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In Moscow now. New phenomenon: insecurity

I arrived in Moscow on Monday to do some consulting for the coming months. Two months to be precise, unless there is an extension of the contract.

I’m sitting now in the huge space of Crowne Plaza lobby, a facility with an interesting history – or so I was told – but I cannot find it written anywhere (i.e. not on wikipedia). Colleague told me the complex was built in the 70s and became a rare enclave of capitalism within soviet Moscow, where people in western clothes could be seen, prostitutes abound etc. (full fledged capitalist environment in any case).

What else. The weather is shitty and I can hardly mobilize myself to do any work on Ogito side.

There seems to be a new element which came to light after I was last here, as an effect of the crisis.

People I work with, and they would be typical new middle class representatives, talk about feeling insecure in the country, anxiety can clearly be felt, to the point that makes them worry about state of things in Russia.

In the time of prosperity any troubling signs were filtered out before they could reach their consciousness. Things like political killings or corruption were known to exist, but not something successful specialists aiming for new cars and apartments would worry about.

Plus they bought into nationalistic theme, where every unpleasant fact was dismissed as exaggeration driven by hostile external propaganda.

Not anymore. Moscow streets were always a curiosity, where luxurious cars of the elite are mixing seamlessly with working class in ancient Russian ladas. Now, low income workers start to display open hostility towards suits passing by on the street.

Police would be expected to separate the extreme layers of the society, but unfortunately anyone in the uniform is considered rather a potential threat than protection. Men in uniforms look to benefit from their status for extortion and not serve anyone.

Prosperity is over for now and status quo where everyone is paid into submission through oil money may become unsustainable. Things may get ugly then.




Politics in Poland continuing to get better (and younger, prettier too)

Agnieszka Pomaska, 29, will become a new member of the Polish parliament. She barely missed being elected in Gdansk last time, now she will take place of a new EU representative.

She is a hell of a sportswoman, studied politology and apparently did a good job in Gdansk’s government (can’t tell since I’m not from Gdansk).

With liberal party getting 45% of votes in the middle of the recession, Polish politics doesn’t leave a lot to complain about, but surely it wouldn’t hurt to have more young politicians.

Even better if they understood new technologies and helped the country compete – topics like user-friendly copyright law and support for high-tech startups could use some spokesmen.




Meeting Warsaw anticapitalists

Yesterday I decided to spice up my weekend with some extreme flavors. So I visited a meeting organized by Pracownicza Demokracja (“Labor Democracy”), the local leftist movement.

And I quite succeeded with my initial goal, even though I only managed to sustain two hours of the event.

On May 1st PD organized anti-capitalist happening, which I obviously skipped, and on the next day, that is yesterday, a series of lectures and discussions.

What attracted me – other than the morning hour, helping me to mobilize to wake up early – was the first lecture by anthropology professor about organization of prehistoric cultures (which was supposedly close to communist one).

First thing I heard upon arriving was that the lecture was canceled, which was quite disappointing, but decided to stay nevertheless for the replacement presentation delivered by one of the activists.

Not once I regretted this decision in the coming hour or so. The presenter didn’t speak a very good Polish which took away from the content, and there was not much to take away in the first place.

Leaving aside the starting point – based on the assumption that current crisis somehow spells end of the capitalism – the “to be” state of the Marxists seems awfully vaguely defined. Unless by defining the future you can accept listing what’s bad about the current and saying that the promise system will be done with all of it (somehow).

You might say that this kind of living-in-the-past could be expected. And as I listened, it seemed to be the case, it seemed there was no recognition whatsoever about how work is different nowadays, as if majority of population still worked at production lines.

But I still remember the Empire book that I read (in Cuba), by Negri and Hardt, both Marxist philosophers. No need to agree with the whole premise, but I found some ideas inspiring and new.

The idea that I remember from Empire (apologies if my memory distorts it) is that it is no longer useful to analyze “imperialistic” policy of a particular country, as it was done before. What we have now is a global system of capitalist exchange, which expands into all corners of the world and all social spheres. There is no one point of control, but there is “imperial” layer of governance (Empire).

What’s characteristic of the Empire is that crises make it stronger. Crises justify the need to ramp up global imperial powers to overcome them. Isn’t current crisis used to push towards more global coordination of all countries? There is even talk about necessity to establish a common global currency.

Anyways, there was not a trace of such stuff on Saturday morning. Perhaps the later material was better, but I didn’t dare to risk another session after the first one.

What was really fun was the discussion after presentation finished. One after another people rose and asked questions. Or made statements. More often statements than questions.

One guy rose and introduced himself as a programmer and an anthropologist and declared that collective doesn’t work at all after a certain threshold.

Senior white haired bearded man explained in a quite low voice how he was taught communism (somewhere), without any obvious conclusion.

Another guy criticized the speaker in four points, of which I remember the stupidity of idea to rotate “unpleasant” jobs between people, for example having doctor doing a physical work for a change.

One peculiar looking lady called Basia – the organizers must have known her – started to explain how crises are embedded into the very nature of the capitalism which she remembers from economy lessons and that she was actually really doing well at these lessons – before organizers hushed her.

There were also a couple of homeless people which I forgot to mention, but they mostly sat looking indifferent or slept. Only the mention that lots of buildings stay unused seemed to resonate somehow with them.

As an ominous sign for revolution prospects in Poland, number of actual marxists in room didn’t seem to exceed much the number of organizers.

All in all the discussion was the greatest value of the whole event (the part I saw).

Maybe Marxist meetings wouldn’t be the first example, but I always thought of Ogito as a way to learn about such things happening around.

Lessons learned from Che

I’m sorry to admit, but as a side product of the Cuban trip I continue to find myself fascinated with Che’s life and undertakings.

As mentioned before, I found Cuban revolution interesting due to the notion in which a group determined individuals could turn the tables on a (seemingly) much stronger opponent (lesson of persistence).

Particularly inspiring are the following events from struggle in Cuba: almost a total initial defeat just after the expedition’s landing, continuous desertions of guerrilla fighters losing faith in the struggle or giving up to the hardships of life in the jungle, gradual build-up of critical mass due to a sequence of small victories – sometimes achieved in a very accidental manner – which nevertheless resonated within the society.

Having said this, success of the revolution and the fighting concept that it employed (focus on rural areas, no support from a strong political party, etc.) was determined by number of factors specific to Cuba, which revolution leaders could be ignorant of.

In the end Che paid with his life for this ignorance in Bolivia. He overestimated influence of his leadership and failed to appreciate Bolivian specifics in applying the template of Cuban revolution.

Conclusion: no success is possible without alignment with external factors, and since many of them are unknown ex ante – it all boils down to luck and intuition. On the other hand, no amount of luck in setting the initial course will substitute persistence in following it.

All this is more entertaining because through the diaries one can emphasize with Che’s evolution as an individual, from the motorcycle journey, through Cuba, to the Bolivian failure (even though unfortunately I don’t have the copy of Bolivian diaries yet).

Revolution (Cuba)

I’m back from Cuba.

The return flight was delayed one day, I had to pay for connecting flight (and it seemed to be charged twice to the credit card), and the Cubans have either lost or confiscated by backpack (maybe it’s because of rom and cigars inside…?)

But these logistic difficulties aside, Cuba was surely a memorable experience!

Be sure to go there before it changes, ie. starts to be a normal country again.

One thing which seems known, but which I saw in new light is the Revolution itself. On the airport I had lots of time for reading Che’s memories, which were actually the only books available.

Che’s account from his fighting next to Fidel present valuable lessons. The main one is that of persistence.

Then the Cubans, amazing social products of the Revolution experiment they are forced to be subject to. Revolution is an economic disaster, but it creates unique social environment (unique even comparing to communist Poland).

Polish politicians to boycott Olympics over Tibet

Polish PM Donald Tusk, as the first among international leaders, declared that he is not going to the Olympics opening ceremony (bloomberg).

Amazingly, even opposition leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski supports this decision.

As well as Lech Walesa, and 60% of the population, according to polls.

Polish government asked other EU leaders to join the protest.

This might not be the most pragmatic approach. It may damage economic contacts with China, for example. And some people argue that boycotting the Olympics will not help Tibetans much.

Still, this is Poland and there is more to the stance one would expect from it than pragmatism.

Poland in El Reg, again, thanks to Kaczynski

After trams abusing teenager from Lodz, now Kaczynski made it to theregister with his opinion against conducting polls on the Internet:

I am not an enthusiast of a young person sitting in front of a computer, watching video clips and pornography while sipping a bottle of beer and voting when he feels like it (Reuters)

Some UK commenters actually appreciated depth of his thinking:

This is the first time I’ve ever heard a politician who seems to “get” the internet!

Regardless of his politics he seems to understand the internet a million times better then our “masshup/wiki/blogging/youtubing” obsessed bullpoop artists known as MPS.

…unlike most of Internet users in Poland, as Register observes:
The news will no doubt infuriate the country’s netizens, should they actually notice it through their booze and porn-addled haze.

The fall of the duck?

22:55. Initial results of the election are out.

Liberal Citizen Platform totally won. No word yet on split of seats.

Seems the great political strategist Mr. Kaczynski overengineered the strategy a bit and lost the elections.

Update: Nevetheless much better speech by J. Kaczynski. Except for conspirational beginning and bitter ending.

Poland votes

While two years ago there was a feeling of indifference to the elections, today there is a feeling of a quiet mobilization.

There were emails and then smses from friends, urging to go and vote.

And at the election office, when I at last found it today, there was a queue of people (voting today reminds me that I am officially citizen of Warsaw for two weeks already…)

It would be interesting how these feelings translate into the turnout number. At the moment it is known that at 10:30, 8.36% showed up, compared to 6.76% two years ago. Then, it’s almost 24% more. Since two years ago final turnout was 41%, if I remember correctly, I would bet today it should be something like 51%. Nevertheless I would hope for 55% or more.

Update: according to survey of 16:30, turnout is 28% higher than last time. Consequently final target would be 53%. Still not bad.

Update: 21:15. Gosh what a mess with the elections! But a smashing hit nevertheless! And I was correct about turnout in the morning, it is above 55%, a record result. Voting cards ran out. Some people abroad were not registered. Elections fail to close since 8pm and commission was delaying the closing every 20 minutes, but last time they said they cannot say when they will finally close. Till then, no surveys.

Update: 21:30. Delay till at least 23:00 because of screw-ups in Warsaw, where they ran out of cards and had to prolong voting. Guy from the election commission seemed already at the edge when he was trying to excuse this mess.

Update: 22:55. Results are out.

What is pure democracy, asks Putin

“At your place niggers get beaten as well”. The saying comes from the communist times, I guess, a parody of communists who were trying to present themselves as no worse than Western democracies whenever someone mentioned human rights abuses. Guess that’s natural way to go when you’re in denial.

Half empty glass getting more empty.

Catherine Mayer closing an article in Time about accusations in Alexander Litvinenko case:

Russia’s relations with Europe have become increasingly fractious as it flexes its new clout owing to rising prices for its vast stores of natural resources. It now supplies around a quarter of Europe’s natural gas and a rising proportion of its oil. Human rights, however, are in shorter supply. Earlier this month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel chided Putin for restrictions on opposition rallies during an E.U.-Russia summit. Putin’s response: “What is pure democracy? It is a question of . . . whether you want to see the glass half-full or half-empty.” While Litvinenko’s murder remains unsolved, many fear the levels in that glass will continue to fall.

Definitely everyone wants to see glass half full, here in Moscow. It might get tougher in time, though.

All the women of Simon Mol

Simon Mol (Simon Moleke Njie), an exile from Cameroon, was accused of knowingly infecting his sexual partners with HIV and arrested. He is a writer, poet, and creator of an Migrator Theater. He lives in Poland since 1999.

His relations included young women fascinated by his poetry and human rights campaigns. Some of them allegedly informed him about the disease after learning that they were infected: African kind of a virus, with a very aggressive profile. Pharmaceuticals had to be used months after the infection, while normally it takes couple of years before it is necessary.

Gazeta Wyborcza:

Monika O., literature student who met with Simon Mol 11 months earlier, contacted the police in November this year.

– I was attracted by journalism, I wanted to write about Migrator Theater – she describes. – I was fascinated by human rights activist fighting with racial stereotypes. Soon we started to meet, went to bed. I didn’t suspect that he could infect me with HIV virus and even less, hide from me that he is infected. I also thought that suspecting him of being infected would equal giving way to stereotypes. Thus we made love unprotected.

Simon Mol on his web page:

Of Life & Death

Life, Death, Life.
Light, Darkness, Light, Darkness;
Light, Life?
Nothing Can Stop Nature.
Not even Nature Itself.

Maybe it’s immoral to feel for those affected (exact number unknown) more than for anonymous millions who die in Africa, but I do. They seem young and idealistic types who fell pray to a ruthless abuser. We emphasize empathize (thx Michal:) with ones that we identify ourselves with, I know. (read more…)

“Oh how I love this place”

“There is so many police, I feel safe”

(song by Happysad)

Not so in Moscow, where police can create lots of problems if you don’t have passport with you. You are supposed to carry it all the time. Otherwise, problems, or give $150 bribe.

On Saturday I didn’t visit as much as I wanted because there were communist and skinheads demonstrations on the same day, and all the squares in the city center were off the limits.

Thousands of the police to be sure that the communists, 15 or so as far as I saw, do not make any hurt to Putin.

Moscow, communist demonstration

But on the positive side I distinguished several kinds of the police. Police girls walking in couples were nice.

“There is so many police, I feel safe”

(Putin)

Polish harassment-gate

There had been bets whether or not PM Lyzwinski is a father of a child born after sexual harassment of his worker. Turns out he is not. A shocker. Money could have been easily made (people were clearly betting that he actually is the father).

Now it’s getting really interesting. I would say it’s even better that the Clinton-gate.

Lepper wants to close Gazeta Wyborcza for preparing this “coup”. And the woman wants to test Lepper for fatherhood.

Was she bluffing from the beginning?

“Bastards got me”

CNN:

Polonium-210 — the radioactive substance used to poison a former Russian spy in London — is one of the world’s rarest elements, first discovered in the 19th century by scientists Marie and Pierre Curie.

It is highly lethal when ingested, and extremely hard to detect, experts said.

(…)

Polonium is so exceedingly rare that only about 100 grams is believed to be produced each year, said Dr. Mike Keir, a radiation protection adviser at Royal Victoria Infirmary.

“Only a very, very small amount of this would need to be ingested to kill,” Keir said. “Unless you can remove the material, there’s very little you can do except treat the symptoms.”

(…)

“Trying to identify the exact agent that was making him sick was like looking for a needle in a haystack,” said Dr. Alistair Hay, a professor of environmental toxicology at Leeds University.

Russians did it: Polonium is very hard to get, and the Russian secret service is the only considered party capable of that.

Russians did not do it: Polonium is so hard to get, that the Russian secret service would be seen as the obvious culprit, and the move would be suicidal from a diplomatic perspective. Or would it?

Speaking at a summit of European leaders in Helsinki, Finland, Mr. Putin said that ?the death of a man is always a tragedy,? but said there was no evidence that it was ?a violent death.?

Le Madame closed

Bailiff hired by the city eventually managed to close down Le Madame club, just couple of weeks after I visited it for one and only time. The club gave stage to various forms of alternative culture and alternative thinking, and authorities disliked both.

Le Madame, Warsaw

These couple of pictures we took suddenly turned historical.