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7 January 1998
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Reuters: Anatoly Verbin, Russia celebrates Christmas, Yeltsin
2. VOA: Peter Heinlein, RUSSIA/CHRISTMAS.
3. Vek: WE'LL MAKE IT. Russia's Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin
Answers Questions from Newspaper Vek.
4. Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Vladimir Kuznechevskiy, "A Step to the Left,
A Step to the Right -- Toward the Center of Power. Elections to Local
Legislative Assemblies in December 1997 Showed a Universal Shift of
Emphasis in the Population's Mood From the Extremes of Left and Right
Toward the Center, Which Ensures for Boris Yeltsin's Political Regime
the Necessary Stability."
5. Boston Globe: David Filipov, A perilous passion. Russians ignore
6. RIA Novosti: FEDERAL BUDGET GETS 23.7 TRILLION ROUBLES FROM
PRIVATISATION IN 1977, SAYS VICE PREMIER OF THE RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT,
HEAD OF THE STATE PROPERTY MINISTRY FARID GAZIZULLIN.
7. Russia Today: John Varoli, Christmas and New Year's Eve a la
8. Interfax: Lebed Planning Series of Tours in 1998.
9. Reuters: Irene Marushko, Christmas traditions alive in Ukraine.]
Russia celebrates Christmas, Yeltsin stays away
By Anatoly Verbin
MOSCOW, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Millions of Russians flocked to churches overnight
to greet the Orthodox Christmas, untroubled by an uncertainty over President
Boris Yeltsin's health that has started to puzzle analysts.
Patriarch Alexiy led the lavish ceremony in Moscow's Bogoyavlensky Cathedral,
attended by many Russian dignitaries. Yeltsin was not there.
The Kremlin says he is enjoying a holiday in the northwestern retreat of
Valdai, zipping through icy forests on a snowmobile and speaking to
politicians at home and abroad by telephone.
But the Kremlin press service, which admits it has little contact with the
president, said a mid-January trip to India had been postponed as well as a
Commonwealth of Independent States meeting also initially set for January.
More unusually, Interfax news agency reported Yeltsin would receive no
visitors before returning to work on January 19.
Yeltsin's previous vacation, in the middle of 1997, was packed with meetings
with Russian officials and the president of Finland, and Yeltsin appeared
frequently in front of cameras.
Russian television on Tuesday evening showed Yeltsin's recorded address
marking the Christmas. He looked stiff and was concentrating hard but did not
The 66-year-old Russian leader, who had a major heart operation in November
1996, spent two weeks in a sanatorium in December with a viral infection.
He returned to the Kremlin briefly at the end of the year and then on Sunday
went to Valdai, according to the Kremlin. He was last seen on television on
December 31 in a pre-recorded New Year address
To outsiders who have watched other Yeltsin broadcasts, the Christmas film
appeared to have been shot before he went on holiday.
The head of the Kremlin press service Alexei Gromov declined to say when the
broadcast had been recorded.
``He is feeling okay,'' he said. ``I can't repeat to every caller that the
press service was told the president is in good health.''
But one Western diplomat drew the conclusion that ``There seems to be
``But that does not mean you have to count him out,'' the diplomat added.
might be less present, but if he is present he is very much so.''
Andrei Kortunov of the Russian Science Foundation agreed. ``My own feeling is
that we will not see him at his best any more,'' he said. ``He will disappear
from time to time, take more rest.''
Congratulating Orthodox Christians on their holiday, Yeltsin said in his
minute address that Russia was a secular state but respected believers and
guaranteed freedom of conscience.
``This holiday returned to Russia in 1991 together with a new page in our
history, together with the revival of cultural values and traditions, with the
return to our roots,'' he said.
The Russian Orthodox Church, which has enjoyed a strong revival since the
of atheistic communism in 1991, marks Christmas Day on January 7, nearly two
weeks after the Western churches.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union Yeltsin -- a former communist who is
not known to profess any personal religious belief -- has assiduously courted
While most of Russia's 150 million citizens celebrated or enjoyed a day off,
tension was growing over the breakaway region of Chechnya, where a 1996 truce
between Russian and rebel forces left local leaders in control and the
territory's final political destiny unsettled.
Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov raised a possibility of a military action
against ``bandits'' whom he blamed for raids on December 22 in the region of
Dagestan near Chechnya.
Groups of heavily armed men attacked a Russian tank unit and a police post
killing a policemen and wounding four servicemen.
``In this situation we have the right to deliver preventive strikes against
the bases of bandits, wherever they are located, including the territory of
Chechnya,'' Kulikov said.
``Life has shown that bandits do not understand any other language -- they
simply have to be destroyed.''
His tough words were similar to remarks made by top Russian officials in
prior to Yeltsin's decision to send troops in to Chechnya to quell its
unilateral independence drive.
Chechen officials condemned Kulikov's remarks and several Russian officials
distanced themselves from his position.
Voice of America
INTRO: IT'S CHRISTMAS EVE/DAY ON THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX (JULIAN)
CALENDAR, AND MILLIONS OF FAITHFUL ARE OBSERVING THE OCCASION
WITH TRADITIONAL CHURCH SERVICES. FOR OTHERS, THE HOLIDAY IS
JUST ANOTHER DAY OFF. VOA MOSCOW CORRESPONDENT PETER HEINLEIN
REPORTS CHRISTMAS CELEBRATIONS IN POST-SOVIET RUSSIA ARE A JUMBLE
OF OLD AND NEW, RELIGIOUS AND SECULAR.
TEXT: ///ESTABLISH SINGING, THEN UNDER TO...///
CROWDS OF WORSHIPERS FLOCK TO MOSCOW'S DANILOVSKY MONASTERY FOR
CHRISTMAS OBSERVANCES, FILLING THE AIR WITH SONGS OF CELEBRATION.
THE SERVICES CULMINATE IN THE FROSTY PRE-DAWN HOURS AS THE PRIEST
LEADS THE CONGREGATION IN A WALK THREE TIMES AROUND THE CHURCH.
CHRISTMAS HAS EXPERIENCED A DRAMATIC REVIVAL IN RUSSIA SINCE IT
WAS REINSTATED AS AN OFFICIAL HOLIDAY IN 1991. BUT INSTEAD OF
THE FAMILY CELEBRATION IT WAS IN PRE-REVOLUTIONARY TIMES,
CHRISTMAS IN POST-SOVIET RUSSIA HAS BECOME A SOLEMN RELIGIOUS
AND WHILE MILLIONS OF RUSSIANS HAVE POURED BACK INTO THE ORTHODOX
CHURCH, OLD HABITS DIE HARD. TRUE BELIEVERS REMAIN A MINORITY.
MOST MUSCOVITES OUT ON CHRISTMAS EVE SAID THEY STILL FOLLOW THE
SOVIET TRADITIONS THEY GREW UP WITH.
///ALEXEI ACT UP, THEN FADE TO...///
SIXTY-THREE-YEAR OLD ALEXEI, WHO LIKE MANY RUSSIANS DECLINES TO
GIVE HIS LAST NAME, SAID "I'M NOT A BELIEVING MAN. FOR ME,
CHRISTMAS IS AN ANCIENT HOLIDAY, OUR GRANDPARENTS CELEBRATED IT.
I WAS BROUGHT UP IN A DIFFERENT GENERATION.
///OLOVERDOVA ACT UP, THEN FADE TO...///
"IT'S A GREAT HOLIDAY FOR EVERY CHRISTIAN," SAID 45-YEAR-OLD
TATIANA OLOVERDOVA. "BUT WE WERE BROUGHT UP IN A DIFFERENT
SYSTEM. WE ARE POST-WAR CHILDREN. FOR US IT'S JUST A HOLIDAY.
THE BIGGER EVENT IN RUSSIA IS NEW YEAR'S DAY, WHEN FAMILIES
GATHER AROUND THE "YOLKA," THE HOLIDAY TREE, AND RECEIVE THEIR
GIFTS. TWENTY-FIVE-YEAR OLD MASHA SAID CHRISTMAS HAS NO MEANING
///MASHA ACT UP, THEN FADE TO...///
"NOTHING AT ALL", SHE SAID. "WE DON'T CELEBRATE IT. NOT IN OUR
///OPT/// TWENTY-ONE-YEAR OLD OLGA BOZHDANKEVICH SAID SHE AND
HER FRIENDS GATHER AT MIDNIGHT EACH CHRISTMAS EVE TO OBSERVE AN
ANCIENT PAGAN TRADITION -- FORTUNE TELLING. SHE SAID SOME OF THE
LEGENDS ARE AS OLD AS RUSSIA ITSELF.
///BOZHDANKEVICH ACT UP, THEN FADE TO...///
MS. BOZHDANKEVICH SAID "SOME PEOPLE DRAW A CIRCLE, DIVIDE IT INTO
HALVES SAYING 'YES' OR 'NO'. THEN THE SPIRITS ARE SUMMONED AND
YOU CAN ASK THEM QUESTIONS."
///SECOND BOZHKDANKEVICH ACT UP, THEN FADE TO...///
MS. BOZHDANKEVICH SAID THE CHURCH FROWNS ON FORTUNE TELLING, BUT
THEN, WITH A TWINKLE IN HER EYE, ADDED, "BUT THE ONLY TIME YOU
CAN TELL FORTUNES IS ON CHRISTMAS EVE." ///END OPT///
///SOUND EFFECT OF BELLS -- UP, THEN UNDER TO ...///
AS THE BELLS OF CHURCHES ACROSS RUSSIA CHIMED FOR CHRISTMAS,
1998, PRESIDENT BORIS YELTSIN PRAISED THE ORTHODOX CHURCH FOR ITS
RICH CONTRIBUTION TO THE COUNTRY'S LIFE. SUCH COMMENTS FROM THE
KREMLIN WOULD HAVE BEEN UNTHINKABLE IN SOVIET TIMES.
AS ONE OBSERVER NOTED, IT SAYS A LOT ABOUT HOW MUCH RUSSIA HAS
CHANGED THAT TODAY, MR. YELTSIN'S REMARKS ARE HARDLY EVEN NEWS.
>From RIA Novosti
Vek, No. 1
WE'LL MAKE IT
Russia's Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin
Answers Questions from Newspaper Vek
Question: Do you share the view that Russia is on the
threshold to economic growth? What signs of economic growth do
you see now? Where did the Government succeed and where did it
fail last year?
Answer: For the first time since the start of the reforms
we managed to stop the uncontrollable price growth and close
the inflation tap. At the same time, we have taken the first,
faltering step towards economic growth and GDP expansion. We
have managed to build a framework of market institutions, which
did not exist in this country before. We have launched a series
of structural reforms in the housing sector, the social sphere
and with regard to the natural monopolies.
There is the other side of the coin, however: we are
tackling with great difficulty the problem of repaying back
wages and tax collection and default payments still pose a
serious problem. We'll need years to restore industrial
production to pre-reform level and it is important that our
industry turn out not just any goods, but the products for
which there is consumer demand and which can compete on the
domestic and foreign markets.
I may be repeating myself, but I should say that I am
convinced that there will be economic growth in Russia next
year. I am called an optimist, but I am actually a realist. It
is the real parameters of the economy and the objectives set by
the Government that allow one to expect improvements.
Question: What does the Government plan to do in 1998?
Answer: Our objective is to achieve at least 2-percent
growth of GDP and further recovery of industrial production.
There will hardly be any dramatic changes in the first half of
the year because of the consequences of the world financial
crisis, but in the second half of 1998 we may see a gradual
transition from stabilisation to economic growth.
We shall encourage new domestic exporters and protect some
segments of the domestic market and the farm sector. We shall
not import grain.
Question: The Constitutional Court has ruled
unconstitutional the provision of Article 855 of the Civil Code
of the Russian Federation, which stipulates that payments to
the budget and to extra-budgetary funds may be made in the
third place. What's your reaction?
Answer: I welcome this decision. When someone tries to
flout the Constitution, everyone will stand to lose. This year
was a hard time for the budget owing to the amendment to
Article 855 of the Civil Code, which changed the priority of
compulsory payments. Tax undercollection is one of the
consequences. The price we paid for the whole affair is tens of
trillions of roubles that have not been paid to the federal
budget. Whenever there is the slightest chance not to pay,
people in this country don't pay. The amendment gave such
people a good excuse.
Now this happy life is over. By its decision the
Constitutional Court has virtually removed one of the causes of
non-payments and chronic debts to the budget.
The logic behind this decision is clear and obvious. If
taxes are not paid, the state cannot fulfil its obligations. It
cannot pay wages to public-sector workers on time and there is
no money to repay state orders and finance government
programmes. And these programmes mean wages and salaries to
defence workers, miners, scientists and many other workers and
When budget revenues are at normal level and debts to the
budget are repaid, even the financial situation of many
enterprises that are not controlled by the state improves. This
is very important.
It is not true that the requirement to pay taxes first of
all will make it impossible to pay wages. It is the other way
True, we are yet to do a great deal to make things
perfect, but a very important step has been made.
Question: How is the Government getting along with the
Answer: Look at the political results of the year. Despite
countless problems and even crises in relations between the
executive and legislative branches of power, there appear the
outlines of a new format, style and character of
interrelationship between the President, the Government, the
State Duma and the Federation Council.
We are leaving behind the confrontation that was a part of
our life in recent years and we are learning to listen to and
hear one another. The Four has begun to work and the Roundtable
has taken place. Isn't this evidence of the development of a
serious political dialogue and the establishment of an
atmosphere of accord and reconciliation in Russian society?
The same with the budget-approval process. After many
crises and votes a tripartite conciliatory commission was set
up, which gradually led to the approval of the budget in the
first reading, then the budget was passed in the second reading
and we are now on the way to the third reading.
Political Trends Emerging in Yeltsin's Favor
30 December 1997
[translation for personal use only]
Commentary by Vladimir Kuznechevskiy under "Viewpoint" rubric:
"A Step to the Left, A Step to the Right -- Toward the Center of
Power. Elections to Local Legislative Assemblies in December 1997
Showed a Universal Shift of Emphasis in the Population's Mood From
the Extremes of Left and Right Toward the Center, Which Ensures for
Boris Yeltsin's Political Regime the Necessary Stability"
People are singling out two basic salient features in the coming year,
1998 -- signs, albeit still timid, of stabilization in the country's
economic development, and a noticeable increase in the political activity
of Russia's ruling elite in connection with the elections to the State Duma
that will take place in 1999 and the presidential elections in 2000. What
are the main peculiarities of these tendencies?
Amid the debate over whether the federal government will be able to
pay all its debts to all public sector workers in January, a phenomenon
that has fateful significance not only for the outgoing year but also for
the following two years has somehow escaped society's attention. To wit:
signs of economic stabilization. The world stock market crisis that
overtook Russia somewhat blurs the impression, of course, but does not
annul this new fact.
High-ranking experts in our own country -- such as Aleksandr Shokhin,
for example -- are extremely cautious in their assessments, speaking of a
0.5-percent increase in GDP in 1997; all the same, they draw attention to
the fact that this is the first time in the past nine years the economy has
seen such an increase. Foreign experts are more forthright in their
assessments. Thus the Reuter agency, citing the opinion of independent
experts, reports that the Russian economy is showing clear signs of
recovery: Purchasing power in 1997 increased following the successful
reduction of the monstrous backlog in wage and pension payments, and for
the first time in 10 years Russia's industrial production will show a 2-
percent increase. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
concluded in its annual report that in the outgoing year the Russian
economy will have grown by approximately 1.5 percent. Confirming this
assessment, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
forecasts in its annual report a 3- percent growth in the Russian economy
And finally, the IMF's forecast: Inflation in Russia will be 16
percent in 1997 and 8 percent -- that is to say, half as much -- in 1998.
Though at the same time Russia's external debt will increase from $110
billion to $124 billion.
As a result of all these assessments the Council of Europe proposed in
December that when applying antidumping provisions the European Union
should no longer consider Russia to be a country without a market economy.
Specialists know that the Russian Government had fought for this
recognition for five long years. And now on the basis of the outgoing
year's results this has finally happened.
Of course, all this does not mean that Russia has resolved all its
problems in the sphere of economic development. Delays in the payment of
wages and pensions remain, and the problems of reforming the economy as a
whole and the most important spheres of social development (army reform and
so forth) have not been resolved once and for all. But there is no getting
away from it: Russia's abrupt plunge into the abyss has been halted.
Ahead lies, at worst, a period of "bottoming-out" development, rather than
the slippery slope, and at best -- the first months of economic growth,
albeit slow and gradual. And in this light the country's political life in
the coming year takes on a completely new aspect.
The first and most important corollary of this is that this economic
turnaround enables Boris Yeltsin with justification and confidence to
submit his candidacy for the post of president in 1999.
The debate currently unfolding in the mass media about whether Yeltsin
can or cannot (from the formal, legal viewpoint) put forward his candidacy
has virtually no real influence on political developments. Legislators
themselves put this question on the agenda when they sent to the
Constitutional Court a question about the legality of Boris Yeltsin's
running again in 2000. There is no doubt that the court will deliver a
positive verdict on this question, since in the country's fundamental law
itself there is no clear-cut juridical certainty or clarity on this matter.
The only question is whether the president himself will want to decide
this question for himself positively. Yeltsin's own statement in France
that he has made the decision not to run for a third term has no practical
significance if one proceeds from the widely recognized premise that
politics is the art not of the necessary but of the possible.
And if Yeltsin does run, he will without any doubt win the election.
Few doubt that, against a background of economic recovery, no one can
challenge Yeltsin and hope to win. In an open contest he would floor
anyone who grapples with him. It is possible to agree with Sergey
Kurginyan that victory in 1996 was secured not by the political election
techniques that were applied but, first and foremost, by Yeltsin himself.
Across the whole spectrum of rivals to Yeltsin, only the mayor of
Moscow might have some chance of success. But even then only in purely
theoretical terms. In reality, Yuriy Luzhkov is highly unlikely to decide
to run against Boris Yeltsin. Not because he is afraid but because, above
all, the intelligent and ultrapragmatic Luzhkov understands perfectly well
that in 2000 none of the current contenders for the crown has any chance of
defeating Yeltsin in single combat. If, on the other hand, the president
decides not to run, it is a whole different ball game. In that case, both
the mayor of Moscow and Viktor Chernomyrdin have chances. But that is all.
It seems to me that Luzhkov's time will come in 2004.
In point of fact, Yeltsin has already begun his election campaign in
the sense of preparing for 2000. As the saying goes, it is an ill wind
that blows no man good: It was the question submitted by the deputies to
the Constitutional Court that made him go onto the offensive. At the very
end of the outgoing year the president sends the State Duma a letter on the
subject of amendments to the electoral law, proposing to rid the electoral
system of the epithet "mixed," replacing it with the words
"first-past-the-post." (The letter is published on page six of this issue
of Rossiyskaya Gazeta.)
From the formal standpoint there is no sensation here. Yeltsin made a
similar attempt in 1995, but on that occasion he had to give way under the
pressure of opposition deputies. Though this idea itself is increasingly
gaining sway in democratic public opinion not only in Russia but also in
the developed democracies of the West.
The mixed electoral system was popular in those countries for quite a
long time after World War II. But much water flowed under the bridge in
that time, and now public opinion in those countries, shocked by the
corruption and venality of party elites (this manifested especially
strongly in Italy), is beginning to seriously contemplate whether the
first-past-the-post system after all narrows the scope for abuses by
comparison with the mixed system, under which party election lists nearly
always include people who purely and simply buy these places. Which
practice takes place in Russia too, by the way. This has been proved more
than once by the law- enforcement organs and by the mass media with regard
to a certain party.
Yeltsin has always been a pragmatist in the highest degree. And
pragmatism suggests to him that if the CPRF [Communist Party of the Russian
Federation], Yabloko, and the LDPR [Liberal Democratic Party of Russia] are
deprived of the possibility of being elected on party lists at State Duma
elections, the lower house of the Federal Assembly would lose many active
oppositionists. For instance, in the CPRF faction there is Viktor
Zorkaltsev, former first secretary of the Tomsk CPSU Oblast Committee.
Time and again he has lost in the parliamentary elections in his home
district, only to end up among the deputies each time by getting in on
party lists. And there are many such people. That is the first point.
Second, if party factions in the State Duma are weakened, they would not be
able to do in 1999 what they did in 1996 and legally turn the Duma into the
headquarters and platform for campaigning against Yeltsin.
True, deputies also immediately grasped the possible consequences for
them of the amendments to the electoral law. And as a body, forgetting
interparty and interfactional contradictions and strife, they went at the
president's initiative hammer and tongs, stating that they will allow the
president's amendments to the law to pass only over their dead bodies.
However, the cool and steely confidence with which General Kotenkov,
the president's representative in the State Duma, reacted to this pained
reaction is also striking. Whether the State Duma approves these amendments
or not, the 1999 elections will take place under the first-past-the-post
system and according to law, he said. Whichever way you look at it, this
is a direct hint that if this Duma won't adopt a new electoral law, then
another will. Which, by the way, Aleksandr Shokhin, the leader of the NDR
[Russia Is Our Home] faction in the Duma, was not slow to confirm
indirectly, stating that the president would not tolerate the seizure of
power by the left-wing majority in the lower house and that by summer 1998
"some kind of scenario for early elections" will emerge.
On the basis of analysis of the projected tendencies in political
life, it should be expected that the voters will support the president in
this dispute; having cast off the diktat of one party - - the CPSU -- in
1991, people are unlikely to want to burden themselves with the yoke of
today's political parties in 1999.
But the president is not limiting himself only to this. His team has
undertaken a series of retaliatory measures aimed at splitting and
neutralizing his main rival in 1996 -- the left-wing opposition. It must be
said that, here too, the president and his team have acted not on the basis
of conjecture but of reality.
Despite the by now chronic disease of the nonpayment of wages and
pensions and the pronounced social stratification of society, the
Communists have yet to see the mass social explosion they so hotly desire.
Vorkuta miners are on hunger strike in Moscow, doctors and teachers are on
strike in the Kuzbass, and Kemerovo miners are blocking the Transsiberian
Railroad, but there has been and is no sign of the mass unrest that might,
so the radicals hoped, have forced the government to resign. And none is
foreseen. And this forces the opposition to seek a compromise with the
executive. Which in turn leads to what, in point of fact, the Communists
fear most of all -- the loss of their electorate.
The results of December's elections to local legislative assemblies
are a vivid illustration of this. A trend can be seen in the wave of
elections held around the country -- the voter is linking his hopes less
and less with the left-wing opposition and is looking toward economic
executives and businessmen. This trend can be seen most indicatively in
the so-called "red belt." Take Tambov Oblast, where the Communists had a
majority in the oblast duma for years on end. In December they managed to
win only 13 seats out of 50. The rest were won by economic executives and
businessmen. Or Tomsk Oblast, where industry representatives won 30 seats
out of 42. Or Novosibirsk, where V. Mukha, a well-known opponent of
Yeltsin, is governor: Of the 49 seats the Communists and the Agrarians
together managed to win just 20. And so on.
Exactly the same attitude is being demonstrated with regard to the
extreme Right. In Moscow, for example, it was not just the Communists but
also democrats of the first wave -- Murashev, Novodvorskaya, Nuykin,
Piyashev, N. Shmelev, and others -- that voters did not allow into the city
This trend began to emerge back in the fall. The president was not
slow to exploit it. Only he came at it from a different angle - - he as it
were attempted to test the strength of the left-wing opposition from within
by setting State Duma Chairman G. Seleznev at odds with CPRF leader G.
Zyuganov. It was precisely against the background of the CPRF's loss of
prestige with its traditional electorate that the crack between these two
prominent political figures was revealed (emerged).
The president awarded the State Duma chairman the order "For Services
to the Fatherland" -- second class, what is more, skipping the third. As
if that were not enough, he amazed the opposition by coming to the State
Duma in person to confer this order on the speaker. Subsequently the
president returned to the Duma -- during the discussion of the budget..
For the first time in that organ's entire existence. The president did not
bestow such favors even on Ivan Rybkin when the latter was speaker.
I am saying nothing about the now regular meetings of the four, of the
roundtable of all the most important political forces, which the president
attended, of course, not only because of his constant attraction to
democracy but also and above all, it seems to me, as a farsighted
Thus, 1998 promises to bring stability in all the most important areas
in Russia's development, both in the economy and in politics. At least,
that is how the economic and political picture looks today. How it will
look tomorrow depends on whether the emergent tendencies are able to
manifest themselves in full.
6 January 1998
[for personal use only]
A perilous passion
Russians ignore ice-fishing danger
By David Filipov
ZVENIGOROD, Russia - Vladimir Kudrin has fallen through the ice more
times in his 54 years than he cares to remember. Yet he paid no heed to
the black water just inches from where he balanced precariously on a
thin film of ice.
Instead, Kudrin's attention was focused on the two tiny plastic fishing
rods, one suspended in each hand over small holes he had drilled early
yesterday in the partially frozen Moscow River, 20 miles west of the
Now, many hours and nips of vodka later, it was dark and drizzly. The
breaks in the ice looked as if they were moving closer to him. And the
fish had not taken a bite all day. Wasn't it time to be going?
''Isn't this great?'' Kudrin exclaimed, exuding the strange combination
of rapture, patience, and foolhardiness that Russians reserve for their
favorite winter pastime. ''This is not about what you catch. This is
about total relaxation.''
Ice fishing is the obsession of choice for countless Russians, just as
golf is for Americans. Winter, after all, lasts for more than half the
year here. From October to May, millions of Russians head onto frozen
rivers, lakes and sea-shores, seeking hours of escapism and camaraderie
- the same ineffable joys that Americans pursue on the links.
Very much unlike golf, though, Russian ice fishermen run a gantlet of
perils. Frostbite is just for starters. Fishermen can find themselves
stranded on ice floes. They can fall through thin ice, which
materializes not only at the beginning and end of winter, but also
during unexpected warm spells like the one that swept through the Moscow
region this week.
These perils make ice fishing a hobby to die for. More than 100 people a
year are killed while doing it, according to press reports.
Last year the toll would have been higher had it not been for the
spectacular April rescue of 21 men, women, and children off Sakhalin
Island in Russia's Far East, who were so intent on their fishing that
they failed to notice that the ice floe they were sitting on had broken
off the shore and was drifting out into the Pacific Ocean. (Three other
fishermen drowned when their piece of ice broke up in heavy seas.)
Russian anglers frequently ignore warnings about the dangers of ice
fishing. Sometimes, the ones in distress even ignore those who are
trying to save them. This was the case last February, when 75 ice
fishers on Lake Ladoga, Europe's largest lake, which is near St.
Petersburg, were swept away on a huge sheet of ice. Although they were
stranded for nine hours in temperatures that dropped to near-zero, they
kept fishing. When the rescue helicopters finally arrived, the fishermen
argued for the right to be carried off to safety last - so that they
could fish just a little longer.
Having concluded that there was no way to stop the fishermen from
wandering out onto the ice, St. Petersburg rescue workers began posting
patrol boats last year along shorelines, ready to chase drifting ice
floes. That move promptly brought complaints from the local fishermen,
who said that the whirring of the boats' engines was scaring off the
Such episodes help explain the relaxed approach of the fishermen on the
Moscow River yesterday as the ice slowly gave way to water.
''Taking the odd unexpected dip is part of the game. If you can fall in,
you can climb out,'' said Sergei Zhilin, who had just caught a few ruff
and needed one more to make fish soup. ''Most people like to stay out as
long as they can. It all depends on how much you like to play against
Zhilin, dressed in a warm fur hat and long rubber boots, takes a
similarly fatalistic approach to the art of fishing. He believes that
anyone with a hook in the right spot is bound to land a fish sooner or
Sergei Zhiltsov takes a more high-tech approach. He uses a depth finder
and a variety of baits and lures, which he varies depending on whether
he is after perch, roach, or bream. He also has a rig with a flag on it
that pops up when he has a nibble, akin to the tip-ups used in the
United States. He calculates air pressure and keeps talk to a minimum to
avoid distracting the fish. Zhiltsov also takes along a generous supply
of vodka to keep warm, although health officials advise against drinking
in extreme cold.
Sometimes, alcohol contributes to the annual casualty report. This
happened last month near the northern Russian city of Petrozavodsk, when
a 28-inch pike latched its jaws onto the nose of a tipsy fisherman after
he tried to kiss it. The fish had to be surgically removed at the local
''Drinking and fishing don't mix,'' Zhiltsov grumbled, recalling the
FEDERAL BUDGET GETS 23.7 TRILLION ROUBLES FROM
PRIVATISATION IN 1977, SAYS VICE PREMIER OF THE
RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT, HEAD OF THE STATE PROPERTY
MINISTRY FARID GAZIZULLIN
MOSCOW, JANUARY 6, (FROM RIA NOVOSTI CORRESPONDENT MARINA
URYVAYEVA) -- Privatisation receipts transferred to the federal
budget in 1997 amounted to 232.7 trillion roubles (23.7 billion
re-denominated roubles), vice premier of the Russian government,
head of the state property ministry Farid Gazizullin told a
press-conference in Moscow.
He noted that last year's budget targets for privatisation
receipts had been fulfilled by 280%. The obtained funds went to
pay wages arrears to the staff of budget-dependent
organisations. As Gazizullin noted, in 1997, 3,100 enterprises
had been privatised. He recalled that 10,000 enterprises had
been privatised in 1995 and 5,000 in 1996. All in all, according
to the vice premier, as of January 1, 1998, 56.5% of the total
number of enterprises had been privatised in Russia.
>From Russia Today
Christmas and New Year's Eve a la Russe
By John Varoli
The world has ushered in 1998. In Western countries most people marked
New Year's Eve by throwing parties for friends and colleagues, with
revelry in the streets and a good dose of heavy drinking.
But in Russia, New Year's Eve is primarily a family holiday celebrated
at home. In fact, New Year's Eve is the most important holiday of the
year for Russians, in effect what Christmas is to many Westerners.
For New Year's Eve, each Russian home has its traditional yelka --
evergreen tree -- decorated with ornaments. Children can count on visits
by Ded Moroz, or Grandpa Frost, who brings gifts to the children with
help from Snegurouchka, or the Snow Maiden.
Grandpa Frost, unlike his furtive nocturnal Western counterpart, readily
appears in people's homes on New Year's Eve and himself hands out the
presents. Parents usually convince a friend to dress the part, but if
none are willing, they can pay a fee to an agency to provide someone to
assume the role.
After the visit, families usually spend time socializing and watching
their favorite films, which are shown each year. The most popular film
is "The Irony of Fate," created by one of the country's best-loved
directors, Eldar Ryzanov. This Soviet-era comedy, set on New Year's Eve,
is both a touching love story and scathing satire of life in the USSR.
As the clock approaches midnight, people gather round the dinner table,
raise their champagne glasses and watch the television as the Kremlin's
Spassky Tower chimes ring in the New Year.
Since few Russians actively practice Russian Orthodoxy, Christmas, which
is celebrated on Jan. 7, is merely a state holiday for most -- just
another day off. Few even bother to attend church for at least this one
time of the year, in contrast to many wayward Western souls who show up
in church at Christmas and Easter.
But for the Orthodox faithful, Christmas is naturally one of the most
important church holidays -- the birth of Jesus Christ. Patriarch Alexiy
II celebrates a midnight mass, televised live, at the Bogoyevlensky
Cathedral in Moscow. Many high-ranking government officials attend, keen
to be seen with the Patriarch in the hope that doing so will boost their
But Christmas in Russia did not always take a back seat to New Year's
Eve. Before the Revolution, as in Western countries Christmas was
Russia's most important winter holiday, one where families gathered to
observe Christ's birth and to give gifts to each other. New Year's Eve,
in contrast, was an event for adults, with parties and merrymaking. It
may be hard now for people to comprehend the central role that religion
played in pre-revolutionary Russia, although its influence was on the
decline on the eve of the Revolution.
While Orthodox Russians now celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, before 1917
it was marked on Dec. 25 in accordance with the Julian calendar that
Russia adhered to at that time. (The Gregorian calendar, the standard
calendar in use now, is 13 days ahead of the Julian calendar.)
Tatyana Vasilevskaya, age 90, currently resides in St. Petersburg.
Despite her advanced age, she still retains memories of her childhood,
especially Christmas, celebrations of which are etched vividly in her
She was the youngest in a family of four children. Her father was the
chief engineer at the Baltic Shipyards, the largest shipbuilding company
in the Russian Empire and one of the largest in Russia today.
Vasilevskaya remembers the great festivity with which her family marked
Christmas. The celebration began on Christmas eve and naturally
continued to the next day. "We had a yelka that our parents decorated
with various sweets and treats and which we could only eat on Christmas
day. The Christmas dinner was the most sumptuous of the year, with no
less than four types of meat. In the middle of the table was a stuffed
Such a repast was not limited to the wealthy. Even poor families would
save up months ahead in order to provide for a bountiful Christmas
supper. And Russians made sure there was extra room in their stomachs
for the feast by fasting, according to religious law, during the week
leading up to Christmas.
Christmas was, of course, a religious holiday. Prayer and church ritual
were an intricate part of the celebration and strictly followed
according to tradition. Mass was celebrated during the night. Afterward,
"Christmas carols were sung on the street, and people made special gifts
to the poor -- orphans, convicts, and beggars," remembers Vasilevskaya.
On Christmas day, the priest and his staff visited each parishioner's
house, an event that was considered both a blessing and a burden. The
priest would bless the household and wish it prosperity, but he and his
entourage had to be wined and dined, which cost the host a pretty penny.
The Bolshevik putsch of October 1917 put an end to Christmas in Russia.
War was waged on all religions. Churches were closed, priests imprisoned
and shot, and religious rituals were banned. Children were strictly
forbidden to have any contact with religion. However, in remote areas
and secretly in private, many Russians went on observing the holiday,
but only at a great risk.
Since religion was so rooted in Russians' consciousness, the Bolsheviks
took great efforts to create their own religion, complete with a
pantheon of gods and rituals. And so it was that New Year's Eve took the
place of Christmas, and the central figure of Grandfather Frost replaced
that of Jesus Christ.
Throughout the Soviet era, New Year's Eve was met with great public and
private festivity. The streets were lit and decorated with trees. Though
many people were impoverished, they saved months in advance to buy food
and drink. While the Soviet government could not bring prosperity to its
people, great efforts were made to throw them a grand party, and scarce
consumer items were in supply at least during the holidays. Soviet
children treasured dearly the one gift they received.
With perestroika, living standards declined terribly, and this continued
into the early 1990s. During this time Russians had little to celebrate
on New Year's Eve. Festivities at home were modest, and city streets
Of course, many people today complain about how bad life is and profess
nostalgia for the "good old Soviet days." Certainly, there are a number
of depressed areas in Russia and the plight of the pensioners is
precarious. However, judging by the festive city streets during the past
few winter holidays and the large amount of presents and goodies that
the average Russians have been buying to celebrate, it seems that the
situation may be starting to improve for many.
Lebed Planning Series of Tours in 1998
MOSCOW, Dec 30 (Interfax) - Former Security Council Secretary and
leader of the Russian Popular Republican Party Aleksandr Lebed told
Interfax Tuesday that early presidential elections may be called in 1998.
"In the Year of the Tiger, Russia must make a leap into a civilized
future. Russia does not need slaves," he said.
He said that the outgoing year was one of trials. "A great deal of
work has been done to create a party system," he added.
"The next year, the Year of the Tiger, is my year. I hope that the
work already done will bring tangible results," Lebed said.
He expressed the hope that his party's popularity would grow next
year. "In individual regions we have already beaten the ruling party and
are second only to the Communists," he said.
He announced that at the beginning of 1998 he is planning to make a
series of tours in and out of Russia "to deploy the pieces on the chess
He said he would unveil his concept of national security.
He also said that the concept of national security approved by
President Yeltsin is "feeble and not worthy of a great country."
He said regarding his possible allies that "Russia has its share of
intelligent, strong-willed people with untarnished reputations."
Christmas traditions alive in Ukraine
By Irene Marushko
LVIV, Ukraine, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Just as festive memories are beginning to
fade in the West, Ukrainians are gearing up to celebrate Christmas with
renewed and open vigour on Wednesday.
Church bells will ring, groups of youngsters bearing silver and gold stars
will enact the nativity and crowds will sing carols. Twelve-course vegetarian
meals are in preparation and families are gathering together.
``Our people cherish these traditions,'' said Father Volodymyr Bilotsky, a
priest at Lviv's St Arkhystratyha Mykhayila church and who can expect 1,000
parish families to pile into church for the January 6 Christmas Eve mass.
The observance of religious festivals among Ukraine's 50 million
the majority follow the Orthodox religion and some five million are Ukrainian
Catholics -- has grown considerably since independence in 1991.
All follow the Julian calendar which puts Christmas on January 7 and New
Year's Day on January 14, as opposed to the Gregorian calendar which marks
Christmas on December 25.
``There are vertepy walking around and people are singing carols,'' Bilotsky
said, referring to the 'vertep', or mobile nativity scene, in which characters
representing the story of Christ's birth include King Herod, devils and
skeletons as well as the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus.
The centuries-old tradition has survived despite decades of Soviet rule which
aimed to stamp out or at the very best barely tolerate religion.
Many citizens of this western Ukrainian city of 800,000, full after eating a
traditional 12-course meal, will flock to the centre in front of the 19th
century opera house to stand shivering among illuminated Christmas trees and
``In recent years they have started vertep competitions. It's very much alive
and people love this,'' Bilotsky said.
Bilotsky said Christmas traditions survived better in western Ukraine, which
only fell under Soviet rule on the eve of World War Two.
KGB FAILED TO STAMP OUT CHRISTMAS
He said that after the war vertepy and Christmas celebrations were held
without fail in villages, areas largely ignored by Soviet authorities, but
teachers and government workers in cities had to be careful in outwardly
``No village went without a vertep,'' Bilotsky said.
People who were teenagers at the time recall sneaking to the centre of Lviv,
then under the dead hand of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, to sing carols -- a
religious act turned political as disapproving members of the KGB, the Soviet
security police, were on hand to identify participants.
Now people amble on cobbled streets to the centre from all directions in this
city of crumbling yellow stucco where the Hapsburg-era buildings have
miraculously survived revolution and two world wars.
In much of Ukraine, which has also seen an emergence of fundamentalist faiths
imported from Western countries, the New Year on January 1 is still the
central holiday -- celebrated with decorated trees and gift-giving.
The government has designated both January 7 and January 1 as national
With food central to any Ukrainian celebration, Christmas Eve boasts a
vegetarian meal comprising 12 courses -- one for each of Christ's apostles --
which by tradition cannot begin until the first star is visible in the sky.
STRAW UNDER THE TABLE
In villages people carry straw into their homes to place under the kitchen
table in memory of the straw bed in which the infant Jesus was placed.
``People even do that in the cities,'' Bilotsky said.
The head of the household by tradition must throw a spoonful of kutya, a
dish of wheat, honey and walnuts, at the ceiling -- a good harvest can be
expected if it sticks.
Farmers bring some of the sacred meal to share with their farm animals and
thank them for their work all year.
But Bilotsky mourns the lack of spirituality as Ukrainians celebrate
``We have these Christian traditions, but the spiritual renewal has been
slower to catch up,'' he said. ``There is a lot of work to do, a lot of