Russian Political Party Sponsors Bill To Revive Tsarist National Anthem

I read this amazing bit of news a couple of weeks ago and have been meaning to blog about it ever since: Law introduced in the State Duma to replace Russian National Anthem with “God Save the Tsar.” The link is in Russian.

Basically, Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) has introduced a bill in the Russian parliament (Duma) to replace the current national anthem with the tsarist-era anthem, “God Save the Tsar.” (Zhirinovsky famously declared war on a letter in the Cyrillic alphabet years ago, so he’s no stranger to very random pronouncements.) Now, I do like the current anthem, I really do. I think it’s quite beautiful. But I like the tsarist anthem even more, so as you can imagine, I was delighted to hear this news.

I doubt the bill will pass, to be honest. I don’t think there’s popular support for it. I don’t think United Russia, the most powerful party in the Duma, supports it, and support from United Russia would be crucial for it to pass. Nor would I want it to pass in the form it was introduced: apparently, according to other sources I read, the bill also proposes changing the calendar back to the Julian version, which would be very confusing since the entire world uses the Gregorian calendar right now. As such, I do think reverting to the Julian calendar would be rather stupid.

But I digress. With all this talk of the two different anthems, you’re probably wondering what they sound like. Wonder no further, dear readers. I have embedded below videos of each so you can listen.

First, the current anthem—here is a direct link to YouTube, in case the embedded version isn’t working. It has the lyrics in both Russian and English.

And here is the tsarist era anthem. Again, here’s a direct link in case the embedded version doesn’t work. I managed to find a version that had the lyrics in English, which was not easy. There are better musical versions out there, but I wanted to have the lyrics in English for all of you to read.

Russian flags by the Kremlin. Source

Really, I do think they are both nice anthems. But I’d love to see a change back to the tsarist version. It’s all part of the plan, you see. First, the tsarist anthem. Then the tsarist flag—oh wait, that’s already happened. The current flag in use in Russia was also used during the late period of the Russian Empire (though there were other flags in use in earlier years). The next, and final step is to restore the monarchy to Russia. I rather like that idea—as long as Putin is not the tsar… 😉

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The U.S. Through the Eyes of a Foreigner

As you may know, I read a bunch of Russian craft blogs. I might even be addicted to them. I love crafts (specifically knitting and crocheting) and I love Russian, so they’re great fun for me to read.

Last week, Nastenka at Creative Living wrote a lovely post, all in Russian, about a recent trip she took to California. (She lives in Moscow.) It’s so interesting to see what someone who wasn’t born and raised here thinks about my country. It’s even more fascinating to see what a non-native English speaker thinks. I’m not sure how much English Nastenka speaks, but she definitely knows some since her blog is peppered with it. (Настенька, если вы хотите говорить по-русски со мной, я могу помочь вам!) Anyway, it looks like it was a good trip. Getting the visa was annoying because the government website is stupid and makes the connection time out before you can finish filling out the application, she says. She ended up getting a three-year visa, though, which is more time than I’ve ever had on a Russian visa!

She landed in San Francisco and rented a cute red car. She visited Stanford, downtown San Francisco, the piers with the sea lions, and rode a cable car. (I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I had to look that up in English. I couldn’t think of the English word for трамвай for the life of me!) All in all, it looks like a nice trip, if a bit short. The flight here and back to Russia is so ridiculously long that it eats entire days of the trip, unfortunately.

Check out Nastenka’s photos of her trip here! Yes, the entire post is in Russian, but just keep scrolling and you’ll see photos.

Foreign Service Update

Remember that Foreign Service Officer Test I took back in February? And how I passed and moved on to the next stage, the Personal Narrative Questions? Well, I heard from the people who evaluate all the aspirants’ questions.

And I didn’t pass.

This may sound like a strange statement to make, but I’m not really sad about it. The main emotion I feel actually is relief. I personally think the worst part of the entire process is all the waiting. You wait for three long weeks after taking the test. If you pass that, you wait six to eight weeks for the results of the narratives. And if you pass that, you have to wait to interview in person, but at least you find out your interview result at the end of the day. Though if you make it through the interview, there’s even more waiting while you’re on the register. (If you want a detailed explanation of the whole process, check out my post here.)

Basically, if I want to put in an application again, I have to wait a year. It doesn’t mean 365 calendar days; I just can’t sign up to take the test again until the first session next year since I took it during the first session this year. I’m not sure if I’ll sign up again or not. I probably will, though it depends on what I’m doing next year.

To be honest, I actually go back and forth on whether I want to join the Foreign Service or not. It’s one of those jobs that has a ton of good things (you get paid to learn languages and live abroad and work in a cool environment)… and a ton of bad things (one of those languages you learn could be Chinese or Arabic or Hindi, and one of those places you go abroad could be Sudan or Saudi Arabia or India). My point here isn’t that Chinese, Arabic, and Hindi are terrible languages—if you like them and learn them, that’s great. The point is they’re not languages I’ve ever had a desire to learn. Same with the countries I listed: I know some people might love to have the chance to live in India or Saudi Arabia or Sudan. I personally don’t.

When one applies to join the Foreign Service, one commits to worldwide assignment. That means that however unlikely it is that I will go to Sudan, the possibility still exists. Though I’m okay with being sent to most places (South America and Europe, bring it on!), there are certain places that I really hope to never visit, much less live in. A part of me thinks I should just stay here and keep working and writing and see what happens. Of course, the other part of me says one word over and over: RUSSIA RUSSIA RUSSIA. Because I think working in an embassy or consulate over in Russia would be the most amazing thing ever.

It’s all very confusing. At least I have the rest of this year to think about it, though. And if I am still confused by the time signing up rolls around, I’ll probably sign up anyway just to see how it goes—like I did this time.

The Crimea Annexation Documentary

If you’re a Russia watcher, you’ve probably heard of the upcoming pro-Russian documentary film called Crimea: The Way Home [Крым: путь на родину]. The Russian TV station set to air it (as of now, there’s no air date) posted a short trailer on the internet this past weekend and the Russia-watching internet blew up (here’s one of many articles about this now-infamous documentary). You see, the trailer is basically just an excerpt from an interview with Putin in which he says that he planned to annex Crimea on February 22, 2014, after Viktor Yanukovych was deposed as president.

You can see the trailer (with English subtitles, hooray!) here. I’ve embedded it below, too, because it’s so important.

Why is it such a big deal that Putin planned the annexation from February 22? Because the actual referendum in which the Crimean people voted to join the Russian Federation took place weeks later.

The documentary looks really good. I’ll certainly watch it when it comes out. I’m probably one of the few people out there whose hobby is watching Russian propaganda films—but that’s why you read this blog, right?

Excellent News!

Dear readers, I received most excellent news today. Remember when I took the Foreign Service Officer Test earlier this month? Well, I received my results today. And…. drumroll please…

I PASSED!

Seriously, this is huge news. I had honestly not expected to pass. I didn’t study as much as I could have and I know I missed some questions. Nevertheless, I pulled off a 165.29, which puts me well above the 154 needed to advance to the next step. If you’re interested, go read this post if you want to know more about the steps involved in this process.

I’m scared of the next step because it trips so many people up. It consists of short answer questions that will (hopefully) highlight one’s suitability for the foreign service. The answers are due in three weeks, so I’ve already started writing. It’s intimidating that even if I pass this step, I’m still not done… but I’m just going to focus on writing good answers for now.

Big News!

Guys.

Guys.

I have big news. Or rather, news that could potentially turn into big news, if I’m lucky.

You’ve probably noticed I didn’t blog this past weekend. There is a reason: on Saturday, six years after deciding I wanted to do it, I finally took the Foreign Service Officer Test (shortened to FSOT because who wants to type that long name out all the time?).

Wait, the Foreign Service what?

The FSOT is a written, computer-based exam that everyone has to pass in order to become a Foreign Service Officer (FSO). That’s the fancy, official name for diplomats serving the United States. The test is divided into four sections: Job Knowledge, Biographical, English Expression, and Essays. I found the Essay Section the hardest, followed by the Biographical. I’m pretty sure I did okay on English Expression (though time will tell, once I receive my results). Job Knowledge is basically a lot of random knowledge about US history, government, world affairs, and stuff like communications, management, and math (!). Considering how I could have studied a lot more than I did, I didn’t find that section to be too terrible.

How does one join the Foreign Service? And why would someone want to?

The why is the easy question to answer. Basically, you get paid to live around the world, learn languages, move to cool places and see all sorts of things. Oh, and did I mention that most housing abroad is paid for? As in, it does not come out of your salary. Sounds like a good deal to me: an exciting job in exciting places that’s decently paid. Sign me up!

As for the how… that’s actually quite difficult to explain. Here’s what happens:

  1. First, you have to register for the FSOT. You submit a massive registration package online. I submitted mine so long ago that I really don’t remember what they ask for. Then, you register for a test date. The test is offered three times a year—February, June, and October—and a candidate can retake the test only after a year elapses. From what I’ve heard, it doesn’t have to be 365 days exactly—as in, if I fail, I’ll be eligible for next year’s February test window, even if I take it on February 5 as opposed to February 7, as I did this year.
  2. But let’s not be so negative. Let’s assume that you do pass the test, with flying colors. After that comes the Personal Narrative Questions. These trip a lot of people up. In about 200 words, you have to answer questions posed that will give insight into your personality and potential. The State Department loves the 13 Dimensions (link is to a PDF document), so you want to explain, as much as possible, how you exemplify these. I haven’t actually been through this step yet, but everyone on the internet says: 13 dimensions, 13 dimensions, 13 dimensions. So if I do make it to this step, I’m definitely going to write my answers with that in mind!
  3. Once you pass the PNQ’s, it’s time for the Oral Assessment. This takes place in Washington, D.C. and involves a group exercise, some sort of interview, and writing some sort of case memo. From what I’ve heard, the problem with it is even if you’re not stressed initially, you sometimes get grouped up with people who are totally freaking out, which can affect your performance as well. But no matter. Honestly, I think it sounds fun—but that’s why I’m pursuing this career.
  4. Hooray, you made it past the Oral Assessment! Now you go on the Register. The Register is sort of complicated. First, it continually changes. If someone gets a higher score on the oral assessment than you do, but they take it a month after you, you get bumped down on the list in favor of them. Luckily, there are some things you can do to improve your standing on the Register. First, languages: if you speak certain languages, you get huge bonus points. Russian used to be one of those. Of course, the State Department removed it (grrr!) before I could take the exam or even come close to this stage, so now Russian doesn’t confer a huge bonus. But it still gives you some points (0.17, if I remember correctly) and some points are better than zero points. Most languages give 0.17 points and to get these points added to your score, you have an oral exam over the telephone.
  5. There is another thing that impacts your standing on the register. Remember in Step 1, when I talked about registering? I neglected to mention something very important: choosing the career track. FSO’s have five career tracks: political, economic, public diplomacy, management, and consular. No one seems to know for sure, but the order I listed them in is roughly their order of popularity. People are certain that political is the most popular. That means candidates on the political track are at a disadvantage from the start. To be called off the Register, they automatically need higher scores, because they’re competing with a larger group of people. Here’s an annoying thing about the Register and why you want to increase your score as much as possible: if you aren’t called off the Register in eighteen months, you’re kicked off and have to start the entire process all over again. So even if you jump through all these hoops successfully, you’re still not guaranteed a job at the end. Kind of depressing, I suppose. Personally, odds are I’ll make it off the register because I picked the consular track.* The Foreign Service is always in need of consular officers, so that works in my favor. 🙂
  6. If you get called off the Register, you have a medical check, a background check, and all that good stuff. If you pass that—and from what I’ve heard, most people do—you get to go to Foreign Service boot camp. It lasts six weeks and is called the A-100 Class, after the number of the room it used to be held in. At the conclusion of this, you put in your bid: I’m not sure how the process works, but I think they give you a list of open jobs around the world and you have to rank them in order of what you want. The graduation ceremony for A-100 is called “Flag Day” and apparently, everyone gets a flag of the country they’re going to. Depending on when they start and whether you speak the required language, you might have some language training before shipping out. The first two tours are two years apiece and typically involve consular work, whether you’re on the consular track or not.
  7. And that’s pretty much it. There are a few other things: you get tenured after five years. Basically, if they don’t think you’re a good fit, you could be asked to leave after two tours. From what I’ve heard, it’s pretty hard to be denied tenure, as the people who get to this stage are motivated and truly do want to be FSO’s. I think you have to learn one foreign language in order to qualify for tenure, but don’t quote me on that.

It is a lot of steps, but luckily there are a ton of resources on the internet. There are a couple of Yahoo groups devoted to helping people join the Foreign Service. In fact, I studied off some flashcards one of the members posted.

So you’re going to join?

I’m certainly trying to. I’m not sure if I passed the FSOT or not and I won’t know for a couple of weeks. If I didn’t pass, I’m going to spend a lot of time studying and take it again in February 2016. I do hope I’ve passed, as I’d love to see what the infamous PNQ’s are like. (I’ve heard they can be rather dreadful.) Even if I do breeze through every step successfully, I probably wouldn’t be hired until the end of this year or so. As you can see, it’s quite a long process. It’s something I’ve dreamed about for a long time, though, ever since the State Department showed up on my college campus to talk to us about it. One of my fondest memories from college is the time I had dinner with a former ambassador to Romania. He was our diplomat-in-residence for our region at the time and one of the divisions at my school sponsored a dinner with him for a small group of students.

So watch out, dear readers. In a couple years’ time, I could be writing this blog from somewhere random. Like Uruguay or Mexico or maybe even Russia.

*Note: I want to emphasize that I did not choose the consular track just because it’s the least popular. I chose it because I truly thought the work sounded appealing. I didn’t want to write cables all the time the way political and economic officers do, and though public diplomacy sounds fun for a finite period of time, I wouldn’t want to make a whole career out of it. I also considered the management track, but ultimately decided on consular. And though political officers do make up the majority of ambassadors, consular officers are also well-represented.

A Follow-Up to the Viktor Yanukovych Post (Or, More Thoughts on Ukraine)

A pretty photo of Sevastopol to distract, at least temporarily, from the problems Ukraine is having.
A pretty photo of Sevastopol to distract, at least temporarily, from the problems Ukraine is having.

On February 22, I wrote a post called “Yanukovych Legally Still Is President of Ukraine.” To put it mildly, it kind of went viral. I don’t mean viral as in millions of views (I’ve never had that many views before!), but I had a substantial number of views on this post. Heck, I even made it to the front page of Google News the day I published it. So my first order of business is to thank everyone who shared it. You know who you are. Mark shared it on his blog (twice, I think). A commenter by the name of Rob shared my post on a few forums. Other hits came in through Facebook, so at least one person shared it on there. Again, thank you so much for sharing and reading. It really means a lot to me.

As a lot of events have happened since February 22, I thought I’d post an update with my thoughts on Ukraine. So here goes:

  • I stand by what I said in the aforementioned post, i.e. that Yanukovych was illegally deposed. You can love him or hate him, but the fact remains that his ouster was not legal.
  • Yanukovych was fairly elected in 2010. This fact caused controversy on Twitter about a week ago when I mentioned it. I was accused of being “ignorant” and worse. This is not an opinion, though—at least, it’s not my opinion. International observers said the election was free and fair. Again, if you don’t agree, that’s okay. Just don’t blame me for saying it. Take it up with the international observers.
  • I wouldn’t support Yanukovych in a future election. Yes, it may be surprising, but I actually think it’s better for Ukraine if he goes. I just wish it had been done legally. For a fledgling democracy such as Ukraine, it is important to elect leaders and remove them in accordance with the law. Otherwise, what’s the point of having a constitution if one is going to ignore the rule of law on certain occasions?
  • The protestors were not peaceful. A lot of people in the West try to paint them as martyrs murdered by a dictatorial regime. This is patently untrue. The news just broke today that those snipers so condemned by the international community were, in fact, acting on the protestors’ orders, not Viktor Yanukovych’s.
  • The old government was corrupt, but the new government won’t be much better. That is the main reason why I am so disgusted with Ukrainian politics. It’s corrupt to the core. Do you really believe Tymoshenko or Yatsyenyuk will be any better for the country? Corruption runs so deep over there. It’s really depressing if you sit down and think about it.
  • There are troubling anti-Semitic elements in the protest movement. The main culprit is the Svoboda [Freedom] party, led by Oleg Tyagnibok. Tyagnibok has a history of making anti-Semitic statements, such as: “They were not afraid and we should not be afraid. They took their automatic guns on their necks and went into the woods, and fought against the Moskali, Germans, Kikes and other scum who wanted to take away our Ukrainian state.”* What a lovely individual, right?
  • There was Western involvement in the protests. As in, the EU and the US supported the protestors.
  • I have deeply mixed feelings about the Russian incursion into Crimea. I don’t want there to be a war or anyone else dying. The main question for me is: does Crimea want to join Russia? Technically, if the Crimeans want to secede, it’s hypocritical for the West to condemn that because of our record on supporting Kosovo’s secession. Right now, what I’m most unsure of is whether there is a majority in Crimea in favor of leaving Ukraine and joining Russia.

That’s all I have for now. Honestly, I am just so annoyed about what’s going on over there and the shoddy coverage in our media. It frustrates me immensely.

*Original text: Вони не боялися, як і ми зараз не маємо боятися, вони взяли автомат на шию і пішли в ті ліси, вони готувалися і боролися з москалями, боролися з німцями, боролися з жидвою і з іншою нечистю, яка хотіла забрати в нас нашу українську державу. Found here. Aside from insulting Jews, he also insulted Russians—Moskali is an insulting word in Ukrainian that refers to Russian people.

Tax Rates Around the World

The BBC has a great article today about different tax rates around the world. Russia has one of the lowest tax rates. High earners there take home 87% of their salary. Russia was not on the list for average earners, but I’m pretty sure it has a flat rate, so middle-class people are probably paying 13%, too.

Russia Moves Missiles to Kaliningrad

Map from here.
Map from here.

This is the fourth (or maybe fifth, as I’ve lost track) post chronicling the rise of Russia. The BBC reports that European countries are worried over the possibility that Russia may have put nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad. (Kaliningrad is a small Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania—see map at the right.)

European countries bordering Russia’s territory of Kaliningrad say they are worried at reports that Moscow has put nuclear-capable missiles there.

Lithuania and Poland both issued statements of concern.

Russia has not confirmed the report but insists it has every right to station missiles in its western-most region.

Moscow has long threatened to move Iskander short-range missile systems to Kaliningrad in response to the United States’ own European missile shield.

This is pretty interesting stuff, everyone. I’m definitely going to keep an eye on Russia…

When Life Imitates Art

I recently read a Kindle book (it was free!) called The Ambassador’s Wife. It wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read, but it was decently entertaining and funny and I enjoyed the fact that it took place in Singapore, a place I’ve never been but would love to visit.

Throughout the course of the novel, an American ambassador is murdered at her post abroad. The United States government investigates ineffectually and tries to cover the whole thing up. Scandalous, right? I can’t ever imagine that happening.

…oh wait, I can. Because that did happen on September 11, 2012. Four Americans were murdered in Libya, one of them an ambassador, and nobody did anything. Nobody even cared. In fact, they voted to re-elect the people whose very negligence made this possible in the first place!

It’s depressing when real life is stranger than fiction. At least in that novel, the murder victims get justice (sort of). In reality, that did not happen.