Tag Archives: pravda

Why dodge the Russian draft?

After yesterday’s post on police checking ID to find draft-dodgers, I want to add a bit of context as to why young men try so hard to stay out of the Russian military.

In a word, it comes down to hazing. I’m no expert on hazing in the Russian armed forces, but here is what I do know:

  • In 2004, at least 44 (Government figure), and as many as 3,000 (human rights group estimate) Russian draftees were killed in hazing incidents or commited suicide as a result of hazing. (Source: Pravda)
  • In the same year, Human Rights Watch released a report on hazing in the Russian military, and called on the government to do more to stop it. HRW estimated that hazing caused the “deaths of dozens of conscripts every year, and serious—and often permanent—damage to the physical and mental health of thousands others. Hundreds of conscripts commit or attempt suicide each year, and thousands run away from their units.”
  • In 2006, Private Andrei Sychyov was beaten so badly that his legs and genitals had to be amputated. His case was one of the few to be publicly discussed in Russia, because the doctors treating him leaked information to the media. (Sources: Radio Free Europe, NPR)
  • After Sychyov’s case became public, news outlets discovered another case at least as disturbing.
  • The St. Petersburg Times reported on the humiliation, beating, extortion and other trials Russian conscripts face following the Sychyov case. Despite the testimony of a hazed soldier, Russia’s Defense Minister dismissed continuing concerns about hazing.

Russia tries to control interpretations of its past

For the Soviet Union, history was always a touchy subject. The state derived its legitimacy, at least in part, from a historical narrative that portrayed the Bolshevik revolutionaries as embodying the aspirations of the vast majority of Russians—not as a minority imposing their will through violence.

The Soviet Union couldn’t even stomach criticism that avoided the state’s founding myths. Soviet historian Roy Medvedev was harassed and expelled from the Communist party in the late 1960’s for writing a book critical of Stalin, for instance. There was one acceptable version of history—the one that suited the interests of the state.

And now, it seems the Russian government is working to shape the past once again. The St. Petersburg Times reports Russian President Dmitri Medvedev is creating a committee charged with “collecting and analyzing information about attempts to diminish Russia’s prestige by falsifying history.”

The initiative may simply be a piece in formulating a broader, more coherent national approach to Soviet-era history, particularly the Stalin era (sort of a curriculum standardization). Or it may be a political move, with little real effect. Of course, it could also have real consequences for the study of history in Russia.

Analysts quoted by the St. Petersburg Times seemed to have differing opinions. One believes that the committee may open more archives to researchers, making it beneficial in the long run. Another analyst, however, said the committee might lead to, “defense of the historical myth about Russia in the interests of the country’s rulers.”

Among Russians, memories of the Communist era are mixed.

While the horror of Stalin’s reign is acknowledged, there are still mixed feelings towards him here. Stalin embarked on massive purges and collectivized agriculture, killing millions, but also pursued large-scale industrialization and defeated the Nazis.

The text at the Museum of the Political History of Russia in St. Petersburg—a glimpse into how the state wishes to present its past—is quite critical of Stalin and his purges. But it does not mention some of the most undeniably evil portions of his reign. The Holodomor famine that occurred in the early 1930s in Ukraine, killing millions, is absent. Stalin’s aggressive collectivization of agriculture led to the famine, and Ukrainians consider the famine to be a genocide committed against their people. Russia rejects this claim.

In a related development, Russia’s parliament is likely to pass a bill that would criminalize criticism of the actions of the Red Army during World War II, the St. Petersburg Times reported. Penalties for such criticism, which is often made in former Soviet republics, could reach five years in prison. Foreigners who accuse the Red Army of atrocities (See: Katyn Massacre and Soviet War Crimes) could be punished upon entering Russia.

For a slightly different view of Medvedev’s committee, let’s turn to Pravda, the newspaper of Russia’s communist party. In a translated article headlined Russia will never let anyone falsify history of Second World War, Pravda celebrates the government’s effort to combat portrayals of Soviet soldiers as looters and rapists.

“As a matter of fact, we find ourselves in the situation when we must defend the historic truth and even prove the facts that seemed to be absolutely obvious not so long ago. It can be very hard and even disgusting at times, but we must do it. We must not turn a blind eye on the terrible truth of the war. We will never let anyone cast doubt on the deeds of our nation,” Medvedev said, according to the paper.

Neither Pravda nor the St. Petersburg Times made it clear exactly which “correct” version of history the government will promote.

The Museum of Erotica

Forget about the title. For titillation, turn elsewhere. This post is actually about medical privacy.

Dr. Igor Knayzkin, the chief prostate researcher of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, runs a venereal disease, prostate, and general sexual health center in a light pink building on the edge of the Tauride Palace gardens.

Dr. Knayzkin’s clinic, however, also houses a small collection of erotica in glass cases in its white, medical hallways.

Enter the center, proceed past the first images of naked women, pay the receptionist—the same one that checks in patients—100 rubles ($3), and you’ll be given blue plastic covers to put over your shoes.

Slip the covers over your shoes, proceed past the patients in the waiting room, and enter the medical center hallways to examine the cases of sexual sculptures, phallic figurines, coffee mugs with balls, and the requisite Greek and African erotic art.

Make sure to stay out of the way of the white-coated attendants exiting exam rooms in the same hallway and the patients fresh from their various intimate appointments.

Russians, apparently, aren’t quite as fanatical about their medical privacy—HIPAA remains an American innovation.

But even if you are a bit embarrassed by camera touting tourists traipsing by as your testicles are examined, perhaps there’s good reason to go to Dr. Knayzin’s clinic. And that reason has nothing to do with the prominent doctor’s medical skill, or all the ads he has bought in the St. Petersburg metro.

You see, the medical center houses the embalmed 30 centimeter penis that allegedly once belonged to Grigori Rasputin, an incredibly odd character and close adviser to the last Tsar, Nicholas II.

Simply viewing the member is said to cure impotence (Warning: Link contains an image of said device). In any event, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than any scientifically proven remedy.

Pravda, the newspaper of Russia’s Communist Party, covered the museum’s 2004 opening and scored an apparently-exclusive interview with a Rasputin descendant:

Rasputin’s great grandchild John Nekmerson is currently living in the US. He is a grandchild of Matrena Rasputina, Rasputin’s favorite daughter. After her father was murdered, she fled to Europe and afterwards migrated to America, where she began working as a tiger-tamer. She died in 1977. Recently, John Nekmerson has visited St. Petersburg in order to see his ancestor’s private part with his own eyes. The great grandson exclaimed, “This is really it, I’ve got the same one!”