Piter Drives the Final Nail into its Own Coffin
Before Vladimir Putin came along, the city of St. Petersburg, Russia enjoyed a national and even an international reputation for enlightenment. It was called Russia’s “window on the West” and it was famous for citizens who had a broader world view, a more democratic inclination, who were more civilized and intelligent than ordinary Russians.
But Putin, a native of Piter, changed all that. From the moment the world learned how he shamelessly plagiarized his dissertation at an elite Piter university, it became clear that Piter was just like every other rotten place in Russia under the skin. When it remained just as silent as the rest of the country (or cheered even louder) as its native son seized power in Moscow, filled the Kremlin halls with proud KGB spies and began a relentless neo-Soviet crackdown, the world saw the true St. Petersburg.
And nothing could have better confirmed Piter’s wretched barbarism than the recent election campaign of former governor and Putin lackey Valentina Matvienko for a local legislative post in the city, one she needed so Putin could appoint her to the Federation Council and name her speaker.
Russian Ignorance, Unbound
“One of our professors talked about him in a lecture. But I don’t really remember now exactly what he said.”
Those were the words of 17-year old Russian law student Maria Danilyants. The “him” she was referring to was Andrei Sakharov, and she was being asked about him by Michael Schwirtz of the New York Times because his wife Yelena Bonner had just passed away.
If you think Ms. Danilyants is an ignorant buffoon, think again. She’s by far the brightest person in her law school class, because not a single one of her classmates could place the name “Sakharov” at all. This is very much the same as if a class of American law students in New York City turned out to have no idea who Martin Luther King was. That is, if America had collapsed and been replaced by another country because it didn’t listen to King.
Cynics on Russia though we may be, we continue to be utterly stunned by the extent of Russian barbarism and ignorance. It is truly not inaccurate to refer to Russia as “Zaire with permafrost” and it is truly breathtaking that Russians can look at any other country and think themselves even remotely erudite.
Readin’ and Writin’ and Roosskie Rithmatic
One of the most hilarious features (or it would be if it were not so tragic) about the Russian psyche is the nation’s continued insistence that it is well-educated, especially compared to Americans. The actual facts tell a quite different story (not that Russians are ever over-interested in facts).
The United States spends 5.7% of its GDP on education, ranking #37 out of 132 countries surveyed by the United Nations Human Development Program.
Russia spends a woeful 3.8% of GDP, ranking a sad and sorry #88. Two-thirds of world nations spend more on education as a share of GDP than Russia does. The USA in particular spends over 65% more on education, as a share of its GDP, than Russia.
If you think about it in dollar terms, the picture is even more horrifying for Russia.
LR rates the Russia Blogs
Happy birthday to us! This month, La Russophobe turns five years old, a mighty milestone, ancient in blog years.
It’s April, the month of our founding, and a young LR’s head turns once again to thoughts of blog ratings. As we did last year at this time we offer our “top ten” list of the best Russia blogs on this planet.
Vladimir Ryzkhov, writing in the Moscow Times:
The Education and Science Ministry headed by Andrei Fursenko has a good shot at winning the dubious title of Least-Loved Federal Agency, an honor once incontestably held by the Health and Social Development Ministry when it was headed by Mikhail Zurabov. He was disgraced after trying to monetize pensioners’ benefits, which sparked widespread protests in 2005.
Criticism has not subsided over standardized university-entrance exams that were intended to end corruption by leveling the educational playing field for rich and poor, urbanites and people from the provinces. But the exams have only given the advantage to the most corrupt regions and turned the educational process into a mindless rote process of memorizing facts instead of testing students’ intellectual ability.
Russian professor of economics Konstantin Sonin, writing in the Moscow Times:
There are some people who love making speeches about Russia’s so-called power vertical and democratic institutions, and there are other people who would benefit greatly from them in their daily occupations — if only the vertical and democratic institutions actually existed.
Here is one example.
Russian Universities, Awful as Always
It always amuses us when Russians are “shocked, shocked” to learn that their universities have been exposed before the world as third-rate, as they were once again last week. The Moscow Times reported:
Not a single Russian university made it to the top 200 list of the world’s best schools released this fall by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the most authoritative global annual rating of higher education institutions. The top-ranked school is Harvard University, while many other U.S. and British universities prevail on the list.
The ranking is based on 13 elements, including research income, ration of international and domestic staff, income from industry, teaching, and citation impact.
The reasons that they are so wretched are as obvious as the sun.
To put it simply, Russia’s best and brightest are morons, hardly surprising given the horrifying facts in our lead editorial about Russia’s ordinary citizens as child and women killers. Professor Konstantin Sonin, writing in the Moscow Times:
On Saturday, pages from the English version of the Russian Academy of Sciences web site contained several amusing translation errors. For example, the renowned Institute for Protein Research was incorrectly named “Squirrel Institute.” (The Russian word for protein, belok, is similar to the word for squirrel, belka.)
Bloggers — many of whom are employed by Russian Academy of Sciences institutions — did not know whether to laugh or cry. In fact, there were a number of amusing mistakes, all of which seemed to be the result of running the Russian text through online translators and then failing to edit the result.
The sad part is that these mistakes went unnoticed for quite some time. This episode was just one more blow to the reputation of the academy’s leadership, especially following Russian Academy of Sciences president Yury Osipov’s recent comment that there is no compelling need for Russian scholars to know English.
Russia already spends far less on education than most other modern countries – about 3.5 percent of GDP – compared to 7-8 percent of GDP among European countries, 14 percent of the GDP in Japan and a high of 23 percent of GDP in South Korea.
Paul Goble reports:
School teachers are not miners whose 1989 work action pointed to the end of Gorbachev’s Soviet Union, a Moscow commentator says, but Russian Education Minister Andrey Fursenko’s decision to lay off 200,000 educators could prove almost as explosive and trigger a political crisis for Vladimir Putin and his government.
That is because, experts say, there are currently more than 1,000,000 young people waiting in line to get into pre-school institutions, the absence of which has a serious impact on family life and thus a problem that will become ever more important if even more instructors at that level are fired as Fursenko is committed to doing. And in addition to that, many schools have teacher vacancies in key subject areas like science and mathematics, shortages that have been widely reported in the Russian media and that make it difficult for many Russians to accept Fursenko’s claim that the Russian Federation should be getting rid of such a large number of teachers.
In a commentary in Svobodnaya Pressa portal, Aleksandr Danilkin says that Fursenko’s plan to eliminate the jobs of one of every six teachers in the Russian Federation because Russian schools are overstaffed could prove “explosive” and even help “dig the grave of the Putin government.”
Michael Bohm, writing in the Moscow Times:
Three weeks ago, NTV television reported that more than 70 engineers working at a Komsomolsk-on-Amur airplane factory in the Khabarovsk region had obtained fake engineering degrees from a local technical college. The high-security military plant, which belongs to state-owned Sukhoi, assembles the Su-27, Su-30 and Su-35 fighter jets, as well as the much-anticipated Superjet 100 passenger plane. The trade in fake diplomas is nothing new, of course, but the sheer number of employees involved was mind-boggling.
Sukhoi management took a nonchalant attitude toward the scandal and refused to fire the employees, referring to a company rule that employees can be dismissed only for “grave crimes.” (According to the Criminal Code, knowingly purchasing a fake diploma carries a maximum punishment of an 80,000 ruble [$2,600] fine and two years of “correctional labor.”) Sukhoi management also explained that the diplomas were a mere formality since the engineers had been employed at the plant for years and assured that no engineers with fake diplomas had been employed in actual plane production.
This is a classic case of self-deception. Sukhoi pretended that it had “raised worker qualifications” by instantly turning dozens of employees with only a high school education into engineers with college degrees. Until they got caught, everyone seemingly gained from the scheme. The plant reported to Sukhoi headquarters in Moscow that it fulfilled its plan for the number of degree-holding engineers on staff, the workers received a small bonus for their new skill level, and everyone pretended that they were making better airplanes.
Russia as Laughingstock
As if the Kremlin did not get enough humiliation last week, as we report in our lead editorial about Khodorkovsky laughing at Putin through his cell bars and in our second editorial about Russian failure in Chechnya and Ossetia — or for that matter the week before when it was forced to advertise in the classifieds seeking lawyers capable of defending it in the European Court for Human Rights — yet another devasting blow to Russia’s ego was delivered.
Russia Profile translates Xenia Luchenko, editor-in-chief of the Tatyanin Den website, explaining how the Putin regime is creating a new generation of morons by brainwashing the youngest Russian citizens about their history:
My son recently brought a book home from school, which he said he had been assigned to read over the next two weeks. It was called “The Book to Read on the History of Our Homeland,” and was published in 1991. It has stories about the 17th century Cossack rebel Stepan Razin, a section entitled “How Workers Lived and Fought in Pre-Revolutionary Russia,” and an entire chapter called “The First Decrees of the Soviet Government.” There are pictures of Red Army soldiers with rifles, and the chapter “Lenin’s Arrival in Petrograd” is illustrated with classic images of Lenin on an armored vehicle, surrounded by a crowd waving red flags.
After putting this rubbish to one side, I had to explain to the boy what he should tell his teacher when she asks why he did not read the book. They wanted double standards, so let them have them.
Reading, Writing and Reckless Ruin in Russia
From the very earliest days of this blog’s operation, we have been tirelessly documenting the horrific fraud that is the Russian so-called “education” system. We thought we had seen it all.
But nothing prepared us for the column in last Thursday’s Moscow Times newspaper from high-ranking Kremlin educator Yevgeny Bazhanov, Vice Chancellor of the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy. We republish it in full in today’s issue, and we still cannot keep from quoting it at length here.
We confess that, Russia cynics though we may be, we were left slack-jawed by the horrifying revelations Professor Bazhanov offered about the so-called “best and brightest” in Russia’s top universities. His plaintive cry “with these brains, how will Russia ever modernize?” left us feeling more hopeless than we ever have about Russia’s future.
As if that were not enough, we also carry in today’s issue a report from the Other Russia which documents a reporter having her children kidnapped by the state apparently in retaliation for critical reporting about the Kremlin-connected Avtovaz factory in her city.
No other description fits: This is naked barbarism. It is a country totally disconnected from the basic standards of the civilized world, descending into the bleakest pits of animalistic frenzy, destroying itself utterly in the process.
Yevgeny Bazhanov, vice chancellor of research and international relations at the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy, writing in the Moscow Times:
I have noticed a disturbing new trend among my students: In the past 10 years, the number of them who sincerely believe ridiculous conspiracy theories about U.S. aggression and global domination is increasing. This is particularly disturbing considering that many of these students may very well rise to become members of the country’s elite and represent the new faces of Russia.
One of their favorite conspiracy theories is that former U.S. President George W. Bush and his cronies were behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Al-Qaida, it would seem, had nothing to do with Sept. 11, although it has claimed responsibility repeatedly. And when asked why Bush would commit such an unthinkable crime, they always respond, “So that he would have a pretext for attacking Iraq.”
Polina Surina doles out a Real Russian “Education”
The Moscow Times reports:
Polina Surina, 26, an instructor at the School of Government at Moscow State University, has been hit with new fraud charges in a case that has rocked the educational establishment. Surina, whose father is the dean of the school, was detained on April 26 and charged with accepting a bribe of 35,000 euros ($46,000) from a prospective student. But the district prosecutor’s office dropped the charge, which carried a maximum punishment of five years, drawing criticism from the Investigative Committee. Nina Ostanina, a State Duma deputy with the Communist Party, has accused Vyacheslav Volodin, a senior United Russia official and a professor at the School of Government, of intervening with investigators on Surina’s behalf. The city prosecutor’s office reopened the case on a new charge of fraud carrying up to 10 years in prison after a video of Surina accepting the money leaked onto the Internet, Interfax reported Tuesday. Her father, Alexei Surin, dean of the School of Government, will leave his post Friday because his term has expired, Interfax said.
Let’s be crystal clear: the sordid case of “Professor” Surina is in no way an aberration. This is simply the Russian education system in microcosm, and nobody who has spent any serious time in Russia would dare deny that. And it’s richly fitting that, of all things, Surina is a professor of government, that most corrupt of all Russian institutions. Not long ago, we reported on a massive scandal involving bribery at the Russian prosecutor’s office.
ABC News reports:
Political turmoil, a brain drain of scientists and waning interest have transformed Russia from a nation that launched the first satellite into an increasingly minor player in the world of science, according to a Thomson Reuters report released on Tuesday.
An analysis of research papers published by Russian scientists shows an almost across-the-board decrease, which reflects Russia’s shrinking influence not only in science but in science-based industries such as nuclear power, the authors of the Thomson Reuters report said.
“Russia’s research base has a problem, and it shows little sign of a solution,” the report reads.
Russia’s Empty Schools
Speaking on Echo of Moscow radio last week, Russian Education and Science Minister Andrey Fursenko said that “three or four years from now, there will be half as many students [in the country’s higher educational institutions] as there are now.” Over the next two years, the pool of annually available potential university students will be just 700,000 compared to 1.3 million three years ago.
The consequences of this fact are obvious: Unqualified students will be admitted to study where their efforts will be wasted, and qualified instructors will lose their jobs. Even worse, the diversity and creativity present in the Russian classroom will plummet.
Fursenko reveals a truly shocking and horrifying statistic, namely that less than one third of enrolled students, even in the most elite institutions, are “really” engaged in study, and that as few as 15% — yes, fifteen percent — are doing so in the second-rate institutions.
Shaun Walker, writing in the Independent:
Critics are accusing President Vladimir Putin’s government of a Soviet-style rewriting of Russian history with a series of new “patriotic” textbooks to be unveiled in the new school year.
New laws passed this summer have given the government sweeping powers over which textbooks will be used in schools. Teachers and other critics have voiced concerns that this will allow the government to force the use of a single, approved book in each subject – essentially a return to Soviet practice.
Mr Putin has complained that the negative view of the Soviet past in current history textbooks is down to the fact that the authors received foreign grants to write them.
Now, the Kremlin claims it wants to change that situation and a recommissioning of Russia’s history textbooks is under way. A handbook for teachers, on the basis of which a future textbook for students could be written, is called The Modern History of Russia, 1945-2006. Only one of the authors is a professional historian. The book calls Joseph Stalin a “contradictory” figure, and states that while some people consider him evil, others recognise him as a “hero” for his role in the Great Patriotic War (the Second World War) and his territorial expansion.
NATO lays down the Law to Russia
“I made it clear that NATO insists on full respect of Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. We have long ago taken the decision that Georgia and Ukraine will become NATO members.”
–NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen to Echo of Moscow radio during his first visit to Russia
Last week, the head of NATO visited Russia and spit in Dima Medvedev’s eye. He repudiated Medvedev’s call for a new European security pact, fully embracing the continuing role of the United States in European security, and he openly demanded that Russia release both Georgia and Ukraine to the embrace of Europe both economically and militarily.
The crazed propagandistic lie promulgated by Russia’s KGB dictators that Europe secretly loves Russia and despises the United States were blown to smithereens, right along with the parallel fantasy that Europe will stand idly by and watch a neo-Soviet juggernaut roll back into former Soviet space.
Putin’s Barbaric Axe Falls Again, and Again
Vladimir Putin continues his barbaric, Stalin-like purge of opposition figures high and low. From the most powerful judicial official to the lowliest student in Siberia, no one is safe from his murderous axe. If you merely lose you job or your place at univerisity, consider yourself lucky you are not simply shot dead.
Last Wednesday, not one but two judges of Russia’s Constitutional Court were forced to resign. Oleg Kozlovsky reports that Vladimir Yaroslavtsev and Anatoly Kononov were forced off the bench for expressing worries about the quality of Russian democracy and the independence of the courts. Yaroslavtsev gave an interview to the Spanish newspaper El Pais, while Kononov gave one to the Russian paper Sobesednik defending Yaroslavtsev and even daring to raise the subject of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Yaroslavtsev told the Spanish daily: “Nobody knows what [the FSB] will decide tomorrow. There is no consultation or discussion.”
So much for the separation of powers and the concept of judicial review in Russia. Looks like the only opinion that matters where the Russian constitution is concerned is Putin’s.
Paul Goble reports:
In his classic novel of the purges, “The Case of Comrade Tulayev,” Victor Serge describes the way in which officials picked up on hints from their Stalinist superiors, often went further than even the latter intended, and because the system could not stop, set a new and more frightening standard of behavior for all.
Something similar appears to be taking place at Omsk State University. There, according to the “Otkryty Omsk” portal, administrators, working together with local militia officials, have compiled “an extremists’ list” on which figure not only those who have taken part in public protests but also those who have complained about the food.
Obama Teaches Russia a Lesson
Obama, famous on YouTube for flyswatting says: "This year was a tough one. More and more problems every day." Source: Ellustrator.
Last Tuesday must have been rather disturbing for the denizens of the Russian Kremlin.
American voters helped the Republican Party adminster a “humiliating” beat-down of the Democrats in gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, both states Barack Obama easily carried last year in his presidential bid. The humiliation for Obama was especially intense in New Jersey, an overwhemlingly “blue” state that hadn’t seen Republicans in the statehouse in ages, a state Obama won in a landslide and where he campaigned actively for the Democratic incumbent. And the Republicans didn’t just win, they won in absolutely dominating, blowout fashion. It seems that reports of the GOP’s demise were greatly exaggerated.
These results would have the Kremlin heads spinning for two different reasons.
The New York Times reports on the horrifying neo-sovietization of education:
Word spread this month among the faculty members of St. Petersburg State University: According to a document signed on Oct. 1, they have to submit their work to administrators for permission before publishing it abroad or presenting it at overseas conferences.
The order, which was circulated internally and made its way onto a popular Internet forum, says professors must provide their academic department with copies of texts to be made public outside Russia, so that they can be reviewed for violation of intellectual property laws or potential danger to national security.