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Johnson's Russia List
13 June 1998
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Reuters: Russians mark holiday amid miners' protests.
2. Journal of Commerce editorial: Investor hell.
3. The Independent (UK): Phil Reeves, Russian church throws
Tsar's burial into chaos.
4. RFE/RL: Charles Fenyvesi, Russia: Writer Links Freud, Tsar Nicholas,
Nietzsche And Trotsky. (Aleksandr Etkind).
5. the eXile: Abram Kalashnikov, Press Review.
6. Komsomolskaya Pravda: Economic Implications of Suspect State
7. Komsomolskaya Pravda: Factors Behind Change to 12-Year Education
8. AP: Moscow `Joke of Nature' Mimics Snow.
9. New York Times: Celestine Bohlen, Illegal Workers Suffer Under
New Regime in Moscow.
10. Bill Ross: Lebed.]
Russians mark holiday amid miners' protests
By Oleg Shchedrov
MOSCOW, June 12 (Reuters) - Russians marked a controversial national holiday
on Friday amid mounting social protests and vanishing hopes for post-Soviet
prosperity anytime soon.
``Of course we have achievements, but there is not enough of them and they
have not brought about any notable improvement in life,'' President Boris
Yeltsin said in a televised address.
``Russia has so far failed to become a country with a flourishing and stable
economy, a country of well-off people confidently facing tomorrow.''
On June 12, 1990 the parliament of the Russian Federation, then the backbone
of a huge communist empire, adopted a Declaration of Sovereignty claiming
powers up to then exercised by the leadership of the Soviet Union.
Yeltsin's communist opponents say the declaration provoked a string of similar
moves by other Soviet republics which ultimately led to the collapse of the
superpower in 1991.
Russian liberals argued that the Soviet Union was doomed and dismantling it
was the only way to save Russia from complete economic collapse.
The June 12 holiday is formally referred to as Independence Day but the
Kremlin now prefers to call it Russia's Day -- a more conciliatory name
focusing on the declaration's role in restoring pre-revolutionary symbols --
the flag and state emblem -- rather than in undermining the Soviet Union.
As Yeltsin addressed Russians on television, 400 coal miners from the northern
Komi region demonstrated in front of the government headquarters protesting
against wage arrears.
``Yeltsin, return our money,'' read one placard carried by protesters. ``Down
with the president,'' said another.
Last month thousands of unpaid coal miners blocked key national railways for
two weeks causing further economic strife.
``Boris, we took you to the Kremlin, we can help you out,'' said one banner
carried by the protesters at the riverside White House government
Yeltsin's eventually victorious battle with the Soviet Communist leadership
nearly a decade ago was boosted by miners' protests in 1989 and 1991. But the
miners' support has evaporated amid the pain and turmoil of Russia's market
Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who went down a mine last month to see
for himself the tough conditions underground, said the government was
fulfilling its side of the bargain struck then with miners to halt their
``We are ready to discuss with them the measures being taken by the government
to help the coal industry,'' he told NTV commercial television, adding that
big cuts in rail tariffs for coal would help the producers to find the cash to
But Nemtsov said the main demand of the miners outside the White House was the
resignation of Yeltsin and his government.
``Of course we are not prepared to discuss such political demands,'' he said.
Last year the government, inspired by some economic growth after a decade of
decline, announced plans to increase and stabilise growth from 1998.
But Asian financial turmoil and cash problems at home have triggered a new
economic crisis, which has practically buried such hopes and forced the
Kremlin to scratch for funds abroad.
Yeltsin said hardships were part of the price for freedoms won by post-Soviet
``Freedom is a real achievement of new Russia -- the freedom to speak what you
please, the freedom to confess any religion, freedom to elect mayors,
deputies, president,'' he said.
``But freedom can only be only won through sacrificing your own calm, comfort,
well being. We have a glorious millennium-old past and be sure we have a great
Journal of Commerce
15 June 1998
Will the world's rich nations bail out Russia? That question has been
coursing through financial markets for weeks now, but it is, in many
ways, the wrong question. Russia needs money, yes, but the issue
shouldn't be, "Will governments provide it?" but rather, "Why haven't
Russia began converting to a market economy more than six years ago and,
with its abundant natural resources and educated work force, should have
been a magnet for foreign investment. That hasn't happened. In the
1990s, Russia has attracted barely more than $10 billion in direct
foreign investment, which goes into factories and equipment. Compare
that with Hungary or Poland, which have captured $15 billion to $20
billion each, or China, which has lured more than $200 billion.
The reasons for shunning Russia are no mystery, ranging from political
instability to government corruption. One factor, however, has received
less attention: the stunning lack of basic protections for investors,
especially those who hold minority interests in high-profile Russian
Consider the experience of E. Michael Hunter, president of Dart
Management, one of the largest private investors in Russia. Mr. Hunter
-- and many other foreign investors -- took minority interests in a
Russian oil company with two main production subsidiaries. But the firm
was controlled by a Russian-owned holding company, Yukos, which forced
the subsidiaries to sell it oil at below-market prices. Yukos then
resold the oil, capturing big profits for insiders while leaving all of
the costs with the production subsidiaries. Those firms, once popular
among foreign investors, now are close to bankruptcy.
Mr. Hunter is blunt: "A 51% shareholding interest in a Russian company
conveys to the owner a license to steal from the remaining 49%."
This is hardly the only example of such problems. Other Russian
companies have squeezed out foreign investors by issuing millions of
shares of new stock and selling them at discounts to insiders, diluting
Ironically, Russia has laws to stop this sort of chicanery, but they are
rarely enforced. If Russia expects to attract more than a trickle of
foreign investment, the country's Federal Securities Commission must be
given the explicit power to crack down on insider dealings. At the same
time, the government should include protections for minority
shareholders and disclosure requirements in the charters of state-owned
companies before they are privatized.
For those investors fortunate enough to retain their interests, there is
another problem: the world's worst tax system. Russia, according to
former economic adviser Anders Aslund, has added roughly 1 million
bureaucrats to federal and local payrolls in recent years, and many of
them tax everything in sight. Oil companies, which were paying four
mostly profit-based taxes in 1991, today pay 23, most keyed to revenue.
By one count, domestic and foreign companies pay as many as 200
different taxes, if all local levies are included.
Russian officials have been promising for years to reform the tax code,
and a plan to simplify matters has been placed before the country's
Parliament. Officials at the International Monetary Fund are mildly
optimistic that some elements of tax reform will be approved before the
current session of Parliament ends next month.
Western investors have been disappointed too many times to put much
faith in these pronouncements. But as Russia's revenue declines because
of tax dodging, and with its budget in disarray, a simpler and fairer
tax system -- coupled with stricter enforcement -- could actually boost
revenue for the government and make life easier for companies.
Russia has weathered three economic crises in the last seven months,
triggered by fallout from the Asian meltdown, declining oil prices,
unstable finances and an abrupt change in the government. The IMF may,
in the end, lend Russia more money to keep the economy from collapsing,
but Russia's real task is to make these bailouts unnecessary by creating
an environment that lures investors rather than driving them away.
The Independent (UK)
13 June 1998
[for personal use only]
Russian church throws Tsar's burial into chaos
By Phil Reeves in Moscow
THOSE clamouring for the reburial of the remains of the last Tsar,
Nicholas II, in the hope of closing a painful and divisive chapter in
Russia's history face profound disappointment
Just over a month before the bones of the Tsar and members of the
imperial family are to be interred in St Petersburg, the ceremony shows
no sign of offering a shred of - as psychologists put it - "closure" to
this disorientated society.
The Russian Orthodox Church has ruled that neither Patriarch Alexy II,
nor any bishop may attend the event. The Kremlin has indicated that, in
the absence of the head of the Church, Boris Yeltsin is also unlikely to
take part in the ceremony on 17 July, the 80th anniversary of the
execution of the Tsar and his family by a Bolshevik firing squad in
Relatives of the imperial family are divided over whether to attend, but
the most senior member, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, has said she
may not. Anxious that that a display of regal pomp and circumstance
might deepen social tensions among millions of impoverished Russians
(many of them Communist voters), the authorities in St Petersburg say
less than $2m will be spent on the event.
"What started as an attempt to find reconciliation has turned into
another source of division," said Lawrence Uzzell, an expert on Russian
Orthodoxy with the Keston Institute in Britain.
"It looks as if it is going to leave a sour taste in everybody's mouth.
No one is going to be happy."
The church's decision is ostensibly because of doubts over the
authenticity of the bones. Despite positive DNA tests carried out in
Russia, Britain and the United States, some clergymen remain
unconvinced. They regard the issue as crucial, as the church is
considering canonising the Tsar. If he is granted sainthood - and
Russian ecclesiastical opinion over this is also divided - the bones
would become holy relics. A mistake would be disastrous. "We would be
venerating false relics," said one senior churchman, Metropolitan
Yuvenali. "That would be a great sacrilege."
Matters are also complicated by the existence of other relics purporting
to be Romanov remains, which are venerated by the Russian Orthodox
Church Abroad - the church-in-exile during Soviet times. Admitting the
authenticity of the bones soon to be buried in St Petersburg means
acknowledging their own relics are phoney.
The church will, however, play some role in the Tsar's reburial. Bishops
may be absent, but a priest will still officiate at the service in St
Petersburg's Peter and Paul Cathedral. The synod has decided to hold
fasts and prayers in churches across the country - though it has
emphasised that this will be to mark the murder of the Romanovs, not
their reburial. A statement will be read out to worshippers stressing
the church's desire for accord.
This has not deterred Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow who lobbied for
the bones to be buried in the Russian capital. A likely contender to
succeed Mr Yeltsin, he has condemned St Petersburg's reburial plans as
"too meagre". "This ceremony will not be accepted by Russia," he
declared this week.
Russia: Writer Links Freud, Tsar Nicholas, Nietzsche And Trotsky
By Charles Fenyvesi
Washington, 12 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The turn of the century was the
last era when Europe was one -- though not free -- followed by a dark
age when it was neither one nor free. As Europe is now becoming one as
well as free, writers are rediscovering long-lost ties linking European
centers of thought.
One such writer is Aleksandr Etkind, a 42-year-old professor of
humanities from St. Petersburg. Etkind has been writing what the
Russians call "cultural bestsellers" on intellectual connections between
the Russian empire on one hand, and the Austrian and German empires on
the other. His focus is the period from the end of the 19th century up
to the 1930s.
Etkind argues that Sigmund Freud's invention of psychoanalysis created a
busy trade of ideas between Vienna and St. Petersburg. And he suggests
that the second most influential thinker was Friedrich Nietzsche, whose
prophecy of superman spurred a generation of Russian revolutionaries.
The professor from the two-year-old European University of St.
Petersburg spoke recently in Washington, a town fascinated with empires
new and old, as well as with Freud, whose influence remains strong among
psychiatrists on the East Coast of the United States. The Austrian
embassy provided Etkind with the forum. His audience was dominated by
scholars of Russian culture and practitioners of psychoanalysis -- two
sizable communities that seldom get together otherwise.
In his lecture, Etkind spoke about what he called the morbid affinities
between the Romanov and Hapsburg empires. Both imperial families were
troubled, neurotic, dysfunctional. Both Nicholas and Franz Josef
suffered from psychological problems and lived unhappy personal lives.
In both empires, psychoanalysis brought to the surface deep-lying,
archaic and demonic elements from the unconscious. Nevertheless, the
governing elite in both empires repressed all thoughts of an imminent
decline, ruling out the fall of the monarchy.
In a letter to a friend, Freud mused about what he would do if asked to
treat Nicholas, but Etkind has found no evidence that Nicholas ever
considered making himself comfortable on Freud's couch. As far as it is
known, Freud did not muse about treating his own emperor, Franz Josef.
Freud's inventions of the id and the unconscious fascinated Russian
intellectuals and revolutionaries, including early Bolsheviks, Etkind
has found. Similarly, Nietzsche's call for a superman who should be
beyond good and evil prompted powerful echoes among the same people
yearning for freedom from czarist oppression.
Etkind said that at one point Commissar Leon Trotsky even supported the
psychoanalytical movement with government funds. Combining the ideas of
Freud and Nietzsche, Trotsky argued that the Soviet regime should apply
psychoanalysis in "cleaning up the mess" in the unconscious of the
emerging new Soviet superman. Thus purged, the Soviet superman would be
better able to rebuild society.
According to Etkind's analysis, Trotsky "shed rivers of blood in order
to get rid of the power of human instincts." But, Etkind notes, Russia
rejected Trotsky's proposed treatment, choosing Stalin who encouraged
"faith and the cult of his personality" and brought death to millions.
June 4-18, 1998
By Abram Kalashnikov
Rumors are circulating that somewhere deep underground, in a huge
laboratory complex underneath Virginia, Dupont Corp. scientists are
working on a machine that will actually provide objective reporting to
those willing to pay a high subscription fee. With the release of this
machine, there will be no need ever again for text articles. Facts and
quotes will be beamed directly into the heads of news consumers. And to
get around the question of biased selection of information, all known
facts and all spoken quotes will be transmitted instantly, as they
occur, resulting in a consumer base that will have access to total
knowledge 24 hours a day.
Until then, however, it looks like we're stuck with the current system.
As it stands, reading the news is a little like looking at the shadow of
an eclipse through a pinhole cut in a shoebox; you get a tiny,
second-hand regurgitation of events, bolstered by a small smorgasbord of
fact and opinion carefully chosen for you by your hack-waiter.
The problem with reporting as it stands is that the medium in which
facts and opinions are presented is, no matter how much he lards it up
with cliches, the reporter's own personal narrative. This means that
every piece of reporting exhibits the full range of human imprecision.
Among the loopiest parts of that narrative is the article's tone.
Nowhere is tone more conspicuous than during a crisis, when the facts
everyone reports are all the same, and only the reporter's attitude
toward them are different. Let's take for example two different articles
that were published by Western writers over the weekend.
Both of the pieces listed below told the reader that Russia's market was
now officially the worst-performing in the world, that its interest
rates had been raised to 150 percent, and that there was a threat that
its currency would collapse. Both articles also cited a number of quotes
to illustrate their stories. If you read closely, though, it was hard to
tell what illustrated what. Pop quiz: which of the following quotes were
clipped from piece that said the crisis was over, and which came from a
piece that said the crisis was still going on?
a) "We are in a very deep and serious financial crisis, and there's no
obvious way out," says Vilen Pervamotrov, an analyst at the independent
Institute of Market Problems in Moscow.
b) "The economic situation is very critical," said Ludmilla Telen,
deputy editor of Moscow News. "And what is the government doing? They're
calling out the firemen and putting out another fire. [Prime Minister
Sergei] Kiriyenko is doing it well. He's organized and decisive. But
he's only putting out a fire."
a) "At the heart of our troubles is the decline of industry in Russia
over the past ten years. Production has fallen by half, and in such
circumstances it's impossible to maintain financial stability."
b) "It can be described in one word, 'panic,' " [deputy Finance Minister
Oleg Vyugin] said at a news conference. "This panic was provoked by the
fact that the professional market players had been informed or had come
to the conclusion that the securities they held could fall even further
and that they should get rid of them."
a) "The government's options are very limited in this situation," says
Mr. Pervamotrov. "It can cut spending, raise taxes or get a big bailout
loan from the International Monetary Fund".
b) And some officials were still hoping that the International Monetary
Fund would step in with a loan to bolster Russia's financial reserves.
"It would play a big positive role and quickly normalize the situation,"
a) "There is already a wave of strikes among workers, which has subsided
somewhat for now, but if they squeeze the population much more there
could be an explosion," says Mr. Pervamotrov.
b) "I want to hope as always, but honestly speaking, I'm worried," said
Svetlana Osina, an unemployed economist who stopped to talk on a
downtown street yesterday. "In principle, the economy is a constant
problem, and I worry that the longer it goes on the worse the
consequences will be."
In every case above, the first quote came from an article by Fred Weir
of the Hindustan Times, while the second quote in each pair came from an
article by eXile favorite Kathy Lally of the Baltimore Sun. Hard to tell
the difference, isn't it? Both articles were full of quotes which used
words like "panic," "crisis," and "explosion," yet the conclusion
reporters drew were completely opposite. Weir's piece, the "crisis
continuing" story, featured the following lead, which ultimately proved
"Russia is teetering on the brink of economic collapse after a month
that saw the Moscow stock market lose almost half its value, interest
rates rise to crippling levels and growing pressure to devalue the
beleaguered Russian ruble."
Lally's, headlined "Economic Crisis Fades," told readers in the first
paragraph that the crisis was essentially over:
"With the ruble strengthening and stock prices rising yesterday, the
latest Russian economic crisis began to subside. Ordinary citizens
returned to what they do best - persevering and hoping for the best."
The difference between Weir's story and Lally's (or Peter Heinlein's
Voice of America story, which was entitled "The Crisis that Wasn't")
goes a little bit beyond the difference between calling a glass
half-empty and calling it half-full.
Think about it from the point of view of the striking miners. The way
they see it, saying that ordinary people are best served "persevering
and hoping for the best" isn't called being optimistic. It's called
When you don't write news articles but only read them, you don't realize
just how wide the tonal spectrum is for news articles. Straight-news
reporters generally choose a tone of passive concern, but they can also
be alarmist, boosterish, mocking, ironic, gloating...the variations are
You need to pay the most attention to tone when it conveys a message
that's different from the reporter would have you think. With her
soothing, optimistic tone, Kathy Lally would have you think that she was
only being even-keeled, positive-minded, and responsibly non-alarmist,
but under the circumstances her article was a work of radical
Striving to avoid sounding alarmist during a period of alarming news
events doesn't make a whole lot of sense, from any point of view-least
of all from your readers'. In Lally's case, there are probably at least
a few people in the Baltimore area who had money in Russian GKOs who
read Saturday that the crisis had faded, only to wake up Tuesday to find
that the market had plummeted 15%.
Even the wire services, which ostensibly strive for a robotic,
non-ideological tone in their coverage, have a specific narrative voice
which deserves your attention. Reuters, for instance, instills in its
writers the personality of slavish, power-worshipping lackeys, creating
an army of little nodding monkeys in fezzes who follow around government
officials with notepads. Its Oleg Schedrov was one such monkey last
"MOSCOW (Reuters) - Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko said Sunday the
worst of Russia's financial turmoil was over, but predicted new attacks
by political foes of his month-old government.
In yet another sign of backing for Kiriyenko, the United States said it
would support extra funding for Russia from international lending
agencies to calm markets and help Moscow cope with the knock-on effects
of Asia's economic crisis."
Again, from a miner's point of view, he and his fellow strikers aren't
"political foes" of the Kiriyenko government. They're guys who have been
crawling around in the dirt for over six months without being paid. It's
a pretty big distinction.
The AP's Anna Dolgov, meanwhile, came across last week not as a monkey,
but as a finger-wagging ghetto yes-man, President Yeltsin's own personal
Flavor Flav. As in, yo Prez- kick that shit!
"President Boris Yeltsin assured investors Thursday that the government
would not allow the crisis to spin out of control.
`I heard today that Yeltsin said (inflation) won't happen, that it's out
of the question,' said an office worker in her mid-thirties, who only
gave her first name, Tatyana. `We ought to believe it.'''
Any time a reporter quotes some "average guy" obediently following the
advice of the ruler, you can skip the whole narrative right away and go
straight for the facts.
Why throw it out? Because the tone of that kind of piece, and of pieces
like Lally's, sends the reader the following message: "Everything is
under control." But in a society with a free press, you're supposed to
be the judge of that. In theory, anyway.
Economic Implications of Suspect State Statistics Viewed
10 June 1998
[translation for personal use only]
Article by Yevgeniy Anisimov under the rubric "The View From the
Sixth Floor": "What Russian Statistics Might Know"
It seems that even in our country information can be worth money --
the kind of money that can attract the attention of the FSB [Federal
Security Service] and the General Prosecutor's Office. Statistics, as
[satirists] Ilf and Petrov asserted, knows everything. All the country's
large and medium- sized enterprises are obliged regularly to fill out
special report forms which then go to subdivisions of the State Committee
for Statistics for further processing. The number of staff, their average
wage, the volume of sales and monetary turnover, the quantity of output
dispatched for export -- an inquiring mind can extract from the dry
statistics a good deal that is useful to it. Therefore the initial
perplexity on the report of the arrest of the State Committee for
Statistics leadership -- what on earth could be stolen from there? -- gave
way to even a kind of admiration for the resourcefulness of certain Russian
entrepreneurs: They even managed to put that stuff to good use! Indeed,
understating certain statistical indicators at an enterprise can result in
appreciable savings on taxes, while information on competitors is worth a
We are sometimes surprised: How is it possible, if you believe the
statistics -- we are all as poor as church mice, the economy is at its last
gasp, and yet fashionable houses are springing up around the cities, luxury
foreign cars drive along the city streets, millions of our fellow citizens
take vacations abroad, where they spend money like water.... It was clear
that the main money today is circulating in the shadow sector of the
economy, but nobody could make a more or less accurate assessment of the
size of the "shadow" covering the country. Now the reason is clear -- if
the State Committee for Statistics is distorting the data, where are the
accurate figures going to come from? So it's true what they say: There are
lies, big lies, and statistics....
And all this is by no means as innocuous as it might appear at first
glance. Important budget indicators are calculated on the basis of State
Committee for Statistics figures, such as the volume of GDP, from which the
calculations of budget revenue and the deficit are derived.... And then we
are surprised again: How do the economists come to calculate that there is
not enough money in the budget for anything?! In other words, distortions
of statistical reports have a very direct influence on the country's
Factors Behind Change to 12-Year Education System Detailed
6 June 1998
[translation for personal use only]
Report by Sergey Rykov: "Twelve-Year School Education To Be
Introduced in Russia. Decision Already Adopted On This. Have We
Gotten to the Point Where We Have To Save Our Children? True, We
Are Comforted by the Fact That the Transition to It Will Be Carried
Out in Stages"
"This is yet another step toward civilization," I was told at the
Russian Federation Education Ministry General Secondary Education
Administration. "In all developed European countries children attend
school for 12 years."
But the duration of school education is not being extended just to
copy them. There are several reasons for this. The first reason is
demographic. The low birthrate, high infant and perinatal mortality, and
the high death rate among young men have created a "favorable" situation
for reforming education. This has come about in accordance with the
formula: The worse the better. Classes were previously too large and
there were insufficient teachers, textbooks, and so on. There was nothing
to give the children to eat. (For example, the usual school dinner in
Russia's central region consists of a glass of tea without sugar and a
piece of bread. And in Ivanovo, Vologda, Izhevsk, and so on...there have
been cases of children fainting in class from hunger.) Now there are
somewhat fewer mouths to feed and the treasury is apparently able to cope.
The second reason emanates from the first -- there are practically no
healthy school leavers. The Army has been forced to enlist invalids, drug
addicts, and, excuse the expression, half- wits.... Having graduated high
**school at the age of 17, young men are at a loose end: Far from all of
them enter higher educational establishments and it is also unlikely that
they will pick up a useful skill easily. The same can be said of girls,
except that they do not have the draft hanging over them. The criminal
world is becoming filled with young failures. (According to statistics,
the Russian criminal world has become younger as a result of youths joining
it.) With 12-year school education the problem of "unintentional neglect"
is resolved. In accordance with the law, youths can be drafted into the
Army at the age of 18 (so they do not get a chance to idle away their time
together). From the age of 18 they can get a job (if the Army does not
appeal). Or they can enter a higher educational establishment....
Third, 12-year education will help to strengthen the curriculum.
Russia rightly occupies a leading position in the world in the teaching of
the exact sciences: Mathematics and physics are our strong point; here we
still have strong traditions. But they are weak in the teaching of the
humanities. Foreign languages, esthetics (which is strongest in Japan),
art, and sex education...have completely collapsed. We have fallen behind
in the teaching of physical education (only 25 percent of students are able
to meet school standards in physical education). These shortcomings will
(I would like to believe!) be rectified in the 12-year school curriculum.
The transition to 12-year school education has another advantage
(though hopefully it is not the last). Children will not sit for six to
seven hours a day at their desks. Schools will not be overloaded -- the
nation will be healthier.
How long will we have to wait for the transition to 12-year education
to be completed? People in the know say a year or two....
Moscow `Joke of Nature' Mimics Snow
June 12, 1998
By MAURA REYNOLDS
MOSCOW (AP) - The snowy flakes come swirling out of the summer sky, wafting
along sidewalks and piling up against doorways in drifts. Children try to
catch it. Their parents try to keep it out of their clothes.
Although it looks and acts a lot like it, it's not snow. It's ``pukh.'' And it
marks the arrival of summer in the Russian capital as surely as its colder
cousin marks the winter.
``It's sort of a joke of nature,'' says 30-year-old Muscovite Dmitry
Kratotsutsky. ``It's our summer snow.''
Pukh is the fluff released by flowers of the poplar trees that seem to grow on
every street in Moscow. And nearly as soon as the sun comes out and the snow
melts into a memory, pukh begins to float out of the sky.
While many Muscovites see the comedy in the phenomenon, it's no laughing
matter. In fact, complaints about pukh are on the rise - in part because this
year seems to be the worst in recent memory.
``It's disgusting,'' says Elena Petrova, watching the white bits drift through
the air outside her apartment house. ``It gets everywhere.''
She's not exaggerating. It floats into eyes, noses, and morning cups of
coffee. It clogs drainage pipes and window screens. It scoots under furniture
and into neglected corners, to swirl out months later as if in jest.
But it's not just a nuisance. It is also blamed for allergies, asthma, and
``It's very flammable,'' says Svetlana Vorobyova, a tree inspector for
Moscow's city forestry department. ``All it takes is a cigarette butt or
Like so many other aspects of life in Moscow, the pukh problem has a political
It seems that after World War II, dictator Josef Stalin ordered a facelift for
the capital that included a tree-planting campaign. Poplars are hardy and grow
very quickly, and so they were planted by the thousands.
Apparently, says Liliana Plotnikova, chief of the tree department at Moscow's
Botanical Garden, no one paid attention to which gender of tree they were
putting in the ground. Botanists usually recommend planting only male trees,
which don't flower and don't produce pukh. Of course, one can't be sure of a
tree's gender until it matures, and that takes 15 years.
``The goal was to make the city more beautiful and they did,'' Plotnikova
says. ``They just didn't think about all the consequences.''
You can easily control a tree's pukh production by pruning it and removing the
buds before they flower. In Soviet times, teams of city workers were sent out
each year to do just that, and it helped.
But since 1990, the city government hasn't allocated any money for poplar
pruning, says Alexandra Matsuk, head of the tree preservation department at
the city environment agency, and so they've literally gone to seed.
Climatic factors also have made this year's pukh season perhaps the worst in
memory, says Plotnikova of the Botanical Garden. Spring was unusually cold,
and early June was unusually warm. As a result, she says, the trees seem to be
dumping their pukh all at once, instead of spreading it out over a few weeks
or a month.
America can be blamed, at least indirectly, for Moscow's pukh problem.
Plotnikova says that the variety of poplar most common in Moscow is an
American import, the balsam poplar, which is native to the northern United
States and Canada. It was brought to Russia more than a century ago because it
endures winter better than the silver or pyramid poplars more common elsewhere
Of course, as any visitor here could guess, it also produces more pukh than
its European cousins.
Plotnikova insists that the poplars' benefits outweigh their costs. Few trees
can better withstand the rigors of Russia's climate and Moscow's dirty
streets. They provide particularly pleasant shade, dappled and cool.
In the end, many Muscovites agree with her. In fact, most seem to take much
the same attitude toward their summer snow as they do toward their winter
``It's part of nature,'' says 45-year-old Natalia Dvoyeva. ``We just have to
put up with it.''
New York Times
June 13, 1998
[for personal use only]
Illegal Workers Suffer Under New Regime in Moscow
By CELESTINE BOHLEN
MOSCOW -- After working five weeks as an illegal laborer on a Moscow
construction site, Ivan, a Ukrainian crane operator, was heading home to Kiev
last October with his hard-earned wages carefully hidden where the Moscow
police could not find them.
But he had left $85 worth of Russian rubles, set aside for the journey, in
his pocket -- easy pickings for the policemen who stopped him at the railroad
station and hauled him off for some rough questioning, saying he would be
charged as drunk and disorderly.
Ivan -- who would not give his last name -- insists that he was neither
drunk nor disorderly. But knowing the power of the authorities against illegal
workers like himself, he agreed to sign a paper saying he had had one beer.
With that, he was thrown back out on the street, with the $85 left behind as a
"gift" to Moscow's notoriously corrupt police.
"There is nothing we can do, we have no rights whatsoever," said Ivan, 55,
who is now back in Moscow on another illegal job, living a tenuous existence
in a dilapidated wooden camper with a half-dozen other illegal workers from
Ukraine, all here in desperate search of work.
By some estimates, there are as many as a million foreign workers in and
around Moscow -- many from Ukraine, Moldova and other parts of the former
Soviet Union -- who come here offering their labor at virtually any price.
Some are paid as little as $100 a month, some three times as much. Some get
paid virtually nothing -- once the cost of housing and food have been
Just as in the old days of the Soviet Union, Moscow is a magnet for the rest
of country, and beyond. In those days, people came to shop for goods that were
hard to find anywhere else. Now they come to work and to soak up some of the
riches that have poured into the Russian capital, home to about 10 million
Seven years after the collapse of Soviet Communism, the official
unemployment rate in this city is a remarkable 0.7 percent. The unofficial
rate is probably higher, labor experts say, but then so is the number of
black-market jobs, many in sidewalk kiosks or wholesale markets, but also in
the private-sector service economy. But the greatest number of illegal
migrants work in Moscow's bustling building trades, constructing the myriad
new office and apartment complexes that dot the city's skyline, catering to
the new middle class' craze for "evroremonts," the word coined to describe
apartments remodeled to West European standards.
Compared with the bleakness of outlying regions, where salaries can be less
than $100 a month, Moscow has the air of a fairy-tale metropolis, an Emerald
City rising in the midst of a depressed post-industrial landscape. Its
exuberant, often vulgar prosperity is symbolized by its high-rises decked with
fanciful towers and domes, its sparkling shop windows and many furniture and
appliance stores catering to the brisk evroremont market.
That contrast is most vivid at the city's train stations, where local
employers come to meet particular trains -- particularly from Ukraine, Belarus
and Moldova -- scanning the platforms for young men with tell-tale rough hands
and carrying cloth bags filled with work clothes and even provisions.
Not all the foreign workers in Moscow come from the former Soviet Union.
According to the city's Migration Service, which has legally registered fewer
than 50,000 workers, the largest group in this category is Turks, employed by
large Turkish construction companies in large projects including refurbishing
the home of the Russian Parliament.
But as Alexander Vavrov, chief of the service's international relations
bureau, concedes, the vast majority of foreign workers in Moscow are illegal,
and thus uncounted. With only 10 inspectors, he said, the city is only just
beginning to track down violators. The first companies sanctioned for hiring
unregistered workers, however, were not the big construction companies, many
of them closely linked to city hall, but McDonald's and Procter & Gamble.
The migrants, for the most part, are taking jobs at wages Muscovites would
"It's like in Switzerland," said a young Belarussian who sleeps at night in
the apartments where he works days sanding and painting. "It's work local
people don't want to do."
But what may be slave wages in boom town Moscow can be a princely sum back
where the illegal workers come from. Ivan, for instance, brings home money to
help support his daughter, who is a teacher, and his son, a doctor, whose
salaries in Ukraine average $60 a month.
"I have seen a whole village come from Moldova, with women and children,"
said a young man who has worked as a recruiter for a Moscow construction
company and spoke on condition that he not be identified. "It is the
opportunity that brings them here, because they have none at home. They come
knowing there is a risk in how they will be treated, but they come anyway."
"They end up in a situation of virtual slaves," said Konstantin Krylov,
secretary of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions. "There is no one who
can defend them. The employer can pay what he wants, make them work as much
Not all migrants make it all the way into Moscow, where the police routinely
check people's documents, searching the streets for "foreigners" -- who can
include Russians without Moscow residence permits.
Russian courts have found Moscow's permit system, a holdover from Soviet
times, to be unconstitutional. But that has not stopped the city's mayor, Yuri
Luzhkov, from enforcing it anyway, deploying police on missions that often
amount to nothing more than officially sanctioned shake-downs, with "fines"
averaging about $8.
For those who do not want to risk an encounter with police, there is also
work to be had on the city's outskirts, among Muscovites' dachas, or country
houses. Arriving in bands of three or four, the workers knock on doors,
offering to repair porches or roofs or plant trees in return for room and
board and, if they are lucky, maybe $200 a month.
"We work in the summer, and then go home in the winter, like bears going
into hibernation," said Nikolai, who together with three friends had found a
job in a village of dachas southeast of Moscow.
The alternative, he said, is to stay at home in Mordvinia, a region in
central Russia, and live off his wife's earnings from the local light-bulb
factory, which in recent months have amounted to bags of flour and sugar.
In many ways, these construction workers are like illegal immigrants the
world over, whether Chinese women working in sweat shops in New York City or
Mexican farm workers in California. But the difference is that, for 70 years
of Soviet rule, Russia was a country that elevated workers' rights to the
level of a state religion.
Now, for many workers in the private sector, legal and illegal, it is a
country where all power has shifted back to the employers, many of whom are
more ruthless than those in pre-Bolshevik Russia.
"If you are getting paid under the table, you are getting ripped off," said
Irene Stevenson, field representative in Russia for the American Center for
International Labor Solidarity. "The employers are avoiding an entire range of
taxes, which in turn leaves an entire range of people unprotected. In the case
of migrant workers, it is a complete violation of rights, because they have
nowhere to appeal."
From: email@example.com.EDU (Bill Ross)
Date: Fri, 12 Jun 1998
Subject: Lebed comment
> Date: Fri, 12 Jun 1998 09:18:55 -0500 (CDT)
> From: Dale R Herspring <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> Subject: Lebed - Again
> despite the sad state the Russian military finds itself in, Lebed still
> comes across as different from other candidates in that he is a soldier,
> and from most indications fairly honest, and straight foreward in his
> thinking and statements.
I think he can seem very honest and straightforward,
but this should not be confused with having a consistent
message. At one time, he said that it was not worth
worrying about NATO (see below), and sometime later
he was worrying as much as anyone, perhaps in order
to position himself.
I agree that he appears extremely likely to be elected.
Here are a few things I have saved that may be of interest,
drawn from a collection under
"I like the word 'democracy,' but I know for a fact that
I myself will not live long enough to see democracy. We
have the kind of country where we are going to have to
use authoritarian methods to force people to build
democracy." --- "Reds under Lebed" by Masha Gessen,
The New Republic, 11 December 1995
LEBED REJECTS ELECTED DUMA. Denouncing attempts to "ape the West,"
presidential candidate Aleksandr Lebed argued that Russia does not need
an elected parliament, NTV reported on 30 March. Instead he called for a
"small, highly professional Duma that would be named by the president."
Lebed also suggested that the president should submit to a yearly
popular referendum and resign if he fails to gain the voters' support.
Lebed spoke at the congress of the Democratic Party of Russia which
nominated him for president. -- Robert Orttung
--- OMRI 1 Apr 96
LEBED: LOOKING ANEW AT NATO. Russian presidential candidate and retired Lt.
General Aleksandr Lebed yesterday dismissed defense ministry proposals to
form a counter-bloc to an expanded NATO. In an article in the Russian daily
Nezavisimaya gazeta, Lebed said that such a Moscow-led bloc -- which has
been called for repeatedly by defense minister Pavel Grachev -- would be "an
anemic parody of the Warsaw Pact." Instead of using confrontational tactics,
Lebed proposed that Moscow ignore the Western alliance and concentrate on
its own internal reforms, including those in the military. He suggested that
internal contradictions and tensions within NATO would ultimately weaken the
alliance. Among those contradictions, he singled out potential displeasure
in Eastern European states asked to base nuclear weaponry and the long-term
unwillingness of U.S. and European taxpayers to foot the bill for expansion
to the East. Successful economic reform, Lebed argued, will ultimately allow
Moscow to reassert influence in the region by wielding its economic might.
(Interfax, May 16)
--- Jamestown 17 May 96