Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

Russian State Ballet and Opera House

October 12, 2017


The information on this outfit’s website (as above) leaves us in some doubt as to who exactly they are presenting to the British public. But if you buy a programme you don’t get to find out who is singing on a particular evening but you do learn that as regards the present season they belong to the Astrakhan State Opera and Ballet Theatre, whose repertoire contains a great deal that looks more interesting than Madam Butterfly and Tosca–but then I don’t have to try and make money from it…


Happy opera company about to go on tour

The site has a photo of the opera company looking undaunted by the prospect of touring the length and breadth of Britain, and also some slightly vague geographical indications:


The idea that Crewe is in North-West England is debatable, but putting Llandudno there is really going too far


How popular is Russia in the UK?

June 4, 2017


We are sometimes asked how popular Russia is among people in Britain.

In 2015, Chatham House reported results from surveys in 2012 and 2014 asking respondents which countries they felt especially favourable and unfavourable towards.   Above, we derive an overall favourability score from (favourable – unfacourable) , take the average of  this 2012 and 2014 and plot it against the change between the two dates.

We see that Russia is out on its own in terms of being unpopular and becoming more so, followed at a respectful distance by Israel.  This is presumably due to a series of notable events in this period: BP, Pussy Riot, Greenpeace, Ukraine, none of which were well received.

Interestingly enough, a BBC poll of about the same period of attitudes to different states in a sample of 22 countries showed Russia as among the least popular but without the same deterioration.

‘No sex in the Soviet Union’, Rich Mix 17 February

February 18, 2016
Picture from Dash Arts Twitter feed

Picture from Dash Arts Twitter feed


Not very good weather for the latest edition of Dash Cafe, which is my excuse for losing my flyer with the details of the discussants in the storm outside.

The first thing to notice was the audience, with I think rather more girls and gays and rather fewer lads squiring lasses than the normal.

So we had some stills and clips courtesy of Obskura (including Little Vera, which I remembered more as a lorry in the rain), after which Tim Supple tried tom start a discussion of sex and sexuality in the Soviet Union and after, and ran into some resistance especially from Irina Brown, who felt that in the conditions of the Soviet Union sex was part of the web of social and economic relations rather than something on its own.  Also the various demographic catastrophes–civil war, gulag, war–that killed more men than women had their effect.

Peter Pomerantsev, somewhat in opposition, felt that sex nowadays was healthily instrumental in Moscow like in Los Angeles, it was the British who had got it all wrong.

As often happens, discussion of sex turned into discussion of the position of women.  Olga from Leeds U [apologies!] was keen to point out that there was not and never had been feminism in the Soviet Union (Russia…) in the sense of women acquiring rights for themselves by concerted action.  There Bolshevik Revolution had given women the possibility of working for a living and of producing new citizens and receiving support without the need for a man, but that had been a loss for men rather than a gai for women.

That led to some discussion of damaged masculinity compensated by exaggerated machismo–Putin barechested on a bear–and linked with fear of anal rape in prison or the Army, becoming the lowest of the low as a passive homosexual.

Peter Pomerantsev was keen to point out that Putin’s culture war with the LGBT community as represented by Pussy Riot, and on a State-run TV channel near you, hadn’t helped his popularity but of course annexing Crimea had done the trick.  I think that Susan Larsen made the same point about the culture wars lacking traction.

Somebody–it may have been Irina Brown–made the point about needing to have bee married by the age of 20 if you wanted to be anybody as a woman.  A female speaker from the floor had a story about sharing a flat in Moscow with another (male) English student and when she went away for the weekend a local girl moved in on him, but she didn’t mind because the native girl did the shopping and the cooking and the cleaning.

Men of course never needed to be liberated from domestic labour because they’d never done any…

At the end, sad agreement on the self-mutilation of a society and a people, something magnificent going to waste.


January 20, 2015

Karen Hewitt writes:

The Russian and Eurasian Studies Centre [of St Antony’s College, Oxford] together with the University’s Department for Continuing Education is arranging for a group of eight people to visit Perm as guests of the Perm State University. They will live in families with at least one English speaker and will have many opportunities to observe real Russian life. The visit is part of an exchange scheme in which the payment made by you supports the visit of a Perm teacher to Oxford.

 The visit is open to anyone but we give preference to people in Oxfordshire or with an Oxford connection such as attendance at OUDCE summer schools. The programme of the fortnight can vary according to individual interests. As guests of Perm University you will be asked to talk to University students, while your activities can include: visits around the city, and to the Urals countryside; canoeing along the Silva river; professional and specialist contacts with economists, lawyers, local politicians, (and lectures if you are willing and able); visits to art galleries, concerts, ballet; studying the work of the city council and local voluntary groups; taking part in family life with your hosts and their friends. Previous visitors on this scheme have seized all sorts of opportunities to see how Russian society works. Several have returned for a second visit.

 A knowledge of Russian is not necessary since interpreters will be provided, but obviously you will learn more if you know a little Russian. Participants should be physically fit and willing to walk reasonable distances. Many of our hosts do not have cars, and walking, climbing flights of stairs and public transport are normal. And you should be adaptable…

DATES: Saturday 5th September to Sunday 20th September 2015 (Fifteen nights) The journey is by British Airways scheduled flight to Moscow. You will travel from Moscow to Perm by train – about 900 miles and the first day of the Trans-Siberian route. You will have a few hours in Moscow on the return journey.

 COST: £990 This includes air fares, train fares, other travel in Russia, accommodation with a family, breakfast and many other meals, a programme of activities including two visits to the opera or ballet, and two full day tours. It does not include visas, insurance, and some meals. We will arrange your visas and inform you in June of the cost. Currently official visas are £50 plus admin and special delivery postage – in total about £80. Commercial visas are less hassle and about twice as much. All this will be explained.

 NOTE: The group will be limited to seven or eight people, so if you are interested, PLEASE FILL IN THE FORM OVERLEAF AND SEND IT TO PROMPTLY to Karen Hewitt (address overleaf), For specific enquiries, please ring 01865 515635. For more general information there will be a meeting in late June or early July for those going to Perm in which useful details of all kinds will be passed on.

Group Form

Experiences in 2012

The world as seen from Perm, Part II

November 9, 2014


A year after the first one, we have come across another remarkable Permian map showing its present twin cities of Louisville, Oxford, Duisburg, Amneville, Agrigento and Qingdao.  (You can enjoy the original here.)



Well,  Oxford is on the right island…

Pro-Russian party founded in England!

May 17, 2014


This advert from the edition of Pulse dated 15 May announces the creation of a party called ‘For Russia’ so as to champion and defend the rights and freedoms of Russian and Russian-speaking people living in Great Britain.  The party is founded on outspoken support for the policy of the Russian Federation and President Putin.  The website looks just like Edinaya Rossiya, especially the bear.

Well, if this is aimed at Russian citizens, they can hardly put forward candidates for election in this country, so perhaps they intend underground conspiracy leading to armed insurrection.  And if it’s for UK citizens, then you wonder where the Treason Act is when you need it–or that nice Mr Farage…

Best not to take this kind of nonsense too seriously!

Perm State University Language and Culture Winter School

December 13, 2013
Perm State University snow scene

Perm State University snow scene

Karen Hewitt kindly sent me details of a proposed Perm Winter School to comment on.  I am in almost complete agreement with her comments below, and I would add:

i) they need to decide whether they’re aiming at real or recreational students. Looks like the latter at present, but whatever the answer is they need to be a lot more specific about course content/aims/methodology/etc

ii) it’s stupid to assemble people at the University and then take them off somewhere else for the ‘real business’. Give them lectures (if necessary through an interpreter) on the Permian Era and Extinction/Mikhail Fridman (was at PSU, pioneer of General Relativity)/those wooden statues/the armaments industry then and now/their experiences in Afghanistan/etc/–or just the time-honoured ‘Round Table’ with students (and/or staff). Or have a lecture course on something like Modern Russian Society…

iii) similarly to the above, I think something called a Winter School should have some superstructure of lectures, competitions, quizzes, tests, reading lists–not just classes and excursions

iv) they don’t say anything about tests or formal academic credits

v) you also need a ‘find your level’ guide–and something about how people will be assigned to groups

vi) I think the selling point has to be something like ‘Real Russia with Real Russians’, where your horses can gallop for 3 weeks in any direction without reaching another town, never mind country. All this stuff about Zhivago and bear statues is a bit embarrassing in my opinion

vii) they should say a bit more about the homestays–who the host families will be & what to expect

viii) while I’m dead keen on Aims, I don’t understand the ones given here and I don’t think I’d agree with them if I did

ix) they don’t say that they’re going to supply visa support/invitations–I presume they are

x) they need to say what the weather/temperature/hours of daylight are going to be (and that it will be nice and warm indoors).

Well, I have lots of thoughts, but you may have different ones that may be better advice. So I am attaching this draft, and if you have ANY comments, do let me know. Don’t worry about the mistakes in English and unidiomatic English. I can sort that out.

My comments would be – Remove the photo of the huge modern cathedral in Moscow and the lamppost non-Perm one. Put attractive photos of Perm streets/buildings in their place. AGREE

Better, in general, to do the lessons in the morning and the excursions after lunch. It won’t be too dark because Perm is such a long way west of sun-time. And you can think better in the morning. AGREE

You need some information about levels of Russian and teaching methods. And presumably there ought to be some time for homework and study. AGREE. Also class sizes, how they are made to be of ‘similar’ standard, what happens if there’s no-one else at your kind of level, who the teachers are. 30 contact hours (are these 60- or 45-minute hours?) is not much of a payload for a trip of two weeks.

I wouldn’t begin on Monday with the Perm University museum or botanical garden. Both are worth seeing, but neither is SPECIALLY striking in comparison with what we can do in Britain. Better to get a sense of the city and what will seem exotic to visitors. AGREE.

I think there should be a maximum of 2 day trips. Participants will spend a long time in the coach looking at white and black scenes. AGREE. Day trips are an easy way of getting a visiting group off your hands, but they need to engage with the local population if they’re going to learn anything.

I’ve been to all the places, and would rate the Museum of Political Repressions high on the list, for its intrinsic historical interest and because there is a good road with fine scenery. AGREE.

They are planning lots of theatre trips and cultural entertainments. But perhaps spending some evenings with ‘ordinary Russians’ would also be much appreciated. Or taking their hosts out to dinner. Or a barbecue in the snow…. PARTLY AGREE. Best if they can go to the theatre etc with ‘ordinary’ (even English-speaking) Russians and share the experience with them.

I think the price is OK. AGREE.

Remember that this visit will take place when snow lies thickly on the ground – so the participants won’t be able to see some of the things you saw – but they will be able to ski cross-country, for example.

The world seen from Perm

November 28, 2013


This map comes from a brochure that I got from the Mayor of Perm after I’d had a grilling from him (on the general subject of public finances) in the upstairs room of a pub while his teenage daughter looked on and died of boredom.  He was worried about being overshadowed by Ekaterinburg and felt that Perm’s main problem was its physical layout in being so drawn-out while E-burg was much more concentrated.

The map has its points of interest. Perm certainly isn’t that shape and then they’ve managed to put themselves at the edge of their own map, but not near enough the edge to eliminate E-burg.  There’s something endearingly half-hearted about that.  Maybe they were trying to show their twin cities, but they left out Qingdao, the Chinese one, and in fact the Mayor was just about to follow Boris Johnson’s example by flying out there in search of some money.

Anyway, I really enjoyed my meeting with the Mayor!  To start off with, I rang his hotel and they said they had no such guest.  Then we kind-of established contact via his Russian mobile and the connection kept dropping.  Finally, when we were trying to meet in Oxford Street, his mobile broke completely…It was just like being back in Perm, especially with the unpleasant weather and 98% of Oxford St shoppers being foreign.

Why are clothes so expensive in Russia?

November 17, 2013


Taking Perm as an example–and why not–it says here that while most things in Perm are 1/2 or 1/3 of the price in London, clothes cost the same–I’d say that if you take into account choice and quality things are a lot worse  than that for the Permians.

My guess is that the basis of the fashion trade in the UK is that the big retailers get stuff very cheap (but decent quality–a lot better than the Chinese stuff you get in Russia) from Bangladesh and China and then sell it in rather large shops that provide a decent shopping experience–mirrors, fitting rooms, toilets…

So would this work in Russia?  If you can buy stuff at Bangladeshi or Chinese prices and sell it at London prices while paying Russian rent and wages you should be able to make some money.

I tried to think of what the problems might be specifically for clothing.  For instance: you can’t get your stock from China to Perm the cheapest way (by boat), but that applies to anything else imported from China, so doesn’t really count.

I thought of the following:

1.  Clothes are relatively easy for the staff and customers to steal (but this is soluble)

2.  You wouldn’t get as cheap a wholesale price as the big UK retailers (but still cheap enough)

3.  If there hasn’t been a proper fashion business in Russia then you won’t get a decent buyer.   But if nobody else has one that’s not so serious.

4.  I don’t think the shop units you get in Russia are generally anything like big enough.  I’m sure there are enough disused warehouses and factories in Perm, but you’d have to spend some money on fitting one out.

5.  My best answer is that the special thing about fashion is that you need clothes in a vast range of sizes, patterns, styles, colours [etc].  As a retailer you can’t afford to carry all that stock yourself so you need a network of wholesalers and middlemen to do it for you.  Which may not exist in Russia.  But it I think it will in China or Bangladesh and so on…

6.  I thought that there might be a steep tariff on imported clothes in Russia, but I looked it up and it’s pretty much the same as the UK.

I then found a Russian-produced answer to my question that you can also view through Google Translate here.

Basically it’s the same as my initial thoughts except:

1)  they ignore the fancy stuff about choice, buyers etc

2)  they refer to shortage/high price of shop space generally

3)  they point out the real problem with the tariff is what the Customs officer will actually charge you

4)  they say that [the same as with housing in the UK] people expect to pay stupid prices.

Of these, (2) & (3) are probably true but they would apply to all imported goods in shops and generally they’re not that dear in Russia.  You do need more floorspace to flog clothes than some other things, but wherever you are you need to put some effort in to turning over the stock so that you cover your overheads.

So we might say that unrealistic expectations are more a part of fashion than some other businesses, and that could be ‘the’ answer.

But then I got some expert economic advice:

Can’t say I’m convinced by the expectation argument.  People are not perfectly rational, but they’re not stupid.  With few exceptions ( ) offer people better quality at lower prices and they will buy.  The cost and supply side constraints sound a much more believable explanation.

Thinking about this, if it was a case of expectations there should probably be a differential effect in different market sectors, which would be easy enough to check for.  Offhand I think the answer is No.

Otherwise the explanation has to show why clothes are different from other imported goods.

1)  The UK price of clothes is too low relative to other goods
–some evidence here, for instance M&S cross-subsidy and people seem to come here from abroad to buy clothes more than other things

2)  UK has high tariffs on non-clothes imports compared with Russia
–hard to believe since UK policy is generally non-protectionist and EU tends to play by the WTO/GATT rules

3)  Something about costs of variety
–not too convinced:  there are lots of diverse clothing factories in China

So my current answer would be the combination of a)  weakness in retailing (indolence, incompetence and shortage of suitable premises means they don’t shift enough stuff per square metre) and b)  difficulties in importation (in particular, uncertainty in knowing what the Customs officer is going to demand and how long he’s going to hang on to your container–the official tariff is perfectly reasonable).

Now under a) they manage perfectly reasonable supermarkets and rather nice chain restaurants at the Pizza Express-ish level and with sensible prices in both cases [but enough of the stuff is domestically sourced to make this not so difficult], while under b) the prices for say cars and computers are…tolerable (maybe 2/3 of the price here), but there’s not the same need to shift the stuff quickly I think.

One problem with this explanation is that if you don’t believe in expectation based on UK/’Western’ prices, then a different set of factors is managing to reproduce them with surprising accuracy.

Then you could ask whether all this means that home dressmaking is more popular in Russia.

Vladimir Sharov, Waterstone’s Piccadilly 08 March

March 9, 2013

Vladimir Sharov and Oliver Ready

This session from Academia Rossica’s SLOVO Festival attracted me with the promise of a new interpretation of history through literature.

In fact, it was more philosophy than literature that was pressed into service, and the main points as I understood them were something like the following:

i)  Russian history is dominated by the idea of Russia as the last kingdom (third Rome), after which the world will come to an end;

ii)  the idea, attributed to Nikolai Krylov, that if Jesus is not going to come again men will have to remake themselves;

iii)  the need to recreate people who had already been, instead of breeding new ones;

iv)  the Russian Revolution was entirely Russian, even though other nationalities provided wood to heat the Russian stove;

v)  the Russian Revolution was a commentary on the Flood;

vi)  the history of the Biblical nations is a commentary on the Bible, refracted through their national consciousness;

vii)  in the case of Russia, this consciousness was formed in a period when peasants lived in small settlements of two or three households in the trackless pagan forest and when the priest visited at most every few years; this led to the extremism–in particular, extreme loneliness–of the Russian character;

viii)  the schism in the Russian church in the 17th century had a fatal effect, as follows:

a)  the bogolyubtsy felt that in a time when people were attending continued church services lasting days and nights and consuming only communion bread and wine, there was a possibility of complete purification and hence the Second Coming;

b)  in fact, the teachings of the Old Believers about the state of removal from grace of church and Tsardom penetrated popular consciousness so that in the Civil War the military professionals of the White Army had been unable to prevail over the Bolsheviks.

All of which sounds like Hegelianism in one country to me.