Dec 13, 2011

It's hard to be lucky in Russia!

If all Russia’s superstitions were true I think someone you knew would die almost every day, you would be constantly arguing and almost constantly afflicted by bad luck! We discussed some today and I decided to share some. It makes a change from the political musings which have come to dominate my blog.

I came across one yesterday evening. I left my mobile phone at my friend’s house and, having gone down five flights of stairs (the lift, which stops at the fourth and sixth floors conveniently skips the fifth) I remembered and faced the stairs again. When I got back to the flat, I wasn’t allowed to just take the phone and disappear into the night. If I did so, something terrible would surely happen. It was absolutely essential that I smiled in the mirror before leaving. I objected – I didn’t want to take my boots off (and going into a Russian home with shoes on is NELZYA – forbidden), and anyway, I’ve had to come back for forgotten things hundreds of times without smiling in a mirror, and disaster hasn’t struck yet. However, I wasn’t allowed to ‘risk it’ – a pocket mirror was found, I put on my broadest smile and headed out the door, ready for anything!

Another superstition related to coming and going is that you mustn’t greet or say goodbye to someone across the threshold of their home. That means you’re sure to argue. Spilling salt also guarantees an argument. There are plenty of money related beliefs. Whistling indoors is a no-no. It will lead to poverty. Leaving empty bottles on the table is also asking for trouble – you’ll be out of money. And after dark take care not to put money in someone’s hand. If an exchange is necessary, put the money down and let them pick it up. Something positive which may come from this is the little money tray in every shop. This means that when you receive coins and notes as change you can pick them up separately out of the tray, instead of struggling to put the coins into the coin section of your wallet while holding onto your notes and receipt, a challenge I’ve still not worked out how to deal with in England!

If you’re hoping to get married any time soon, you’d better not sit at the corner of a table. For 7 years you won’t find some to tie the knot with. If you are in a relationship, make sure you don’t give your other half an even number of flowers. Someone will surely die!

It’s a good idea for students to put their textbook under their pillow the night before an exam. Apparently information will just stream in to your brain. But be careful not to wash your hair in the morning – because you’ll wash it all out again!

On top of these, Russians also worry about lots of the things we worry about. If a black cat runs across the road in front of you, you’d better pull over and let someone else be the next person to drive past. The 13th is an unlucky day, especially in May. In fact, May is a generally unlucky month (even though that’s when they won the Great Patriotic War (WWII)), because it is part of the word mayatsya, to suffer. It’s not only bad luck to walk under a ladder – anything which leans against something else is better avoided.

And there are plenty more – enough to justify a whole website (in Russian). You might have noticed that there isn’t much good luck going round, but fear not! It can be found! Trolleybus tickets all have a chain of 6 numbers of them. If the first 3 numbers add up to the same amount as the second 3 then you have to eat your ticket and you’re sure to be lucky! It’s probably easier to find than a four leafed clover, but I’m yet to find my lucky ticket…

Dec 10, 2011

Revolution in Russia?

Ben Hopkins, BBC news, Petrozavodsk... take a look!

A Russian Spring? Don’t count on it. And indeed, even comparing what happened in Russia today with what has happened and is happening in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen is unhelpful. Almost nobody here is calling for a revolution. Very few want Putin to step down. He would almost certainly win next year’s elections even if state control of the media was ended, all parties were allowed to participate and votes were not falsified, which is exactly what protesters today were asking for. Chestnie vibori, narodnie prava  they cried in Petrozavodsk today. “Honest elections. Rights for the people!” And that is all they want.

Russians have had enough of revolutions. It is a dirty word here - ‘revolutionaries’ are about as popular here as anarchists are in the UK. Many believe that honest elections are the best medicine to fix society without another damaging revolution. I think they are right.

There were maybe 300 people at the protest in Petrozavodsk today (when I left after an hour or so). Significantly fewer than the 1000 who pledged to attend on vKontakte, Russia’s very own Facebook (which, incidentally, grants users free access to pretty much any film or song you can name… legal? This is Russia…), but still more than have taken to the streets here in recent memory. The group congregated on “Lenin Prospect”, outside the government building. Communists waved red flags, Anarchists waved black flags, and supporters of Fair Russia, a social democratic party wore yellow coats. Despite the crowd being made up of such a diverse range of people, it was very calm and all seemed united in their goal - fair elections. It was also interesting to see people of all ages there, not least my 75 year old host Tamara who, when I told her about the protest said - “Well, let’s go”, holding a clenched fist in the air! She even joined in briefly with one of the chants!

Tamara, my host, with the anarchists.

The police were almost redundant - protesters themselves made sure that a path was kept clear through the protests for pedestrians, and there wasn’t a hint of violence. In fact, most people didn’t even want to shout, and the chanting was largely left to the hard core Communists and Anarchists who are presumably more used to protesting. The rest seemed unsure what to do - it’s such a new thing for them - but they were determined to be there and make their presence felt. If protests continue (and there are plans for another next Sunday), no doubt people will work out what to do! 

This scene, of peaceful protesters, monitored by a heavy police presence, demanding free, fair elections, was repeated across Russia today, from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad. In Moscow over 30 000 took part in the biggest rally since 1991. Encouragingly, apart from a few scuffles in St Petersburg, all the protests passed without incident. The protesters are well aware that Putin’s party machine are ready to jump at any opportunity to portray the protesters as violent ‘revolutionaries‘ determined to de-stabilise Russia, which would make most Russians turn against them. And so they behaved impeccably, even the anarchists!

But will it make any difference? Most Russians are skeptical. When a country has been plagued by corruption for hundreds of years it’s hard for anyone to believe things will change just because a few thousand people take to the streets. Indeed, I don’t expect this movement to force United Russia from power any time soon. I certainly don’t think there will be a ‘revolution’, and I remain 99% sure that Putin will still win presidential elections in March. However, this is something new and I believe that it will make an impact. It was interesting that all the protest meetings today were permitted to take place - and if such meetings continue and grow larger, then pressure will inevitably build on the ruling party to make next year’s Presidential elections fairer and more open than the Parliamentary ones which took place last week. It won’t be enough to force Putin from power - most Russians still can’t imagine another leader, but in 2018, in largely free and fair elections, maybe Russia, for the first time ever, will see power transferred without a revolution. That is a dream worth taking to the streets for. 

Some video of the protests. They are demanding honest elections.

One of the police's few actions was to insist on a change to this sign... 
"A Recount won't make the elections fairer" 

Honest choice!
Give us our votes back!