Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Recount in Iran?

Sounds like something to keep the population quiet, but really, it's a bit naive...

I mean, what with the stories of observers being thrown out of voting locations etc, has it not occurred to people that there may have been quite a few little bonfires of voting papers? Toilets blocked because others may have been flushed down, etc....

It might bring down the majority a bit, but I doubt it will make a huge difference!

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The Whisperers

This is the first book by Orlando Figes that I have been unable to put down.  I'd managed to work my way through Natasha's Dance, just, but got stuck halfway through his book on the Russian Revolution - all those people with Russian names, who keep popping up and disappearing - one gets confused. Also it seemed to go into quite endless detail....I had meant to finish it before launching into the Whisperers, but if I had done that, the Whisperers would still be lying in the shelf.

This, too, contains many Russian names (what else could I expect?), and some names keep popping up and disappearing (literally, given the circumstances); but there are not that many of them, and he seems to be better at linking them - perhaps he had to remind himself who was who.

So it's about the Stalin period (and its consequences) in terms of family life, from about 1923 or so until 1956, and to a lesser degree the period beyond then until now. It must have been horrendous! Essentially it's all about families being broken up, persecuted, hounded, and sent to the camps (ie Siberia); for being a bit better off in the 20s ('kulaks', small land-owners), for saying things (anything) in the 1930s, for being denounced by envious people, for being caught in the war by the Germans (WWII), for being Jews (late 1940s), and on and on. Few families can have been missed out, in one way or another. At the same time living conditions were terrible, with whole families sharing a tiny room, with a single bed in it, living in shared flats (kommunalkas) with thin walls, hence they could only whisper. Private conversations as good as did not take place, and opinions were not uttered, especially not in the front of children (you know what children are like, they chatter about anything).  Family backgrounds were kept secret, eg being the child of a kulak could mean you could not go to university. Apparently many people kept these stories, their suffering etc quiet until much later on, eg the 1980s or 1990s. Those who came back from the camps, and many did not, lying now in the concrete of major building works, did not talk about their experiences, suppressing all emotions, coming back emotionally dead.

And still, people thirty years later look back with some nostalgia to Stalin's days; some of those who worked in those camps on those huge building projects are proud of their contribution to Soviet glory. Go figure.  Now most of the people directly affected by Stalin are slowly dying out.

There is little about the Baltic states in the book; perhaps because of language issues - from my point of view that would have been nice, though I expect that the situation was much the same throughout the former Soviet Union.

Gripping stuff - it really is.  Strangely, I find Natasha's Dance, a cultural history of Russia until the end of the 19th century, still more relevant to life in Russia today.  Perhaps society has returned to that level?

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Pas Ramazi

So, my friend varske was here, from Tbilisi, and we thought we would try out the new Georgian restaurant in Vilnius. Called 'Pas Ramazi' (I've never come across the name Ramaz in Georgia), it is situated in Valakampiu (Valakupiu?), on the riverside beside the Antakalnis/Zirmunu bridge. It's a nice modern building, with a large balcony facing the river, and yesterday the wind. The trouble with these huge Kalnapilis parasols is that they are so big they cannot be put down very easily, to catch some warming sun.

The meal was ok; my Georgian salad, with a walnut sauce was nice, as was varske's aubergine salad. Then she had chicken tabaka - nothing special Georgian about this, you get it anywhere in the former Soviet Union, and I had a nice shashlik with salady things alongside, though no starch (eg chips, rice, potatoes etc). Along that came a nice bottle of Saperavi.

Then came the bill - 199 LT for us two! That's shocking! Those salads were 22 or 23 LT each, the main courses 30 LT each, and the wine a whopping 60 LT for the bottle. Normally restaurants have one price per glass (here 8 LT for 100 mls), and another for the bottle, usually less than the sum of the glasses in the bottle. Not in this case - the price of the bottle was exactly 7.5 times the price of a glass. That's just greedy.

Not sure what customers they wish to attract; for foreigners it is too difficult to find - it's quite hidden, and the menus are not in English, but these prices....who is prepared to pay that? Answers on a postcard....

Sunday, 15 March 2009

German privacy legislation?

The privacy aspects of that horrific murder series in Winnenden, Germany, where 16 people died, are very interesting.

The perpetrator is known to Germans as Tim K, which is the way all accused are referred to in the German media. I as a foreigner have somewhere (The Guardian?) picked up the boy's surname, though I won't mention it here.

Meanwhile the State Justice Minister in Baden-Wuerttemberg told the world at a press conference that the young man had had some psychotherapy involvement, according to his military call-up papers found in his room. Oh no, he didn't, say the parents. Oh yes, he did, says the director of the local psychiatric hospital - he was here five times, and then refused further treatment. Not sure about the role of the state minister, but I would have thought the hospital director's statement would be against all privacy legislation; it's not as if young Tim could have given his consent to this. Interesting.

Saturday, 14 March 2009


Another rich, Lithuanian Russian (or Russian Lithuanian?) was trying it for president. Without wishing to be racist, but Russians in Lithuania (Uspazkich - former economy minister and fugitive from Lithuania for reasons of corruption and under-the-table tax-free payments to his employees) or their associates (Paksas, a president impeached after one year for strange links to a Russian called Borisovas) are not generally good news for Lithuania.

This time Vladimir Romanov, owner of Ukio Bankas, and of Hearts Football Club in Edinburgh, tried it. Thankfully he failed, what with not having been born in Lithuania. No doubt he expected to get the job easily, by throwing some sweets at the people in the countryside.

But it seems that everyone who has a few bob has a try at becoming president here, like a few years ago the Australian/Lithuanian Piecaitis (who later had a spell in prison accused of some strange dealings involving icons - not sure if he got convicted or not).  Unfortunately this does not seem the prerogative of a small country, seeing as in Poland they elected Tweedle-dum(b?) and Tweedle-dee into their government some time ago.

I gather in Latvia and Estonia the president is elected by Parliament, not the populace - maybe it's time to consider that here?

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Rampant inflation!

The Baltic Course reports that from March public bus tickets (if pre-purchased) will rise to 2 litas per bus journey (if your journey involves more than 1 bus, you pay it for each bus). Only in December 2008 the cost had increased from 1.10 LT to 1.80 LT, after several years at that level. Shocking or what?

Meanwhile the same paper tells us that the government is now looking at establishing a new airline, in place of flyLAL which went bankrupt in January, with the state holding a share in it. At the moment the situation is rather chronic, with folk having to hop via all sorts of places to get to major capitals. I hope they get it up, soon - as long as the state does not take too much of a financial hit. Does not look like we could afford that!

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Landsbergis for President??

Story in Lietuvos Rytas today about some idea that Vytautas Landsbergis (76) should run for president at the next election later this year.  I don't think so!

He was a hero in 1990/1991 when he led Lithuania to freedom, but now he seems like a frail old man, who has in the past had some serious health problems.

Time to let the young ones at the job.