Sunday, January 29, 2012

U.S., Russia: The Flying Balalaika Brothers Bridge Cultural Gaps in Texas

         Like many of their compatriots, musicians Zhenya Kolykhanov and Sergey Vaschenko emigrated from Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. They have since established themselves in Texas, USA, and, through the formation of a band called the Flying Balalaika Brothers and a non-profit called Musical Connections, they work to bridge cultural gaps by exposing Texans to international art.
         Along with providing readers with a daily calendar of performances, music videos, and sound bites, the group's official website elaborates on how the Flying Balalaika Brothers got established in Austin, TX:
The Original Flying Balalaika Brothers were formed in Los Angeles in 1995 by Zhenya Kolykhanov (a.k.a. Z Rock), the former lead guitarist of the Russian surf/rockabilly group Red Elvises. The group started as a street band and later transformed into the group Red Elvises; which had a large history of performing for clubs, motion pictures, and tv shows in California. After Zhenya set up shop in Austin TX, he reestablished The Flying Balalaika Brothers. The band represents a blend of traditional world music and original musical pieces. The group has found a home in the musically rich culture in Austin TX.
          NowPlayingAustin Blog, an affiliate of a 35-year-old non-profit devoted to promoting the arts in Central Texas, assessed the Flying Balalaika Brothers' style in an announcement of an upcoming performance:
Russian, Roma Gypsy, Ukrainian and foot stomping original songs get hands clapping and feet dancing in a crazy blend of rock, bluegrass and traditional folk music from around the world. Now front man for the Flying Balalaika Brothers, Zhenya Rock was a founding member of the Red Elvises and penned some of their biggest hits including "Red Lips Red Eyes Red Stockings," the full soundtrack for Six String Samarai and the full album "Bedroom Boogie." William Michael Smith recently wrote in the Houston Press, "Austin's Flying Balalaika Brothers are to Russian folk music what Béla Fleck is to bluegrass: Outside-the-box, no-boundaries, take-no-prisoners innovators. The FBBs combine jaw-dropping virtuosity with a masterful sense of mixing up genres ranging from rock to Russian folk to bluegrass; if that sounds weird, it's also cool as hell."
          In May 2011, The Flying Balalaika Brothers appeared on 90.5 FM KUT, an Austin-based radio station. The Daily Grackle Blog posted a video of their live performance:

          Coastal Bend College Blog discussed Mr. Kolykhanov's and Mr. Vaschenko's educational and professional backgrounds, including Mr. Vaschenko's eligibility for Grammy Awards in 2003 and 2008:
Kolykhanov graduated from Tchaikovsky Music College in Vologda, Russia, in 1984. He later came to the United States to study critical thinking, reading and fine arts at the University of Delaware. In addition to the balalaika, Kolykhanov plays guitar, composes songs for television, and creates art for commercials. 
Sergey Vaschenko earned a bachelor’s degree in conducting and balalaika from Lysenko State Music College in Poltava, Ukraine, in 1980 and a master’s in orchestral conducting, teaching and balalaika performance from the Mussorgsky Ural State Conservatory in Sverdlovsk, Russia, in 1985. Vaschenko’s experience includes: Dean of the Faculty of Arts for Perm State Institute of Culture in Perm, Russia; guest soloist for the Latvian Chamber Orchestra in 1989; music educator in Russia, Latvia, Spain, Dallas and Austin; and guest conductor for the Houston Balalaika Society. He won an international award at the music festival in Segovia, Spain, and was a contender for a 2003 and 2008 Grammy award in the world music category.
The post went on to elaborate on the group's outreach efforts in area schools:
In addition to touring and performing, they began successfully presenting educational programs in three languages (English, Spanish and Russian) to students of Texas public and private schools, celebrating the arts in all its diversity by providing a unique approach to studying both the profound similarities and distinctive differences of people throughout history and around the world.
          Mr. Kolykhanov and Mr. Vaschenko have formed a non-profit organisation called Musical Connections in order to fund and facilitate educational opportunities for young people. Musical Connections and The Flying Balalaika Brothers have a symbiotic relationship in that the non-profit provides an administrative foundation for the band's artistic objectives, while the band personifies the non-profit. The non-profit's official website articulates its mission:
Musical Connections is a Texas domestic nonprofit corporation, organized to promote a greater understanding of the music of the world through performances, cultural exchanges, musical history and heritage, and by educating the public about the multitude of music produced by cultures around the world. The founders believe that many people in this country fail to appreciate the great variety of music produced in the world today principally because they have not been educated about that music, or have not had chance to hear it performed.
Russian pianist Valery Grohovski played jazz interpretations of Bach and Mozart in Austin, Texas, on Jan. 20, 2012. Photo by Donna Welles

          On Jan. 20, Russian pianist Valeri Grohovski performed in Austin on Jan. 20 as part of a Musical Connections concert series, playing jazz interpretations of works by Bach and Mozart.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Russia: “Mikhail Dmitrievich Prokhorov: An Unpredictable Kremlin Project”

          Mikhail Prokhorov will oppose Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the March 2012 Russian presidential election. Although some believe the election's outcome to be pre-scripted, the complexities surrounding Mr. Prokhorov's candidacy - such as the degree of his wealth as well as the origins of it, his relationship with PM Putin as well as Mikail Khodorkovsky, and the comprehensive political programme he released last week - should not be overlooked.
          Global Voices analyzed the complexities of modern US-Russia relations in an article entitled, "Obama's McFaul Sworn in as US Ambassador."
          The Washington Post Blog provided insight into the American perception of Mr. Prokhorov through its announcement of his candidacy:
First Brooklyn, then... the world. 
In a move more shocking than any rumored trade involving Dwight Howard or Chris Paul, New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has announced his intention to challenge Vladi­mir Putin for the Russian presidency. 
The 46-year-old policital newcomer was elected to lead Russia’s Right Cause party in late June, and at the time made minor waves with his statements about the country’s need for a multi-party system. 
The tens of thousands of protesters on the streets in Russia are also looking for change — but the difficult task facing Prokhorov is earning their support. 
For what he lacks in experience, Prokhorov makes up for in fortune. With an estimated worth of $18 billion, Prokhorov has financial means to build a large-scale campaign, but uniting the masses crying out for clean elections and an end to corruption is a daunting task.
          Mr. Prokhorov's official website, which is available in both English and Russian, provides readers and/or potential voters with excerpts of speeches, commentaries, news updates, and details of his background:
Mikhail Prokhorov was born in Moscow on May 3, 1965. His father worked as Head of the International Relations Department of the Soviet State Sports Committee; his mother did scientific research work at the Moscow Chemical Materials Institute. Mikhail has an elder sister, Irina. 
Upon completion of secondary education with a focus on English studies, Mikhail studied at the Moscow Finance Institute (currently known as the Finance Academy under the RF Government), from which he graduated magna cum laude.
          Ian Bremmer wrote in Reuters Blog soon after Mr. Prokhorov's candidacy was announced that the 2012 Russian presidential election had already been scripted:
Prokhorov has not forgotten that he owes his fortune and therefore his allegiance to Putin. As he already stated in his press conference, he doesn’t plan to dwell on attacking Putin (no more than 10% of his platform will be anti-Putin), but rather would like to talk about his plans for Russia. Kudrin has all but ignored Putin in laying out his case for a new party. Imagine if Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney came out tomorrow and said they were done attacking President Obama and wanted to focus solely on their plans for the U.S. Both Kudrin and Prokhorov represent ‘acceptable opposition’ to Moscow. That’s a recipe for a gracious but certain defeat. Kudrin owes his allegiance to Putin for slightly different reasons, but the result is the same: both candidates exist to draw off votes and appease the intellectual classes who are disenchanted with Putin’s leadership. But they will do nothing to keep Putin from a third term as President. 
Putin will run a campaign — he will go to a supermarket, complain that prices are too high, and prices will be lowered. He will find some way to distribute a token amount of the natural resource wealth to the public, such as ordering a price cap on gasoline.  He will spend the money it takes to make a noticeable impact for his base. He’ll make the gestures to the public and the media that he deserves a third term. And he’ll get it.
Russian businessman Mikhail Prokhorov carries a box containing signatures to support his presidential candidacy before handing them in to the Central Election Commission. Photo by RFE/RL, copyright © Demotix (18/01/12)

        Stephen Weil assessed in a post entitled, "Mikhail Dmitrievich Prokhorov: An Unpredictable Kremlin Project" for the Center for Strategic and International Studies Blog the validity of Prokhorov's candidacy:
It is possible that Prokhorov has simply decided to take advantage of a political opening to rejuvenate his political project, but many Russian observers seem convinced that his campaign is actually a Kremlin-backed ploy designed to lure the support of urban, middle class voters away from more viable opposition candidates while simultaneously providing more competition, and thus more legitimacy, for Putin’s inevitable inauguration.  The evidence seems to stack up in favor of this more cynical view, although the potential remains for Prokhorov to stray outside of his Kremlin-approved agenda, prompting a re-run of his conflict with the authorities over Right Cause.
         One indication that Mr. Prokhorov is, perhaps, acting independently is his promise to release Mikhail Khodorkovsky from prison if he's elected, as illustrated in a Global Voices article entitled, "Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the 2012 Presidential Election":
Formerly Russia's richest man, jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky is once again in the political spotlight, as Russian presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov vows to pardon Mr. Khodorkovsky if he's elected next spring. Mr. Khodorkovsky has been incarcerated since 2003, when he was arrested for non-payment of back-taxes as part of the “Yukos Affair“. Many have doubted the validity of the charges against him and view his prosecution as part of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's political agenda.
         Mr. Prokhorov released a political programme [ru] last week, which outlines in detail his plans on how to ensure Russia lives up to its potential. Some of his opening remarks were:
We choose a cool, fashionable, modern country, where every person is responsible for [his/her] actions, has access to education, work opportunities, growth and constantly strives for the best. We choose a country where everyone is equal before the law - regardless of position and privilege - [a country] which does not accept overbearing tyranny, a country where the judiciary is independent. We choose a real future because we want to live and be happy in our own country, we want to work, build, make discoveries and breakthroughs in science and art for [Russia's] benefit. I am convinced that the main treasure of Russia is its human potential, and a major strategic investment is an investment in people. I want us all to remember that we are the heirs of the greatest world culture, an integral part of the European civilization, and it is our great responsibility. Russia must cease to be an outsider of the world process, but must instead serve as a model, [a leader] for the civilized world, the most educated, cultured, free and prosperous country of the third millennium. Only a free man in a free country has the ability to create and build in the public interest! I believe that together we can make a difference and change for the better. I want to build a real future of Russia together with you.
         RiaNovosti discussed some of the specifics of the program including plans for fighting corruption and monopolies as well as improving Russia's infrastructure, healthcare system, and social services. The comments that followed displayed skepticism.

Mr Prokhorov how did you earn your 1rst billion? please refresh my memory. As for rest of your plan getting rid of RF independence and making Russia a colony is best way to protect your billions Euro transferred in 90s/2000s? or am I wrong?
This guy is only trying to corrupt the [elite] to better gain means of control and gain more power, To say short he is a criminal.
          Finally, Los That Sports Blog noted that if Mr. Prokhorov does run a successful campaign and is elected to the Russian Presidency, such a post could affect his responsibilities to the NBA:
It will be interesting to see, if elected, how his political responsibilities impact Prokhorov’s involvement with the Nets. Prokhorov purchased the Nets in May 2010 and holds an 80% stake in the franchise, as well as 45% in the new Barclay Center, where the Nets will be moving to in 2012. Prokhorov is the first non-American NBA owner and tallest at 6’8″ (random).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tribute to Henry Allison Page III


Henry Allison Page III was my grandpa's best friend and Rhodes Scholar buddy who was KIA by a 
kamikaze fighter in May 1945 while serving on the USS Birmingham. 

I've transcribed the dedication found in "Profile of Europe" by Sam Welles (1948):

To the Memory of Henry Allison Page III
born at Aberdeen, North Carolina, October 19, 1913
killed in action off Okinawa, May 4, 1945.

         Henry Page was the finest person of my generation I have known.

         During an oral examination for his Rhodes Scholarship, he was asked, "What is it that more than anything else makes you hot under the collar?" A southerner answering southerners, in Georgia, he said (one of the astounded examiners later told), "To see anyone be unfair to a negro." When he saw a beggar, he crossed the street if necessary, not to avoid giving but to give. He was one of the best linguists and wittiest talkers I ever heard. He was never unkind, caustic, or fulsome- yet no one could deflate any sort of pretension more neatly and sweetly.

         As a small boy he could identify any star, and would drag people out of bed on frosty nights to come peer through his telescope. At Asheville School his achievements included a 100 in the English college-entrance examination. His Princeton record, from track to phonetics, was topped with the highest undergraduate award, the Pyne Honor Prize. At Oxford his rare combination of great intelligence and warm, human naturalness caused a teacher to say, "He writes on philosophy as if he were writing to his mother." From 1938 to 1940 he had a fellowship at Harvard, and he was nearing his Ph. D. in government when he volunteered for the Navy in June, 1940.

         At Princeton he was a pacifist. In Europe during the late 1930's he saw totalitarianism and decided there were principles for which men must fight if necessary. A commission would have been his for the asking. He characteristically chose a method that would make him a line, not a desk officer: a six-month training course, starting as an apprentice seaman. The Navy several times offered him good shore posts. While no one more valued peace, quiet, pleasure, the amenities in life, seeing friends and having solitude- all the things a warship so seldom provides- Henry felt the issues of World War II so deeply that only the most active part in it could satisfy him. He rejected every shore assignment and was on sea duty from early 1941 until his death.

         He was at the landings in North Africa, Normandy, and southern France. When action lessened in the Atlantic, he applied for a transfer to the Pacific. There he took part in several actions off the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

         The Navy found good use for his precision, skill, and stubborn sense of duty. He was a communications officer on the staff of the admiral commanding the bombardment group off Okinawa. He was on the command ship, at the nerve center. All the messages, in and out, that coordinated the air, ground, and sea bombardment passed through him. He did his complex job under the strain of the continued Japanese suicide attacks that turned Okinawa into the longest and bloodiest battle in American naval history. In April he narrowly escaped death from a Japanese hit on the Tennessee. In May he was killed when a suicide plane struck the Birmingham.

         His admiral took the time to write a letter longhand, stating "I have seen no finer officer in this war."Regulars do not often say that of reservists. The admiral added that Henry was one of the few truly saintly men he had ever known.

         He did have a saint's faith, gentleness, and sheer unselfishness. He also had the flaming temper characteristic of saints when they step out of stained glass. I once told him I was glad to have been one of a large family of children who rubbed off on each other's rough edges. Henry grinned and retorted: "My sister and I knocked 'em off." AS he grew up he learned to control his wrath. But cruelty, meanness, or injustice always aroused it. […]

         On his last leave, Henry managed to walk for a few days in the Great Smoky Mountains he loved so well. He wrote me: "Go as far as I may I do not think I will ever find a more heavenly country than the Smokies in October with the full glory of autumn upon them. It is unbelievable, even while you are looking at it. Make a date for some October, please." Only a few days before his instant death, he wrote of the Germany we had known together and the Japan that had already almost killed him: "The chaos and the misery in Germany must be absolutely inconceivable, though no greater than other suffered by the Germans' hand. The sentiments of Dover Beach thrust themselves almost forcibly upon you these days. And now we propose to do the same to Japan. I, for one, am reluctant to do so." […]

         Those who have said good-by to someone in wartime will know why, in a period of uneasy peace, this book is dedicated to Henry Page.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Russia: Obama's McFaul Sworn in as US Ambassador

          President Obama's closest adviser on affairs of state of the Former Soviet Union and architect of the 'reset' between the United States and Russia, Michael McFaul, has officially replaced President Bush's nomination as the United States' Ambassador to Russia. A Stanford University professor, Ambassador McFaul has published several works which discuss the process of democratization.
          Despite an overt effort made by McFaul to open a dialogue with the Russian people through citizen media outlets, the Russian-language blogosphere has reacted to his appointment with skepticism - asserting that he's come to Russia with an agenda to incite 'revolution'.
          Robert Amsterdam Blog contextualized Ambassador McFaul's appointment amid ongoing tensions between Russia and the United States:
Washington’s new ambassador to Russia, reset-architect Michael McFaul, was sworn in on Tuesday. US-Russia relations have certainly taken a bit of a beating of late. In December, Hillary Clinton faced verbal excoriation from Vladimir Putin for her stance on the protest movement. In addition to this, missile defense remains unresolved, the situation in Syria is a nexus of East/West disagreement, and despite some flexibility in its verbal stance on Iran, Moscow remains resolute in opposing sanctions. So how will McFaul, who was a special assistant to the President on Russian and Eurasian affairs, fare on his Russian ‘adventure’ as Clinton puts it? Many have taken the nomination of the Stanford Professor as a sign that Obama is committed to re-galvanising the reset.
          A article, written by Dan Peleschuk, was then quoted in an effort to assess Mr. McFaul's credentials:
[...] McFaul has amassed a wealth of contacts and built solid relationships with his Russian counterparts. Having spent sporadic periods living, studying and working in both the Soviet Union and Russia, he has firsthand experience in building workable contacts with top political players in Russia throughout the past 20 years. McFaul is so familiar and respected in Russian circles that when Obama informed President Dmitry Medvedev of his selection last year, Clinton said, the Russian president reportedly answered, “Of course. He’s a tough negotiator.”
Secretary Clinton Holds a Swearing-In Ceremony for Ambassador-Designate McFaul. (Source: Flickr account of the U.S. Department of State; License: United States Government Work.)

          As part of an organised social media campaign to acquaint himself with the Russian people, Ambassador McFaul announced via his Twitter account that he'd officially been sworn in:
It's official. I've been sworn-in as the U.S. Ambassador to Russia. On to the next adventure!,AAAAAGWqYgE~,KxHPzbPALrGIxpNl8Q_zt_wx9HBY68Ck&bctid=1381692846001
          The tweet included a link to a YouTube video where Ambassador McFaul introduced himself to the Russian people. The Cable Foreign Policy blog posted a transcript of the video, which was spoken in English with Russian subtitles:
My name is Michael McFaul. I'm very excited to be returning to your great country. I grew up here, in the state of Montana, or ‘the regions' as you would say in Russia. But even as a boy in Montana I developed an interest in U.S.-Soviet relations, and in particular, in the simple idea that more direct communication with the Soviets could make us and the world more secure. [...] 
I've worked closely with President Obama since the first day of his administration to develop the relationship between the United States and Russia based on our mutual interest and mutual respect for one another. The president called for a reset with Russia, animated by the belief that greater engagement could produce security and economic benefits for both of our countries. 
The most important part of my job will be to foster more contact between the people of the United States and the people of Russia. I'm interested in not only meeting government officials, but people from other political parties and movements, businessmen and women, civil society activists, and regular Russians just like you. 
(In Russian) I'm inviting Russians to contact me directly on Twitter and Facebook. Goodbye for now, I will see you again soon.
This video sparked discussion as it spread rapidly across the Russian-language internet.

          One Russian-language LJ blog alluded [ru] to Ambassador McFaul's reputation as being an instigator of revolution, scoffed at Ambassador McFaul's call for an open dialogue with the Russian people using citizen media, and suggested that his arrival in Russia was well-timed in that it preceded the presidential elections that will be held this spring:
[...] So we've now seen today's arrival in Moscow of the new U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul , a recognized architect and the practician of "color revolutions" in the former Soviet Union. He's already got himself a Twitter account for [virtual] acquaintance with the "Dear Russians" and left a video message in which he stated that he was "glad to be back in a great country." McFaul arrived "just in time" - Feb. 4 is ahead of us [the date for which the next opposition rally is scheduled], and then pretty soon there will be March 4 [the day of the presidential election in Russia]. The new ambassador of the Good Empire brought $50 million of the first tranche allocated by the U.S. administration "to promote democracy in Russia." As they say, welcome to Russia!
         Another blogger discussed [ru] more in depth how the Russian people have perceived Ambassador McFaul over time:
[...] He was indeed interested in his youth in the Soviet-American relations, but when he grew up he wanted to be an Africanist and he wrote his dissertation on the revolution in southern Africa (Angola, Zimbabwe, South Africa). In the spring of 1988, he came to Moscow to interview Soviet experts, to ask them about the Soviet role in African affairs. A researcher at the Institute of African Studies, Tatiana Kras, realizing that the American student was genuinely fascinated by the theme of revolution, brutally ridiculed the choice of objects of study: Why study the past of Zimbabwe, when a revolution is taking place in the world's largest country right before the researcher's eyes? [...]
          In a comment to the post quoted above, one Russian blogger - LJ user rogatkina_ezhik - affectionately likened [ru] Ambassador McFaul to another American who attempted to 'reset' the US-Russian relations and who, in turn, also sparked controversy both at home and abroad:
He has aged and matured. I listened to his report at the Harriman Institute in 1998. He had wheat blonde colored hair, with a very pleasant manner of speaking. In Washington, friends said, "This is our rising star, like a young Kennedy." It's good that he had spent time in Russia and is friendly.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Russia: Russian Orthodox Church Re-Enters Russian Politics

          The Russian Orthodox Church has made an entrance into Russia's current political situation through the contrasting speeches of two church officials - one called for war, the other for peace.
           Global Voices put today's religious climate in Russia in its historical context in a December 2011 post entitled, "Holy Relic Visits a Nation Emerging from State-Sponsored Atheism":
Kievan Rus adopted Christianity in the late 10th century from the Byzantine Empire, and for almost a millennium until the early 20th century, when the Romanov Dynasty was overthrown and a communist government was put in its place, Russia was among the most devout nations in the world. During the eight decades of communism, religion was discouraged and a new moral code was instituted based on respect for the working class. When the Soviet Union fell and the communist sense of morality no longer had as many proponents, Russians were tasked with deciding for themselves what they thought about spirituality and religion.
          Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for Church and Society, incited outrage with his speech, which was published by Interfax on January 5. News portal quoted [ru] Chaplin's speech in a text entitled, "Chaplin: Russia Should Not Fear War":
Russia should increase its military presence in all regions, where "people are asking for protection against 'orange' experiments and various kinds of color revolutions." [...] "Even if Russia should be involved in the fighting, this should not be feared today. The army finally has to be given a real job. ['Online hamsters'] could easily be sent to the combat forces. Those of them who manage to survive will, perhaps, become human beings," said Chaplin. "Russia is losing its political will, precisely because it does not participate in full force in world political processes. We now have sent ships to the shores of Syria - this is good, but it should be just the beginning. In all the places where people are concerned about the danger of "color" experiments over one or another nation, Russia may well be present, including the military, full-scale, even if it means participating in the hostilities. And in these activities should be involved all the males of our nation, including those pathetic 'hamsters,' who apparently can only be fixed when they are faced with a real man's job, a military job," said [Chaplin].
The comments that followed were uniformly concerned with the militaristic nature of Chaplin's words.

The churchmen, after the communist breeding, certainly ceased to be human.
And you're shouting, Jihad! Jihad!
Orthodox Christmas in a Moscow church. Photo by Anton Belitsky, copyright © Demotix (07/01/10).
Orthodox Christmas in a Moscow church. Photo by Anton Belitsky, copyright © Demotix (07/01/10)

           By contrast, the Christmas speech given by the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church called for patience and humility in political matters. Voices from Russia posted a translation of a Russian-language article [ru] that quoted the Christmas television interview:
In response to the debate on the outcome of the elections to the [Russian Duma], Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev of Moscow and all the Russias urged all to show wisdom in calling for a dialogue between the government and society in Russia. In a Christmas interview on the TV channel Russia-1 that aired on Saturday His Holiness said, “People should be able to express their disagreement, but they shouldn’t yield to provocations and destroy the country, for we’ve reached the limits of keeping one another at arms length… those in authority should hold a thorough dialogue and listen, to put society on the right course, and, then, all will be well for us”. In Patriarch Kirill’s opinion, each person in a free society has the right to express their views, including opposition to the actions of the authorities, saying, “If people are deprived of this right, they perceive it as a restriction of liberty, it’s very painful… but we must show wisdom in doing it.”
          Patriarch Kirill then placed the recent protests surrounding the Dec. 4 elections in their historical context by urging Russians both in and out of power to not repeat the mistakes of the past:
Drawing a historical parallel, the patriarch suggested, “If the demonstrations prior to the 1917 Revolution had ended in peaceful protests, not being followed by a bloody revolution and fratricidal war, today, Russia would have more than 300 million people and would be on the same level as the USA in terms of economic development, or even higher. We weren’t able to maintain our balance and we lost our heads. We destroyed our country. Why did this happen? To put it simply, political forces seeking power very cleverly used the just protests of the people”. [...] Patriarch Kirill believed that the task of the present day is “to protest in the right way, which would then lead to a correction of policy. That’s the main thing. If the government is insensitive to the expression of protest, that’s a very bad sign.”
          Russia Blog posted an essay last month written by Bruce Chapman entitled "Church Joins Public Protests of Vote Fraud," which explained why overt actions taken by modern Russian religious figures are remarkable:
The existence of free speech and freedom of assembly actually may be honored more now by the Putin regime than in recent years. Evidence is the way the whacky assertion of Mr. Putin that Hillary Clinton had inspired the protest demonstrations was laughed down. There even were nightclub routines making fun of it, and finally President Medvedev allowed that the protests are home grown. Also lending credibility to the protests, one sees the remarkable story that the Russian Orthodox Church now feels confident enough to praise the protesters. Anywhere in the West, that would hardly be news (churches love protests of government), but it's a novelty in Russia and, paradoxically, suggests a liberalizing of the regime. After all, in a fully controlled society the Church wouldn't dare raise its voice.
          The Russian Interior Ministry announced [ru] that over 2 million Russians had taken part in the Christmas celebrations in over 8,000 temples throughout the country. Some bloggers emphasized the theological elements of the Patriarch's speech rather than the political. Moscow residents Kyle Keeton and his wife Svetlana posted a video on their blog of Patriarch Kirill as he explained the meaning of Christmas:
The meaning of Christmas is that God is not somewhere far, God is not who the ancients feared, God wished to become man, and He came to the world and really became man. What does this mean for us, for mankind? It means that if God is here with us, it is easy to ask for His help.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Russia: Demographic Crisis Means "No One Left to Draft"

          Russia is endowed with some of the greatest stores of natural resources in the world, and yet the demographic crisis that has plagued the country since the fall of the Soviet Union may leave Russia with no youth to defend their homeland.
          The total life expectancy of Russia is #161 in the world, which places it behind Belarus, North Korea, and Mongolia, whereas Russia's total fertility rate is 196th in the world. Currently there are about 138 million people in Russia and many believe that if that number falls near or below 100 million, Russia will not be able to function as an industrialized nation.
          In Nov. 2011, War News Update Blog posted an article from RIA Novosti entitled "Russian Military Has 'No One Left To Draft'":
Russia has no conscript-age young men left to recruit, Russia's chief of the General Staff complained on Thursday. 
The current conscript service crisis in the Russian Armed Forces is mainly due to demographic decline, bullying and brutal treatment of conscripts. 
General Nikolai Makarov said only 11.7% of young men aged 18-27 were eligible for the army service but 60% of them had health problems and could not be drafted under law.
A Russian Naval Honor Guard welcomes Navy. Adm. Mike Mullen to St. Petersburg, Russia on May 6, 2011. (Department of Defense photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Released/CC BY 2.0

          Undergraduate Research Journal for the Human Sciences Blog posted an abstract and an introduction to a paper written by Christopher Hoeppler of McMaster University, which discussed how the fall of the Soviet Union has effected Russia's population:
The Russian Federation experienced a surge in death rates of almost 40 percent since 1992, with numbers rising from 11 to 15.5 per thousand [...]. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought with it many social, political, and economic changes that continue to affect Russia to this day. Although all countries progress along the demographic transition model differently, general trends are shown. Nonetheless, Russia appears to be experiencing a unique transition of its own. Each country experiences population decline for varying reasons, such as disease diffusion as experienced by Africa with the AIDS epidemic; others can be caused by societal advancements that lead to lower fertility rates. 
Population decline was evident in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, which is why it serves as an interesting case study. On the surface it is counterintuitive that the state of the country would worsen after the fall of the communist party; however it is likely that political turmoil was responsible for the onset of the demographic problem in Russia. A number of factors including economic, lifestyle, health care, and disease incidence have contributed to Russia's decrease in population. [...]
          Al Fin Blog contextualized several periodicals in a Nov. 2011 post entitled, "A Steady Loss of Talent Makes Russia's Demographic Collapse Worse":
Beautiful young Russian women compete to be mail order brides for European, North American, and Australian men. Ambitious and competent young Russian men compete for overseas positions -- anything to escape the dreary dead-end that Russia has come to represent to so many of its young.
One quote from The Moscow News put the emigration in its historical context:
Russia has not seen anything like it since 1917, reported. Over 1.25 million people have left in the last 10 years, the news portal reported. “The country is hemorrhaging intellectual potential,” cited political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin as saying. “The most active, the cleverest and the most mobile are leaving.”
          Another quote came from World Crunch, which talked about how specifically people who possess a high level of human capital are leaving Russia:
Not for the first time, Russian scientists are taking their considerable knowledge and moving abroad. Some of the brainy emigrants cite funding problems and Russian red tape as reasons to move. For others, heading West is simply a lifestyle choice. ...Russian graduate students prefer just about any small, unknown laboratory in Europe over the brand-new Russian scientific complex [Skolkovo]. “A stable trend has been established: 100% of working young people who get the opportunity to work abroad leave Russia,” said one scientific analyst. “If a young researcher gets the opportunity to enter the international arena, he or she will do it.” Indeed, the trend extends beyond scientists. In October, 2011, a survey found that 22% of Russian citizens in general were prepared to leave the country. The only thing that sets the scientists apart is that they tend to be much more welcome by the receiving countries. “It’s not even really about the lack of financing for scientific projects, but general quality of life,” said one of the scientists. “If regular people are not coming back to Russia, then why would scientists do so?”
          Global Economy Matters Blog argued that some of the efforts made by the Russian government to address these demographic issues have been successful, quoting a Population Reference Bureau article in May 2011.
Back in 2000, Russia achieved what Russians consider a dubious milestone, deaths (2,225,300) outnumbered births (1,266,800) by an astounding 958,500. The crude birth rate had sunk to 8.7 births per 1,000 population. Along with a crude death rate of 15.3, natural increase hit an all-time low of –6.6 per 1,000, or –0.7 percent rounded off. The total fertility rate (TFR) bottomed out at 1.195 children per woman. The crisis, as it was seen to be, was definitely noticed, but nothing really effective was done until 2007 when Vladimir Putin announced a baby bonus of the equivalent of $9,000 for second and further births. Putin has been an outspoken advocate for raising the birth rate and improving health conditions in order to avoid the consequences of sustained very low fertility. The program must have worked since births in 2007 jumped to 1,610,100 from 1,479,600 the previous year and have rising ever since. This is one of the very few “success stories” in the industrialized countries’ efforts to raise the birth rate.
          Some groups advocate a societal approach to curtailing population decline rather than a governmental one. International Religious Organizations have taken notice of Russia's demographic problems and have integrated them into their worldwide campaign against abortion, as illustrated by a United Families International Aug 2011 post:
“Mother Russia” is experiencing an unprecedented decline in population.  In the last 20 years, it is estimated that an astounding 80 million unborn Russian children have been aborted.  On average, a Russian woman over the course of her reproductive life will have seven abortions. Combing that high abortion rate with a fertility rate of 1.2 (a fertility rate of 2.1 is needed for replacement of population), Russia stands to lose over one-third of its population every generation. “We’re losing almost three quarters of a million people every year,” said Alexey Komov, chairman of the Moscow Demographic Summit that was held this last June.
          The post included a video produced by the Population Research Institute, which argued that government programs aimed at curtailing demographic decline date back to Caesar Augustus of Rome, but that all such programs invariably fail:
“Ultimately it’s a matter of faith and spirit that determines how many children people decide to have,” said Phillip Longman, lecturer and author of The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity. “That’s not something the government can really do. That’s something society can do.”