Posts Tagged ‘Vladimir Putin’

Toute En Famille, Mis En Scène

July 19, 2017

If anyone on either side of la mer Atlantique is truly “shocked, shocked” that Pierre de Villiers has been maneuvered into resigning as chef de l’armee de France, s/he can never again credibly claim any standing as a connaisseur of French cultural discourse and politics.  Beneath the surface patina of policy differences and budget contraction, here’s what Macron‘s tempête de théière with de Villiers really means:  more than merely a two-fer, more than a three-fer, it’s a four-fold declaration of defiant independence.

— an implicit critique of Donald Trump;
— an outright rebuke of Vladimir Putin;
— a conciliatory gesture toward the Muslim world, especially the Maghreb and the Gulf states;
— a coup de poing maçonique directed at the institutional and cultural influence of the Roman Catholic church in France.

The simultaneity of all these unmixed messages is made possible because of the existence of one man: Pierre de Villiers’ frère, Philippe.  How so?  Because in many ways, Philippe de Villiers is a French (and thus somewhat classier) version of Donald Trump.  He’s a conservative nationalist entrepreneur-turned-politician whose worldview is based in (and biased by) his Catholic faith.  He has achieved notoriety in Europe (and throughout the Mediterranean region beyond) for his strident criticism of Islam and the purported threat it poses to “European” culture.  He consorts with billionaire Russian kleptocrats like Konstantin Malofeev, and in 2014 traveled to newly-annexed Crimea, where he met with Vladimir Putin to advocate development of a joint-venture Crimean theme park designed to “promote the history of Crimea as part of the long history of Russia.

This all sure sounds familiar, but leaves one wondering which of the two –Trump or de Villiers– is the “original” throwback patriarch.  Does it really matter?  Probably not.  Perhaps we should be thinking about who wrote the playbook.

Meanwhile, back at Palais Elysée, by maneuvering brother Pierre into a position where his honor as a warrior/aristocrat required démission, Manny Macron has begun a campaign to diminish Philippe de Villiers’ access to information and key nodes in the social networks that constitute the command structure of French military and intelligence institutions.  Friends of François Fillon won’t be far behind.  Best of all, those in the know will get the message:

Trumpisme n’est pas bon
ni Putinisme
nous avons besoin de nos amis (riche) Arabes
l’eglise hors d’ici

Any questions?

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Almost Heaven, West Slovenia

July 29, 2016

Near-term prospects may be improving for Danilo Turk –at least one potential veto voter seems to be hinting at a possible okey-doke:

Russian President Vladimir Putin will be visiting European Union and NATO-member Slovenia this weekend, signaling a bid to maintain ties amid simmering tensions between the Kremlin and the two Western-led blocs.  While in Slovenia –his only third visit to an EU-member country this year– Putin will attend a commemoration of the centenary of a chapel at Kranjska Gora, which was erected in the memory of dozens of Russian World War I prisoners of war who died in an avalanche while building a [road through a] mountain pass in the Julian Alps for the Austrian army.

Kranjska Gora_0

Putin will also unveil a memorial to Russian soldiers who died in World War II at the main cemetery in Ljubljana, and meet Slovenian officials. The memorial is made up of eight pillars symbolizing the eight-year duration of both world wars.  There is a crane atop each of the pillars and the names of 3,000 soldiers are embossed in marble. The memorial has been made by Russian sculptors and financed by Russia.

Russia is Slovenia’s top non-EU trading partner, but the trade between the two has dropped by nearly 30 percent since EU sanctions were imposed [following Russia’s 2014 Ukraine incursion].  Some media reports suggest that the United States had advised Slovenia against inviting Putin given the enduring tensions between Russia and NATO. [However,] Slovenian authorities have been emphasizing the ceremonial nature of Putin’s visit and the absence of formal talks.  Slovenia has supported EU and NATO policies with regard to Russia while also striving to push aside obstacles to relations, which are underpinned not only by trade but in particular by shared Slavic culture.

St_Cyril_chapel

It’s pretty clear that Putin is (and has been) making a blatantly obvious point about the numerous Russian soldiers who have died on European soil during the past 100 years.  This is probably considered diplomatic subtlety by Russian standards of international relations, and people who “share Slavic culture” probably understand the message all too well.

So what might this mean for the Moldovan candidate?  I don’t know.  What does Auntie Sam have to say on this topic?

 

Pey It Forward

December 29, 2015

DJT_201512228

When Donald Trump starts slamming a right-wing propaganda organ like the Manchester (NH) Union Leader, you know it’s time to take refuge in a news source you can trust.  Like Al Jazeera.  You know their point of view, you know their biases, so it’s possible to appreciate the backstory behind a hard-hitting AJ news piece that features a seemingly unlikely protagonist: Peyton Manning.

For those of you who need to see the dots before you can connect them, here goes:

  • In order to put a crimp in Vladimir Putin‘s style by tarnishing Russia’s image in the world of athletics/sport, the U.S. Department of Justice rounded up the usual suspects at FIFA and orchestrated a blizzard of media reporting about allegedly widespread bribery which influenced selection of World Cup host nations for 2018 and 2022.
  • Reminder: 2018 World Cup = Russia, 2022 = Qatar.
  • Then, a left jab at Putin’s kidneys with allegations of track and field bribery/doping coverup at IAAF and Russia’s anti-doping agency.
  • Furthermore, Euro-American media outlets regularly run reports criticizing Qatar for its poor treatment of immigrant laborers and dangerous working conditions at the kingdom’s construction projects  … including building sites for 2022 World Cup facilities.
  • Reminder: Al Jazeera is owned and operated by Qataris.

So, in addressing its brief to the court of public opinion, Qatar has chosen (perhaps with considerable irony) a Biblical allusion: “Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Horseshoe_toss

British hurdler Liam Collins went undercover to expose the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports. Collins met with Charles Sly, a former pharmacist at the anti-aging Guyer Clinic in Indianapolis, where Manning once played for the NFL’s Colts.  Sly said he mailed HGH (Human Growth Hormone) to Manning’s home in 2011, sending it to Manning’s wife, Ashley to avoid a link to the sports star.

Liam_Collins

Predictably, Manning denied the allegations:

“The allegation that I would do something like that is complete garbage and totally made up,” Manning said in a statement issued through the Denver Broncos to U.S. media. “It never happened. Never.”

Weelllll, anyone who has had interview and interrogation training is going to read or listen to this so-called denial with considerable skepticism (to put it mildly).  Why?  Because the subject (Manning) doesn’t come right out and say “I didn’t do it.”  Instead, he uses verbal gymnastics to distance himself from both the accusation itself and a forthright denial by employing a nested parenthetical sentence structure to isolate the unnameable proposition “something like that” from the pronoun “I.”

The allegation

that I

would do

something like that

is complete garbage

and totally made up.

Manning uses a prospective future tense “would do” instead of the past tense “did.”  He says “something like that” rather than “doping” or “take HGH.” He says “it never happened,” not “I’ve never taken HGH.”  Even taking into account the possibility/ likelihood that some risk management/PR consultant for the Denver Broncos actually wrote Manning’s statement for media release, it’s not convincing: a true denial professional should be able to do better.  When you ask the suspect “Did you kill your wife?” and he replies “I would never do something like that,” that man has got a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.

Here’s what we’re left with –the allegation may not be entirely credible, but neither is the denial.  You may recall the paranoid’s precept that “just because I’m paranoid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get me.”  So here’s the corollary: just because Al Jazeera may be motivated by bias doesn’t mean that Peyton Manning isn’t/wasn’t doping.  And now we have to wonder whether Manning’s prolonged injury this NFL season may have been motivated by advance knowledge that Charlie Sly had been caught talking trash on tape and that Al Jazeera wasn’t going to back off the way an American network with football advertising revenue would forced to do.

Reminds me of another Biblical injunction from long ago. “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

 

Sqrt of 225

January 3, 2015

Every New Year’s Day in Pyongyang, the Kim clan patriarch delivers a state-of-the-realm speech that explicitly declares his initial Intent for the coming year. Every  year, the imperialist bourgeois propaganda organs of global capitalism (the so-called media) report on the North Korea New Year message –its an otherwise slow news day.  And every year –in this decade, at least– Lunghu provides a superficial, slapdash analysis of the way that mainstream media on three continents presents the North Korean message. The core of Lunghu’s analytical methodology can be summed up with an acronym that describes the five elements into which each news story can be decomposed … and their relative proportions evaluated. Are these five analytical components analogous to the five natural elements derived from Taoist philosophy that are used in feng shui?  Time will tell.

Lunghu uses the acronym SCRAM to describe the analytical dimensions he deploys:

[S] Summary (usually, the story’s lead paragraph)
[C] Context (“backstory”)
[R] Reaction (from official sources)
[A] Analysis (by “experts”)
[M] Message

As in prior years, major wire services are the main source of the news stories subjected to Lunghu’s analysis:

Agence France Presse
Associated Press
Bloomberg
Reuters
Yonhap

For each news article, the following data-presentation structure will be employed:

  • a proportional breakdown of paragraphs in the article devoted to: the DPRK message itself; context/background; official reaction, and explanatory analysis.
  • the sequential semantic structure of the article, using the relevant character code to designate paragraph type.
  • the name(s) of any analyst(s) quoted, and their organizational affiliation(s).
  • a proportional breakdown of paragraphs in the article devoted to each of three principal themes: inter-Korean relations; militarist posturing/tensions, and the DPRK economy.
  • noteworthy verbiage and polemic contained in the article (if any).

KJU_20150101

Agence France Presse: North Korean Leader Proposes Talks with South

23 total paragraphs

46% context/background [C]
4% official reaction [R]
14% explanatory analysis [A]
36% quoting/paraphrasing the DPRK message [M]

the semantic structure:

S-C-E-A-
E-E-E-C-
C-C-R-E-E-
C-C-C-C-C-
A-A-E-C-E-C

thematic distribution:

46% inter-Korean relations
23% militarist tensions
9% DPRK economy
18% human rights
4% Sony hacking

Analyst(s) quoted: Yoo Ho-yeol, professor at Korea University

Key verbiage:

“communist supremo”
“pariah state”
“isolated nation”
“mysterious Internet outage”
“chronic food shortages”
“malnourished population”
“dismal human rights record”

 

Associated Press:  North Korean Leader Open to Summit with South

14 total paragraphs

38% context/background [C]
15% official reaction [R]
12% explanatory analysis [A]
35% quoting/paraphrasing the DPRK message [M]

the semantic structure:

S-C-C-E-C-
R-A-C-R-
E/C-E-E-E-C/A

thematic distribution:

58% inter-Korean relations
19% militarist tensions
4% DPRK economy
11% Sony hacking
8% Confucian mourning ritual

Analyst(s) quoted: Cheong Seong-chang, researcher at the Sejong Institute

Key verbiage:

“Washington must abandon its ‘hostile policy’ and ‘reckless invasion plots’ against the North.”

 

Bloomberg: Kim Jong Un Open to ‘Highest-Level’ Talks With South Korea

16 total paragraphs

73% context/background [C]
7% official reaction [R]
13% explanatory analysis [A]
7% quoting/paraphrasing the DPRK message [M]

the semantic structure:

S-E-C-R-A-C-
C-C-C-
C-A-
C-C-C-C-C

thematic distribution:

40% inter-Korean relations
33% militarist tensions
0% DPRK economy
27% personality cult

Analyst(s) quoted: Ahn Chan Il, World Institute for North Korea Studies
Bruce Bennett, Rand Corporation

Key verbiage:

“saber rattling”
“The United Nations human-rights committee vote in November [against North Korea] amounts to a ‘despicable ruckus,’ Kim said.”

 

ReutersNorth Korea Leader Kim Jong Un Says Open to Summit with South

12 total paragraphs

45% context/background [C]
10% official reaction [R]
0% explanatory analysis [A]
45% quoting/paraphrasing the DPRK message [M]

the semantic structure:

S-E-C-E-
C-C-R-
C-E-E-E-C

thematic distribution:

37% inter-Korean relations
27% militarist tensions
9% DPRK economy
27% Kim’s media style

Analyst(s) quoted: none

Key verbiage:

” ‘Annual large-scale (U.S.-South Korean) war exercises are a source of heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula and increase the threat of nuclear war,’ Kim said.”

 

Yonhap: N. Korean Leader’s Speech Arouses Cautious Optimism

21 total paragraphs

40% context/background [C]
0% official reaction [R]
30% explanatory analysis [A]
30% quoting/paraphrasing the DPRK message [M]
(35% mention Park Geun-hye)

the semantic structure:

S-E-E-A-
C-C-A-A-
C-A-C-
E-A-C-
E-E-C-C-C-E-A

thematic distribution:

68% inter-Korean relations
12% militarist tensions
10% DPRK economy
10% Park Geun-hye government

Analyst(s) quoted: Chang Yong-seok, researcher at Seoul National University
Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor at Korea University
Yang Moo-jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies

Key verbiage:

“Kim spent unusual amounts of time stressing the significance of improved Seoul-Pyongyang relations. Kim [mentioned the topic] last year as well, but he spent more time and was more specific in addressing the issue this year.”

Bonus: The analysis of Professor Yang Moo-jin indicates that perhaps he has noted the interplay of hidden feng shui elements in the coming year’s ba zi chart: “Chances are high that the two sides will break the deadlock by showing a flexible attitude.

PGH_20150101

 

Takeaways“:

Although Lake Superior University has banned usage of this glib corpspeak catchphrase in 2015, Lunghu does not consider himself bound by the cultural imperialist edicts of mere backwater academics. Especially when he uses the bourgeoisie’s own opaque terminology –with heavy irony– as an implicit criticism of its obfuscating purpose and nature.

DPRK_semantic_analysis_2015

With that in mind, here’s Lunghu’s bullet point synopsis of this year’s DPRK media coverage:

  • Agence France Presse appears to have made the mistake of hiring Rupert Murdoch’s cashiered Fleet Street hack writers for its English-language operation. Without cellphone hacking to fall back on, these guys rely heavily on Cold War cliches (“communist supremo“) and pejorative stereotypes (“pariah state” & “isolated nation“) to perpetuate their Propaganda Model of journalism.  This doesn’t advance the interests of France  –in Asia or elsewhere. Also, AFP’s DG should remember that the human rights issue applies in Palestine as well as on the Korean peninsula.
  • Three out of five media outlets mentioned the relevance of this year’s 70th anniversary: Bloomberg characterized it as “the end of World War II,” while Yonhap and Associated Press more specifically  identified it as “Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule.”  The partition of Korea between US and Russian spheres of influence began in 1945, and these two neo-colonial powers are still pulling many of the strings that imprison their unwilling puppets. Comrade Bear has invited both Kim and Park to visit Moscow in May. He may hope to broker a dramatic deal intended to burnish Russia’s tarnished international credentials. Lunghu predicts that a gas pipeline may be involved.
  • Associated Press closed its story with a tiny nugget of anonymous analytical insight that most people will ignore: “[Kim’s speech is his] first after the end of the traditional three-year mourning period after the death of his father in 2011. Some analysts believe that with the mourning period over, Kim will pursue policies that more closely reflect his own personal priorities.”  Let’s hope that Kim has read the memoirs of Zhang Xueliang, Hero of History.
  • Reuters and Yonhap noted Kim’s mention of reopening the Mount Kumgang tourist resort. Lunghu still believes that the path to dialog with Kim Jung-un will be achieved through mutual engagement on environmental issues.  But that will only become possible once the United States has held the mirror of human rights in front of its own face … and that of its principal strategic liability.  Admitting that “mistakes were made” and trying to change the subject ain’t anywhere near enough –either at home or abroad. The hypocrisy is glaringly obvious.

DPRK_thematic_analysis_2015

So, it doesn’t seem likely that the Year of the Goat will offer much in the way of US-DPRK rapprochement. But from a Korean perspective, there are still centuries upon centuries to come, ready to unspool ahead of the next generation and all the successive ones after that.  That’s far, far beyond the limited short-term horizon imposed by the mystic order’s two-year electoral cycle.  All the Kims, Parks, Lees and Chois in Korea can wait.  They’ll have to.

Comrade Lin Biao  used to recommend the following approach to dealing with class enemies: “Beat them, then comfort them. Comfort them, then beat them. Then, beat while comforting.”  Looks as though Comrade Wolf is trying the same method … but without much comforting.  Remains to be seen who will end up being beaten … in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Fleurs du Mur

December 14, 2014

A few days ago I was in such a hurry to post last week’s photo of Comrade Bear visiting the Hermitage Museum that I neglected to perform one of my favorite fundamental analytical exercises: an examination and explication of background imagery that often tells a story worth ten thousand words or so.  At the time, I briefly wondered “who are those 18th century gentlemen whose portraits grace that seagreen wall behind the charming hostess and her guest?” It seemed a mere passing thought swept away in the rush to blog about imagined cyberwar.

Putin_Hermitage_20141209

But the question nagged at the corners of my mind for several hours, and despite an initial reflex that dismissed this kind of research task as too difficult, I finally found a way to identify first one, then another of the portrait subjects. It was even more satisfying to discover the cultural/historical baggage associated with them.  It’s probably not an accident that Comrade Bear’s photo op was staged at this particular location, but it’s also unlikely that he fully grasped the historical allusions –the backstory– suggested by these portraits.

First, the painting on the left.  It’s a portrait of Prince Nikolai Borisovich Yusupov (1750-1831), a cosmopolitan aesthete who “spoke five languages and corresponded with Voltaire.

Nikolay_Yusupov_by_Johann_von_Lampi

Nikolai Yusupov was a Russian nobleman and art collector, the eldest son of Prince Boris Grigorievich Yusupov. He served as Director of Imperial Theatres (1791-1796) under a series of Czars, including Catherine the Great, Paul I and Alexander I. He later served as director of the Hermitage (in 1797).

A patron of the arts and a keen traveler, Yusupov spoke five languages and traveled widely throughout Europe. During his journeys he purchased a large collection of art for the Czars, acting as a middleman between the Czars and European artists.  Yusupov collected for himself as well as collecting for the Czars, and his personal art collection became one of Europe’s richest, including over 600 paintings, sculptures, works of applied art, more than 20,000 books and numerous porcelain objects.

Just the kind of semi-official entrepreneur for which Russia is known even today!  Imagine: plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.  After the 1917 revolution, much of the Yusupov art collection ended up in the hands of the Soviet state … and eventually in the Hermitage itself.  But in some ways, the origins of the House of Yusupov are even more interesting and resonant than its downfall:

In the 14th century one of Tamerlane’s greatest Tatar strategists settled on the North shores of the Black Sea, establishing the Nogai Horde and laying the foundations for the Crimean Khanate. In the 15th century, Khan Yusuf became the head of the Nogai Horde and allied himself with Czar Ivan the Terrible.  In the 17th century, Khan Yusuf’s descendant, Abdul Mirza, converted from Islam to Orthodox Christianity under the name of Dmitry.  After the conversion, Czar Feodor I bestowed upon him the title of Prince Yusupov.  Dimitry’s son, Prince Grigori Dmitrievich Yusupov (1676-1730) was a friend of Peter the Great, became General in Chief and Minister of Defense, and organized construction of the Russian Navy.

Get the picture? The House of Yusupov [Yusuf] was founded by Crimean Tatars who helped make Russia the great nation it has become.  And whose descendants were essentially the original curators of the Hermitage art collections. Kinda ironic that Comrade Bear’s Crimean “patriot nationalists” are now engaged in wholesale expropriation (theft) of Tatar property and business holdings in newly-occupied Crimea.

Now, the painting on the right.  It’s a youthful portrait of Czar Peter III (b. 1728 – d. 1762), the husband and predecessor of Catherine the Great (he lasted only six months on the throne).  He was the son of Anna Petrovna, daughter of Peter I and Catherine I of Russia.

Czar_Peter_III

When Peter succeeded to the Russian throne in 1762 (after 20 years as Crown Prince), he withdrew Russian forces from the Seven Years’ War and concluded a peace treaty with Prussia. He gave up Russian conquests in Prussia and offered to make an alliance with Frederick II of Prussia. Russia thus switched from an enemy of Prussia to an ally. This dramatically shifted the balance of power in Europe.

During his 186-day period of government, Peter III issued 220 new laws which he had developed and elaborated during his many years as crown prince.  He proclaimed religious freedom.  He fought corruption in government, established public litigation and abolished the secret police — a repressive organization started under his grandfather Peter I.  Some historians claim that Peter III intended to expose the czarist police  as betrayer of the state for its mercilessness and torture methods.

He established the first state bank in Russia, rejected the nobility’s monopoly on trade and encouraged mercantilism by increasing grain exports. One of his most popular reforms was the manifesto of February 1762 that exempted the nobility from obligatory state and military service and gave them freedom to travel abroad.  Peter’s short reign also addressed serfdom law and the status of serfs within Russia. For the first time, the killing of a peasant by a landowner became an act punishable by law.

However, this being Russia, things didn’t turn out so well. After six months Peter III was overthrown and assassinated at the instigation of his wife Catherine.  She embarked on a protracted, expensive and ultimately successful public relations campaign to conceal the brutality of her autocratic rule behind a facade of Enlightenment culture and erudition.  That’s why she’s Catherine the Great and why we have a Hermitage Museum today.  The rest became history.  All of which can be considered object lessons for Comrade Bear.  If only he’d get the picture.

Swift Riposte

December 13, 2014

Lunghu wishes to apologize to any European air travelers who were recently inconvenienced by the mysterious failure of air traffic control systems in Britain.  Not that he’s in any way responsible under tort law, but because his previous post neglected to state what should have been obvious and inevitable: that Russia would retaliate for the brazen insult to Comrade Bear‘s manhood orchestrated by British Museum executives.  Revenge, it would seem, isn’t always a dish best served cold:

An unprecedented computer systems failure touched off [Friday’s] mayhem that caused delays and canceled flights for thousands of passengers, the U.K.-based NATS air traffic management company said Saturday.  The computer failure made it impossible for controllers to access data regarding individual flight plans, and many planes were prevented from taking off.

Heafrow_20141212

NATS said the problems at its control center in Swanwick occurred as more workstations were being brought on line to deal with an increase in traffic.  “The number of workstations in use versus [those] in standby fluctuates with the demands of the traffic being controlled.  In this instance a transition between the two states caused a failure in the system which has not been seen before.”

Timeline

Sunday 7 December:  250th anniversary of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.  Lunghu publishes an insolent blogpost about Britain’s loan to the exhibit.

Monday 8 December:  Hermitage Museum is closed every Monday.

Tuesday 9 December:  Comrade Bear visits the Hermitage Museum for a photo op with the principal curator. But not with Ilissos.

Putin_Hermitage_20141209

Friday 12 December:  British air traffic control computer systems crash during a load-balancing “state transition.”

Agit-prop

As far as Lunghu is concerned, the principal question remaining open is whether Russian hackers did this themselves or outsourced the job to North Koreans, perhaps as a partial swap for the splendid work performed by Russian technical specialists at Sony Corporation earlier this year.  Either way, it’s likely that another shoe will drop —somewhere, sometime soon.

 

Tales of Brave Ilissos

December 7, 2014

Late last week, the Greek government took a brief break from its usual pastime (running budget deficits) to launch a bitter tirade against the world’s original bourgeois imperialists:

The British Museum [secretly shipped] one of the world’s most hotly disputed artistic masterpieces to Russia for a loan on Friday, causing an outcry in Greece, which says the priceless 2,500-year-old statue was looted from Athens and must be returned.  It was the first time any of the Elgin marbles had left Britain since arriving two centuries ago.  The decision was not announced until the statue –a headless, reclining nude sculpture of the river god Ilissos— was already safely in Saint Petersburg, where it goes on display as part of an exhibition to mark the Hermitage’s 250th anniversary.

Greek anger has been intensified by the fact that this ain’t just any old Elgin Marble torn from the Parthenon’s western pediment:

The Ilissos is a river in Athens, Greece. The stream drains the western slopes of Mount Hymettus, and originates from multiple converging seasonal creeks. During antiquity, it ran outside the defensive walls of Athens: the river was one of the borders of the ancient walls. Its banks were grassy and shaded by plane trees, and were considered idyllic; they were the favored haunts of Socrates for his walks and teaching.  Ilissos was also a demi-god, the son of Poseidon and Demeter, and was worshiped in a sanctuary on the Ardittos Hill.

In response, the British Museum’s director offered some bland, all-too-predictable platitudes.

“This is the first time ever that the people of Russia have been able to see this great moment of European art and European thought.  A huge new public can engage with the great achievements of ancient Greece. People who will never be able to come to Athens or to London will now here in Russia understand something of the great achievements of Greek civilization.”

“The British Museum [is] the most generous lender [of art] in the world, making a reality of the Enlightenment ideal that the greatest things in the world should be seen and studied, shared and enjoyed by as many people in as many countries as possible.”

Not everyone in Britain agrees:

David Hill, chairman of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, said the loan to Russia was “highly provocative” and a “very rude gesture.”

Right you are, Dave … but not for the reasons you think.  In my view, the nation being rudely provoked is not merely Greece –it’s Russia.  Why?  Because multiple cultural subtexts are silently flowing beneath the rippling surface of Britain’s seemingly magnanimous gesture.  Instead of engaging in open conflict with Comrade Bear, perfidious per-Phidias Albion has chosen to make art, not war.

1. Achieving EU consensus on intensified sanctions against Russia depends upon persuading Germany to act against its own economic interests.  Looted art is a “wedge issue” that Germans understand only too well: as the Nazis did unto Western Europe during WWII, so the Soviets did unto defeated Germany. Thousands of German artworks traveled East at the end of the war, and many are in the collections of the Hermitage Museum.  They’re never coming back.  Britain’s art loan to Russia is intended to remind Berlin of its darkest hours.

2. It’s also an attempt to damage Russia’s relations with Greece and Turkey, two countries that Comrade Bear needs to keep somewhat neutral in the Black Sea/Balkan region as he prepares to ingest Ukraine.  Will the Greeks request that Russia “return” the sculpture to Athens?  Would the Hermitage comply despite its contract with the British Museum? Lawyers are already sharpening their pens.

3. Lastly, the loan of Ilissos to the Hermitage should be understood as a personal insult directed at Comrade Bear himself.  Of all the Parthenon marbles available for loan, the British Museum trick (or bribe) the Russians into accepting a buff –but headless– reclining male nude.  This is a sculpture that, for almost two centuries, has been ogled by successive generations of effete, limp-wristed, tea-sipping British public school aesthetes (if you know what I mean).  The limeys are practically daring Comrade Bear to show up in his own hometown museum for a photo op with Ilissos.  Priceless.

VVP_Ilissos_20141205

Somehow I get the feeling that there’s gonna be a new director of the Hermitage Museum sometime next year.

 

 

 

Pole Dancing

June 23, 2014

Poland’s ruling political party is being embarrassed by clandestine audio recordings of various ministers making various indiscreet statements (while under the influence of vodka, perhaps) in private VIP rooms at Warsaw restaurants.

Last week Wprost magazine released a transcript of a compromising conversation between the interior minister and the head of Poland’s national bank. On Sunday, the magazine published a transcript of a leaked conversation in which Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski asserted that Poland’s close alliance with the U.S. is worthless and harmful for Poland because it provides a false sense of security while antagonizing Russia and Germany. Attention in Poland has turned to who could have carried out illegal surveillance on such a scale: the recordings took place at at least two Warsaw restaurants over an extended period and captured on tape more than a dozen officials, politicians and company bosses.

Radek Sikorski_2013

“The government has come under attack from an organized criminal group,” Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said in Luxembourg as he arrived for a meeting of European Union foreign ministers.
“We don’t yet know who stands behind it … but [the conspiracy] is being investigated [to] determine the identities of the group members and, above all, of the masterminds.”

This is a necessarily discreet and roundabout way of naming the true culprit: “Comrade Bear.”  After all, very few people could credibly dispute the characterization of Vladimir Putin, Igor Sechin and United Russia as “an organized criminal group.”  But not even the United States Treasury Department is willing to come right out and say so –in public.

And for those of you who need mid-June’s geopolitical diagram fully sketched in, this entire affair can and should be viewed as Comrade Bear’s counterattack in response to the ongoing CoolWar contest in Ukraine.  Not quite the Battle of Kursk with massed Red Army tank formations, but a counterattack on the Central Front nonetheless.  In this sort of struggle, topless women are –sadly– of limited value.

 

Crimea nd Punishment

March 10, 2014

Lunghu has not been spending a great deal of time pondering the deep geopolitical significance of recent events in Ukraine.   Nor has he been reviewing that 19th C. English literature warhorse “The Charge of the Light Brigade” to glean any insights into the likely outcome … “cannons to the right of them, cannons to the left of them” is just about all you really have to know.   Instead, Lunghu was inspired to reflect upon the possible influence of 19th c. Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky on 2014’s unfolding tragedy.

Dostoyevsky used the characters, dialogue and narrative in Crime and Punishment to articulate an argument against westernizing ideas in general.  The original title (“Преступление и наказание“) is not directly equivalent to the English “Crime and Punishment“.  “Преступление” is literally translated as a stepping across.  The [visual] image of crime as a crossing over a barrier or a boundary is [thus] lost in translation.

Raskolnikov

The novel’s principal protagonist is named Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov:

  • the root word raskol means a schism, or split;
  • raskolnik is “one who splits”;
  • the verb raskalyvat’ means “to cleave”, “to split” or “to break”.

And in case you’ve forgotten, the events of the novel are set in St. Petersburg, the ancestral home of … Comrade Bear.  It is therefore likely that Dostoyevsky’s emphasis on the importance of social cohesion, religious faith, and Slavic culture resonated strongly with the young bear cub when he first encountered this work, and perhaps remain a significant aspect of his worldview even today.  For whatever that’s worth.

To sum up:  Putin‘s imagination appears guided by Dostoyevsky, Medvedev‘s perhaps by Gogol.

gratuitous partial nudity

gratuitous partial nudity

Ring of Fire

September 26, 2013

For the moment, forget about those manufactured media sideshows cluttering the minds of the Beltway blitherati – U.S. budget lockdown, Syrian chemical weapons, playing nice with President Rowhani.  Far better to focus your attention on the infotainment value reliably provided by Comrade Bear whenever the “official” narrative becomes too, too predictable.  In a nutshell, on the surface, here’s the message: in Russia, the only political publicity stunts permitted are those of Comrade Bear himself.  So when Greenpeace trespasses on the Gazprom Ocean, “it is absolutely obvious that they are not pirates, [but] they tried to seize the oil platform,” broke Russian and international law, and these crimes must be investigated.  Port of call: Murmansk.

Arctic_Sunrise

Comrade Bear once again displayed his trademark deadpan invocation of a hypothetical, potential terrorist threat to justify nearly any forceful response by the organs of public order and security:

The Coast Guard “didn’t know who was trying to seize the platform under the guise of Greenpeace.  Especially in view of the events in Kenya, really, anything can happen,” he said. … Environmentalists viewed Putin’s comments as a conciliatory move.

Luckily, Comrade Bear was in a magnanimous mood on that particular Wednesday … although the specific reason why is a matter of some debate:

In an interview with the Izvestia daily, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov directly responded to chatter on the Internet that Putin [last] weekend married gymnast Alina Kabayeva at a secret ceremony at the Iversky Monastery on Lake Valdai in northern Russia where the president had been attending a discussion forum.  “This is all from the realm of the imagination and it is useless to deny these (rumors) or call them rubbish. We have done this already a hundred times,” Peskov said. “The rumors stay alive, what can you do about them? But they have nothing in common with reality,” he added.  The rumor had been started by a former government official in the Caucasus who tweeted that he had been told Putin had married Kabayeva at the monastery, which had been [closed] to the public.
“Why the monastery was [closed] off, I cannot tell you,” added Peskov.

Back when he still wore a wedding band.

Back when he still wore a wedding band.

Lunghu wouldn’t marry her either: among European Olympians, he prefers German rowers to Russian gymnasts. But lest we be too hasty in dismissing the mere possibility of this heavenly love match, let’s review some relevant aspects of matrimonial customs in the Orthodox Church:

A wedding ring is a metal ring indicating that the wearer is married. In Eastern Orthodox tradition the wedding ring is worn on the right hand rather than the left.  Among Eastern Orthodox Christians, the exchange of rings is not technically part of the wedding service, rather they are exchanged at the betrothal … The actual symbolic act of marriage is not the exchange of rings, but the public exchange of wedding vows.  In the Eastern Orthodox Service of Betrothal, the Priest makes the Sign of the Cross with rings over the bridegroom’s head while saying three times “The servant of God (Groom) is betrothed to the handmaid of God (Bride), in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”. This is then followed by another three times over the bride’s head with the names reversed, after which the rings are exchanged three times (either by the priest or by the best man).

Let’s take a closer look, invoking the spirit of former President Bill Clinton to parse the literal (translated) words of Dimi Peskov:

  • “Whether he has a wife or not, let us leave that to him and not interfere,” Peskov said.
  • “This [wedding story] is all from the realm of the imagination and [has] nothing in common with reality,” he added.
  • “Why the monastery was [closed] off, I cannot tell you,” added Peskov.
  1. Peskov isn’t saying Putin is married, and he isn’t saying he’s not.
  2. Peskov states that a Putin wedding did not occur at the Iversky Monastery.
  3. Peskov says that he can’t tell you why the monastery was closed to the public, not that he doesn’t know.

Iversky Monastery

All these statements can be literally true, and Dimi Peskov can remain a truthful spokesman, if the Iversky Monastery was closed for an Orthodox betrothal ceremony (the exchange of rings), instead of an actual Orthodox wedding ( the public exchange of wedding vows). Congratulations are perhaps in order for Comrade Bear and Comrade Foxy: they’re not (yet?) married, but maybe they’re betrothed!  Best of all, from the point of view of those concerned:

The central and unifying feature of Orthodox monasticism is Hesychasm, the practice of silence.