NOTE: In another amazing “get,” the CATO Institute will have a panel discussion between Andrei Illarionov and Yulia Latynina in Washington DC on March 17th. Be there or be square. It will also be available via the web.
NOTE: Be sure to take our “Sochi 2014” reader poll in today’s issue!
NOTE: Reader “Andrew” points readers to an interesting report on Vladimir Putin’s corrupt background in St. Petersburg over on Radio Free Europe, which does some of the best reporting on Putin’s Russia in the business.
NOTE: Blogger Julia Ioffe wishes Russians a happy Women’s Day. Not.
The indispensable Paul Goble reports that the residents of Kaliningrad, Russia are thinking thoughts of secession these days.
Kaliningrad presents a really fascinating paradox. Compared to most regions of Russia, the residents of Kalingrad are rich. But compared to their neighbors Poland and Lithuania (the Kaliningrad region is not contiguous to Russia), they are dirt poor, as are the vast majority of all Russians. And Kaliningraders don’t compare themselves to their remote and slovenly Russian brothers, but to their neighbors, so they’re hopping mad that the Kremlin has bungled their governance so badly and they are taking to the streets to make their displeasure very plain indeed.
According to Vladimir Pribylovsky, president of the Panorama Information and Research Center: “It is perfectly obvious why: the governor is bad and the Kremlin runs our affairs badly as well. The Kaliningraders want to live just like the Poles do.”
And, because of their proximity to the West and their isolation from Russia, it turns out that Kaliningraders are willing to stand up to the Putin regime in brazen acts of defiance that have rocked the Kremlin to its core.
A recent article on the Lenta.ru website (Russian language link) confirms that two-thirds of Russian households have no access to the Internet (only 0.1% of Russians use Twitter). That’s not news, of course, we’ve often reported on Russia’s puny level of Internet penetration, and it’s no surprise: In a country where the average wage is $3/hour, but where Internet access costs the same as it does in the West, paying for Internet access is a luxury few can afford. And as we’ve said before (click the “Internet” category in our sidebar to read our extensive reporting on this subject), the one-third figure is a gross overstatment of Russia’s true level of Internet access, because it includes as “users” those who may go online as rarely as once a month and then only for a few minutes.
But the Lenta article did report a surprising fact: It stated that half of all respondents who could access the Internet were doing so by means of their cell phones.
NOT long ago, Yelena S. Chizhova was engaged in what has become a standard winter pastime for Russia’s middle class: taking the sun at a giant resort hotel in Egypt. She and a girlfriend, who also grew up in St. Petersburg, joined the river of people flowing into the warehouse-size dining hall, its tables heaped with steaming meat and pastries.
And then something passed over them like a shadow. The women felt so uneasy that they had to step away for a moment, and Ms. Chizhova asked her friend what she was thinking about. But she did not need to ask. What the two women had in common was relatives who starved in the 872-day siege of Leningrad, as St. Petersburg was then known, when army engineers set off explosives in the fields and shoveled corpses into the craters.
For a moment, Ms. Chizhova had the strange feeling that she was seeing the piles of food through the eyes of her dying relatives. Born in 1958, she learned the official version of the siege from Soviet textbooks, which cast it as a patriotic triumph. The truly terrible facts sifted down to her when she eavesdropped on her mother and great-grandmother, who lost most of their family in the siege, as they talked quietly over cups of tea.
In a brutally frank essay Alexei Bayer, writing in the Moscow Times, exposes the fundamental fraud that is the Sochi games, and the possible silver lining of holding the Olympics in Russia: That Russia may be finally, totally, exposed before the slack-jawed world:
The Olympic flame in Vancouver has barely gone out and four years remain until the opening day of the next Winter Olympics in Sochi. But the first, most important race is already under way. From now until the closing ceremony on Feb. 23, 2014, the world will be on the edge of its seat, wondering whether Russia can pull it off.
The stakes for the Kremlin are huge. The Sochi Olympics are already different from most previous Winter Games, which were largely organized by local or regional authorities with only limited input from federal governments. Sochi, on the other hand, has always been a federal undertaking, driven by Vladimir Putin and controlled directly from Moscow. It is a national priority meant to showcase Russia’s accomplishments. In this respect, it is part of a long line of “propaganda Olympics,” which began in 1936 in Berlin and continued in Moscow in 1980, Seoul in 1988 and, most recently, Beijing two years ago.
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