Leave Our Governor Alone!

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Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko (right) would rather be somewhere else. Photo courtesy of Turku.fi

I gather that Russia’s president for life is dismissing regional governors at a furious pace to shore up his shaky position against the wildly dangerous non-candidate Navalny in the run-up to next March’s self-reappointment to the post of Russia’s president.

I could not care less about all that as long as Putin leaves Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko alone. (Poltavchenko is the vaguely unhappy looking man on the right, in the picture above.)

Sure, Poltavchenko returned to his adopted hometown of Petersburg, after several years of bureaucratic carpetbagging, as an appointed satrap, who later obtained spurious legimitacy by winning a low-turnout, rigged election against a slate of astroturfed opponents. In a fit of uncharacteristic cynicism, Poltavchenko dubbed this farce “Democracy Day,” but we have forgiven him long ago for that outburst—by default, as it were, because 99.999% of us Petersburgers could give a hoot about local politics and have no clue about the Tammany Hall-style thuggery that once again covered the Cradle of Three Revolutions in shame on September 18, 2014. We are more the artsy, creative types here in the ex-capital of All the Russias. We go in for fo bo, hamburgers, craft beer, and conspicuous hipsterism.

In Petersburg, taking politics seriously is not cool.

But all the Sturm und Drang of 2014 matter less than Poltavchenko’s signal virtue, which consists in his striking tendency not to do or say much of anything, at least visibly or publicly. Unlike his colleague Ramzan Kadyrov, headman of the horrifying Chechen Republic, who is constantly running off at the mouth and scaring the bejeezus out of everyone, Poltavchenko has gone for whole weeks and months without saying or doing anything significant or noteworthy, much less frightening.

Whatever his other vices as a satrap and “former” KGB officer, it appears he would find it profoundly embarrassing to frighten anyone, especially just to show off, the way Kadyrov does it.

In an authoritarian political system in which making news means feigning to be a rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth nationalist fascist Orthodox maniac, tabling Nazi-like law bills in the Duma as fast as they can be typed up and printed out, there is something to be said for a guy who always looks as if he is always bored out of his mind, as if he would rather be home watching TV, fishing in the lake next to his dacha or tinkering with his car.

Which, of course, is an old Lada, not a Land Rover.

Or so I’d like to imagine. TRR

 

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Russian Is Easy: Bans for Brekkers

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One reason Russian has become a lot easier over the past ten or twenty years is that Russia’s creative classes have been strenuously churning their native tongue into a Russified variety of English.

Here’s a great example, as suggested to me just now by one of Mark Zuckerberg’s algorithms, which know I adore this ghastly self-hating twee monster called Rusglish.

At one of Chef Aram Mnatsakanov’s tiny empire of restaurants in Petersburg, Jérôme (don’t ask), you can order something called ban s rostbifom and ban s svininoi for brekkers.

menu

It’s not the rostbif and svinina (“roast beef” and “pork”) that caught my eye. They’ve long been part of the great and mighty Russian language.

What caught me eye was the word ban (bun). Why were “Russia’s Jamie Oliver” (not my coinage) and Co. unable to condescend to the perfectly Russian, extremely ordinary, and utterly comprehensible word bulochka (“bun”) when writing up the menu?

Because that would have sounded too common. For €6.77 a pop Mnatsakanov’s diners expect something “fancier” (as Mum would have put it) than a plain old bulochka their babushkas could have baked for them out of the kindness of their lonely hearts.

Mnatskanov’s customers don’t want kindness. They want conspicuous consumption. And they want it labeled, at least partly, in English, even if that English is as supremely common and humble as “bun” (ban). TRR

Images courtesy of Jérôme

Hunger Games

Yesterday, August 8, 2015, Democratic Petersburg held a series of solo pickets on Nevsky Prospect, near the preserved WWII street warning sign that reads, “This side of Nevsky Prospect is the most dangerous during shelling.”

repina-protest-1A protester holds a placard featuring an image of Tanya Savicheva, a young girl who recorded the deaths of her family members during the Nazi Siege of Leningrad in the Second World War. Savicheva herself died from intestinal tuberculosis in 1944, two years after being evacuated from Leningrad.

repina-protest-2The total quantity of produce destroyed in Russia on August 6 exceeded 300 tons. “The destruction of embargoed products is implemented by all available means.” Russian Federal Government Decree No. 744, dated July 31, 2015

repina-protest-3In the difficult social and economic circumstances, destroying produce is a crime against the citizens of Russia. Russia in 2014 (according to preliminary statistics from Rosstat): 16.1 million people earned less than the minimum subsistence level, and 22.9 million people lived on the brink of poverty.

repina protest-4Destruction “by all available means.” Is this gratitude?! Between January 2 and January 9, 1991, 21,400 tons of foreign food aid were delivered to Saint Petersburg.

Source: Alla Repina (Facebook). Thanks to Comrade ASK for the heads-up

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[Russian] producers have mastered technologies for producing sour cream from soybeans, caviar from seaweed, and even meat pasted together from scraps as ably as producers in other parts of the world. According to Rosstat, Russia imported thirty-seven percent more palm oil in January and February of this year than during the same period last year. At the same time, domestic production of milk fell by nearly two percent, while the production of the “cheese” grew by approximately thirty-three percent. The experts have concluded this means the volume of counterfeit products has grown along with the increased production of cheese products.

The companies engaged in this business are the very same “domestic producers” whose profits are the cause of the comedy with the produce crematoria on the border. To assure yourself this is the case all you need to know is that the man who encouraged Putin’s decree, agriculture minister Alexander Tkachev, is a major latifundista. (Some label him one of the largest landowners in Europe.) Relatives of the former governor of Krasnodar Krai own 450,000 hectares of farmland. When they speak of defending Russia’s economic interests, they are talking about defending the sharks of Russian agrobusiness from foreign competition, not about the welfare of consumers, the plight of the poor or the salaries of farm workers. How import substitution has affected the condition of farm workers can be seen from the Timashevskaya Poultry Farm (the largest poultry producer in the Samara Region), where an attempt by workers to organize an independent trade union has met fierce resistance from the farm’s prosperous owner.

Of course, the destruction of produce appears cynical given that seven percent of Russians suffer from chronic malnutrition, an even greater number of people have been forced by the crisis to save on food, and there are three to five million homeless people, of whom over fifty thousand are children. However, the reaction of public, who have demanded the confiscated produce be given to orphanages or sent as humanitarian aid to Donbass, is insufficient, despite its moral validity. To deal with the social consequences of the crisis, what we need are not random acts of charity but consistent policies of redistributing incomes, defending jobs, and providing assistance to the poor. We must introduce progressive taxation, provide citizens with social benefits on which they can live, index pensions and wages, and regulate the labor market and prices of essential goods. In other words, we have to reject neoliberal policies that deliberately lead to the destruction of the welfare state. The issue of social welfare should not be an appendix to Internet discussions of the plight of Spanish ham and parmesan, but the central point in the agenda of all opposition forces claiming popular support.

Meanwhile, as bloggers crack jokes about the cheese Auschwitz at the Russian Customs Service, the government is preparing a draft budget for 2016–2018. It provides for measures such as raising the retirement age, reduction of the number of free tuition spots in universities, higher taxes and charges on ordinary citizens, a freeze on social benefit payments, and a refusal to index pensions, benefits, and teachers’ salaries. The specter of austerity has risen in Russia. Against this truly ominous threat, the games at customs appear to be nothing more than a red herring.

—Excerpted from Ivan Ovsyannikov, “Charity Cheese and the Budgetary Mousetrap,” anticapitalist.ru, August 7, 2015

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vasya lozhkin-peskov watch

“So ordinary people live like crap / And there is no cheese and sausage / But Crimea is ours, and Peskov / Has a beautiful watch.” Cartoon by Vasya Lozhkin

Why Is There No Anti-War Movement in Russia, or, What Craft Beer Would You Like with Your Kansas City Burger?

Russian leftist activist Ilya Budraitskis has given a quite eloquent answer to the first question, which you can (and should) read here. But these recent, seemingly irrelevant items from Russian urban lifestyle web site The Village seem more to the point.

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Beer Geek, a craft beer store, has opened in the courtyard at Rubinstein Street, 2/45 [in central Petersburg]. Both Russian and foreign beverages are sold there, including beverages from small experimental breweries.

The selection includes very bitter American-style ales, sour Belgian specialities, cherry beer, and much more. Twelve taps have been installed right in the wall to save bar space. The beer is predominantly poured for takeaway, but you can drink it right in the store if you like. Most of the varieties will cost 200 rubles per half liter [approx. 4 euros].

The owners of the place are Pyotr Gordeyev and Dmitry Evmenov. They have installed steps, rising towards the ceiling, on which you can sit or even lie down on the store’s small premises. Another interior design element is a cupboard with sliding drawers in which the bottles have been arranged as in a filing cabinet.

Source: The Village

[Petersburg’s] third City Grill Express recently began operating at Rubinstein Street, 4. The owners had long intended to open the new place near Nevsky Prospect, and over the next few years they plan on launching four more burgernayas with the same name.

The menu feature around three dozen burgers, french fries, Idaho fries, and several kinds of beer, including cherry beer and house beer. City Grill has beef, pork, veal, chicken and turkey burgers, as well as a Kansas City Burger with mushroom filling. All dishes are cooked to order in the open kitchen. The average check is 300 rubles [approx. 6 euros].

The first City Grill Express opened at Griboyedov Canal, 20, in 2012. Previously, City Grill cooked and sold burgers in street carts for six years. The second diner has operated for more than a year at Vosstaniia, 1. The chain’s owner, Yevgeny Arkhipov, comes up with the recipes and names of the burgers and the interior designs.

Source: The Village

NB. Words and phrases highlighted in boldface, above, are specimens of Anglicisms, transliterated English or Rusglish in the original. Photo courtesy of The Village.

The Root Beer Hall Putsch

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As their president makes as if to invade a neighboring country and his supporters show their true “anti-imperialist” colors, Petersburg’s creative class gets ready to quaff root beer and gnaw on cheeseburgers at Geek Picnic 2014:

Butcher 
serves the best American burgers in town, made ​​from fresh, quality ingredients.

Located on Kommendantsky Boulevard, they will soon be opening a branch at Salon (Bolshoi Kazachy Lane, 11). They deliver.

Representing Butcher [at Geek Picnic 2014] will be the favorites of Petersburgers, the best of the best athletes—the classic cheeseburger (Classy Cheese) and, in the lightweight category, the vegetarian burger with mushrooms (Veggie Trip). For beverages, guests will be offered homemade lemonade and root beer, a carbonated drink based on sassafras tree bark that is very popular in North America, but little known in our homeland.

source: Geek Picnic 2014