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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 7th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

 

When I opened the papers this morning I saw:

Vasil Bilak, Czechoslovak Communist Who Encouraged 1968 Soviet Invasion, Dies at 96

By DAN BILEFSKY

Mr. Bilak was a former hard-line communist leader who paved the way for Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Just a timely reminder following the Syrian’s allegation that the lack of law in his country is not internal/local but external/by occupation – so what in the hell is the Russian meaning when he says  intervention from the outside is “Verboten.”

The Event at the UN, the news building about Showcase Sochi and the spotlight on suppression of democracy in Russia by a new Czar-bound Russian Megaloman who reaches out to the Ukraine and to Syria as steps in his dream of reconstituting the Soviet empire are just pathetic. We found the move to kill the Sochi dogs much worse then the keeping of street children away from Rio de Janeiro during Brazil’s days of glory when they hosted the Climate Change Convention meeting. Death is final even for dogs! In Syria it is for humans as well!

And let us not forget why I was at the UN. These are days the UN is trying to come up with a global regime for the post 2015 era – that will be based on Sustainable Development Goals and the meeting yesterday, with lots of participants trying their best to show that without Rule of Law – or more accurate Rule By Law – and Good Governance – there will be no Sustainability. These are things we advocated years ago and our website has on the right side of the Home-page the booklet – The PROMPTBOOK –  we wrote for the 2002 Johannesburg Summit – so our readers are familiar with our hopes. Encouraging yesterday was that all speakers except the Syrian and the Russian did indeed address the issues and their questions were not plain national propaganda like these two renegade States showed. The Hungarian Chair of the Open Working Group navigated this very well.

The Opinion Pages|Editorial of The New York Times.

 

A Spotlight on Mr. Putin’s Russia.

 

The Olympic Games that open in Sochi, Russia, on Friday are intended to be the fulfillment of President Vladimir Putin’s quest for prestige and power on the world stage. But the reality of Mr. Putin and the Russia he leads conflicts starkly with Olympic ideals and fundamental human rights. There is no way to ignore the dark side — the soul-crushing repression, the cruel new antigay and blasphemy laws and the corrupt legal system in which political dissidents are sentenced to lengthy terms on false charges.

Maria Alyokhina, 25, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 24, of Pussy Riot, the Russian punk band, are determined that the glossy celebration of the Olympics will not whitewash the reality of Mr. Putin’s Russia, which they know from experience. Charged with “hooliganism,” they were incarcerated for 21 months for performing an anti-Putin song on the altar of a Moscow cathedral that cast the Russian Orthodox Church as a tool of the state.

Such political protest is not tolerated in a nation that is a long way from a democracy. In December, the women were freed under a new amnesty law that was an attempt by Mr. Putin to soften his authoritarian image before the Olympics.

But if he thought releasing the two women from prison would silence them, he miscalculated badly. On Wednesday, they told The Times’s editorial board that their imprisonment, and the international support it rallied to their cause, had emboldened them. They plan to keep criticizing Mr. Putin — they were hilarious on Stephen Colbert’s show the night before — and working for prison and judicial reform. Their resolve and strength of character are inspiring.

There is a lot of work to do, beginning with the cases of eight people who are now on trial, charged with mass disorder at a protest at Bolotnaya Square in Moscow in 2012 on the eve of Mr. Putin’s third inauguration as president. Amnesty International, which sponsored the Pussy Riot visit to New York, where they appeared at a benefit concert on Wednesday, has called for dropping the charges of incitement to riot against the Bolotnaya demonstrators. The Pussy Riot activists dismissed the charges against those demonstrators as baseless and more evidence of “Putin’s way of getting revenge” on his critics.

A Russian prosecutor has demanded prison terms of five and six years for the eight protesters, with the verdict expected a few days before the Olympics end in late February. Ms. Alyokhina and Ms. Tolokonnikova have called for a boycott of the Olympics, or other protests, to pressure the government into freeing the defendants. The most important thing is that the world speak out now, while Mr. Putin is at the center of attention and presumably cares what it thinks.

More broadly, the Russian penal system is in desperate need of reform. The activists described conditions in which prisoners are cowed into “obedient slaves,” forced to work up to 20 hours a day, with food that is little better than refuse. Those who are considered troublemakers can be forced to stand outdoors for hours, regardless of the weather; prohibited from using the bathroom; or beaten.

 

Their observations are reinforced by the State Department’s 2012 human rights report, which said that limited access to health care, food shortages, abuse by guards and inmates, inadequate sanitation and overcrowding were common in Russian prisons, and that in some the conditions can be life threatening.

The Olympics cannot but put a spotlight on the host country, and despite all efforts to create a more pleasant image of his state, Mr. Putin is facing a growing protest. On Wednesday, more than 200 prominent international authors, including Günter Grass, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood and Jonathan Franzen, published a letter denouncing the “chokehold” they said the new antigay and blasphemy laws place on freedom of expression.

Mr. Putin has unconstrained power to put anyone associated with Pussy Riot and thousands of other political activists in prison. But these women and those who share their commitment to freedom and justice are unlikely to be silenced, and they offer Russia a much better future.

As Olympics Arrive, Russia Experiences a Downturn

 

MOSCOW — After President Vladimir V. Putin delivered Russia’s successful pitch to host the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi — in English and a smattering of French, no less — he declared it an international validation of the Russia that had emerged from the ruins of the Soviet Union.

“It is, beyond any doubt, a judgment on our country,” he said then, nearly seven years ago.

Now, as the first events begin, the Games have for Mr. Putin and his allies become a self-evident triumph of Russia’s will. The avalanche of criticism that has already fallen, from minor complaints about ill-prepared hotels and stray dogs to grave concerns about the costs, security and human rights, is being brushed away like snowflakes from a winter coat.

“Its realization is already a huge win for our country,” Dmitri N. Kozak, a deputy prime minister and one of Mr. Putin’s longest-standing aides, said in Sochi on Thursday. He went on to use a phrase attributed to Catherine the Great when she intervened to halt the court-martial of a general who had stormed an Ottoman fortress without orders in the 18th century: “Victors are not judged.”

Aleksei A. Navalny, a critic of Mr. Putin, said the money spent on the Sochi Games represented a missed opportunity. James Hill for The New York Times

The Games are a crowning moment for Mr. Putin, a chance to demonstrate anew his mastery of the global levers of power, but perhaps not for the country he governs. With Russia’s natural-resource dependent economy slowing as commodities prices fall, and with foreign investments drying up, the Kremlin has already signaled that it would have to cut spending. The $50 billion or so lavished on Sochi is becoming a political liability.

Lilia Shevtsova, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, argued that the International Olympic Committee awarded the games to Sochi — over Salzburg, Austria, and Pyeongchang, South Korea — when Mr. Putin was at the zenith of his powers in his second term but when the verdict on his legacy remained an open one. Many had been critical of his authoritarian instincts after he rose to power, including the tightening of news media and political freedoms and the war in Chechnya, but Russia had indisputably recovered from the chaos of the 1990s.

“At that time, Russia was ‘rising from its knees,’ ” Ms. Shevtsova wrote in an essay on the center’s website, “whereas now — in 2014 — Russia has started its downward slide.”

The stalling of the economy, despite the stimulus of Olympic spending, has raised worries about popular unrest directed at the Kremlin and a tightening of political freedoms in response once the Games are over.

Growth last year slowed to 1.3 percent, the lowest in a decade except for during the global recession in 2009, even as other major economies showed signs of recovery. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently called for urgent changes in labor policies, productivity and a government and legal bureaucracy that now stifle development — all long promised but not enacted.

“Structural reforms to improve the business climate are key to raising potential growth and economic resilience,” the organization wrote in its survey of Russia’s economy last month. “As energy prices stagnate and labor and capital become fully utilized, growth is falling behind pre-crisis rates. Making the economy stronger, more balanced, and less dependent on rents from national resource extraction is therefore a key challenge.”

The sheer cost of the Games has suddenly become a liability even in a political system that allows little room for public debate about the wisdom of government spending.

“It is about a lost chance,” said Aleksei A. Navalny, whose Foundation for the Fight Against Corruption recently published an interactive website charting what critics have called excessive waste and corruption in the construction of the Olympic facilities. “It is about what Russia could have done with this money. We could have had a new industrialization along the same lines as the industrialization under Stalin.
Instead, he added, “it’s just one crazy little czar who chose to throw money right and left in some kind of madness.”

Russia is not about to collapse. Nor does Mr. Putin’s rule face any foreseeable challenge, something even a determined critic like Mr. Navalny acknowledged. Mr. Putin’s approval rating, bolstered by lavishly positive coverage on state television, remains as high as when he first came to office.

Hosting the Olympics, however, seems to have lost some of the luster officials expected for Russia’s prestige at home and abroad, much to the frustration of Mr. Putin’s supporters.

The Olympics have refocused international attention on the hard-line policies Mr. Putin’s government has pursued since he returned to the presidency in 2012 after four years as prime minister, and prompted calls for protests and even boycotts.

 

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