Category Archives: News

Neighbourhood Cam: Sunday Sunset

There’s little better than to spend a Sunday afternoon in a company of good friends. Years ago I wondered what to do to ensure I spend such lovely time with people whose company I treasure. It took me a decade to find such people but now I’m very happy to have them. So, this Sunday sunset is peaceful and fills my heart with joy.

My school year has finally ended, the A-Levels are done with, and my students are looking forward to their results – and their new adult life. I wish them every happiness on their way.

These days in Russia we recall the 1980 Olympics. I’m doing two voiceover projects, in one of them I’m also a translator, and my text will apparently be used by the German team to produce a German version of an educational course. The French voiceover project involves me as an editor and a voiceover artist; this is a Psychology course for those who wish to overcome stress.

I’ve got enough time now to finish my editorial work, to develop my Yandex.Zen channel, and to do a couple of translation projects. I’ll probably finish a couple of knitting projects, too.

And to share the glimpses of my Moscow life with you, I’ve started the rubric Neighbourhood Cam. My Instagram account is also dedicated to the photos of the place where I was born and currently live. To begin with, here’s today’s Sunday sunset.

Also, if there’s something you want to learn about life in Russia, or Moscow in particular, feel free to ask!

More posts in Neighbourhood Cam.

Quarantine Shuts Moscow Down

As of March 30th nobody can leave the house in Moscow, unless a matter of urgency. Quarantine shuts Moscow down. Dental services have stopped working for a week, just as shopping malls, entertainment centres, cultural places and restaurants and cafés of sorts. People are advised not to walk in parks, therefore all major parks have been shut down. Only shops, pet shops, pharmacies, clinics, and municipal and state services remain operational.

Needless to say, this will cause a lot of damage to businesses; however, it will also reveal just to what extent these businesses are responsible and ethical. It’s one thing to report the growing profits but a totally different thing to consider the liabilities and a force major. It’s one thing to boast a team of people and another thing to avoid lay-offs at the time of an economic crisis. Quarantine shuts Moscow down for us to reassess our ways in life and business.

The future will show what Russian businesses can withstand this frightening check on their skills. In the meantime, we’re all bracing up to a week off work… that may be extended, for all we know. I went shopping yesterday, so I’m going to stay at home mainly, except for short voyages to walk my dogs.

More posts in #safeathomeinrussia

Megxit, or Coat-hangers and Coat-bearers

Being a trained specialist in English history, I cannot avoid commenting on the recent scandal in the British Royal Family, poignantly called Megxit by the media. Harry and Meghan walked out on the British royal family. I didn’t want to engage in the hysteria of Harry’s exiting the family when the news had just broken out. I now feel I can share my view of the situation.

Personally, I don’t sympathise with either Harry or Meghan. Even Kate Middleton didn’t instantly become the nation’s favourite, and she’d been in the public eye for much longer before her marriage than Meghan. Never mind the latter’s cinema career, I suppose few people had heard of her before she got engaged to Prince Harry. So, I cannot see why the public wouldn’t judge Meghan where it had previously judged Kate. The British mouth can blurt out some scathing criticism. This had to be foreseen, obviously, and not just by the PR services but by Harry and Meghan themselves.

So, I feel for Meghan for any misery she endured at the royal court but it was in the cards anyway. The monarchy has to maintain its public image, and it costs a lot – financially, as emotionally. If she thought that the BRF is no Hollywood and she could be herself here, it was a very silly thought indeed. I’ve never been to either place but it seems no Hollywood may be as restricting and false (to someone’s liking anyway), as a royal family of any country.

Coat-hangers and coat-bearers of the British monarchy (Image courtery: Telegraph.co.uk)

To portray Harry as a poor guy torn between the beloved Granny, the native country and the wife-and-child is also to do him no justice. He’s not a teen nor even a young adult. He’s the sixth in line to the throne, and even if he was unlikely to get there ever in his life it doesn’t change the main thing: he represents the British monarchy. I cannot imagine what it was that eventually prompted him to break the news on Instagram of all places, but it is clear that this was a thoughtful decision, not a fly of fancy. Of course, he’s got a historical precedent in the face of Edward VIII. However, there isn’t as much pressure on Prince Harry, for he simply decided to get rid of royal responsibilities that demanded the presence of his wife. It is in no way critical as King Edward’s abdication in the wake of the Second World war.

Following the Megxit has led me to this observation. When it comes to joining a high-profile family, women apparently fall into 2 categories: coat-hangers and coat-bearers. Coat-hangers dream of nice clothes, family jewellery, publicity and other perks of an aristocratic dolce vita. So duties and not-always-nice-comments come as a surprise. Coat-bearers are more grounded. Being women, they certainly dream of the above, but they realise that to be a wife to a president, a king, a prince etc. means to carry the coat-of-arms of his country and his family.

Speaking of royal couples, the Spanish Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia have long been my favourite Royal family, for they both had successful public careers before getting married and ascending the throne. Princess Letizia reported from war zones and was an established professional in her own right. The image of a “normal” family that Prince William and his wife have adopted has made them popular but I cannot see them projecting the country to any new heights. They were so “normal” that they left practically no mark on this world prior to their marriage. Perhaps, the forward movement is no longer important after Brexit.

Having said that, Kate Middleton is certainly a coat-bearer. And there’s a good reason why she also is. She’s British. Whether she’s always dreamt of joining the Royal family or it happened by chance, she’s aware that she represents the country – hers, as her husband’s. You may remind me of members of other European royalty and aristocracy whose wives or husbands are foreigners (the Netherlands and Monaco come to my mind). What we still see is that a spouse becomes a full member of the royal household, complete with all duties this entails.

In case with Meghan Markle, she comes from the country that abandoned monarchy from the very beginning of its political life. America has been the country of the people – at least, nominally. When you elect and re-elect presidents, it’s hard to force yourself to be a part of the family where you will have to work like a queen but never get the chance to sit on the throne. British Royal family is very undemocratic and has evidently made some impossible demands on the good, young American.

So, Meghan is a coat-bearer, too – but of her own country and interests. It’s hard to say whether her attempt at bearing the arms of Britain and the Windsor family was good enough or it was doomed from the start. Yet even  her appearances as a coat-hanger didn’t always impress the media. Her being a brunette meant constant comparisons to Kate. Since William is more likely to get the throne than Harry, it’s more important for the media to keep Kate in the spotlight, than to let Meghan have her share thereof.

The result is that Prince Harry chose to altogether abandon the Royal family instead of withdrawing from the public eye for some time and helping Meghan to come to terms with her duties and a new lifestyle. Perhaps, Meghan decided that being married to a Prince is quite enough for her. And Prince Harry whose past behaviour occasionally outraged the public apparently thought that he could finally live his life on his own terms. Whatever the reports say, he’s always been the younger brother: always second, always in the shadow. Now he’s got the spotlight, and it remains to be seen what use Harry and Meghan will make of it.

Julia Shuvalova

Image is courtesy of The Daily Telegraph.

Belated Snowfall

A late January snowfall in Moscow

There’s a chance that Moscow people will enjoy some proper winter weather soon. The first sign is the snow which is well overdue but is nonetheless welcome. I may try to be funny and say that Britain with the Brexit has waved goodbye to Europe and various European organisations, like PAEC, by sending a heatwave that saw the warmest December and January in all Russian history. But no, things are getting back to normal here, while we’re yet to see what lies ahead for Great Britain.

Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) Is Under Threat of Closure

Like many other Mancunians, I have been unpleasantly surprised to hear the latest news.

The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester’s Castlefield may be closed.

SIGN THE PETITION TO PROTECT THE MOSI!

As it happens in England, the North-South struggle is on again. The closure may come as a way to keep London-based Science Museum open, Manchester Evening News reports. The National Science Group is said to be considering plans to cut funding to Manchester-based venue. BBC has more details.

The MOSI grew out of the old Science Museum and the Manchester Air and Space Museum, both were merged in 1986. The MOSI encompasses several buildings, including the 1830 Warehouse, where a part of exposition was dedicated to the Irish migration to Manchester during 19th c. I went to the museum many times, and it was often used as a venue for various events. In 2005 I was there with a BBC Bus and my old friend Paul as a story gatherer on People’s War campaign for the Beeb, in 2006 I went there for the opening of my first FutureSonic festival, and the first Social Technologies Summit, along with a few exhibitions, took place at the mentioned Warehouse. I did interviews with the artists there, and at one time a gallery assistant suggested us to use a baby changing room that was a part of a female toilet, although I was going to talk to a man. The last memorable exhibition I went to was The Body Worlds by the German Professor Gunther von Hagens. I could not make it to The Da Vinci Genius exhibition, but it was very actively prepared and promoted with the help of Social Media and Networks. On top of it all, this is a good place to practise photography 😉

The figures have it that the MOSI is visited by 830,000 people annually, which is no small number, considering that the majority of overseas tourists still gear towards London. One of my friends also mentioned on Facebook that her friend regularly brings school children from France to visit Manchester and always takes them to the MOSI. The museum is conveniently located towards the edge of the city centre, with a free shuttle bus going past it every 10 mins. Among the closests attractions are the Granada TV Studios, the Roman fort, the Beetham Tower and G-Mex, and the “Deansgate Mile”, as well as the fashionable Spinningfields area with the Guardian offices on Deansgate side and the People’s History Museum on the River Irwell’s bank in Bridge St. Oh, and don’t forget the Opera House in Quay St. St. John’s Garden is practically opposite the museum’s main entrance, having previously belonged to the church built by the Byrom family whose will ensured that the land was never to be built upon.

I don’t even begin to mention the amount of cafes, restaurants and pubs around the area. Suffices to say, there are plenty of things to do, prior or after visiting the MOSI. It has long been one of the main Manchester attractions that did not struggle to attract both adults and children. The story of Manchester scientific and industrial leap in the 18-19th cc. is mesmerising, but there is more we need to consider, than justs costs of running such museum.

Because I fear this is not the only victim of the funding cuts up North. For a literary piece that was loosely inspired by my visit to Heaton Hall and Park in spring 2009 I needed to pay another visit to the place. So when I went there this May I found that the Hall was not just closed for winter – it was entirely shut down. “Closed for the public” is not just the splendid mansion where restoration works helped to restore some of its bygone splendour. “Closed” are a floor-to-ceiling organ by Samuel Green from 1789, the only remaining set of paintings by the Polish architect Michael Novosielski (1750-1795), when he was yet a painter, a set of furniture by Gillows of Lancaster, and a magnificent suite of furniture that previously belonged to the Duke of Wellington who used to visit Heaton Hall and was very fond of its housemistress, Lady Wilton.

This is more than just an old building closing its doors – this is a whole part of history of the English North West, a resource that sheds tons of light on the tastes and habits of its people. Quite important is the fact that the Hall is a part of Europe’s largest municipal park and easy to visit: the metrolink tram station is exactly opposite the park entrance, and so are the bus stops to and from Bury. I did not investigate the reasons why the Hall was closed, but I would not be surprised if it was also due to “funding cuts”.

The MOSI is not in Prestwich, which may only be known in London if you are Jewish. It is in Manchester’s city centre and, as we saw above, attracts many foreign visitors, including children. As much as I love Arts and am not quite a techie person, I would be unconsolable if we lost the opportunity to study the technical and scientific progress of our nation close to our home. The MOSI surely provides this opportunity for the entire North of England, and this is what the London bosses might be trying to tap into. Perhaps, they think that, if the MOSI is closed down and its collection is moved down south, then people from Scotland and the North of England come to London more often. Of course, I assume that Manchester collection would not just be abandoned or sold by piece. But… it’s silly to think that this would increase a visitor flow to London museums. The costs of going and staying in the capital at the time of severe economic downturn are not going to be taken up by many, if any, Northern families.

And at the same time closing one of prominent Northern museums would severely impact the educational prospects. As a venue and a cradle of information and objects that can inspire future engineers and inventors, the MOSI is indispensable. With less things to learn and do, children are more likely to spend time in the streets, getting involved in gangs, drug abuse, and “anti-social behaviour” of all kinds. Instead of a Northern Rutherford or its female “version” we will get yet another drugged Salford guy with a pregnant teenage girlfriend, applying for benefits and living in a run-down council flat that can be taken away from them at any moment. And when this happens we as the society will shake our heads and wonder, at exactly what point the former glory of Britain went to the dogs.

Finishing now, I do not want this piece to come across as yet another helpless outcry. I think we should consider what measures we can take to save the MOSI. I am sure there are many people throughout Manchester who would gladly volunteer to help at the museum, if it struggles to maintain the staff. And if this means bringing the payment back for the time being, then why not? Just make sure it goes to the MOSI coffers, not elsewhere. I think of it this way: if it costs 4 quid to buy a bus ticket that is valid all day, then how much more can you afford to pay on top of that for a single museum visit that can last all day? And there may also be a family ticket, and an option for a child up to a certain age to go in for free, and maybe even a “frequent visitor ticket” or a “weekend visitor ticket”. It’s not something that we’d like to do, of course. However, I have come to believe that, whatever alleviations the government of any country is prepared to give to its citizens, people must not stop helping themselves, including financial help, be that for art venues, civil initiatives, or something else that directly affects their lives.

In the meantime, SIGN THE PETITION TO PROTECT THE MOSI!

To finish off, here are some of the photos I took between 2007 and 2010 related to the MOSI and the surrounding area.

MOSI - Transport then and now
MOSI – Transport then and now

 

MOSI in the Streets
MOSI in the street

 

Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester
Entrance to the MOSI

 

Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester
Another view of the MOSI entrance

Le Sacre Du Printemps By Igor Stravinsky Celebrates 100th Anniversary

The legend has it that Igor Stravinsky received an idea for his famous ballet in his sleep. Whether or not this is true, the potency of his imagination and the ability to bring it to the material world of music and dance has never ceased to astonish the audience. It could be a huge disappointment, like that at the ballet’s first night in Paris on May 29, 1913 – or it could be a genuine amazement that subsequently engulfed the public. So much did it amaze people that a street in Montreuil where Stravinsky lived and composed Le Sacre du Printemps was renamed after the ballet. There is no Romeo and Juliet Street anywhere, is there?

Nicholai Roerich, The Rite of Spring (Wikimedia Commons)

This was probably the peak of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes time in Paris. Despite the public reaction, Dyaghilev himself was convinced that in reality the spectators had already understood the cultural value of the ballet, and time would let them acknowledge it fully. As it happens, he was correct although the immediate impact was far from favourable, including Nizhinsky’s breakdown.

Stravinsky co-wrote the libretto with one of the most original artists of the period, Nicholai Roerich, who also created stage decorations and costumes for the ballet. Today the sketches and costumes are exhibited at theatre museums.

The ballet’s 100th anniversary is celebrated worldwide today, with the autograph of the first page of the score being shared on the Internet. An excellent article in The Guardian by George Benjamin studies the intricancies of the score and how they reflected the great age of scientific, industrial, and cultural advances, about to collapse in the fire of the World War One.

The Riotous Premiere is fully dedicated to the Parisian first night, while also allowing to explore the score in depth. However, the growing popularity and the number of renditions somewhat justify the fear of The Guardian’s author that the performance that used to be a Titanic labour even to Stravinsky is now becoming more and more accessible and routine.

Perhaps, not everything is lost for the ballet itself: Sasha Waltz, a renowned German choreographer whose exploits also rage the public from time to time staged the anniversary performance at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, on air today at TV Kultura channel in Russia. Waltz’s version is characterised by almost unstoppable movement, without well-known classical pas, and the music is punctuated by the moments of silence, as if to better expose the beauty of this fantastic score. Waltz withstood a temptation to undress her dancers; instead she covered the stage with soil, to better reflect the dynamics of the Russian pagan dances. In her own words, Waltz had to search for suitable images to reflect the impetuous music that changes its rhythm, colour, and quality all the time. “For me this was a challenge“, she explained.

The orchestra at tonight’s Russian premiere is led by Valery Gergiev.

Igor Stravinsky, An Autograph of the First Page of the Score
to The Rite of Spring (courtesy of the Paul Sacher Stiftung
via Igor Stravinsky Facebook Page)

 

 

Democracy In Iceland: How To Make the Best Of an Economic Crisis

I translated the text below from Russian for two reasons. One, it would be really great if more countries followed in the footsteps of Iceland. Nevermind loans and debts, this is the great example of democratic government, by people and for the people, and this is something that must be known, discussed and – hopefully – studied and used. 

Secondly, as I was reading the story I kept going back to Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Writing his book so that the French could figure out how to create a democracy in their country, this royalist descendant who foresaw the inevitable arrival of democracy also mentioned one curious thing: that for a country to successfully implement a democratic regime, it must either be very small or very young. In his time, the first half of 19th c., only two countries satisfied the criteria: Switzerland in Europe, and the United States, the former being small, the latter young. In case with Iceland, the size and language are likely to cement the achievement. Reading the comments Russian people make in social media, I wonder if anything like this may ever be possible here because the common memory seems to run very deep, and these undercurrents are unlikely to be abandoned any time soon. Even before one considers the size of Russia one has to admit that the country would quite likely take all historical and emotional baggage into the new era and to continue “harking back” to the times immemorial because all of them constitute an important part of the national “fabric”. This is not to say that Russia cannot be democratic, but it will be a new, Russian kind of democracy.

And at the same time the example of Iceland can be used for personal study, how to use the critical situation to adhere to and to advance your own interests. As it often happens, life gets in the way, and we try to get on with life, abandoning or indefinitely postponing the realisation of our goals. Iceland teaches us how we can take matters in our hands and to carry on with our course, no matter what life events get in the way. 

Translated by Julia Shuvalova. Original Russian text. An article in Komsomolskaya Pravda about the events.

Have you heard of what happened in Iceland on October 20, 2012? Probably not. You know, why? Because on October 20 Iceland has survived a revolution – absolutely peaceful but a revolution nonetheless. It showed at once how “dangerous” it is when “democratic procedures”, of which the liberals talk so much, are controlled by the majority and not by the minority, as usual. This is precisely the reason why the world media keep mum about the demonstrative example of Iceland, all but concealing it. For it is the last thing that the powers that be of this world would want to happen – that Iceland could really lead other countries. However, let’s take it steady.

On October 20, 2012 a referendum took place in Iceland approving of the new Constitution. This referendum struck the final note in the battle the Icelandic people have fought since 2008 when they suddenly found out that, due to the financial crisis, their country (which is not a member of the EU, as a matter of fact) literally became bankrupt.

The news was sudden because it came after the five years of flourishing, sustained by the “most effective” neoliberal economy based on privatisation of all banks in the country (in 2003). To attract foreign investments, the banks extensively used online banking system that provides fairly high profits against the minimal spend.

Indeed, the Icelandic banks attracted funds from many small British and Dutch investors, everything was grand, and, as far as neoliberals were concerned, the economy was in a great state. All was good, except for one thing: the more investments were attracted, the quicker grew the external debt of the banks. Whereas in 2003 this debt made 200% of GNP, by 2007 it was 900%. The global financial crisis of 2008 dealt the death blow to Iceland’s economy. Three leading banks – Landbanki, Kapthing, and Glitnir – went bankrupt and were nationalised, while the krona lost 85% of its value against the euro. At the end of the year Iceland announced bankruptcy.

Now it is time to remember that Iceland is a democratic country. At first the citizens decided to rely on the “usual” representative democracy. Several months after the banks’ collapse the Icelanders took to the streets, protesting against the bankers, responsible for the crisis, and the ignorant politicians who allowed the crisis to develop. The protests and public unrest eventually forced the Government to resign.

The new elections took place in April 2009, and the coalition of left forces came to power. On the one hand, it instantly denounced the neoliberal economy, but, on the other hand, the new government quickly gave in to the demands of the World Bank and the members of the EU to pay the banks’ debts – altogether, 3,5bln euro. This meant that every citizen in Iceland would have to pay 100 euro monthly for the next 15 years, in order to repay the debts of private persons (the bank owners) to other private persons.

This was too much even for the phlegmatic Icelanders and has led to a rather extraordinary course of events. The idea to pay for the mistakes of private financiers, that the entire country must be subjected to a toll to repay the private debts, was so unacceptable that a new wave of mass protests ensued. These practically forced the government to side with the majority of people. As a result, the President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson refused to ratify the law, already passed through the Parliament, that would make the citizens responsible for the bankers’ debts, and called a referendum.

Next followed the reaction of the “international community”, rather characteristic of the “free world”: Iceland was put under the unprecedented pressure. Great Britain and Holland threatened to impose severe economic sanctions, up to a complete isolation of Iceland, if the debts are not repaid. The World Monetary Fund threatened to withdraw any help. The British government threatened to freeze the savings and current accounts of Icelandic citizens. But Iceland stood firm, while the President Grimsson remarked: “We were told that, if we did not accept the conditions of the global community, we would become the Northern Cuba. Yet if we did accept them, we’d become the Northern Haiti”.

The referendum took place in March 2010. 93% of Icelanders decided not to repay the debts to the foreign creditors – Britain and Holland. The World Monetary Fund immediately freeze all credits. But nothing could any longer stop the Icelanders. With popular support the government initiated civil and criminal investigations against the individuals responsible for the financial crisis. Interpol gave an arrest order against the ex-President of Kaupthing Bank, Sigurd Einarsson, while other bankers, involved in bringing the country to bankruptcy, fled Iceland.

Yet even this was not the end. The Icelanders decided to create a new Constitution that would liberate the country from the power of global finance and virtual money. At the same time, the Icelanders wanted to write the Constitution themselves, as one nation. And they succeeded! The project of the Constitution was written by 950 ordinary citizens, randomly selected (as in a lottery) by the members of the National Assemble in 2010.

To complete the Constitution, the people of Iceland elected a Constitutional Council consisting of 25 people. Fishermen, farmers, doctors, and even housewives were elected from 522 adult citizens who did not belong to any political party and who was each recommended by at least 30 people.

As a Russian journalist wrote in his article (the name of the article referring to the famous quote from Lenin, that “every cooker can sit in the government”), “let us underline specifically that nobody in Iceland resented the fact that they could not read through all 522 bios and political platforms, let alone to find their way in the bulletin that contained the names of so many people”.

Next, the citizens began to polish the text of the Constitution. Let us cite the same Russian journalist: “After this the Council used the system of crowd-sourcing and provided access to its work for everybody. The citizens’ feedback was collected on Facebook, Twitter, and even YouTube. Altogether 3600 comments and 370 amendments were made. Every week the Council published online the new articles, to be discussed by people. Two or three weeks later, having considered all suggestions from the citizens and experts, the Council published a final draft of the articles that could then be discussed for one last time. Apart from this, the members of the Council recorded weekly bulletins about their work and uploaded them to YouTube, and the Council meetings could be watched online in real time. In the end, all 25 members voted to end the work on the Constitution. “We, the people of Iceland, want to create a fair society where each of us will have an equal place at the common table”, – such is the opening paragraph of the Constitution”.

In their comments the members of the Constitutional Council admit that in other languages this phrase sounds rough, but, in their opinion, the idea is clear to all Icelanders and better than any other reflects the aspiration to create equal opportunities for everyone. According to the Constitution, the natural resources of the island are declared the public property. Of a particular interest is the article “Open information and fairness” that obliges the government to provide a public access to all of its documents, unless they constitute the state secret. The Constitution also calls the government to work for the benefit of the Earth and biosphere, and not people alone. A separate article supports the animal rights. This innovative document incorporates a rather archaic article, omitted from the majority of European constitutions: according to it, the Evangelical-Lutheran church of Iceland retains its national status.

One important point should be noted, as it influenced the course of events. The Constitutional Council turned to be, as it were, “Eurosocialist” – not so much because the majority of Icelanders adhere to the leftist program, but because of the short-sighted and downright silly attitude of the Icelandic right forces. Previously in power, The Progressive Party and The Party of Independence appealed to their members to boycott the elections to the Council and subsequent work on the Constitution, which appeal the members followed. As a result, the right forces and the conservatives were in the minority.

Thus, due to the joint influence of both objective and subjective factors, the majority suddenly held all the trumps in their hands. They were the majority in the Constitutional Council, in the committee that developed the Constitution, and then at the referendum. The result “exceeded all expectations” to such extent that for a long time now the world media keep eloquent silence about the results of the referendum on October 23, when the Constitution was approved by 80% of Icelanders, with 66% turnout.

So, you got it? As soon as the majority was allowed to develop and vote for the Constitution, then privatisation as a panacea to all economic maladies was “swapped” for nationalisation, the state secret became the common knowledge, and instead of the strictly representative democracy the elements of true democracy have emerged.

God forbid, think the neoliberal governments throughout the world, the example of Iceland is followed elsewhere. Today the same solutions are offered to other countries. Greece is told that privatisation of the public sector is the only solution. The same is told to Spain, Italy, and Portugal. But what if they followed the example of Iceland? What a horrible thought to entertain…

Yet this can happen. Many Russian tourists who constantly suffer through the endlessly striking “European PIGS” (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain) note that many manifestation banners mention Iceland. But none of this is mentioned in the news. The main focus is on what conditions these “pigs” consent to a gracious offer of a loan to repay the debts of bankrupt private banks.

This is why you never knew about the Icelandic referendum. The world media pretend that nothing happened. For the media, just like governments and parliaments, also represent the interests of the ruling classes who do not want the majority of citizens to have a say in the government matters.

But for all those who support the majority and who are not indifferent to the true democracy, the story of Iceland is a lesson. It is a lesson in an organised majority, in direct democracy, in the real exercise of the rights of the majority, in popular legislation and self-government. It is the lesson in all the things that make any democracy possible in the first place.

Important update:

I have just found an article submitted to Reddit and published on March 30, 2013 by Torvaldur Gylfason. It reads:

In sum, it was clear that in a secret ballot the constitutional bill would never have had a chance of being adopted by parliament, not even after the national referendum on the bill on 20 October 2012 where 67% of the electorate expressed their support for the bill as well as for its main individual provisions, including national ownership of natural resources (83% said Yes), direct democracy (73% said Yes), and ‘one person, one vote’ (67% said Yes). But the parliament does not vote in secret. In fact, 32 out of 63 members of parliament were induced by an e-mail campaign organized by ordinary citizens to declare that they supported the bill and wanted to adopt it now. Despite these public declarations, however, the bill was not brought to a vote in the parliament, a heinous betrayal – and probably also an illegal act committed with impunity by the president of the parliament. Rather, the parliament decided to disrespect its own publicly declared will as well as the popular will as expressed in the national referendum by putting the bill on ice and, to add insult to injury, hastily requiring 2/3 of parliament plus 40% of the popular vote to approve any change in the constitution in the next parliament, meaning that at least 80% voter turnout would be required for a constitutional reform to be accepted in the next session of parliament. The politicians apparently paid no heed to the fact that under these rules Iceland’s separation from Denmark would not have been accepted in the referendum of 1918. In practice, this means that we are back to square one as intended by the enemies of the new constitution. There is faint hope that the new parliament will respect the will of the people if the outgoing one failed to do so despite its promises. In her farewell address, the outgoing Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, declared this to be the saddest day of her 35 years in parliament.

One can see that the future of Iceland is yet far from certain, but the hope remains.

How the World Was (Not) Ending

It is an historical anecdote that around the year 1000 the pious medieval Christians willingly gave up their possessions to the Church, fully expecting the world to end the moment the clock struck 12am on the first day of the year 1000.

A thousand years later nobody seems to be donating their goods to either Church, or state, or any cause or person. Instead there was this burgeoning curiosity – will the Mayans be correct or will they be wrong. I suppose we know the answer, although a Russian newspaper printed an article claiming that one Russian scholar deciphered the Mayan prophecy “correctly”, and the real end of the world is looming on December 23.

Considering that December 23 is the last day for buying Christmas gifts, it’s safe to predict that in certain parts of the world the traffic will be collapsing thanks to all late shoppers.

In the meantime, here is a Someecard on the subject:

someecards.com - Just a heads up that your panic about a Mayan doomsday sounds insane even to Mayans.

Mikhail Baryshnikov Art Graces New York, Scheduled For Moscow In 2013

Alexandre Benois’s costume design
from The Art I’ve Lived With
(more highlights at ABA Gallery)


New York’s ABA Gallery hosts the first-ever public display of the private art collection of Mikhail Baryshnikov, the world-famous Russian ballet danser. Titled “The Art I’ve Lived With“, it offers a generous insight into the artistic taste and inner world of one of the greatest men-of-arts of the second half of the 20th c. In 1975, soon after leaving the USSR behind, Baryshnikov purchased the “1917 Jean Cocteau drawing of impresario Serge Diaghilev, founder of the Ballets Russes, and Christian Berard’s design for George Balanchine’s ballet “Mozartiana””, Bloomberg reports.

Initially, Baryshnikov was interested in the Russian artistic scene of the fin de siecle, and particularly the Ballets Russes, so his choice gravitated towards the works of Leo Bakst, Alexandre Benois, and Sergei Sudeikin: “I knew the names of those artists from the tender age, from textbooks. They are people who worked in the imperial theater in Russia. They left Russia with Diaghilev and did costumes for Vaslav Nijinsky and Mikhail Fokin“.

Later the scope of collection grew bigger, but the focus has remained on drawings. Baryshnikov’s collection of drawings now includes Valentine Gross’s portrait of Nijinsky in the ballet “Le Spectre de la Rose”, a costume design for “Carmen” by Antoni Clave featuring the French dancer and choreographer Roland Petit, and a 1903 pencil drawing of a woman by Ilya Repin, Bloomberg states.

The exhibition has opened on December 4, 2012 and is expected to migrate to Moscow in 2013, to let Baryshnikov’s native compatriots study the more private side of Mikhail. He says, however, that he is unlikely to ever sell his collection; he’d like to bequest it entirely to his own foundation.

Original Paolo Veronese Pieta Found In Tashkent

While some Russians openly express disdain for workers from Uzbekistan, the capital of the CIS state has now got an impressive claim to fame. One painting at the Tashkent Art Museum has long been ascribed to an unknown artist. It is now declared to be the original Paolo Veronese’s La Pieta (The Mourning of Christ). Veronese was a celebrated master of the late Italian Renaissance. The image currently shown by RIA Novosti website does indeed resemble Veronese’s manner and lighting:

Paolo Veronese, La Pieta (RIA Novosti)

The painting that used to hang on the third floor of the art museum was brought to Tashkent by the Grand Duke Nikolas Constantinovich (1850-1918). His diary mentions that this was an original painting, most likely brought from one of his journeys to Europe in 1860-70s. However, it was only the restoration work that led to revisiting the diaries, conducting analyses and eventually declaring that Tashkent State Fine Arts Museum happens to own the painting by the great Italian.

The leader of the restoration project Dilshod Azizov said that more “important announcements” were to made at a later stage.

The initial announcement came earlier in November, and the Radio Liberty correspondents and art historians from the West were not quite sure the canvas could indeed belong to Veronese, although they did not doubt its Venetian origins.

The Grand Duke Nikolas was an eccentric member of the Russian imperial family, and Tashkent museum holds another testimony of the love for Italian art on the part of this Romanov. During one of his voyages to Europe with his beloved Fanny Lear, a divorcée from America, he visited the villa Borghese where he saw a nude sculpture of Polina Borghese, Napoleon’s sister, by Antonio Canova. The Grand Duke was so impressed that he commissioned a similar sculpture to an Italian master Tommaso Solari, but obviously with Fanny’s face instead of Polina’s. The exact copy was later sent to St. Petersburg where it stood in a park for a number of years. When the Grand Duke was already in exile, forever separated from his beloved American, his mother found the sculpture during a walk in the park and decided to send it to Tashkent.

So the exact copy of Canova’s sculpture commemorating an American woman who, inadvertently perhaps, led the Grand Duke to ruin, can now be seen in full glory at Tashkent State Fine Arts Museum. But a Western or Russian traveller needs not to go so far to see it: a smaller copy is displayed at the Yussupov Palace in St. Petersburg. And of course, there are other Italian Renaissance paintings in Russia, but to see the original Paolo Veronese La Pieta you will now need to go to Uzbekistan.

Tommaso Solari, a copy after Antonio Canova,
Tashkent State Fine Arts Museum (Wikipedia)

Other posts in Renaissance Painting archives.