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RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Jan 4, 2010

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TODAY: New Year’s opposition rally ends in detainment, greeted with international censure; sad new year for vodka drinkers as prices rise.  Yushchenko uses presence of Russian fleet as tool against rival Tymoshenko; the conundrum of teaching orthodoxy in schools; could political satire be returning to Russian screens?

According to ITAR-TASS, 30 New Year’s Eve marchers were detained by police during an opposition rally (or 60 according to the Other Russia), among them veteran 82-year old rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva, dressed as Snegurochka, Father Frost’s female assistant.  The unsanctioned rally was in protest against the government’s flouting of the 31st article of the Russian Constitution guaranteeing freedom of assembly.  The protesters were labeled ‘Bad Santa’ by the pro-Kremlin youth organization Young Russia, whose own rally was used by the town hall as a pretext for not allowing any others to take place.  The harsh treatment of the activists has prompted criticism from EU parliament president Jerzy Buzek, who described the police response as ‘totally disproportionate’.


As part of its new crackdown on alcohol, the government has established a minimum price for a bottle of vodka – 89 rubles for half a liter (around $3), which is nearly double the previous price.  The new regulations will come into force with the New Year’s holidays, which are believed to herald increased alcohol consumption.  Political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin, quoted by the BBC, suggests that the pricing may be less efficient than actually changing attitudes towards drinking.  ‘Alcohol runs much deeper in Russian culture than any legislation can reach’.  Vice-premier Alexander Zhukov is touting statistics which claim that Russia showed no loss in population for the first time in 18 years.

As the electoral race gathers speed, current Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has suggested that if Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko wins, the Russian Black Sea Fleet will occupy a place in Ukraine’s Crimea for far longer than the lease agreement stipulates.  Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine takes RFE/RL through the editorial’s recent ‘Top 10 Overlooked Stories of 2009’, which include the opening of the North East passage.

The problems of Medvedev’s plan to introduce religious teaching in a country where church and state are separate, by Canon Michael Bourdeaux in the Times.  Charles Clover ponders the future of the siloviki.  Is political satire returning to Russian TV?  The tandem are being added to the cast of ‘Mult Lichnosti’, a Channel One show which mocks public figures.

PHOTO: Russian riot policemen arrest Russian Human Rights advocate, the chairwoman of the Russia Helsinki Committee, a former Soviet dissident Ludmila Alexeyeva, 82, on December 31, 2009 at an unauthorised protest against the Kremlin politics, in central Moscow. Photo: AFP/GETTY