Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Harriman Institute

The Harriman Institute of Russian, Eurasian, and Eastern European Studies at Columbia is hosting interesting events in these upcoming months. It was founded in 1946 to foster the study of these regions and countries. Check out the list of events (here). One on the Muslim cultural reform in rural Russia in the late 19th century must be really instructive. It would be very interesting to see if the speakers would draw comparisons of the past with the present situation in rural Russia-- stark similarities can be found...

Sun setting?

I would like to bring to everyone's attention a brilliant article on US foreign policy and role in the world in Le Monde Diplomatique by Philip S. Golub (here). It is a short but insightful expose of the underpinnings of the Iraq war, the failure, the loss of hegemony in the world and possible scenarios for the future. A comparison with the history of the British empire once more supports my position that history is the lighthouse for the future, for it gets repeated over and over again... Needless to say, most people in the US would have a difficulty of agreeing with the author, because of institutional and historic reasons. Also because unfortunately our public is largely misinformed and misled by the pundits about the reality. Even the media, with some rare exceptions, has been coopted by the politicians and has learned to puppet those in power... Of course, that happens everywhere in the world. But since the US poses itself, quite justifiably, as a strong functioning democracy, it is quite distressing when it does not walk the walk in foreign policy and acts as a despot (historically benevolent until the 9/11) abroad... Clever commentators, such as this author have been alerting to the weakening of the US hegemony...

As expressed by this author, "History is moving on and the world is slipping, slowly but inexorably, out of US hands." It is time for the US to understand that search for absolute world hegemony is suicidal and the best means for survival is to share the crown with others and often keep a low profile... There are other powers in the world who would be pleased to share in the responsibilities of a 'world policeman.'

It must be remembered, no one single country in the world is destined to dominate over the rest. World domination is inconsistent with the very existence of Earth that belongs to all peoples from all continents, countries and units inhabiting it... While we will always choose leaders-- with willpower, courage and moral character to lead, they will always be bound by the collective will of the international community...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Silencing journalists the easy way?

It seems, the killing of journalists has become a common event in the former Soviet Union... Beginning from the murder of famous Vladislav Listyev (1956-1995)(below) and ending with Anna Politkovskaya's death (see on this blog), silencing of 'independent' minded journalists by death has become a tool to suppress freedom of speech and instill fear in the society. One more happened recently in Kyrgyzstan. A 26 year old Uzbek journalist, Alisher Saipov, an editor of an independent Uzbek-language weekly on political and social issues was shot three times at a close range. The event has sparked the attention of the UNESCO chief who in a recent press release condemned the killing of journalists.

Freedom of speech and conscience, including freedom of press are essential rights in a civilized society. Any style of democracy, Western or Eastern, demands protection of this fundamental right. In a society where people who freely speak their minds are silenced brutally, democracy cannot ever materialize... It is true that freedom of speech is not an absolute and it must not be at a cost of inciting violence... But the law does not protect that type of speech. It is clear that if speech brings forth imminent violence and by its very uttering results in it, the society is not prepared to recognize that. But speech that promotes debate, opens doors to honest criticism and evaluation, at all times respecting the opponents and those who disagree, is a cherished freedom... The journalists who are at the forefront of information dissemination and telling the story of the day are especially vulnerable, because by its nature their job requires freedom of speech.

Putting the bird into a cage will stop its singing... As far as killing it, it is just absolute barbarism. Well, it is the easiest way to ensure that it will never sing again... Is this regular street crime? Or organized crime? No one really knows. Since these types of things happened much too often in the Soviet era, I am simply predisposed to rule out regular street crime...

Friday, October 26, 2007

International Red Cross

On October 26, 1863 in Geneva the International Red Cross came into being. The centerpiece of international humanitarian law, it was concerned with regulating armed conflict and protecting people from barbarity in times of war. As Jean Pictet expressed it:

This leads to awareness that humanitarian principles are common to all human communities wherever they may be. When different customs, ethics and philosophies are gathered for comparison and when they are melted down, their particularities eliminated and only what is general extracted, one is left with a pure substance, which is the heritage of all mankind.

Study of International Law

For many people, including lawyers, international law is a nebulous concept. They really view it as something 'somewhere there' and really not applicable to their daily lives, especially because let us face it, most US lawyers do not get the opportunity or even a chance to practice international law. I am not even talking about lay people. This is also because understanding of international law begins from studying international relations and political science. International law is very policy-based and politics driven, more so than many domestic laws.

But the Internet and technological advancements have made it clear that international law affects everyone in myriads of ways on a daily basis. Beginning with your travel passports and ending with you clicking on 'I Accept' button on a website to purchase something, whether you know it or not the international law is at play. Therefore, even for those lawyers who do not really practice international law, it is crucial to know the fundamentals.

Regrettably, not all law students focus on international law while at law school. Since the Bar exam does not test on it, they do not take a basic course in it. I would really suggest that the California Bar add a subject on an essay portion-- International Law. I am planning to write a letter to them.

Most importantly, in the US the law students do not get the same exposure to international law as students in Europe. I had the fortune to lecture Russian law students from the Moscow State University. I was amazed with their comprehension of quite complex international law concepts. Moreover, as I spoke to them, they told me that they regularly visit various International Courts as part of their law school studies. Isn't that awesome? We, students in the USA, were deprived of those opportunities, because of traveling costs and closed gates. It is so much cheaper to travel to Europe from Russia. Plus, the Universities there subsidize much of these costs for students.

I believe, by virtue of our geographic distance from Europe, the center of International law making, we in the US have to work harder in getting closer to international law. It is very unfortunate. While the quality of our lawyers is really high because of intense competitiveness of the legal profession, most lawyers in the US end up generally not knowledgeable in international law issues. Moreover, they are not even interested in it.

That is a gap for our law schools and academics to fill. In the future I would love to participate in that process. For now, for the beginners in international law, here is the first class. What are the sources of international law? Where do we go to find that nebulous 'international law' on a subject?

Article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice has the response (here):

a. international conventions, whether general or particular, establishing rules expressly recognized by the contesting states;

b. international custom, as evidence of a general practice accepted as law;

c. the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations;

d. ... judicial decisions and the teachings of the most highly qualified publicists of the various nations as subsidiary means for the determination of rules of law.

This is the hierarchy of the sources for international law from the highest to lowest. How to approach each source, stay tuned for future lessons. But please, remember, international law is tangible and very live... It is perhaps the beginning of all law...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Representative democracy, elitism and popular will...

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) once said, "If there was a nation of Gods, there would be democracy." What he meant by that, it would take us forever to discuss. But we often shortsize the concept of democracy. Much too often it is meant something else than it really should. And unfortunately, in today's world its meaning is diluted and lost its vigor. What is democracy? Isn't it about 'government by the people and for the people?' Isn't it about full protection of individual liberties, enshrined in the Bill of Rights? Isn't it about the will of the people? But where in the world do we have a 'popular democracy?' All Western liberal democracies are 'representative democracies' or democratic 'republics'. But there is a big difference between a popular and representative democracy. Representative democracy chooses the elite, a few chosen, the government bureaucracy to govern over the people, not really to represent their will, their needs, their interests.

The recycling of dynasties, families who are in control of the political resources through generations takes place. While elections occur and parties fight, the people end up with little or no meaningful choice. The candidates make wonderful promises, sing to the choir of the supporters and distract the opposition. But all they really care about is how to get elected and then stay in power. They decide to walk on the tightrope-- not to completely disappoint their constituents, but also never follow through their grand plans devised during elections. And so it happens every time. Where is the will of the people, ordinary people with ordinary problems and goals?They are lost somewhere in the traffic of our times. Those people, disillusioned, then become lethargic, withdrawn and detached from the larger world and the civic society. Hence there is low voter turnout and irremediable cynicism over politics and politicians.

As far as individual liberties, most people care about their paychecks. As long as they are paid on time and feed their families, the civil rights that they purportedly have are less important. They remember those only when they are mistreated themselves. The government is least interested in these rights because more protection translates into weaker government... More power to the people is less power to the state...

Who cares about the popular will? Does the Ivy League school graduate of a political elite family care about it? He will then always look at people with snobbish awareness of his superiority. When he gets the job as a 'representative of the people' he will be as detached from them as Australia from Canada. Meanwhile, those who know about the popular will cannot get to Ivy League schools or the Ivy Tower hovering high above, have no access to the elite governance, and will not be allowed to represent the people. I thought democracy is something very different from aristocracy or elitism. Moreover, I thought democracy was simply not the same as monarchy. We got rid of the kings and queens, I thought. Did we really? Now we have institutions that, in the name of the people, perpetuate those same monarchies...

("The Raft of the Medusa" above (1819) was painted by a great French painter of Romanticism, Theodore Gericault (1791-1824) It commemorated a real contemporary tragedy, when a French ship was wrecked in the sea but the captain left the crew behind to die.)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma

Aung San Suu Kyi was born in Rangoon, Burma on June 19, 1945. She got her B.A. at Oxford University, went to New York and London for graduate studies, began research and publishing very early in her career. Her political career began in 1988 upon resignation of General Ne Win, who was the military dictator in Burma since 1962. There were mass uprisings and voter suppression by the military, killing thousands. The State Law & Order Restoration Council was established at this time to crack down on political gatherings for democracy.

Su Kyi got involved by making public speeches and writing letters to the government. The same year the National League for Democracy was formed with her as general-secretary. It was focused on non-violent resistance and struggle for democracy in Burma. In 1989 she was placed under house arrest. Despite her detention, NLD won the election with 82% of parliamentary seats. The SLORC refused to recognize the results and continued her detention until 1995, July. She could not even travel to accept the Nobel Peace Prize that she was awarded in 1991. She received other human rights prizes for her unbroken will for the fight for democracy and human rights in Burma.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Cold War--over?

The US realpolitik foreign policy under Bush and the Iraq war have come at a huge price. The astute commentators are pointing to the renewal of the Cold War. The relationship between Russia and US are at its lowest since the 90s. The recent Caspian summit among Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan where the involved countries have made progress in discussing the division of the seabed and oil in the region among themselves to the exclusion of any 'outsiders' has alarmed the US (here). Moreover, the statements by Putin at the summit that 'use of force' in the region is absolutely unacceptable in the face of Pentagon's talks with respect to the Iran nuclear project are in stark opposition to the US plans (here).

Also, the recent diplomatic meeting between US and Russia has been so unsuccessful that BBC called the relationship a 'Lukewarm war.' Well, Russia is alarmed in a major way with the Bush administration's attempts to place nuclear weapons in Eastern Europe. This is in breach of the promises made in the 80s between Gorbachev and Reagan, stipulated in bilateral treaties. The US reasoning that those weapons are to protect against Iran is of no avail, because Iran currently does not possess nuclear weapons. So, Russia is taking this move as directed against herself.

The oil-rich reserves targeted by all developed countries in the Middle East and Caspian seabed are an important reason behind these developments. But it is also Russia's dissatisfaction with the US superpower status. The US influence in the Caucasus, specifically in Georgia has increased. The Caucasus historically was a major stronghold for Russia, as a territory where it could protect its land mass from attacks. As a country constantly invaded, Russia's mentality is insecure and defensive. On the other hand, US also has become increasingly insecure since the 9/11.

Personalities do matter in politics. Gorbachev and Reagan were idealists relative to Putin and Bush, both realists. Of course, these labels should not be taken literally and Putin's legacy for Russia will probably be different from Bush's for America. It is not for me to judge. The national polls of Russian and American peoples' perception of their presidents is a beginning-point. The popularity of one is in stark contrast with the unpopularity of the other.

Is the Cold War really over? Perhaps we jumped to conclusions when we promulgated so... Or perhaps its end was contingent on parties' willingness to abide by their promises with full commitment...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Solution for Pakistan?

Benazir Bhutto's (born in 1953) return to Pakistan has been met with sensation and emotional upheavals by her mass supporters, as well powerful bomb blasts by her opponents. People are celebrating and are in the streets, while the opposition is in despair. (Full story) After the recent problems associated with Musharaff's rule in the country, there is a talk of power-sharing with Ms. Bhutto, who is expected to take up the post of Prime Minister. Musharaff is not popular, Bhutto is, despite her controversial political background.

She is the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the PM in Pakistan in the early 70s. Like Nehru-Gandhi family in India, the Bhutto family is a well known dynasty in Pakistan. Bhutto's political career had many ups and downs, the downs as a result of charges of widespread corruption. After the political fall and execution of her father, she fled and set up the People's Party in London. In 1986 she returned to Pakistan and in 1988 she became the first democratically elected female leader in an Islamic country. Twice a prime minister of Pakistan (1988-1990) and (1993-1996), she is seen as a symbol of motherhood and endurance.

Given her political character, it is highly unlikely she will settle for low profile power-sharing. But since she is popular, her presence would perhaps be a solution to the current situation in Pakistan after Musharaff's open defiance of the rule of law.

ICC and Africa

ICC is busy trying war criminals in hot spots of Africa, including the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). It has just reported that a suspected war criminal Germain Katanga has been detained and held at the Hague. The Office of the Prosecutor has charged him with crimes against humanity and war crimes. It has been reported that he ordered a 'wipe out' of a village in the DRC, as well as forceful turnover of women into sexual slavery and children into soldiers. As a senior commander of a militia group called Force de Resistance Patriotique en Ituri, Katanga has been involved in mass killings of civilians. For a full story.
The violence that is perpetuated by the militia groups in many spots of Africa has been a major concern of the ICC, that since its inception has been a centerpiece for view of troubles in Africa... Many people call it the 'African Court.' Well, it is doing a major service to the international community. But will it have an effect on reducing the violence when the causes of it are really not addressed? The OAU (African Union) pledges 'efficient and effective' unity and promise for change. But a big part of Africa is still cloaked with hopeless poverty and violence...

Monday, October 15, 2007

Women and baseball...

Women have played organized baseball since the 1860s. Students at the all-female Vassar College formed baseball teams as early as 1866. In 1875 three men organized a women's baseball club in Springfield, Illinois, divided it into two teams, the Blondes and the Brunettes, and charged admission to see them play. In the early 20th century, barnstorming teams known as “Bloomer Girls” were formed in various parts of the United States and took on amateur and semiprofessional teams that included both men and women.

In its early stages, women's involvement in professional baseball was largely an attempt to profit from the novelty of female players. An Ohio woman, Alta Weiss, pitched for the otherwise all-male semiprofessional Vermilion Independents in 1907. Jackie Mitchell (1914-1987) (above) became the first female professional baseball player when she signed a contract with the minor league Chattanooga Lookouts in 1931 (she was really the second because in 1898 Lizzie Arlington played one game, pitching for Reading against Allentown). Mitchell pitched in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees and struck out their two star players, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Organized baseball formally banned women from signing professional contracts with men's teams in 1952.

When World War II made the suspension of major league baseball a possibility, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) was founded with four teams—the Rockford (Illinois) Peaches, the Racine Belles and the Kenosha Comets (both of Wisconsin), and the South Bend (Indiana) Blue Sox. Annastasia Batikis ("Stash") played at Racine Belles.

The AAGPBL drew large crowds because of its players' athletic abilities. The league management, however, was concerned that the players appear feminine to the fans, and rules encouraging the wearing of lipstick and long hair and banning the wearing of trousers off the field were promulgated. On the field, the women initially played fast-pitch softball (which features a larger ball and underhand pitching), but by 1948 overhand pitching was introduced, and eventually the only difference of note between men's baseball and AAGPBL baseball was the size of the diamond, which in the AAGPBL had a shorter distance between bases. During its 11-year existence (1943–54), the league received a great deal of national attention, but by the 1950s the televising of major league baseball led to dwindling interest in the women's teams, and the league folded. These female players were eventually recognized with an exhibit at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 1988. In 1992 the feature film A League of Their Own dramatized the story of the AAGPBL.

Beginning in 1994, the Colorado Silver Bullets, sponsored by a brewing company and managed by Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro, competed against men's teams for four years. Between 1997 and 2000 Ila Borders, a left-handed pitcher, played for two men's teams in the independent Northern League.

For more on women in baseball read the book by Gregorich.
Sports was one of the ways that women began assailing the traditional outdated notions about femininity and manliness. It was indeed a powerful venue because how else women could visibly prove that they were equal to men...

Grassroots, grassroots...

UNICEF has proven that if you build schools for children soldiers, you can induce them to trade guns for textbooks. In Southern Sudan in Deng Nhial that is what happened to Mayom Mabuong (here). Once there was a permanent structured school safe from rain, Mayom was able to go to school and permanently demobilize. Now he is the one who is assisting UNICEF to demobilize other students by telling about his story. He is a teacher and a community leader. For children whose souls are mutilated from war and violence, the school is the only savior. It truly can make memories of war distant mirages of the past...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Crime and punishment...

One of my favorite books is “Crime and Punishment” by Dostoevsky. Where there is crime, there must be punishment. That is one of the most essential pillars of human society and civilization. Raskolnikov committed a crime and he received punishment not only in the hands of the society and law, but his own self. The beauty of this book is that it shows the deep psychological transformation of the human being, who suddenly realizes the magnitude of his doing. His conscience, conscience did not let him walk away from responsibility. The hope for this transformation and possibility of repentance has been one of the central life-saving boats of humanity. But even when there is no repentance, the society must ensure that justice prevails. Yes, the accused must have his/her rights protected. Yes, the accused must get fair trial. Yes, as a society we need to have mercy for the accused and if possible give her a chance to change. Everyone needs that chance. Punishment is meaningless and cruel when it is disproportionate to the crime. But punishment-- there must be. Every individual must be held fully responsible for his actions. Every victim must have the comfort that justice will sooner or later prevail.

Going even further, every state in the world must be held responsible for its actions, not only internationally and vis-à-vis other countries, but also to its own people. That is the importance of human rights law—it may hold a state responsible for its actions against its own people. Where there is crime, there must be punishment. That occurs in the domestic criminal courtroom in the first instance and then goes up the ladder to the International Criminal Tribunals, when applicable. While justice is never perfect and often gets ill, it never dies.

("Mary Magdalene in Penitence" (above) by the great Renaissance artist, Titian is from the Hermitage collection).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

History can neither be erased nor rewritten...

The current protests in Turkey here regarding the Armenian Genocide vote are puzzling, besides the fact that they are absolutely abhorring. How can Turkey even pose itself a civilized nation, denying its past atrocities? How can the people living in Turkey, intelligentsia and educated people, not condemn what their ancestors did to the Armenians? How can they not label what happened as a Genocide? How do they explain the 'events' and official proclamations that energized and gave fuel to the Genocide... How do they explain the killing of almost 2 million of Armenians, most of whom were innocent civilians... How do they explain the signature of genocidaires that was used later, very successfully, by the Nazis, who were encouraged by the silence of the world over the first 20th century genocide... The historical chronicle is very alive and cannot be erased... The Nazi leaders had this chronicle fresh in their minds, when justified their actions over the Jews...

Puzzling as these protests are, they show how the humanity has become distorted, demoralized and really mutilated by injustice and political blackmail. Turkey is using whatever political cards it has to stop America from recognizing the Genocide.. All right. Let America not recognize it and let America succumb to this blackmail (because of its realpolitik national interests). What will Turkey accomplish by that? Temporary support of its denial of the Genocide? Alliance with the US? Will that gain Turkey a favorable position in the European Union? In the world? Turkey will become a 'rogue nation' for the rest of its existence... It is for the US to determine which nations it should ally itself-- for its image and future as a world leader...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Will justice prevail?

Sometimes we get good news! The House Foreign Affairs Committee adopted the resolution on Armenian Genocide by 27 to 21 vote (here and here). This is after Bush repeatedly alarmed them not to do so! Unbelievable and truly unacceptable that to this day there is still doubt as to whether the US should fully admit the fact of the Genocide. This is not about human rights any longer! This is about history and the idea of how history can get distorted miserably... Moreover, this is about humanity understanding ramifications of denying historical realities... and accepting atrocities as natural events, not punishable and without consequences... How can Turkey still maintain its position about the Genocide in the face of history, still alive in the victims and their children... This is not only immoral, but reprehensible... I do believe, that even if man-made justice does not prevail, there is something always higher than the humanity-- the Universal Will will have its judgment and its higher justice will prevail... Sooner or later, will prevail...

Anna Politkovskaya

On October 7 last year, Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead (1958-2006)... Like Galina Starovoitova (see on this blog), Anna Politkovskaya was one of the bravest women in Russia, who basically was not afraid to tell the truth about Chechnya and how policies affect real people on the ground... She was also not afraid to visit Chechnya's hot spots during the war and report about the current conditions on a daily basis. Much of Chechnya was cloaked with mystery for the Russian population and only rare people like Politkovskaya dared to cut through the robe of mystery... Her concerns for the human rights abuses in Chechnya of course were going to earn her enemies... Interestingly, even an attempt to place a memorial plaque in front of her house this year was an occasion for a scandal (here)... Why? Isn't it important to remember such people and aspire to be like them?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Will to Live

A great German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) wrote in his famous "Will to Live":

Awakened to life out of the night of unconsciousness, the will finds itself an individual, all striving, suffering, erring; and as if through a troubled dream it hurries back to its old unconsciousness. Yet till then its desires are limitless, its claims unexhaustible, and every satisfied desire gives rise to a new one. No possible satisfaction in the world could suffice to still its longings, set a goal to its infinite cravings, and fill the bottomless abyss of its heart. Then let one consider what as a rule are the satisfactions of any kind that a man obtains. For the most part, nothing more than the bare maintenance of this existence itself, extorted day by day with unceasing trouble and constant care in the conflict with want, and with death in prospect. Everything in life shows that earthly happiness is destined to be frustrated or recognized as an illusion.

There is only one inborn error, and that is, that we exist in order to be happy. It is inborn in us because it is one with our existence itself, and our whole being is only a paraphrase of it, nay, our body is its monogram. We are nothing more than will to live and the successive satisfaction of all our volitions is what we think in the conception of happiness.

... Our life is like a payment which one recieves in nothing, but copper pence, and yet must then give a discharge for: the copper pence are the days; the discharge is death.

Jean-Paul Sartre
(1905-1980), a great French philosopher and existentialist wrote similarly in "The Age of Reason",

I am my own taste, I exist. That is what existence means: draining one's own self dry without the sense of thirst.

... For nothing: this life had been given him for nothing, he was nothing and yet he would not change: he was as he was made. He yawned: he had finished the day, and he had also finished with his youth. Various tried and proved rules of conduct had already discreetly offered him their services: disillusioned epicureanism, smiling tolerance, resignation, flat seriousness, stoicism-- all the aids whereby a man may savor, minute by minute, like a connoisseur, the failure of a life. He took off his jacket and began to undo his necktie. He yawned again as he repeated to himself: "It is true, it is really true: I have obtained the age of reason."

Well, existentialism that was born and developed by writings of these philosophers and others, including Nietzsche, Kafka, Gasset was a product of nihilism, another trend in philosophy. Nihilism-- rejection and negation of everything, reduction of certain settled things into nothing. At the same time, existentialism raised the human being and sanctified its existence by postulating that there is nothing wrong with selfish and self-centered human 'existence'. That people have a right to live their lives to the utmost, to the most ridiculous fullness and richness... That narcissism and epicureanism were not that bad... Existentialism was also affected by voluntarism, another trend in philosophy, which promulgated the willpower as the basis of human life... It must be known that existentialism was a philosophy to counter Marxism. Since Marxism was focused on the 'community', not the individual, the existentialism felt that individualism was under an assail and thus needed support. Idealism and materialism of the 18th century philosophy were replaced by Marxism and existentilism in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

But of course, one of the necessary by-products of individualism was the lonely and depressed individual, stranded on the road all alone, and in despair. The communitarianism on the other hand provided the joyful 'community', a mass of people, at the expense of one individual's needs and wishes... Thence, the writings of all existentialists were filled with this longing for happiness and satisfaction of inner dreams... Perhaps, the only existentialist, who truly understood this was Soren Kierkegaard (see on this blog). He is considered the father of existentialism. Yet, he wrote in contrast with most who followed him,

The great thing, as I regard it, is to live in the congregation, to bring something finer out of it, if one is able; at all events to subordinate oneself to it and put up with it if one is unable to better it.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


Pablo Picasso, (1881-1973) perhaps one of the most mysterious artists of the 20th century wrote once,

You have to wake people up. To revolutionize their way of identifying things. You've got to create images they won't accept. Make them foam at the mouth. Force them to understand that they are living in a pretty queer world. A world that is not reassuring. A world that is not what they think it is.

I myself think that everything is unknown; that everything is an enemy.

A painter must create what he experiences. Experiencing-- experiencing-- easy enough to say! It is not seeing in a particular way. It has nothing to do with interpreting.

While he was a Communist and received the Stalin Peace Prize (1950) and International Lenin Peace Prize (1962), he should have known that the 'revolutionary' artists and painters like him in the Soviet Union had a very sad fate... People like Minas Avetisyan, Sergei Parajanov and others, who were very much influenced by him and Salvador Dali, were going to be shut up and not allowed to create, because their images did precisely that-- challenge the present order...

Justice can prevail

The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Russia to pay a total of more than $212,475 in damages for reparations in Chechnya. (here)
Since the inception of jurisdiction of ECHR over Russia, it has been flooded with cases from Chechnya. Individuals and families have come to the Court asking for redress of their grievances that were not heard or heeded in Russia.
I am wondering, whether any court would be able to allow the Iraqi victims bring cases against the US for actions like those in Abu Ghraib.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Igor Talkov

On this day, in 1991 Russia lost another of its most talented and beloved sons, Igor Talkov (1956-1991). A poet, singer and activist for individual liberties, Talkov like Vysotsky came to awaken the slumbering conscience of the Soviet Union, that was already in ruins by the time of his death... He was assassinated in quite a mysterious way similar to many other famous assassinations in history. His life was indeed an example of what an enormous sacrifice it takes to fight for ideals... It is not beautiful phrases that make the difference, it is the degree of self-sacrifice and risk that one may take for higher ideals... Talkov was one of those rare people, that we have the luxury of having among us once in 50-60 years. He sang in anger,

I do not intend to foretell the future,
But I know for sure,
I will be back,
Even in hundreds of centuries,
Not to a country of idiots, but of geniuses,

And fallen in battle,
I will be reborn,
And will sing,
On the first day of a birthday
Of a country returning from war...

(Listen to this song here)

I am wondering, if he came back to today's Russia, would he be happy? I doubt it... Idealist that he was, he did not want half-freedoms or hypocrisy... It was all or nothing for him and he would have fought always, never satisfied or content.

(trans. by Zoya. For more on his songs, visit)

Thursday, October 4, 2007


Just like the 9/11 shook the world, the launch of the Soviet Sputnik into cosmos shook the world on October 4, 1957. On that day the Soviets launched the first artificial Sputnik into space. On April 12, 1961 Gagarin, the first man ever was sent to cosmos, further shaking the world. The era of human conquering of the outer space began... The launch of the Sputnik was done by the military and was directed by the great academician Sergei Korolyov.

The US was in flames. Eisenhower was under a siege to resign. The US politicians who were not taking the atomic bomb of the Soviets seriously now had to rethink and reconsider the Soviet potential for hegemony. This event marked a new era in the Cold War and influenced the US in further restructuring of its domestic policies to countermand these developments. John F. Kennedy was to set the goal for sending America to the Moon... It was also John F. Kennedy who was able to courageously stop the Soviets placing nuclear weapons in Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis showcase was perhaps the closest that the world came to the nuclear war...

But looking back at these events, it is really instructive to learn how the great powers were able to influence and 'check and balance' each other by constant challenge... Challenge is good (as long as non-violent) because it makes one search inside and learn the truth... Unfortunately, the US as a superpower, while challenged in a major way by Islamic fundamentalists at 9/11, has not really searched inside and has not really learned the truth... It has been ignoring the rest of the world for more than a decade and has increasingly become isolated as a world leader... We are in need of new leadership that can indeed redefine and repaint the image of the US... Who can take up that enormous task? Will the American people choose the right person this time? Who is the right person when people have vastly different understandings about global leadership and foreign policy? When the general population is misinformed and not fully educated about issues driving this world...

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Armenian children

UNICEF Armenia is alerting that the preschool enrollment for kids has drastically dropped since 1989 (from 47 to 21%) (here). Since preschool is the beginning of education, it lays an important foundation for secondary school. Therefore, its enrollment is a crucial factor for the future of a child's education.
Generally, education is affected by the economy. Since Armenia has suffered in a major way since the Independence and the war in Nagorno Karabakh, its educational level has deteriorated. More and more kids drop out of High School or are transferred to home schooling to accommodate their working schedules. This was far from the situation before. Armenia always enjoyed a high educational ranking. With privatization of public schools, more and more kids no longer can afford higher education... While there are still public institutes and Universities, admission into those is very competitive, leaving many disadvantaged kids out... Moreover, getting education is no longer a ticket to good living. The academicians, professors and educated people earn ridiculous salaries. Businessmen with High School diplomas and connections are the ones who earn a decent living. So, why get education? It is just engrained in the Armenian culture that people should get higher education at any cost...

Moscow State University

The oldest Russian University (here) was founded in 1755 by the first Russian academician, scientist and encyclopedist Mikhail Lomonosov (1711-1765). In 1940 the University was named after him. Pushkin expressed it well: "Combining extraordinary willpower with extraordinary intellectual power, Lomonosov embraced all areas in knowledge. His passionate thirst for knowledge was the energizing force in his life. Historian, orator, engineer, chemist, minerologist, painter and poet he experienced and perceived it all."

Lomonosov played a decisive role in the development of social and natural sciences in Russia, which was turning into a major European power during Peter the Great (1672-1725). He wrote a report to Queen Elizabeth (the daughter of Peter the Great and Catherine I) (1709-1761) who signed the order for founding the University on January 25, 1755.

At that time the University had three sections: on philosophy, jurisprudence and medicine. Admission was open to all persons from all classes, except for peasants-- unheard of in those days when universities were open only to the sons of nobility. He wrote: "At the University the student is respected for his knowledge, not for his parents." In the middle of the 18th century out of 26 Russian professors, only three were from nobility. This was truly remarkable.

Beginning from 1919 the University became funded altogether by the State. Students would get stipends, housing and even food to study here. But the Stalinist period affected the intellectuals at the University, many of whom left the country, unable to put up with the suspension of intellectual freedom.

Today the Moscow State University is the first and foremost dream of most students. It has all the resources, all the opportunities and all the keys to valuable education and successful career. It was my dream too to study there when I was 6. But when my family moved to the United States after I graduated from High School, UCLA replaced Lomonosov University in my mind. Now the dream is to teach there one day...

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Any ice left?

... Ice melting in the Arctic is more and more alarming to the scientists. (here) They are still unsure about how to measure future implications of this process. The changing patterns of winds in the region have also contributed to the melting. Interestingly, Russia who has recently tried to assert its influence in the Arctic has been attacked for expansionism and adventurism. Well, if countries do not try to assert ownership rights over such forsaken regions, there will be no incentive to study and prevent causes of global warming... If this rate of ice melting continues, half the world will end up under the water...

Monday, October 1, 2007


On October 1, 1946 the Nuremberg trials were over. Out of 24 Nazi high officials 22 received a verdict. Twelve were sentenced to hanging, three-- life imprisonment, four-- 10 to 20 years. Three were even acquitted of the charges. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Gebbels, Heinrich Himmler had committed suicide to avoid punishment...
Nuremberg trials marked the beginning of modern human rights law... The Turkish genocidaires had escaped punishment for the Armenian Genocide only because in 1915 the world was still devoid of the mechanism exemplified in International Criminal Tribunals set up post-World War II.