Category Archives: arts/letters

Pigs, Dogs and Sheep in Putin’s Russia

Alexei Bayer, writing in the Moscow Times:

George Orwell’s anti-utopian novel “1984” enjoyed a revival during the presidency of George W. Bush. Even though Orwell’s totalitarian future is now more than a quarter-century out of date, the book read like a collection of newspaper headlines. The current government in Washington also pays homage to “1984.” The recent U.S. withdrawal from Iraq can be described in Orwellian newspeak, “peace is war.”

Orwell’s other masterpiece, “Animal Farm,” is a wickedly funny look at the Bolshevik Revolution and Stalinism. But since communism has collapsed and its hypocrisies and evils have been condemned by most thinking persons inside and outside Russia, there seems little point in revisiting this work.

Not so. Published in 1945, “Animal Farm” satirizes Soviet history through World War II but also takes it far into the future. With extraordinary prescience, it paints a picture of post-Communist Russia that is extremely accurate even for our own times.

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EDITORIAL: “Salt” in Russia’s Wounds

EDITORIAL

“Salt” in Russia’s Wounds

The horrifying new Angelina Jolie movie, “Salt,” has our vote for the worst. and most well-deserved, publicity Russia has ever received in its sordid history.

In an amazing bit of timing, “Salt” was released almost at the same moment as the spy scandal involving Anna Chapman, dramatizing for all the world to see the dangers of Russian sleeper cell of spies being turned loose to wreck havoc on the American government, and the world. Had this not been the case, Russophiles would surely have tried to claim that sleep cells like these did not exist.  Now, they are left to mumble and stand utterly exposed.

The image of Russians depicted in the film is truly shocking, bloodthirsty and barbaric.

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Bono and Shevhuk, Defiance in Moscow

The New Zealand Herald reports that the Russians have once again humiliated themselves before the eyes of a slack-jawed world:

Irish super group U2’s first Russia concert was marred Thursday after police detained rights campaigners at the jam-packed venue and tore down tents to prevent them gathering signatures for petitions.

Some 75,000 fans flocked to Wednesday evening’s showpiece in a Moscow stadium which came the day after U2 frontman Bono held talks with rock-loving President Dmitry Medvedev on issues including preventing the spread of polio and HIV.

Bono praised Medvedev as “gracious” in front of the crowd but also as a finale invited Russian rock star Yury Shevchuk – famous for his outbursts against the Kremlin – to the stage for a duet.

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Putin is Destroying Russian Culture for Cash

Paul Goble reports:

Just as he worked to disband Russia’s forest protection service, the consequences of which have now become all too obvious, Vladimir Putin is seeking the liquidation of the federal agency responsible for ensuring that Russian laws protecting historical and cultural monuments are observed, an action that may have equally far-reaching effects.

The proximate cause of this latest action, Kommersant suggested, was the opposition of Rosokhankultura, the agency’s Russian acronym, to the construction of the 403-meter Okhta Center for Gazprom in St. Petersburg, a project Putin supports but that most preservations argue would destroy the integrity of the North Capital’s landscape. But beyond that, Putin’s latest move, just like his destruction of the forest protection service five years ago, reflects his desire to promote business development at any cost and to push out of the way experts and activists who raise questions about the impact of what he and the Russian powers that be want to do.

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Does Russia hate America . . . or Love it?

The Jamestown Foundation reports:

The Galygin television show is perhaps the best popular representation of Russians’ idiosyncratic relationship with the United States.

The show copies Seinfeld, the quintessential American sitcom, with its own standup comedy bits sprinkled between the daily lives of Russian versions of Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer. While the former is familiar, Galygin.ru characters are deep patriots. In one episode, for example, they throw a Western tourist out of a bar while cheering on the Russian team in a televised hockey game (STS TV channel, February, 2010).

Russian mainstream press outlets, mostly controlled by the government, convey a rigid narrative about what the West (Europe and the United States) means to Russia. In the crudest terms, the narrative claims that the West is trying to undermine Russia by luring former Soviet states into its own sphere of influence. Broadcast by the national TV channels, it portrays United States as a competitive power.

However, little is known about what ordinary Russians believe the West has to say about Russia.

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Hollywood on the Evil that Russians Do

The Washington Post reports on yet another wave of Hollywood fare casting Russians as villains.  Nice work, Mr. Putin. Hopefully, Mr. Obama is watching.

It’s 2010, and the Cold War has never been hotter.

Piper Perabo is brushing up on her Russian in the cable series “Covert Affairs.” The movie “Farewell,” a fictionalized version of the career of Vladimir Vetrov, a KGB spy who squirreled state secrets out of Russia in the 1980s, is scheduled to open in Washington next week. The recent sleeper spy story, by turns jaw-dropping and reassuringly benign, wound up providing welcome credibility cover for this week’s summer Cold War throwback: “Salt,” a swift, frenetic action thriller starring Angelina Jolie. In this stylish and absurdly violent kick in the keister, Jolie assumes myriad disguises and punches way above her weight as a CIA agent accused of being a Russian sleeper spy — a notion so alien when Kurt Wimmer first wrote the film that, for years, it languished in studio outboxes.

Even after “Salt” was green-lighted, its producers enlisted no less august a team than former Central Intelligence director R. James Woolsey and former homeland security secretary Tom Ridge to help market the movie and to pre-empt the inevitable criticism that “Salt’s” plot is either hopelessly dated or risibly improbable. (The Washington endorsement suggests another mystery: How does a studio persuade the Justice Department and FBI to prolong a decade-long investigation until a few weeks before your movie comes out?)

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Shevchuk as the Anti-Putin

The New York Times reports:

REVERENCE for Russia’s leaders, be they czars, general secretaries or presidents, has never come easily to Yuri Shevchuk. A bespectacled, slightly graying rock star, Mr. Shevchuk has spent much of the last three decades growling into a microphone in an effort, he says, to awaken in his compatriots a passion to break from their long history of bowing to heavy-handed authority.

These days, at 53, Mr. Shevchuk remains a guttural voice of defiance, just as he was when he began dodging Soviet censors by holding secret concerts in apartments throughout Russia in the early 1980s. But now he rails against Vladimir V. Putin’s government in his packed shows and openly scorns other musicians he accuses of selling out.

Last month, he put his preaching into practice, stunning Russians by making an off-the-cuff speech against official abuses during a meeting with Mr. Putin himself.

“I have questions, honestly speaking,” Mr. Shevchuk told the prime minister at the meeting. “They’ve accumulated for some time, and I will use this opportunity.”

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