Troika returns to Greece to pave bailout road

Inspectors from the EU, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank will hold talks with Greece on Monday to make preparations for the package of rescue measures, which was agreed upon by EU leaders and creditors back in October.

­The EU, ECB and IMF – collectively referred to as the “troika” – will focus on preparing conditions for the 130-billion Euro bailout plan solidified on October 27. They will primarily assess Greece’s progress with reforms, then meet with the banks that agreed to write off 50 per cent of Greek debt in return for new paper.

The troika will also assess the impact of the debt swap on Greek banks, who are among major holders of the nation’s debt.

The troika will meet with the finance minister on Monday, kicking off talks on the new program, which is the priority. The team will be here for a week and meet other ministers as well,” a source in the Ministry of Finance told Reuters.

Greece is due to receive its first 8 billion-Euro tranche of the bailout in a few days. Though the prospect of the bailout helped Athens avoid bankruptcy, the country’s economy is still contracting – and risks are high that it will miss its 9 percent deficit target this year.

Moscow sees number of cars grow by 600,000 in year

The number of motor vehicles in Moscow has grown by 600,000 since the start of the year, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on the state-run TV Center channel on Thursday.

Sobyanin, who replaced Yury Luzhkov as Moscow mayor in October 2010, has been tasked with resolving the problem of endless traffic jams in the city of over 11 million.

“In my opinion, the problem of traffic jams in Moscow can be resolved, but not in a simple way. It cannot be resolved through road construction as the number of vehicles is increasing. This year, the number of cars grew by 600,000,” he said.

There are currently about 4 million cars registered in Moscow.

 

Touring relic seen by 3 mln in Russia, goes home

Nearly 3 million faithful venerated a relic of the Virgin Mary that was exhibited in a number of Russian cities.

The Virgin Mary’s Cincture, a belt Christians believe was worn by Jesus’ mother, was brought to Russia from Mount Athos in Greece on October 20.

The faithful waited in lines up to 5.5 kilometers long for as much as 28 hours in order to touch or kiss the belt, which is believed to heal infertility and other ailments.

The belt was venerated by about 2 million people in 14 Russian cities, including St Petersburg, before arriving in Moscow, where it was seen by another million.

The relic was on display from November 19 through 28 at Moscow’s Christ the Savior cathedral, the country’s largest Orthodox church.

Believers from all over Russia, as well as other former Soviet states, flocked to the capital to see the belt.

The pilgrims ate a total of some 82,000 portions of buckwheat porridge and drank almost 100,000 cups of tea provided by city hall free of charge, deputy head of the city trade and services department Alexander Ivanov said.

Believers say the Virgin Mary wove the belt out of camel wool and wore it until the end of her Earthly days, when she passed the belt on to the Apostle Thomas.

 

Yanukovich may snub EU-Ukraine summit in his own capital

In what appears to be a spectacular snub, Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanokovich is planning to be in Moscow on December 19, the date set for the EU-Ukraine summit in Kiev.

The Ukrainian leader  “will take part in the 32nd session of the Interstate Council of the Eurasian Economic Community, which will take place in Moscow on December 19,” a source at the EurAsEC secretariat told Interfax-Ukraine. Ukraine has observer status in the Russian-led economic organization which unites several former Soviet republics.

The EU-Ukraine summit, where an Association Agreement with the EU may be initialed, is also scheduled for December 19.

The summit had been in doubt following the draconian jail sentence passed on Ukraine’s former prime minister and opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, in October.  Yanukovich had been at pains to ensure the event went ahead as planned.

Ukraine’s foreign ministery said it had no information on the president’s planned visit to Moscow. However, a presidential aide hinted at diplomatic maneuvering.

“It should be taken into consideration that now it is the crucial stage of Ukraine’s talks with the EU and Russia,” Anna German told Itar-Tass journalists. “It happens so that one must make an unexpected move on the diplomatic chessboard. And it is not always necessary to explain it.” 

A key issue of the Association Agreement is Ukraine’s entry into a free-trade zone with the EU. However, Kiev is pushing for a clause on Ukraine’s possible future membership of the union to be included in the document.

“Ukraine insists that the prospect of its accession to the EU should be envisaged in this agreement. We believe that there will be no other agreement of such a kind, since it is not the EU’s practice. Therefore, this one agreement is strategic and very important to us. It should include all of the elements that would promote the development of our relations and the process of reform in Ukraine,” he said at a meeting with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, according to the Kyiv Post news website.

There has been much speculation in the media that the document might not be signed on December 19 following the jailing of Yulia Tymoshenko, which the EU has condemned as politically motivated. On October 11, she was sentenced to seven years in prison for abuse of power over gas contracts she agreed with Russia in 2009.

According to the deputy foreign minister, Pavel Klimkin, Ukraine has no principled intention to initial the Association Agreement at the Kiev summit.

“Our idea is to declare about the completion of the talks,” Klimkin said, as quoted by Itar-Tass. He added that the agreement may be initialed when technical work on the document is completed. And that is quite a daunting task, since 1,500 pages must be approved by Ukrainian and EU negotiators.

Guided tours of ‘new’ Bolshoi Theater begin

Guided tours of the newly reconstructed Bolshoi Theater started on Wednesday, theater officials said.

The tours will be held three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and visitors will be able to take a peek at rehearsals.

The Bolshoi Theater, located in downtown Moscow, reopened on October 28 after six years of extensive reconstruction with a gala concert.

 

Russia urges fair trial for captured Saif al-Islam

Russia’s presidential envoy to Africa Mikhail Margelov has hailed Libyan leaders’ decision to send the arrested son of Muammar Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam, to court and expressed hope he would receive a fair trial.

“The international community today keeps close watch on Libyan authorities’ ability to defend the results of war victory since the compliance with the generally accepted rules of treating captives is the key factor of this ability,” Margelov said.

Saif al-Islam was arrested on Saturday in southern Libya and then brought by plane to the northwestern town of Zintan, where the angry crowd attempted to storm the aircraft.

Russian envoy praised Libyan leaders for not handing al-Islam to the crowd that could lynch him in a matter of moment like it was with his father, who was captured and killed by rebels near his home town of Sirte in late October.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) said that Libya should surrender Saif al-Islam. However, the ICC did not rule out that Gaddafi’s son would be tried in Libya rather than in The Hague.

“If Libyan authorities believe that a trial at national level is a better solution, they can ask that the case not be admitted in The Hague based on the court’s complementary principle,” Al Arabiya quoted the Court’s spokesman, Fadi al-Abdallah as saying.

Libyan interim government however wants a trial for Saif al-Islam only on Libyan territory.

The European Union described the arrest of Gaddafi’s son as “a very significant development” and called for Libyan leaders to cooperate with the ICC.

“It is important for future national reconciliation that those responsible for human rights violations committed both before and during the recent conflict are brought to justice and that the facts surrounding such violations are brought to light,” the EU’s Foreign Affaires Chief, Catherine Ashton said.

Saif al-Islam will likely be tried in Libya and could be sentenced to death, Reuters quoted Libya’s interim justice minister, Mohammed al-Alagy as saying.

“He has instigated others to kill, has misused public funds, threatened and instigated and even took part in recruiting and bringing in mercenaries…This is just a small account of the crimes that the Libyan prosecutor general is going to bring against him,” al-Alagy told Reuters.

In October, Interpol and the International Criminal Court (ICC) have called for Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi to turn himself in. Interpol said both institutions would provide his safe transition to The Hague where he is accused of crimes against humanity, including murder and persecution.

 

Counterterror Restrictions Lifted In Kabardino-Balkaria As Insurgency Again Gathers Strength

The Kabardino-Balkaria directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB) has lifted the counterterror restrictions in force in the republic’s mountainous Elbrus and Baksan districts, declaring that the Kabardino-Balkar-Karachai wing of the North Caucasus insurgency has been weakened to the point that it no longer poses a threat.

That assumption may well prove spurious, however.

In recent video clips posted on the websites islamdin.tv and islamdin.biz, insurgency leaders in Kabardino-Balkaria affirm that despite the death this year of many of their comrades in arms, there is no shortage of new volunteers, and they remain wholeheartedly committed to the jihad.

The counterterror restrictions were imposed in February following the high-profile murder of three Russian tourists during a weekend of blood-letting by fighters commanded by Asker Jappuyev (Emir Abdullakh), then-commander of the Kabardino-Balkaria-Karachai insurgency wing, and the flamboyant young firebrand Ratmir Shameyev (Emir Zakaria). The restrictions were extended one week later, following further attacks, to parts of Nalchik and of the Chegem and Cherek districts to the southwest.

Asker Jappuyev
​​Jappuyev and Shameyev were among 10 district commanders and support personnel killed during an early morning attack on their headquarters in late April. They were reportedly betrayed to the FSB by Shameyev’s wife, presumably under threat or torture.

Several other prominent militants were killed in the months that followed, and the incidence of militant attacks dropped dramatically. But in late May, and again in late July, Kabardino-Balkaria Republic Interior Minister Sergei Vasilyev argued that it would be premature to lift the restrictions, as doing so could endanger the lives of “foreign tourists.” He added that it was up to the National Counterterror Committee to decide on the optimum time frame for doing so.

To what extent the restrictions contributed to the temporary suspension of attacks by the decimated and leaderless insurgency is questionable. Insofar as the restrictions included declaring the district off-limits to tourists, however, they had a devastating effect on the predominantly Balkar local population for whom catering to tourists was the most important, if not the sole source, of income.

It was the second time in as many years that the counterterror restrictions had been imposed in Elbrus at the height of the tourist season. Some Balkars construed the counterterror regime as part of a broader ongoing policy of oppression of the republic’s Balkar minority by the Kabardian majority.

Ismail Sabanchiyev, chairman of the unofficial Council of Elders of the Balkar People, termed the counterterror restrictions “a painstakingly planned provocation directed against the Balkar people.” Republic head Arsen Kanokov categorically denied any such intent.

If the rationale for not lifting the counterterror restrictions in mid-summer when the insurgency was still inactive and licking its wounds is not clear, it is even more incomprehensible that the restrictions should have been lifted now the militants are back in business with a vengeance. In September-October, they launched 11 attacks, killing a total of nine people, including two senior police officers.

That resurgence of militant activity followed the naming by Doku Umarov, self-styled Caucasus Emirate head, of Alim Zankishev (nom de guerre Ubaydullakh) to succeed Jappuyev as regional commander. Like Jappuyev, Zankishev, 29, is a Balkar. He came to prominence during the summer of 2010, and together with Jappuyev, Shameyev, and Zalim Tutov (now emir of the Baksan sector) featured on a list of 40 wanted militants circulated in October 2010.

In a video address on the occasion of Kurban Bayram, Zankishev denied that the insurgency in Kabardino-Balkaria  has been weakened by the losses it has incurred this year. On the contrary, he said, “more fighters have joined the jihad than we have lost as shahids.”

Whether numerical strength can compensate for lack of battle experience is a different question, however. True, Zankishev says the new recruits have undergone military training at mountain bases. But none of the five regional commanders Zankishev identified at a council of war last month looks older than 30; some look barely 20, meaning that they were not from the generation of fighters who received albeit rudimentary training from the Chechen renegade military strategist Shamil Basayev prior to the abortive attacks on police and security facilities in Nalchik in October 2005.

Zankishev’s men may be mostly young and inexperienced, but they are also resolute and ruthless. Addressing the republic’s pro-Moscow authorities, Zankishev warns that “we shall continue to pray that Allah will kill you with our hands…. We shall liquidate the lot of you one by one. We ask Allah to help us accomplish this…. As long as we mujaheds are here and continue fighting, none of you will be able to feel safe.”

And, crucially, they are less discriminating in their choice of targets than Jappuyev was. Khamzat, one of the five new commanders, pledged in one recent video address that “we shall fight against you exactly as you fight against us, without sparing your families.” Jappuyev, by contrast, repeatedly ordered the men under his command not to target the families of police and security personnel and expressed genuine regret and contrition on the rare occasions that a member of the civilian population was killed in crossfire or by accident.

In a second recent video clip, Khamzat explained that the militants shot dead last month a married couple employed at the astrophysics laboratory in Neytrino because of their “anti-Islamic” activities.

Medvedev unshaken by approval ratings slump

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Friday that he was unconcerned by a sharp drop in the approval ratings of the ruling United Russia party with just weeks left until parliamentary polls.

“Sometime people say, ‘See that party’s ratings have dropped by five percent – that’s it, a catastrophe.’ But listen, this is life,” Medvedev said. “This is an absolutely normal situation.”

“On the whole, I think that the chances of United Russia to get a firm majority in the State Duma are quite high, even now,” he added.

A survey conducted by Levada Center between October 28 and November 1 shows just 51 percent of Russians support United Russia, a drop of nine percentage points in just a week.

The popularity of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Medvedev, who will lead the party in the December 4 polls, have dropped five percentage points each to 61 percent and 57 percent respectively since mid-October.

The results from state-run pollster VTsIOM paint an even gloomier picture, putting Putin’s approval rating at 42 percent and Medvedev’s at 31 percent, a decline of six and seven percentage points since mid-October, respectively.

While pointing to growing frustration with Russia’s political process, analysts are unable to pinpoint specific events behind the decline.

“This situation is absolutely normal. If the ratings drop, the party should work on this, think about what should be done to preserve its popularity,” Medvedev said. “But the campaign is underway and everyone has a chance to boost its ratings.”

He said he was not worried about the victory of opposition parties in the regions, as this simply illustrates that political competitiveness exists in Russia.

the word’s worth: United we stand

the word’s worth: United we stand

Published: November 9, 2011 (Issue # 1682)

Единство: unity

The main buzz on the street last week was about Friday’s holiday — as in: Напомни мне, пожалуйста, что это за праздник? (Remind me, what’s this holiday?)

Well, it is a long story. It begins with the Великая Октябрьская социалистическая революция (Great October Socialist Revolution). This “revolution” (read: coup d’etat), which occurred on Oct. 25, 1917, was commonly called Великий Октябрь (Great October) or just Октябрь (October), as in Слава Октябрю! (Glory to October!)

Soon after, the Soviet government switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. Oddly, while the government was busy destroying religion, it kept the church tradition of celebrating holidays on the new date, 13 days after the original event. And so, for 74 years, the holiday was celebrated on Nov. 7. This was a bad omen.

I mean, what could you expect from a country that celebrated Great October in November?

By 1992, the Soviet Union was no more, and Great October was an anachronism. But people were used to a holiday in November, and so “в целях смягчения противостояния и примирения различных слоёв российского общества” (to mitigate the level of confrontation and reconcile various strata of Russian society), the name was changed to День согласия и примирения (the Day of Accord and Reconciliation). There was no official parade on Red Square and no sign of accord or reconciliation.

Not a great holiday.

Apparently, the authorities recognized that and started casting around for a replacement holiday. After all, even if a whole generation had no memory of Nov. 7 parades, it’s a long stretch from June 12 to Dec. 31 without a day off.

Lo and behold, they found a pre-revolutionary state holiday on Nov. 4. True, it was a church holiday, Празднование Казанской иконе Божией Матери (the Commemoration of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God). But it had a patriotic element: It was held “в память избавления Москвы и России от поляков в 1612 году” (in memory of the liberation of Moscow and Russia from the Poles in 1612).

The story is that after the Poles invaded Russia during the Time of Troubles (Смутное время), a meat and fish merchant named Kuzma Minin did some fundraising in Nizhny Novgorod for the народное ополчение (voluntary army) and eventually joined up with the commander, Prince Pozharsky. They marched to Moscow. According to one version, on Nov. 4, 1612, holding aloft the miracle-working Kazan icon of the Mother of God, they attacked the invaders in Kitai-Gorod and took back the Kremlin the next day. Exit Poles, stage west.

Enter stage east — a few decades and centuries later — a three-day religious state holiday and a beautiful church for the icon and a grand statue of Minin and Pozharsky on Red Square.

In 2004, the holiday was revived — sort of. It has remained a religious feast day, but now it has been declared a day of народное единство (national unity). Minin and Pozharsky are cited for being образец героизма и сплочённости всего народа вне зависимости от происхождения, вероисповедания и положения в обществе (an example of heroism and unity of the entire nation regardless of origin, religious beliefs or position in society). Russian nationalists don’t buy the bit after “regardless of” and celebrate it as a day to get rid of us pesky non-Russians.

And the people? They do what they’ve always done on the November holiday: Put snow tires on their cars.

Michele A. Berdy, a Moscow-based translator and interpreter, is author of “The Russian Word’s Worth” (Glas), a collection of her columns.

Russian unorthodox: The Bullies Who Wear White Coats

Russian unorthodox: The Bullies Who Wear White Coats

Published: November 9, 2011 (Issue # 1682)

The video shows a skinny, naked man of about 60 lying on the table, his stomach sliced open. An energetic team of nurses and doctors scurries around, flexing their muscles, filling syringes, sexily writhing their hips. Before you figure out what’s going on, the camera offers a close-up of the man’s intestines, to remove your last doubts that the whole thing is happening for real. And it is accompanied by a disco beat fit for a wild dance party.

 This recording, posted to YouTube by someone calling himself TvNovoaltaysk in early October, is part of a shocking series of homemade “reality shows” filmed by the hospital’s doctors. No important detail was spared. Viewers see not only a spinal tap being administered but also procedures including the removal of a cyst and sewing up the wound, with doctors smiling throughout.

 In October, some patients’ relatives recognized their family members in the video clips and sued the hospital for abusing the patients’ rights. The Altai Krai prosecutor’s office is investigating the claims, and the clips have been removed from the web.

Earlier this fall, another hospital video, this time from a psychiatric hospital in a village in the Krasnoyarsk region, shocked online audiences. A clinic nurse was staging erotic scenes and no-rules fights among the patients, filming them on his mobile phone, and then posting them on his blog. The man’s colleagues said the recordings were popular for their comic value and were widely circulated among residents of nearby villages.

 At some stage, the video got into the hands of someone who passed it to the police. But this nurse-turned-filmmaker may escape punishment because of a legal technicality: some of the episodes were shot three years ago.

 One of the clinic’s doctors, interviewed by Channel 1, attempted to defend the nurse by speculating that the scenes were not staged, given, he said, how common violence is in psychiatric hospitals. As for the ethical side of filming a disabled person without their knowledge and the public ridicule of sick people, the doctor offered no comment. The hospital’s chief doctor, Grigory Gershenovich, did admit that the filming incident had shamed the hospital and said the nurse had been fired.

 It seems that some medical personnel in Russia treat their patients as animals or human waste. In a recent scandal, it emerged that doctors in a hospital in the Far East had made their patients carry the corpses of fellow patients who had died of tuberculosis from their wards and load them into vehicles outside. Videos of patients carrying bodies were posted on the Internet. The head doctor of the clinic has resigned, but no criminal case was launched because the investigators found it impossible to prove that the patients had been forced to drag the tuberculosis-infected corpses.

  Why do medical personnel dare to behave like this? Clearly because they know that the punishment, if it ever comes, will be nominal. Even if they lose their jobs, there is no ban on continuing in the profession. If the abuse takes place in a psychiatric ward, doctors can blame just about anything on a patient’s mental condition. Because the system is essentially opaque, it would be virtually impossible to prove otherwise and get a sadistic medical worker prosecuted.

 There is almost no precedent in Russia of clinics paying compensation, even for straightforward medical mistakes. A group of patients infected with HIV in a hospital in Elista more than 20 years ago are still seeking justice. These people, who suffered discrimination and isolation because of their illness, still have not received a kopeck in compensation.

 A trip to the hospital is becoming something of a game of Russian roulette: You never know what’s going to happen — doctors may be filmed toying with your internal organs, you may be made to carry infected corpses, or your fellow hospital patients may beat you up as the nurses cheer. And thank God if the doctors don’t infect you with HIV in the process. Only one thing is certain: the chance of moral damages being paid is zero.

A full version of this commentary is available at Transitions Online, an award-winning analytical online magazine covering Eastern Europe and CIS countries, at www.tol.org.

Putin, Medvedev ratings in steep drop weeks before elections

With less than four weeks left before Russia’s parliamentary elections, the approval ratings of the country’s leadership “tandem” and the ruling United Russia party have dropped sharply.

While pointing to growing frustration with Russia’s political process, sociologists are unable to pinpoint specific events behind the decline.

A survey conducted by Levada Center between October 28 and November 1 shows just 51 percent of Russians support United Russia, a drop of nine percentage points in just a week. The popularity of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, who will lead the party in the December 4 voting, have dropped five percentage points each to 61 percent and 57 percent respectively since mid-October. Levada Center polled 1,600 people around the country, with a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

The results from state-run pollster VTsIOM paint an even gloomier picture, putting Putin’s approval rating at 42 percent and Medvedev’s at 31 percent, a decline of six and seven percentage points since mid-October, respectively. The poll, conducted in late October, included 1,600 people and had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

“The latest ratings drop is difficult to explain, because no serious processes that could result in such serious dynamics are taking place now,” said Olga Mefodyeva of the Centre for Political Technologies.

While United Russia’s election campaign is cause for “irritation and sarcasm” among residents in some Russian regions, this is unlikely to have affected the party’s national rating, she said.

The ruling tandem and governing party’s popularity has gradually decreased since early 2010. In January last year, some 80 percent of Russians said they trusted in Putin and 75-77 percent in Medvedev, according to various polls.

“The fact that Medvedev and Putin’s ratings have long been falling can be explained by post-crisis sentiment, some kind of lassitude and a lack of a positive agenda and qualitative systematic changes,” the analyst said. “It’s clear that everyone is tired of the tandem and United Russia.”

‘Medvedev does not fit the bill’

Levada Center analyst Lyudmila Sergeyeva suggested that United Russia and its leaders’ falling popularity could be “the echo of the [party] congress” held on September 23-24, during which Medvedev and Putin announced their plans to exchange jobs after the presidential elections due in March 2012.

The announcement that Putin will run for president in 2012 ended months of intense speculation about the powerful Russian prime minister’s possible return to the Kremlin. Medvedev, who succeeded Putin as Russia’s president in 2008, agreed to lead United Russia in the December 4 parliamentary polls and replace Putin as prime minister in the country’s next government.

Most Russians “will be happy with the result of the March 2012 elections which was practically announced” at the congress, Sergeyeva said. But people who “wanted more independence in making their decision” were “probably unhappy with the form” of the tandem’s decision-making.

Long before the September congress, Putin and Medvedev said they would not run against each other in the 2012 elections. When asked just weeks before the congress which of them will run, they still insisted the decision would be made depending on the political situation in the country.

Soon after the congress, however, Medvedev admitted that Putin’s return to the Kremlin was agreed back in 2008, when he became president.

There is “certainly some kind of disappointment” among Russians with the country’s one-party political system, Sergeyeva said.

Mefodyeva dismissed suggestions that the falling ratings were caused by the Kremlin job swap announcement, because “60 percent of citizens” want Putin as president.

“The average Russian citizen is happy that Vladimir Putin is returning,” she said. As for “frustration,” she said it is only applies to a “socially active, 20-percent minority,” who viewed Medvedev as their leader.

Medvedev “has been trying to demonstrate with all his policies that he is liberal-oriented,” which has pleased “the most intellectual and wealthiest” part of Russian society, Mefodyeva said. But “according to psychologists, Medvedev does not fit the bill.”

Political analyst Sam Greene agreed there was “a certain amount of frustration” in Russian society that can be explained by failed expectations for a quick post-crisis recovery and “uncertainty about where the economy is going.”

But the results of the recent polls indicate a general trend when people’s responsibility for their political choice grows as elections near, the analyst said, adding that those results “may actually be a more electorally relevant representation of support for Putin and Medvedev than what we saw in the polls months and years ago.”

“Now we are facing elections that most people understand will confirm a certain power structure in the country… for a number of years to come,” he said.

Electoral support does not often reflect the levels of approval in polls like these, the analyst said.

“If I were Putin or Medvedev – which I am not – I would not be that worried about what those polls mean for the elections,” he said, “although I would probably start to think about what the meaning has been of all of those high levels of support that the polls have shown over the last several years.”

 

November 8 (RIA Novosti)

A peeling gift: Oranges for 7-billionth global citizen

Newborn Russian boy Petya, who vied for the title on 7-billionth person, has received his first ever gift – 70 boxes of oranges from the Republic of South Africa. A symbolic head full of sunny fruits has been delivered directly to his hospital ward.

­Little Petya Nikolaev, from Russia’s European enclave of Kaliningrad, showed no reaction to the present, which farmers sent especially for him from faraway South Africa – he was peacefully sleeping in his mother’s arms. But for his mother Elena, the certificate for a tonne of oranges came as a major surprise.

The ceremony was held in the hospital where the boy was born in the early hours of October 31. Of course Petya’s family does not need to find urgently a place for 70 15-kilogram boxes of fruit. The certificate allows for the oranges to be received at any time that would be convenient for the boy’s parents.

Petya is the third child in his family, so he has enough helpers to finish the whole tonne of citrus fruit pretty quickly.

Babies at opposite ends of the world, all born on October 31, have been vying for the title of the world’s 7-billionth person. But the United Nations decided that the “award” should go to a newborn girl from Philippines.

In Russia, a symbolic “7-billionth person” certificate was given to three newborns at the same time – one came to Kaliningrad, another to the Far East and a third to St. Petersburg.

Each of them received a special UN certificate and memorable gifts from local authorities.

UN officials say that millions of births around the world each day made it impossible to say for sure which of the babies is the planet’s 7-billionth citizen.

Russian parliament to discuss surgical castration of pedophiles

A lawmaker of the center-left A Just Russia party on Wednesday introduced to the State Duma a bill on surgical castration for child sex offenders for cases when chemical castration is insufficient.

In early October, Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, voted in favor of chemical castration for convicted pedophiles. The process involves regular injections that reduce the libido and sexual activity, but is considered reversible when the treatment is discontinued.

“I suggest introducing chemical and surgical castration as coercive medical measures,” A Just Russia lawmaker Anton Belyakov said.

The lawmaker said the court should be entitled to impose surgical castration on a convicted pedophile if the judge is convinced that chemical castration would be insufficient to prevent him from committing sex offenses.

“Surgical castration can also be imposed on people who attempt to evade chemical castration. Only such complex measures will give children protection from pedophiles,” Belyakov said.

He added that the Czech Republic has practiced surgical castration for child sex offenders over the past 30 years “and not a single sexual reoccurrence has been recorded.”

The Russian authorities moved to toughen punishment for pedophiles in 2009, following a surge in child rape cases earlier that year. Before 2009, rapists were sentenced to just eight to 15 years in prison.

The law was changed that year, with rapists getting sentences of to up to 20 years in prison. Despite their long jail terms, many convicts offend again, and many are paroled.

According to the Investigative Committee, more than 9,500 children suffered at the hands of pedophiles in Russia last year. Some 960 of them were raped, of which one-third were younger than 14. The figures are almost three times higher than in 2008.

Kirilenko named Euroleague’s MVP for October

CSKA Moscow forward Andrey Kirilenko has been declared the most valuable player in the Basketball Euroleague in October.

­The Armymen maintain a 100 percent result in the competition after two wins in as many games, with Kirilenko the key figure on the court.

Euroleague’s official website has called the 30-year-old’s display in the opener against Zalgiris Kaunas a “monster performance” as he bagged 17 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocks.

At the moment, the Russian leads the 2011-12 Euroleague in performance index rating average (30), rebounding (9.5 rpg.) and blocks (2.5 bpg.) and is also tied for fifth place in assists (5.5 apg.).
AK-47 is to receive his award at an upcoming CSKA Moscow home game against Spanish side Unicaja on November 16.

Kirilenko returned to CSKA this season after a decade with Utah Jazz. He signed a three-year deal with the Moscow team, which can be terminated if he gets a good offer from the NBA, which is now on the lockout.

Brand OWS: trademark battle as marketers cash in

The race is on to trademark the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. With multiple parties vying to take control of the name, the grassroots movement is seeking to protect itself from those trying to cash in at the group’s expense.

­When a group of anti-consumerist activists decided to occupy Wall Street to protest rampant corporate influence in US politics, few could have imagined that they would soon be fighting for the right to their own name.

But that is exactly what happened on October 24, when leaders of the protest movement filed an application to trademark the name of the movement with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Speaking on Monday, Samuel Cohen, a lawyer whose firm is a part of the movement’s legal working group , said “the filing was primarily a defensive move to make sure that no persons not affiliated with Occupy Wall Street were attempting to use the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) name for improper purposes,” as cited by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

Obviously, sensitive critics might accuse the movement’s founders of hypocrisy by attempting to profit from of a group purportedly against capitalist excesses, Cohen countered that the decision was not about making money.

“Nearly all nonprofit organizations trademark their names,” Cohen said, as cited by the WSJ. “And the purpose is to avoid consumer confusion.”

And while the trademark will give them the right to use the name on their website, in periodicals and newsletters, and on other consumer merchandise, any revenues generated will ultimately be used to help the activists achieve their goals as opposed to lining anyone’s pockets.  

However, on the same day OWS leaders filed their trademark application, Arizona-based Fer-Eng Investments LLC had also filed to trademark the phrase “Occupy Wall Street.”

In a written statement to POLITICO, Vincent Ferraro of Fer-Eng Investments wrote that he is “a branding and marketing executive” who is not a party to the movement.    

“My purchase is for a business enterprise and not in any way (including politically) affiliated with OWS,”
POLITICO reports.  

It has been reported that Occupy Wall Street beat Fer-Eng Investments to the punch, as the OWS application was reportedly submitted first, albeit by a few hours.    

However, it will take some time to discover just who has a right to the movement’s name.

According to the USPTO documents, both of the applications “will be assigned to an examining attorney approximately three months after filing date,” POLITICO reports.

This is not the first time someone unrelated to the movement has attempted to take ownership of its name.

According to the Wall Street Journal, on October 17, Robert Maresca of West Islip, New York, filed to trademark the phrase “Occupy Wall St.”

In their USPTO application, Robert and his wife Diane Maresca want to trademark the phrase so that they will be able to place it on a wide variety of goods, including bumper stickers, shirts, beach bags, footwear, umbrellas, and hobo bags, thesmokinggun.com reports.

However, unlike the  Marescas, the applications filed by the leaders of OWS and Fer-Eng Investments both spelled out the word “street” on their applications.  

And while the latest battle to control the movements name has taken on legal dimensions, ever since the activists first began camping out in Zuccotti Park on September 17, people have been quick to cash in on the OWS movement.  

With vendors selling various Occupy Wall Street paraphernalia in every corner of the park, which is located in the heart of Manhattan’s financial district, others have taken the crass step of attempting to capitalize on OWS online.  

According to Reuters, one site is selling 30 packs of Occupy Condoms for $11.99. Another has a $35 Occupy Wall Street iPhone case. Nearly 5,000 individual items were available for sale on eBay by Tuesday night, the agency reports.  

Such actions have prompted fears among protestors that those unaffiliated with the movement could ultimately undermine its goals.  

Nicole Capobianco, 19, who says she has been a part of the movement since its inception, was appalled by the blatant commercialism the OWS has spawned.  

“I don’t appreciate that,” she said. “That’s the antithesis of this movement.”

She went on to claim that she and her fellow protestors “do not want to be involved in the marketing of our movement,” as cited by Reuters.  

And while volunteer spokesman Haywood Carey recognized many protestors were unhappy with the vendors’ decision to sell merchandise inside of the park, she also realized the contradiction in an organic, leaderless movement issuing orders.  

“It’s not our place to tell them they can’t do it. We do not own ‘Occupy Wall Street,’” Carey said, as cited by Reuters.  

However, when the USPTO makes its decision over the coming months, the name “Occupy Wall Street” will most definitely have an owner, if not the movement itself.

Russian ship to avoid U.S. ports over book collection dispute

A Russian sailing ship, the Nadezhda, is heading towards the Hawaiian Islands but will stay away from U.S. territorial waters until the Russian Foreign Ministry says it is safe to enter.

The ship, performing a tour devoted to the 2012 APEC summit in Vladivostok, is to make its main stop in Honolulu, which is to host this year’s APEC summit.

The ship was advised not to visit U.S. ports in October for fears that the ship may be confiscated in a dispute over the Schneerson Collection, a collection of books and manuscripts gathered by the dynasty of the Schneerson rabbis. A new recommendation from the Russian Foreign Ministry is expected within two weeks.

“As it is unclear whether it would be safe for the ship to visit the U.S. port because of the dispute, the frigate will avoid U.S. territorial waters for now and wait for a recommendation from the Russian Foreign Ministry,” a spokesman for the Nevelsky Marine State University, which owns the ship, said.

During their visit to Honolulu, the crew was to take up a symbolic summit relay. However, if the ship’s captain is recommended to abstain from the visit, a delegation from the Nadezhda will arrive to the ceremony by plane.

In late October, the ship had to cancel its goodwill visit to San Francisco after it was advised by the Russian Foreign Ministry to steer clear of California due to the “threat of the ship’s confiscation” in an attempt to make Russia hand over the collection.

The Schneerson Collection, comprising thousands of books and manuscripts related to the Hasidic movement, was collected by the Schneerson dynasty over a 200-year period and confiscated by Soviet authorities. Most of the items from the collection have since been kept in the Lenin Library.

In 2010, the U.S. District Court in Washington ruled that Russia must return the collection to the Judaic Chabad Lubavitch movement. The movement’s activists have already warned Russia that they would resort to all possible ways to enforce the ruling.

In the early 1990s, Jewish activists held regular pickets near the library in an attempt to get the manuscripts back. They are reported to believe that the manuscripts would give them new mystic evidence, as well as prophesies about the future, and would help them spread the influence of the movement worldwide.

Russian TV Pulls Report On Chechnya Torture

A leading Russian television channel pulled a report on civilian deaths and kidnappings in Chechnya on October 29, stoking concerns the Kremlin is trying to censor critical reporting about the restive region ahead of a presidential election.

The 10-minute documentary, which included claims by a 26-year-old Chechen that local security forces had chained him to a radiator on a police base, was aired on NTV television in Russia’s Far East but then taken off the air.

For prime-time audiences in Moscow and European Russia, the report was replaced with images of ballerinas twirling on the newly opened stage of the Bolshoi Theatre.

The NTV journalist who made the report, Nikolai Kovalkov, said he had expected to see it aired but could not comment on why it had not run.

A spokeswoman for NTV, which is controlled by state-controlled gas behemoth Gazprom, said the story had been withdrawn by management for revision and fact-checking.

“The story was shown in the Far East, after which the management decided to send it back for revision and fact checking. This is common practice in news editorial bureaus,” Maria Bezborodova said by telephone.

But human rights campaigners and journalists said NTV’s decision to pull the program shows the challenges many television reporters face in Russia.

“This scandal not only shows up the problems of the law in the Chechnya but of freedom of speech in Russia,” Igor Kalyapin, who heads the Committee Against Torture, told Reuters. The Kremlin declined to comment.

compiled from Reuters reports

Historama, October 31

The burial of the Soviet Union’s most controversial leader and the birth of a renowned chess champion made this day in Russian history.


­Stalin gets final rest

Today in 1961, Josef Stalin’s embalmed body was finally buried in the walls of the Kremlin.

It had been on public display for the previous eight years in a mausoleum on Red Square.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev took the decision to remove the former leader’s body as part of his de-Stalinization campaign.

The removal was carried out in secret to avert a possible public outcry.

Read more on this event in Russian history


Chess champion dies a winner

Today is the birthday of one of the greatest chess players of all times, Aleksandr Alyokhin.

Alyokhin was one of the founders of the Soviet school of chess, and he became the fourth world chess champion by defeating Capablanca, who had been widely considered invincible.

The grand master played over 1,300 matches and lost only 65 of them. In March 1946, he was challenged by then-Soviet champion Mikhail Botvinnik.

The match, however, never took place – Alyokhin died undefeated.

Main news of October 31

WORLD

*The United States has cut off funding of UNESCO after the UN body supported Palestine’s accession bid

*Israel refused to accept UNESCO’s decision to grant full membership to the Palestinian National Autonomy (PNA) and threatened retaliatory measures

*Tehran has demanded that Washington officially apologize for accusing Iran’s intelligence service of plotting to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States

*Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou pledged on Monday to hold a referendum on whether Greece will accept the new aid package proposed by the EU in return for continued austerity measures in Greece.

*The Canadian Parliament is considering a bill to make the so-called Magnitsky List, which blacklists persons allegedly linked to the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky from entering Canada, the Parliament said on its website.

 

RUSSIA

*Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich denied on Monday that a deal he reached with tycoon Boris Berezovsky back in 1995 envisaged a 50 percent division of shares in oil company Sibneft

*All of the political parties taking part in elections to the Russian State Duma on December 4 will receive television air time, for the first time in recent years, a deputy chief of a state-run broadcaster said on Monday.

*A court in the Chelyabinsk region on Monday ordered payment of three million rubles ($101,200) to two families each, whose children were accidentally switched at birth 12 years ago.

*Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lashed out at the West for “double standards” in the way it treats public protests in Russia and at home.

*As Western youths flock to Halloween parties dressed as ghosts, zombies and witches, opinion polls show most Russians will ignore the event, with only a few people planning to celebrate a holiday many Russian officials and religious authorities claim is “Satanic.”

Russians reluctant to celebrate Halloween amid ‘Satanic’ warnings

As Western youths flock to Halloween parties dressed as ghosts, zombies and witches, opinion polls show most Russians will ignore the event, with only a few people planning to celebrate a holiday many Russian officials and religious authorities claim is “Satanic.”

Sixty-seven percent of Russians said they had no plans to mark one of the world’s oldest – and most commercialized – holidays, according to a poll conducted by Russia’s Levada Center in late October.

Just 6 percent of Russians plan to attend Halloween parties on the night of October 31, amid growing concerns the psychological and social impact of the Celtic holiday is “destructive.” The low expected participation rate comes despite increasing Russian awareness of the holiday, which grew from 54 percent to 73 percent in the past five years.

Education officials and religious figures have fuelled fears about the Halloween celebrations, which date to Pagan times. Back in 2003, the Education Department of the city of Moscow recommended that primary and secondary school teachers ban Halloween at schools.

According to a recommendation issued by the department, the holiday stems from “rituals of Satanically oriented religious sects” and promotes “the cult of death.” Quoting psychologists, the document’s author concludes that Halloween celebrations “mystify and satanize a child’s mind,” leading to the “moral corruption of children.”

Halloween, which once marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of winter, gained popularity in Russia after the Soviet collapse, with the first Halloween parties held in Russian schools in the late 1990s, said Konstantin Ushakov, the editor-in-chief of the magazine School Headmaster.

“Before that time, we did not know anything about the holiday,” he said, adding that Halloween celebrations in Russia “were not prompted by any social or political reasons – people just wanted to have one more holiday.”

Following a global trend, the popularity of Haloween, which has long lost its religious meaning and is viewed by youths as an opportunity for fun rather than a Satanic party, has increased in big Russian cities since the fall of the Iron Curtain, but the Russian provinces remain largely untouched by Halloween fever.

“Banning Halloween?! It’s a witch-hunt and bigotry!” said a 26-year-old Muscovite, who identified herself as Yekaterina. She recalled her school Halloween parties as joyful events that had nothing to do with “Satanism.”

“Each group of students prepared some attractions for the party – a Panic Room, a fortune telling session, or a Haloween Pumpkins contest for example. We sang English songs and organized performances for our parents,” she said.

“I’ve always enjoyed Halloween,” said Julya Planova, a Russian-born student from Ottawa. She said, however, that she understood why some people do not want children to celebrate the holiday.

“Many girls dress slutty for Halloween. Here [in Ottawa] for example, most people buy their costumes in sex shops,” said Julya, whose family left Russia for Canada in the late 1990s. “Children’s moral values can certainly be damaged by such things.”

“But ‘Satanism’ is all around,” she added. “Take various films about vampires for example… Banning Halloween alone would not change anything.”

 

‘Secular’ education

Besides the psychological threats allegedly posed by Halloween, opponents say the holiday should be banned from schools because under the Constitution, Russia is a secular state.

In July, the Education Department in Russia’s northern Republic of Karelia addressed a letter to local education authorities and school headmasters recommending that Halloween parties that “include religious elements” and therefore violate the “secular character of education” in Russia, be cancelled at schools throughout Karelia.

Instead, “new forms of school holidays based on Russian cultural values” should be promoted among children, the document reads.

Ushakov dismissed the argument that Halloween’s “religious” nature makes it unsuitable for schools.

“I believe that this argument is not relevant anymore, because the pressure of non-secular education [at schools] is quite strong,” he said.

A few years ago, the Russian authorities moved to introduce optional religious education at secondary schools, which is due to include a course on Russia’s four largest religions, as well as on secular ethics. A subject called the Basics of Orthodox Culture has already been launched in some Russian regions as part of an experiment by the Russian Education Ministry. 

The move, which was supported by more than two thirds of Russians, according to a 2009 poll by Levada Center, as well the Russian Orthodox Church and leaders of some other religions, sparked heated public debates. Many public figures, rights activists and other religious leaders have warned that the initiative would lead to discrimination and social divisions.

As for Halloween, Ushakov said he believed its celebration at schools was “quite normal.”

“There are many holidays that have pagan roots and I don’t see the need to link the holiday to any deep ideology,” he said. “If they want to celebrate – let them.” 

Halloween is not the only holiday considered “improper” by Russian conservatives. The increasing popularity of St. Valentine’s Day among Russian youths has also alarmed some high-ranking officials and religious authorities, who have warned of the holiday’s “negative influence” on the youngsters’ “spiritual security” and their “moral values.”

In 2008, Russia introduced an alternative to St. Valentine’s, the Day of Family, Love and Faithfulness. The holiday, also known as the Day of Sts. Peter and Fevronia, the Orthodox patrons of marriage, is marked on July 8 with a daisy being its symbol instead of a red heart. Russia’s first lady Svetlana Medvedev is among the new holiday’s most active promoters.