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Farewell then, EU

So today was the last day the UK was part of the EU’s close trading arrangements and its single market.

My parents’ and grandparents’ generations had much more to endure it’s true – what with World Wars to contend with.

But it was the fact of those World Wars that made the EU, whatever its faults, such a worthwhile institution.

In the UK the myths surrounding those wars – especially the second one which has been mischaracterised almost ever since in these islands as a solely British victory with “us” “standing alone” (as if the contribution of Empire/Colonial forces and crucially Indian Army personnel to the North African campaign in particular – but also more widely – did not occur, with the USSR in Europe and the US in the Pacific seemingly mere bystanders) – are pervasive and pernicious. With the Great War such a perception may be less off-kilter. While it is true that the presence of US forces in 1918 made a difference it was by and large the British (Empire) Army which from the middle of 1917 carried the onus of first, not losing, and second, going on in 1918 to win final victory and in the process the biggest series of successive victories the British Army has ever had.

1939 marked the third war between France and Germany in 70 years (a woman in a Northern French village saw Prussian/German troops march past her house and occupy the place for the third time in her life) and there were many invasions of German territory by France in the centuries before. If some cooperative trading institution so as to minimise potential areas of disagreeement had not been set up post-1945 who is to say that conflict between them might not have arisen again? Some say it was NATO that preserved the peace in Europe in the years since then (but France, remember, was for some time not a NATO member.) In any case NATO’s expansion eastwards since the USSR dissolved, far from being a peaceful endeavour has been a standing provocation to that state’s main successor, Russia.

Tonight at 23:00 GMT, 0:00 CET, marked the last time when free movement of people and goods to Europe from the UK was possible (at least since before the requirement for passports came into being.) Some (little Englanders in the main) might rejoice at what they are pleased to call freedom, which actually has instead seen the biggest extension of powers to the UK government to bypass Parliamentary scrutiny and act summarily since 150 years or so before the UK even came into existence; ie over 560 years ago.

It’s a very sad day.

So farewell then EU.

Or, better, au revoir and auf wiedersehen, because I hope to be with you again soon.

St Petersburg (i)

This was the big one. I had been to St Petersburg before – when it was Leningrad, on a school cruise back in the heyday of the Soviet Union when we were shown the bullet holes on buildings’ walls still left over from the siege of the city during the Great Patriotic War (as World War 2 is called in those parts) – but my wife hadn’t, and with her interest in Russian history it was a place she had always wanted to see and was the reason we chose to go on this cruise at all.

The city straddles the River Neva (and a bit beyond) which therefore appears in many of our photographs. It is also home to some magnificent architecture, beautiful palaces from the time of the Tsars (in stark contrast to the conditions in which ordinary folk lived, sometimes ten or more to a room in pre-revolutionary days.)

The Winter Palace, St Petersburg, from across River Neva:-

The Winter Palace, St Petersburg

The Winter Palace is part of the famous Hermitage Museum another part of which – along with a couple of ferries – is seen below:-

The Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

Other buildings on River Neva frontage-

Frontage, River Neva, St Petersburg

I got a closer view of the Naval Academy:-

Naval Academy, St Petersburg

The Peter and Paul Fortress, lies on an island:-

Peter and Paul Fortress, St Petersburg

Closer view seen through rainy coach windows:-

St Petersburg, Peter and Paul Fortress

I couldn’t get far enough back to get all of this building in. In St Petersburg terms it’s fairly unremarkable:-

A Building in St Petersburg

A gilded tower in the city centre. (Note saltire flag in blue on white – St Andrew is Russia’s patron saint as well as Scotland’s, besides other countries.)

A Gilded Tower, St Petersburg

Riverfront builidings and St Isaac’s Cathedral beyond:-

St Isaac's Cathedral,St Petersburg from Across River Neva

Inverness War Memorial (iii)

Left Hand Battle Honours Pillar. 1914,1915, Somme 1916-1918:-

Inverness War Memorial Left Hand Battle Honours Pillar

Left Hand Battle Honours Pillar. Naval Actions, 1914 Land Actions:-

Inverness War Memorial Side of Left Hand Battle Honours Pillar

Right Hand Battle Honours Pillar. 1917, 1918:-

War Memorial Inverness, Right Hand Battle Honours Pillar

Right Hand Battle Honours Pillar. France 1918, Gallipoli, Egypt, Romania, Macedonia:-

Side of Right Hand Battle Honours Pillar Inverness War Memorial 11

Right Hand Battle Honours Pillar. Mesopotamia, Palestine, Italy, Russia (Archangel and Murman, ie Murmansk):-

Rear Right Hand Battle Honours Pillar,

Great War Names (i):-

Invernes War Memorial, Great War Names (i)

Great War Names (ii):-

Inverness War Memorial, Great War Names (ii)

Man on the Moon

The Moon landings were faked up on a Hollywood backlot, right?

What a load of utter tosh!

It astounds me that anyone would prefer to believe that something which would have had to be kept secret for so long by quite a large number of people (people moreover, cinema technicians etc, not truly invested in the “deceit”) would not have leaked by now. But it hasn’t leaked.

And why hasn’t it leaked?

Because it would need proof of such a conspiracy to fake.

And there is none.

And why the desire to deny the endeavour and the expertise which went in to the making of man’s greatest adventure, not to mention the sheer bravery of the men who made the voyages? Buzz Aldrin was quite right to take exception to the guy who accosted him, a guy who has not one thousandth of the guts and integrity. What is it about some folk that they cannnot rejoice in others’ achievements but must find some way to denigrate them?

And the Soviet Union did not claim that the US Moon landings did not happen – which as a propaganda coup they most certainly would have – because they knew perfectly well that they did. (Compare that to now, when Russia does claim that things that happened didn’t and things that didn’t, have. And so, too, does POTUS, T Ronald Dump.)

Besides, some of the experiments the astronauts placed on the Moon are still sending back data, even fifty years on.

So, raise a glass and drink a toast to a magnificent accomplishment, a demonstration of humans’ ability to perform amazing feats of focus, cooperation and enterprise.

It’s just a pity we gave up on that enterprise so soon.

Rochdale Town Hall, Stained Glass

One of the striking features of Rochdale Town Hall’s interior is the stained glass windows many of which feature portraits of the Kings and Queens of England.

The windows flanking the entrance though have stained glass representations of the coats of arms of European countries, here Greece, France, Belgium, Turkey, Russia and Portugal:-

Rochdale Town Hall, Stained Glass Windows 1

The other such window betrays the building’s age. Coats of arms for Sweden & Norway, Prussia, Switzerland, Spain, Denmark and Austria. Note Sweden & Norway, as was (they separated in 1905) and Prussia which, subsumed the rest of Germany in 1871.

Stained Glass Window, Rochdale Town Hall

Grand staircase:-

Rochdale Town Hall Staircase

This is a closer view showing the stained glass window on the half-landing to greater effect.

Rochdale Town Hall, Stained Glass

Skaill House, Orkney

Skaill House is Orkney’s biggest mansion house. It overlooks the Bay of Skaill and in its grounds were discovered the remains of the neolithic village of Skara Brae (see earlier posts.) Since the ticket for Skara Brae also conferred entry to the house we had a look round.

Skaill House from path from Skara Brae:-

Skaill House, Orkney

Skaill House Entrance:-

Skaill House Entrance

Skaill House, cartouche above entrance:-

Skaill House Cartouche Above Entrance

Skaill House Library:-

Skaill House Library

Skaill House Library circular window. This is the window you can see in the rightmost part of the house in the first photograph above:-

Skaill House Library Circular Window

Skaill House Library, books:-

Skaill House Library, Books

Skaill House, framed crest and flags. The flag and naval ensign surmounting crest of Imperial Germany:-

Skaill House Framed Crest and Flags

Skaill House Armada Chest. Many of the ships from the Spanish Armada made their way up round the top of Great Britain (and Orkney) and were wrecked. Some settled in Orkney:-

Skaill House Armada Chest

On one of his voyages Captain Cook’s ship landed at Stromness, and he was entertained at Skaill House. His dinner service from the Resolution was acquired later by the house and can be seen in the press (cupboard) to the left in the photo below:-

Skaill House Captain Cook's Dinner Service

One of the house’s past owners had a model of St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, built for him and it sits behind glass in a bedroom:-

Skaill House Model of Saint Magnus Cathedral

A son of the house was involved in the British intervention in Russia after the second Revolution of 1917. Photographs and other memorabilia:-

Skaill House Memorabilia of Russia

Confederations Cup 2017 and VAR

I’ve been watching this year’s edition of the Confederations Cup. Well I missed the first half of the first game and of today’s.

The games have been fairy enjoyable. Well, Russia-New Zealand was a bit of a mismatch and Russia fairly plodding. The results in the other ties have been about right. Mexico and Portugal seemed evenly matched and both Chile and Germany deserved their wins though Germany’s decision to go with a young squad might have backfired on them. (Actually, who am I kidding? They’re Germans.) Unusually it did provide the spectacle of a German goalkeeper who wasn’t on top of his game.

The main topic of conversation among the pundits though has been the supposed shortcomings of the video assistant referee system, VAR, being used at the competition. A welcome innovation I’d have thought.

It’s only a trial, though. There are bound to be teething problems.

So far when it has been employed it has got the decisions correct – as is intended. Those occasions were when the ball was dead after the referee’s original decision and there was therefore no interruption to the game, only a slight delay in restarting.

The possible penalty incident in the Russia-New Zealand game – which the ref didn’t opt to have reviewed – did not fall into that category. If he did receive advice that he “might want to look at the incident” (it actually wouldn’t be him – it would be the assistants) that would have been in the course of ongoing play. In effect that makes the video assistant the actual referee. And when does the referee then blow the whistle?

And what would have happened if he had so opted and on the subsequent video review the decision was “no penalty”? Would that not make a mockery of the review? And where would play restart?

Better to leave the referee to it and restrict any such interventions to times when the ball is dead.

Such reviews are all very well in the case of Rugby, League or Union, where stoppages can be relatively common. Football is a much more fluid game, not so amenable to interruption.

Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins

Gollancz, 2014, 307 p

 Wolfhound Century cover

Investigator Vissarion Lom is bobbling along in the regional city of Podchornok seeking out dissidents when he is summoned to the capital city Mirgorod and there tasked with catching a terrorist. The setting is clearly based on Russia, characters have patronymics, the currency is the rouble, distances are measured in versts, the iconography of the cover is Soviet. A secret service head called Lavrentina (Chazia) adds to the impression. But it is a strangely altered Russia, named Vlast, ruled not by a Tsar nor a General Secretary, but by a Novozhd, and perpetually at war with a polity called the Archipelago. Moreover, an Archangel lies imprisoned in the countryside potentially threatening the future but first it has to ensure that the Pollandore, the vestige of an older voice which can undo the Archangel’s vision and is capable of altering reality, is destroyed. Lom has a piece of angel flesh embedded in his forehead “like a blank third eye”, giving him powers to move the air. There are giants.

It is a curious mix. The flavour of the novel is a bit like reading Joseph Conrad, the feel of the society it depicts like late Tsarist era Russia, but there are sub-machine guns. I found the thriller aspect of it to be too conventional, the circles of contact of Lom’s suspects too restricted and their connections too easily uncovered by him but it is an unusual fantasy scenario, all the more welcome for not being based on a mediæval template.

To be sure there is occasional “fine writing” but I’m afraid I lose patience when extra-human powers come into things, although such content may be true to its Russian inspiration. A more major complaint is that the novel didn’t end. An immediate threat was dealt with but the Archangel and the Pollandore were still extant. And quite why it is entitled Wolfhound Century remained obscure. If I see its sequel in one of my local libraries I might pick it up; otherwise, no.

Pedant’s corner:- “He should have waited. Showed his papers.” (Shown,) “his cap pulled down tight down over his forehead (only one down required,) and and (only one and required,) miniscule (minuscule.) “Its not on any map” (It’s,) dikes (USian? dykes,) “broken staithes and groynes” (staithes?) “with the trunk on it back” (its back,) a missing full stop.

Mr Irresponsible’s Greatest Folly

Mr Irresponsible, aka Call me Dave, otherwise known as the Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron Esquire, has a lot of idiocies to his name. But surely the largest of these is his utterly obtuse decision to give in to the bullying of his Conservative cohorts and the threat of UKIP to his voting base by first promising and then granting them a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union.

Instead of lancing the boil (he warned his party not to continue to bang on about Europe) his indulgence of their obsession has now unleashed a tide of xenophobia and intolerance, egged on by those who knowingly encourage a false belief that the troubles experienced by various communities up and down the UK are as a result of external forces (the EU,) so-called lack of control (again the EU) or immigrants (supposedly the EU but there are more migrants into the UK from outwith the EU than from inside it – and many Britons living and working in the countries of the EU) rather than the banking crash and the policies his Government has followed ever since its election in 2010. (I know its first five years were in coalition but really it was a Conservative Government in all but name.)

This tide has been growing for years – stoked up by spurious newspaper stories of EU “impositions” and “red tape” and the simplicities of people who claim that the country’s problems have one solution – and has now taken the form of a vicious and intemperate “Vote Leave” campaign which has peddled all sorts of what may be politely called inaccuracies but are in fact downright lies and often strayed close to, if not over, the border of racism.

I know the “Remain” campaign has also given apocalyptic warnings of the consequences of a leave vote, but it has not been whipping up fear of others, nor blatantly arousing expectations which will not (cannot) be fulfilled. Against whom will the anger the “Leave” campaigners have stoked be directed when things do not get better? (Either “in” or “out”, ditching austerity is not on their or David Cameron’s agenda.)

Had I been in any doubt about which way I would vote in Thursday’s referendum the “Vote Leave” television broadcast claiming that the £350 million pounds a week of the UK’s contribution to the EU budget (a large part of which promptly gets sent back anyway) would – in a leave future – be spent on the NHS instead would have made my mind up. These guys have no intention of spending money on the NHS; they want rid of it. They want to privatise everything that moves (and everything that doesn’t.) The worse thing, though, was the highlighting of five Balkan countries said to be on the point of entry into the EU (none of which actually are any time soon) plus Turkey: Turkey! which has been moving ever further away from meeting accession criteria under its present government) and then a series of arrows, leaping, Dad’s Army style, over to Britain. As if every inhabitant of those countries would immediately up sticks and come to the UK as soon as they were given the opportunity. Some may, most will not.

Then there was “Vote Leave”‘s pamphlet – delivered by post – which handily showed Turkey as having borders with Syria and Iraq. Are Syria and Iraq applying for EU membership? I don’t think so. What possible purpose can their inclusion on this map have? (Except to stoke up fears of people from there coming through Turkey – and riding the arrows to Britain.) Well, they’re doing that anyway, as “Leave” well knows and plays on. Yet in their circumstances so would I – and so would every leave campaigner.

The circumstances under which this vote is taking place, the Eurozone under strain, a refugee crisis, a war on Europe’s margins (two if you include Turkey in Europe which geographically part of it is,) render its timing more than unfortunate. It is potentially disastrous.

I really fear that a leave vote will see other countries (but emphatically not those who border Russia) seek to leave the EU. These may even include France if the Front National wins power.

In that case there will certainly be unresolved tensions between France and Germany – and we know where that has led in the past.

What the leave campaigners don’t seem to have grasped, or have deliberately ignored, is that the EU was set up (as the European Coal and Steel Community, then the Common Market) precisely so that France and Germany would never go to war again. That is emphatically in the UK’s national interest, and may be at risk. The writer of this letter to the Guardian knows what is at stake.

Whatever the result on Thursday the passions this referendum seems to have inflamed, at least in England – there has been almost no sign of it taking place at all in the way of posters and window stickers round where I live – will not be stilled easily.

Sepp Blatter

I still don’t quite know what to make of Sepp Blatter’s resignation.

It was only a few days after he’d secured his presidency for another term. Maybe there’s a lot to come out about his dealings behind the scenes. It would seem so.

But…. A thought occurred to me.

Is it a bit like John Major’s resignation? He resigned (as head of the Tory Party) but still managed to stay on if you recall.

And Blatter’s given himself about six months still in charge while the process of electing a successor takes place. I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if he tried to stand again.

Whatever, I doubt that the next World Cup will be removed from Russia. There were good reasons why it should go there. (It was Europe’s turn and Russia hadn’t had it yet, among others.)

Qatar in 2022 is another matter. (But 2022 is Asia’s turn.)

In another point; to make things absolutely clear, if there is a rerun of the voting for 2018 or 2022, to avoid accusations of sour grapes, England ought not to bid and perhaps neither ought the US given it was that country’s initiative that has resulted in the arrest of FIFA’s executives.

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