Monday, April 15, 2019

The GULAG as Computer Game – and a Baker’s Dozen of Other ‘Only in Russia’ Stories

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 15 – One can only imagine the international outrage if any German came up with the idea of using Hitler’s death camps as the basis for a computer game for children, but so far there haven’t been many complaints about a Russian firm coming up with a computer game based on Stalin’s GULAG (

            That is just one of the “only in Russia” stories the Russian media covered more or less fully this week. Here are 13 others:

1.      More than 20,000 Evacuated in Yekaterinburg by Bomb Threats.  More than 20,000 Russians were evacuated from malls in Yekaterinburg after an anonymous caller said bombs had been planted in them, but this story, which would have led the news in most countries, was largely ignored by the Moscow media lest people question the Putin narrative about everything being fine (

2.      Even Nomadic Reindeer Herders Can Face Charges of Illegal Meetings If They Get Together. Activists from various political parties are demanding that officials bring charges against a reindeer herder who assembled those doing the same thing because he didn’t get permission for the meeting (

3.      Riders Destroy Bus Stop Built to Protect Them from the Weather.  Officials in Noyabrsk built a wonderful enclosed bus stop so that those waiting for a ride would not suffer from the cold, but those for whom it was intended stole the doors, vandalized the building and used it as a public toilet, making it unusable (

4.      Children of the Rich Get Better School Lunches than Children of the Poor. Some parents are upset that a school in Khabarovsk Kray provides better lunches for children of the rich than it does for children of the poor and even puts them at separate tables in an example of “apartheid.” They have complained to the governor who promises to end the practice (

5.      In One Siberian Town, All the Streets are Named for Stalin. Giving directions in the Siberian town of Slavyanka is tough: all the main streets there are named for Stalin ( But geography presents a problem for some Russians in more prominent places: officials in St. Petersburg put up a map of Prague instead of one of their own city (

6.      Zorkin Again Celebrates the Virtues of Serfdom. Valery Zorkin, the head of the Russian Constitutional Court, apparently doesn’t think going back to Soviet times is enough. He says the best system Russia ever had was serfdom, apparently hoping that others will join him in bringing it back (

7.      Russian Periodicals in a Death Spiral. Rising costs and falling subscriptions and purchases are forcing publishers to raise prices further, driving down the size of the print runs still further and putting ever more of them at risk of closure (  

8.      Comrade Stalin had a Great Sense of Humor, New Collection of His Remarks Says.  Stalin is known for many things few of them good, but now a Russian portal has suggested that he deserves credit as a great humorist and presents a selection of his funniest lines. Presumably under his rule, you could die laughing (

9.      Import Substitution? Just Repackage Goods Made Abroad and Say They’re Russian-Made. A Penza medical equipment firm has come up with an unusual way to meet Vladimir Putin’s demands for import substitution. It has repackaged prosthetic devices made in China and sold them as if they had been produced in Russia (

10.  How Bad are Things in Russia? Even FSB Officers are Complaining. Some FSB officers are complaining about their work, still anonymously, but complaining nonetheless, an indication that not everyone in Putin’s power vertical is thrilled with the way things are, even if they are still frightened of being open about that (

11.  Claims Yoga Makes People Gay Leads Moscow to Ban It in Russian Prisons.  Claims by some that practicing yoga can make people gay led Russian officials to temporarily ban the practice in jails until they realized just how absurd this idea was (

12.  Moscow Subbotnik Washes Down Busts of Marx and Lenin.  Three Soviet practices came together with one post-Soviet reality in Moscow last week: Some Muscovites organized a subbotnik to wash down the remaining busts of two Soviet heroes – and they got official permission to do so as Russian officials now require (

13.  Russians Now Trapped by New Laws.  An anecdote is circulating in Moscow that recalls some of the best Soviet ones and says a lot about how Russians really feel about their rulers. The story has it that “now those who say that the authorities work badly can be charged with not respecting the powers that be, while those who say that the authorities are doing a good job risk being accused of disseminating fake news” (

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