Voices from Russia

Saturday, 12 July 2008

A New Day for Family, Love, and Fidelity

President Dmitri Medvedev (1965- ), with his wife, Svetlana Medvedeva (1965- )

The first lady, Svetlana Medvedeva, is heading up the organising committee for the holiday, which has been endorsed by the Moscow Patriarchate. She even chose the official logo, a daisy. As part of the celebrations, Muscovites will be able to test out a bench designed to bring quarrelling lovers back together, whilst couples married for more than 25 years will be awarded medals. The holiday, which is not an official day off work, was introduced as part of the current Year of the Family, aimed at improving the country’s troubling demographic situation. Whilst it is “not at all compulsory” to celebrate the occasion, a total of 25 oblasts are holding events, said Tatiana Shumova, deputy head of the organising committee. Mrs Medvedeva “was the first to support the idea, and even created it”, Ms Shumova said. The first lady won’t be in Russia for the celebration, however, as she is accompanying her husband to the G8 summit in Japan.

The holiday falls on the Orthodox feastday of Ss Pyotr and Fevronia, who are seen as ideal examples of happy married life. Pyotr, a nobleman, married Fevronia, a peasant girl, in the 12th century. The couple died on the same day and were buried separately, but, their bodies are said to have miraculously reappeared in one coffin. They were canonised in the 16th century, and pilgrims visit their relics in the Vladimir region to pray for a husband or wife. Posters went up around Moscow last week showing an icon of the saints with the slogan, “A family is a union of thoughts and actions”. A message of support from Patriarch Aleksei II was posted on the MP official website last month. “Today, there is a real risk of the physical extinction of Russia”, he said, addressing the need “to revive the desire for fatherhood and motherhood in people’s hearts”.

The holiday’s organising committee includes Metropolitan Kirill, a leading figure in the MP. “Of course, it’s a good idea to hold this holiday, which will help family values take root in Russia”, church spokesman Fr Georgy Ryabykh said. He stressed that the new holiday is a secular one, running in parallel to the religious one. “It’s a different holiday, with a different name”, he said. The leaders of Russia’s other so-called traditional religions released a statement of support in June. More devout Orthodox believers may have to put off making an immediate contribution to the improvement of the country’s demographics. The saints’ day comes in the middle of an Orthodox fast, when the strictest believers abstain from sex, as well as from meat and alcohol.

In Moscow, the programme included the opening of a bench designed for two, whose sloping seat draws couples into an affectionate embrace. The bench was to be unveiled at 15.00 Tuesday next to Luzhkov Bridge, near the Tretyakovskaya metro station. Celebrations also had been held in Kolomenskoye, Tsaritsyno and Kuzminki parks, and at the Moscow Zoo.

Couples who have celebrated their silver wedding anniversaries and are “ideal families” will be awarded specially designed medals in ceremonies across the country, Ms Shumova said. The holiday should prove popular with young people, too, organisers believe. “It’s totally obvious that young people will support it”, Lyudmila Guseva, head of the City Hall department for youth and family policy, said in e-mailed comments. “Our young people have ideals of fidelity, love, and a strong family. The holiday carries that meaning”.

The committee is creating a website, to open after Tuesday’s holiday, where people can get advice from parents and psychologists, Ms Shumova said. The new holiday has yet to be picked up on by commercial firms. “Unfortunately, we haven’t prepared anything since it’s a new holiday”, a spokeswoman for Novaya Zarya perfumers said. A spokeswoman for United Confectioners said no special promotions were planned, “but, in future it’s possible”. “I don’t think people are used to the holiday yet, since it is the first time”, said a woman selling flowers in a kiosk near the Novy Arbat. “I don’t think we will sell much more than usual, not like for 8 March [International Women’s Day] or St Valentine’s Day”.

The day comes amid hostility toward St Valentine’s Day by the Orthodox Church and lawmakers, who see it as an alien import. RF Gosduma deputies are examining proposals to outlaw celebrations of St Valentine’s Day in schools. It also comes as authorities embrace conservative values on issues such as family planning. In 2005, City Hall placed ads in the metro saying condoms don’t offer complete protection and advocating staying faithful to one partner. In Krasnodar oblast, events include a week when women will be encouraged not to have abortions except for medical reasons, Radio Liberty reported. “It’s great. We would only welcome that”, said Rev Ryabykh, the MP spokesman. “It’s great that society takes that attitude”. Women have a right to abortion under Russian law, but, the church opposes it unless the woman’s life is in danger.

It’s not the first time officials have set aside a day for improving Russia’s demographic situation. Last year, Ulyanovsk Governor Sergei Morozov introduced a Family Contact Day on 12 September, with the slogan, “Give Birth to a Patriot on Russia Day”. The aim was to conceive babies who would be born on 12 June, the Russia Day holiday.

8 July 2008

Ann Malpas

The Moscow Times

Quoted in Russia Beyond the Headlines



A View from Moscow by Valentin Zorin… Lessons of History

Pyotr Krivonogov. Victory! 1948


Pyotr Krivonogov



The world is celebrating an anniversary of the most important event in modern history, the victory over Nazi Germany. Had it not been for that victory, the inhuman leaders of the barbarous Third Reich would’ve been able to carry out their plans, and the world would’ve looked much different, and there would’ve been neither democracy nor human rights nor freedom nor equality of nations to talk of nowadays. Many nations paid a dear price for that victory over global evil. My country lost, only in combat casualties, twenty-two million human lives. Millions of men and women died in Nazi concentration camps, or succumbed to hunger and disease at home. Thousands upon thousands of American, British, and French soldiers never returned from the battlefield. Two future US Presidents, naval officer John F Kennedy and torpedo-plane pilot George H W Bush, fought as heroes in that war. A third President of the USA, Allied commander Dwight D Eisenhower, was one of very few people to win the highest military order of Russia.

The innumerable sacrifices on the altar of Allied victory keep us from forgetting the everlasting lessons of a global tragedy. The military power of the Nazi régime was so great that it couldn’t be defeated by any nation single-handedly. To be able to join forces to save human civilisation, the Allied nations had to rise above their ideological and political differences and shake off, for the sake of their great goal, the burden of outdated habits and stereotypes. Difficult and novel as it was, they did it. US President Franklin D Roosevelt played a special role in that truly historic endeavour. It took incredible wisdom to lead humanity away from the brink of the abyss and win victory in the Allied effort against Nazism. Today, I only wish that the leaders of the post-war years had shown enough wisdom and farsightedness for a continued quest for coöperation and mutual understanding.

It makes little sense to wonder who fired the first shot in the standoff that came to be known as the Cold War. Every warring party had a role to play, but there’s no doubt whatsoever that the international community, taken as a whole, stood to lose in that infamous conflict. At a certain point, the leading nations seemed to wake up to that sad truth. I attended the Gorbachyov-Bush Sr rendezvous aboard a Soviet vessel anchored off the coast of Malta in December 1989. The two national leaders agreed to write finis to the Cold War. They declared no one won it. Nor, they said, had anyone lost it. So, they also said, it was time to promote bona fidé coöperation between our countries. Let me point out in passing that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice openly admitted that they made all those declarations. However, her admission doesn’t keep her and her teammates from doing things that reverse the message of the Malta meeting.

The historical process confronts the world with new and fatally dangerous problems that do what those of sixty years ago did. They cry out for international unity, because no country, powerful as it may be, is capable of settling them single-handedly. The 9/11 events shook America and the rest of the world; the bomb explosions in Moscow and other cities of Russia, the loss of life in the London Underground, the acts of railroad sabotage in Spain, al-Qaeda’s moves in Afghanistan and the Middle East, all those things prove that international terrorism poses a big threat to the global community of nations. No smaller is the looming threat of environmental disaster. It isn’t only human civilisation, but life on this planet that’s threatened by it. The spread of hunger throughout the world and the loss of millions of lives in epidemics of hitherto-unknown diseases are but some of the horrible threats of the early 21st century.

That no one country is capable of meeting the existing threats entirely on its own is as clear as it was when the sinister Berlin-Rome-Tokyo axis was plotting its criminal action. There’s no time better than now for a glance at the lessons of the Great Victory and at the international unity that repaired seemingly irreparable rifts, shook off outdated stereotypes, and rejected politically biased plans that hindered efforts to meet those threats. Lessons of history can’t and mustn’t be forgotten. It’s necessary to accept and learn them.

8 May 2008

Valentin Zorin

A View from Moscow

Voice of Russia World service



A View from Moscow by Valentin Zorin… Logjam Allocations


Although the war in Iraq unleashed by the Bush/Cheney team has been, without a doubt, lost by the USA, the idea of continued warfare in Iraq has, once again, and by nearly unanimous vote, been upheld by American lawmakers. The US Senate okayed, just a few days ago, the allocation of 162 billion dollars (3.768 trillion roubles. 101.542 billion euros. 81.389 billion UK pounds) for another year of military operations. The money allocated will be spent by the next US President. As many as 92 Senators voted in favour of continuing funding of the war, which bids fair to be the biggest defeat in the military history of their country. Only six Senators dared oppose the war appropriations bill. The lower house of the US Congress, the House of Representatives, voiced its view on the continuation of the war a few days before the Senate did.

It is nothing but smoke and mirrors that the Democratic Party kept saying that long days of Congressional debate and numerous demands for a scheduled withdrawal from Iraq preceded the vote on the military allocation. Their electoral campaign rests on the criticism of the dodgy Republican strategy in Iraq and a pledge to withdraw the American troops from that country… President Bush ignored their demands and refused, in no uncertain terms, to define timelines for a partial, let alone full, withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, so, the lawmakers calmed down and agreed to shovel even more dollars into the black hole of the war in Iraq. What the speaker of the heavily-Democratic House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said in excuse for their shameful behaviour sounded far from convincing. She said she expected an early end to unrestricted and unconditional government spending on military operations. What gave her a ray of hope remains unclear. Even if she wanted to, Ms Pelosi would hardly be able to explain her own words, because one of the leading adversaries in the fight for power, her Democratic Party, has yet to draw up a meaningful plan to end the lost war in Iraq. Its highly eloquent presidential hopeful, Barack Obama, has, instead of mapping out action, been feeding empty phrases and promises of future change to his followers. The more outspoken Senator Clinton said the USA had taken a wrong turn and was unable to figure out which way to go.

Those who ordered the invasion of Iraq had no plan for further action. The ensuing chaos and the obvious ineptness of the military gave way to confusion on the battlefield in the absence of a clear-cut plan for political action. A recently declassified brief pointed up the principal blunders in political and military planning from May 2003 to January 2005, for it showed that, instead of devising a long-term strategy for victory in Iraq, the USA was planning moves to unseat and punish Saddam Hussein. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, whose tour as commander of the US forces in Iraq during 2002 and 2003 gave him a good idea of what was really happening in the country, described the war in Iraq as an endless nightmare and charged American policy-makers with incompetence and corruption. His comrade-in-arms, General Wesley Clark, saw the US strategy in Iraq as completely mistaken. What frightened him is the American inability to figure out how to win the war in Iraq.

When that sort of judgement is voiced by the big brass, policy-makers are supposed to draw their own conclusions from it. However, the Republican front-runner in the presidential race, John McCain, shies away from the bitter, yet, inevitable, conclusion. Instead, he demands that America should keep fighting as long as it takes it to win the war in Iraq. Congressional endorsement of budget allocations for continued warfare binds the incumbent President, George W Bush, and his successor. Washington has nothing but fresh troops and more money to rely upon in its relentless efforts to win the hopelessly-lost war in Iraq. I’m under the impression that it still has to make realistic and no-nonsense plans for further action. That worries and scares me more than anything else.

11 July 2008

Valentin Zorin

Voice of Russia World Service


Professor Stephen Cohen of NYU says that the New American President Should Engage in a Civil Dialogue with Russia

New York University Professor Stephen Cohen, a prominent American political scientist, believes that the new President who enters the White House in January should engage in a civil and respectful dialogue with Russia. He insisted that America should talk to Russia as an equal, not as the economically and politically shattered loser Washington dealt with during the 1990s. Professor Cohen’s upset by the complete lack of such understanding that he sees in either Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama or his Republican rival John McCain. Professor Cohen’s colleague in Moscow, Dmitri Efstafyev, said, “In the present situation, the United States needs to maintain its Big Power posture to preserve its global leadership and socioeconomic stability at home. Simply put, without an active imperial foreign policy the United States will simply cease to exist. Because its global economic leadership hinges entirely on their control of global trade, above all in oil, it needs a strong military presence just about everywhere. To be able to efficiently interact with the Americans, Russia needs to prove that without her, America will hardly be able to go it alone…” Well, there’s no denying the hard fact that the American foreign policy is the most “ideologised” around. Russia, for its part, keeps looking for normal and constructive cooperation with Washington, arguing that we really need each other. Well, there are things we agree and disagree on, no doubt about that, but, as President Dmitri Medvedev said, we need to work hand in hand. There’s one more thing that the Americans need to do today, and that’s to acquire the ability to listen and to hear what others are saying. This is needful, because in their attempts to be the only hyperpower in this ever-changing world of ours, the Americans could upset the hard-won stability and balance of forces in the world…

12 July 2008

Voice of Russia World Service


Addendum excerpted from an article by Stephen F. Cohen, “The New American Cold War:

There have been too many tears already… let there be no more!


Nonetheless, most American officials, journalists, and academics, unwilling perhaps to confront their unwise policies and mistaken analyses since the Soviet Union ended in 1991, continue to deny the Cold War nature of today’s relationship with Russia. A resident expert at the Council on Foreign Relations tells us, for example, “The situation today’s nothing like the Cold War times”, while another think-tank specialist, testifying to Congress, can “see no prospect of a new Cold War”. … Still worse, the overwhelming majority of US officials and opinion-makers who do acknowledge the serious deterioration in relations between Washington and Moscow blame the development solely on Putin’s domestic and foreign policies. Not surprisingly, the most heretical part of my article, that the origins of the new Cold War are to be found instead in attitudes and policies toward post-Soviet Russia adopted by the Clinton administration back in the 1990s and largely continued by this Bush administration, has found even less support. But, unless it too is fully acknowledged, we are left only with the astonishing admission of a leading academic specialist with long-standing ties in Washington. Lamenting the state of US-Russian relations, he informed us, “Nobody has a good idea of what’s to be done”. What must be done, however, is clear enough. Because the new Cold War began in Washington, steps toward ending it also have to begin in Washington. Two are especially urgent, for reasons also explained in the article:

  • A US recognition that post-Soviet Russia isn’t a defeated supplicant or American client state, as seems to have been the prevailing view since 1991, but, a fully sovereign nation at home with legitimate national interests abroad equal to our own
  • An immediate end to the reckless expansion of NATO around Russia’s borders

According to the principles of American democracy, the best time to fight for such a change in policy is in the course of campaigns for the presidency. That’s why I’m pleased my article is reappearing at this time. On the other hand, the hour’s late, and it’s hard to be optimistic.

8 June 2007

Stephen F. Cohen

Professor, New York University, New York NY

The Nation


Editor’s Note:

There one has it. Two sober views, one Russian, one American, pleading for sanity. There’s no need for America and Russia to be enemies. There’s a possibility of true peace, if only America gives up its need for international adulation and its propensity for intervening violently in affairs not its own. Shall we grow up? God willing, we shall. The consequences of not doing so are too horrific to contemplate. God help us all.


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