Monday, November 24, 2014

Beauty Pageant Turns Nasty In St. Petersburg

Beauty pageant contestant Viktoriya Maladayeva has provoked a wave of social-media outrage for comments she made criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin. (VKontakte screenshot)

MOSCOW -- A St. Petersburg beauty pageant for married women has devolved into a hailstorm of racially charged bickering after a finalist made anti-Kremlin comments on social media. 

As online voting began for the 2014 Mrs. St. Petersburg pageant last week, Viktoriya Maladayeva, a 25-year old native of Russia's Buryatiya Republic who has lived in Russia's second city for nine years, surged up the leader's board -- drawing ire from users of Russia's popular VKontakte social-networking site.

"A Buryat girl as Mrs. Petersburg is just funny. No one will believe this," Margo Gershkovich, a VKontakte user supporting a rival pageant finalist, wrote. 

The online assault escalated after another user, Aleksandr Chernomortsev, shared a screenshot of anti-Kremlin comments Maladayeva purportedly made on her VKontakte page on September 19. In the post, Maladayeva lambasted the Kremlin for restricting media and Internet freedoms, calling President Vladimir Putin the "worst thing that has happened to Russia since the 1950s."   

"Once again, we've put ourselves on a par with the Third World," Maladayeva wrote, launching an attack on "stupid people" in an apparent reference to Putin's supporters. 

Maladayeva doesn't deny making the comments, which have since been removed from her VKontakte page.

She was later quoted by Russian media as saying "her words were taken out of context" to make her seem "Russophobic" and named Chernomertsev as trying to "discredit her for [her] political views, nationality." 

But the post sparked a slew of comments in which Maladayeva was accused of having "problems with her brain," of "hating Russians," of "bringing shame to Petersburg," and being an "enemy of the people." There were also calls to remove her from the competition.

Aleksandr Belopotanov, a VKontakte user on the forum, wrote simply: "Shave off her hair and put her head in the toilet."

One forum user, Katya Sidorovich, accused Chernomerstev of inciting ethnic hatred and appealed to administrators to ban him from the forum.

Likewise, Yevgeny Khamaganov, a writer for the "Asia Russia Daily," spoke up to defend Maladayeva.

"I haven't in a long time read such examples of caveman Nazism and shouting because a person doesn't have 'the right' opinions," he wrote

Maladayeva called on her supporters to ignore the slurs -- and stuck by her opposition views.

"Honestly, where have I written that I 'hate Russians' and so on? It's the sick fantasy of trolls. Friends, please ignore it. I was ready for negativity from some people, but not to this degree," she wrote on her VKontakte page

The Mrs. St. Petersburg pageant is in its fifth year. Contestants must be married with children and at least 168 centimeters tall. The winner will be announced on November 6.

-- Tom Balmforth

U.S. Fox News Plugs Moldovan Wines For Their Quality -- And Politics

Russia's battles with its neighbors have reached a new front --'s wine show.

In a November 3 segment of the program "Wine With Me," host Tracy Byrnes and her guest, Master of Wine Christy Canterbury, tried a range of Moldovan wines -- from a dry white to a bold red. Both praised the taste and quality. But Byrnes added an additional reason for viewers to give them a try -- to support the country against Russian sanctions. 

"Moldova basically sells their wine to Russia. That's how they make their money," Byrnes said. "And Russia has said, 'no more,' because Moldova has the audacity to want to like go and be friends with the EU...There's jobs on the line here."

Russia banned Moldova's wines between 2006 and 2007. Moscow restarted the ban in September 2013, citing quality concerns.

However, the move was widely seen as a way to pressure the former Soviet republic into not signing an association agreement with the European Union. Moldova signed and ratified the agreement anyway. The EU reduced or eliminated its tariffs on Moldovan wine in response to the Russian move.

"What I love the most is when you bring a bottle like this to someone's home, you could explain that you're supporting the country against these ridiculous Russian sanctions that are hurting the people and their jobs," Byrnes said.

Byrnes asked Canterbury what people from Moldova are called, emblematic of the notion that the country is not exactly at the top of many Americans' minds. But the wine industry may be a good bet for the country's visibility, as the U.S. became the biggest market for wine worldwide in 2013. 

Secretary of State John Kerry even made time to tour a Moldovan winery in a four-hour trip to the country in December 2013.

-- Luke Johnson

Video Steve Jobs Monument Said To Violate Russian 'Gay Propaganda' Law

A monument to Apple founder Steve Jobs is unveiled in St. Petersburg on January 9, 2013.

If the CEO of a company announces he's gay, does that mean his predecessor and his products were gay too?

The head of the St. Petersburg-based ZEFS holding company is not taking any chances.

According to Russian media reports, Maksim Dolgopolov, whose company sponsored the installation of a 2-meter-high iPhone replica with Steve Jobs' likeness in a university courtyard, has ordered the monument taken down because it may be in violation of a Russian law on homosexual "propaganda." 

"After Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly encouraged sodomy, the monument was taken down in accordance with federal law," the company said in a press release posted on the Ekho Moskvy website.

The unveiling of the monument in January 2013: 

The monument being dismantled: 

Last year, Russia's State Duma unanimously passed legislation penalizing the "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations."

Tim Cook replaced Apple founder Jobs -- then suffering from terminal cancer -- as the company's CEO in 2011. On October 30, he announced in "Bloomberg Businessweek" that he's gay. 

Dolgopolov's comments follow those by St. Petersburg legislator Vitaly Milonov, who said that Cook should be banned from Russia.

But the head of public relations for St. Petersburg's National Research University of Information Technologies, Mechanics, and Optics, where the monument was placed, has denied that Cook's sexuality was the reason for the iPhone removal. 

A letter from ZEFS saying the product would be taken down for repairs was received "before Tim Cook's statements," spokesman Kirill Aleksandrov said, according to Russia's TASS news agency.

RFE/RL was unable to reach ZEFS for comment.

-- Glenn Kates

The Week Ahead: November 3-9

November 7 marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The Week Ahead is a detailed listing of key events of the coming week affecting RFE/RL's broadcast region.
Now on Twitter! Daily updates at @The_Week_Ahead.

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MONDAY, November 3:
Armenia/UK: Britain's Minister for Europe, David Lidington, visits Yerevan.
Azerbaijan/Hungary: Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto visits Baku (to November 4).

EU/South Cacuasus: European Parliament's foreign affairs committee holds an exchange of views with the EU special representative for South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, Herbert Salber.
Georgia/Turkey: Turkish Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek visits Tbilisi.
Global: Legatum Institute in London publishes its annual Legatum Prosperity Index.
WEDNESDAY, November 5:

EU: European Parliament's sub-committee on human rights holds a hearing on the human rights situation in the Western Balkans.
EU: European Parliament's committee on agriculture and rural development holds a discussion on Moldova.

THURSDAY, November 6:

EU/Central Asia: Brussels hosts a conference on the sustainable energy in Central Asia.
Kyrgyzstan/Kazakhstan: Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev visits Astana (to November 7).

Turkmenistan/Turkey: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits Ashgabat (to November 7).

UK/Russia: Chatham House in London hosts a discussion titled "The Sino-Russian Gas Deal and China's Gas Expansion."
FRIDAY, November 7:
SATURDAY, November 8:
SUNDAY, November 9:

Global: Dubai hosts the WEF's Summit on the Global Agenda (to November 11).

Tags:calendar of events, radio free europe, radio liberty

Meet The 'Racists' Monitoring Eastern Ukraine's Unrecognized Vote

A screen grab from an infamous speech by far-right politician Ewald Stadler to the Austrian parliament in 2010.

Western groups like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are not recognizing the November 2 vote for leadership of the self-declared republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, so there are no traditional monitors observing the self-styled elections.

But the Agency for Security and Cooperation in Europe (ASCE) is.

It is an organization that does not appear to actually exist. Nevertheless, the day before the Donetsk and Luhansk vote, Ewald Stadler, an Austrian politician -- who could not remember if his new group was an "agency" or an "association" -- announced that observers would be monitoring the polls under its auspices.

So who is Ewald Stadler? Perhaps there are two of him.

Here, he is as a calm representative of Europe telling anti-Kyiv freelance journalist Graham Phillips that voting is meeting international standards. 

And here he is, in 2010, giving what the U.S.-based Stormfront "white power" website gleefully called the most racist speech ever delivered in a European parliament:

In 2002, the far-right former European MP refused to say whether Austria under Naziism was worse than Austria under Allied power.

Despite Moscow's persistent warnings about the rise of fascism in Ukraine, it has relied on "euroskeptic" fringe parties from both the far left and far right in Europe to support its efforts in Ukraine.

And as outlined in detail by "The Interpreter" online journal, at least 17 representatives from far-right parties have come to Ukraine -- apparently through Russia -- to observe the unrecognized November 2 vote. 

While Stadler appears to be keeping his more controversial opinions on race and religion to himself while in Ukraine, other observers are apparently rejecting such caution. 

-- Glenn Kates

The Week Ahead: October 27 - November 2

Iran and Russia are both on the agenda this week.

The Week Ahead is a detailed listing of key events of the coming week affecting RFE/RL's broadcast region.
Now on Twitter! Daily updates at @The_Week_Ahead.

Follow Me on Pinterest

MONDAY, October 27:
Azerbaijan/Armenia/France: Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to discuss the disputed breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in Paris.
Azerbaijan: Freedom House in Washington, DC hosts Broader Implications of the Human Rights Crackdown in Azerbaijan.
Iran/Russia: Iranian Vice President Sourena Sattari visits Moscow.
Iran/Spain:  Iranian FM Mohammad Javad Zarif visits Madrid, Spain.
TUESDAY, October 28:
Russia: Russian FM Sergei  Lavrov meets OSCE Director for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Michael Link in Moscow 
Russia/GermanyThe AIDS Conspiracy: KGB and Stasi Disinformation, at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC. 
WEDNESDAY, October 29:
Russia:  Russia’s Political System: The Drama of Decay, at NED in Washington, DC. 
Iraq/Syria: Syria and Iraq: The Future Prospects of Jihadism, at Brookings Institution in Washington, DC.  
Ukraine: Ukraine Update: Elections, Conflict and the Future of the EU’s Eastern Partnership, at the Brookings Institution, in Washington, DC. 
THURSDAY, October 30:
Moldova/EUBetween East and West - Moldova and the Transnistria Conflict, at the European Policy Center in Brussels. 
FRIDAY, October 31:
Iran: The IAEA’s Role on the Iranian Nuclear Issue, at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. 
SUNDAY, November 2:

Tags:calendar of events, radio free europe, radio liberty

Azerbaijan Hires Veteran U.S. Political Consultant

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev at his 2013 swearing-in in Baku

Amid its muscular lobbying push in Washington, Azerbaijan has hired a veteran Republican Party adviser and political strategist to boost its public image in the United States.

Baku’s embassy in Washington has signed a contract with Liz Mair, whose public-relations firm will aim to generate news coverage to “impact various U.S. government officials, as well as the U.S. general public,” according to a U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) disclosure statement signed on October 9.

Under the terms of the six-month contract, Azerbaijan will pay Mair’s firm, Mair Strategies, $15,000 a month for public-relations services, according FARA documents.

Mair has served as an online communications strategist to senior Republican officials, including Texas Governor Rick Perry, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. She is also a former online communications director for the Republican National Committee.

The hiring was first reported by Politico Influence, a newsletter on Washington’s lobbying community, which cited a source familiar with the contract.

The move comes as Azerbaijan faces mounting criticism over its human rights record from Western officials, analysts, and rights groups.

Since Azerbaijan assumed the chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s committee of ministers in May, it has undertaken “the most serious and brutal crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan ever,” according to the Berlin-based European Stability Initiative.

At the same time, Azerbaijani officials have sought to portray the country as a valuable U.S. and European ally, and as a crucial player in energy security amid an increasingly aggressive Russia in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.

Critics have accused Baku of using the Ukraine crisis and its lobbying push to deflect attention from its human rights record, including a sweeping crackdown in recent months against journalists, lawyers, and other government critics in Azerbaijan.

In 2013, Azerbaijan was the 10th-largest spender on lobbying efforts in the United States among foreign governments, shelling out almost $2.3 million, according to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation. 

Azerbaijan has also signed a $50,000-per-month contract with The Podesta Group, a top Washington lobbying firm.

Baku’s contract with Mair states that her firm will “assist in communicating priority issues relevant to the Republic of Azerbaijan to relevant audiences in the United States, including through media outlets.”

Mair, who is the 100-percent owner of Mair Strategies, declined to comment when contacted by RFE/RL.

Mair Strategies describes itself as a “a boutique online communications firm focusing on state-level, national and international issues for an array of Fortune 500 clients and major trade associations.”

-- Luke Johnson

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

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