Sunday, August 30, 2015


Rachmaninoff Family Denounces Russian Officials' Reburial Push

Composer Sergei Rachmaninoff died in the United States in 1943, shortly after becoming a U.S. citizen.

Claire Bigg

More than 70 years after his death, celebrated Russian pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff is once again at the center of a heated debate over his final resting place.

His descendants this week rejected a fresh Russian proposal to rebury him in his native country, which he left in 1917 during the Bolshevik revolution.

"We are not planning to go against his will, so his remains will stay where they were buried," his great-great-granddaughter, Susan Sophia-Volkonskaya-Wanamaker, told BBC.

Rachmaninoff's Russian admirers have long clamored for his remains to be returned to his homeland. He is buried in the United States, where he died of cancer in 1943 aged 69, shortly after being granted U.S. citizenship.

The current reburial campaign, however, takes places amid souring ties between Russia and the West, and bears hostile undertones.

It is spearheaded by Russia's combative culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, who has accused the United States of appropriating Rachmaninoff.

"Americans have shamelessly privatized Rachmaninoff's name," he charged on August 15, "just like the names of dozens and hundreds of Russians who, by the will of fate, found themselves abroad after the revolution."

Rachmaninoff, he said, was being increasingly portrayed in the United States as "an American of Russian origin."

Medinsky also poured scorn on the Kensico Cemetery where the composer is buried in Valhalla, New York, claiming the composer's grave was in poor condition.

He proposed transferring Rachmaninoff's ashes to a lavish memorial complex that is being built on the Rachmaninoff family's estate in the Novgorod region.

Novgorod's deputy governor, Aleksandr Smirnov, said Russian diplomats in New York were actively lobbying for Rachmaninoff's return to Russia.

But not all Russian cultural figures back Medinsky's proposal.

Pianist Denis Matsuev, a presidential adviser on culture and the head of the Public Council of the Culture Ministry, was quick to express reservations.

"I have doubts from a moral point of view," he said on August 16. "A reburial is a very delicate, sensitive issue. Everyone needs to be involved, above all the public."

Matsuev stressed that Rachmaninoff's late grandson Alexandre had wanted his grandfather's remains to be brought to Villa Senar, the Swiss estate where Rachmaninoff composed some of his most famous works.


Crying Fowl: Russia Mocked In Memes After Bulldozing Geese

Anna Shamanska

In Russia, don’t expect your goose to get cooked -- it may be bulldozed instead.

That’s what happened to three frozen, packaged fowl that ran afoul of the Kremlin’s distaste for food from countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia over its interference in Ukraine.

Imported from EU member Hungary, the geese were subjected to something like a Stalin-era show trial -- complete with elaborate charges, earnest witnesses, and exactly zero chance for acquittal -- and then bulldozed at garbage dump in Tatarstan.

Filmed and posted on the Internet, the incident followed a frenzy of destruction that ensued after President Vladimir Putin signed a decree ordering the “extermination” of food imported to Russia in violation of countersanctions banning many Western products.

For some, it took Russia’s war on Western food to a new level of absurdity. 

As a result, it spawned a gaggle of mocking memes skewering the Russian authorities. Jabs posted on the Internet played on everything from the Russian word for geese -- gusy -- to the Hungarian origin of the birds.

One user predicted that angry geese would start their own version of Pussy Riot, the Russian punk protest band whose members were jailed for a 2012 stunt in which they criticized Putin. The name: Gusy Riot.
 


 
Many others want to believe that geese will get their revenge.
 
Some Twitter-users said that surviving geese had adopted a new motto, “We didn’t start this war” -- a reference to statements by Putin and other Russian officials who say that Moscow’s recent actions -- from the annexation of Crimea to food bans -- are merely responses to Western aggression.

These words, along with photos of birds, were photoshopped into images of chaos and destruction.
 

 

This Facebook post was a hit with fans of Call of Duty -- it makes a playful reference to the popular video game's "No Russian" level, with one of the gun-toting geese saying: “Remember, not a word in Hungarian."


 
Other Internet users announced the creation of the GPR, or Geese People’s Republic, a reference to the self-proclaimed separatist Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in eastern Ukraine. It is Russia's support for the separatists, in part, that has led to U.S. and EU sanctions against Moscow.
 


 
Others found historical parallels, or took aim at Putin’s frequent stunts involving wildlife.

One Twitter post features a remake of 19th century Russian master Ilya Repin’s painting of Tsar Ivan the Terrible clutching the son he has just slain by his own hand.​

 


 
Another shows a shirtless Putin chasing fear-crazed geese with a hunting rifle.

The destruction of the frozen geese, found during a police inspection of a grocery store in the village Apastovo on August 14, followed a more formal procedure.

In accordance with the law, authorities filmed the entire procedure of confiscation, from a detailed explanation of the infraction to the surreal moment when they meet their end at the dump.

“The basis for seizing these products is lack of supporting documents or proper marking, and its name being written only in English,” an official says in the video.
 
Amid the hail of mockery on social media, the geese got some real-world revenge in the end: The local official responsible for destroying the geese has reportedly received an official reprimand.

It turns out the geese should have been burned, not bulldozed.

“If these are vegetable or garden products, then one can use a bulldozer to crush and destroy,” said Yevgeny Ivanov, deputy head of the state food quality control agency Rosselkhoznadzor in Tatarstan. “They should have burned [the geese], but instead they crushed them with a tractor and put them in a pile.


Lukashenka Collects 70 Sacks Of Potatoes, Wears Hat

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka: Have hat, will harvest.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his youngest son, Nikolai, have been pictured harvesting potatoes and watermelons in the fields of the presidential residence, Drozdy.

In just an hour and a half, the presidential family, along with a group of helpers, harvested 70 sacks of potatoes on an 18-hectare field, the Belarusian state-run news agency BelTA reported.

The August 16 haul will reportedly be sent to Belarusian orphanages and nursing homes.

Here's a video of the event:

It may have been for a good cause, but many were left wondering what was with the outfit on the man who some call "Europe's last dictator" -- a white T-shirt, checkered shorts, and a head covering that looks like a cross between a surgical cap and a chef's toque.

Belarusian journalist Volha Ulevich wrote on Facebook that she knows "the secret of the hat," which he also wore when teaching Gerard Depardieu how to use a scytheLukashenka was wearing a barretina, traditional Catalonian headwear, she said. (Though these are normally red.)

Twitter had some other theories:

@googleshenko tweeted: "Sell 70 sacks of potatoes to whom"

A mock Lukashenka account, @Alekzander_Luk, tweeted that he had opened an annual "Potatofest" lasting from August to September:

-- Anna Shamanska


In Crimea, U.S. Rocker Sings Putin's Praises, Mulls Move To Minsk

Joe Lynn Turner (left) says his Belarusian wife, Maya, "is my greatest asset in life. She's my angel,"

Nick Shchetko

Gerard Depardieu, Steven Seagal, Mickey Rourke -- and Joe Lynn Turner.

At 64, the former vocalist for hard-rock groups Rainbow and Deep Purple has joined a list of artists better known for earlier work who have jumped to the defense of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At a news conference in Russian-annexed Crimea, where he had three concerts scheduled, Turner said he wore a pin depicting Putin because "I believe it."

"I've listened to every leader in the world," Turner said. "The only one telling the truth is Putin."

Turner was speaking on August 12 in Simferopol, the capital of the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in March 2014 after sending in troops and staging a hasty referendum dismissed by the United States and about 100 other countries as illegitimate.

"Truth be told, I have no love anymore for the United States," Turner said. "I don't like the administrations, I don't like what's going on, I don't like the lies to people. I don't like anything. It's not my father's country, when there was opportunity, when there was truth."

Deep Purple is admired by many Russians who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s -- including Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, 49, who seemed awestruck when he hosted the band during his presidency, in 2011.

Rainbow was also well-known in the Soviet Union, where hunger for Western music was strong under a repressive government.

Actors Seagal, Rourke, and Depardieu have all praised Putin, and Depardieu has acquired Russian citizenship -- along with a passport presented by Putin himself.

Turner has other plans. While singing the praises of Putin, the singer said he might settle down in another country ruled by an authoritarian leader -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Turner said he was considering moving to Belarus "if Lukashenka lets me in." 

Turner is married to Maya Kozyreva, a lawyer from Minsk. "She is my greatest asset in life. She's my angel," he told Guitar World in 2012. 

It is unclear whether Turner has applied for Belarusian citizenship. A Foreign Ministry spokesman told RFE/RL's Belarus Service that it was not aware of an application, and a spokeswoman for Lukashenka told Belarusian website Tut.by that there had been no official applications.


Supermodel Vodianova Ignites Firestorm After Russian Cafe Boots Disabled Sister

Russian supermodel and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova at a 2008 press conference in Novosibirsk.

Carl Schreck

Supermodel Natalia Vodianova has ignited a firestorm of discussion about the rights of the disabled in her native Russia after her autistic sister was kicked out of a Nizhny Novgorod cafe by the owner, who allegedly accused her of scaring customers away.

In an August 12 Facebook post, Vodianova wrote that her 27-year-old sister Oksana, who has been diagnosed with autism and cerebral palsy, and Oksana's caretaker stopped at the cafe the previous day to seek respite from the heat.

After the caretaker ordered a snack for Oksana, Vodianova wrote, the owner of the cafe approached the two women and told them: "Why don’t you leave? You’re scaring away all of our customers. Go get medical help for you and your child. And then go out in public."

While Vodianova’s mother was on the way to the cafe to intervene, a security guard threatened to "call the crazy house" and "lock you in the cellar" if the two women did not leave the premises, she wrote.

After her mother left the cafe with Oksana and the caretaker, they were confronted by police who told them they were being "detained for minor hooliganism," wrote Vodianova, 33, who runs charities aimed at helping underprivileged and disabled children in Russia

But the federal Investigative Committee said on August 13 that it has opened an investigation and that the cafe director and guards could face prosecution on charges of "insulting human dignity," a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.

"Without any legal reason, the cafe director not only asked the unwelcome guests to leave the establishment but called for support from employees of a private security firm," Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said in a statement.

He said the director and his "loyal guards" had "rudely violated legislation protecting human rights."

Russian authorities "will always respond instantaneously to such unlawfulness and use every opportunity to hold culprits criminally responsible so that others would not even think of doing the same," Markin said.

A local police spokesperson had earlier been quoted by Interfax as saying that “both participants in the conflict filed complaints against one another.” But it was clear from Markin's statement that neither Vodianova's mother nor Oksana's caretaker would face prosecution.

Vodianaova's Facebook post surged through social media and traditional news outlets in Russia, where rights activists say disabled people continue to face numerous obstacles to societal integration. 

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said that people with disabilities people in Russia consistently encounter discrimination by employers, poor health care, and inadequate opportunities for education.

In a report last year, HRW said the Russian government had made some progress in efforts to help disabled children but that more needed to be done.

As RFE/RL reported at the time, the HRW report found "that nearly 30 percent of all Russian children with disabilities are removed from their parents and live in state orphanages, where they face neglect and sometimes violence."

"In Russia, when a child is born with a disability, parents face pressure from doctors to give their children up. Children end up in orphanages, where they may face serious abuse and neglect," said the report’s author, Andrea Mazzarino.

The Paris-based Vodianova, a regular on billboards and fashion-magazine covers who has modeled for iconic global brands like Calvin Klein and Gucci, told the U.S. magazine Glamour that her mother refused to give Oksana up and that she pursued a modeling career to help provide for her struggling family. 

Vodianova's account of the incident at the Nizhny Novgorod cafe was shared more than 13,000 times and garnered more than 34,000 likes on Facebook within hours after it was posted on August 12.

She said she decided to go public with the incident because "this is not an isolated case."

"Unfortunately, this is the reality experienced by all families raising children with special needs," she wrote. "It's difficult for me to discuss this, but I understand that this is an alarm bell for society that must be heard."


Home Is Where The Helipad Is: Kremlin Bigwig Opens Up About Opulent Country Estate

Vyacheslav Volodin: “Test it for yourself. It’s not marble.”

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 12.08.2015 07:23

Carl Schreck

When Russian opposition activists conducted a guerrilla tour of top government officials’ swanky summer homes outside Moscow in May 2014, they were repeatedly stopped by police and confronted by belligerent men who tried to impede their sightseeing.

More than a year later, one of those powerful officials has adopted a new tack in dealing with those inquiring how he can afford a grandiose dacha -- helipad and trout pond included -- on the relatively modest salary of a government servant: opening the gates himself.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the Kremlin’s first deputy chief of staff and a key architect of President Vladimir Putin’s domestic policies, has led journalists on a personal tour of his sprawling estate 80 kilometers northwest of Moscow, the independent-minded RBK daily reported on August 11.

The move appears to be, in part, a response to Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, who has accused Volodin and his well-connected neighbors of using illicitly acquired wealth to finance the lavish estates and failing to declare the property. 

Volodin's house is the one with the large pond, stocked with catfish and trout. And there's a helipad, too. Just no raised marble garden beds.
Volodin's house is the one with the large pond, stocked with catfish and trout. And there's a helipad, too. Just no raised marble garden beds.

Navalny and his fellow muckrakers in recent years have published details of senior officials’ pricey real-estate holdings in Russia and abroad in a populist bid to demonstrate how the country’s leaders allegedly exploit their political sway to enrich themselves.

His anticorruption group estimated the value of Volodin’s estate, which totals nearly 19,500 square meters -- nearly the size of three soccer fields -- and includes a 744-square-meter home, at some 155 million to 200 million rubles ($2.4 million to $3.1 million). This far exceeds his total salary of 17.2 million rubles ($267,623) from 2010-12, Navalny’s group wrote in its 2013 investigation.

Volodin gave an apparent nod to Navalny while leading journalists on a recent tour of his property in the so-called Sosna (Pine) dacha cooperative that he belongs to, together with Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko and the deputy speaker of Russia's State Duma, Sergei Neverov.

Navalny had suggested Volodin used marble for his raised garden beds, though RBK’s Mikhail Rubin reported that they were made of wood.

“Test it for yourself,” Rubin quoted Volodin as saying. “It’s not marble.”

Volodin had the journalists flown to his property by helicopter over the weekend for the tour. He said he designed the estate and the home himself, studying the landscaping techniques from various countries, including France and the Czech Republic, RBK reported. He said it was completed just recently after nearly a decade of work.

The estate includes a greenhouse and gardens featuring strawberries, pumpkins, and the building blocks of an essential Russian salad: tomatoes and cucumbers.

The helipad located on the property comes in handy. Volodin says he is learning to fly a helicopter and that he rents the aircraft for lessons. The fish pond is stocked with catfish and river trout, he told the journalists.

The Kremlin has said there is nothing fishy about Volodin’s estate. In February 2014, Putin’s anticorruption pointman, Oleg Plokhoi, said Volodin financed its construction using personal and family funds, as well as a bank loan. 

Navalny called Volodin’s tour, which included a spot of tea on the veranda for the visiting journalists, “very sweet, of course.”

“But it shouldn’t distract us for one second from the main question: What are the sources of income for building and maintaining these castles,” he wrote on his website on August 11. 

Volodin’s guests received a much friendlier welcome at the dacha settlement than allies of Navalny who conducted a tour outside the gated homes in May 2014.

On the drive out, the activists said they were repeatedly stopped by traffic police who checked their documents, saying they were conducting an antiterrorism operation.

When they finally arrived, unidentified men attempted to prevent them from roaming around the territory and filming with video cameras, leading to minor physical altercations.

At one point during the ad hoc tour, a police officer asked what the group was doing there, noting that there had been a spate of thefts in the area.

The line elicited a deluge of ironic chortles from the activists.


Measuring The Russian Economy With Peskov's $620,000 Watch

The rare Richard Mille RM 52-01, rumored to have cost as much as $620,000, was spotted on Peskov's wrist on his wedding day.

Anna Shamanska

Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov's watch is now serving as "the most reliable index of the Russian economy."

The rare Richard Mille RM 52-01, rumored to have cost as much as $620,000, was spotted on Peskov's wrist on his wedding day. 

Today its image crowns the new Peskov.Watch website, which aims to explain the Russian economy in terms of the now-controversial timepiece's price.

The website allows visitors to track how the price of Peskov's watch changes in accordance with the wildly fluctuating ruble. On July 11, the watch would have cost 35 million rubles, while a month later inflation had brought it to 40 million, according to the website. 

"We believe that Peskov is tirelessly working on strengthening the national currency," the website says. "The price of a Richard Mille RM 52-01 in rubles is an indicator of the quality of his work."

The page also calculates how Peskov's watch could help the Russian budget.

For instance, as of August 11, the spokesman's timepiece could cover 1,260 average wages, 6,757 minimum wages, or 50,375 child-care allowances in Russia. 

The website also points out the number of Peskov's monthly salaries that would be need to buy such a timepiece -- 53, as it turns out. The spokesman's official annual salary is 9 million rubles. 

Peskov's wife, Olympic figure-skating champion Tatiana Navka, claimed that the watch was her wedding gift to her new husband. In an interview with a Russian tabloid, Komsomolskaya Pravda, she added that "the price everybody is discussing right now is, of course, not true -- and in general it doesn't actually matter."

The exclusive Richard Mille watch seems to be the most expensive in Peskov's collection, but certainly not the only one. According to prominent Russian opposition figure Aleksei Navalny, Peskov has at least four other timepieces that together are worth about $150,000.

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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