The Rehabilitation of Nicholas II By Natalia Poklonskaya

I’ve been a fervent anti-Communist ever since I was old enough to know what Communism is. This fact surprises some people, especially when they find out that I put years and years of effort into learning to speak Russian. I suppose they think that a love of the Soviet Union led me to study Russian. Even though it’s been gone for twenty-five years, it still looms large in many people’s imaginations.

The thing is, though, the Soviet Union was never what led me to Russian. It was imperial Russia—specifically, the imperial Russian family of the doomed last tsar, Nicholas II, and his wife and five children. They were what initially sparked my interest in the Russian language. (I feel like there’s a certain irony in that the form of Russian I learned is slightly different than what they spoke. After the Bolsheviks seized power, they enacted a wholesale orthographic reform of the Russian language. Certain letters were removed from the alphabet and the spellings of words were changed. Even some grammar was changed. As a result, I can read the pre-Revolutionary Russian, but couldn’t reliably produce it myself since I have never learned the spelling rules that were used at the beginning of the twentieth century.)
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7 Reads on the Radar

My friend J.T. has a fabulous new blog concerning books on Russia, which is one of my favorite topics. This is the latest post on said blog, concerning upcoming books on Russia. They all sound so interesting that I couldn’t help but reblog it!

Russia Reviewed

One of the “benefits” of Russia’s resurgence as a global power is that there is no shortage of new Russia book releases. Here are seven books scheduled for publication this year that I can’t wait to peruse.

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Review: Petrostate: Putin, Power, and the New Russia

Petrostate: Putin, Power, and the New Russia
Petrostate: Putin, Power, and the New Russia by Marshall I. Goldman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overall, this was a REALLY good book. I appreciated how fair and balanced it was towards Russia. Usually, books written by Westerners are so anti-Russian that they ignore facts. (See: Edward Lucas’ work and Masha Gessen’s work, among others.) This book was overall very fair and balanced.

In particular, I wish I could force every Russia-watcher to read Chapter 5, titled “Putin Takes Over: The Return of the Czar.” Specifically, the section starting at “The Attack on Yukos” is very, very informative and important. This section makes some important points, namely: 1) Pretty much everyone who got rich in Russia in the 1990s did so illegally, so in this sense Putin’s prosecution of Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky was unfair, and 2) Khodorkovsky certainly was not the angel he’s been portrayed as in Western literature. He stole people’s money in the 1990s when his Menatep Bank folded (I’ve had Russia watchers tell me this never happened, but it did. The author of this book, who is definitely not pro-Putin, agrees with me and cites actual sources.) He was probably involved in some contract killings—if not directly, then by turning a blind eye to his subordinates who perpetrated them.

The author also dis-spells the myth that Khodorkovsky wanted to reform Russian business and make it transparent and “normal,” for lack of a better term, as it is in the United States. Westerners think this means he was a good businessman, crusading against corruption. Not so, according to the author. Instead, he says Khodorkovsky embraced rule of law so that no one could do to his business empire what he did to acquire it (i.e. steal it). For reference, this passage is at location 2136 in my Kindle edition of the book. I don’t have actual page numbers, unfortunately. In a somewhat delicious irony, this didn’t help, and Khodorkovsky was arrested and his business broken up and sold.

Anyway, that’s just one example of many from this book that’s so fascinating. The author really does a good job of keeping balanced. To continue the Yukos example, he criticizes the Russian government for jailing Yukos lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina, which I don’t fully agree with either.

The only criticism I could mount is the author’s position about the 1999 apartment bombings that let to a re-ignition of the Chechen War. He gives more credence to the theory that the FSB planted the bombs in order to blame them on the Chechens than is warranted. I am familiar with the theory and think it’s completely wrong. I suppose the author and I would have to agree to disagree on this. It is because of this that I downgraded the book by one star—otherwise, I probably would have given it five stars.

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Russian Politician Suggests Burying Lenin’s Body

I kept forgetting to blog about this excellent news I saw at the end of last year, so here it is, a bit late. (But better late than never, right?) The Royal Russia blog (one of my favorite sources for all things Imperial Russia-related) has a story about a Russian politician who has suggested burying Vladimir Lenin’s body. Right now, Lenin’s embalmed corpse lies in a mausoleum on Red Square. Yes, it’s just as disgusting and gruesome as it sounds.

Russian State Duma Deputy Ivan Konstantin Sukharev – a member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) – has introduced to the State Duma, a bill urging his colleagues to resume the debate on the burial of Vladimir Lenin and the transfer of his body to one of Moscow’s cemeteries. His bill also calls for the elimination of the cemetery where prominent Bolshevik and Soviet officials are buried near the Kremlin wall in Moscow.

According to Sukharev, the purpose of drafting the bill is necessary – “for the creation and promotion of the new symbols of Russia, reflecting the historical stage of unity, awareness of national identity of Russians building a democratic state, free from the domination of ideology – whose symbol remains Lenin’s mausoleum.”

“Russia cannot be considered a modern civilized state as long as a corpse remains in Red Square – the main square of the nation – the existence of Lenin’s mausoleum is simply unacceptable. Further, the misery and deprivation which Lenin’s actions and policies brought down upon his people and the state are incalculable,” – said Ivan Sukharev.

He also notes: “In my view, Lenin in the history of Russia is quite unique. We know that during the 22-year reign of Nicholas II, that Russia’s population increased by 60 million people. After Lenin seized power the nation experienced revolution and a Civil War, the population decreased by at least 30 million – clearly a very negative statistic in the history of our nation. ”

The bill also notes that many descendants of immigrants who wish to return to our country, are so far unable to do so, identifying the mausoleum of the Bolshevik regime leader that had brought so much suffering to their families.

“The proposal to bury the remains of Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) has long been supported by the hierarchs of the Church. Further, the existence of Lenin’s mausoleum is incompatible with the religious traditions and Russian society’s growing desire for Christian values” – is also stated in the draft law.

I for one fully support burying Lenin once and for all. Whether this will happen or not remains to be seen, though. This isn’t the first time politicians have talked about it.

Who Killed Alexander Litvinenko?

Alexander Litvinenko, date unknown.
Alexander Litvinenko, date unknown.

I read this fascinating article earlier this year (in the end of January), sent it to my mom in an email with extensive commentary, then very foolishly forgot to post it here on my blog. The article, which appeared in Newsweek—that’s a mainstream publication, mind you—is called Who Killed Litvinenko? Perhaps Not Russia After All.

(If you’re not familiar with the Litvinenko case, consider reading this Wikipedia article. It’s quite comprehensive, if a bit biased in certain places.)

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the Newsweek article. If you haven’t read it, you probably should or this post won’t make sense. 🙂

This is the only article I’ve ever read in the mainstream Western media that at least considers the possibility that the Russian state wasn’t involved in this. And the inconsistencies of the case are certainly interesting.
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Want To Read Anti-Kremlin News In Russian? It’s Possible.

A newspaper vendor in London. From here.
A newspaper vendor in London. From here.

Note: I was planning this post for today before I realized that it’s the eleventh anniversary of journalist Paul Klebnikov’s death. He was shot in Moscow in the evening of July 9, 2004. The publication he worked for, Forbes Russia, is on the list of anti-Kremlin news sources in Russian. Mr. Klebnikov produced some fantastic work during his life and I would highly recommend reading it.

I’m a big advocate of reading the news in the foreign language you’re learning. It’s okay if you don’t like political stuff. Pretty much any topic you can think of has news related to it. A lot of people like sports and entertainment-related stuff and Google News has sections for both of these in many foreign languages. Believe me, I’ve read my fair share of political news, and it does get old after a while, if you ask me.

Reading native media will also help you see what issues speakers of your target language deem important. For example, if you’re into sports, you can tell from reading the sports-related news in Russian that Russian people are REALLY into soccer (or football, for you European readers out there).

So anyway, I found this interesting link with the twenty most anti-Kremlin sites in Russian. For the record, many, many Russian-language news sites and pretty in favor of the current Russian government. At least, the more popular and well-known ones are.

Before I post the list, let me say this: if you’re learning Russian, I think you should read pro-Kremlin websites. If you’re pro-Kremlin, you’ll enjoy it, and if you’re anti-Kremlin—well, you know what they say about knowing your enemy.

That being said, I think it’s useful to know whether a site leans pro-Kremlin or anti-Kremlin. Based on an analysis conducted in March 2014 (which was a very politically contentious month), here are the twenty most anti-Kremlin websites.

1. Ekho Moskvy
2. Dozhd TV
3. Novaya gazeta
4. The New Times
5. Newsru.com
6. Radio Svoboda
7. RIA "New Region"
8. Slon.ru
9. RBK and RBK daily
10. Vedomosti
11. Snob
12. Rosbalt
13. Grani.ru
14. Yezhednevny zhurnal
15. Lenta.ru
16. Kommersant
17. Russky Zhurnal
18. Russian Forbes
19. Znack.com
20. Moskovskiye novosti

I’m pleased to say that I read Radio Svoboda (#6), RBK (#9), Rosbalt (#12), Kommersant (#16), and Forbes Russia (#18) on a regular basis. I read Vedomosti (#10) and Lenta.ru (#15) when I remember to, which varies from “often” to “not very much”. I listen to Ekho Moskvy (#1) podcasts and radio on a regular basis. Personally, I’ve never been much of a fan of Novaya Gazeta (#3) or The New Times (#4), as they’re a bit left-leaning for my tastes. As for the other sites on the list, I hadn’t heard of a lot of them before finding this list, so perhaps I will have to integrate them into my reading soon.

Needless to say, I read a ton of pro-Kremlin media as well. So don’t read too much (no pun intended!) into my choices. Mainly, I just want to learn as much Russian vocabulary as possible.

Viktor Yanukovych Interviewed By The BBC

No, I haven’t watched the interview yet, but I plan to. See article with embedded videos here.

Dang, I don’t know about you, but I would love to interview him! The best part is I wouldn’t even need an interpreter. I’d just speak directly to him in Russian.