Daily Archives: October 28, 2007

The Sunday Photos: Caution, Russian Patriots at Work

The true Russian patriots at Oborona protest in front of the Duma against pending legislation to deprive the Russian people of the power of referendum.

The banner says that those who seek to end referendum are “thugs” and demands the basic popular right of referendum be preserved.

The FSB cowards strike them down.

The Sunday Sin: Annals of a One Way Express Ticket to H-E-double hockey sticks

Robert Amsterdam brings us yet another scintillating installment from the pen of hero journalist Grigory Pasko:

The Repentance of Father Sergiy or Whom Will God Judge?

By Grigory Pasko

“For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?”
— Luke 23:31


Sergey Taratukhin – the former Father Sergiy – at a rally in support of Mikhail Khodorkovsky in Chita (photo by Grigory Pasko)

The essence of the story, if we tell it in a dry, dispassionate language, is this:

In November 2005, the priest of the Krasnokamensk parish, Father Sergiy (né Sergey Taratukhin), who in his youth had done time in the Permian camps for anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda, publicly condemned the court verdict whereby the ex-head of YUKOS, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was supposed to spend eight years in places of deprivation of liberty (including Krasnokamensk), and called the oligarch a political prisoner. At that same time, as a sign of protest, Father Sergiy refused to bless the administration building of correctional institution IK-10, where Khodorkovsky was being held. After this, Father Sergiy was subjected to a “verbal admonition” on the part of Bishop Yevstafiy of Chita and Trans-Baikal and, “for the benefit of the church”, was transferred to a new place of ministry in the village of Krasny Chekoy (Chita Oblast). In March, there followed a new punishment: the bishop prohibited Father Sergiy from performing divine services “for a bad-faith attitude towards his duties”. On 10 April 2006, His Eminence Yevstafiy signed an ukase on defrocking Father Sergiy.

The comment of the press secretary of the Moscow Patriarchate, Vladimir Vigilyansky, was such: “The strict measures of His Eminence Yevstafiy are not political persecution, but bear a disciplinary character. After the first reprimand to him (Father Sergiy—G.P.), an opportunity was given to repent and return to the ministry. But Father Sergiy, apparently, made his choice.”

I have already written about the first time I met Father Sergiy, last year. I had another opportunity to meet with him on my most recent trip to Chita. Father Sergiy told me that he had “written a repentance” to the name of Bishop Yevstafiy of Chita and Trans-Baikal. There has so far been no result from the consideration of this appeal. Father Sergiy earns a small pittance working as a sexton (a glorified janitor/groundskeeper, in other words) in the Kazan Cathedral Church of Chita. He waits, he believes, and he hopes that there will be forgiveness for him, and that he will once again become a clergyman.

Here are the words spoken by Sergey Taratukhin during the time of our meeting in the middle of October in Chita: “My position is clear, there is nothing to hide. I respected Mikhail Khodorkovsky then, and I respect him now. Perhaps this is an impediment to a restoration of the priestly office… But whatever is, is.


The Kazan Cathedral Church in Chita (photo by Grigory Pasko)

“Khodorkovsky is a shining example of how a person was able to realize himself in the post-Soviet time. I repented not of the fact that I have respect for Mikhail, but of the fact that I had allowed myself impudence towards the ecclesiastical hierarchy f the Russian Orthodox Church and personally towards the Most Holy Patriarch. This is what I asked forgiveness for from the Church and the Most Holy Patriarch.

“I want to wish Mikhail strength of spirit. This too shall pass, and the day will come when he will be freed. I wish him patience…”

Father Sergiy also added that he has not lost hope of regaining his priestly office, that he “toiling as an administrator in the cathedral church”, and that he gave his word to the bishop that he’s through with political activity for good. “Well, and how will it all turn out? However the Lord wills…”, he says at the end.

I think the Lord is merciful. And maybe, this time, the person who will be making the decision about Father Sergiy will be merciful, too.

It is interesting that the topic of repentance had already arisen back in October of last year. Then, in an interview with the radio station «Svoboda» [Radio Liberty—Trans.], Sergey Mikhailovich had told that it had been proposed that he repent, and that His Eminence was constantly “exhorting” him, proposing that he renounce his words.

To the extent that I understand the situation that has developed, it was precisely Father Sergiy’s words about how Khodorkovsky is a political prisoner that had become the motive for the persecution of the clergyman. It was not the ecclesiastical hierarchy that the padre had blasted; rather, as a representative of the church, he had cast doubt on the justice of the actions of the secular power. Well, and just what is today’s Orthodox Church in relation to the prevailing power? Here is the opinion on this account of a famous person, a dissident, a claimant to the presidential chair in March of next year – the writer Vladimir Bukovsky, who was recently in Moscow. In an interview with Grani.ru, he said that today, the church is attempting to occupy the niche of the state ideology, and the power is helping it very much in this, understanding that the Russian Orthodox Church, the Moscow Patriarchate, was a part of the Party apparat in the Soviet time. “Today’s hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church”, said Bukovsky, “are former KGB, so for the power this is a convenient instrument, and more than that, an instrument that has not undergone any reforms – after all, reforms are impossible by definition in the church”.

The “case” of Father Sergiy is, in my opinion, further evidence that these reforms are impossible. From the point of view of divine services, the clergyman had acted correctly: he was not about to bless that place where iniquities in relation to a person are taking place. As Father Sergiy himself said, “it would be as if though I were blessing those torments to which Khodorkovsky had been doomed in captivity”. In addition to this, the parson underscored that he was expressing his own personal opinion and was not acting in the name of the entire Church. And he also expressed his position with respect to the conviction of Khodorkovsky quite articulately: “If they would punish everyone, then it would be according to the law. If they select one and start to press him demonstratively, that is already politics. And if this is politics, then it is clear that he is a political prisoner. I called him that, and nobody has persuaded me to this day that I am not right”.

Of course the clergyman was right, when he spoke the truth. But the fact that he repented…

Here it is necessary to know the following. From the words of Sergey Taratukhin himself it is known that after he was defrocked, he began to live in Chita, in a small wooden house, with his wife, daughter, and granddaughter. He is ill himself, no work, no money… They say that His Eminence announced to the clergy at a meeting not to worry about Father Sergey, it is said that Khodorkovsky is supporting him. Taratukhin appraised this as slander and considered that His Eminence had completely compromised himself in his eyes.


His Eminence, Bishop Yevstafiy of Chita and Trans-Baikal (photo from the internet)

They say that when God sends a person trials and tribulations, He is testing him, checking his tenacity. If he withstands the adversity, the untruths, the persecutions – that means he is worth something in this life. And if he doesn’t… where there’s nothing, there’s nothing to be had.

Father Sergiy made his choice not once: first when he did time in prison for anti-Soviet agitation, and then when he called Khodorkovsky a political prisoner… And we can find an explanation for his conduct today as well. Who dares judge him? “Judge not, that ye be not judged”, it says in the Bible (Matt. 7:1). All the more so because the story with the repentance is not over yet…

The Sunday Travel Section: If you Like Russia, You’ll Love Latvia!

The New York Times last week carried a travel piece on Riga, Latvia. Reading it, one familiar with Russia can’t help but think: Gosh. This place seems to offer all the attractions of Russia with none of the drawbacks — and with some of its own unique charms, unavailable in Russia, thrown into the mix. No wonder the Russians hate them so much!

RIGA’S property boom drives Latvia’s economy, one of Europe’s fastest growing, giving it the edgy, electric appeal of a boomtown. With stunning Art Deco architecture, a vibrant night life and varied and inventive restaurants, the city’s Soviet gloom has been replaced with a sense of Baltic optimism. In addition to the Soviets, Riga has been ruled by the Poles, Germans and Swedes, and all have left their mark. Few other cities afford the opportunity to investigate the ravages and vagaries of European history at such an intimate level.


3 p.m.

Understanding a bit of recent Latvian history will greatly enhance your time in Riga, and there is a perfect place to start. In the mid-1960s, the Soviets built a Museum of the Revolution in the southwestern corner of the Old Town; in one of the more delicious strokes of post-independence revenge, Latvia turned it into the Museum of the Occupation (Strelnieku Laukums 1; 371-721-2715; http://www.occupationmuseum.lv; free entry). With clear English explanations, this is among the most thoughtfully designed and well-curated historical museums in Europe. Its comprehensiveness is extraordinary, taking in everything from Latvian partisan Nazi and Soviet uniforms to propaganda posters, from chess sets carved from scrap and wood in the gulags to heartbreaking, hastily scribbled notes thrown from trains by deportees to Siberia.

6 p.m.

Riga’s Old Town (Vecriga) is a cabinet of wonders best explored aimlessly, guided just by eye and fancy, but if you had to pick a place to start, it would be Doma Laukums (Cathedral Square), just across from the Occupation Museum. At its center is the enormous medieval cathedral, begun in 1211 by Albert von Buxhoeveden, the German missionary-warrior who sailed north to convert the Livonian heathens. The more interesting building, though, is the House of the Blackheads (Ratslaukums 7; 371-704-4300; entry 2 lats, or $4 at $2 to the lat), on the southern side of the square. Built to house bachelor Hanseatic traders and sailors, it derives its name from their patron saint, Mauritius, or Maurice, traditionally depicted as an armed Moor. The Soviets completed the destruction of this magnificent Gothic-Dutch Renaissance building that World War II had begun — its Teutonic architecture was too decadent — but after independence, it was one of the first structures to be rebuilt. Being very close to Rigans’ hearts, the work was financed by individual donations.

8 p.m.

No, not mayonnaise and baloney sandwiches on white bread with extra-dry martinis, but one of the glories of the Soviet culinary legacy: the well-spiced, hearty cuisine of Azerbaijan, Georgia, or, in the case of Akhtamar (Merkela Iela 9; 371-721-5032; infolatvia.com/akhtamar), Armenia. Don’t let the ethnic kitsch décor — brick walls, kilims, wooden tables — dissuade you from diving head first into the menu. The shashliks (kebabs, so named for the shashki, or sabers, on which they were once cooked) are full-flavored and perfectly cooked, but Caucasian cuisine shines in its deeply flavored stews, particularly the tomato-and herb-based chakhokhbili. A full meal, including appetizers, drinks and tip, can easily be had for about 15 lats a person.

11 p.m.

Riga’s thriving bachelor party trade means it abounds in bars featuring scantily clad women, filling-rattling music and vodka served by the gallon. Give these the widest possible berth. Vecriga has a fair selection of Irish bars (De Lacy’s at Skunu Iela 4 is the best), but better to cap off your night at Galerija Istaba (Krisjana Barona 31; 371-728-1141), just north of the elegant Vermanes Park district. Its first floor is an art gallery, filled with knickknacks designed by local artists; the second floor is a cozy, friendly bar that nightly attracts a wide swath of bohemian Riga. The décor is just on the chic side of rough, but the bar is well stocked, the service friendly and the conversation invariably interesting.


10 a.m.

Like its neighbors, Latvia takes its saunas seriously: most people prefer to get their hearts racing by dashing between a steam room and a cold pool rather than on a Stairmaster, and a few hours enrobed in eucalyptus steam is an ideal way to sweat out the excesses of a late night. Riga’s saunas run the gamut, from unrepentantly grimy Soviet sweat shacks to the beautiful new Taka Spa (Kronvalda bulvaris 3a; 371-732-3150; http://www.takaspa.lv). At Taka’s heart is a large room with a warm dry sauna, a hotter steam room and three pools: cold, medium and a Jacuzzi. The idea is to move from the sauna to the steam, get as hot as you possibly can, then dive into the cold water. The sensation is truly exhilarating, though it does not come cheap: an hour will cost you 24 lats (or 6 lats if you book other services as well, like Pilates, a facial or a massage), but will leave you feeling rejuvenated.

1 p.m.

Osiris (Krisjana Barona 31, 371-724-3002) opened in 1994, which makes it a Riga institution. It was the first Rigan restaurant to address Soviet crimes against salad: Osiris’s are large, leafy and based around fresh vegetables, rather than the standard quivering bowls of mayonnaise and carrot cubes. It draws a mixture of urban professionals, artists, writers and politicians; it was among the first gay-friendly spots in Riga, and remains welcoming to all. Its menu is eclectic and changes daily; one can follow a traditional herring and potato salad with kung pao chicken or excellent pelmeni (small Russian dumplings served with sour cream and vinegar). The specialty dessert — pancakes folded over enormous wedges of homemade sweet cheese — will fill you up for days.

3 p.m.

Riga boomed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, both in population and wealth. The most visible remnant of that boom can be seen in its architecture: it has one of the largest collection of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe. Alberta Iela, just north of the Esplanade and Kronvalda Park, is the best single street for viewing these treasures. Mikhail Eisenstein, father of the film director Sergei, designed several of the most striking buildings.

5 p.m.

For a city so steeped in history, it seems only fitting that the jewel of choice is amber, which has been washing up on Baltic seacoasts for millenniums. For convenience sake, you can get your amber at any souvenir or jewelry shop; for local color, though, visit the stalls behind St. Peter’s Church or along Valnu Iela behind the Hotel Riga. Riga’s antiques shops also hold treasures of the more earthly kind: everything from old artwork to church artifacts to Soviet knickknacks. Small stores dot the city; for variety, depth and the cheerful disorganization, try Antikvariats del Arte (Krisjana Barona 16/18; 371-2948-1568). For books, mostly in Latvian or Russian, try the Jumavas Antikvariats (R. Vagnera Iela 12; 371-722-7629).

8 p.m.
Rigans will tell you that Vincents (Elizabetes Iela 19; 371-733-2634; http://www.restorans.lv) is one of the best restaurants in the city. Martins Ritins, the chef and owner, pioneered the local-organic approach in Latvia; his restaurants almost single-handedly enabled the survival of dozens of small farmers. More importantly, though, he makes extraordinary food. His style could be described as Franco-Baltic-Scandinavian — his signature dish is a potato cake with foie gras and marinated eel. He also has a showman’s touch: a recent dinner featured as a palate cleanser an instant sorbet, composed tableside from Riga Black Balsam (a local bitter spirit, like Fernet-Branca with heavier caramel notes), blackcurrant juice, brown sugar, club soda and liquid nitrogen.

11 a.m.

No trip to Riga would be complete without visiting the sprawling Central Market in the fascinating, grimy area of town known as Maskvas Forstate (the Moscow Suburb). The market comprises almost 1,200 vendors spread across five enormous zeppelin hangars, as well as a secondary, more informal network of stalls outside the market proper. Vendors are arranged more or less by wares, and even if you buy nothing (though it would be a shame to go home without a loaf of Latvia’s glorious rupjmaize (black bread), simply strolling through the market provides a carnival of delights. You can find everything from fresh farmer’s cheese to lemongrass to pig snouts; outside the market, the stallholders sell leather goods, DVDs of dubious provenance and freshly foraged mushrooms.


Carriers including Czech Airlines, Finnair and Air France fly from Kennedy Airport in New York to Riga, usually with one stop. A recent Web search showed round-trip fares starting at about $750. A cab from the airport into the city costs about 10 lats, or $20 at $2 to the lat. Use the reservation stand if it’s busy, otherwise just flag a taxi outside and save a couple of lats.

The Europa Royale (Kr. Barona 12; 371-707-9444; http://www.hoteleuropa.lt/index.php//231) is hard to beat. Just across from Vermanes Park, in a renovated industrialist’s mansion, its rooms are comfortable and its service is friendly. It’s about a 10-minute walk from Old Town. Doubles start at about 100 lats in the low season and 120 lats in the high season.

The Reval Hotel Latvija (Elizabetes iela 55, 371-777-2222) began life as a Soviet Intourist hotel, as its 27-story blockish structure testifies. A recent refurbishment, however, has given the interior a decidedly more luxurious feeling. Doubles start at about 70 lats.

The Sunday Charity: Americans Saving Russian Orphans

The North Carolina Sun Journal reports:

A New Bern church will hold a fund-raiser Saturday to help support about 60 Russian orphans.

Garber United Methodist Church members and local businesses will gather for the second annual “Holiday Shop to Share.” About 26 vendors will sell clothing, food, jewelry, toys and other items from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the ministry building at the church, which is at 4201 Country Club Road. The church hopes to raise more than $8,000 to send seven people to Makariev, Russia on Nov. 2, said Anne Robertson, the event organizer. Garber supports about 60 children at orphanages in Kovalyovo and in Makariev through the Children’s Hopechest Orphan Ministry program. Church members have traveled to Russia six times to visit the orphans and work on their homes. Robertson has made the trip to Russia five times. She said a group from Garber built playground equipment last year for children at the orphanage in Makariev, which is north of Moscow. She said orphans are treated like second-class citizens in Russia. She said orphans receive a lot of teasing from other children. “But no one, regardless of class, has playground equipment over there,” Robertson said. “So when we built that playground equipment, other kids started coming up and interacting with them. We didn’t plan on that. We just wanted to make something for the kids to play on.”

This year’s Garber team will build wooden bunk beds for the orphan children. “The cutout pieces will be ready, so we’ll go there to bang the parts together,” Roberton said. “We hope this helps because the inside of an orphanage is a pretty grim place.” She said 65 church members send $35 a month to each orphan in Makariev and Kovalyovo. Some of the money has been used to build new walls and floors and install lights in the two orphanage buildings. “We’ve sent six teams there and we’ve never had a person not want to go back,” Robertson said. “We have changed the lives of some of these kids through what we’ve built with our dollars and hands, but they’ve changed our lives, too. This is something that just really touches the hearts of our members.” About 500 people attended the first “Shop to Share” fund-raiser last year. Robertson said she hopes 900 will go this year to raise money for the trip. “Our pitch line for this event is that you can get all of your holiday shopping done at one time this Saturday,” she said. “The event is called Shop to Share because each vendor has made a generous donation to the Children’s Hopechest Orphan Ministry program at Garber Church.” Several local groups will sing at Saturday’s fund-raiser. Pia’s restaurant of New Bern will sell lunch for customers.

More information about the orphan ministry program is available at hopechest.org. Anyone interested in more information about Saturday’s fund-raiser can call the church at 637-4022. Garber members will leave Nov. 2 for Makariev. They will spend eight days building the beds and visiting the orphans.

The Sunday Funnies

More Russia cartoons courtesy of our good friend in South Africa:

This is one of the great Russia cartoons of all time. Brilliant!

October 27, 2007 — Contents


(1) Litvinenko’s Widows Calls on EU to Act Against Russia

(2) More Bomber Outrage from Neo-Soviet Russia

(3) Annals of the Neo-Soviet Crackdown: No More Open Duma

(4) Annals of Psycho Putin