Daily Archives: September 11, 2007

Annals of Russian Poverty

Kommersant reports the shocking reality of Russian poverty:

Five million families in Russia annually earn more than $30,000, according to the report of Rosgosstrakh insurer. The number grew by over 60 percent over a year. Given that the family size averages 2.7 persons here, roughly 13.5 million have the income above the medium one. Besides just wealthy, Russia has 160 families that are the millionaires in terms of the U.S. dollars and 12,000 families have revenues above $5 million. It isn’t surprising that 80 percent of millionaires live in Moscow and in the Moscow region. The wealthiest category of the Russians (revenues above $5 million) widened by a half past year. The families with revenues of $30,000 to $100,000 manifested the highest growth of 71 percent. The analysts calculated the revenues of the Russians by using indirect data, including the worth of the cars and real estate. The survey of Rosgosstrakh shows that the nation expects the revenues to go up by 46.1 percent in the following five years to seven years.

Translation? 95% of the Russian population has an income of less than $30,000 — a figure which would qualify you as super-rich in Russia but would hardly even make you middle class in the United States. A tiny class of super-rich is aggressively forming like a bacteria culture in Russia just like the one that formed before the Bolshevik revolution that destroyed Russia and replaced it with the USSR. That’s a sign of the apocalypse for Russia, especially since these people aren’t even truly rich by world standards.

A shockingly unprofessional article from Reuters states: “an expanding middle class is enjoying prosperity unimaginable in the Soviet era.” The article gives no details as to the alleged size of Russia’s middle class, nor does it offer any definition of what constitutes “middle class” in Russia. If $30,000 is considered super-rich, then it’s quite scary to contemplate what that definition might be. If you click through the link, you will see that this Reuters “news story” is actually a puff piece of self-advertising for a conference Reuters is going to sponsor, and quotes only Russian stock brokers. In other words, it’s basically propaganda.

Finally, the Wall Street Journal reports:

The economy grew 7.8% in the first half of the year, according to official data, mainly driven by investment spending growth of more than 20% for the year and consumer demand, spurred by the increase in disposable income. Mr. Ulyukayev also echoed Mr. Gref in saying that consumer prices won’t rise by more than 8% in 2007, the lowest annual rate since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

In other words, the rate of overall consumer price inflation exceeds Russia’s rate of economic growth, totally destroying its value for the population. And, in fact, the inflation rate on the basket of goods that can be afforded by Russia’s average monthly income is far higher than the overall rate, as we’ve repeatedly documented, and Russia’s rate of growth occurs on such a tiny economic base, with such a huge population, that it is totally meaningless even without considering inflation.

It’s classic neo-Soviet propaganda. They will compare rates of economic growth between the U.S. and Russia and claim that Russia is doing better (without acknowledging the obvious differences of scale between the two economies or the fact that Russian growth is dependent on oil prices), yet when the inflation rate is raised they will ignore the fact that if such inflation as Russia experiences occurred in the U.S., it would be viewed as an utter catastrophe.

Having read this, now look at what Russophile propaganda screed Russia Blog (which routinely publishes material from stock brokers and other businessmen seeking to profit by inducing foreign money into Russia) does with these three articles, and be outraged. Be very outraged.

EU Wakes Up and Gets Tough on Russia

Reuters reports that the EU is beginning to realize its peril where Russia is concerned, and beginning to act accordingly:

The European Union must be tougher in its dealings with a newly assertive Russia during the final months of President Vladimir Putin’s rule, EU foreign ministers said. “We want a constructive relationship with Russia, but we want responsibility shown by Russia,” British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said after EU ministers discussed Russian ties at a meeting Friday in the Portuguese coastal town of Viana do Castelo. “People wanted to be firm but not macho,” he told reporters.

The EU could play a decisive role in ensuring that Russia wins cherished membership in the World Trade Organization before Putin leaves office early next year, but in return it should insist that Moscow behave more responsibly, ministers said. The West is at loggerheads with Russia on issues such as its opposition to a UN-backed independence plan for the Serbian province of Kosovo. It has also rattled nerves by restarting patrols of long-range bombers. “There was widespread concern about a deterioration in Russian behavior,” a British official said of the debate. Several EU states were dismayed that the bloc did not censure Moscow over a Russian missile that fell on Georgian soil last month. Moscow has called Georgian accusations that the missile was dropped by a Russian jet “a stunt.”

“We failed to address this and tell Russia what our position was on this,” Latvian Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks said. “This systematic slowness is because we cannot agree a common approach as we try to make the best deals on a national level. This makes the EU vulnerable.”

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said it was paradoxical that while EU-Russian trade was growing at 20 percent a year, the EU had “increasing questions” about human rights and democracy in Russia. Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said the EU should look to better use its political and economic power, notably in supporting Moscow’s efforts to win WTO entry by the end of the year, as part of a firmly pragmatic relationship with Russia. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said the EU, which will hold its final summit with Putin late next month, could help him secure WTO membership, but Poland warned it could stand in the way until a knotty trade dispute had been resolved. “For us, the embargo is a serious matter,” Polish Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga said of a 21-month ban by Moscow on Polish meat products over concerns about poor quality, which Warsaw disputes.

On Kosovo, the foreign ministers vowed to seek a united front on the fate of Kosovo, despite differences among themselves. “I cannot conceive that we could have at the end a situation where there is a strong position of Russia, a strong position of the United States, and where Europe simply does not exist,” said Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency and so must forge consensus in coming months.

Annals of Russian Hypocrisy: They Gobble Up American Culture!

We’ve heard it from the Russians so many times. They are a nation of erudite, high-class artists, who could never be entertained by anything so mundane as to have originated in an American mind, much less would they ever lower themselves to simply copy such a thing, because they couldn’t come up with anything better themselves. Right?

Well, let’s just see.

The Moscow Times reports that Russia has won a cinema award by copying a famous Hollywood film:

Director Nikita Mikhalkov won a special award at the Venice film festival last weekend for his film “12,” a Chechen-themed remake of Sidney Lumet’s “12 Angry Men.” Mikhalkov’s movie tells of 12 jurors who must decide the fate of a Chechen teenager charged with murdering his stepfather, an officer in the Russian army. Though all but one are convinced of the youth’s guilt, the single skeptical juror forces the others to discuss the case, slowly uncovering their personal stories and the emotional involvement behind their decision. Mikhalkov stressed that “12” was not a commentary on the Kremlin’s policies in Chechnya, although the boy’s story is told through scenes recreating vicious battles between federal troops and separatist guerrillas. “We are not really speaking about Chechnya in this film,” he told reporters Friday. “These people are judging this young boy, but the viewers can see the way in which this boy has grown up and what he had to go through in life.” The film stars Sergei Makovetsky and Sergei Garmash. Mikhalkov, who also stars in “12,” beamed when he was presented with the Special Lion for overall work at the awards ceremony Saturday night. “Grazie, grazie. I want to thank the magnificent Russian artists that worked with me. … Italy has always been very generous to me and I’ll always be very grateful,” he said. Mikhalkov won the Golden Lion in 1991 in Venice for “Urga” and an Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1994 with “Burnt by the Sun.” The top award Saturday went to director Ang Lee’s spy thriller “Lust, Caution,” while Brian De Palma took the Silver Lion for best director in “Redacted.”

Robert Amsterdam reports that Russians, in a classic display of really amazing hypocrisy, are gobbling up American culture like candy even whilst they haughtily condemn all things American, first citing AV Club:

In a story that suggests that American-style capitalism may end up damaging Russia as much as communism, the Russian version of the wacky ’80s sitcom Perfect Strangers is a big hit in the comedy-starved nation. Originally airing on ABC from 1986 to 1993, Perfect Strangers was about a pair of cousins–nervous Larry (Mark Linn-Baker) and funny foreigner Balki (Bronson Pinchot)–living together in Chicago. The Russian version, which is called Brat’ya po-raznomu (a much funnier title than Perfect Strangers, actually) is about “two guys, one with a Moscow psychology, the other with a provincial outlook,” actor Anton Eldarov told The Hollywood Reporter. “Two ‘grotesque’ types — exactly the same ethos as the U.S. series.” Warner Bros. International Television, which produces Brat’ya po-raznomu, is planning Russian versions of other crappy U.S. sitcoms such as Suddenly Susan, Step by Step and Full House. Quick: What’s the Russian translation for “How rude?”

and then the New York Times:

Turn on the sitcom that is the hottest television show in Russia, and it all seems so familiar. Moored to his living room couch is a shoe salesman who is more interested in watching sports than conjugal relations. His wife has shocking hair and an even more shocking mouth. A couple of ne’er-do-well teenagers round out this bawdy, bickering bunch. In fact, the show is an authorized copy of the American sitcom “Married With Children,” with a Russian cast and dialogue but scripts that hew closely to those of the original. This knockoff is such a sensation, especially among younger viewers, that its actors have become household names, and advertisements for its new season are plastered around Moscow.A drumbeat of anti-Americanism may be coming from the Kremlin these days, but across Russia people are embracing that quintessentially American genre, the television sitcom, not to mention one of its brassiest examples. And curiously enough, it is the Russian government that has effectively brought “Married With Children” to this land, which somehow made it through the latter half of the 20th century without the benefit of the laugh track.

The show’s success says something not only about changing tastes here but also about Russia’s standing. Sitcoms are typically grounded in middle-class life and poke fun at it. The popularity of Russian versions of “Married With Children” and other adaptations of American sitcoms suggests that Russia has gained enough stability and wealth in recent years that these jokes resonate with viewers. “ ‘Married With Children,’ with its satire on the American middle class, fits the style of our channel well,” said Dmitri Troitsky, a senior executive at the Russian channel TNT, a Gazprom-owned network whose programming bent is roughly similar to that of the Fox network in the United States. “It seemed interesting and topical for us to do a parody on the Russian middle class.”

These days, American visitors in Russia could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon some bizarre realm of reruns. Adaptations of two other shows, “Who’s the Boss?” and “The Nanny,” are also popular here. All three programs are distributed by Sony Pictures Television International, which has created versions of them and other American programs around the world, often in partnership with local producers. “The Nanny,” which was first broadcast here in 2004, was such a hit that after running out of episodes to copy, some of the show’s original American writers were commissioned to create 25 more episodes, said Ron Sato, a Sony spokesman.

“Married With Children,” which ran from 1987 to 1997 in the United States, has been renamed “Schastlivy Vmeste,” or “Happy Together.” Its setting has been moved from the Chicago area to Russia’s heartland metropolis of Yekaterinburg. The sniping couple, Al and Peg Bundy, have become Gena and Dasha Bukin. The thrust is the same: sending up family life as outrageously — or as vulgarly, depending upon your point of view — as possible. A typical bit: In the living room, Gena suddenly tells Dasha to take off her clothes. Dasha is elated that Gena finally wants to have sex, and then Gena says, “No, Dasha, I’m simply dying of hunger, and hope that that will take away my appetite.”

Natalya Bulgakova, a spokeswoman for TNT, said the show, which had its debut last year, is now the most popular scripted series among Russians ages 18 to 30. (Older Russians typically roll their eyes at mention of “Schastlivy Vmeste,” as if they briefly wonder whether life under Communism was not so bad after all.) TNT is owned by Gazprom-Media, which is controlled by Gazprom, the Russian national resources behemoth that is controlled by the government. Asked about the show, Gazprom-Media said in a statement that it did not interfere in its stations’ programming decisions.

While even Americans who do not speak Russian could discern the American roots in “Schastlivy Vmeste,” it is fair to say that many Russian viewers might not. But even Russians who do would seem unlikely to be bothered by the show’s origins. Russian television has come a long way from the staid, politically tinged fare of Communist times, and these days there are many channels offering a steady diet of movies, dramas, game shows, soap operas and reality shows — some locally produced, some imported and dubbed. News programs, which are tightly overseen by President Vladimir V. Putin’s administration, are another story. As in Soviet days, they rarely divert from the Kremlin’s point of view. Barbed political satire, which thrived after the fall of the Soviet Union, has been suppressed.

Sitcoms were first broadcast in Russia in the 1990s, when the country was on the brink of economic collapse, but both original sitcoms and copies of American ones achieved poor ratings. People were struggling and seemingly not in the mood for breezy jokes about the lives of the comfortable. Unable to identify with the sitcoms’ characters, Russians instead flocked to dubbed Latin American soap operas.

Only recently, with the economic upturn, has the sitcom taken hold. “This is probably the last television genre to be adopted in Russia,” said Elena Prokhorova, who studies Russian television and is a visiting professor at the College of William and Mary, in Virginia. They did not work before, she said, because “sitcoms require a very stable social life.” The producers and actors of “Schastlivy Vmeste” said that while the Russian scripts followed the outlines of the American ones, they had made changes for a Russian audience, fashioning plots around Russian holidays and using sets that better resemble interiors in Russia. Viktor Loginov, who plays Gena Bukin, looks younger than Ed O’Neill, who played Al Bundy, in part because the show is geared toward younger audiences.

They also insisted that the humor was more Russian. “We try to capture the so-called Russian soul so that it will be accepted by our Russian audience, so the character becomes a guy from the street,” said Mr. Loginov, a classically trained actor. Still, the feel of “Schastlivy Vmeste” seems far more American than Russian. Classic Russian humor tends more toward narrative satire than slapstick. Though “Married With Children” was something of a shock when it first appeared in the United States, provoking advertiser boycotts, two decades later the Russian version has not stirred a similar reaction. Russian television critics note that, as in much of the world, television here has become home for a lot of relatively coarse fare. Daniil B. Dondurei, editor in chief of Cinema Art magazine, said he saw a darker significance in the success of shows like “Schastlivy Vmeste.”

“Today, people are becoming accustomed to not thinking about life,” he said. “The television is training them to not think about which party is in Parliament, about which laws are being passed, about who will be in charge tomorrow. People have become accustomed to living like children, in the family of a very strong and powerful father. Everything is decided for them.”

Annals of Shamapova

Because of her humiliating, pathetic performance at the U.S. Open, Maria Sharapova’s world ranking has plummeted from #2 to #4 , and she is only #6 on the calendar-year champions race.

Anna Chakvetadze is in easy striking distance of knocking Shamapova down to #5, and the wretched Svetlana Kuznetsova, whose single tournament win this year came with the help of not one, not two, but three match defaults, including the finals, is now the top-ranked Russian.

September 10, 2007 — Contents


(1) Getting Russia Right

(2) Tales of Russia’s Neo-Nazis Abroad

(3) Annals of Putin’s PR Apocalypse

(4) Annals of Russian Tennis