Variety, February 14, 2022
The 67-year-old woman stands alongside an open-backed truck in a city under martial law fearlessly berating the young paramilitary policemen sat impassively behind the wood and steel bars that hold them back – for now.
She is somebody’s daughter, probably wife, mother, grandmother.
“You’re protecting the dictator, General Min Aung Hlaing!” she shouts wagging her finger like a fierce school ma’am of old.
The at times shaky mobile phone footage is among the viscerally powerful opening shots of Berlinale Panorama documentary “Myanmar Diaries.”
“We cry for the girl that was shot in the head. They shot her on purpose…. Don’t follow orders blindly, you should know what is right or wrong!”
Yangon, Myanmar: Less than three weeks after a military government under General Hlaing had seized power in a coup d’état Feb. 1, 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic is at its height and everyone is wearing masks to protect against Coronavirus.
The film – described by Berlinale artistic director Carlo Chatrian as being “politically very relevant” – world premiered Saturday.
The danger of making such a film in a country where even raising a mobile phone to film police brutality can be a death sentence, is such that none of those who filmed “Myanmar Diaries” are credited, and (in solidarity) nor are those individual Europeans from Dutch producers ZINdoc, or supporters that include the Netherlands Film Fund.
But there are representatives of the Burmese team – the Myanmar Film Collective (MFC) – in Berlin.
Variety talked to one.
“The military had been planning the coup for a long time – ever since 2015 when they lost very badly in the general elections,” the MFC member says, referring to Myanmar’s first free elections in a quarter of a century.
“Then in November 2020, when [democratically elected leader] Aung San Suu Kyi was declining in international popularity, they were banking on regaining some seats. But they lost even more than in 2015.”
When General Hlaing demanded a senior position in the new government Aung San sent him packing. She was among the first arrested and imprisoned when the coup was launched.
For ordinary Burmese people after a brief few years of freedom and economic growth, the shock of being thrust back under rule by a cabal of military thugs was too much – and they took to the streets in their thousands, banging pots and pans in protest.
The police and army responded with live rounds and the slaughter began.
Things gathered pace: “Young people adopted the three-fingered salute – first borrowed from Hollywood movie “The Hunger Games” by Thai protestors and students in Hong Kong,” the MFC member says.
The 70 minute-long film combines raw mobile phone footage and reconstructions based on true events. A father, holding his dead little boy in his arms, weeps as he cries: “They have killed my son!”
Young women cry in terror as their father is marched away from his village home by a group of rifle toting soldiers.
A black and white montage of the junta leader is sandwiched between micro-second clips of a dead protestor – his head blown apart by a bullet.
In a reconstruction, a grieving husband observes a blood-spattered construction hard hat and blood-soaked T-shirt that belonged to his wife, before – naked – he methodically cleans the bathroom before creating an altar, in front of which he burns the dead woman’s clothing.
In a perplexing scene, he then presses her panties to his face to inhale her sexual scent one last time, before he gets into his car, straps his fingers into the three-fingered salute, starts the motor and gases himself via a rubber tube attached to the vehicle’s exhaust pipe.
The anonymous Burmese filmmaker explains: “Burmese society is incredibly conservative. The naked actor is totally subversive. Older, conservative men believe that walking beneath women’s underwear [on a washing line, for example] robs you of your virility. The junta does not have a sense of humor and sexual references are particularly unwelcome.”
The brutal crackdown by a junta that producers Petr Lom and his wife Corinne van Egeraat describe as a “total kleptocracy… this is basically resources capture by a mafia,” has only served to unite the country against the dictatorship, and armed militias are now training in remote jungles to take the fight back to the junta.
“Sometimes you need to meet fire with fire,” the anonymous filmmaker says. “If the other side has no sense of humanity – you have no choice.”
Modern Times Review, November 12, 2021
Apparatus – film journal, September 2020
I have followed the project since its inception several years ago, as I am acquainted with the producer from that period, Artem Vasilyev (no longer with the project). At that time I was impressed by the director’s attention to detail (I recall seeing reams of drawings and sketches for a period brick wall) and was aware of the depth and breadth of the project. As such, I keenly awaited its realisation. I did not have a chance to see the live show in Paris, although friends that did give positive reports. I believe that this part of the project had artistic integrity. My experience of watching some of (not all – I walked out, fortunately before the rape with a bottle scene) DAU. Natasha convinced me that the film part of the project lacks artistic and ethical integrity. DAU. Natasha was boring, pointless and nauseating in equal measure. Why go to such lengths to recreate the austere, depressing atmosphere of the Soviet Union only to squander it on pointless pornography and boredom?
I did not bother with the longer version DAU: Degeneration and am thankful I missed it. When I heard that the director had hired real Russian neo-Nazis, including one “Tesak” (the nickname – axe in Russian – for Maxim Martsinksevich, a convicted and violent neo-Nazi*), I became even more convinced that the project lacked any kind of integrity. I interviewed Tesak for a supplement to the British newspaper, the Mail on Sunday in May 2006. As we talked in Moscow, a black woman walked by. Tesak paused, drew a long and broad-bladed hunting knife from his waistband and said: “I would slice up a black bitch like that.” Anyone who gives employment to such repulsive creatures deserves condemnation, not misplaced artistic adulation.1 This is my personal opinion; many friends and colleagues in the film world rave about it. I choose to avoid pollution – ecological or psychological.
British Moscow-based foreign correspondent and writer
on Eastern European and Russian film
NB: Since this article was published it has emerged that Tesak committed suicide while in pre-trial detention in Russia. [NH]
The Belarusian opposition leader who defied an attempt to force her across the border into Ukraine this week was threatened with death if she refused to go. “They said that if I didn’t leave Belarus voluntarily, they’d take me out anyway, alive or in pieces,” Maria Kolesnikova said.
Ms Kolesnikova, one of the opposition troika who contested disputed elections last month and the only one who remains in Belarus, evaded forced deportation on Monday by tearing up her passport and climbing out of a car window after state security officers drove her to the border.
“They also threatened to jail me for up to 25 years,” she said, in a statement given today to her lawyers from a Minsk prison, where she was being interrogated. She called for the security officials to face criminal charges for abduction and death threats.
Her statement gave the names and ranks of the officers responsible, her lawyers said. The officers are members of Belarus’ security service, which still goes by its Soviet-era name, the KGB.
Ms Kolesnikova, 38 and a professional flautist, contested the August 9 presidential elections beside two other women as part of a joint opposition slate against President Lukashenko, the country’s authoritarian leader. Mr Lukashenko claimed victory in a poll that is widely seen as having been rigged.
Ms Kolesnikova vowed to remain in Belarus to continue leading the mass protests against Mr Lukashenko that have gripped the country for a month. But on Monday she was seized by masked assailants on a street in Minsk and bundled into a minibus before being driven to the Ukrainian border, along with two opposition council colleagues who had also been taken by force.
Ms Kolesnikova and Anton Rodnenkov, the council’s press secretary, and its executive secretary, Ivan Kravtsov, were dropped off between the Belarusian and Ukrainian borders, where Mr Kravtsov’s car, along with the passports for all three, was waiting for them. Ms Kolesnikov tore her passport to pieces and leapt from the car, where Belarusian officials arrested her.
Her statement added that after being seized in Minsk, “the KGB officers realised I wouldn’t leave Belarus voluntarily. They put a sack on my head, pushed me into a minibus and drove me to the border. After I ripped up my passport, making it impossible for me to enter Ukraine, they put me back in the minibus.”
Mr Lukashenko has vowed not to stand down in the face of weeks of massive street protests — and thousands of arrests — across the country.
He told a meeting of uniformed police, military and security service officials in Minsk today: “Sometimes you have to break the law when you are facing horrible interference from abroad.”
The Times September 8, 2020
A former KGB agent who spied in the UK has set up a campaign backed by President Putin to tell the “true story” of the British double agent Kim Philby as a “hero” of the Soviet Union.
Mikhail Bogdanov, 68, who was in Britain from 1980 to 1985, said he had been given a £25,000 Russian presidential grant to celebrate Philby, who led the “Cambridge Five” spy ring during the Second World War before defecting to the Soviet Union. His Philby Foundation has already created a website, cambridge5.ru, which lists the Russian version of history, which he hopes to translate into English.
“We wanted to put on the site all the information — documents, biographies, bibliographies, photographs and videos — we have on these five great people,” said Mr Bogdanov, who spied on Britain under cover while acting as a London correspondent of the Russian newspaper Socialist Industry.
“We regard the Cambridge Five as our heroes. They did so much during the war against fascism and to support the defence of the Soviet Union.”
The Cambridge Five spy ring — Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross — met at university before being recruited to spy for the Soviet Union. They leaked thousands of secrets during and after the Second World War, as they worked in the Foreign Office, M15, M16 and at Bletchley Park.
“He always insisted that not a single Englishman died as a result of his actions and that he always worked ‘on’ the United Kingdom — not ‘against’ it,” Mr Bogdanov said.
Mr Bogdanov’s time in the UK came to an abrupt end in 1985 when one of his KGB superiors, Oleg Gordievsky, turned himself over to the British. He was expelled from the UK in 1985. “I was one of 31 Soviets expelled after Gordievsky — my favourite boss — defected. Philby was very upset,” Mr Bogdanov recalls.
Mr Bogdanov is believed to have spied on British parliamentarians and fed details to the Soviet Union of UK commercial interests. He remains a persona non grata to this day, even though he retired from the KGB in 1994 and these days runs an executive recruitment business.
He says the website, which at present is only in Russian, would welcome sponsorship to translate it into English to bring it to a wider academic and research audience.
“We know that Philby and the others are regarded as traitors in the UK but we are keen to show another side to them. We believe that sooner or later we shall be able to view these people through less biased eyes.”
The former KGB man said he developed a love of all things British during weekly briefing sessions in the 1970s with Philby in Moscow. “We’d meet in a safe house not far from Philby’s apartment,” Mr Bogdanov said. “Two hours chatting over toast and tea — with a little whisky added. Always in English; Philby never did master Russian.”
Philby’s apartment, funded by the Kremlin, was close to Pushkin Square in Moscow, seven floors up with a small balcony.
“Philby was always a man of his own independent opinion, and was critical of the Soviet official line on a number of domestic and foreign policy issues. He preferred to keep his opinions strictly to his family and sometimes, to a degree, to closest friends. If Kim were alive today, it’s possible to presume he would disapprove of certain actions of the Russian leadership, both at home and abroad, though we shall never know.”
Mr Bogdanov coached Alexander Lebedev in his craft and all things British before the part owner of London’s Evening Standard and The Independent — and now a UK citizen — first came to Britain in 1988 as a KGB agent based at the Russian embassy in London. But unlike Mr Lebedev’s son, Evgeny, who will soon be join the House of Lords as a life peer, courtesy of his friend Boris Johnson, Mr Bogdanov must make do with more mundane English fashion to satisfy his Anglophilia.
The Times, September 1, 2020
Nick Holdsworth, Moscow
The Kremlin’s international television outlet RT sent dozens of reporters and cameramen to Minsk to fill roles at Belarusian state media after many staff and leading presenters resigned in protest at last month’s rigged presidential elections.
One Moscow-based camera operator says that he was approached by RT with an offer of “up to” €8,000 a month to move to Minsk. He refused.
The former Soviet state of Belarus has been in turmoil since its leader, President Lukashenko, claimed a landslide victory. Thousands of protesters have since been arrested, beaten and tortured, but President Putin of Russia has offered his help to the autocrat.
RT’s attempt to steer Belarusian state TV and radio coverage is managed from the highest level, coming under the oversight of Andrei Blagodyrenko, a senior executive at the outlet which as Rossiya Segodniya (Russia Today) combines RT and a radio network, Sputnik.
Mr Blagodyrenko heads coverage of what Russians refer to as “the near abroad” — former Soviet countries and the Baltic states. He is the former husband of the RT editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan. Mr Blagodyrenko reports to Ms Simonyan, who works under the overall chief Dmitri Kiselyov, regarded as a key Kremlin propagandist. In March 2014 Mr Kiselyov courted international controversy after stating on air that Russia was the only country in the world “truly capable of turning the USA into radioactive dust” with its arsenal of nuclear warheads.
Syarhey Kozlovich, who worked his way up from video editor to presenter of news bulletins on the Belarus-1 channel, quit in disgust the day after the election, saying that coverage “even if not utterly fabricated [is] so biased that it presented a completely different picture of events”. Others followed including the TV presenter Volha Bahatyrevich, who posted a photo of her resignation letter on Instagram with the slogan “We are few, but we are!”.
Within days of these resignations and walkouts by dozens of other state media employees there were reports that many Russian journalists had arrived in Minsk. Coverage of political events took on a sharper edge. One video clip of mobs wreaking havoc, posted on the state news agency BelTA, referred to protesters as “paid scum . . . ready to sell their own mothers for $20”.
The salaries offered to Russian journalists are far higher than salaries in Belarus, where the average income is about £300 a month. The Moscow camera operator approached by RT was told that his skills — and the two foreign languages he speaks — would be of great value to news coverage in Belarus.
“I’d been talking to a professional colleague in Minsk by phone just a couple of days before the call and he told me to expect such a call as a RT was doing the rounds of the best TV people in Moscow,” the cameraman, who requested anonymity, told The Times. “It was not a very long telephone call. They offered me up to €8,000 a month and I told them ‘no thanks’ and hung up.”
When The Times approached RT for comment, it responded with characteristic sarcasm. “Indeed, thousands upon thousands of news anchors, cameramen and editors are catching the next flight to Minsk to do the job that MSM [mainstream media] won’t,” it said.
The Times, August 31, 2020
Belarus protesters defy Alexander Lukashenko with show of solidarity
Tens of thousands of people defied threats of a crackdown by the security forces yesterday and flooded the streets of Minsk in the third successive weekend protest against President Lukashenko’s contested election victory.
A huge column of Belarusians waving the red and white flags of the opposition marched through the city despite a strong turnout of riot police officers backed up with water cannon and vehicles fitted with wire mesh crowd-control grids.
When Belarus erupted in protest three weeks ago over a presidential election widely regarded as fraudulent more than 7,000 people were arrested amid scenes of extreme violence that left at least two people dead. The crackdown galvanised a movement that continues to draw substantial turnouts.
Protesters gathered yesterday around the “hero city” monument commemorating Minsk’s suffering during the Second World War after the police blocked the government district. The turnout was at least 100,000, opposition sources said. The Ministry of Internal Affairs said that by late afternoon there had been 125 arrests.
Mr Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, was pictured yesterday in body armour and brandishing an assault rifle outside the presidential palace. He flew over last Sunday’s demonstration in similar attire and claimed that protesters had “scattered like rats” beneath his helicopter.
Although a threatened violent crackdown failed to materialise, the authorities have moved to restrict independent news coverage of the protests.
As many as 19 journalists working for foreign news outlets including the BBC, Reuters, the German state broadcaster ARD, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the wire services AP and AFP have been stripped of their accreditation and deported. They include Paul Hansen, a Swedish photographer, who has been banned from the country for five years.
Germany and the United States condemned the move. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the opposition leader who fled to Lithuania following threats after the election, said that it was “another sign that this regime is morally bankrupt”.
Yesterday’s protests in Minsk, which took place on a smaller scale in towns across the country, coincided with Mr Lukashenko’s 66th birthday.
The authoritarian president received warm congratulations during a morning telephone call with President Putin. The two men have agreed to meet in the coming weeks.
The Kremlin has signalled support for the Belarusian leader despite strained relations between the two countries in the past. Last week Mr Putin pledged to form a special reserve of Russian security forces ready to fly to Belarus should the situation spiral out of control.
The Hollywood Reporter, December 11, 2019
The Hollywood Reporter, November 11, 2019
University World News, August 12, 2019
Modern Times Review, July 7, 2019
The Hollywood Reporter, June 13, 2019
The Hollywood Reporter, June 10, 2019
The Hollywood Reporter, May 31, 2019
The Hollywood Reporter, April 20, 2019
The Hollywood Reporter, March 20, 2019
The Guardian, December 31, 2018
Later update here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/31/russia-detains-american-in-moscow-suspected-of-spying
Russia detains American in Moscow on suspicion of spying
FSB opens criminal case against US citizen for ‘carrying out act of espionage’
Russia’s domestic security service has detained a US citizen on suspicion of spying.
The FSB, the successor of the Soviet-era KGB, said in a statement that the American was arrested on Friday “while carrying out an act of espionage”.
The statement, in Russian, used a name that appeared to translate as Paul Whelan and said a criminal case had been opened “under article 276 of the criminal code (Espionage)”.
No further details were given. People convicted of spying in Russia face a prison term of between 10 and 20 years.
The US embassy in Moscow could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday, a public holiday in Russia.
On Sunday Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, expressed a desire for better relations with the US in 2019. In a new year letter to the US president, Donald Trump, he said Moscow was ready for dialogue on a “wide-ranging agenda”.
A Kremlin statement said Putin’s letter stressed that Russia-US relations were “the most important factor for providing strategic stability and international security”.
Russia has sought to improve relations with the west after a year in which diplomacy was at its frostiest since the cold war.
Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats over accusations that the Kremlin was behind the novichok attack in March on the former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury. Russia denied any involvement in the poisoning and, in retaliation, sent home the same number of British embassy workers.
In October, the US justice department accused seven Russians of being GRU military intelligence officers, charging them with hacking and wire fraud. Four men from that group were expelled from the Netherlands in April after being caught allegedly attempting to hack the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
On 13 December, Maria Butina, a 30-year-old Russian citizen and suspected spy, pleaded guilty in a Washington DC court to conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government.
There are, however, small signs of improved relations between Russia and the UK: Russia’s embassy in London said on Friday that Moscow and London had agreed to return some staff to the respective embassies.
The Hollywood Reporter, July 17 2018
The Hollywood Reporter, June 22 2018
The Hollywood Reporter, June 20 2018
University World News, May 24, 2018
The Hollywood Reporter, April 16, 2018
The European Film Academy, December 2017
The Hollywood Reporter, December 11 2017
The Hollywood Reporter, November 6 2017
The Times, November 6 2017
Wilbur Ross, Trump’s business chief, has cash ties to Putin’s family
Nick Holdsworth, Moscow
November 6 2017, 12:01am, The Times
Wilbur Ross, Donald Trump’s commerce secretary, is linked to President Putin’s son-in-law through a shipping business in which he holds a stake, according to the Paradise Papers.
Separately, hundreds of millions of pounds were invested in Facebook and Twitter by two state-owned Russian companies via Yuri Milner, a billionaire born in Moscow now based in the US.
The documents show that Mr Ross, 79, has a stake in Navigator, a shipping company, through a chain of offshore investments. Navigator is a partner of Sibur, a gas company whose owners include Kirill Shamalov, husband of Mr Putin’s daughter, Katerina Tikhonova.
Mr Ross did not dispose of his holdings when he took office and stands to benefit from a company run by close associates of the Russian president, some of whom are under US sanctions.
Records show that Navigator has maintained close relations with Sibur since 2014, when US sanctions were imposed on Russia after Moscow seized Crimea from Ukraine. The holding has since collected $68 million from Sibur.
James Rockas, a spokesman for Mr Ross, told The New York Times that Mr Ross “recuses himself from any matters focused on trans-oceanic shipping vessels, but has been generally supportive of the administration’s sanctions of Russian and Venezuelan entities”.
Mr Trump is under pressure from the special counsel’s investigation into links between the White House and Russia, headed by Robert Mueller, the former FBI chief.
Last night NBC News reported that Mr Mueller had enough evidence to charge Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, and his son, over allegations of collusion between Trump aides and Russia. Their lawyers declined to comment.
The Paradise Papers also show that millions of pounds was invested in Facebook and Twitter in the early days of social media by two Russian state institutions with close ties to the Kremlin via a business associate of Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law.
Mr Milner, who funded Russian internet start-ups, channelled $191 million from VTB, a Russian state bank, into Twitter and, via an obscure offshore company, bought $1 billion of Facebook shares.
The Times , November 3 2017
RT boss Margarita Simonyan eclipses Hillary Clinton on Forbes power list
Nick Holdsworth, Moscow
The head of RT, the Kremlin’s international propaganda channel, has been named among the world’s most powerful women by the American business magazine Forbes.
At 52nd place, Margarita Simonyan, 37, is well above Hillary Clinton, the failed US presidential candidate, who has plunged from second place to 65th in one year.
Ms Simonyan is one of only two Russian woman to make the top 100, along with Elvira Nabiullina, head of Russia’s central bank, who is in 49th place.
Angela Merkel tops the list, followed by Theresa May.
Ms Simonyan’s position above Mrs Clinton seems to have prompted a little schadenfreude in Moscow.
RT noted that her inclusion “perhaps gives Hillary Clinton another bone to pick with RT”, adding: “It is Hillary Clinton and her allies’ focus on making Russia the scapegoat that has given a boost to RT’s editor-in-chief, according to Forbes.”
Forbes’ citation states: “A year ago, most people had no idea who Margarita Simonyan was. Now, she’s being discussed in tech, media and political circles as the outsized influence of her Russian TV network, RT, comes in focus.”
Last month Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, referred RT to Ofcom over advertisements on the London Underground that made jokey references to Russia’s perceived attempts to undermine democracy in the West.
Ms Simonyan said that she was “disappointed that despite the earnest efforts of The Times and other mainstream media outlets to keep RT in fear-inducing headlines each and every day”, it was not enough to push her into “at least the top 20”.
Her entry is another milestone in the rise of a woman who was born to Armenian parents in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar, made her name as a regional television reporter covering the Beslan school hostage crisis in 2004 and the following year was chosen to be editor-in-chief of the newly founded RT (then Russia Today), at the age of 25.
A Kremlin loyalist said to be close to President Putin, Ms Simonyan strenuously denies that RT is a propaganda outlet, though she concedes that as a Russian station “we see the world from a Russian point of view” and has stated: “There is no objectivity — only approximations of the truth by as many different voices as possible.”
Lenin’s tomb with a view to stay overground
Nick Holdsworth, Moscow
Right-wing nationalists and Kremlin loyalists want to put their revolutionary past behind them and bury Lenin’s body.
A hundred years after the Russian revolution and more than 90 years since Lenin died, there are no plans to bury the embalmed body of the Bolshevik leader, the Kremlin said yesterday.
Lenin is on display in a mausoleum on Red Square, where he has been lying in state since 1924. The body is preserved in a glass sarcophagus and costs £150,000 a year to maintain.
As Russia prepares to mark the revolution next week, the question of the future of his remains is again on the agenda.
Right-wing nationalists and Kremlin loyalists want to put their revolutionary past behind them and bury Lenin’s body. However, the communist lobby, who still support President Putin, are demanding that their history is preserved, above ground, for all to see.
The announcement yesterday was prompted after Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya, called for the return from a St Petersburg museum of the skull of Hadji Murat, a 19th century Chechen chieftain.
Mr Kadyrov said that Lenin, who had wanted to be buried with his mother, should have his wish.
The question of what to do with the remains has been raised every year since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but Dmitry Peskov, the presidential spokesman, said: “This is not an issue on the agenda for the Kremlin.”
Jihlava Dok Revue, October 23 2017
The Daily Mail, October 20 2017
story based on Nick Holdsworth’s report in THR of October 19, 2017
New Harvey Weinstein allegations: Mogul ‘wanted to barter sex for roles’ with Marisa Coughlan and trapped TV host in hotel room for nude massage where he showed off open stomach wound
News Com Australia, October 19 2017
story based on Nick Holdsworth’s report in THR of the same day
The New York Daily Post October 19 2017
story based on Nick Holdsworth’s report in THR of the same day
The Hollywood Reporter October 19 2017
The Hollywood Reporter September 18 2017
The Hollywood Reporter July 24 2017
The Hollywood Reporter July 21 2017
The Hollywood Reporter May 24 2017
Christian Science Monitor May 3 2017
The Hollywood Reporter April 3 2017
The Hollywood Reporter March 24 2017
The Hollywood Reporter November 28 2016
The Times May 27 2016
Vladimir Putin will be otherwise engaged when Sir Elton John visits Moscow next week despite having promised to meet the singer to discuss gay rights.
Sir Elton will be playing in the Russian capital and had been planning a meeting with the president but the Kremlin said yesterday that scheduling conflicts meant it could not happen.
“We were in correspondence a couple of weeks ago, because there was an agreement that, if their schedules allow, this meeting could take place,” Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Mr Putin, said.
“President Putin expressed readiness for this meeting. But this time, the meeting won’t take place, unfortunately — their schedules do not match up. But this does not mean that such a meeting won’t take place next time.”
Sir Elton has hoped for a meeting since September when two Russian comedians telephoned and fooled him into believing that Mr Putin had called him to discuss gay rights in the country, which has banned the promotion of what it terms “non-traditional sexual relations”.
The incident led to a genuine offer from the Kremlin to arrange a meeting, when Mr Putin subsequently called the singer to say he was open to “discuss whatever issues are of interest”.
University World News April 28 2016
RBTH March 25 2016
University World News March 11 2016
The Guardian November 15 2015
Radio Free Europe October 28 2015
The Hollywood Reporter July 15 2015
The Hollywood Reporter May 19 2015
RBTH April 29 2015
(and see link from Lumiere gallery, Atlanta Georgia)
The Times March 5 2015
The Times March 4 2015
The Times March 4 2015
The Times March 3 2015
The Hollywood Reporter March 3 2015
The Hollywood Reporter March 1 2015
Keeping abreast of naked news
Will a controversial British Museum loan of an Elgin Marbles sculpture to the Hermitage in St Petersburg end in Greek tragedy?
The British Museum’s loan to the Hermitage in St Petersburg of the headless Greek god, thought to personify the river Ilissos, which until the early 19th century graced a frieze on the top of the Parthenon in Athens, prompted a storm of headlines in Russia.
Part of the Elgin Marbles, which were shipped off to England 200 years ago before being acquired by the British Museum in 1816, the loan sparked a political storm. Radio station Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) caught the diplomatic zeitgeist in its story headlined: “Hermitage director dubs British Museum’s decision to send Parthenon marble to St Petersburg a most important artistic and political gesture.”
But it swiftly plunged into the controversy, noting that the loan of figure, which will be on display until January 18, 2015 had long been contested by the Greeks.
“Transporting the statue is opposed by Athens, where the monument is considered to be cultural heritage plundered from Greece,” said the station.
Stripping the Parthenon bare is an issue that has long soured diplomatic relations between the Greeks and the British. That does not seem to bother the directors of the two museums, who back in October cooked up the deal to ship the massive marble to St Petersburg before its dramatic unveiling last week.
Antonis Samaras, the Greek prime minister, was infuriated, Ekho Moskvy reported, arguing that the loan torpedoed the British Museum’s old argument that it could not return the marbles to Greece because they must not be moved.
Things could still go wrong. What if Russia returned the marble to Athens, rather than London? Armless as well as headless, Ilissos can’t stick two fingers up to Lord Elgin, but like Mr Putin, the Greek statue certainly has what the Spanish call cojones.
[nb: Last sentence of my original copy read: “…but like Mr Putin, the Greek statue certainly has balls.”
The Times January 10 2015
University World News January 9 2015
The Hollywood Reporter January 1 2015
The Times December 8 2014
The Times December 5 2014
The Hollywood Reporter December 5 2014
The Times November 24 2014
Russia Behind the Headlines October 16 2014
Cliches and conventions in Russian view of us Brits, weekly column in RBTH
Russia Behind the Headlines October 9 2014
Of burgers and spies, A British view on Russian media coverage of the UK, a weekly column in RBTH
Russia Behind the Headlines September 29 2014
A Russian conundrum — modern times and ancient matters, from RBTH column looking at odd stories in the Russian press
ETF September 25 2014
The European Training Foundation’s conference on vocational education initiatives in Central Asia, reporting from Dushanbe, Tajikistan on how to contribute to peace and stability the long, hard, peaceful way in a strategic and at times unstable region.
Russia Behind the Headlines September 22 2014
A cheesy look at odd stories in the Russian press for RBTH
The Hollywood Reporter, June 30 2014
Oscar Winner Nikita Mikhalkov Appeals to Free Ukrainian Filmmaker Held by Russians on Terrorist Charges
Roman Polanski Prepping Next Feature in Poland, Wants Assurance He Won’t Be Extradited to U.S.
The Times June 28 214
Ukraine’s EU deal provokes warning from Moscow http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/europe/article4132318.ece Nick Holdsworth, Moscow Ukraine tied its future to the West yesterday when its new president signed a trade and political deal with the EU, seven months after his predecessor’s failure to do so plunged the country towards civil war and conflict with Russia. Petro Poroshenko’s signature on the 1,200-page EU Association Agreement ends President Putin’s dreams of establishing a Eurasian Union, a free trade association widely seen as a first step by Moscow towards a 21st-century version of the Soviet Union reuniting Russia with Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Smiling after signing the document in Brussels, President Poroshenko called it “maybe the most important day for my country” since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. He agreed to extend by three days, until Monday, a ceasefire in the fighting with pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country. Two other former Soviet republics, Georgia and Moldova, also signed similar free trade deals, stoking Russian fears about its shrinking regional influence and that markets for its exports could be hit by cheap EU imports. Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Grigory Karasin, warned: “There will undoubtedly be serious consequences for Ukraine and Moldova’s signing.” President Putin confined himself to comments on a negotiated settlement to fighting in eastern Ukraine that has cost the lives of more than 385 people and displaced tens of thousands. “The most important thing is to guarantee a long-term ceasefire as a precondition for meaningful talks between Kiev authorities and representatives of the southeast,” he said. EU leaders gave the Kremlin and Ukrainian rebel forces until Monday to take steps to improve the situation or face sanctions. The three-day extension to the ceasefire, which had been due to expire yesterday, will give both sides more time to agree approaches to negotiations, after a week in which they accused each other of numerous breaches.
The TImes June 23 214
Hollywood Reporter March 27 2014 Ukraine’s Odessa Film Festival Vows to Open Despite Crisis
Hollywood Reporter March 26 2014: Russian Quotas: Hollywood Studios Would Be Hardest Hit
Hollywood Reporter March 25 2014: Russia mulls tough quotas on foreign films
Christian Science Monitor February 28 2014: Next revolutionary step in Ukraine: Reform the police
KIEV, Ukraine — The decision by Ukraine’s interim government to disband the hated riot police marks the first step in an urgent program of security-service reform needed to stabilize the country.
Ukraine’s own security service, as well, remained largely unreformed since its Soviet KGB days.
Last week, the special riot police, known in Ukraine as “Berkut,” left their encampment at Mariinsky Park in downtown Kiev almost immediately after the Yanukovych government collapsed. The Berkut were feared and hated for their brutality and for working with snipers, and they left behind field kitchens, tents, and two massive Russian-made Kamaz water cannons.
“The Berkut troops disappeared in less than 20 minutes,” says opposition parliament member Volodymyr Ariev. “It was the first time in my life I have seen a city without police.
Andriy Dubovyk, a retired Soviet-era officer with the elite special force Alpha who acted as a senior commander of the Maidan self-defense force that faced off against the Berkut, advocates the creation of “a municipal police force that operates under sheriffs elected by the local community, which can easily be changed.”
“There is also a need to legitimize arrangements for citizens,” Mr. Dubovyk says, “such as those from self-defense units who have already distinguished themselves.… They need knowledge of the law and special training.”
“We must incorporate some people from the protest camps into the new power structures, not just the same old faces,” he said.
Yet co-opting members of self-defense units may be neither easy nor practical, says security expert Mark Galeotti of New York’s Center for Global Affairs. He argues that most self-defense units will “melt away” in the coming months as the men return to their families and the luster of the international moment fades.
“Shorn of the heroism of defending Maidan, the reality of policing is about picking up drunks at 1:30 in the morning,” says Mr. Galeotti, who is on a teaching sabbatical at Moscow State Institute of International Relations. “That’s not what these guys signed up for. We shall see pressure for a shift to civil involvement, but most of these self-defense units will drop away.”
More pressing for Ukraine’s new leaders was the need to resurrect some kind of Berkut unit, albeit one that does not re-admit the uglier elements of the old organization, Galeotti argues.
“There is going to be a continuing public order issue for the Ukrainian police,” he adds. “Even once the current political crisis is solved, there remains an issue in the country with extremely violent football hooligans.”
The choice is between using less trained police from the Interior Ministry, or trying to cull through Berkut’s old ranks to leave as few disagreeable characters as possible.
How to treat the Right Sector is another question. During the protests, the right-wing group emerged to protect the protesters, and they have stayed on to throw their weight around and are reportedly standing off against ordinary police in and around Kiev. Right Sector members are not expected to easily give up their guns and the popular authority they earned in the fight at the Maidan.
Galleotti says the capability of Ukraine to develop a new intelligence force may be the most important long-term project of reform.
“It’s likely that Ukraine will need some kind of security service – not least to stop the Russians having a field day – but there is a clear challenge to reshaping the ‘spooky’ side of affairs,” he says. “If they are allowed, the [security bureau] has the power to be quite a corrosive factor in Ukraine.”
The Times February 26 2014: Police refused order to machinegun protesters
(Full text below, as you may not be able to read this article on the Times website) Nick Holdsworth Kiev Published at 12:01AM, February 26 2014: The bloodbath on Kiev’s streets last week would have been far worse if police had not refused orders to spray protesters in Independence Square with machinegun fire, a police colonel said yesterday. Colonel Roman Leonovich said that he ignored the order last Tuesday, then brokered a deal with the opposition to keep his men away from the square on Thursday as the worst violence in the country’s post-Soviet history erupted. By the end of the week, at least 86 protesters had been killed, many of them by government snipers. Colonel Leonovich’s account provides a view of last week’s transformative events from the other side of the barricades, where police were also dying under fire. Colonel Leonovich, 40, has served 22 years in the police, and last week was in command of 600 men garrisoned in a 19th-century fortess that housed a military arsenal. On Tuesday night he took 100 of them to Independence Square. That night, he said, three officers serving near him died and two were wounded close to a barricade at the entrance to the square. “Within minutes of taking our positions we came under fire. Two officers from a nearby unit in the line were killed by shots to the head from a 9mm Makarov pistol,” he said. “Two others were wounded by shotgun fire and a Berkut [riot police] officer died after pellets penetrated his jacket.” He said that the senior officer commanding 400 police who had been ordered to hold a line on Kreshchatyk Street, between European Square and Maidan, telephoned his superiors at the Ministry of Interior Affairs. “The senior line officer reported the use of firearms and asked for freshorders,” Colonel Leonovich said. “The answer came back: ‘You can fire back’. That was official permission.” The colonel said that he did not know who gave the order, and added that police were asked if they had armoured vehicles. They had two available, and were given permission to use the vehicles’ heavy-calibre machineguns. “We discussed the situation and several officers said they could not shoot back, as we could not identify the shooters and the barricade was manned by unarmed people. “We decided to use the armoured cars to force our way through. Had we known who shot at us and [been able to] identify them, we would not have hesitated — that would have been one sniper against the other — but we did not.” As Colonel Leonovich’s men advanced behind the armoured cars under a hail of petrol bombs and other missiles, the barricade was swept aside and its defenders disappeared. The colonel said that his and other police units established a new line on the edge of Maidan parallel with the Trade Union building that had served as the protest HQ, and remained there until 8am the next day. As conditions in Kiev deteriorated, the colonel said he became convinced the country was sliding into civil war. He said he received a phone call on a closed ministry line used only by senior officials. The caller, who refused to identify himself, ordered him and his men to join other units to force their way into parliament. He ignored the command. Colonel Leonovich’s claim is difficult to substantiate, but tallies with an alleged plan to use 22,000 police and rooftop snipers to snuff out the anti-Government protest. It was outlined this week by Hennadii Moskal, a former deputy interior minister who is now an MP for Yuliya Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna Party. The man said to be behind that plan, the Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko, is among senior Yanukovych officials who have vanished.
Christian Science Monitor February 5 2014: Mayor of ‘Ukraine’s soul’ looks to heal country’s divides
Sunday Telegraph November 24 2013: The film Russia tried to block: The ‘threats and corruption’ behind Sochi Olympics
The Times, October 24 2013: Russian special forces to get new underwater machine gun
An assault rifle that its maker claims is the first that can be used on land or underwater was revealed for the first time in public yesterday.Sounding like something Q might supply to James Bond and designed for Russia’s Spetsnaz special forces — equivalent to Britain’s Special Boat Service — the ADS 5.45mm automatic has already won overseas orders, its maker, Russia’s leading small-arms manufacturer, said.The ADS, an adaptation of the Kalashnikov AK47, uses standard 5.45mm x 39mm rounds on land and special, similar rounds underwater. Instrument Design Bureau, or KBP, based in Tula, said that underwater its weapon was usable down to 40m (130ft) and had a range of between 8m and 25m. On land, it is accurate to 500m.Nikolai Komarov, spokesman for KBP, said: “Special forces troops no longer need to carry two assault rifles, but just the one.”Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based defence analyst, questioned whether the gun would find a wide market. “It is a very specialised weapon, where you would need to have two opposing armies of frogmen shooting it out underwater — something I’ve only ever seen in James Bond movies,” he said.
The Sunday Telegraph March 23 2013:Prime suspect in Georgi Markov ‘umbrella poison’ murder tracked down to Austria
The Times 20 August 2011: The train on Platform 6 is for Paris, Moscow and New York – through the Bering Strait
(Full text below, as you may not be able to read this article on the Times website) Nick Holdsworth Yakutsk Published at 12:01AM, August 20 2011 It might still be too soon to book your ticket from King’s Cross to Grand Central station in New York, but the prospect of such an epic rail journey has just moved a step closer.The Kremlin gave its blessing this week to the greatest railway project of all time: a 65-mile (106km) tunnel linking Asia and North America under the Bering Strait and connecting railway lines that would allow a seamless train trip from Britain to the United States.The £60 billion scheme would push the Trans-Siberian railway eastward while extending Alaska’s tracks towards Siberia. East and West would meet directly at the international dateline under the Bering Strait islands of the Russian Big Diomede and the US territory of Little Diomede.The Bering Strait tunnel, first mooted by Tsar Nicholas II in 1905, is no pipedream. This week it was endorsed by President Medvedev’s top officials, including Aleksandr Levinthal, the deputy federal representative for the Russian Far East. Proponents of the network say that apart from the romance of taking a once-in-a-lifetime journey across the breathtaking wildernesses of Siberia and Alaska, it would be cheaper, faster and more secure than shipping goods around the world. It could carry about 3 per cent of the world’s freight, earning £7 billion a year.Engineers say there is no technical reason why the tunnel could not be built and investors would break even within 15 years of it opening.Mr Levinthal was among several Kremlin officials, including Vladimir Nazarov, the deputy secretary of the Russian National Security Council, who flew to Yakutsk, 5,000 miles east of Moscow, to take part in a three-day conference on developing integrated infrastructure in northeast Russia.Hosted by Yegor Borisov, the Governor of Yakutia (the Sakha Republic), the conference drew hundreds of delegates from Russia, the US, China and Britain to examine ways of boosting the economic potential of the resource-rich but sparsely populated region that stretches to the Arctic Circle.A 500-mile rail spur to Yakutsk from the Trans-Siberian — built at a cost of £900 million and due for completion in 2013 — is part of a Kremlin strategy that will push rail links a further 2,360 miles to the northeastern tip of Siberia by 2030. It will connect the mineral-rich territory to key freight lines in Russia and China. That would make the construction of the tunnel, a 15-year project that would account for about a tenth of the joint investment in Russian, American and Canadian railway extensions envisaged, feasible. “We should see advanced development of road and rail infrastructure here [in the Russian Far East] and improvement in the investment climate in Russia as a key aim,” Mr Levinthal said.Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister, has made no secret of his intention to pursue Russia’s claim to the vast untapped fossil fuel and mineral wealth of the Arctic, improve trade with China and secure its borders in the Far East.Building roads and railways, repopulating towns and cities ravaged by more than two decades of neglect, and bringing prosperity to a region that Europe could fit into three times over, has become a national priority. Against that background, the prospect of finding the political will — and cash — to bore a route twice the length of the Channel Tunnel under the Bering Strait becomes much more realistic.But Stephen Dalziel, the head of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, said it was unlikely that British companies would invest in the scheme until it was up and running. “It would be a great idea if it worked,” he said.Igor Arzhanukhin, an engineer who is working on the spur line, said: “It is a brilliant idea. We are all really proud to be a part of it.”
Am gradually adding older stories here when I find time.
Two thirds of Russians voting in today’s presidential election are expected to back Dmitry Medvedev as Vladimir Putin’s successor in the country’s most predictable poll since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Mr Medvedev, the low-key first deputy prime minister and chairman of the state-run Gazprom gas monopoly, was effectively hand-picked by Mr Putin — who will step sideways into the post of prime minister.
The election will guarantee that the popular Mr Putin continues to wield great influence over the Russian government, to the fury of the fractured opposition which was unable to field a convincing challenger and yesterday urged other world leaders not to recognise Mr Medvedev’s election.
But the other driving force in Mr Medvedev’s unexpected rise to Russia’s highest office is his wife, Svetlana, who will today become the Kremlin’s first lady in waiting.
Diplomats and western officials have begun scrutinising her, as well as her husband, for clues as to how Russia will be run when he takes over as head of state in May.
The couple were childhood friends and high school sweethearts before they eventually became husband and wife. The steely 42-year-old Mrs Medvedev is widely believed to have provided much of the drive that has helped propel her husband — once a mild-mannered law lecturer — to the very top of Russia’s political tree.
Sociable and energetic, she is credited with forging the contracts that enabled her 5ft 4in husband to break out of academia into the world of commerce, a move which propelled him into Mr Putin’s path and eventually to the very top of Russia’s political tree.
She helped draw him into the Russian Orthodox Church, an institution which has endorsed him in today’s election, and is thought to have been the friend with whom he was baptised, aged 23, at St Petersburg Cathedral.
Now she is expected to be an influential presence behind the scenes at the Kremlin, as well as providing what he calls “a solid and dependable rearguard”.
Russia’s new first couple, who are the same age, met at the no 305 elementary school in St Petersburg and eventually married in 1989.
Mrs Medvedev’s parents provided a home for the couple, allowing them to share their cramped St Petersburg flat. Eventually she prodded him to form the contacts needed to move into the more lucrative world of commerce, becoming a director of timber firm, Pulp Ilim, in the mid-Nineties.
A source close to them said: “He was happy, really, writing books on law and working at the state university in St Petersburg, but she had the contacts from her social life and she pushed him into the timber company. Everything he has done, she helped and supported him.”
Another friend added: “I don’t think he could have got that job on his own, even though he’s incredibly capable. But he’s easy going. He liked his fish and his aquarium and his local football club. He needed Svetlana’s drive to push himself forward.”
Indeed, stung by opponents’ taunts that her husband looked “like a scholar fresh from the library”, Mrs Medvedev is also credited with his recent weight loss and increasingly muscular appearance — not by taking steroids, but by making him learn yoga, go to the gym and swim nearly a mile twice a day.
THE IRISH INDEPENDENT
NICK HOLDSWORTH in MOSCOW A RUSSIAN man born with genitals so small that he was unable to have sex has been given the chance to lead a normal love life after a new penis was “grown” on his arm.
In an 11-hour operation, plastic surgeons in Moscow removed the 28-year-old’s undersized penis and stitched it on to his left forearm, where they grafted on additional flesh and tissue. The newly enlarged organ, which had grown from less than 2ins to nearly 7ins, was then reattached to his groin. His surgeon, Professor Mikhail Sokolshchik, of the National Medical Surgical Centre, hopes that he will eventually be able to have sexual relations and father children.
The patient, who comes from a Siberian village and was identified only by his first name, Sergei, paid about ?1,500 towards the cost of the operation.
Prof Sokolshchik, who has specialised in microsurgery and phalloplasty, said: “This operation was highly risky because it was an amputation, reconstruction and reattachment in one go. If it had gone wrong, the patient would have ended up with no genitalia at all.”
It is thought that up to one in 200 men are born with “micropenises” – the medical term for male genitalia that are less than two inches long when aroused.
Here is an obituary I wrote in 2003 for The Moscow Times after the death of a dear Moscow friend of mine, writer and polymath, Igor Mozheiko, aka sic-fi author Kir Bulychov:
The Moscow Times, September 12, 2003
Science Fiction’s Kir Bulychov Dies
- By Nick Holdsworth
- Sep. 12 2003
An OBE for the soldier who fought the King
How did a Russian Jew who was exiled to Siberia, lost family in the Holocaust and fought British-led forces for an Israeli state earn an OBE? Nick Holdsworth reports.
Tears of mirth still spring to Teodor Shanin’s eyes when he recalls the day the British ambassador in Moscow rang to tell him he had been made an OBE. “Me an officer of the Order of the British Empire?” says Shanin, founder and rector of the Russian-British Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. “I was amazed and amused – my relationship with the empire, when it existed, was involvement in anti-imperialism.”
Nevertheless, Shanin will receive his OBE from the Queen at Buckingham Palace in October.
For Shanin – who was born 72 years ago in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius (then the Polish border city of Vilna), who endured exile in Siberia and the loss of many family members in the Holocaust, and who later led Israeli commandos against British-led Arab forces in the war for Israeli independence – the idea that he should be made an officer of an empire that no longer exists seemed a huge joke. But he is genuinely pleased with the award, which was made in recognition of his services to Russian tertiary education.
He has come a long way from the boy who was put on a train bound for Siberia and oblivion by the NKVD, Stalin’s secret police. Shanin spent his wartime exile first in Siberia’s remote Altai region and later in the ancient Uzbek city of Samarkand, where to stave off starvation, he worked as a “runner” in a gang selling stolen bread. The experiences toughened him up for later battles. These he fought on the front lines as a volunteer in Palestine in 1947 and 1948, and with bureaucracy as an Israeli social work chief and a pioneering British sociologist.
Shanin, the only son of a successful Jewish patrician textile trader and industrialist in pre-war Vilna, enjoyed an early life of privilege. All this changed after the arrival of the Soviets in 1939 – first with the installation of a pliant Socialist Lithuanian government as part of the Russian-German non-aggression pact to carve up Poland, then with full occupation in 1940. In June 1941, the arrest of Shanin’s father, a former Social Revolutionary student in St Petersburg during the Russian February revolution of 1917, as a member of the “bourgeoisie”, spelled the end of innocence.
“My father was sent to a camp, and my mother and I went into exile in Siberia,” Shanin says. “The war began a week later. Arrest by the Russians saved our lives – a few weeks later the Germans were in Vilna.”
One of the NKVD officers, knowing that Teodor’s four-year-old sister would never survive the long journey by cattle car to Siberia, said he would “look the other way” if relatives could be found to care for her. Today, the remains of Shanin’s sister, his grandfather and more than 80,000 other Jews, gypsies and other Nazi victims lie in the pits where they were shot in woods outside Vilnius. Shanin’s mother never got over the loss of her little girl. Shanin, too, is still distressed by the image, related by witnesses they found on their return to Vilnius in 1946, of the “little blonde blue-eyed angel of a girl” being led away to her death by SS soldiers.
“My mother did not believe she was dead. By the standards of the Nazis, we did not look Jewish. The family is blue-eyed. My mother thought she had been left with a Catholic family. We searched for three weeks, but all we found were people who had seen them being led to their deaths.”
Such experiences created an abiding hatred for Germans and a fierce and radical Zionism that made the 16-year-old Shanin a leader of Jewish youth in the Polish city of Lodz. After finishing his interrupted schooling, Shanin, his mother and his father – who survived the Soviet camps despite suffering from scurvy – moved to Paris. There on November 29 1947, at a meeting held to debate the United Nation’s resolution on the creation of Jewish and Palestine states, Shanin declared: “The war begins today. No state is created by the decision of a committee, and everybody who is capable of carrying arms must move to Palestine. Those who are not must provide weapons.”
Through a series of Zionist movement safe houses, Shanin made his way via Marseilles to Palestine where, lying about his age (he was just 17), he joined the Israeli forces in the war of independence. The absurdity of fighting Arabs to establish a Jewish state did not escape Shanin at the time. “I remember turning to one of my fellow commandos and remarking that here I was killing Arabs because I hated Germans,” he recalls.
With victory won and the state of Israel established, Shanin took up a veteran’s university scholarship in social work. He saw the chance to make a real difference in a country populated by people physically and mentally scarred by a multitude of 20th-century sins: war, imprisonment, displacement, torture and hunger. He went on to take a BA in sociology and economics and eventually became the head of a rehabilitation unit, which to this day he considers the “peak of social work”, whose aim is to “set people free of the need of social workers”.
After ten years, he went to England to study British rehabilitation work – “exceptionally good then and now” – before returning to Israel to lead a “splendid new rehabilitation unit” situated, bizarrely, in a hospital for the chronically ill. Shanin fought a long and fruitless campaign to get it moved, achieving only a reputation as a troublesome leftie. Finding himself “virtually unemployable” after he resigned, he wrote to friends in Birmingham who had urged him to apply for scholarships in Britain. One was still available, so in 1963 Shanin arrived at Birmingham’s Centre for Russian and Eastern European Studies (Crees) to study for his PhD on the Russian peasantry during the revolution. It was an undeveloped field, he says, because although “peasants made up 87 per cent of the population in 1917, they were rarely found anywhere but in the footnotes of history books”. He moved to Sheffield University in 1965 to establish a pioneering course on the sociology of the third world, where he developed his early intuitive notion of Russia as a third-world country into a trademark theory.
After being called up but missing service in the Arab-Israeli “six-day” war of 1967 because of its brevity, he returned to teach at Haifa University. Within three years he became disenchanted with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and went back to England. After a year’s fellowship at St Anthony’s College, Oxford, Shanin moved to Manchester in 1974 to take up a professorship in sociology, where he stayed for 25 years, enjoying the freedom bestowed by “an extremely liberal” and supportive university.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika reforms in the late 1980s allowed Shanin to return to Russia for the first time in 40 years. They also allowed him access to archives to research books including Russia 1905-07: Revolution as a Moment of Truth and Russia as a ‘Developing Society’ . “Perestroika gave me the feeling that, for a Russian speaker, I had not so much a privilege but a duty to do something to help,” he says.
Work in Britain retraining young Russian sociologists led to a George Soros-backed programme to help transform the study of the humanities in Russia and then, in 1993, to Shanin’s suggestion of an integrated British-Russian postgraduate school to help accelerate educational reform by blending the best of the West with the skills of Russia’s brightest young scholars.
Education ministers quickly agreed to the idea, the British Council and the Soros Foundation put up 90 per cent of the budget, and all seemed straightforward. But Russian bureaucracy was too big a barrier: the Russian side failed to come up with the promised site, the flats for staff or its share of the budget. The British Council called off negotiations and it looked as if the idea was dead.
Later, Abel Agabegyan, head of the Russian Academy of National Economy, stepped in with the offer of space at his institute on the outskirts of Moscow, and with backing from Soros, but not now the British Council, the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences opened its doors to its first postgraduate students in 1995.
Shanin was persuaded to lead the institution by friends who insisted that without his vision, the school would be “eaten up” by competing interests within a few years.
The school, which has faculties of sociology, politics, law, cultural management, social work, business studies and, from September, educational management, offers masters courses leading to twin certificates validated by Manchester University (for business studies, Kingston University) and the MSSES itself under Russian accreditation.
More than 200 students pursue full-time postgraduate courses each year, paying between £1,500 and £3,000 in fees. But as part of the institution’s mission to help all of Russia, more than 70 per cent of students come from the provinces and get full scholarships in recognition of the disparities in wealth between the capital and the regions.
“Russian education is still in transition from the dominance of the system of learning by rote to that of learning how to think,” Shanin says. “The key aim of the institution is to improve the ability of students to think independently and analytically.”
He says that despite extensive changes in the past ten years, Russia remains handicapped by its unreformed bureaucracies and the slow pace of political change. Yet Shanin is optimistic about the country’s future. And its fascination for him endures. Last year, when he returned for the first time in nearly 60 years to the Siberian village where he had been exiled, he found it virtually unchanged, still with a population of just 400.
“There was one old woman there who remembered me,” Shanin says. “Well, she didn’t remember me exactly. But she had never forgotten that in this bunch of Poles who arrived there was a small boy wearing shorts. Nobody wore shorts in Siberia then – not even in mid-summer, when we arrived. The shock of seeing a boy in shorts had never left the locals in 60 years. That boy was me.”
The Daily Telegraph, July 16, 2000
THE Czech Republic’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival closed last night at the end of a season that has projected it into the ranks of Europe’s top cinema showcases alongside Cannes.
Coupled with a booming film industry in nearby Prague, where dozens of British and American films are shot each year, the festival’s burgeoning popularity heralds the country’s arrival, a decade after the “Velvet Revolution” that marked the end of communism, as a key European location for international film production.
The annual film festival in the Bohemian spa town, better known by its pre-war name, Karlsbad, screens films from more than 40 countries, plays host to thousands of visitors and draws growing numbers of top Hollywood, British and international producers and directors. They are attracted by the many new films in the competition, many of them world premieres such as Aberdeen starring Charlotte Rampling, which is showing at next month’s Edinburgh Festival. Increasing numbers are also coming to the Czech Republic to make films.
Barrandov Studios, just outside the capital, and once used by the Nazis for making propaganda films, is the thriving hub of Europe’s busiest film industry. Production companies based at Barrandov, which boasts some of Europe’s biggest sound stages and one of the richest costumes and props departments, have sprung up to take advantage of the boom.
Matthew Stillman, 30, a Londoner who has built Stillking Productions, a multi-million pound international production company, from scratch since arriving in Prague seven years ago, said beautiful unexploited locations, low costs and plenty of talent is drawing business away from Hollywood and Pinewood Studios. Mr Stillman said: “Prague’s position, infrastructure and access to talent makes it the ideal centre for any director or producer contemplating shooting in Europe. The next two years will see the city become a crowded market.”
His company, based at Barrandov Studios, created a £12 million turnover last year making feature films, commercials and pop videos, and attracts business worldwide. The company is producing From Hell, a Jack the Ripper drama starring Johnny Depp, which uses Prague interiors and a £1.5 million Barrandov set to portray 19th century London.
Czech film production is also benefiting. Jan Sverak, the 1996 Oscar winning director of Kolya, is on location shooting Deep Blue World, a £4 million wartime love story with British backing. Starring Charles Dance and Tara Fitzgerald, it tells the story of two Czech fliers in the Royal Air Force who fall in love with the same woman.
David Minkowski, the American producer of “From Hell, confirmed the attraction of the Czech Republic. He said: “People usually come to use the superb locations for historical movies – such as Plunkett & Macleane, Jake Scott’s 18th century costume drama which starred Robert Carlyle.”
The Czech Republic’s popularity as a location – Prague’s famous 14th century Charles Bridge can be hired for early morning shoots for £5,000 and most castles for less than £1,000 a day – remains strong despite competition from Rumania, Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary which all offer budget facilities and rich locations. Their poorly developed infrastructure, however, and a lack of good quality sound stages and paucity of local expertise that has to be imported, drive up costs.
Vaclav Marhoul, a Czech producer who headed Barrandov Studios in 1997, said that the atmosphere at Karlovy Vary was very open and friendly, unlike the Cannes or Berlin film festivals. He said: “People talk about films here. At Cannes you can’t move for the lawyers and agents.”
The Independent, March 11, 1993
Prisoners relish freedom of airwaves: Women serving life at Durham jail are learning to produce their own radio programmes, Nick Holdsworth reports.
WOMEN prisoners serving life sentences for murder, terrorism and other serious offences at Durham prison could be among the first inmates to run a radio station within a British jail.
In a pioneering scheme, inmates on H wing – Britain’s only high-security wing for women – are learning how to produce radio programmes, researching, reporting and writing the material themselves.
The prison education department scheme, backed by a pounds 3,000 grant from Northern Arts, is being managed by Jane Harris, writer-in-residence there.
But the first step is to prepare an hour-long programme for broadcast on Wear FM, a local community station. Male category B prisoners, on remand or serving sentences for less serious offences, will also be able to attend the course separately.
Ms Harris said: ‘I think it is important they have a voice, (prisoners) are very cut off from the outside world; not a lot of people know what happens inside a prison.
‘They are in prison as punishment, not for punishment. Anything that can be done like this project to help them learn a skill is very worthwhile,’ she said.
Fears that what the women say may be distorted by biased editing had been overcome by allowing each woman to keep her own tape reel between sessions. Ms Harris said the aim of the course was to give the participants a chance to express themselves and learn skills to raise their self-esteem. One participant – Beverley, 36, who is serving a life sentence – has already started writing a soap opera and wants to write for radio when she is released.
She hopes the project will promote understanding. ‘I don’t think you can understand what any of us are doing or going through until you have been in here. We have got the time – you’ve got nothing else to do. You either do something creative or become a nervous wreck,’ she said.
The women ‘lifers’ live in cells in a small block off a courtyard. They have a few more comforts than male inmates serving shorter sentences in the main prison, including a room in which they socialise.
But the barred windows and view of the imposing granite face of the main prison – opened in 1819 – are a constant reminder that the women are in for a long stretch.
Jim Faulkner, the prison’s education officer, said care was taken to account for all the equipment used on the course, including razor blades for splicing tape. The question of censorship of the material produced had not yet arisen, ‘but being in a prison we have to be sensitive’.
Stephen Shaw, director of the Prison Reform Trust, welcomed the possibility of a community radio station in the prison. ‘We think it should be a forerunner for radio stations for all prisons.’