День защитника отечества / Defender of the Fatherland Day

Russian language practice from the contemporary Russian media / wreath on Defender of the Fatherland Day

Audio content: People expressing thoughts both patriotic and provocative on the occasion of Defending the Fatherland Day
Visual content: Images of Russian military pomp, political leaders from multiple parties and political regalia

In a week or two I’ll do a post featuring the remarkable marches in honor of Boris Nemtsov that happened last weekend. I’ve found lots of great video on that topic but need a chance to sort through it. Meanwhile, today’s post offers a multifaceted look at the Russian national holiday that was celebrated a week ago. On February 23rd every year Russians observe День защитника отечества / Defender of the Fatherland Day, which is the post-Soviet heir to holidays celebrating the Red Army. The holiday honors all who have served in Russia’s armed forces, but the day is also popularly viewed as a celebration of men in general, as it comes just a couple weeks before Международный женский день / International Women’s Day, marked on March 8th.

On this year’s Defender of the Fatherland Day, a number of interesting intersecting political currents were on display. Not all of them are apparent in this post’s videos, but they provide an interesting backdrop to what you’ll see here. The official state-supported celebration included parades, fireworks, the placing of a wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier, public exhibits of military technology and family events meant to encourage national pride and promote interest in military service. But several notable non-officially-sanctioned events occurred on this day as well. Ilya Yashin, one of the leaders of the opposition party РПР-Парнас (which currently has no representation in the Duma), chose this day to present a report on Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov is the leader of the Chechen republic, an ally of Putin and an outspoken, aggressive enemy of opposition political movements. With the report, titled “Угроза национальной безопасности” / “A Threat to National Security,” Yashin accuses Kadyrov of cultivating a cult of personality, fostering rampant corruption and developing a local security force that operates without federal oversight. Yashin’s presentation at party headquarters was interrupted by bomb threats and the building was vandalized with bright paint.

Kadyrov, meanwhile, also made some notable statements on February 23rd.

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Снос ларьков / Demolition of the Kiosks

Demolition of the Kiosks

Audio content: Multiple pedestrians briefly sharing their opinions on the demolition of Moscow kiosks.
Visual content: The demolition site and ongoing demolition work outside Metro Sokol

Link to video at Телеканал Дождь
(the video is currently accessible to non-subscribers)

One of the most-discussed events of the last week in Moscow was the “removal of the kiosks.” Small semi-permanent retail structures — tent markets, kiosks and small buildings — had been a fixture in the city since the 1990s. They were common around metro stations and other public transportation stops and sold newspapers, flowers, drinks and food, etc. The city administration had declared many of them “незаконные постройки” / “illegal structures” or “самострой” / “self-building” because they had never been properly permitted. City leaders expressed concern that these structures were hazardous, blocked access to public spaces, interfered with maintenance of city infrastructure and disfigured the city.  On the night of February 8th, about 100 of them were demolished in a coordinated action. (Apparently the owners of these retail spaces had been notified that their structures were considered illegal and needed to be dismantled, but the sudden nighttime bulldozing was a surprise.) In the video featured here, various pedestrians share their opinion on the event. The site is the metro station “Sokol” in the northwestern part of Moscow.

Russian Life published a blog post on this topic, from a very critical perspective.
Gazeta.ru has a great photo gallery with aerial perspectives that give an idea of the spaces involved.

Заметки о языке: Some common names for these small retail spaces are “ларёк” / “kiosk”, “торговая палатка” / “trading stall” or “торговый павильон” / “trading pavilion.” The verb used to describe the removal of these spaces is “сносить” / “remove, carry away,” a good transitive verb of motion, with the “с-” prefix indicating a movement down and away. The speakers express their opinions with the verbs “считать” / “to have an opinion” and “относиться” /” to relate to.” The full construction for the latter verb is “относиться к чему? как?” / “to relate to something in a certain way,” but, as is often the case in Russian, something that can be assumed from context is often omitted, so speakers say “я отношусь плохо” rather than “я отношусь к сносу ларьков плохо.”

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Click on the link to view the video in another window, follow along with the text below, and scroll down for the English translation.

Link to video at Телеканал Дождь
(the video is currently accessible to non-subscribers)

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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.

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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

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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.

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