Prisoners On Parade


Some archive footage here, to the accompaniment of the Red Army Choir.

In one of the earliest Victory Day parades, around 50,000 German prisoners of war were marched through the streets of Moscow. They weren’t allowed to break out of line and many soiled themselves.

On the whole, Russian citizens were not disrespectful – some even threw bread to the German soldiers.

The Victory Day song, Den Pobedi, was specially commissioned in the 1970s but at first it was not considered appropriate by the authorities. They complained that it ‘abused the rhythms of tango and foxtrot’ – bourgeois dances frowned upon by Stalin.

However, popular Soviet singer Lev Leshchenko performed the song on TV in defiance of the censors, after which it became the standard song of all Victory Day celebrations.


Coming Right Up. Victory Day, May 9

A Russian girl directing a Red Army convoy towards Berlin in 1944

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‘Operation Barbarossa’ was Hitler’s plan to defeat Russia in 4 months flat. Yet it wasn’t until 4 years later, on May 9th., 1945, that the German Army surrendered in Berlin. During this time, at least 25 million former Soviet citizens lost their lives in the most gruesome, tragic and wasteful way possible.

It was a war of fluctuating fortunes in which the Wehrmacht Generals came within binocular sight of all the Barbarossa objectives: Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad. But the protracted war left the German forces stretched and depleted and by 1943 Russia had the initiative. Even so, pressing it home meant fighting not only the Germans but Nazi allies from Finland to Romania.

You can follow all the events of the war on the excellent Pobediteli site, an interactive Flash presentation complete with maps, moving front line, annotations, archive pictures and audio clips of combatants from the many theatres of war.


It will take you a couple of hours to follow the entire timeline but it’s quite fascinating to watch the war unfold and to play General yourself, and to imagine what you might have done differently.

The tipping points are well highlighted. Russia moved all its factories East as early as 1941. Between July and November of that year some 1500 factories and 10 million people had been evacuated to places like Gorki and Chelyabinsk – still remembered today as ‘Tankograd’. So by the summer of 1942, the Russian war engine was fully functioning and competing with German production.

The Germans, to their advantage, had vast pools of slave labour from the occupied territories like Belarus . . . but unwilling and unfed labour didn’t match the productivity of dedicated Soviet workers. After a while, the Germans discovered that 60% of the 3,5 million slavs they put in labour camps early on were dying within 6 months, thanks to inhuman conditions. No personnel management stars earned by Germans here.


Another interesting highlight is of course the point at which Hitler ‘lost the plot’. By 1943, Stalin was devolving power to clever Generals he had learned to trust, while an increasingly paranoid Hitler as wresting powers from strategic command and firing those with more military competence than himself.

But none of these factors takes away the heroic defence of cities like Odessa, Leningrad and Staliningrad, which was largely down to the iron will and resolution of ordinary citizens. A little known fact is that the average Russian’s weapon of choice in Staliningrad was a spade, lethally sharpened on three sides. City combat was too fast and close to pull or load a gun.

The Pobediteli site has won several awards including ‘Internet Event Of The Year, 2005′.

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The Miss Kosmos Kontest. And The Winner Is . . .


By 1962, the Space Race between Russia and the US became more of a propaganda race. That’s when Kruschev personally intervened in the whole Russian Space programme. The idea of the ‘first woman in space’ was his personal dream.

Russia’s director of the Soviet Space Programme, Sergei Korolev, wanted techno advances: longer flights, space stations and docking manouevres. But Kruschev wanted a Soviet Heroine. Otherwise, he told Korolev bluntly, he wasn’t signing off on the budget.

That’s briefly how Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman cosmonaut. But she had to fight off three other female contestants on the way.

Continue reading The Miss Kosmos Kontest. And The Winner Is . . .


Branding The World Financial Crisis

Trendy Russian Design agency, Playoff Creative Services, has developed the corporate identity for the World Financial Crisis. Hat tip to poster Thorny at Redtape.ru. Click for bigger images.









(It was of course a fun promotion for the agency created for April 1)


The Over Extended EU

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The expanded EU seemed such a good idea at the time. Ring fence Russia, grab its traditional markets and inherit a vast pool of cheap, slav labour.

A couple of years ago I arrived in Tallinn to find the main drag into town completely dug up, all the way from the airport. The new crazy paving was in honour of George Bush’s one visit to Tallinn for a NATO Power Lunch. It reminded me of the old British Empire days, when poor natives would be given pics of Queen Victoria and Union Jacks to wave at some passing British dignitary, while strewing his path with flowers.

The EU might have remembered that the colonies soon became a huge liability. Or in more recent history, the horrendous cost of German re-unification. The City of Berlin has been bankrupt to the tune of billions ever since. West German taxpayers footed much of the bill for re-unification. But will the Germans or the French be as happy to fork out for the rest of the East?

Continue reading The Over Extended EU


The Russians Aren’t Coming


Despite the fabled sexual exploits of Russian Women, it isn’t resulting in a whole heap of babies.

At least every couple of weeks you will read some news story about Russia’s demographic meltdown. Yet another article I came across only yesterday: ‘Russia’s Depopulation Time Bomb‘.

Yes, likely there will be millions fewer Russians in 2050 than now.

Many theories are advanced, citing everything from the lack of suitable partners to the idea that skinny culture has Darwinistically removed childbearing hips from Russia’s dyevs.

There’s plenty of free advice for Russia too. In the Hindu Times, a leading feminist, believes that Indian men are the answer.

Maria Arbatova, writer and TV moderator, has proposed a radical solution to the falling birth rate — importing Indian bridegrooms for Russian girls. Maria married an Indian businessman a few years ago ‘after 25 years of marrying Russians’ and discovered that Indian men make ideal husbands.

‘They are crazy about family and children,’ she said. ‘What is more, Indian bridegrooms can help ward off a Chinese demographic invasion in Russia. If we do not balance off the Chinese with Indians, Africans or aliens, by 2050 China will annex Russia’s Siberia up to the Ural Mountains.’

She could have a point, because the BBC reports that international size condoms are too big for an Indian-sized penis. Ergo, a chance of an accidental boost to the Russian population is greater with Indian lovers. I guess it’s just unfortunate that most Russians aren’t too comfortable around ‘tinted folk’.

A common cliche is that russophobes always single out Russia’s declining population as a bad thing, or certainly a reflection on Vlad the Bad. Yet all European families are downsizing. And thank goodness, say countries with armies of jobless.

Preston Saks, however, insists that the US will be stronger than Russia because it is still pumping out babies, while Russia, fast approaching just 100 million people, soon won’t have any young leaders at all. I wonder if this guy has ever heard of Holland, pop. just 14 million, where there’s some political activist at every tram stop. A lot of these arguments hold as much water as a paper bag.

The Time Bomb article puts drink at the heart of the problem. But the facts suggest quite another conclusion.

Between 1976 and 1991, the last sixteen years of Soviet power, the country recorded 36 million births. In the sixteen post-Communist years of 1992–2007, there were just 22.3 million, a drop in childbearing of nearly 40 percent from one era to the next.

On the other side of the life cycle, a total of 24.6 million deaths were recorded between 1976 and 1991, while in the first sixteen years of the post-Communist period the Russian Federation tallied 34.7 million deaths, a rise of just over 40 percent.

The symmetry is striking: in the last sixteen years of the Communist era, births exceeded deaths in Russia by 11.4 million; in the first sixteen years of the post-Soviet era, deaths exceeded births by 12.4 million.

Well, that’s pretty clear. Capitalism is bad for your health.


Soviet Fashion Week


An interesting thing about Russian Fashion Week is that it was opened by a 70 year old, Slava Zaitsev, and is dedicated to Diaghilev, which serves to remind us how long Russians have been ultra fashionistas.

Doom and gloom reports in the press might focus on the ‘couture crunch’ – Stella McCartney and Diesel have pulled out of Russia recently – but austerity and reigns of terror have never dampened Russian talent or enthusiasm.

And what’s a couture crunch exactly? More ugly journo jargon of the week speaks of de-premiumization — meaning that shoppers are trading down for cheaper items. Sorry, but nice clothes have always been must-haves for Russian girls, even if it’s a passion born of deprivation.


Continue reading Soviet Fashion Week


Oligarchs Fall On Hard Times


Around a week ago, billionaire Alexander Antonov was shot in Kaliningrad. By some miracle, 18 bullets didn’t kill him – he took five in the stomach, one in the chest and one blew off a finger.

It isn’t clear exactly whom he’d upset but a glance at his CV reveals that he was president of no less than five banks. Banksters aren’t flavour of the month anywhere. At the same time, in the UK, youths were busy vandalising the home of Sir Freddie Goodwin, disgraced former chief of RBS. Now in America, AIG employees are demanding extra security, noting some public ire about their obscene bonuses. Some claim to be living in fear.

When money goes walkabout, it can get nasty. During Russia’s rouble crash, banksters were the biggest target for hitmen with over 90 blown away in one year. The oligarchs aren’t too happy about this crash either. The 32 Russians on Forbes world richlist have lost a combined total of 250 billion since last year.

Continue reading Oligarchs Fall On Hard Times


Did The Soviets Invent Signature Cocktails?


Do you have a signature cocktail? Neither do I but apparently we should. According to the NYT’s ‘Alcohol And Life‘ section (now there’s a section header), what we choose to drink can reveal more about us than, say, our astrological sign or whether we prefer Elvis or the Beatles.

Google notes that the signature cocktail trend has spawned many consultancies, offering highly trained mixologists to synthesize your trademark swallow.

It might be news to some but Venedikt Yerofeyev – author of Moskva – Petushki – was inventing signature cocktails back in the 1960s. These comprised mainly of beer, shampoo, insecticide and brake fluid. Although the cocktails in the book were largely a hallucination, Russian soldiers were indeed known to syphon brake fluid from vehicles for a shot. Which gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘don’t drink and drive’.

So what’s a Russian mixer today? Well, my landlady in Novgorod, who’d never heard the term signature cocktail, used to make one from Martini, coffee and 100% pure alcohol, otherwise known as surgical spirit. It is widely believed that Russian women don’t drink, but they are just a bit more discreet about it and tend to not sleep in doorways afterwards.


Real men don’t drink cocktails, but the huge success of Damskaja shows that women will pay some 300 roubles a bottle for a hit. Made in St Petersburg, it’s basically a vodka cocktail which comes in flavours like lime, vanilla and almond. It’s positioned as an accompaniment to salads or as a pick-me-up after aerobics, though the health pitch hasn’t fooled Russian doctors. Sales escalating over 2 million bottles sounds like a lot of liver damage to them.

Trendy Damskaja is the nearest Russian drink I can find to a signature cocktail. Maybe someone will write in and tell me if there’s an equivalent phrase in Russian.


Russian Women At A Glance

There are now so many Russian women on the net that the bottom has dropped out of the market. But who are these chicks, and what makes them ‘tchik‘ ? Here finally is your comprehensive, at-a-glance, cut-out-and-keep guide.



Always pleased to meet you at the Radisson or Metropole. Mealchicks are professional social goers and the type of girl who gets a last-minute call from a dating agency when somebody hasn’t bothered emailing or needs a back-up. Will become moody and withdrawn without shopping therapy.

Distinguishing features: Short skirt, high heels, sexy foreign accent



Like Mealchiks, but focussed on holidays. Tripchiks have usually graduated to mailing Western men after sponsored trips to Turkey, Cyprus or Cuba. They pose on the net as candidate brides and the idea to meet in an exotic country will usually come from them. Invariably skinny, tripchiks may be easily confused with matchchiks.

Distinguishing features: Short skirt, high heels, sexy foreign accent



Upwardly mobile and just as goal-oriented as their Western counterparts. Sputchicks already speak English well and have a good idea of where they’re going, usually as models or tennis players. Sputchicks can make good partners but only if you can keep up with them and fund their many aspirations.

Distinguishing features: Short skirt, high heels, sexy foreign accent



Romanchiks have waited all their lives to be rescued by a Western man. They want someone who will suddenly wave a magic wand and change their whole miserable existence. Unfortunately, romanchiks have never thought beyond this scenario and are hopelessly unprepared for an equally miserable life in the West.

Distinguishing features: Short skirt, high heels, sexy foreign accent



These chicks come across as just ordinary women from ordinary Soviet apartment blocks. Practised liars, they will do or say anything, and very convincingly, to get their kids, old mother, relations and money out of Russia. Unless you have a degree in street savvy you’ll be taken in.

Distinguishing features: Short skirt, high heels, sexy foreign accent



Russian dipchiks play the net for options. They have usually been on and off the net for some time, while between lovers and ex-husbands. Dipchicks will happily string along and play off valuta suitors – Russian and Western – in their futile attempt to become lucky dipchicks.

Distinguishing features: Short skirt, high heels, sexy foreign accent



Kwikchiks are the kind of Russian girls who say, ‘I’m not so desperate that I’ll say yes to the first man who comes along’, but always do. They gravitate towards men who say, ‘I’m not so desperate that I’ll propose to the first Russian girl I meet’, but always do. There isn’t a lot you can say about kwikchiks because it all happens horribly quickly.

Distinguishing features: Short skirt, high heels, sexy foreign accent

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