Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pussy Riot

The foreign media has been closely following the trial of three members of Pussy Riot, a Russian punk band that staged a concert/protest at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. They were arrested and charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” for briefly performing a punk song called Holy Shit in protest against the rule of President Vladimir Putin. There are a couple of things that are interesting to me in this story. The first is that while the West has been covering the trial extensively, the Russian media has been largely silent on the issue other than to condemn what they did. In the foreign media the three women who were arrested and are trial are pinned as opposition to the regime. Numerous musicians in the West have come out in support of these women during their recent concerts in Russia including Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sting, and Madonna. We were talking about this in class last week and my professor said no mater how most Russians feel about the regime many seem to be decidedly against these women because the protest was performed in a church. They have also been named as feminists in the West which, if you read an earlier post of mine is not a popular term in Russia. Here is an interesting interview with the women regarding their feminist viewpoints http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2012/jul/29/pussy-riot-russia-interview-video The women face up to seven years in prison and it is pretty evident that no matter what the Western world thinks these women will go to jail. Amnesty International has taken up their case and asked the Russian government to free them from custody. Here is their petition if you are interested in supporting these women:

Monday, July 30, 2012

Final Concert

All summer we have been preparing for our final concert where we performed Russian folk songs, dances, and recited poetry. We started the concert with the song По Дону гуляет or a Cossack is walking near the Don River, then sang Светит месяц, светит ясный or the Moon is shining brightly and finished with Katyusha, the Russian diminutive of Katherine. Our host families and tutors were invited to the event and our teachers took the preparation very seriously! We even had to wear Russian traditional folk costumes which looked like choir costumes with traditional shawls. This is a picture of some of us during our dress rehearsal! 

The concert was held in our institute The room was a large office during the day but for our concert they just shoved the desks aside and set up chairs.
My Babyshka, Galina has been talking about the concert for the past month and when we entered the hall I saw that she had a front row seat for our performance! Many people have requested a picture of her so here it is after the concert, as promised!

We had a post concert celebration complete with Lithuanian champagne and caviar from the Caspian Sea!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Kazan Rubin

We were able to catch the first home game of the season for the Kazan Rubin, the Russian national league soccer or futbal team as they say in Europe. Here is a picture of the stadium.
They played the Russian national anthem and then the Tatar Republic anthem which was interesting to hear!
The stadium is located right next to the Kremlin so we got to enjoy a good match and a good view!
This is the fan zone which is surrounded by gates and riot police. This is where all the hooligans sit as my babyshka said and they started moshing for no apparent reason during the match.
 Me enjoying the game.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


We spent the night in the capital city of the Mari El Republic is Yoshkar-Ola which means Red City in Mari and had the entire next day free to wander the new but interesting city. This is all new development along the Malaya Kokshaga River that runs through the city. e

 We watched a glockenspiel procession of the Jesus and the Apostles which is kind of visible in the middle of the photo.
The city seemed brand and all the new buildings seemed to copy architecture from other places. This part along hte river looked like Amsterdam.
No this is not Moscow!
And this part was like St, Mark's Square in Venice.
Hanging out with Alexander Pushkin, Russia's most famous author and his most famous character Evgeny Onegin.
Remnants of an empire: we went to a museum on the Gulag, the only museum of this kind I have ever seen in Russia. The museum was housed in the former NKVD and KGB headquarters. It looked like a hoarder lived there but it was full of interesting tidbits from the past. I was just sad with the lack or preservation of some of these historical items that just seemed thrown together.

Here is a picture of a cell where inmates and people who were brought in for questioning were held. We had an interesting tour by a woman whose father died in a gulag and was brought to this building and never seen again.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Mari El Republic and the Russian Banya

For our last excursion we went to Mari El Republic, the republic right next to Tatarstan where they speak a Finno-Ugric language close to Estonian and are pagans. I thought I would feel very at home in this place and that it would remind me of the Baltics and so I was really excited to see what this place had in store for us. Our first stop on the excursion was a little town that used to be a kolkhoze, or collective farm during communist times and now has tried to reinvent itself and its 250 inhabitants as an eco-tourism destination. We traveled 3.5 hours on some not so great roads to this small village. Here is a picture of me at the highest point in Mari El.
This was our welcoming party complete with fol dancing and traditional Mari music of course!
 The welcoming committee!
 Participating in traditional folk dancing.
 The main reason we went to this town was to experience a traditional Russian Banya, or sauna. Here is a picture of the banya with a not so traditional shower curtain!
Before we could go in the banya wood had to be chopped and water had to be carried to the banya. Since men always get to use the banya first, which I of course grumbled at, the women ate a fantastic meal in the home of one of the townspeople!

After that the women got to use the Banya where we were hit with tree branches and sat in a really hot steam bath. Since I have asthma and the hot steam hurt my lungs, this experience didn't last very long for me! After that it was raining and the originalplanned hike was replaced by some more traditional folk dancing!
 We ended the day with a Mari fashion show!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Raising Awareness on Human Trafficking

One of the biggest compliments people can give to me is telling me the before they met me they knew nothing about human trafficking. Over the years, through my lectures and presentations, more and more people are informed on this issue and now it is rare for me in the US at least to find someone who has never heard ever of human trafficking (thank you Taken, the movie).  However, I find myself in this situation more and more in Russia. We had to do a final project for the CLS program where we interviewed someone about a theme of interest to us and naturally I chose my dissertation topic human trafficking. 

Since I am volunteering at Fatima and did interviews for my research there, it was easy to kill two birds with the proverbial stone. For my assignment I had to write a 1500 word essay on human trafficking in Russian and give a 15 minute presentation on it. I wrote the essay and had my tutor correct it for me and at the end of a long meeting where we dissected the meaning of many words she said I can't believe this is happening in Russia. I was told this again by the directer of our program after I gave my presentation to our Group Two class today. This reaction still surprises me because through my research I learn about all the activities NGOs in Russia do to raise awareness to human trafficking (the pictures of some of these campaigns are featured above) but still there are so many average Russians who do not know about this horrible crime. Still I have hope that every presentation I make and all the people I talk to about this crime makes a little dent in raising awareness to this issue, I know we still have a long way to go! So if you are reading this article tell someone what you learned today and help spread the word.....who knows you might stop someone you know and love from becoming a victim!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Boat Trip: Fun times

The boat trip was also nice because we got to relax and take a break from classes and studying for a bit. So my last post about the trip includes the fun social photos from all of our down time on the trip. This picture is a bunch of us relaxing on the not so sunny sun deck!

Our professor going over the poems and songs we have to know for our final concert!
Some of the CLS students participating in the cultural activities with the Russians who were also on the boat. I won a chance (which was just a piece of paper with the word chance in Russian on it) for having the shortest last name in the room. In Russian Dean is spelled with three letters Дин. 

Dance party at the back of the boat with one of the CLS students DJing.
Our new Russian friend a psychology professor from Samara. We had an interesting conversation about statistics and the lack of human subjects clearance necessary to conduct research in Russia.
Our last picture as we pulled back into port with my fellow students from Montana, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Boat Trip: Makaryev Monastery

Our last stop on the boat was Makaryev Monastery, one of the largest convents for Orthodox nuns founded in the 15th century. It was originally established for priests but in the 1800s they turned it into a convent for women which at one time housed 300 nuns. During communist times the monastery was turned into an orphanage, military hospital, and veterinary school. It was restored as a Monastery in 1992 and was featured in the film Salt with Angelina Jolie. I paid a very steep entrance fee to get a view inside but I felt like it was worth it and went to a good cause, helping the 22 nuns who live in this remote place along the Volga keep the monastery going. This is a view of the monastery from the river. 

The walk from the boat to the monastery.
The very thick walls of the monastery and the entrance.

Because it was a monastery we had to wear skirts long enough to cover our knees and head scarves to cover our hair. This is a very distant picture of me and the other girls who went on the tour.


Boat Trip: Nizhny Novgorod

We spent the next evening traveling to Nizhny Novgorod, a city I have always wanted to see in Russia so I was really excited to get the opportunity to go there! Unfortunately, we only had like four hours there so I didn't get to see the wonderful art museum that was on my list but I guess it gives me a good reason to go back. I really liked the city and it was considerably more European and less diverse than Kazan. There were no mosques and most of the population was Russian instead of the plethora of Central Asian and Caucasians in Kazan. This is a photo of the Kremlin and the Chkalov Staircase which was built by German POWs during WWII as we approached Nizhny. 

 This is a picture of the port.
The Church of the Nativity of the Lady built by a rich family in Nizhny.

Another church and the lovely Soviet style apartment building right next it!
I like this building because it looked old and Slavic!
A bridge looking out over the city.
The view of Nizhny and the port.
Bolshaya Pokrovskaya the main pedestrian street of Nizhny.
The view from the Kremlin looking out over the Volga.
The main gate of the Kremlin.
Inside the Kremlin there were a bunch of government buildings and museums.

World War II Memorial
A replica of the statue outside St Basil's in Red Square on the exact place Minin called up the troops  and Pozharsky commanded them rise up against the Poles. This ended the Time of Troubles and established the Romanov dynasty.
The Church of the Nativity of John the Precursor.
The very extensive ramparts inside and outside of the Kremlin.