Thursday, October 11, 2012

OK, fine. I'll talk about Pussy Riot

I am quite appalled, frankly, at this whole thing--more so at the reaction of the international sphere than to the act itself. When I first saw the video, I was a bit puzzled, but not offended at the fact that it was clearly a potshot at Putin. But I was disturbed that it took place in a church. I don't go to church, much less worship at an Orthodox church, but I always behave respectfully when I visit one.

I found Pussy Riot's stunt more of cheap talk, rather than free speech. It was an act of hooliganism, pure and simple. Like the "hooliganism" that skinheads are often charged with (and often it is criticised for being too lenient), it too is filled with hatred, not towards a race, but to religion.

I just fail to see how this should have anything to do with Putin. Yeah sure, they were yelling out his name in their "punk prayer", but seriously? What a cheap shot that does nothing but to discredit the opposition as hysterical, impulsive, and shallow, clowns.

Maybe being raised in Singapore, offending others' beliefs is something one must never, ever do. So I'm afraid I won't change that point of view. I believe that people should have freedom to worship whomever they want, and have people respect their religious views. Without that, there can never be free speech.

Already, in the wake of their stunt, religious hatred has reared its ugly head--even though the band members claim that their protest was political, and was not of religious hatred. Well, beyond the walls of that one church, it has developed into hatred. Pussy Riot copycats started chopping down crosses across Russia. It was at this point, I had pictured someone vandalising the church, or mosque, or temple, in my neighbourhood in the name of politics. Imagine if this were supporters of the opposition party. I wouldn't be caring about the political message. I would be staring at vandalised, desecrated, places of worship, and a lot of hurt, angry citizens.

I don't think most the Russian public has a problem with two of them facing two years in jail. Just because the most vocal ones are making the headlines, doesn't mean that they're the majority, as a recent poll showed.

So, what now? Even though I think it should have nothing to do with Putin, in reality, it now has everything to do with Putin. Really, we could all have spent that energy focusing on more serious matters related to the freedom of speech and the press in Russia. For one, journalist Paul Klebnikov's murder still hasn't been solved. Neither has Anna Politkovskaya's murderer has been brought to justice. There are scores of unsolved murders of journalists. Maybe we should be returning international focus to those issues that deserve far more attention.

Monday, October 8, 2012

JOHNSON'S RUSSIA LIST » New NTV Documentaries Likely to Cause a Stir

JOHNSON'S RUSSIA LIST » New NTV Documentaries Likely to Cause a Stir

Moscow Times – – Jonathan Earle – October 4,2012

State-controlled NTV television is scheduled to air two new politically themed documentaries this weekend ­ an opposition expose on Friday and a feature about the day-to-day life of President Vladimir Putin on Sunday, his 60th birthday.

The channel has a history of producing controversial documentaries about Kremlin foes ­ from former Mayor Yury Luzhkov to Pussy Riot ­ and Putin’s closely guarded personal life has long been a subject of intense interest and speculation.

“Anatomy of a Protest 2,” like its predecessor, will portray opposition leaders as foreign agents plotting revolution, judging by a trailer released on Tuesday on NTV’s website.

“Who’s taking the money, how much and for what?” an ominous voice says over footage of protest leaders Sergei Udaltsov and Alexei Navalny giving impassioned speeches.

Opposition activists denounced the first program in the series as a pro-Kremlin hatchet job. After it aired in March, about 100 protesters were detained outside NTV’s headquarters.

The channel is billing the new Putin documentary as a “never-before-seen” look at the president’s everyday life, featuring scenes shot over a week at an investment forum, his residence, and inside his car.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Putin 60 — RT

Well then, what do you think VVP plans to do on his birthday?

Putin 60 — RT

Back in the Kremlin, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is marking his 60th birthday on October 7, basking in publicity, nourishing his tough-guy image and showing he is in full control of the country – inherited 12 years back from his senile and deeply unpopular predecessor, the first Russian President Boris Yeltsin – to “restore law and order.”
After Putin’s comfortable win in the March presidential poll, giving him another six years in office, analysts are trying to unravel his main riddle: how long can Russia’s strongman hold on to power?

Russian students don't mind the president’s firm hand | Russia Beyond The Headlines

It's official... Generation Putin generally doesn't mind Putin.

Russian students don't mind the president’s firm hand

Researchers have created an image of the ideal president for Russia’s 20-somethings.
Russian students don
The posotive image of Vladimir Putin is upheld by young people who were born in the early 1990s, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Source: AFP / East-News
Young people in Russia do not approve of diplomatic proclivities in a president – they would rather welcome an authoritarian with an unyielding political will. Such was the conclusion drawn by researchers in a study entitled "An Ideal President in the Eyes of Russian and French Students."

Monday, September 24, 2012

Putin and Russians need a break | Russia Beyond The Headlines

You can't blame Putin for everything. Here's why:

Putin and Russians need a break | Russia Beyond The Headlines

"Americans exhibit also tend to blame most problems in foreign countries with the leaders of those countries.  In the case of Russia, we do this in spades: everything that happens in Russia, be it the murder of a journalist or a case of corruption, is automatically taken to be Putin’s fault. The ridiculousness of this is obvious to anyone who takes time to think about it. "

Inside every Russian president...

Look what I found on my Facebook wall... an ad from The Spectator in the London Tube.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Notes from Brisbane

It's the Brisbane Writers Festival this week! Despite having a modest writing career already, this is the first time I've went to a writers' festival. I wasn't sure what to expect, but since I was enrolled in the Creative Writing program at QUT, it was mandatory that I attend something. So, I chose a few workshops to attend. 

This afternoon I attended a workshop by Simon Cleary about "Weaving Fact into Fiction". I have always valued research and authenticity in fiction, so I thought this would be a useful workshop, and it was.

Simon did suggest we try digging up some local history as research material before the workshop, but I wasn't inspired, so I came to the class with a biography of Vladimir Vladimirovich, and about one decade's worth of research in my head.

We spent about 2 hours discussing about the challenges of basing stories on real events and people.

  • getting sued because you offended someone
  • telling other peoples' stories without offending them
  • how to position the characters
  • song lyrics, poems--original authors will ask for royalties (OK to quote title, but lyrics are copyrighted)
  • getting facts right--give it to experts to read to receive feedback

Author's notes--what to include:
  • this is a work of fiction
  • acknowledge sources
Some of us in the group had a harder time getting people to tell their stories. When asked, some people just clam up. On the other hand, most people are eager to share their stories. I gave an example of this. Many years ago, when Putin was still wildly popular, everyone seemed to have a Putin story. I read about a journalist who was writing an article about Putin back then. She was swamped with so many people wanting to tell their little stories about Putin that she had to resort to putting a sign up on her door:

"No more Putin stories!"

Maybe that should be the title of my new book, someone mused. Perhaps. It's amazing how one man's life spans so many stories. 

So, Simon says, write a short story in 45 minutes. I ask him for a suggestion. "Give me a story about how Putin's father reacts when he hears his son has joined the KGB."

So I did. Here it is:

Even if he or I didn't know it, I had groomed my son to be a conquerer. That was why I gave him my name,Vladimir--ruler of the world. He took after me, to be quiet. But instead of being the strong, silent type, he instead was meek and easily victimised. I had doubts he would make it that far; he was always bullied at school, and always arrive at school late and leave early so that he would not have to face them. Later, he took to hooliganism--forming a little gang--in order to face his bullies. But it only got him into more trouble. He was also a poor student, unmotivated and unkempt. Then, all of a sudden, it changed. I couldn't figure out why then. That was, until he told me about his job offer.

We didn't speak; we just did things together, as I suppose, fathers and sons do. We went fishing, casting our lines side by side, smiling, but not saying a word. I played the accordion, and we'd sing along. War songs we loved the best. After all, I was a NKVD veteran. Volodya (that was his pet name), like every other boy at that time, had a fascination with the Beatles, and I would indulge him by trying to sing along as he strummed his guitar--much to his amusement. It was during one of these singing sessions, he told me.

"Papa, I want to be like you."

"That's great, son," I replied, but not knowing what to make of it.

"Papa, you were in the NKVD, right?"

He never asked me about that before. In fact, he somehow knew that I never wanted to talk about that. But he knew. I figured it was my wife Marina who told him my war stories on my behalf. The NKVD was the KGB's predecessor, and we helped in the war effort by carrying out sabotage missions against the Nazis.

"Lets sing The Sacred Banner once more, shall we? I just learnt a new arrangement," I replied.

He knew from my tone of voice that the conversation should not go into that direction.

We sang, kind of half-heartedly this time. Then, mid-verse, he stopped strumming his guitar.

"Papa, I was approached by someone from the... the agencies. They are interested in me. I took up the job offer."

I stopped playing the accordion. That sly fox, so that's what's been happening! All that judo stuff, all those spy novels, spending money at the cinema to watch spy movies, and of all things, STUDYING! Studying German, history, and psychology--and getting top grades! Studying law at Leningrad State University!

I wanted to hug and kiss him, but we never did that. I wanted to say, "Son, you've done me proud!" but I didn't want to, because, the same time, I wanted to dissuade him from joining the KGB. Being a spy in the war was different from being one now, in the 70s, but even then, it was hard, and often dangerous work.

But somehow, I wasn't surprised that he was recruited, and that he would accept the offer. That scrawny boy who was always bullied was always trying to fight back. He never trusts anyone, nor does he forgive. Because he never had the size or strength, he could not defend himself physically, so he would have to find other, smarter ways to defeat his enemies. That was what spying was all about. I was sure he would be a good officer in the agencies. 

"That's great, son," I said.

"But I can't really tell Mama. In fact, I wasn't even supposed to tell you."

"Then don't. It'll be our little secret."

He smiled, and said not another word.
Alright, no more Putin stories... for now. 

Wrapping up, on researching for fiction--

1. Story is king/queen (research serves fiction, not the other way around)
2. Avoid the garden path (i.e. when to stop)
3. How many spokes on a wagon wheel? (does that little fact really matter?)
4. Other peoples' stories (and danger of offense or defamation)
5. Theft--beware! Always reference your notes.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


My intention for starting this blog was to document the Russian presidential elections on March 4th, and to talk about being part of a generation who grew up in Putin's Russia, and their/our metamorphosis. Putin's image changed from teenage heart throb to political mentor to dictator--but thing is, Putin hasn't changed. It was we who have changed. Does anyone really think he would do away with his KGB past? Once in intelligence, always in intelligence. Believe me, I know. I've seen it. But don't get me wrong. I have a deep well of respect for many the intelligence community.

But I didn't mean this for a long term project--after March 4 I would call it a day. Right. However as president-elect Vladimir Vladimrovich takes power (not just again--he's never lost it), Generation Putin is hardly over. 

Now that the puppet theatrics of Medvedev's term and the last election are over, the next act opens. I might take a more political approach in the next blog posts. Reason being, 1) I don't really have a proper art studio here yet. 2) Another Putin painting? Please! 3) I do have other projects besides this one. 4) Let's admit it. I'm not that great a painter.

We'll see where this goes.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Judgement Day

As promised, I will deliver the results of my progress on the painting... as of 4th March 2012, it has been completed!

I have to confess, like Russian elections, everything is already pre-determined. I had actually finished the painting weeks ago. I'm just prolonging the apparent painting "progress" to appear that you are actually watching something real. But it is, alas, all a just puppet show. Till the opposition comes up with some real substance and actually agree with each other about something, nothing is going to change.

I bet you, the currently undetermined-price of this painting, that the show will be in for another season.

As for me?

I am just back from a birthday dinner (yes, yes, today! March 4)--a lovely steak restaurant not too far from Brisbane. You see, I am not even in my art studio in Singapore.  The painting is not even with me. I am probably going to be here for a pretty long time.

So farewell, and good luck!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Blinis and ribbons and hearts...

And so.

It has been a busy month, and I don't know if anyone even reads this blog and noticed that the weekly post has been long due...

But the painting progresses. With Vladimir Vladimirovich's face done, I have started working on the details surrounding the centre of the painting. The blue background is done first in acrylic, and now I've smeared some lovely ultramarine blue straight from the tube on it. 

I've been busy because it's.... Pancake Week/Maslinitsa! The Russia Club and Russian restaurant Buyan organized an awesome blini buffet. Rabbit ragout, sturgeon, mushrooms and all... (well, maybe not all, there was no caviar).

That's about it... but next year I hope to go to Russia for a real Maslinitsa celebration like this:

That has got to be the most fun festival int he whole world!

Anyway, a few parties and several blinis later, I finally get to sit down and paint/write. In my dress and all. I actually am not a messy painter at all--what stays on the canvas, stays ont he canvas. What stays on the brush stays on the brush. 

So after the painting session, I decided to check in on the elections, and the first thing I stumbled upon was this video:

Protesters rallying for fair elections formed a human ring on the Garden Ring Road, waving their symbol of the anti-Putin movement: white ribbons. It is quite an incredible sight, a human ring, drivers honking in support, and people waving and distributing white ribbons to everyone.

One could associate white with surrender--or the lack of corruption, as the People's Action Party in Singapore took to their all-white uniforms: 

So, I shall take the anti-corruption stance.

But what about those people holding the red hearts standing behind the white ribbon people? I took a closer look and saw this:

A bunch of mostly young peeps hit the streets with what seemed to be recycled Valentine hearts to have a face-off with the White Ribbons. "Putin loves all!" they declare, as they hand out tri-colour ribbons. 

Classic Red vs. White. Class.

And with that, Pancake Week Ends.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Hyde Park copycats? Not even close!

I nearly fell off my chair when our dear VVP proposed forming "speaker's corner" similar to Hyde Park. It was a weird sense of deja vu... one that punches you right between the eyes and makes you reel back and collapse in tears of mocking laughter. It's almost sarcastic.

There are a few things Singapore has in common with Russia--most of which I celebrate and try to share the joy with my fellow citizens. But this Hyde Park thing isn't one of them.

Really, it isn't.

Singapore didn't only attempt--it really went and do it. In 2000, the government marked out a space in Hong Lim Park for a so-called "speakers' corner". They erected a signboard with the exact words, "Speaker's Corner", just in case people didn't know what that empty patch of grass was for.

Well, we still don't know what it's for.

We thought that anyone was supposedly allow to bring a soap box, stand on it, and complain about the ruling party and government.

Or so we hoped.

When it was first opened, there were some rules which basically killed Speakers' Corner at its infancy. Yes, soap box (stool/chair usually) was Bring-Your-Own and nobody complains, but you had to let the police know that you were going to hold a speech.

And there are more rules... no discussion racial or religious topics which may cause any bit of ill will, and anything said is subject to existing defamation and sedition laws.

Fortunately, after several years of chirping cicadas and crickets, the government decided to make new rules and forgo the police permit requirement... and...

...oh, I forgot, they still required speakers to register on the National Parks Board. And you have to tell them the topic you are going to speak about. And oh, they also installed a new CCTV in 2009.

And they wonder why the only living things at Hong Lim Park are insects, birds and silent people.

Vladimir Vladimirovich, you know how much Russians love to debate. They love arguing about everything. Especially politics. They aren't afraid of walking out the streets to speak out. They'd risk their lives for the ideals. Maybe your idea of a Russian Speaker's Corner isn't a bad idea. But please, for the love of god, don't do what Singapore did.

I'm not sure what he'll come up with next; it's not finished yet. Not the campaigning, nor the painting. Today, I worked on the eyebrows. Yup, he may have raised a few himself.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Another milestone in Singapore-Russia relations

Some years ago, when The Singapore-Russia Connection was still in its infancy, it was extremely difficult to learn Russian.

Yes, I know it is still difficult to learn Russian as a foreign language--but what I meant was, it was nigh impossible to find a Russian language tutor. Let alone group classes. I had some individual classes for awhile before I left for Russia--my great escape and greatest adventure ever--at the age of 18. I had managed survival Russian, the alphabet and numbers. 

I returned from Russia in 2006, armed with an agenda for a new era of The Singapore-Russia Connection, backed up with a certificate for Basic Level Russian as a Foreign Language. So when I returned, I continued my lessons. Thats' when I met Katya at a language school here.

A few years later, Katya started her own language school, The Russian Language Center, and just opened the new premises last night.

I had a pretty crappy day on the day of the party, which made me miss the opening ceremonies at the earlier part of the party, and it pissed me off. So I was determined to get drunk. And I did. This is something I don't do often. In fact, I think it's only happened a handful of times in recent history. I mean, to decide, consciously, to get drunk.

Apparently I was saying/typing some pretty bizarre stuff. So all the evidence was there. Scribbling on the RLC "wall" of Post-it notes, on my Facebook wall, sending weird messages to anyone who happened to be online.

Well it was fun while it lasted. The thing is, I remember what happened. All of it. I just don't remember how it feels.


Yes, so, that's about all that's happening. Thank goodness I did not try to paint last night. But that's an idea... and I'll have a blank canvas on standby next time I deliberately plan to get drunk. Yup.

More re-working on the eyes. No painting last night. Was too drunk.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Lies, damned lies, and statistics...

Ok, maybe that's an unfair post title. I actually love looking at the results of VITsOM polls. In fact I got really excited when one of them came knocking at my Moscow apartment, only to find out that they were only polling Russian citizens. Ah well. But yes, they say so much with a buncha numbers.

Guess who's in the first? 

Well, that isn't so important because the headline of this RIA Novosti article declared that Gorbachev (14%) and Yeltsin (17%) are the most unpopular leaders of Russia or all time. Even Stalin was more popular than either of them. (Each earned a respectable 28%)

Which of these leaders will get your vote, if they all ran for President next month?

Well, actually... that's a scary thought.

And oh, forgot to update you guys on the painting. Here it is. More work done on the eyes.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Anti-Putin

Okay, who's got a case of the Mondays? What? Did I hear "Ya ne polnedelnik!"? Ok, never mind.

Working on the face and running into a bit of trouble as I didn't focus on the eyes first. 
One mistake that I did was not to do the eyes first--because the eyes are everything in a portrait. I'm not sure why I didn't do that. So I'm leaving this for a couple of days to dry so I can rework the eyes. Anyway...

Lets talk about the Putin haters today, because we're all supposed to be grumpy on "polnedelnik"s. 

My favourite Putin hater is DDT frontman Yuri Shevchuk. Yes, I still love people who hate Putin. We will talk about him another time. Right now I want to bring your attention to someone who is indeed running against Putin in the elections.

Please welcome oligarch, Family man, Kremlin chum and critic (Confused? So are we.) and presidential hopeful, Mikhail Prokhov! 

His campaign line? Lets check his Twitter. Oh, here. “My task in this election is to become the main Anti-Putin.”

Seriously? Is that all he has to offer? 

I don't mind that he is anti-Putin, but making that a goal in itself is short-sighted and stupid. And does anyone trust that a man who has acquired his wealth through the shady privatization mess in the 1990s?

At this point, I throw my hands up and chuck him in the same bin as Communist Gennady Zyuganov and LDPR's Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Now they are no longer one clown short of a circus.

But the show isn't over. Stay tuned. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

What do you do if you puppet says nothing? blame him! Yup, that's what Putin's campaign manager did to his puppet poor President Medvedev by saying that he did not speak up for Putin in his bid for president. The only "wrong" he did was not saying anything.

It's been a busy day for me today, so I won't say that much either. Let's make it brief today so we can both enjoy the rest of our weekend.

Progress slowing down a bit as I've moved on to oils to work on the details on Putin's face. I happen to have much better quality oil paint than I do for acrylics, so it all works out. Oil is also one of the more forgiving mediums--long drying time so longer time to work on the painting, and if you make a mistake, just cover it up.

Moving on to oil paint for details. This will take awhile.

Now I'm actually starting to remember this familiar face...

Back to the campaign and that weird accusation.

Come on, as President, Medvedev can't openly support any party-backed candidate. It will backfire. That's just common sense. And besides, that wouldn't be ethical. Or more importantly, against the law. In fact, there isn't really any need to. We get the Tandem thing. Yes, that means even if Medvedev doesn't say anything, we know he's backing Putin. Yes, we get it. Thank you. Now please leave Medvedev alone.

Interestingly, the head of Putin's campaign had more success in the film industry than in politics. But in puppetry theatre, this might just be the thing he wants. Who knows?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Repealing the ridiculously-outdated Jackson-Vanik Amendment

A little more progress today. I'm still deciding on whether to use oils for the final details because I seemed to be ok handling the details in acrylic although there were issues with the drying time. I got a feeling I might finish this painting way before mid-February. And speaking of time...

Not much to comment at this point; just a continuation of what I was doing in the last post.

...according to US Ambassador Michael McFaul, they're finally considering repealing the awfully outdated Jackson-Vanik Amendment. Yay! But this was long, long, long overdue. So much that the US realized it was hurting trade relations. In some way anyway. If goods don't cross borders, soldiers will. And we came pretty damn close to WWIII with the Cold War.
"[Jackson-Vanik] has been on the books for 40 years, its specific aims have been achieved, and it is standing in the way of what we think are some really important benefits we would get from Russia's World Trade Organization membership -- and I stress that we would get [them]. This is not a gift to Russia. It is in the interests of U.S. exporters, businesses, and the United States in general." --Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia Philip Gordon (link)
Jackson-Vanik was a huge issue that my late mentor, old Cold War warrior, Dr. Speller, hoped to see gone. I'm very sad that he did not live to see this day. It signified the stagnation of US-Russia relations, and the seemingly unwillingness for the US to realize that the Russian Federation is not the Soviet Union. Although trade relations resumed, the symbolic existence of the amendment remained. They simply let normal trade resume under "temporary" waivers that were renewed yearly. I suppose it was easier that way.

But of course, getting Russia in the WTO at the end of this year required the bureaucrats to do something about this outdated amendment, or they'd be in trouble. Rather, if the US did not appeal it, they would be the ones at fault, not Russia. So they said, well, it's "not a gift", but was just something they should have done long ago.

About bloody time, I think.

On Putin's national policy...

Have you done your homework and read Putin's article on national policy I asked you to read yesterday? If not, please read it now. We are going to be referring to it quite a lot.

For those who have already read, then you may check out the latest progress on the painting...

Had to do it quickly because it dries quickly and I didn't want to use any acrylic paint retarders to slow down the drying. 

I haven't painted in so long that when I opened my box of art supplies, a giant cockroach scurried out--one the size of your thumb and then some. Chased it under the cupboard with insecticide. I think it's dead. My cat isn't really interested in pest control these days.

So, time to do the underpainting in acrylic. The large areas get the paint first--background, Putin's suit, shirt. Then moved on to the his face.

Ok, back to our discussion.

Immigration policy and migrant workers have been a huge (if not the main) subject of debate during the Singapore General Election (no, I didn't get to vote, but thanks for asking/pitying me), and even during the Presidential Election. After becoming slightly less popular, the ruling party said it would "listen more". And they promptly wrecked havoc on migration worker quotas.

The fact was, it wasn't because the government wasn't listening. It was because the Singaporeans have not been speaking up enough.

Example. A personal one. During the 2nd Russia-Singapore Business Forum, I got the final question during the Q and A session with Herman Gref and Lee Kuan Yew. Greeting Mr Gref, I  asked"What would be the future of Singapore-Russia relations after Putin?" and after which, I lambasted asked Lee Kuan Yew, "And what would be the future... after YOU, Sir."(said with a snarky expression that implied "so, when are you gonna quit, old man?")
I attended the RSBF in 2007. That's Herman Gref on the left, Lee Kuan Yew in the middle.

He was polite enough to chuckle.

My friends and family were shocked that I did ask such a question and not get smacked on the wrist for that. Of course, nothing happened. I knew nothing would happen. I don't believe anyone printed that in the papers though.

The thing is, we've always had a voice all along. You could criticize the ruling party and not be thrown in jail. It was OK. They won't hate you for speaking up. In fact, they are terrified of the Complaining Citizen. Sure, a handful might get in trouble (might be because they were idiots all along), but most likely you won't. If anything, they'd actually LISTEN. It was only recently, my generation had discovered it. Generation Y was no longer Generation Q--Generation Quiet.

Russians, on the other hand, I find to be very outspoken--Whine! Argue! Find fault! Find somebody to blame! Debate! Criticize! Protest! Rebel! Revolt! Start a new revolution!--even when they know very well they could get into trouble for it.

Many people view Russia as a repressed people.

It was only when I went to visit Putin's Russia, that I saw that we were the ones who had been repressed all along... by our own fault. By our own fears.

So maybe people get the government they deserve. Or is it the other way round?

We wanted cheaper things. We wanted more material things. We wanted to spend more time with the family and friends. We got a government that imported cheap labour and goods we can enjoy on the cheap. Lowly-paid migrant workers as waiters, cleaners, maids, construction etc. had to be hired. Singaporeans don't want those jobs.

Thus the flood of immigrants in addition to imported goods. Now, no, we discovered we didn't like it that much. We didn't like competing for space in public transport, or even sharing our parks, eateries, or sidewalks. We also didn't like the service these foreign service staff was providing us. Too shoddy. Don't speak proper English! Don't speak Singlish! We found something else to whine about. What we wanted, we got. What we complained about got done away with. If only we could make up our minds....

What did Russia want? Did Russia get what she deserved?

Maybe our Russian friends can tell us. But let me take a shot at this.

Historically, Russians always had a top-down chain of command. The top rules the bottom. The Tsar, Chairman or President is given huge powers, and is expected to solve all the nation's problems and march it into greatness.

But this doesn't really happen. No one person can handle such power. He is not god. Even with such power, he cannot solve all the problems that have been plaguing the nation because most of these problems have deep roots. These problems were within the people themselves, and change must come from within them, not from the top.

So poor, poor Putin, just handed the keys to the country after Yeltsin left it in a huge, hangover-turned-alcoholic-oh-I'm-gonna-die mess. And he couldn't say no. Because somewhere, in side him, a little voice tells him, you can do better than this man. Give it a shot.

Yeltsin-era Russia was an amazing mix of Soviet-style illogic and bandit capitalism. But I suppose many had decided, enough was enough. The Russians made noise. Putin decided to listen.

I don't think Yeltsin intended Putin to strike out on his own and start knocking down his family of chummy oligarchs in favor of the entire country. I wouldn't think Putin would do that if he didn't feel that he had the support of the people.

We see what is happening in the world, the serious risks that are accumulating. Escalating interethnic and interreligious tensions are today’s reality. Nationalism and religious intolerance are becoming an ideological base for some of the most radical groups and movements – destroying or eroding states, and dividing societies.   --V. V. Putin

Likewise, the issues of nationalism and ethnic strife has plagued the nation since forever... and more recently, the two Chechen wars, the rise of skinheads, mobs of migrants from the CIS etc. have highlighted the issues even more. And of course, much was written and spoken about. There were protests. Even terrorist attacks.

These problems were historical and deep-rooted, but Russians looked up to Putin to solve these problems with a few strokes of the pen--enact a new law or something--within his first term. These problems cannot be solved in decades, let alone 4 years.

Maybe sometime during the end of his 2nd term, a light went up in his head, "Hey, they think I AM god... maybe I CAN actually solve these problems..." then..

BAM! New plan. Buy more time with the help of Medvedev. New national policy in 2012 addressing migration policy. Because this was, getting, quite frankly, ridiculous. The Russians are miserable. The migrant workers are miserable. Even Russia's neighbors are miserable. And they were all going to blame him whether it was his fault, or their own bloody fault.

And his vision, in all awesomeness:

Russian people are nation-forming – on the basis of Russia’s existence. The great mission of Russians is to unite and bind our civilization. Language, culture and “universal kind-heartedness,” according to Fyodor Dostoevsky, are what bring together Russian Armenians, Russian Azerbaijanis, Russians Germans, Russian Tatars… Bring them together to form a type of state-civilization that does not have “ethnic persons” and where differentiation between “us and them” is determined by a common culture and shared values.      

It would be an amazing feat if he actually pulls it off his "lets just all get along" policy. But most politicians don't fulfill most of their promises. I only hope here it is a question of can't, not don't. I think he can't do it. Not on his own.

Change must come within the people first.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Outlines and Outlook

Note: I accidentally deleted this post--so here is a repost of whatever I can remember...

So, with the twice-recycled canvas, (canvases are not that expensive, just that I was being a cheapskate...) I decided to go with a simple portrait of the man. One that is neutral enough for you to hang in the office; commands enough respect without scaring people off. Maybe one that every adoring Putin fan would love to have... actually, maybe not. I would hate to see my painting with any of the disgusting Putin's Army girls.

Sketched out the outline.
So what is Putin's outline for his 2012 presidential campaign? Did anyone really think he'd let Medvedev run for a second term? The last time Putin ran, he was so worried about voter turnout because the opposition parties were doing everything they can in their power to boycott the vote. See, the only way Putin would not win was to not have enough people show up. The opposition parties were, well, frankly, crappy, and anyone who has a teenzy bit of common sense would not vote for them--unless they are casting a symbolic vote.

I remember the 2004 elections rather well. It was hard not to. Putin's campaigners had plastered all of Moscow with posters, billboards, flags and what-nots to remind people to vote. They even printed reminders on Metro tickets. Maybe they even printed presidential election toilet paper. Who knew? There is usually no toilet paper in public toilets anyway.

Your ordinary Moscow Metro ticket--working for your President.
I don't think Team Putin would have a problem with voter turnout in 2012. In fact, last year's State Duma Elections in December turned out to be quite the opposite (not for good reasons though).

Okay, lets suppose there will be no election fraud this time. What's Putin's outlook then?

Well, he's planning to focus on a pressing issue with the help of some good old Russian nationalism. So I leave you with some reading homework for you today: Putin's national policy. And we will be talking about it tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Revisiting the past

People think I don't live in the past. I guess for most part, no.

But I do take a long time to get over things. Or to forgive people--or whatever it is they have been asking me to do to my enemies--for that matter. 

Nobody likes Russia.

You love, or hate it. Most likely both.

So it took me quite a few years before I got over my loser life there and went to revisit Russia in November 2011.

It wasn't so bad. In fact, I finally got to enjoy the things I never got to do because I was too busy trying to make ends meet, and fighting a losing battle with the bureaucracy. Hell, I couldn't even afford film, or a digital camera. So I was glad to finally spend days just wandering around the city and taking photos.

I also finally got to go to a DDT concert. I absolutely adore Yuri Shevchuk and DDT.

I still get goosebumps when I recall those moments during the concert.

Shevchuk has always been anti-Kremlin, and isn't exactly chummy with Vladimir Vladimirovich

I'd so kill to get in the same room (maybe in this kitchen) with both of them and sit in the crossfire of frenzied debate!

Welcome. First, an introduction

First things first.

I am not Russian. I do speak and write passible Russian, but have not come to the point that I can debate fluently about politics in Russian.

I have lived in Moscow from 2003-2006. I am from Singapore. Some of you may know me for my minor but pioneering work in Singapore-Russia relations.

I started following Putin's career since 2000. Huge fan. So much that I wanted to see what it was like to live in Putin's Russia.

So I did, and became part of Putin's so-called rising middle class. Married a Russian guy, but that lasted only up till late 2006. We are still good friends though.

Throughout the years I have drew/painted Putin. Some turned out alright, and I gave them to a Russian diplomat whom I had a crush on. (Well, it was mutual. It's OK.) Currently, I have no idea about the whereabouts of those paintings.

This was my favorite which I did in 2002 or so, but I am no longer in possession of this painting.

But there was one particular piece that kept bugging me. I painted it just before I left for Russia. I was not pleased with how it turned out. It never saw the light of day. It remained in my studio for about a few years, and I left for Moscow.

When I came back, I decided I had to do something about it.

So I painted over it, and started anew.
Nope. After returning home, it was a very difficult time of my life. Thus my paintings sucked. WTH man, it was as if I had forgotten how to paint!

But I still was not satisfied. So I chucked it in a corner for a few years.

It was only recently that I revisited it again, and finally decided I had enough.

So I painted over it. Again.

Layer 3...
Almost gone...

Clean slate. That feels so much better!

My birthday is on the 4 March. On this very day in 2012, Putin will be running for president. Again.

I would be 27 by then.

I have varied views of Putin these days. Maybe my generation--Generation Putin--has come of age.

Just because we grew up with his cult of personality, doesn't mean we didn't have minds of our own.

I intend to blog about my thoughts, as well as my progress on the new painting up till at least 4 March 2012.

I hope you'll like it!