poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

October 30, 2009

Odds & Ends Halloween Special: Putin & Democracy.

Filed under: Odds & Ends,Politics: Russia — poemless @ 5:29 PM
Tags: ,

What? You know you think it’s scary…

I. Putin.

In honor of our favourite spook.

~ AFP: Putin to be cast in bronze for Schwarzenegger.

This some kind of Reptilian custom?

MOSCOW — A bust of Russia’s muscle-flexing strongman Vladimir Putin is being created as a gift for ex-Hollywood bodybuilder and California’s current governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, its sculptor said Tuesday.
The bust is currently being made in Putin’s home city of Saint Petersburg on an order of Russia’s Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation and will be delivered to the movie star turned politician in March.

“Putin is such a complex personality. He’s left no one indifferent,” Alexander Chernoshchyokov, a Saint Petersburg-based sculptor who has been working on the Putin bust since June, told AFP.

In 1991 the Russian artist made a sculpture of Schwarzenegger and Vladimir Dubinin, the president of the bodybuilding federation, personally delivered the gift.

The two Russian men soon learned the Hollywood action hero collected sculptures, Dubinin said.

His collection however lacked figures of Communist-era leaders, so a few years later Chernoshchyokov made the sculptures of Stalin and Lenin.

“Then we brought him the busts of Gorbachev and Yeltsin,” said Dubinin, referring to the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and the late Russian president Boris Yeltsin.

A sculpture of Putin, a former president and current prime minister, was the next logical step, he added.

Capturing Putin’s features proved difficult however. “He’s changing every day. His features even change during the day,” said Dubinin.

He’s a shapeshifter! Damn…

Well, the news of said bust has the Guardian wondering, who would win a celebrity deathmatch between the Guvernator and the Prime Minister:

~ Poll: “Who would win an armwrestling contest between Putin and Schwarzenegger?”

I am pretty certain that “armwrestling contest” is polite British for “celebrity deathmatch.” Arnie’s winning the poll, but I couldn’t resist rescuing this from the comments:

“btw – of the 25 comments so far on this story 5 are by Guardian employees!! Please can I have a job at Grauniad Towers?”

LOL. Anyway, who knows who the victor would be. I suppose it depends on if Hollywood special effects are allowed. That’s the only possibility I see for Schwarzenegger to win. Sadly, all the special effects in the world haven’t helped him save California from economic disaster. Perhaps instead of a bust, we should send him Vova’s managerial skills?

Cast in bronze, now cast in a film:

~ SMH: Agent Putin cast as Cold War hero.

Oh, I totally remember that part…

Geez, no wonder Gorby’s so pissed at Putin right now. “Hello, over here, remember me? Glasnost? Perestroika? Ring a bell? Anyone? Bueller? …” Poor fellow’s fallen from Nobel Prize winner to Mr. Cellophane. (Take heed, Barack.) Anyway, what did our spy do that was so special?

MOSCOW: Vladimir Putin single-handedly defended KGB offices in East Germany from crowds of looters after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a documentary claims.
The program is likely to boost the Russian Prime Minister’s cult of personality as it casts him as a Soviet patriot who defied a crowd of rioting East Germans.

Mr Putin was serving as a KGB major in Dresden in 1989 when the wall fell. According to his and other accounts, he brandished a pistol to prevent the angry crowd from ransacking the spy agency’s offices.

He will be shown discussing the incident in a documentary called The Wall to be shown on state-controlled television next month.

The program’s maker, Vladimir Kondratyev, defended his decision to make Mr Putin a main character. He said he was one of the few Soviets who had first-hand experience of East German protesters preparing to storm the building.

Yeah, well, the way I heard the story was that he and his colleagues saw the angry crowd, freaked out, ran inside and began destroying documents at break-neck speed. Which is not to say he is not a hero in other respects, just not in the Cold War hero way, is all. It’s ok. He’s still got his priorities straight:

~ WSJ: Russia To Cut State Aid To Banks By More Than Half In 09.

Psst. WSJ, I think that’s “in ’10.”

The 150 billion rubles diverted from banks could be channelled to help the real sector of the economy, Putin said.

And by the “real sector of the economy” he clearly means … literature!

~ From a meeting the PM held to discuss issues brought up by Russian writers:

“First of all, it is still a government priority to encourage literature and writers. Accordingly – as I understood it – you proposed a Russian Federation Government resolution that would increase the number of Russian Government awards for arts and culture from 20 to 25.

Unfortunately, in previous years there were no writers among those who received awards. But this increase of five awards will enable additional support of talented writers, and these additional five awards will be given exclusively to writers. Let me remind you that a laureate receives one million roubles with his or her award.

In addition, grants for creative initiatives in the arts will be doubled from 25 to 50 million roubles, which also means an increase in funding for literary projects. We will allocate the necessary funds from the federal budget for 2010.

Secondly, so-called thick or literary magazines have traditionally played a major role in Russian literary life. The writers at the meeting repeatedly brought up the idea of supporting these thick magazines.

Let me point out that these magazines must be available to general readers, both directly through subscription and in our libraries.

I asked the Ministries of Finance, Communications and Mass Media, and Culture to look for additional ways and additional funds to support these thick magazines starting from 2010.

As of 2010, the Ministry of Communications and Mass Media will double the annual subsidies for literary magazines. These funds will be directed towards increasing the circulation of magazines, remuneration for the authors, and improving printing quality and design.

In addition, I consider it necessary to allocate no fewer than 50 million roubles to our leading local, district and city libraries to purchase the thick magazines.”

Hee hee hee. He said, “thick magazines.” Hah hah.

Something tells me Surkov is behind this. Clearly. Everyone knows he likes to write. He writes rock lyrics and pulp novels. He’s a total culture vulture intellectual type. Unlike those losers in Sechin’s gang. Whom he also wants out of the banking system. Coincidence? I think not… Wow, who knew it was so easy to be a Kremlinologist? Apes could do it. Especially since it’s a pastime which largely consists of pulling stuff out of your ass. I need a job at Stratfor ASAP.

II. Democracy.

While we’re on the topic of pulling things out of your ass, check out this headline:

~ Time: Medvedev Dashes Hopes for More Democracy in Russia.

I give up. Instead of a detailed smackdown every time someone writes an terrible article, I am just going to wallow in the wrongness of it all. The brilliant Natalia Antonova recently wrote, “Acceptance confuses the hell out of unhappiness. You turn to it and say, “thank you, I’m grateful that we get to hang out again, should we sit down and order a drink?” Unhappiness isn’t quite sure how to respond to that. It looks around uneasily. It wonders just what the hell you are playing at. It puts its bloody samurai sword on the table, and sits its ass down.” Perhaps instead of allowing the state of the Western journalism make me unhappy, I am going to invite it for a drink. And accidentally forget to mention the arsenic. 😉

Medvedev finally agreed to meet with the opposition leaders on Oct. 24. He clearly realized the gravity of the moment. “Let us not allow this to become the funeral of our democracy and our electoral system,” Medvedev told the deputies. “Although it is true, I made a point to wear black today, because I knew you would be in the mood for a funeral.” Three days later, Medvedev asked Churov to look into the opposition’s claims. Then the President slipped back into his usual complicity. He said the elections had been “satisfactory” and that any claims to the contrary would have to be settled in court. (Read TIME’s 1991 article “The End of the U.S.S.R.”)

This statement, aired on state television, killed off whatever flicker of hope liberals had that Medvedev might finally start moving Russia toward real democracy. The humbled opposition has since gone back to their places in the Duma. And the pro-democracy camp can only look with dread to 2012 when Putin is widely expected to run for President again. Whether he realizes it or not, Medvedev may already be a lame duck.

The nerve! Making them settle legal claims in court! Death of democracy indeed! Look with dread ye “pro-democracy” camp, upon the possible future election of the most popular politician in the country by the majority of its citizens! The horror, the horror…

Suffering an epidemic of irony, most journalism about the state of democracy in Russia focused only on the politicians and never on the actual public, to ask what they want. Which is the whole effing point of a democracy, as I was taught in good old American schools. I once asked, “What is it called when a majority of the citizens vote to not have a democracy?” Well, I was being facetious, attempting to illustrate the emptiness of these labels in contemporary geo-politics. But the question continues to bite at my ankles, demanding attention. Especially when I see things like this:

~ FPB Russia: Russians to Democracy: Good Riddance?

although 95% of Russians polled by Levada believe that they have no control over their political destinies, a whopping ‘26% believed that democratic governing was not suitable for Russia’.

In fact, when asked whether they a) either completely believe or just tend to think that democracy is needed or b) completely believe or just tend to think that democracy is wrong for Russia, the proportion narrows to just 50:31.

Moreover, “the majority (60%) also said it would be better for Russia if the president controlled both the courts and the parliament…and nearly 25% said the Soviet Union had a better political system that the current Russian model (36%) or that in Western countries (15%)”.

The following Levada Centre graph illustrates the Russian approval of three political systems: the Soviet one, the current one, or Western style democracy (the fourth line, in green, is marked ‘other’).

Contrary to almost all Western political science thinking, the most popular system from 1996 to 2007 was the Soviet one (blue), consistently winning the approval of 40-45% of the very people who were supposed to have rejected it in 1991, and twice as popular as the Western style democracy (red) they were meant to have favoured.

But the most interesting journey is marked by the yellow line indicating “the current system”. Under Yeltsin’s supposed golden age of democracy and freedom, this yellow line never rose beyond 10%. But as soon as Putin came in, in 1999, it has shown a steady rise. In 2007, it finally beat the front runner, the Soviet system, and continues to grow.

Most importantly, for the first time since the fall of the USSR, an overwhelming plurality of Russian citizens prefer their current system to either an idealised Soviet past or an increasingly demonised ‘Western alternative’.

In fact, this picture of contentment seems to demolish the liberal idea of Russians cowering under an increasingly authoritarian regime, just waiting to be rescued back to democracy.

Good. I think we’ve done enough “rescuing” of other nations for the time being.

(BTW, if you think all polls are bs, check this out! Laws of the universe have changed, my friends.)

III. Odds, ends.

And to end on a light note.

~ Vova.com

A blog devoted entirely to VVP. In case you don’t get enough of that here. Not sure why I had not discovered this before. Here’s an example of some of their headlines:

“Putin the superhero banished from Ukrainian airwaves”

“Do you think Vladimir Putin is cool, or what?”

“Prime Minister Putin Bitch Slaps Oleg Deripaska”

“Is Prime Minister Putin suffering from a severe case of Psychosis? Or is it something else like?”

“Something else like.” Definitely. I got sick in Russia and no one knew why and they took blood and they said it was “something else like” and gave me Siberian tea to drink. Prescription Siberian tea, even, Actually, it turned out to be ovarian tumours… God, I hope VVP is suffering from Psychosis and not something else like!

~ Rogozin.

I’m now obsessed with Rogozin’s Twitter account. This is how people get sucked into these social networking tools, isn’t it? I’m a bit terrified of Twitter, but it offers fascinating insight into the minds of public officials. Which is seriously creepy. But fun! And ’tis the season for creepy fun. He’s recently been going on about Belgium. Of all things.

“Last Sat saw Making love to a Belgian – performance flavored with simple humor. It is about relations of Belgian husband and his French wife”

Look, mom!  No hands!

“What do I like about Brussels? The fact that you can do motosports 24/7/365 here”

Gah! No hands! Proof again of my theory that making people believe you are truly a kamikaze madman is conscious political strategy in Russia.

~ Lastly, in honor of the holiday at hand, I’d like to share this little piece of trivia with you all. I am from the most haunted town in America! Or one of them. They jury appears to be out. Well, if there is a more haunted town than Alton, I don’t want to find out. Ghosts are all fun and games when they are in the movies. Very different story when they are standing…


Happy Halloween! Enjoy your weekend & thanks for reading!


  1. Don’t you wonder where Arnold and Maria PUT all these sculptures? Maybe on plinths around the swimming pool? In their bedroom? In the bathrooms?

    And I sniggered at “thick magazine” before I saw you did. 🙂

    Comment by Mary Bannister — October 30, 2009 @ 11:38 PM | Reply

    • Maybe they re-gift them?

      Comment by poemless — October 31, 2009 @ 1:28 PM | Reply

  2. As usual it’s interesting what you write about Russia. You know I have not been in Russia for years but all people I recently met, including my sister were very critical of Putin and direction the country is going. Many did not like last year war with Georgia (though they are not attracted to Saskashvili, he does not seem adequate at all) because many Russians think warmly of Georgians, it’s brotherly nation and only politicians from both sides want to separate them due to vested interests.

    What I can contribute to your blog, given my brains are slowly but surely washed by daily diet of CNN and BBC and IHT.

    Recently I discussed American healthcare reform with one New Zealander who also lives here in Dharamsala (As you know it’s international centre and there are scores of expats around). I think Obama’s coming was very timely as greedy medical industry (doctors, insurance companies, pharmaceuticals) have begun destroying American economy. They already bancrupted GM and Chrysler.

    But what interesting emerged from our discussion and comparison between different healthcare systems is that Russian system is very lax comparing to all others. Russians drink too much alcohol, smoke too many cigarettes just because they know they have medical insurance and its rate is fixed not flexible like American’s or New Zealand’s. You know your companies were quick to control human behavior by charging extra fees for what they consider bad habits (pre-existing conditions et all). Russian companies are very lazy to spy on citizens. That’s why paradoxically many Russians feel they live in freeer country than Canadians or Americans.

    Comment by FarEasterner — October 31, 2009 @ 3:50 AM | Reply

    • And as usual, there is never enough space for me to adequately respond to your comments!

      I’d love to hear more about your sister’s etc. opinions. For example, is there someone or some party they would prefer, or is this their criticism of politicians, the system, etc in general? I suppose most Russian I know who are willing to talk about politics, well, they run the gamut. In my limited experience, it is the elderly who have the highest opinion of Putin while the younger generations either have a healthy critical or distrustful attitude, or are just uninterested. But this is anecdotal. There are certainly many things to be critical of. (I don’t know that the Georgian war is high on that list. While all parties could have done more to maintain a tenuous peace, Saak’s actions forced Moscow to respond. But it is true what you say of politicians. I think the same can probably be said of Ukraine too.) My interest is mostly in how Putin’s (and the rest of Russia’s) actions are interpreted here in America. It is very biased. For example, when the economy was doing well, all of the credit was given to the external factor of oil prices and none to Putin’s governance, yet when it tanked, all of the blame was placed on Putin’s governance and none on the external factor of a global financial crisis. I suspect it is always a combination. Moreover, it upsets me when we speak of democracy but don’t bother to wonder what the people want. I’ve found this is often because 1) those who speak of democracy are actually more upset about no longer being able to make a buck off Russia or 2) are under the impression Russians don’t know what is best for them, are gluttons for punishment or desire a strong leader because they are in some state of arrested development. I will never claim to know what is best for Russia. My concern is that American foreign policy is based on some seriously demented and insincere assertions.

      What is the “direction the country is going,” do you think? Do you think it is worse off than before Putin’s presidency?

      Comment by poemless — October 31, 2009 @ 1:07 PM | Reply

    • Also, while I wont say the Russian healthcare system is better then the American one, quality-wise, I think you’ve radically misunderstood the concept of “pre-existing conditions.” First, it is an attempt to save money, not change or punish bad behavior. Secondly, it’s not aimed at addiction, but ANYTHING. ANYTHING. They are now saying “rape” or even “fertility” is a “pre-existing condition” so they don’t have to pay for anything. It’s pretty evil. Those might be extreme cases, but the worst aspect of denying payment (and thus treatment because no one can afford to pay out of pocket) is that because our system is private, a person’s insurance company usually changes when they get or lose a job, when they move, when their employer changes plans, etc. So, if you have cancer, and your employer changes plans, you have a “pre-existing condition” and they can deny you care. Which is basically a death sentence. This happens very frequently. It’s immoral. Lastly, I think that addictions, while a result of personal choice, do deserve treatment. For the patient, yes, but also for the greater good, for society.

      And I think you might be overly optimistic about Barack. At the end of the day, he is a politician like them all. BTW, many of my friends are critical of Barack and the direction our country is going. Maybe Russia should rescue us? 😉

      Comment by poemless — October 31, 2009 @ 1:18 PM | Reply

      • that is my point – American insurance companies can deny payment for treatment on flimsy grounds. and tell me how big range of services they cover to majority of Americans? I heard that many have got so-called medical insurance which does not cover even basic needs so it is no insurance at all.

        i agree with you that it’s very difficult to generalize and compare completely different systems. Russian system was essentially socialist – everybody was anticipating free treatment for anything. Recently government introduced medical insurance, which means that anyone can get anywhere medical insurance and pay fixed rate from salary (i mean there are many insurance companies which issue insurance and all of them serve all kinds of citizens even homeless or jobless or pensioners) but the range and quality of services is wildly different. I don’t know much about it only from press and from some reports of people known to me. In my republic (of 1 mln people) medical facilities were pretty non-existent before 1990s when with liberalization and reforms local government managed to get fair share of mining incomes (from diamonds and gas like Alaska in US). So local government spent heavily on healthcare and education and one everyhting else. But I suspect there are many depressed cash strapped regions in Russia where education or healthcare are still on rudimentary level.

        About Barack. I think it’s for you and your friends to decide on him and on direction which your country is going since you’re in America. I am from abroad can have opinion mainly on American foreign policy and I am still very critical of it, especially unconditional support for Israel. I am ambivalent on war in Afghanistan. From one side it should be wounded down soon to have any positive result but unfortunately it seems like a failure to tackle its own Frankensteins. America’s long term policy in the Middle East was not only support for Israel but also support for Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Israeli state sponsored terrorism is well known as well as export of terror from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. But Mr Obama does not seem able to reverse this long existing policy.

        Comment by FarEasterner — November 1, 2009 @ 7:28 AM | Reply

  3. However the Russian government is not lazy at all. In reference to Dmitry Rogozin’s Twitter, if you follow him, he will follow you… just a heads up.

    Comment by putinania — October 31, 2009 @ 1:01 PM | Reply

    • I like to think they are all on to me. I’m hoping they’ll eventually offer me a paycheck for my services. 😉 Kidding. I actually harbor the same sentiments about NATO that Russia does, so I’m more concerned about my own gov’t. following me…

      Comment by poemless — October 31, 2009 @ 1:20 PM | Reply

  4. You created vova.com, didn’t you? 😉

    Comment by Jerome — November 3, 2009 @ 2:48 PM | Reply

    • Shockingly, nyet! Maybe the Russian government & their mad scientists had me cloned while I was asleep or something…

      Comment by poemless — November 3, 2009 @ 2:51 PM | Reply

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