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A controversial 2014 calendar devoted to Josef Stalin published by the Russian Orthodox Church has sparked a flurry of outraged comments.
The Russian Orthodox Church is under fire for publishing a calendar devoted to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Pictures from the 2014 calendar have been making the rounds on the Internet, sparking a barrage of criticism and prompting a lively discussion on the Moscow Patriarchate's troubled ties with Stalin.

The calendar, published by the printing house of the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius Monastery in Moscow, presents photos and biographical information documenting Stalin's evolution from a young seminary student in his native Georgia to the gray-haired Soviet leader.

The publishing house advertises the calendar on its website as a bestseller and "an excellent gift for veterans and history buffs."

It sells for 200 rubles ($6) online and in bookshops.

Mikhail Babkin, a noted Russian historian specialized in Russian Orthodox Church studies, fuelled the controversy on January 8 by posting photos on LiveJournal.

"The link between the Moscow Patriarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church and Stalin," he wrote, "remains close to sacred."

His post has sparked a flurry of outraged comments.

"The Russian Orthodox Church has long turned into a business structure and churches into shops offering religious services," wrote one reader. "Worshippers are only considered to be sources of wealth."

"It's shameful, a disgrace and an insult against all those who died" under Stalin's rule, another one said.

Stalin had a complex relationship with the Orthodox Church.

He attended an Orthodox seminary in his youth but was expelled for reasons that remain unclear.

As Soviet leader, he oversaw a vast campaign of persecution against the Russian Orthodox Church that saw countless churches being destroyed.

After World War II broke out, however, Stalin softened his stance and allowed the Church to operate, albeit under close state scrutiny.

-- Claire Bigg
"Which way is out?"
A maritime museum in Pakistan's most populous city, Karachi, is housing an unlikely trio for a whale and sea lion show that begins this week and owes its existence to the growing role of Russia in the international marine-mammal trade.

A trained beluga whale, dolphin, and sea lion will perform for the public three times a day in "a water show that will be the first of its kind to take place in Pakistan," according to "The Express Tribune."

A "large pool...built expecially for the purpose" sits in a stadium that holds around 2,000 people at the Maritime Museum, near a Pakistani Navy training and educational facility, PNS Karsaz.

The animals will jump, sing, and "give a stellar performance" once the public show begins next week, the report adds.

The decidedly exotic import thrusts Pakistan and the show's organizers into a raging global debate over the capture and treatment of intelligent marine mammals, particularly those with complex family and social structures and behaviors that cannot be approximated in tanks.

The World Wide Fund for Nature is among those criticizing the decision to bring the captive cetaceans (dolphins and whales) to Pakistan for oceanarium shows.

“We strongly suggest to the government and the agencies concerned to reconsider the initiative and look into the matter in detail. There are sufficient opportunities for public to see wild dolphins off the shore of Pakistan, especially Karachi. They can be observed without too much effort or expense and the experience is much more rewarding,” Pakistan's "Dawn" newspaper quoted the group as saying.

ALSO READ: Russian Scientist Defends Beluga Captures, Practices

Behavioral scientists and opponents of captivity for such wild animals are likely to cringe at the message that organizers are hoping to deliver to Pakistani audiences.

The "Tribune" article quotes "Ali, one of the organisers, at the special demo show they held for the media on Saturday [January 4]" as saying the show "aims to create awareness about the species' human-friendly nature."

The whale-captivity debate has been kindled most recently by the American documentary film "Blackfish," which chronicles the plight of killer whale Tilikum, involved in the deaths of three people since his capture off Iceland three decades ago.

The film is an indictment of the secretive trade in such intelligent mammals and the massive funds that they can generate in the entertainment industry.

Among its biggest targets is the perception that killer whales and other such animals -- which generally live in tightly based social groups that travel tens of kilometers or more every day -- can be acclimated to sedentary lives surrounded mostly by humans.

"It is not easy to deal with these species," the "Tribune" quotes Ukrainian beluga trainer Inga Strekach, who is part of the Pakistani project, as saying. "I hope people will love to see this show."
A beluga whale captured and held in a pen off Russia's Far East coast is stroked by Vladimir Putin in 2009.
A beluga whale captured and held in a pen off Russia's Far East coast is stroked by Vladimir Putin in 2009.

Russia is among the major contributors to the world's trade in whales and dolphins, in many cases dealing in creatures captured in the frigid waters off Russia's Far East coast or dolphins from the Black Sea.

Applicants in the United States were recently denied permission to import a number of beluga whales from Russia over concerns at their methods of capture, which include rough tactics and, more worryingly, the taking of unweaned calves from their mothers.

RELATED: Uproar Over U.S. Request To Import 'Russian' Beluga Whales

A Russian scientist involved in the regulation of wild cetacean captures told RFE/RL that demand for live dolphins and whales for the entertainment business has grown steeply, particularly from neighboring China.

The organizers of the Pakistani shows are the "Karachi-based Dolphin Show International" and "a Dubai-based company, Dolphin and I," according to "Dawn."

But the beluga traveled to Pakistan from Moscow and the dolphin is reportedly also on loan from Russia.

Beluga whales, which start life a mottled gray but take on a ghostly white appearance as adults, are native to the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions.

Trainer Strekach said the 10-year-old beluga whale in the Pakistani show "was born in captivity" and organizers have held performances "in many countries," "Dawn" reported. The paper added:

A pool has been specially made to accommodate the animals; it’s about 85 metres long, 50 metres wide and has a depth of 15 metres. The pool water is being filtered round the clock.

A visit to the facility showed the whale was being looked after by three experts, a trainer, a vet and an expert on water engineering who kept a check on the pool condition. The adorable whale seemed to have a small injury on its beak and made a lot of noise as its trainer called him.

The "Tribune" says the show's two-month run in Karachi will be extended if there's sufficient demand. Then, it reports, "the three stars are expected to make an appearance in Lahore and Islamabad as well."

-- Andy Heil

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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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