Voices from Russia

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

26 March 2013. A Good Obit for Berezovsky… Blunt, But to the Point



I read this:

Scumbag, thief, oligarch Berezovsky is dead… let him burn in hell with Yeltsin! So, now, they’re calling scumbag Soviet-era black-marketeers who became the present-day thieving oligarchs, “tycoons”. This guy was a criminal and a lowlife piece of shit… just the type that Yeltsin picked to help him usurp power. I had the dubious “pleasure” of meeting him briefly in the early 90s. He wasn’t a man you wanted to cross back in the 90s if you desired to live to a decent old age.


I can only add, “Hear, hear!”



UK to Open Official Inquest into Berezovsky’s Death on Thursday

00 Boris Berezovsky 5. Russia. 24.03.13


Thames Valley Police said that an official inquiry into the death of self-exiled Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky in the UK would begin on Thursday. They said in their statement that HM Coroner for Berkshire Peter Bedford would open the inquest at 09.15 UTC on Thursday at Windsor Guildhall. Berezovsky’s next of kin carried out a formal identification procedure earlier on Tuesday. Police said late on Monday that an autopsy established that the cause of Berezovsky’s death was consistent with hanging, but that it didn’t find any signs of violent death. The police report said, “The results of the post-mortem examination, carried out by a Home Office pathologist, found the cause of death is consistent with hanging. The pathologist found nothing to indicate a violent struggle”. Berezovsky’s close friend, Nikolai Glushkov, who’d previously spoken to the businessman’s ex-wife, Galina Berezovsky, told The Guardian, “A scarf was there. There were traces of him being strangled around the neck”. Since the year 2000, the Russian businessman had resided in the UK, where he died on March 23 at the age of 67.

26 March 2013



As John Robles Sees It… Berezovsky Died Alone by Hanging in a Locked Bathroom

Barbara-Marie Drezhlo. Chaplin on Berezovsky. 01.12


UK Home Office pathologists determined that Boris Berezovsky died by hanging. This would indicate that a man, whose life seemed to be ruled by selfish greed and who’d do anything to enrich himself, ended as selfishly as he had lived. Near the end, he tried to run back to the country he’d fled from in order to flee the country that had generously taken him in, but sadly for Berezovsky, this wasn’t to be and, apparently, sadly for those who cared about him, he ran to the only place that he could. After a post-mortem examination, according to officials in the UK, the cause of death of fugitive oligarch Boris Berezovsky was “consistent with hanging”. The Thames Valley Police reported that a Home Office pathologist stated Berezovsky was hanged, and that his body showed no signs that there was a struggle. British police said that Berezovsky left no suicide note, and that there was no evidence of injuries or damage that pointed to third-party involvement in the sudden death of the fugitive oligarch.

All signs point to the fact that Berezovsky’s death was sudden and unexpected even for those around Berezovsky. It seems that he left no suicide note, and there are reports that it’s unknown whether he left a will or instructions on where he was to be buried. If he did leave a will, it may well be with his lawyers, who’ve made no comment to the press. Initially, the fact that the authorities called in biological, chemical, and radiological emergency response teams and cordoned off the area surrounding the ex-billionaire’s home in Ascot, Berkshire, not too far from London fuelled speculation that he was poisoned. We may now lay these suspicions to rest; the Thames Valley Police announced that his death has all the hallmarks of hanging. What the exact signs are, the police haven’t said. This also brings us to question how it was that Berezovsky was reportedly found on the floor of the bathroom. Perhaps, he’d merely let his feet slide out from under him as he hung from a bathroom fixture.

Of course, some of the Western media are bringing up the death of Aleksandr Litvinenko, who was poisoned with Polonium-210, as he was a close associate of Berezovsky, but as the dots begin to be connected and more information comes in, it’s possible that Berezovsky had something to do with the death of Litvinenko, and the fact that an upcoming inquest into Litvinenko’s death may, in fact, expose a connection, may have played a role in Berezovsky’s suicide, if it was in fact such. Michael John Smith, an intelligence expert who’s followed both of these cases, stated this recently.

The fact that his body wasn’t removed for almost a day after his death further fed speculation that his death wasn’t accidental, and if he was, in fact, found hanged, this would explain the delay as investigators combed the scene for clues making sure absolutely no rock was unturned in a case that the eyes of the world were watching. Perhaps, those who found Berezovsky’s body attempted to hide the fact of a suicide in order to obtain insurance money, or for other reasons, and may have tried to stage an alternative scenario, which may explain why it took police this long to make an announcement, and why it took those who found the body so long to call emergency services. According to verified accounts, one of Berezovsky’s bodyguards had to force open a door to one of Berezovsky’s bathrooms in order to determine if his boss was okay, as there was no response when he knocked and the billionaire was missing.

It seems unlikely that foul play was involved; he died alone and in a locked bathroom, there wasn’t a ready will, and the fact that he was broke crosses out the motive of someone close to him ready to take his money. The fact that the door was locked from the inside would rule out strange assassination theories, even by the most-intrepid conspiracy theorists, but stranger things might happen. If the death was a suicide, which it appears more and more that it was, it might be worth noting that with Berezovsky’s business acumen, knowledge of the law, and familiarity with business practises, no doubt, including insurance company policies, there’s little chance he would’ve left a suicide note. Undoubtedly, he had life insurance; he knew his beneficiaries wouldn’t receive anything if he committed suicide.

The Guardian reported that there was a scarf at the scene and that witnesses reported that Berezovsky had marks around his neck. The Guardian also reported that since the loss of the court case against Mr Abramovich, Berezovsky was in a deep depression that apparently continued until his death. Litvinenko’s widow told The Daily Telegraph that she doubted that he’d committed suicide, but there are many signs he may have had motives for taking the easy way out. Not only did he recently lose a lawsuit against Roman Abramovich, where he attempted to fabricate a case against the Russian billionaire, but also the judge called him out on his fabrications in open court by calling him an “unimpressive, deliberately dishonest, inherently unreliable witness who viewed truth as a transitory, flexible concept”. Those words effectively obliterated what was left of his reputation. That and his subsequent rants against the Crown and the UK authorities made him seem a selfish figure convinced of his own righteousness and engaged in a battle against the world.

The suit against Abramovich, seeking 3 billion UK Pounds (141.3 billion Roubles. 4.6 billion USD. 3.6 billion Euros) for damages Berezovsky claimed were owed to him due to “machinations” involving Sibneft, the result of which, he claimed, caused him to be short-changed and cheated, was supposed to infuse his shrinking bank accounts with billions. Instead of refilling his coffers with money gained from Abramovich, the court ordered him to pay Mr Ambramovich more than 53 million USD (1.64 billion Roubles. 41 million Euros. 35 million UK Pounds). Recently, Berezovsky also lost more than 220 million UK Pounds (10.36 billion Roubles. 335 million USD. 258 million Euros) because of his recent divorce from Galina Besharova, the largest divorce payout in UK history, and he may have racked up at least 130 million UK Pounds (6.2 billion Roubles. 198.2 million USD. 152.6 million Euros) in legal bills since 2011.

Lately, Berezovsky began selling his paintings and several properties, pointing to his growing desperation. That and his apology to President Putin and his pleas to be allowed to return home, no doubt untouched, point to a man at the end of his rope (excuse the paronomasia). A short time ago, Berezovsky called for the overthrowing of the Russian government and the Russian President, so it seems rather odd that he’d beg for forgiveness and beg to return home, and it seems extremely generous that the President and the government were so gracious in their treatment of the news of his death. The end of this wanted fugitive, who survived several assassination attempts, no doubt, due to his double-crossing business deals and reputed arrangements with Chechen terrorists, seems a selfish and cowardly way out. Then again, for a man who ran from Russia because of the problems he created for himself, subsequently, who tried to run away from the country which had taken him in due to the same kinds of problems he created in his new homeland, it seems logical. Instead of standing his ground and facing the music, he chose to run to the only place he could, a place where he’d have no escape from justice and will have no one to blame but himself.

00 John Robles. VOR 06.1226 March 2013

John Robles

Voice of Russia World Service


Iranian Atheists: Waiting to Come Out

01 Iranian family


Asked about atheism in Iran, a group of women at the Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran said that they were unfamiliar with the concept. Eventually, an amiable elderly lady in a black headscarf said in a puzzled tone, “Maybe, there are people like that abroad. We wouldn’t know”. There’s no faulting her, given that atheists and agnostics don’t exist in Iran… officially. A 2011 nationwide census put the share of Muslims in the country at 99.4 percent, with Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians making up another 0.2 percent, and the rest… about 300,000 people… fell under the “other” and “unknown” categories. Yet, there were some doubts about the reliability of these statistics, and, certainly, there appear to be Iranians who question God’s existence… although they don’t speak about it openly, for a public coming-out to embrace Christopher Hitchens and his ilk could land them on death row.

Milad, an Iranian IT professional now living in London, said, “There are quite a lot of [Iranian] atheists, including myself to some extent”. Like all people interviewed for this article who acknowledged the existence of non-believers in Iran, he asked to have his name changed, fearing persecution. Milad is right to be cautious, despite residing abroad, because the government isn’t above cracking down on dissenters’ relatives, said Cyrus, also a native Iranian, who works in the American media. Cyrus said that he knows of at least one case where police arrested the Iran-based father of an émigré who ran a pro-atheism group on Facebook, releasing him only after the group was shut down. He gave no details. Nevertheless, arrest can amount to getting off easy, given that punishment for apostasy under Sharia… the prescribed standard for Iranian judges… is death for male apostates and life imprisonment for females.

One problem is that Iranians must spell out their religious affiliation in numerous official documents, such as college applications, relatively early in life. For the majority, that means formally-identifying themselves as Muslim. Once that’s done, there’s no turning back to embrace any other belief system. There have been no executions of atheists reported from Iran in recent years. However, apostasy is often cited among régime opponents’ crimes, lending extra weight to the accusations against them. In a high-profile case in 2002, a court convicted Professor Hashem Aghajari of apostasy just for criticising Iran’s theocracy and gave him a death sentence, later replaced by three years’ imprisonment.

Tempting Fate on Facebook

The administrator of the Iranian Atheists and Humanists group on Facebook (not the one that was shut down) wrote to RIA-Novosti in response to questions last month, “If you try to lie, or don’t say anything about your beliefs, no one will do anything to you”. None of the self-proclaimed Iranian atheists reached by RIA-Novosti agreed to in-person interviews. One of them quipped, “This would make me a very dead Iranian girl”. The administrator of the Facebook group, who wouldn’t even give his/her gender, added, “[But he] who dares, wins, so we’re acting anonymously”. There are several Iranian pro-atheism communities on Facebook, run in either English or Farsi, mostly focused on aggregating pictures poking fun at religious figures (not limited to Islam… for example, the recently-resigned pope also got skewered). The groups have anywhere between 2,000 and 40,000 likes each, although many supporters seem to be foreigners. This form of protest may seem toothless by Western standards, but it amounts to something more daring in the Iranian context. Whilst the apostasy punishments are by far the scariest stick in the government’s arsenal, there are more-mundane reminders of the risks for Internet activists… Iran blocks Facebook and local authorities don’t take kindly to irony; they’ve even banned toys based on Simpsons characters as “Western propaganda”.

Take Off That Scarf

Online dissent may be just the tip of the iceberg, the nameless Facebook administrator said, noting, “We aren’t alone. The population of people who’re atheist is growing”, adding that there are many atheists and agnostics in Iran among well-educated residents of big cities. These middle-class urbanites were the driving force behind the 2009-10 opposition protests in Tehran that, at their peak, brought three million people to the streets of a city with 12 million residents, according to Time magazine’s estimates. The protests… brutally suppressed by the authorities… were aimed against alleged election fraud believed to have robbed a reformist candidate of victory, and were the biggest civil unrest in Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The protests had no outright religious agenda, but they called for more freedom… including personal freedom. In a telling gesture, female protesters removed their headscarves when camping out in Tehran’s city squares… a move that, under normal circumstances, would have likely led to immediate arrest for defying the country’s strict Islamic moral code.

Live and Let Doubt

Although no reliable studies exist, all the Iranians and Iran experts interviewed for this article (those who admitted familiarity with the concept, that is) said that explicit atheism appears to remain a rarity in Iran. Lana Ravandi-Fadai, a researcher in the Iran section of the Moscow-based Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said, “I’ve heard some friends say that they’re atheists or agnostics, but they don’t admit it publicly”. American-based Cyrus shared similar observations, saying that those who admitted atheistic views even in their own social circle could face a judgemental response. Nevertheless, several émigrés and Iran-based atheists said that religious practices have shifted, with more people giving up active worship whilst still embracing Islam as part of their cultural identity. According to London-based Milad, who said that he still keeps in close contact with relatives and friends in Iran, “Many have never even set foot in a mosque despite identifying themselves as Muslims”. Ravandi-Fadai said, “In my personal view, the local mosque often serves social and even psychotherapeutic functions in addition to its spiritual significance. For instance, I know many women who spend their days at the mosque in order to socialise and talk over problems with others”.

Nonetheless, politicians for whom Islam is dogma stir up more public ire than the little-discussed atheists, Cyrus pointed up, and others agreed. Ali, a native Iranian living in Moscow, said, “Some claim there are fewer true believers in Iran now than before the Islamic Revolution. People are put off by being forced to believe”. It seems, judging by a smattering of conversations at least, that ordinary Iranians’ identity-over-ideology approach to Islam leads to a spirit of live-and-let-live when it comes not only to other religions, but also even to the lack of any religion at all. None of the half-dozen religious Iranians interviewed by RIA-Novosti, including two Tehran clerics (they said they were unfamiliar with the concept of atheism), expressed any hostility toward non-believers. Reza, a 30-year-old taxi-driver from the southern city of Bushehr, said, “I’ve never met such people, but I’d just want to speak with them and understand them. I’m really interested in them. I’m not thinking I’m better than them just because of my religion”. He was visiting the Khomeini mausoleum with his wife and toddler son. Reza came to the shrine to “enjoy the calm and peace” (an effect to which his child seemed immune). Later, the family strolled along the enfilade of stores that ring the tomb of Iran’s great religious leader offering snacks, carpets, Parker pens, and other items as appealing to the religious as to atheists, if any happened to pass by.

19 March 2013

Aleksei Yeremenko

Mikhail Gusev



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