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!