Note to subscribers and visitors

Dear subscribers and visitors:

I was dismayed to realize that the video of the mortgage borrowers (the post from two weeks ago) was behind a paywall at телеканал Дождь. I’ve contacted them to try to work something out for the future. I would post the video files directly on my page, but I want to respect their copyright. Unlike Первый канал, Дождь doesn’t offer the option to embed their videos on my page. In the meantime, you can get ten days of free access if you click on the button “Бесплатно на 10 дней.” Or you could subscribe — it’s only about $6.00 / month, and they could use the support!

Ипотечники штурмуют банки / Mortgage Borrowers Storm the Banks

Russian language practice from the contemporary Russian media - mortgage borrowers

Audio content: Borrowers describe their difficult situations and engage in some fiery arguments with bankers.
Visual content: Upset borrowers, gathered outside banks and restaurants, with protest signs.

Link to video at телеканал Дождь

A few weeks ago I featured the protests of the truck drivers. Now we look at the protests of mortgage borrowers, one of the leading topics in last week’s news. The borrowers who have been storming the banks recently belong to a specific, relatively small and unfortunate category, the “валютные ипотечники,” i.e., those who took out a mortgage denominated in foreign currency, usually in dollars. The value of the ruble with respect to the dollar has plummeted in recent years, moving from about 32 rubles to the dollar in 2012-2013 to around 78 rubles per dollar today. (This sharp change, beginning in late 2014, was driven by factors such as the sanctions imposed upon Russia in the wake of the annexation of Crimea and the sharp fall in the price of oil worldwide.) Since most of these borrowers receive their salaries in rubles, the amount of money that they owe has in effect almost doubled and they can no longer keep up with payments. They are asking banks to restructure their loans by converting them to rubles at a more favorable rate, one closer to 40 rubles per dollar rather than today’s 78. Bankers — and, for the time being, Putin’s press secretary Dmitri Peskov — are reluctant to offer any blanket remedies. They suggest that the borrowers need to accept responsibility for the risky financial decisions they made. Some borrowers claim that the banks pressured them into accepting foreign-denominated loans for technical reasons related to the different interest rates charged for loans in different currencies. Banks have been contacting borrowers individually to make arrangements (or threats), but during the last week borrowers came together and occupied the lobbies of numerous different banks in Moscow and other Russian cities, demanding to speak to the management and receive a workable solution to their problem.

In the videos below we’ll hear from both the borrowers and the bankers. The tone of the segment grows progressively more passionate, moving from the matter-of-fact comments of the first featured speaker to a heated confrontation between a banker and several borrowers at the end of the segment.

Read more…

Крымчане готовы терпеть перебои с электричеством / Crimeans Will Put Up with Power Outages

Audio content: Residents of Crimea commenting on the energy dispute with Ukraine, plus a particularly defiant statement from the leader of Crimea.
Visual content: Images from the streets of Crimea including New Year’s decorations, images of fallen electrical towers, maps of the current power supply routes.

Video from Первый канал
1 January 2016

Residents of Crimea and Sevastopol have been struggling with an uneven power supply since late November. The troubles started when activists opposed to Russia’s annexation of Crimea blew up one of the main transmission towers that carried the power cables from Ukraine south into Crimea. The connection was partially restored in early December, then once again disrupted later that month when the electrical poles were vandalized. Russia did what it could to support the newly annexed territory, sending generators and bringing in a power line from the east, across the narrow Kerch Strait (Керченский пролив) that separates southern Russia from Crimea. The news segment claims that these measures have reduced power outages to a few hours a day at the most.

The latest twist in this saga arises from the fact that the power contract between Ukraine and Crimea ran out at the end of 2015. Ukraine offered to sign a new contract (and presumably restore the downed transmission towers), but only on one condition, one that it must have assumed Russia would reject: the contract was to include a statement that power was being supplied to Crimea as a Ukrainian territory. The Russian government then asked the main Russian polling agency, ВЦИОМ, to survey Crimean residents on this topic. Poll results indicated that 93.12% of respondents preferred to reject any contract that contained the controversial provision, and 94% were ready to tolerate occasional disruptions in the power supply in the event that no contract could be concluded with Ukraine. (Some independent news agencies questioned the specific methods of this poll, but pro-Russian sentiment is strong in Crimea.)

Reports from Первый канал / Channel One generally present the Russian government’s preferred interpretation of and attitude toward current events. Thus in this clip we see

Read more…

Алексей Навальный на митинге / Aleksei Navalny at an Opposition Rally

Russian language practice from the contemporary Russian media - Navalny at rally in Marino

Audio content: A rousing political speech by leading opposition figure Aleksei Navalny
Visual content: Navalny speaking on stage

Video at tvrain.ru
20 September 2015

Aleksei Navalny has been in the news again lately as his organization Anti-Corruption Foundation / Фонд борьбы с коррупцией has been aggressively targeting Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika / генеральный прокурор Юрий Чайка. The Foundation recently produced a film charging that Chaika’s sons have ties with violent criminal organizations in the Krasnodar region, and the resulting scandal has garnered considerable attention. This is just the latest campaign by Navalny, who has a long history as an anti-corruption activist and opposition politician. It’s difficult to sum up Navalny’s activity in just a few sentences. He is best known for founding the above-mentioned website and non-profit foundation that seeks to expose corruption in Russian business and government. He has also run for office – in 2013 he received 27 percent of the vote in an election for mayor of Moscow, which is a much higher percentage than is usually received by politicians not affiliated with the dominant United Russia / Единая Россия party.

Navalny has also been the defendant in more than one criminal case. In late 2013 he was convicted of having embezzled funds from a state firm during his time as advisor to the governor of the Kirov region, and received a five-year prison term that was soon commuted to a probationary sentence. He is also currently under investigation for fraud committed against the Russian branch of the cosmetics firm Yves Rocher, and his brother Oleg is in prison for convictions related to this case. Most human rights organizations view these charges as unfounded and conclude that the criminal prosecutions of the Navalny family are part of an effort to suppress political dissent in Russia. As a convicted criminal, Navalny is now legally prohibited from running for office in Russia, but he continues to organize and speak at opposition political rallies. Although he is one of the most well-known and popular opposition figures, his support among opponents of Putin is of course not universal. He has been criticized for nationalist views.

Today’s video gives you a taste of Navalny’s persona and political convictions.

Read more…

Акция дальнобойщиков / The Truck Drivers Protest

Russian language practice from the contemporary Russian media - truck drivers outside Moscow

Audio content: A truck driver discussing his discontent with the new tax system.
Visual content: Two Russian truck drivers.

Video at tvrain.ru
4 December 2015

In November 2015 the Russian government instituted a new tax on truck drivers, who are popularly known as “дальнобойщики” (“даль” means “distance” and “бой” means “fight” or “battle.”) Under this system, known as “Платон” / “Platon,” drivers will pay 1.5 rubles per kilometer driven, with the amount rising to 3 rubles per kilometer in March 2016. Drivers are required to install a special mechanism in their trucks to track accrued tax. The money collected is supposed to be used to repair the damage that large trucks inflict on Russian roads. A private company partially owned by Игорь Ротенберг / Igor Rotenberg has been given a concession to operate the Platon system. Igor is the son of Arkady Rotenberg, a billionaire Russian businessman and sports trainer who made his fortune supplying equipment to oil and gas companies. This circumstance has given rise to the suspicion that “Platon” will just end up enriching the elite at the expense of working people. Truck drivers across Russia have been demonstrating against “Platon” since November, organizing protest gatherings, strikes and traffic blockages. The government so far has not backed down from its plans, but the fine for noncompliance was reduced from about 500,000 to 5,000 rubles. This move did not satisfy the truck drivers. A highlight of their protest activity was to be a blockage of the МКАД, the major ring road around the outskirts of Moscow, in the early days of December. There are conflicting reports about the degree to which the drivers actually managed to disrupt traffic. In fact the truck drivers’ unrest has been barely mentioned on the federal television channels. The above video, from the opposition channel TV Rain, was filmed in the hours before the planned action; it features a particularly committed member of the protest movement who explains his distrust of the Platon system and increasingly suggests that frustrated people might be ready to act out against a whole range of problems in Russian society. (It should be noted, however, that opinion polls indicate that a large majority of Russians continue to support the current Russian leadership.) The speaker uses a few folksy, expressive phrases, explain in asterisked notes below.

Subscribe using the form in the sidebar–you’ll be notified every time a new post appears!


 

0:00-2:55

Журналист: Поговорим с некоторыми участниками акции. Здравствуйте, коллеги. Как у вас настроение? Что вы собираетесь в ближайшее время делать?

Read more…

Теракт в Париже / The Terror Attack in Paris

Russian language practice from the contemporary Russian media - mourners at Moscow's French embassy

Audio content: Moscow residents expressing their reactions to the November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris.
Visual content: The French embassy; the informal memorial created by Moscow residents.

Video at tvrain.ru
14 November 2015

As I promised in the last entry, here are some Russian reactions to the mid-November terrorist attacks in Paris. Just as we saw in the previous video, a common Russian response to public tragedy is to bring flowers to a meaningful site. Here the informal memorial has been set up in front of the French embassy. Some particularly interesting comments–both fatalistic and resolute–come at the end, so those are the moments I have transcribed below.


 

0:00-0:25

Мужчина: Скажи всё-таки, почему вы сегодня сюда пришли?
Молодой человек: Чтобы выразить соболезнования гражданам Франции. Это большая утрата для нас. Мы солидарны с ними.
Журналист: У вас был кто-то там, знакомые?
Мужчина: Нет.

Read more…