Censorship and President Putin’s Approval Rating

You’ve probably heard of Russia’s relatively-new ‘law on bloggers’. It demands that bloggers with at least 3000 subscribers conform to state media regulations and provide personal author information, among other requirements. (I guess my tiny blog is exempt. ^^)

I’ve been reading about Russian censorship, looking for possible links to President Putin’s high approval rating. Here is what I’ve read today with some quotes and commentary. You should read the articles for yourself, too!

Russian Internet Censorship, Social Media Crackdown
Make It Easy For Putin To Stay Popular

The ‘law on bloggers’ bans writers from lying, but ‘lying’ is tricky to define.

“If a blogger insinuates that a public official is corrupt and they can’t provide [proof] they could face very steep fines … It’s certainly not like the American law when you can call President Obama a Nazi Martian and he can’t do anything about it just because he’s a public official.”

Also:

“Starting in September 2016, if U.S.-based companies like Twitter, Google and Facebook want to operate on Russian soil, they must also be prepared to turn over data to Russian security services upon request, without a court ruling or any kind of justification.”

Although I guess Facebook, at least, would be keen to comply, since that creepy company thinks everyone should be completely transparent, anyway. (And would you look at that, I’ve just provided a splendid example of criticism without proof. See how easy it is to violate that rule?)


Russia Moves Toward China-Style Internet Censorship

So in in the near future, data will have to be stored in Russia and will be readily-available to the Kremlin. What are some implications? This Businessweek article says (quoting Matthew Schaaf from Freedom House):

“It could have a serious chilling effect on online expression in Russia, making users stop to think how their Google searches and Facebook posts could be used against them.”

Also note that since February of this year, Russia’s media regulator, Roskomnadzor, can take down Web sites they deem “extremist or a threat to public order” (quoting the article.) Indeed, Roskomnadzor blocked sites of parties who were rallying against Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, thus putting this new law into action.


My main question here is: does President Putin’s high approval rating have anything to do with censorship?

Actually, I feel silly for writing that. I think that’s just politics: whoever is in power will do what they can to keep their image in a good light. The right question is: How much does Russia’s censorship affect the approval rating?

Unfortunately, today’s reading hasn’t given me any answers. What I did find was this cool article from Forbes:

Vladimir Putin’s Approval Rate Is Still Near An All-Time High

The author expresses surprise that approval of Putin has actually risen since the “nationalist euphoria over the ‘return’ of Crimea was at its peak.” This article, which is about a month old, cites an out-of-this-world 86% approval rating! But, the author also believes that this approval will fall shortly, assuming Russians will hold Putin accountable for whatever hardships are expected as a result of the sanctions against Russia.

I’ll have to do some more reading to see if anyone has commented on the link between censorship and this incredible 86% approval. Meanwhile, I really hope the Russian people don’t suffer because of all this..

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Update: Music Now, and Some for Later

So after about a month in Volgograd, I cracked and bought a cheap guitar. She is black and red, her name is Fantastika, but you may call her Tika.

I’m pleased to say that I ended up buying the guitar from the smallest shop I visited. It was perhaps the size of my dorm room in college; the shopkeeper had maybe 20 guitars in stock. He was friendly and, since I struggled to communicate with him in Russian, I did it through music. It really is the universal language…

I began to play “Old Jacket”, a sort of ballad by Bulat Okudzhava. He was a bard, one I’ve heard be compared to Bob Dylan. The shopkeeper recognized the tune, gave me a surprised smile, and sang along with me. (It’s a beautiful song, sad and sort of funny. I love Regina Spektor’s cover.)

Well, he was so enchanted with me that he gave me a discount on the guitar, plus free strings and guitar picks! Well, alright– I’ll admit that ‘enchanted’ is hyperbole…

I believe he was not just a good salesman, but also genuinely kind. Coming from a skeptic like me, that means a lot. He was so friendly that I wish I had a reason to visit him again, but he gave me all the supplies I need!

I do know I’ll be going back in December to get a gift for my new Russian friend. She’s entirely responsible for this lovely purchase; she’s a Volgograd native and fellow musician. The kind of strings the shopkeeper gave me are made in America and are of the highest quality.. She buys them for herself only as a treat. I think a pack of those strings would be an appropriate “thank-you” gift from me. :)

 

That’s all for this post, but I’d like to let you know what to expect from this blog in the coming weeks! I’ve been listening to a lot of Modest Mouse, and lately I’ve taken to analyzing their songs. I’m going to do a series of posts (anywhere from 10 to 20, who knows!) about my favorites. Keep an eye out!

Love, caprice cake

Yulia and the Lucky Ticket

I love hanging out with Russians, but until I can talk coherently, it’s easier to spend time with them if we have a mission. That’s why Yulia took me out to show me good places to buy a cheap guitar.

I don’t know Yulia’s last name, where she lives and studies, or anything about her personal life. I do know that she has blonde hair and cute little bangs, speaks English (about as well as I speak Russian), and plays the guitar. And I have her phone number. I suppose I have enough details to call her a friend– right? :b

We met up near the city’s center and hopped on a trolley. The “konductor” (ticket-person) took our coins and gave us our tickets, and Yulia, after examining hers for a few seconds, told me,

“One time I got a lucky ticket. And I ate it.”

It took me a moment to understand what she’d said. “Wait. Why did you eat it?”

Pointing to the 6-digit number printed on her ticket, she explained, “When the sum of the first three numbers equals the sum of the last three, it’s lucky.”

“Oh.” Of course, that didn’t explain to me why she ate it, but we rolled along in the trolley and I just rolled with her superstition. After a pause, I asked, “How did you eat it? Did you stick it in a bowl of ice cream or something?”

She laughed. “No. I just–” she made a crumbling motion with her hands and then pretended to pop something in her mouth. “And I ate it. So I could be lucky.” And although she didn’t wink… something in her tone made me feel as if she had.

Yulia: You’re awesome.

Just Like a Russian

My Russian professors keep trying to make me talk about very deep and personal topics in class.

I don’t mind, but… The thing is, I don’t have the vocabulary for it. Lots of these questions are cultural, things like “Why did Americans tend to adopt sick Russian kids instead of healthy ones?” and “Is it true that American children dump their parents into old-people homes?”

When I’m asked these things, the pressure is on. I’ve got three objectives:

1) Speak clearly and intelligently.
2) Don’t offend your professors, even accidentally!
3) Be a positive representative of your nation.

All of these are equally difficult for me right now.

You know… Reading Russian literature (in English) gives me the idea that, in general, these people are quick to philosophize and dive into the deep and the personal. ha, I might not be wrong. :)

Love, capricecake

Bitchy Tram Employee

Дамы и господа, ladies and gentlemen, I have some unsettling news.

According to a statement by the bitchy woman who works in the Ploshad’ Lenina tram station, I, Sasha, am not a student. This shocking realization is the result of my attempt this past Tuesday to obtain a student tram pass.

Sources say that Russians are nice in the street but turn into hateful, two-dimensional versions of themselves when they are clocked into their menial day-jobs.

All this time I thought my student-ID and my university entrance card were proof of my status as a student. I’ve been attending classes, doing homework, and even buying school-lunches in the uni’s cafeteria. Who would have thought that all this time, it was a lie?

I tried to explain to the tram worker that I am a student, but something seems to have been lost in translation. When asked what I could do to rectify the situation, the woman threw up her hands, shouting and glaring at me with incredulous rage. Her coworker, attracted as a dog by the sound of a scuffle, mirrored her in gestures, tone, and beaming hatred.

I suppose that this working-class hero’s discovery means that my Russian visa is invalid and that I shall soon be deported, but, hey, at least I know I would have gotten an A, had my hours in class actually counted for anything…

 

(This has been a very sarcastic news broadcast by Sasha, aka capricecake.)

10 Things I Dislike about Volgograd

As a follow up to the list I just made of 10 things I love about this historic city, here are ten things I really don’t like oh god make them stop.

1. Adjustments. Flyaway emotions and slight weight gain. No, this needs to be done now.

2. Home university screwing up major paperwork. No, this needed to be done months ago.

3. No hot water for four days out of every week. (Apparently we’ll have hot water every day “in the fall.” Not sure when that will actually start?)

4. Being a vegetarian in a culture that still generally doesn’t get it. ha.

5. City danger. At sundown, the drunks come out, and the girls lock themselves inside their homes.

6. Paying for everything myself, like the adult I so wanted to be. I’m used to buying my own food, but buying kitchenware and toilet paper is new. :( Then there are monthly transport and Internet fees…

7. Tied to number six: not being about to work. I’m here on a student visa, but I’d need a work visa for a job. That’s right: I’ve got negative income this year.

8. Missing one person in particular whom I love very much.

9. Having empty conversations with my peers because I lack the vocabulary to talk about anything of substance.

10. Anticipating coming home. I think that’s one of the hardest things about leaving home for a while. Readjustment will be hard, things will have changed without me, and I’ll have changed, too. Nothing will fit right, at least at first.

But, most of these things are not so bad. It took three weeks, but I’m comfortable here. And what’s three weeks, anyway? Moreover, some of these things (like $7 and #10) are thoughts I don’t need to have right now. They’re unchangeable and belong to a time other than the present! So I will carry on.

I hope this isn’t a bummer. I think it provides a nice balance to my gushing “ten things I love” post. ;)

Love, capricecake

10 Things I Love about Volgograd

I’ve been in Volgograd, Russia for just over three weeks now. I try to take pictures of special things I see, but sometimes it would be tasteless for me to whip out my iPhone and start snapping away (like when I see cute old ladies or toddlers). Some things are better remembered and related in a list.

Here is that list.

1. Food. Although I do miss peanut butter, I’m not going hungry here. (; I have to prepare all of my own meals, and I’ve been trying something new every couple of days. I’m wild about the dairy products here: sour cream, cottage cheese, kefir, milk, cirok, yogurt… It’s all so rich!

2. Older Russian ladies. There are a lot of grandmas here with hands like roots of a tree, knotty and strong. I admire them from afar… since, you know, I don’t actually have a reason to bother them with stammered, broken Russian.

3. On the flip side: Russian toddlers. One day, I wound up in a waiting room with a tiny Russian lad. He had a scab on his nose.
Helloo! I said, and he mimicked me: Hell-ooo! So cute. I wonder if he knows “hello” in English, or if he’s just a really good mimic
I asked him about the scab on his nose. He touched it as if he’d forgotten it was there; then he told me an incoherent story in his adorable baby-drawl. To be honest, I’m not very good with kids, but I love trying to talk to them here in Russia. (Probably because  they speak only a little bit better than me.)

4. Public transport. None of that ‘more than $100/month’ nonsense that is car ownership.

5. People selling produce they grew at their dachas, their summer cottages. It feels good dealing directly with the people who grew the food I’m buying! And they’re much more patient and kind than store clerks.

6. Healthy regionalism. Volgograd just celebrated its 425th birthday! Everyone I’ve met has expressed love for their city without any ethnocentrism.

7. Russian women. They’re just gorgeous. I love to see their beautiful clothes and hair styles, and being surrounded by a million perfect figures is (hopefully) helping me keep my own figure in check. Peer pressure can be positive.

8. Exploring. I love walking, and there are enough streets and paths here for me to pick a new route whenever I want.

9. Learning the language. Immersion is the way to go!

And finally, the big one:

10. Mama Russia. There is a statue called “The Motherland Calls,” and it is right across the street from my dorm. It is colossal and it is glorious. I’ve been dreaming about visiting this monument for a long time, and to be able to see her standing tall on the other side of the street– just, wow. It’s better than I’d dreamed. FOR THE GLORY OF RUSSIA!