Virtuous cycle

Bartlomiej Owczarek weblog

You are currently browsing the Virtuous cycle weblog archives for tag 'russia'.

Return to 'Virtuous cycle' home page

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.

Banks collapsing, dominos falling ever closer to Poland

In Russia when they were explaining to me why people didn’t trust banks so much (topic was triggered by the low volumes of deposits in commercial privately owned banks) they said: “there’s been a banking crisis every two years, what would you expect. People are afraid that the bank can come down and take their savings with it”.

(fot. rosendahl@flickr)

I kind of took it in as a valid explanation but never fully internalized the notion – in Poland, when selecting a bank, hardly anyone actually considers whether it’s gonna go bankrupt or not. You never hear banks falling in Poland, except for some obscure “pocket banks” in the distant past of the early days of the market economy.

Even with the lest prestigious and smallest banks, trust used not to be really the major decision factor.

Maybe that is going to change soon. Just in (

Investors wondered who would be the next candidates for bankruptcy. Commerzbank, owner of the Polish BRE Group, fell almost 23 percent on the Frankfurt stock exchange. Trading of UniCredit (strategic shareholder of Pekao) was suspended altogether on the Milan stock exchange, after they fell 9%.

In December 2007 I quoted this passage I found in FT:

(…) two giant and interlinked bubbles burst simultaneously – one in property, one in credit – leaving banks and investors on the brink of bankruptcy, some hanging on by their fingertips

That was before the balls started to drop, and the mood was cautiously optimistic then.

It sure feels like something similar with regards to banking situation in Poland right now. Things are falling apart abroad, but at home everything is supposed to be in order, except for the performance of investment funds, which keep looking for the bottom – but this is generally accepted as an isolated and contained phenomenon.

Looking into the future of Polish financial sector in the next 6 to 12 months, maybe it’s time now to calculate in some turbulence.

Search in CEE: Google is an underdog in some countries

Antyweb quoted the Next web article about search in Russia. What’s interesting in Russian search? It is not dominated by Google:

Most European search markets are dominated by Google and there seem to be no real local competitors. In Russia however, a fierce battle for the search query’s of the consumers is going on. Yakov Sadchikov from Quintura even mailed me that “the Russian search engines are coming.”

Reasons? Commenters point at different character set and language peculiarities (for example different grammatical cases).

Thanks to friends at Gemius I had an opportunity to read some interesting stuff about Internet markets in other CEE countries.. and Russian case is not the only one, even though in most countries Google rules the market.

In Czech Republic, for example, has approximately 60% share in search. But, Google search is gaining share there.

“Other” search engines have also significant share in Ukraine, Slovenia and Estonia.

In Poland, on the other hand, Google has 90% of the market, grammatical cases notwithstanding.

Pictures from Russia (finally)

It’s nearly new year and I decided that maybe it’s high time to post the photos from Russia, which date back to last January. Here they are:

It’s a pain to write captions after such a long period of time.

I regret that I didn’t take photos of the things I actually remember the most, like hostel in St Pet, the area where I lived in Moscow or people I met. It never occurs to take photos in such common situation and later it is regrettable.

I plan to move this page from interia hosting, where nothing works, including wordpress, to progreso, where everything works fine. Then I will be able to move also to zenphoto and have some decent gallery.

The photos from Mexico and Paris are still pending..

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.

Hostel spirit

I got used to having to explain my travelling style preferences, including in particular that for staying in hostels instead of more civilized premises. But this accidental piece by Sarah gives me some background on what people might expect from hostels:

I assumed hostels were full of obnoxious 20-somethings trying to one-up each other with tales of their travels. They?d go out drinking and talking about how great they were until 2 a.m. when they?d come crashing into the dorm room, slamming doors, turning on lights, playing bongo drums and vomiting over the side of the bunk bed.

On the other hand, one of the travellers in the St Pet, namely the historian travelling with a big teddy bear with sun glasses, complained of backpackers being lazy with hostels and going straight to the ones recommended by Lonely Planet even if they overpay a lot. They don’t care to check place around the corner. Not at all in backpacking spirit, he said.

Maybe it’s true that hostels are losing they charm nowadays. Sarah’s disappointing experience would support this observation.

It turned out my fears were completely unfounded. We stayed at three different hostels and each one of them was clean, comfortable and quiet. Our roommates were lovely young women who were all in bed way before midnight. And not a bongo drum in sight!

Can’t wait to give Mexico hostels a try.

Driving to airport in St Pet

My driver is related to owner of the hostel. He is finishing his studies. We talk politics all way. In Russian, which is a bit challenging.

– I took part in the demonstration first of May, you know

– What were you demonstrating for?

– For improving workers rights

– Do you think your rights need improvement?

Then some discussion about state of worker?s rights.

– My institute is one of the most politically active in Russia. Current FSB chief is our graduate.

And he mentions second important guy that I forgot. But not Putin I think.

– And also Dudaev.

– What, Dudaev also graduated your university?

– No, we helped to kill Dudaev.

Russians could not trace Dudaev?s phone, because his conversations were too short. But one guy from the Institute developed an improved algorithm, and they traced him and bombed him.

– The guy then moved to work at FSB. I think he works there still.

– In Poland there are not so many secret services, you know. Of course some exists, but I never knew anyone working for them, like you do

– The services of Poland are very active. Poland is geopolitically very active.

Maybe our foreign policy is underestimated at home. It seems appreciated in the East.

The other Russia: St Petersburg

I feel like resting after walking couple of days, but I’m so glad I got to see this city. It is so different Russia than one of Moscow. In fact, Piter could easily make it to my list of favorite big cities.

And the hostel experience is so refreshing, as usual. One night partying, second night talking about classical music and watching strange Russian animation movies.

Today Ermitage; same league as Metropolitan Museum of arts to me.

And tomorrow, flyback.

What really matters

Now that I kind of committed to spend some more time in Moscow, I look back at this rather useless weekend and try to reconsider colleague’s banal reply, when I brought up afterthoughts of the recent accident. “Think about what is really important”. Not sure what is really important at the moment.

At least the weather in Moscow was better today, warm, clear sky, closer to beautiful weather in Poland that I heard about from friends.

I will go to the Russian cinema for the first time and hope that the movie will not turn out to have Russian dubbing.

Back in Moscow

Dunno for how long still, but starting to wonder.

Favorite Beethoven piece currently (if anything, Moscow time is about discovering Beethoven): 17th piano sonata “Der Sturm”, movement 3.


In here for good. And the real winter just started. Our fearless leader, as some called him, got stucked till tomorrow; even though it’s actually because of weather in Warsaw I believe.

Rammstein Moskau:


???, ???, ???!


??????? ??? ????,
????? ?????? ????.

Now there will more time to visit the most beautiful city of the world.

Pleasure of waiting

Tomorrow I receive HIV test results. Yesterday my blood sample was taken. Safe to say blood sampling is in the top 10 of the things I hate most.

Added. In case you wonder, the reason for the examination was Russian visa, as opposed to anything connected with Simon Mol’s case. Let me tell you this, even if you are sure, you are never sure (think hospitals, hair dressers..). So there was one good news today.

Moscow subway

Descending into the station.

Moscow subway (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”


Greetings from Russia

It’s a pity that I didn’t have time to see much so far, but I’m counting on Saturday to make up for it.

I already made an opinion that people are very nice in Moscow, though. And the subway impresses. Compared to Warsaw is more like a mine than the metro.

Next Page »