Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Kazakh Prime Minister's Hashtag Fail

Farangis Najibullah

Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov might be a longtime Twitter user, but that doesn't necessarily make him social-media savvy.
 
The official recently used his two Twitter accounts -- in English, and in Kazakh and Russian -- to put the call out for his thousands of followers to list their nation's biggest achievements in its 25 years of independence.
 
The apparent idea was to use the hashtags #25летНезависимости or #25KAZ to collect positive feedback ahead of Kazakh Independence Day, which is celebrated on December 16.
 
Masimov got a bit more than he bargained for from the Twitter masses, however.
 
The hashtags prompted a barrage of tweets revealing latent anger over corruption, the state of Kazakh democracy, the police, and the government in general.
 
"To deliver a healthy baby you have to pay a bribe in the maternity ward, to get a place in a kindergarten -- pay bribes again. At school? Guess what," tweeted Kairat Nyrmugambetov at @iKairat, referring to allegations of widespread bribery in schools and hospitals.

"A new factory for light-engine planes was built in Karaganda that hasn't produced a single plane in five years," wrote @AlmiriKarpykov from Almaty:

Another popular response to Masimov's initiative suggested that Kazakhstan -- whose president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, has ruled the country since 1989 -- has never had a democratic presidential election.
 
"We've never had a chance to elect another president!" wrote Aidos kapanov at @aidoseg from Almaty.

"We fear police more than bandits and terrorists," tweeted M. Gustav at @kasymjanym:

Twitter user @parfume_kz took the opportunity to complain that "free breakfast has been canceled for schoolchildren."

"In Kazakhstan, the government has created crony socialism, whose source of existence is legalized robbery, not collective labor," wrote @sakesha.

The initiative has generated some positive tweets, of course, although many are from the state-controlled @kazinformkz news agency and Kazakh embassies abroad.

And @kazinformkz hijacked the hashtags to highlight Kazakh athletes' achievements at the Olympic Games in Rio and to report domestic news, including Masimov's trip to an Almaty dairy farm:

-- Farangis Najibullah


Gentle Giant? Towering Ex-Heavyweight Champ To Host Russian Kids' Show

Russian State Duma deputy Nikolai Valuyev speaks to children during his visit to a children's center and youth recreation resort on the annexed Crimean Peninsula. Standing nearly seven feet tall, the former world boxing champion has surprised many by guest-hosting a popular children's show.

Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW -- He was known as the Beast of the East, a bruising giant of a man who retired from heavyweight boxing before taking a (specially enlarged) seat in the State Duma as a lawmaker for Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party.
 
But now, Nikolai Valuyev is turning his pugilist's gaze to gentler pursuits -- namely, guest-hosting Russia's most popular children's bedtime TV show.
 
The 2-meter-plus former knockout specialist says his hosted episodes of the legendary program Goodnight, Little Ones! (Spokoinoi Nochi, Malyshi!) will appear later this summer.

Valuyev published a photograph on Instagram on July 13 of himself posing with two puppet characters from the show, writing, "I could hardly have dreamed in my childhood that I would become the host of my favorite TV show."

 

Broadcast continuously since 1964, Goodnight, Little Ones! has been an institution for generations of Russians. Its main puppet characters are instantly recognizable to virtually any Russian child as the piglet Khryusha, a dog called Filya, and a hare named Stepashka.

"I couldn't turn down the offer to present the program; everyone's watched this program; children looked forward to evening," Valuyev said of the show, which airs on the national Rossiya-1 channel.

"Today we filmed the first four programs, which will come out in August. At the moment, I'm not prepared to appear more often on the television show -- there's a lot of work."

The retired two-time WBA champ said he hopes the show provides a good platform to convey his message about the importance of sports. 

He was flooded with statements of support.

But some people joked about the choice, in one case suggesting that "kids will not be able to fall asleep" after seeing Valuyev. Another Instagram user seemed genuinely upset, writing, "The world's gone mad."

Valuyev is a departure in more ways than one from the list of the show's (mostly female) celebrity hosts.

In 2008, Valuyev was found guilty and fined for assaulting a guard at a St. Petersburg sports complex in 2006 after the guard demanded that Valuyev’s wife repark her car outside their son's practice. The sentence was later overturned after appeals by both sides -- with the guard demanding a more severe punishment for the broken ribs he purportedly suffered and Valuyev proclaiming his innocence. In 2010, a follow-up criminal investigation was launched against Valuyev -- this time carrying a potential jail sentence. That case, however, was dropped later that year. 

Valuyev's latest term for the ruling United Russia in the State Duma ended with this term's final session recently. His seat in the chamber was physically enlarged to much fanfare in the Russian media in 2011. 

The 42-year-old bowed out of pro boxing in 2009 when he lost his World Boxing Association title to Britain's David Haye. Valuyev has not returned to boxing since, reportedly because of bone and joint problems.
 


Video Kyrgyz Songwriter-President To Test Pop Waters With Album

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev (left) has pledged to leave politics once his current term ends. His office said that "the president plans to be engaged in creative activities," including writing books, once he steps down.

Farangis Najibullah

The hits just keep coming from Central Asia.

The latest foray into pop culture by a sitting head of state has been announced in Central Asia, a region where comfortably ensconced leaders seem eager to showcase their vigor and talent by bursting into song or dancing at public events.

But Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev is taking the phenomenon to another level.

Atambaev's office says the president will release an album as a singer-songwriter ahead of his 60th birthday on September 17, with only about a year left in his lone six-year term. (There's a one-term limit set out in the six-year-old Kyrgyz Constitution.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the tunes appear to hew to the autobiographical.

His office said the album will comprise 10 songs in Russian and his native Kyrgyz. Atambaev reportedly recorded five Russian-language songs last month and plans to work on the Kyrgyz songs during his August vacation.

Two video clips of the Atambaev songs -- Against All Odds and I Can't Live Without You -- were uploaded on YouTube earlier this month.

In one, Atambaev says he wrote Against All Odds during his student years in the Russian capital, Moscow. "Like a motto, this song helped me to overcome many difficulties in my life," Atambaev says in the throwback clip, which features excerpts from the Soviet-era Kyrgyz film Provincial Romance, filmed in the 1980s.

Atambaev, who became Kyrgyz president in 2011 after three short stints as prime minister, has pledged to leave politics once his current term ends in 2017. His office said this month that "the president plans to be engaged in creative activities," including writing books, once he steps down.

Graceful political exits are a rarity in post-Soviet Central Asia, where no president outside Kyrgyzstan has left office since independence except through civil war (Tajikistan) or in a casket (Turkmenistan).

Atambaev's daughter Aliya Shagieva wrote on Facebook that her father, an economist by training, had liked "composing music, writing poetry, and drawing since his childhood." 

Central Asia's presidents have a history of tapping into popular culture by hook or by crook to enhance their images, despite the lack of recourse for their citizens to the ballot box.

Trained dentist and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has authored numerous books that were made obligatory reading for citizens, and has performed in concert for VIP and other guests. His predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, known as Turkmenbashi or "father of Turkmen," wrote books that instantly became part of rigidly enforced curricula before he died suddenly in 2006.

Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbaev likes to play traditional Kazakh musical instruments, while Tajikistan's Emomali Rahmon has -- more than once -- grabbed the microphone during concerts to sing along with performers.

In Uzbekistan, President Islam Karimov's most recent artistic performance was a dance during a concert after a regional summit in Tashkent in June, as his Russian, Chinese, and Central Asian counterparts looked on. 


Russian Court Rejects Navalny Slander Lawsuit Over State TV 'Spy' Claims

Russian opposition leader and anticorruption campaigner Aleksei Navalny (file photo)

Carl Schreck

The verdict is in: accusing someone on Russian state television of being a Western spy with no evidence to substantiate the claim does not constitute slander -- at least if that someone is opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.
 
A Moscow court on July 12 dismissed Navalny's slander lawsuit against state broadcaster VGTRK and government media boss Dmitry Kiselyov over a report accusing the Kremlin opponent of being on the payroll of U.S. and British intelligence.
 
The report, which aired on state-owned Rossia-1 television in April, has been widely ridiculed as a crude hatchet job featuring laughable "evidence" of Navalny's purported work for foreign masters, including supposed leaked letters from MI6 and CIA officers with clumsy English syntax and Navalny's supposed Skype call in which neither voice sounds like the man's. 
 
One alleged letter from British intelligence stated that Navalny, operating under the codename Freedom, was recommended by U.S.-British financier and Kremlin opponent Bill Browder (purported codename: Solomon) for financing to carry out "anticorruption projects against the trustees of the president of the Russian Federation" and an operation called "Quake" aimed at undermining "the existing constitutional order of the Russian Federation."
 
Navalny, who has a knack for bureaucratic jujitsu that turns the state's leverage against itself, formally requested earlier that Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) investigate his alleged ties to Western intelligence based on materials presented in the film.
 
He said in the July 12 hearing that the security agency refused to investigate. "This reply proves that even the FSB considers this film a fabrication," Navalny's spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, quoted him as saying on Twitter:
 

 
No matter. Judge Boris Udov of the Savyolovsky District Court ruled that Navalny's slander lawsuit had no merit.
 
Yelena Zabralova, the attorney representing VGTRK in the matter, said in court that Navalny "did not present proof -- neither in the lawsuit, nor today, nor in the court hearing -- that the disputed evidence is directly related to the individual and is defamatory in nature," Interfax reported.
 
On his website, Navalny posted a fragment of one of the broadcaster's arguments, which stated that the activist's objections to one part of the film was baseless because Navalny's name was not mentioned in that section.
 
"An alleged pseudonym given to the petitioner by third parties is exclusively used," the argument reads.
 
Navalny, whose photograph and name are used widely in the film, described this argument as follows: "These guys released a film across the entire country calling me a spy for every intelligence service who receives millions to bring down Russia, and then came to court and said: 'This isn't about Navalny at all.'"
 
Navalny, who is currently serving two suspended sentences on financial-crimes charges that he and his supporters call retribution for his activism, says he will appeal the ruling.


Kyiv Renames 'Moscow Avenue' After Contentious Nationalist Hero

Along with Moscow Avenue, the Kyiv city council also voted to rename three other Kyiv streets honoring famous Russians -- a street and a lane named after Mikhail Kutuzov, a renowned field marshal of the Russian Empire; and a street named after 18th-century Russian military leader Aleksandr Suvorov.

Claire Bigg

The frenzy in Ukraine of renaming streets and landmarks shows no sign of abating, with one of Kyiv's main thoroughfares about to lose its name, Moskovskiy Prospekt, or Moscow Avenue.

Instead, the street will be named after Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist resistance leader who fought both Soviet and Nazi forces during World War II but is particularly revered by right-wing extremists and reviled by many Poles and Jews over bloody campaigns carried out in his name.

The renaming was supported by 87 of the Kyiv city council's 97 members. A comment published on Facebook shortly after the vote by Yuriy Syrotyuk, the head of the Freedom (Svoboda) party's faction at the council, suggested that the remaining 10 members had abstained rather than voted against the proposal.

The move is a snub of Moscow; While hailed by many Ukrainians as a hero, authorities in Russia have branded Bandera a Nazi collaborator and have sought to portray pro-democracy Ukrainian protesters as his followers.

The renaming is part of a massive "decommunization" campaign to rid Ukraine of Soviet-era symbols in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea and its support of pro-Russian separatists in the country's east.

Under legislation adopted in May 2015, Ukraine formally categorizes the communist government that ruled between 1917 and 1991 as a criminal regime.

Street interviews conducted by RFE/RL in Kyiv back in March, when the initiative was first aired, showed that many residents welcomed the proposal. Others suggested that Ukraine should instead devote its time and money to more important tasks. 

Vox-Pop: Bandera Avenue Or Moscow Avenue?i
|| 0:00:00
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X
March 02, 2016
What do some Ukrainians make of proposals to rename Kyiv's Moscow Avenue after the controversial World War II-era nationalist leader, Stepan Bandera?

Along with Moscow Avenue, the Kyiv city council also voted to rename three other Kyiv streets honoring famous Russians -- a street and a lane named after Mikhail Kutuzov, a renowned field marshal of the Russian Empire; and a street named after 18th-century Russian military leader Aleksandr Suvorov.

The council agreed to name the streets after Oleksa Almazov, a general of the Ukrainian People's Army; Ukrainian writer, journalist, and poet Yevhen Hutsalo; and Mykhaylo Omelyanovych-Pavlenko, supreme commander of the Ukrainian Galician Army.

The resolution must now be approved by Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, who appears likely to give it the green light.

Klitschko himself has suggested renaming the street hosting the Russian Embassy in Ukraine after slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin.


Russians Call For Disbanding Of National Soccer Team

Russian national soccer team coach Leonid Slutsky reacts during the UEFA EURO 2016 group match between Russia and Slovakia at Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille, France, on June 15.

Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW -- Over 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for the wholesale firing and replacement of Russia's scandal-dogged national soccer team, hoping to turn things around before the country hosts the World Cup in 2018.

The petition follows the team's poor performance at the 2016 European Championship in France and public anger over allegations of wildly lavish partying by at least two players in Monte Carlo.

A clip posted on YouTube shows forward Aleksandr Kokorin and midfielder Pavel Mamayev at an elite nightclub, surrounded by flashing sparklers and bottles of costly Armand de Brignac champagne as the Russian national anthem booms.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, called it a "shameless display of conceit," and the players have faced criticism on state television talk shows.

The petition was started days after Russia's humiliating exit from the EURO 2016 competition, where it gained just one point in the group phase and won no games. Russia drew with England in its first match but lost to Slovakia and Wales.

"We want to be proud, not ashamed," reads the title of a petition posted on Change.org that had been signed by about 120,000 people by the afternoon of July 7. It calls for the disbanding of the team and the selection of an entirely new outfit.

The signatories call for all money saved from the disbanding of the team to be spent on new sports facilities to nurture future generations of Russian players.

"Like children at New Year's, all Russians are waiting for a miracle, but this miracle hasn't happened for decades," the petition says.

The Soviet Union won the UEFA European Championship in 1960 and was runner-up in 1964, 1972, and 1988, but post-Soviet Russia has never made it into the final.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said on July 6 that he expects a major shakeup in September that will see new players called up who "may be of a lower class" when it comes to skills but "have a huge desire to play for the country."

During his third presidential term, Putin has stressed what he says is the importance of patriotism and said people representing Russia should put the country before their personal desires.

Kokorin and Mamayev have denied they did anything wrong in at the Monte Carlo nightclub, where Russian media reports said they ran up a tab of some 250,000 euros ($277,000) on alcohol and entertainment. The players said it was paid for by other revelers.


German Rock Star Says Targeted By 'Putin Propaganda,' But Was It Just Russian PR Stunt?

Till Lindemann of Rammstein band is shown in the original photo and Sputnik fake. (Bild.de screenshot)

Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW -- German metal legend Till Lindemann, front man of the band Rammstein, says he was targeted by Kremlin propaganda when Russian media erroneously quoted him praising Vladimir Putin and published a fake photo carefully doctored to show him giving a thumbs up in a T-shirt emblazoned with the Russian president winking.

In comments to the German tabloid Bild on June 29, Lindemann said the widely circulated photograph had been digitally altered and his black shirt actually showed a skull and bones, not Putin’s face.

In the Bild story, titled I Was A Victim Of Putin Propaganda, Lindemann said he had indeed been holding a high-end iPhone with Putin's image embossed on it, but he said the phone had just been thrust into his hand and he definitely never talked about Putin in the glowing terms he was quoted as using in Russian media.

Russian media on June 27 and 28 quoted Lindemann as saying: "In Germany, [Chancellor] Angela Merkel can't boast the same popularity that Putin has. I like him, he is a serious leader, not a puppet -- unlike all the others."

"I consider all these attacks on your country unjust," the Russian media quotes continued, in a presumed reference to the growing list of international grievances. "Russia is protecting its interests. Sanctions should be imposed on those who are playing a dishonorable game and provoking international conflict. In any case, I am sure that music will save the world."

But Lindemann, the most prominent face of Germany's Neue Deutsche Haerte rock subgenre, says he said no such thing.

Bild quoted Lindemann as saying: "It's total crap! We played in Moscow on June 19. The friends of Russian promotor Ed Radnikov came up to me before the start of the concert and thrust a phone into my hand with the words 'with greetings from Vladimir Putin!' Then they asked me how I like Moscow. I gave a thumbs up and said, 'Moscow is an excellent city.' That's it."

The photograph was widely circulated in Russian media.

However, despite the whiff of an elaborate propaganda scheme, the mistakes in reporting may have actually been the result of a patriotic commercial PR stunt gone wrong.

On June 29, Gazeta.ru reported that the doctored photograph and quotes had first been circulated to Russian media outlets on June 20 by Caviar, the company that makes patriotic iPhone covers embossed with Putin's face. The Russian media outlets subsequently published the comments and photographs.

Caviar declined to confirm or deny the report in comments to RFE/RL's Russian Service. Lenta.ru, however, cited a press release from Caviar as taking responsibility, although the press release in question could not be found on Caviar's website.

Some Russian media have pulled reports of the photograph and comments by the Rammstein singer. They include outlets like Komsomolskaya Pravda. The German version of state news wire Sputnik currently displays a genuine photograph of Lindemann.

But the Czech version of Sputnik -- for one -- was still showing the doctored version of the story on June 30, citing Metro, the free newspaper handed out in Moscow. Metro ran that story on June 27 and it is still online. Metro, however, subsequently ran a correction.

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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