Daily Archives: January 28, 2007

Swan Song for Stalin airs on Russian TV

Reader Steven Montgomery has noted a report in the Moscow Times on a Russian TV series about mass-murderer Josef Stalin. Guess what the Russian view of Stalin is under neo-Soviet dictator Putin? The program states: “According to the information that we have, Stalin in the last months of his life came to repentance. He rethought his life from the position of a man of faith.” Is that downright terrifying, or what? First Krushchev tears him down, then Putin builds him right back up again. Truly, those who cannot remember history are doomed to repeat it.

In a new 40-part drama series, Josef Stalin looks back on his personal and political life and eventually repents of his actions. The creator of the show, Grigory Lyubomirov, previously worked on the satirical puppet show “Kukly” (Puppets) and Russia’s first reality show, “Za Steklom” (Behind Glass). His latest series, “Stalin Live,” has stirred up plenty of controversy and critical reaction.

The idea of the series, which premiered Jan. 9 and airs three nights a week on NTV, is to show Stalin during the last month of his life, February 1953. As he mulls on his past, lengthy flashbacks show figures such as his son Yakov and his wife Svetlana Alliluyeva.

The word “Live” in the title, which is written in English letters, harks back to a previous NTV series directed by Lyubomirov, called “Rublyovka Live.” That show, which ran for 76 episodes to June of last year, featured dramatized episodes from the lives of residents of the wealthy Rublyovka district, and included cameos from celebrities such as painter Nikas Safronov. Lyubomirov described its genre as serialiti, which combines the Russian words for “soap opera” and “reality show.”

The Stalin series is based on historical accounts, including interviews with his security guards, the producer said by telephone Wednesday. It aims to prove that “Stalin was not only an executioner, but also a victim of that era,” Lyubomirov said.

“According to the information that we have, Stalin in the last months of his life came to repentance. He rethought his life from the position of a man of faith,” he said. Asked for his sources, the producer stated: “We were told about this by people who worked in Stalin’s security service in the last days of his life.”

The first episodes of the show got an impressive rating of over 19 percent of all television viewers, according to figures printed in Itogi magazine. Ratings subsequently fell, but are still “good,” Lyubomirov said. He added that NTV is considering putting the series forward for an Emmy award. “Cadets,” a World War II drama series that aired on Rossia, was nominated for an International Emmy Award in 2005.

Nevertheless, “Stalin Live” has been criticized in the media, as much for its artistic qualities as for its historical judgments. Izvestia television critic Irina Petrovskaya told Ekho Moskvy radio that the series was “unbearably dreary,” adding: “There is nothing more to say about Stalin.”

When Nezavisimaya Gazeta asked four media pundits for their pick of the worst television show earlier this month, three chose “Stalin Live.”

Ekho Moskvy also hosted a call-in session in which one caller suggested that the series was due to a “concrete order” from “behind the Kremlin wall.” Asked whether this was true on Wednesday, Lyubomirov laughed and said: “Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has nothing to with this series.”

The show’s creator said that criticism was to be expected, since Stalin is a “figure whom it is absolutely impossible to interpret simply.”

Lyubomirov was one of the directors of the now-canceled political satire show “Kukly,” which included a puppet of Stalin. That caricature, however, had little in common with the leader portrayed in “Stalin Live” by Georgian actor David Giorgobiani, Lyubomirov said. “That was a satirical depiction of Stalin. What we are doing now is more like a tragic figure.”

The show will end with Stalin’s death, Lyubomirov said, and most of the 40 episodes have already been shot.

The producer now plans to make a follow-up series covering the period from 1953 to 1964, when Leonid Brezhnev took power, and then another series about the perestroika years. The latter show will be called “Gorby Live,” he said.

“Stalin Live” airs Mon., Tues. and Wed. at 10:40 p.m. on NTV.

The Mailbag: Russia on those Chinese Killer Satellites

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day!

A reader writes:

Following the recent destruction of a satellite by a Chinese missile, I was slightly shocked to read the comment from Russian defence minister Sergei Ivanov (as reported by the Moscow News) about the incident: “I have heard reports to that effect, and they are quite abstract. I’m afraid they don’t have such an anti-satellite basis. The rumors are highly exaggerated.” The last comment sounds a bit like Mark Twain’s “reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Either they destroyed a satellite or they didn’t. There might be something lost in the translation but it sounds a bit like “the Americans are lying but I am too diplomatic to say so.” Surely if the Russians had not detected the event, the proper thing to say would have been perhaps, “if it is true then it’s a worrying development” or even, “if it is true then it’s good that our Chinese friends have the power to hit America where it hurts”. Could it be that, since the Chinese had not confirmed it, he simply could not resist the temptation to call the Americans liars. In which case the recent Chinese confirmation that they did shoot a satellite down seems to have pulled the rug from under him.

The Moscow News report was:

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has called the reports that a Chinese ballistic missile has hit a satellite highly exaggerated rumors, the Interfax news agency reported on Friday. “I have heard reports to that effect, and they are quite abstract. I’m afraid they don’t have such an anti-satellite basis. The rumors are highly exaggerated,” Ivanov told reporters in Moscow. On Friday, World media reported that China had shot down one of their old weather satellites with a ballistic missile. The United States voiced concern over the test. The US believes China’s development and testing of such weapons is inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation that both countries aspire to in the civil space area. We and other countries have expressed our concern to the Chinese, a spokesman for the National Security Council, Gordon Johndroe has said . The Feng Yun 1C polar orbit weather satellite was hit by a medium-range, ground based ballistic missile approximately 537 miles above the Earth’s surface. The missile used a kinetic impact to destroy the satellite, said Johndroe. Both the satellite and the missile was launched from the Xichang Space Center in Sichuan Province; the satellite in 1999, and the missile on the 11th. Officials in the U.S. are now concerned that debris from the test could cause problems for civilian and or military satellites. It is estimated that at least 40,000 pieces of debris are now floating around in space as the result of the test, and the pieces range anywhere from 1 centimeters and up to 4 inches. The pieces of the satellite and missile could stay in Earth’s orbit for several decades. When the test happened, the U.S. stated that communication with one of its spy satellites was lost, but thus far no evidence has turned up to suggest the loss of communication was directly related to China’s test. The test took place on January 11, 2007 and this is the first such test to occur in over 20 years. The U.S. last tested an anti-satellite system back on September 13, 1985.

Shamapova Brutally Exposed


Here’s the Australian Open wrapup: Currently, half of the top-ten-ranked female professional tennis players in the world are Russians. All five of them entered the draw at the Aussie Open this year, and all five of them were ejected in straight sets by lower-ranked players. That’s right, not one single top-ten Russian lady managed to remain in the draw until a higher-ranked player beat her, and not one managed to win a set in her ejection match. Only one of the five managed to get as far as the quarter-finals (Russian shortcomings were confirmed in the ladies’ doubles tournament at the Aussie: only one Russian got as far as the quarter finals and none advanced from there).

Russia’s Maria Sharapova, ranked #2 in the world, was that one, and made it not only to the quarters but to the finals. However, she only got that far because, unlike any of the other top-ten rooskies, she was lucky enough to play against another Russian in the quarter finals — she then met the retiring Kim Clijsters in the semis, Clijster’s farewell match at the Aussie. In the finals, things got even uglier for Russia, making it seem it might have been better both for Rusisa and the sport if Shamapova had lost to Clijsters rather than winning.

Shamapova was blown off the court in the finals by an American tornado named Serena Williams, ranked #81 in the world and unseeded. Out of 15 games played in the match, Sharapova was able to win only three, having her serve broken four times and striking only 12 winners to 28 for Serena. Sharapova won only 35 of 96 points played. The least possible number of points a player needs to win a two-set match is 48, and Williams needed just 13 more than that. It was one of the most humiliatingly one-sided whippings in the history of Grand Slam finals. No wonder so many Russians are so afraid of dark-skinned people!

Sharapova, who will become #1 in the world next week simply because she played the Aussie while the world’s true #1, Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium, skipped it, was exposed as the utter fraud that she is in the most brutal way possible, on the biggest stage, in unprecedented fashion (no #1 pretender has ever been so badly destroyed by an unseeded player in a grand slam final). Both her own ranking and that of Williams were exposed as total fraud. And remember, Sharapova is Russia’s “best.” Not only was she revealed to be playing a completely different game from that of the true champions like Serena, but Sharapova moved to the United States when she was 9 and learned her game there. She resides in the U.S., owns real estate there, speaks flawless English, spends virtually no time in Russia and has never played for the national team. In other words, she’s about as “Russian” as French fries.

So much for the so-called “dominance” of Russian women in tennis, which is nothing more than an illusion — just like Russia being an “energy superpower.” Illusions are the one thing that Russia really excells at — especially the kind the at lead to self deception. Like the famous Emperor with his new clothes, like the Soviet Union before her, Russia is in for a rude awakening.

Still, believe it or not, La Russophobe actually has something nice to say about Maria. She didn’t succeed in anything, but in several areas apart from her actual game she showed the promise of improvement. Instead of wearing her trademark outrageous, clownlike outfit, she came on on the court dressed conservatively, respectfully, even demurely, in white and pale yellow (unfortunately, she threw on a ridiculous jacket for the post-match ceremony that made her again look like a circus freak). She made a clear effort to control her absurd and annoying grunting when striking the ball, though she has not mastered it yet. And despite being totally dominated in every aspect of the game, she stayed in there swinging until it was over (though it appeared on several occasions that she wanted to burst into tears). Instead of making excuses, as she had when she was humiliated by an unknown player in her first match of the tournament and almost lost, she also made a clear effort to take her loss like an adult (though she couldn’t help bringing up the weather in her her loser’s speech, or mentioning that nobody had expected Serena to make the finals, almost making it seem as if Serena might have been lucky). She still has long, long strides to go before anyone would think of calling her a true sportswoman but maybe, just maybe, America is finally starting to rub off on Shamapova.

In fact, La Russophobe thinks that maybe Maria Sharapova is not to blame for the Frankenstein monster known as Shamapova. In the final humiliation for poor Maria at the Aussie, her demonic father Yuri (who swept her away to the United States, keeping her separated from her mother for more than two years), leering from the stands like a drunken maniac, was caught (once again) during the tournament trying to illegally coach her and fined $2,000. This Svengali-like loser may very well be responsible for injecting far too much Russianess into Maria, and she ought to remove him from any connection with her tennis. Apparently, he spent an hour coaching her before the match, giving her all kinds of advice about her serve that promptly then fell apart on the court.

Rare Video of Pre-Bolshevik Moscow, circa 1908

Annals of the Politkovskaya Coverup

Kommersant reports:

Russia Crosses Off Anna Politkovskaya

Murdered Russian Journalist Scratched from PACE Agenda

Yesterday turned out to be the toughest day yet for the Russian delegation at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), where a report entitled “Threats to the Lives and Freedom of Expression of Journalists” was read and the Russian State Duma‘s failure to ratify the 14th protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights was discussed. Kommersant special correspondent Nargiz Asadova has the details from Strasbourg.
The Investigation is stalled.

At the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) last Monday, urgent debate on the resolution “Threats to the Lives and Freedom of Expression of Journalists” was suggested to replace a discussion of a resolution concerning Russian-Georgian relations. The Russian delegation initially greeted the change of topic as a victory for their side. However, the question of the safety of journalists can hardly be called a more pleasant topic for Russia. The author of the resolution, English deputy Andrew Macintosh, made no secret of the fact that he had been motivated to write the report by the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. “PACE is deeply disturbed by the numerous attacks on and threats to the lives and freedom of speech of journalists in Europe in 2006 and January 2007. The Assembly decisively condemns the murder of Hrant Dink in Turkey and Anna Politkovskaya in Russia,” said Mr. Macintosh in his opening remarks. Mr. Macintosh also thanked the Paris branch of the organization Reporters Without Borders for collecting and sending to PACE chairmen Rene van der Linden several thousand signatures demanding a fair investigation into Ms. Politkovskaya’s murder.

“This is a protest by the Assembly against the murder of journalists,” said French deputy Denis Barde in support of his British colleague. “The authorities that kill journalists doubt themselves and doubt democracy. These people do not want to answer for their actions. They support totalitarianism and fear. No democracy can survive without a free press.” “The number of journalists killed in Russia while fulfilling their professional duties is the third highest in the world, after the conflict-ravaged countries of Iraq and Algeria,” said Turkish deputy Erol Aslan.

Russian deputy Leonid Slutsky attempted to stem the tide of the discussion. “The resolution says nothing about the responsibility borne by the journalistic community for the contents of what its members publish, report on television, etc. The phrase ‘following journalistic ethics” is too weak in relation to, for example, the infamous ‘caricature scandal.’ Europe is home to twenty million believers, and they will never allow a so-called ‘free’ media to mock the tenets of their religion. That is provocation, not freedom!” he said.

PACE’s response to Mr. Slutsky was to adopt a 16th amendment, which read, “Aggression or threats directed by any religious group towards opinions expressed in oral or written form or as drawings can have no place in European democracy.” An overwhelming majority (89 deputies) of those in attendance voted for the amendment.

However, the most unpleasant point for the Russian delegation was number 11, which read, “The Assembly calls on the State Duma and the Federation Council of Russia to carry out an independent parliamentary investigation into the 2006 murder of Anna Politkovskaya and to present the results of the investigation to the Assembly.”

The Russian delegation reacted with displeasure. “We have submitted an amendment suggesting the removal of the 11th point,” said Russian delegation head Konstantin Kosachev during the discussion. “A parliamentary investigation is always an expression of a lack of confidence in the investigative authorities. But we have no reason not to have confidence in them. The deputies of the State Duma are in contact with Ms. Politkovskaya’s family and colleagues, and we have received no complaints from them regarding the investigation. We cannot offer professional assistance to the investigation, and political pressure is inappropriate at this point.” Vera Oskina, another representative of the Russian delegation, added that the investigation into the murder of Anna Politkovskaya is under the personal supervision of Russian prosecutor general Yury Chaika.

The Russian deputies succeeded in convincing their colleagues that the 11th point should be stricken from the resolution. In its place, a point was included that stated, “National parliaments should follow the progress of criminal investigations and should acknowledge the responsibility borne by the authorities not only for a lack of an investigation but for a lack of results, as in the case of the Russian parliament in relation to the murder of Anna Politkovskaya.” Once all of the amendments were taken into account, the resolution passed with 106 votes.

The Court is Delayed

The next question on the agenda for PACE concerned Russia’s failure to ratify the 14th protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights, which concerns reform of the European Court of Human Rights. The discussion of the issue was an ongoing debate not aimed at adopting any resolution.

At the start of the discussion, Swiss deputy Dick Marti reminded the assembled deputies of the Strasbourg Court’s significance for Europe. “Thanks to the creation of the European Court of Human Rights, 800 million European citizens have gained the option of appealing to an independent judicial entity to protect fundamental human rights. But now the Court is in jeopardy. The Court is overwhelmed with cases (more than 90,000 cases are languishing without review) and cannot review them properly,” said Mr. Marti.

At the beginning of the decade, when the number of cases sent to the European Court began to multiply, it was decided to speed up the review of cases by undertaking some administrative reforms aimed at simplifying the trial procedure. The Council of Europe’s legal experts included the modifications in protocol 14, which was opened for signatures over the next two and a half years. In that period, all of the countries of the Council of Europe signed it – except Russia. “The efforts that we have made to increase the productivity of the Court have been nullified by the Russian State Duma. This is a very serious situation,” emphasized Mr. Marti. He reserved his strongest indignation, however, for Russia’s repeated accusations that the Court’s decisions are “politicized.” “If some country does not subscribe to the principle of an independent court, it has no place in the Council of Europe! The head of a CE member-state cannot say that the European Court of Human Rights meddles in politics just because the Court’s decisions are not to his liking. That is anathema to an independent judiciary,” Mr. Marti said.

Mr. Kosachev attempted to calm his Swiss colleague: “Personally, I and all of the other members of the Russian delegation to PACE voted for the ratification of the 14th protocol in the State Duma.” He also noted that the Duma’s decision concerning the 14th protocol is not final and that the topic will be reviewed sometime in the future.

Finally it was decided to send a group of deputies from the PACE judiciary committee to Moscow to consult with members of the Duma’s judiciary committee. “The protocol is scheduled to go into effect by June of this year – we do not have much time left. We must go to Russia and convince the Duma to ratify the protocol,” said Romanian deputy Georgy Frunda