Daily Archives: November 13, 2006

Russian Puppets and Their Masters

The Washington Post offers a wonderful interview with “Kukly” creator Viktor Shenderovich, who lays bare the horror that is Vladimir Putin from personal experience. He sums up Putin as follows: “Putin, it goes without saying, is a person with a very strong inferiority complex. He cannot forget the way he got to power. Unlike [former president Boris] Yeltsin. Whatever you think of him, Yeltsin was a politician. He made himself. Putin was just taken and put on the board and made the queen, the main chess figure.”

Viktor Shenderovich, 48, was once Russia’s leading political satirist. His scathing TV show “Kukly,” or “Puppets,” which first aired in 1994, ran afoul of the authorities after President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000. Putin was depicted as an ugly rubber dwarf, and the Kremlin warned the show’s network, NTV, to remove the character. In 2001, NTV was taken over by a state-controlled company, and Shenderovich left the show. In 2003, a defanged “Kukly” was dropped altogether. Since then, Shenderovich has in effect been banned from national television, but he continues to be heard on the radio station Echo Moskvy. He ran unsuccessfully for a seat in parliament in 2005 and later wrote a comic account of his campaign. Last month, he launched a satirical show on RTVI, a satellite channel for Russians abroad. Episodes can also be seen on his Web site,http://www.shender.ru. He spoke last week with the Post’s Moscow bureau chief, Peter Finn, about this new venture, inspired by the films of silent-era legend Charlie Chaplin. The interview took place a day after Putin conducted a televised call-in show in which he answered questions from the public.

Q Tell us about the new show.

A The program is called “Modern Times,” because that’s a reference or link to Chaplin. And Chaplin is one of the heroes of the show, maybe the main character. All images are connected with Chaplin. Everything we want to comment on, even metaphors, we do through Chaplin’s movies.

Can you give an example?

For example, the conflict between Russia and Georgia. If we are looking at the difference in weight and size, it’s all based on scenes from “The Gold Rush,” the struggle of a huge guy and a little one. Chaplin’s pieces . . . work as metaphors or detonators because he’s so expressive you don’t need him a lot, just an image.

Will Russians see this program?

Only on the Internet. And by those who buy a satellite dish. Unfortunately, there are no other possibilities in modern Russia.

Why not?

Not a single TV channel dares to offer me a job. And that has been the case for several years. Since 2003, I haven’t been their favorite, and I can’t get on television.

Is it frustrating that so few Russians inside the country will see the show?

Of course. A radio version of the same program, “Soft Cheese,” is on Echo Moskvy. Unfortunately, there can’t be any Chaplin metaphors. But it’s still better than nothing. Internet use is significant, especially in big cities. Of course, if you compare this with 80 million people who used to watch our programs on NTV, it’s nothing.

As you look at the media landscape, do you see any political satire?

No. Political satire is a characteristic feature of a democratic country. Today we do not live in a democratic country. So, by definition, there can be no political satire. There are certain substitutes. There are attempts at political satire. It’s permissible to smile a little bit, to be a little ironic, but only a little bit. Or to be very critical, but only of the second layer or the third layer of officials. Like Soviet satire, when someone from the top would tell you, ‘Okay, today you can look at this one, and tomorrow that one.’ Everybody sees and everybody understands what happens to those who want to be involved in real satire. Not one of them can get access to any TV channel. This is true not only for myself and my friends. Everybody has been thrown out of TV.

Why do you think Putin and the authorities are so sensitive to satire?

It’s only natural. Any leader is sensitive to satire. Maybe Bush would also want to do something to [filmmaker] Michael Moore, but he cannot. He cannot ban Michael Moore. He cannot send tax inspectors to HBO. The second aspect is the personal sensitivity of the target. The more minor a person is, the more sensitive he is to satire. Putin, it goes without saying, is a person with a very strong inferiority complex. He cannot forget the way he got to power. Unlike [former president Boris] Yeltsin. Whatever you think of him, Yeltsin was a politician. He made himself. Putin was just taken and put on the board and made the queen, the main chess figure. Everything and everybody always reminds him of that. And he was not ready for very sharp political satire such as the puppet show. He was not ready for it as a human being. He had never been a politician. He had never competed with anyone. He had never been an independent figure.

Are people creating their own satire, telling their own jokes?

Of course people joke. But today we’re in a period of intellectual stagnation. On the one hand, people are very tired after all these changes. On the other, all this oil has allowed people to feel there is stability. The number of those who understand we will have a very bad end when the oil price goes down or when mankind comes up with something other than oil is very low, and the rest don’t care. People have jobs, with the exception of a few regions. This stability smells of the stagnation of the [Soviet leader Leonid] Brezhnev times, and at that time we also had everything, until the end came. Today, the rotting is inside, but the facade is okay. He’s young, good-looking, good memory, speaks well. In my next program, I’m going to look at Putin on his call-in show. Putin was talking so much about all possible problems — economy, defense, soccer. He also managed to solve so many problems, personal problems. Those who got to him, their problems were solved. Amazing. So my suggestion is to keep him there on TV forever. We can give him tea, and he can solve people’s problems.

If you could have asked Putin one question, what would it have been?

To be sincere, I haven’t had any questions for the president for a long time. I have a few answers, though. If I had the opportunity just to be heard by others, I would have asked him if he is aware that this rollback of democracy and the destruction of democratic institutions is making Russia absolutely defenseless, without any protection, if it faces a dangerous historic turning point. Tomorrow, say, someone much worse than Putin can take power and there are no brakes, no restrictions. No press, no courts, no parliament, no public organizations. That means we are hostages to chance. But it’s useless to ask this question. I suspect that he simply does not understand such words. He understands the words, of course, but he does not see any sense in them. He needs such words only to communicate with the rest of the G-8 [the Group of Eight industrial countries]. Deep in his heart he is convinced that this system works, that Russia needs a strong hand and stuff like that.

Do you see a time when you are back on national television?

Of course. We’ve lost the current game. The time will come. Tolstoy used to say, if I am alive in five or seven years, something will change. The system which exists now is so rotten from inside, the question is which way will it explode? The most alarming thing is not Putin. The worry is which direction this river will take.

Any reaction from the authorities to the new show?

No. We do not present any electoral threat. Many Russians abroad watch us. But here nothing, comparatively. Altogether, with the Internet and radio, maybe one and a half, 2 million people. If I was from Luxembourg, I’d be huge.

More Total Humiliation and Failure for Russian Tennisistki

Well, let’s see now. Four of the eight places at the Sony Tour Championships last week were filled by Russians.

Guess how many of them made it to the four semi-final spots?

Exactly one.

Which one?

Well, the one who moved to America when she was a little girl and learned her game there, and who spends all her time there now, having purchased various pieces of real estate. You know, the highest ranked “Russian” on the tour, Maria “Shamapova.” And guess what happened to her when she got there.

Continuing her streak of absurd luck, which began when she somehow managed to leave Siberia, travel to the U.S., get a green card and study tennis for free at the world’s most exclusive academy, Shamopova also continued her losing ways in the semis.

First, she found herself in the “red” draw surrounded by two of the three other Russians, with only one foreigner in the group. All she had to do was beat the woeful Russians she played, which was child’s play since they suck, and she was guaranteed a ride into the semis.

And indeed, the three “real”Russians were mowed down like shafts of wheat beneath the sickle of a mighty Soviet farm girl not only by Sharapova but by all the non-Russians as well. The miserable, pathetic Elena Dementieva failed to win a single set even though she was lucky enough to be placed in the red group too; in her final set, against non-Russian Kim Clijsters, Dementieva (sounds like “demented” doesn’t it?) didn’t manage to win a single game. Svetlana Kuznetsova recorded only one win, against the wretched Dementieva (the serveless wonder), while Nadia Petrova, supposedly the world’s fifth-best player, likewise prevailed in only one of her three matches, against the freakishly unstable Amelie Mauresmo, the greatest choke player in the history of the sport. Petrova was the only Russian other than Sharapova to record a win against a non-Russian (and Sharapova needed to face a non-Russian only once).

As if to humiliate that epic moron Wally Shedd, who proclaimed Russians “dominant” in the sport, the Russians collapsed like a house of cards and three of the four semifinalist spots were filled by non-Russians. It was mathematically impossible for them to field less players in the semis than they did. The only non-Russian eliminated before the semis was Martina Hingus, who whipped Petrova and valiantly extended all her other matches to three sets.

So the three “real” Russians were torn to shreds by the four non-Russians and the one American Russian. They played nine matches between them and lost 66% of them. So much for the idea of “dominance” by Russian women in tennis or by Russians in any sport. Once again, Wacko Wally Shedd is proved to be an utter fool – and a dishonest one at that. Well, in other words, he’s a russophile.

In the semis, Sharapova was then blown off the court by the lower-ranked non-Russian Justine Henin-Hardenne in straight sets, winning just two games in the first and blowing her chance to finish the year as the number one player. With half the players in the draw, no Russian reached the finals, which was contested between Amelie Mauresmo and Henin-Hardenne. When it really counted, the non-Russian Henin pushed right past Sharapova to claim the year-end number 1 ranking which Sharapova could have had if she had won the tournament.

In the end, not one of the four Russians ended the tournament with a winning record against the four non-Russians and not one of the three “real” Russians made it past round-robin play with them. In short, they continued making a mockery of the sport, lacking not only superlative skills but any other aspect of personality or interest for the viewer (save Sharapova’s T&A). When compared to the champions of the past, there is no comparison.

So much for Russian “dominance” and so much for the intelligence of Wacko Wally Shedd. Only one Russian made a significant showing at the Sony, and that’s the Russian who spends all her time in America. Even that couldn’t help her to be even competitive against the world’s true greats.

In this, as in all things, Russians will apparently go on deluding themselves into believeing that that are “great” and “dominant” rather than actually doing the hard work necesary to make it so.

In other words, with friends like Wacko Wally Shedd, Russia doesn’t need any enemies.

Putin Goes Berzerk at GRU

Radio Liberty reports that Russian “President” Vladimir Putin went into a rabid, mouth-frothing frenzy of cold war provocation during during a visit to the new Moscow headquarters of Russian Military Intelligence (GRU). It states that “he told military intelligence chiefs that the practice by some states of taking ‘one-sided illegitimate action’ and their attempts to ‘unceremoniously push their positions’ undermines stability.” By “some states” it was clearly understood that he was referring to the United States. A reader provides further translation of some of Putin’s remarks:

The international community finds itself in a situation in which factors of force are dominating in international relations, a situation where relations are being undermined by unilateral action ­ action that is not legitimate in international law ­ undertaken by a number of countries, and by attempts by some countries to unceremoniously impose their positions without taking into account at all the legitimate interests of other partners. And you know what means states make use of when carrying out such action: the economy, political and diplomatic means, and a monopoly on the world media.

In my Address [to the Federal Assembly], I spoke of the stagnation in disarmament, a stagnation that has not come about through any fault of ours. Furthermore, the threat of the emergence of destabilising weapons such as low-charge nuclear weapons and strategic missiles equipped with non-nuclear warheads is on the rise. A number of countries seek to have their hands free in order to place weapons, including nuclear weapons, in space.

The threat of a global conflict has been reduced to a minimum today, and this is indeed the case. The system of international relations ensures an unprecedented level of mutual controls and confidence in the military sphere. At the same time, however, we see that not only are the leading countries not giving up arsenals that are well above what is needed for their actual defence, but, on the contrary, are constantly modernising them, including offensive weapons. These processes all call for the GRU’s close attention.

Going further, wide-scale activity by international terrorist groups remains a serious threat today. We have received repeated information from the intelligence services, including military intelligence, on support for underground terrorist groups in Russia from abroad.

I stress that these channels of support must be identified and decisive action must be taken to cut them off and liquidate them.

The problem of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction also remains very serious. The blows dealt to the non-proliferation control regime are a real threat for the entire world, and for Russia, of course, for our people, all the more so as the problem regions are in direct proximity to our borders.

I note that the GRU has begun paying close attention to non-proliferation issues, and rightly so. I ask you to continue to keep a close eye on the whole range of issues concerning nuclear, chemical, biological weapons and missile technology. And, of course, we must also ensure that components of weapons of mass destruction do not fall into the hands of terrorist organisations.

Meanwhile, Russia continued testing ICBMS that can be fired at the United States, and while it maintains a standard of living between Libya and Macedonia, with average monthly salaries of $300, it increased the military budget by 22% last year to $24 billion and announced it will spend $30 billion this year, a 25% increase. This sum amounts to 11.5% of Russia’s anticipated budget revenue of $260 billion for 2007. And it’s only the declared portion of Russia’s military expenditures. The amount that is concealed is universally acknowledged to be gigantic.

Russia is spending at least 3% of GDP on its military, probably much more, despite the total absence of direct military threats other than Chechnya, which the Kremlin claims has been resolved. Russia is matching the percent GDP that the U.S. devotes to military spending even though the Russian economy is five times smaller per capita, which means that this level of spending is five times more difficult for Russians to bear than Americans. What’s more, if Russia’s rate of military spending increase continues, it will soon rocket past the U.S. in share of GDP devoted to military spending (what brought the USSR to its knees was trying to match the US dollar-for-dollar). And having imposed this burden on its impoverished society and decimated population, Russia is still left spending ten times less on the military than the U.S., it’s so-called enemy, leaving it relatively defenseless in the event of a confrontation.