Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Russian Bears

The other day I read an article in the paper here about one side effect of the heat wave that swept Russia in July and August. Deprived of their traditional food sources because of the scorching forest fires that ravaged the countryside, bears are now making their way into villages and towns around Moscow in search of victuals. It is estimated that there are between 120,000-140,000 hungry bears on the prowl, forced to scavenge for food well into November, when they should be preparing for hibernation. A few weeks ago, one bear was caught digging up a corpse in a cemetary in Vyezhna Tchova!

The article went on to instruct the reader that, if one is unlucky enough to stumble upon a hungry bear, one should "speak loudly and firmly to it in Russian." But not in English? The fact that the article specifically instructed the reader to use Russian as the language of command struck me as hilarious. It was, however, the only funny part of the article. The heatwave and subsequent forest fires have been attributed to yet another instance of global warming rearing its ugly head, and this bear problem is further evidence that global warming truly does have a ripple effect on the environment.

Another Russian bear who has been making the news a lot recently here is Dmitri Medvedev, the President of Russia. How is he a bear? you might wonder. He certainly doesn't seem like one - slight and short in stature, with mild brown eyes, he is often in Putin's shadow rather than aggressively promoting his own agenda. But medved' is Russian for bear, so he fits in nicely with the overall theme of this post. :)

Medvedev has slowly been gaining more of a voice in Russian politics as of late, which is always a good thing considering that he IS the president, after all. Forbes recently ranked him as the 12th most influential man in the world (last year he was a lowly 43rd). Too bad Putin was ranked number 4 on the list...

Anyways, Medvedev has been in the news a lot lately for vocally and vehemently condemning the recent and horrifying beatings of journalists here in Moscow. The violent assaults have sparked a fresh debate over the hot-button issue of freedom of the press in Russia. "Whoever is behind this crime, he will be punished, irrespective of his status and his achievements – if there are any,” Medvedev said during a meeting with staff of the Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper. But what exactly will Medvedev's condemnation mean, in real and viable terms for journalists? It remains to be seen, and I for one am not too optimistic.

Medvedev has also been speaking out about much-needed reform of Russian political institutions, and last week vetoed a new amendment on rallies. This was a timely veto as last Thursday (November 4th) was National Unity Day here and a prime date for rallies and protests in Moscow.

National Unity Day is pretty much a made-up holiday, to replace the Communist celebration of the October Revolution of 1917. Russians still wanted their November holiday (why is the October Revolution celebrated in November? Because back in 1917, Russia still followed the Julian calendar and was thus 13 days behind the rest of the world...insert joke about Russia always being behind the West here) so the government established National Unity Day, a day that is allegedly supposed to celebrate the trouncing of the Poles in 1612, as well as to honour the various ethnic nationalities in Russia. However, only 36% of Muscovites can correctly name the holiday and indeed, I saw this for myself when talking to my class of upper-intermediate adults last Wednesday. "Excited for the holiday tomorrow? Our lesson today on different ethnicities was relevant to tomorrow, which is cool!" I asked, only to be greeted by laughter. "We don't know why this is a holiday, we just enjoy the day off!" one student informed me. Hmm. Fair enough, I guess. Does the average Canadian really know why we celebrate May 24, for example?

Anyways, I digress...the point is, Medvedev vetoed an amendment that toughened sanctions on holding rallies and assemblies in public. Although some of the rallies that took place last Thursday were, frankly, very disturbing (think Neo-Nazis and people shouting "Russia for the Russians!"), Medvedev's veto reminds me of that famous quote from the French philosophe Voltaire: "I may not agree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it."

This Russian bear has clearly been taking a few steps in the right direction, and I'm curious to see what exactly will transpire from his words. It's very exciting to be able to follow the politics while I'm actually living here, and it gives me "the shivers" (for lack of a better word) to think that not too far from my little flat in Mytishi, Medvedev, Putin, and other power players in Russian politics are going about their days too.

In a little bit of non-related news, guess what the temperature was today?? 15 degrees! (yes, that is Celsius...!) No sun though, unfortunately, although I guess beggars can't be choosers. I came across a hilarious quote by Napoleon last night in the book I'm reading (Moscow, 1812 - I highly suggest it!!!):

"They accuse me of ambition, as though it was my ambition that brought me here! (Napoleon's invasion of Russia) What have I got to gain from a climate like this, from coming to a wretched country like this one? The whole of it is not worth the meanest little piece of France. [The Russians], on the other hand, have a very real interest in conquest: Poland, Germany, anything goes for them. Just seeing the sun six months of the year is a new pleasure for them!"

How true those last words are. The sun has been too rare of a presence in my life since I moved here!


  1. I hope I was able to share some of our sun with you today when we talked. Very interesting post. I'm sure the political culture is so much more alive when you are living there. I think a better comparison to the lack of awareness of the holiday would be Civic Day in Ontario. Who knows what that's about?

  2. The earth goes through cooling and heating cycles, it never stays the same temperature, its always an up and down wave. Global warming is not man made in any way - we wish (During the industrial boom when CO2 emissions rose exponentially the average temperature decreased). Average temperature lags behind the temperature of the oceans by around 800 years. Global warming is actually caused by the sun going through its own 'climate change' and thus heating or cooling the oceans. The most accurate way of predicting general/global trends is by looking at the sun.

    There is a stupid amount of scientific and historical data that supports this - including art/literature/and architecture as a few of the more 'anecdotal' evidences, but still very much in accordance with physical data.

    Great post, interesting read!

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