By Jeffrey Tayler
For reasons that remain unclear, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has intensified his campaign to convince Russians that he is no lame duck, even after dropping his candidacy for a second term in favor of prime minister (and political mentor) Vladimir Putin. It's not going well.
“Perhaps the biggest blunder came last week when Medvedev posted on his blog a video of himself wearing a cerulean T-shirt and swinging a badminton racket to promote the sport," wrote Alexander Bratersky in the Moscow Times. "The outgoing president, who was shown swatting a shuttlecock with Putin, touted badminton as a way to develop managerial skills and called for the sport to be added to school programs. But the stunt, in which Medvedev came across more as a sports commentator than a politician, failed to impress anyone except, perhaps, his fan club Medvedev Girls, who played badminton in honor of the president on Red Square last week.”
The one apparently minor “reform” likely to be associated with the reputedly tech-savvy Medvedev was his decision to abolish daylight savings time. It has proved immensely unpopular in a country with scant daylight in winter months. But even that reform has been bungled, as Bratersky noted, resulting in late trains and other snafus. “Many computers and smartphones automatically set back their clocks by an hour on Sunday morning, unaware that the country would remain permanently on summertime under orders issued by President Dmitry Medvedev in March."
The president has succeeded in one area, according to Bratersky. His misadventures have promoted the use of the hashtag #pathetic in the Russian Twittersphere.
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Readers of Komsomolskaya Pravda were surprised to find the erstwhile spy and United Russia party advocate, 29-year-old Anna Chapman, opining in print on the poet Alexander Pushkin and the fate of Russia. Introducing her as “Russian agent 90-60-90” (roughly the metric equivalent of 36-24-36), the paper prominently displayed her column. Chapman announced that nineteenth-century European “Russiaphobes” had been “betting that creative energy [in Russia] would not be allowed to develop freely. According to their plan Russia was supposed to be Europe’s eternal student. It was not supposed to produce its own geniuses.” (It did, of course, during an unparalleled renaissance, produce some of the nineteenth century’s finest literature, music, and artwork.)
Chapman attributed Pushkin’s “greatness to his proximity to age-old Russian traditions,” and lamented his 1837 death (in a duel), which not only prevented him from exceeding in worldwide fame “Homer and Shakespeare,” but precluded his producing literature that would have “given Russia’s leaders a spiritual, instead of a military basis” and his becoming a conservative adviser to the tsar. The result: “Europe became crazily obsessed with communism and Marx, who proclaimed a new era for humanity.” Europe then decided to “carry out historical experiments on Russia” – that is, the Russian revolution of 1917 – “that would force her people through new sufferings and humiliation, retarding the country’s development by decades.”
Yet perhaps Chapman’s newfound expertise on Russian literature and history is not all it’s cracked up to be. Noting that her “previous appearances in print have largely been limited to stories about her U.S. arrest for spying and scantily clad photo spreads in men's magazines,” The Moscow Times described the accusations of plagiarism that followed the article’s publication. Her “attempt at literary criticism quickly whipped up a storm of scorn as bloggers accused her of ripping off whole passages from a book” -- “The Sovereignty of the Soul.” -- by famed United Russia spin doctor Oleg Matveichev, whom it branded as “a notorious propagandist.” In that opus, Matveichev claims that Pushkin's untimely demise in the 1837 duel “with French officer Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d'Anthes was the result of a European plot to weaken Russia and sent the country down a road to disaster instead of cultural supremacy.” Chapman, the paper claimed, mirrored “Matveichev almost word-for-word.”
Chapman did not respond to the paper’s request for comment.
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Storm clouds continue to gather in advance of the nationalist “Russian March,” which may draw ten thousand anti-regime protestors to Moscow’s streets on Nov. 4. Citing the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, RIA Novosti reported that authorities have released the event’s organizer (and head of the nationalist group Slavyanskaya Sila, or Slavic Power), Dmitri Demushkin, on the condition that he not leave the country. The authorities had arrested him last week. The article noted that police have “opened a criminal case against Demushkin on two counts – inciting hatred or hostility and calling for mass unrest.” If convicted, Demushkin could face up to five years in prison.
The Moscow Times summarized other related events: the jailing, by two city courts, of “radical activists accused of participating in December's race riots on Manezh Square and North Caucasus natives accused of triggering the clashes” and the twenty years in jail meted out to Daghestani native Aslan Cherkesov for the gunning down of a Slavic soccer fan -- the incident that provoked the unrest.
Whatever judicial decisions have been handed down in the past week, Nov. 4, officially “People’s Unity Day,” may prove to be one of the most divisive public holidays on Russia’s calendar.
(Jeffrey Tayler is Moscow correspondent for World View. He is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and the author of six books, including "Murderers in Mausoleums: Riding the Back Roads of Empire between Moscow and Beijing." The opinions expressed are his own.)
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