election in today’s Russia.”
Limonov is almost as unpopular with the Russian rank and file as he is with the Kremlin, and wouldn’t even make a showing in an election.
As for Kasparov, he is “handicapped in the eyes of much of the public because he shares Kasyanov’s liberal bent.” He also carries “the additional baggage of being an Armenian Jew in a country where ethnicity is still a major issue.”
“There is little chance that Kasparov, for example, could become for today’s Russia the kind of figure that Victor Yushchenko became for the Ukraine of 2004.”
But the police arrested him anyway and charged him with “shouting anti-government slogans in the presence of a large group of people.”
But in Kasparov’s own words, “we were walking down the middle of the pedestrian walkway, not holding any flags or even shouting” when “they cut us off on both sides.” When they stepped into a café, “the police pursued us and took us out. I say ‘police,’ but they failed to identify themselves or give any reason for our arrest.”
He was held for 10 hours, but not beaten – probably because of the even more negative publicity beating would have brought.
According to Pravda, which today seems to have regained its dubious distinction as the paranoic mouthpiece for the Kremlin, Kasparov is “a political pawn who has sold his soul to the traitors who plot Russia’s demise.”
Many arrests were indiscriminate and arbitrary. An arrested MT reporter overheard a young man telling his girlfriend he couldn’t meet her because he had been arrested while waiting for the metro at the Pushkin Square Metro Station.
Another man told a call-in show on Ekho Moskvy, the only radio station that still – for showcase purposes – is permitted some degree of independence, that he and his wife and child had been arrested while they were trying to see what was happening. His wife and child were forced into one vehicle and he into another and taken to the lock-up.
European leaders have reacted with indignation. A spokesman for Germany’s Merkel, for instance, called “this form of excess violence…worrying; and assaults on members of the media who are carrying out their job in keeping with our understanding of freedom of the press and information are unacceptable.
“We expect an explanation from the Russian government as to what happened over the weekend…”
The only explanation they’ll get is that the dissenters were breaking the law. They did insist, after all, on going where they could be seen and heard instead of gathering at a remote airport miles from the city center.
Even some Russian voices are deploring the police thuggery, including Russia’s well-meaning but powerless human rights ombudsman Viktor Lukin. Based on what he saw on TV, he said, some “menti,” as the Russian cops are derisively labeled, “seriously abused their authority.”
He said if activists involved in the demonstrations presented him with grievances, he would investigate them.
In the meantime, independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov, a frequent Putin critic, said he would ask the Justice Minister to investigate the conduct of the police, and was collecting complaints -- including photographs and videos of police violence -- which he would forward to the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s office.
Meanwhile, State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov voiced the growing paranoia of Russia’s ruling elite when he termed the protests “a provocation,” and vowed to form a group to investigate the nefarious forces “behind these provocations and who paid for these provocations” – emphasizing once again the rabid fear in the Kremlin of a Russian version of the Orange Revolution.
Native Russians couldn’t possibly be dissatisfied with living in a country whose human rights record is roughly equal to that of Ruanda, so these demonstrations are obviously fomented and funded from abroad. And good ol’ Boris is going to find out from where.
In all, this has not been a good week for human rights in Russia:
Police raided Internews, a U.S.-funded non-governmental organization whose mission is to train Russian journalists in the western tradition of reporting, which means training them to report accurately and honestly and to criticize the government for illegal or unethical activities. In Kremlin eyes, this means training them to be disloyal, traitorous, and extremist, since criticizing the government is now a crime.
Internews will probably be closed down, and perhaps prosecuted for anti-government acitivities.
A St. Peterburg activist was arrested and charged with extremism when he arrived in Moscow by train after participating in the St. Peterburg protests the same day as Moscow’s. He was released two hours later without explanation. He called the arrest “an act of intimidation” aimed at frightening him and other opposition activists into compliance.
A Moscow court has declared the National Bolshevik Party an extremist organization, meaning that anyone associated with this largely harmless group of political pranksters can be arrested and charged with extremism and fined up to $ 7,800 or imprisoned for two years.
Founder Eduard Limonov warned that the same fate lies in store for any political “parties or people who hold alternative views.”
The Kremlin has told journalists at one of the biggest private radio networks to keep Kremlin critics off the air. The journalists said new managers had already blocked live reports of the opposition protests last weekend (see above) and ordered them not to mention the name of Garry Kasparov on the air.
“It was clearly stated to us at a staff meeting that Garry Kasparov…and others like him are has-beens and they are not of interest to our listeners; therefore, we do not talk about them,” one journalist told the Moscow Times.
A law allowing police to enter Russians’ apartment without their permission is wending its way through the State Duma. The alleged rationale is to allow inspectors to determine if owners are rehabbing their apartments without persmission, but once the gates – or in this case, the doors -- are open…..
Ekho Moskvy is being investigated for conducting a live interview with Eduard Limonov, founder of the now-banned National Bolshevik Party. Materials have been confiscated and investigator are determining if laws were broken in airing the interview.
A blogger is being investigated on suspicion of making crude remarks about police officers in the Russian republic of Komi east of the Urals.
According to Kommersant Newspaper, prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into blogger Savva Terentyev for a February post he made on the blog of local journalist Boris Suranov describing how police searched the offices of Suranov’s newspaper. If convicted of making crude remarks about the police, he could be imprisoned for up to four years.
As an observer, there are two general observations that seem inescapable: Criticism of the Putin government is no longer allowed.
The tongue-in-cheek “Evil Empire” label I’ve given these columns is no longer tongue-in-cheek, but not for the reasons our dear departed Ronald Rayguns, who coined the preroration, propounded.
Russia is not a threat to world peace. George Bush has seen that the U.S.A. has usurped that role admirably. Russia isn’t even close.
Russia’s biggest threat now is to its own citizens. Their human rights are being whittled away at a faster and faster pace. Are they alarmed? No, no more than most Americans are alarmed by the dictatorial and fascist elements of the Patriot Act or the Military Commission Act.
Like Americans, Russians are preoccupied with getting to work on time despite the growing traffic jams, with finding food and clothes at affordable prices, and with who’s going to win the next football match.
If you don’t criticize, if you simply quietly accept, as Russians have always done, you have little to worry about here.
Up to now, the Red Queen’s excoriations of the Russian government have gone unnoticed, as have her excoriations of the American government. With any luck at all, they will continue to be.
Russia is still the most dangerous country to fly in, according to a new International Air Transport Assn. report, even though the country’s accident record has improved substantially over the last couple of years.
In Russia and the Confederation of Independent States (CIS) 8.6 accidents per million flights occurred last year, twice Africa’s 4.31 accidents per million flights.
The industry average is 0.65 accidents per million flights in Western-built planes.
The implication is that the use of more Western-built planes will help resolve the problem, but the IATA says the opposite is true. As more and more Western-built planes come into service, there are fewer and fewer pilots trained to fly them, which could actually exacerbate the problem.
80 per cent of recent crashes have been the result of pilot error.
I’ll try not to keep that in mind when I’m flying to see Zhorik next December.
One of the most persistent and most shameful scams in Russia since almost the beginning of perestroika has involved cheating people out of their apartments.
One of the most common ways of accomplishing this has been for construction companies to announce construction of a new block of apartments. It’s a common practice to sell the apartments in advance at a substantial discount to give the builder working capital and also give the buyer a very fast return on the money invested.
But there are a number of unscrupulous companies that have taken advantage of this practice by selling the apartments and running with the cash, or selling the same apartment to several buyers, leaving tens of thousands of Russians bilked of their investments – often of their life savings.
Anger and resentment have been building over recent years, and seem to be coming to a boil just as the country gears up for elections – the worst possible time for the Putin administration, given all the other demonstrations of dissatisfaction (see above).
The protest comes on top of a simmering widespread anger over bureaucratic mismanagement of a program to distribute free medication to the needy.
Several hundred defrauded home buyers have announced plans to go on a hunger strike throughout Russia. They staged a similar strike last September, but called if off after several State Duma members and a Public Chamber member promised to resolve the problem.
But months have passed, and nothing has been done. “We do not see any other way but to continue our hunger strike,” Boris Kosarev, head of the Co-Investors Defrauded Alliance, said last week.
Last Tuesday, protesters gathered near an unfinished women’s center to sign letters of support for the hunger strikers. “We planned to have a hunger strike here as we did in September,” Kosarev told the Moscow Times, “but police and riot police have been guarding the building since April 16.”
Protesters set up a camp last May near the White House where the federal ministries are housed, but riot police tore it down.
A hunger strike is about the only means left for the protesters to have their voice heard, a UN official attending last Tuesday’s meeting said.
There are believed to be about 200,000 Russians who have been defrauded by the scam. One 68-year-old told the MT that they had sold everything they had to buy one of the apartments. “Our whole life is destroyed. We had dreamed of peaceful retirement years after working hard all our lives, and now we are homeless – just like any drunkard at Kurskaya Metro Station.”
Widespread blame is also being heaped on city bureaucrats who were required by law to monitor the process. The assumption is that they pocketed huge bribes and closed their eyes.
Mayor Luzhkov has yet to comment.
On Hitler’s birthday, April 20, one Moscow medical university ordered its foreign students to remain indoors to protect them from possible attacks by skinheads and Russian nationalists.
Hundreds of students were locked in their dorms and told to stock up on food and other necessities for three days, given the current “marked rise in hate crimes,” the Moscow Times reported.
In the meantime, two Tajik citizens were viciously attacked and killed in apparent hate crimes just two days earlier. One attack captured on a surveillance camera showed the Tajik being repeatedly stabbed by two young blond men with shaved heads and wearing “high, laced-up army-style boots,” one newspaper reported.
Two 17-year-old students have been arrested.
I suppose I should put this in context given the killing spree on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. last week. Although I don’t have statistics, Russia probably experiences fewer random killings than America.
Ironically in Russia, the violence comes mostly from the authorities: The police are probably the most dangerous segment of society and undoubtedly account for the most violence.
One bright new statistic may make it all worthwhile: In a survey of 26 countries conducted by the condom manufacturer Durex, 80% of all Russians reported having sex at least once a week.
Only the Brazilians and the Greeks reported having more active sex lives.
Only 53% of Americans measured up to this standard.
So now we know why the Red Queen is still here.