Laika, Belka and Strelka are household names around the world, even today. As the first dogs to reach orbit, they are among the martyrs and the saints of communism. Their fate was the embodiment of a utopian consciousness, the ideal of a society that tried to turn a futuristic fairytale into reality. They endured inhumane tests, either giving their lives and becoming posthumous heroes, or surviving to find themselves the darlings of the nation. The lucky ones lived out their days in the laboratory, where those who had lost their teeth would be fed bits of pre-chewed sausage by their devoted attendants. Some were taken home by the scientists as pets in reward for their loyalty and endurance.

The dogs were simultaneously real and fantastical beings. One day they were strays on the street; the next they were in newspapers and on television, and given heroic names. They also became characters in children’s books. Here, they weren’t presented as sly tricksters, like their folkloric predecessors, but neither were they easily fooled simpletons. They gave a new perspective on the allegory of loyalty. The space dog was not just a trusty companion for a lone hero, but crucially, one for all humanity.

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Ukraine Leader’s Plea Nets Less Than He Wanted

President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine on Thursday implored Congress to provide Ukraine’s soldiers with heavy military equipment as his country seeks to repel what he called a continuing invasion by Russian forces.

But after meeting with President Obama in the Oval Office later in the day, Mr. Poroshenko said he was satisfied with American support that falls short of his request. Asked whether he had gotten what he wanted, Mr. Poroshenko appeared pragmatic.

“I got everything possible,” he said.

Mr. Poroshenko, appearing for the first time before a joint session of Congress earlier in the day, pleaded for America’s help in countering what he called “one of the most cynical acts of treachery in the modern history.” He described Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine as a stab in the back from a once-supportive neighbor.

“Over the last month, Ukrainians have shown that they have the courage to stand up,” Mr. Poroshenko said. “We will never obey or bend to the aggressor. We are ready to fight.”

Ukrainian president offers rebels major concessions to end uprising

Much more at the source.

Forty years ago today the Soviet authorities sent hired thugs, water cannons and a bulldozer to break up an illicit underground art show in Moscow. The result was an international outcry that resulted in a historic change in how art was perceived in the Soviet Union. Joseph Backstein, the doyen of Moscow’s contemporary art scene, shares his memories of the Bulldozer Exhibition and contemplates its lasting significance.

Very interesting.

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News Analysis: New Russia Sanctions Seen As Burning Slowly

A fresh round of U.S. and European Union sanctions will not inflict immediate economic shock in Russia but could undermine the country’s fiscal stability in the long term if the measures are not rolled back, economists and industry experts say.

The sanctions aimed at punishing the Kremlin for its role in the Ukraine crisis restrict access to Western capital and technology for major companies in Russia’s financial, energy, and defense sectors. 

They will likely accelerate capital outflow from Russia and could lead to recession as borrowing costs for top banks increase and investment in the Russian economy decreases, economist Sergei Guriev told RFE/RL. 

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I’m Lovin’ It (Most of the Time): A Brief History of McDonald’s in Serbia
Russian courts on Wednesday ordered the closure of three McDonald’s restaurants in Moscow for the maximum 90 days allowed by law, including the first location to open in the Soviet Union back in 1990. Officials said the three American culinary outposts were being shuttered for health violations, but the mounting case against McDonald’s in Russia has been widely interpreted as retaliation for Western sanctions. Some media outlets have reported that the more than 430 McDonald’s restaurants in Russia are all due to be inspected soon. Whatever the Big Mac’s fate is in Russia, McDonald’s already has a history of stirring up major controversy in the former Yugoslavia, where the fast food chain has been both loved and loathed, a source of national pride and a detested symbol of US foreign policy. 
In March of 1988, Belgrade, Yugoslavia became the first city in the communist world to open a McDonald’s restaurant. American newspapers were still steeped in quaint Cold War clichés at the time, and ran headlines like “First Big Mac Attack Against Communism!” and “McMarxism?” Nearly half a century after two brothers named Mac n’ Dick opened the first McDonald’s restaurant in California’s Inland Empire, “Mickey D’s” received a heroes’ welcome in communist Yugoslavia. With lines wrapped around the block and police forces brought in for crowd control, the opening of the first McDonald’s in Eastern Europe was by all accounts the most successful restaurant launch in Belgrade history. More than 6,000 people were served on opening day, setting a new record for Europe.
And thus began the long and deeply conflicted relationship between McDonald’s and the people of Belgrade.

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I’m Lovin’ It (Most of the Time): A Brief History of McDonald’s in Serbia

Russian courts on Wednesday ordered the closure of three McDonald’s restaurants in Moscow for the maximum 90 days allowed by law, including the first location to open in the Soviet Union back in 1990. Officials said the three American culinary outposts were being shuttered for health violations, but the mounting case against McDonald’s in Russia has been widely interpreted as retaliation for Western sanctions. Some media outlets have reported that the more than 430 McDonald’s restaurants in Russia are all due to be inspected soon. Whatever the Big Mac’s fate is in Russia, McDonald’s already has a history of stirring up major controversy in the former Yugoslavia, where the fast food chain has been both loved and loathed, a source of national pride and a detested symbol of US foreign policy. 

In March of 1988, Belgrade, Yugoslavia became the first city in the communist world to open a McDonald’s restaurant. American newspapers were still steeped in quaint Cold War clichés at the time, and ran headlines like “First Big Mac Attack Against Communism!” and “McMarxism?” Nearly half a century after two brothers named Mac n’ Dick opened the first McDonald’s restaurant in California’s Inland Empire, “Mickey D’s” received a heroes’ welcome in communist Yugoslavia. With lines wrapped around the block and police forces brought in for crowd control, the opening of the first McDonald’s in Eastern Europe was by all accounts the most successful restaurant launch in Belgrade history. More than 6,000 people were served on opening day, setting a new record for Europe.

And thus began the long and deeply conflicted relationship between McDonald’s and the people of Belgrade.

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That Time Lenin Played the Theremin

I brought my apparatus and set it up in his large office in the Kremlin. He was not yet there because he was in a meeting. I waited with Fotiva, his secretary, who was a good pianist, a graduate of the conservatory. She said that a little piano would be brought into the office, and that she would accompany me on the music that I would play. So we prepared, and about an hour and a half later Vladimir Il’yich Lenin came with those people with whom he had been in conference in the Kremlin. He was very gracious; I was very pleased to meet him, and then I showed him the signaling system of my instrument, which I played by moving my hands in the air, and which was called at that time the thereminvox. I played a piece [of music]. After I played the piece they applauded, including Vladimir Il’yich [Lenin], who had been watching very attentively during my playing. I played Glinka’s “Skylark”, which he loved very much, and Vladimir Il’yich said, after all this applause, that I should show him, and he would try himself to play it. He stood up, moved to the instrument, stretched his hands out, left and right: right to the pitch and left to the volume. I took his hands from behind and helped him. He started to play “Skylark”. He had a very good ear, and he felt where to move his hands to get the sound: to lower them or to raise them. In the middle of this piece I thought that he could himself, independently, move his hands. So I took my hands off of his, and he completed the whole thing independently, by himself, with great success and with great applause following. He was very happy that he could play on this instrument all by himself.

This whole piece is pretty fascinating.

Amid Putin’s Crackdown, Sochi Gay Scene Thrives

A man named Ravil catapults onto the dance floor and starts stomping out the lezginka, the arrogant rooster strut of the Chechen national dance.

Ravil’s spontaneous performance is made even more unusual by the fact he’s in one of the two gay clubs in Sochi, the southern Russian town that will host the Winter Olympics amid Vladimir Putin’s harsh crackdown on gays. The morality campaign — centered on a law banning homosexual “propaganda” — has threatened to overshadow the games as it provokes an international outcry.

Paradoxically, Sochi is a far cry from the conservative lifestyle that the president is trying to promote.

At club Mayak, for example, the dancers are as diverse as the city itself: a Muslim who is a former market butcher, an Armenian who owns a strip club in a nearby town, a Ukrainian who loves to sing like Whitney Houston and dress like Adele.

And the men behind Mayak are hopeful that Sochi can remain the exception to the rule as its entrepreneurial, anything-goes crowd prepares to welcome the world. “This is a resort town,” says Andrei Tenichev, the owner. “We have a saying: Money doesn’t smell of anything.”

(There’s a lot more at the source.)

Ukraine and the European Union and Russia.

From the Washington Post:

It’s a momentous choice. Ukraine has the chance to opt for a road that in theory would extend European values of transparency and the rule of law far to the east. Or it can join Russia in a financial and cultural zone that is increasingly defining itself as separate from the West and not answerable to Western norms. As a nation of 46 million, Ukraine would be a significant addition to Putin’s Eurasian Union.

From RT:

The Russian MP said the Ukraine-EU agreement would create a single-sided dependence of Ukraine on the EU as Ukraine will not be able to influence the development of EU directives, but would nevertheless automatically accept them as obligations.

No one offers Ukraine to become a EU member, it is an attempt to tie this country to the European Union for a small price and with little effort, to make this country into an economic appendix. Ukraine is going to lose very seriously from these agreements,” Pushkov explained.

We are practically talking here about establishing a semi-colonial dependence,” the parliamentarian emphasized.

Truthfully, John McCain in wrong Pravda

Sen. John McCain got his wish when his op-ed against Russian President Vladimir Putin was published in Russia news outlet Pravda. The only problem — it may have been the wrong Pravda.

The Arizona Republican published his anti-Putin piece on Pravda.ru on Thursday, an English and Russian news website that was founded in 1999.

But McCain said he was hoping to publish in the Communist newspaper Pravda, meaning “truth” in Russian, which was founded in 1912. That publication, after being banned when the Soviet Union collapsed, was rekindled and is still circulated by today’s Russian Communist Party.

Pravda.ru and the paper are unrelated media outlets, except for the name.

On Thursday, a spokesman for McCain said the senator submitted the op-ed to both publications and hoped both would run it. He denied Pravda.ru is the “wrong” Pravda.

On Sunday, McCain told reporters that the Communist one was the Pravda he hoped would publish his piece, but that publication’s editor wrote in a statement that the publication would not accept McCain’s op-ed unless it aligned with their position supporting the Syrian regime, according to CNN.

facepalm.