Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Too much pomp and very questionable circumstance: Full Video: Vladimir Putin's presidential inauguration ceremony in Kremlin - YouTube

Too much pomp and very questionable circumstance

Full Video: Vladimir Putin's presidential inauguration ceremony in Kremlin - YouTube

Published on May 7, 2012 by
Russia's President-elect Vladimir Putin has been sworn in as the new head of state. Putin is an inauguration champion -- he has played the main role in the performance three times out of six to have taken place in modern history. The inauguration ceremony took place in the Grand Kremlin Palace.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lenin’s Death Remains a Mystery for Doctors - NYTimes.com

Lenin’s Death Remains a Mystery for Doctors - NYTimes.com

May 7, 2012

Lenin’s Stroke: Doctor Has a Theory (and a Suspect)

BALTIMORE — The patient founded a totalitarian state known for its “merciless terror,” Dr. Victoria Giffi told a rapt audience of doctors and medical students on Friday afternoon. He died suddenly at 6:50 p.m. on Jan. 21, 1924, a few months before his 54th birthday. The cause of death: a massive stroke.
The man’s cerebral arteries, Dr. Giffi added, were “so calcified that when tapped with tweezers they sounded like stone.”
The occasion was a so-called clinicopathological conference, a mainstay of medical schools in which a mysterious medical case is presented to an audience of doctors and medical students. In the end, a pathologist solves the mystery with a diagnosis.
But this was a conference with a twist. The patient was long dead — he was, in fact, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. The questions posed to the conference speakers: Why did he have a fatal stroke at such a young age? Was there something more to his death than history has acknowledged?
At the University of Maryland, a clinicopathological conference focused on historical figures has been an annual event for the past 19 years; attending doctors have reviewed the case records of Florence Nightingale, Alexander the Great, Mozart, Beethoven and Edgar Allan Poe. The pathologists’ conclusion that Poe died of rabies even became a final question on the “Jeopardy!” game show.
Dr. Philip A. Mackowiak, vice chairman of the university’s school of medicine and organizer of these conferences, said he later did a much more comprehensive review of Poe’s medical records and concluded that Poe’s doctor had embellished Poe’s medical history.
“Poe was a hopeless alcoholic,” Dr. Mackowiak said in a telephone interview. “He almost certainly died of delirium tremens.”
On Friday, two experts were called upon to solve the mystery of Lenin’s death: Dr. Harry Vinters, professor of neurology and neuropathology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Lev Lurie, a Russian historian in St. Petersburg.
Dr. Vinters began by telling the audience some details of Lenin’s medical and family history.
As a baby, Lenin had a head so large that he often fell over. He used to bang his head on the floor, making his mother worry that he might be mentally disabled.
As an adult, Lenin suffered diseases that were common at the time: typhoid, toothaches, influenza and a painful skin infection called erysipelas. He was under intense stress, of course, which led to insomnia, migraines and abdominal pain.
At 48, he was shot twice in an assassination attempt. One bullet lodged in his collarbone after puncturing his lung. Another got caught in the base of his neck. Both bullets remained in place for the rest of his life.
Lenin’s father died early, too, at 54. The cause of death was said to be cerebral hemorrhage, but Lenin’s father had an illness at the time of his death that may have been typhoid fever.
Most of Lenin’s seven brothers and sisters died young, two in infancy. A brother was executed at age 21 for plotting to assassinate Emperor Alexander III, and another brother died of typhoid at 19. Of the three who survived past young adulthood, a sister died of a stroke at age 71, another sister died of a heart attack at 59, and a brother died at age 69 of “stenocardia,” an archaic medical term whose meaning is no longer clear.
In the two years before he died, Lenin had three debilitating strokes. Prominent European doctors were consulted and proposed a variety of diagnoses: nervous exhaustion, chronic lead intoxication from the two bullets lodged in his body, cerebral arteriosclerosis and “endarteritis luetica.”
Dr. Vinters speculates that the last term referred to meningovascular syphilis, inflammation of the walls of blood vessels mainly around the brain, resulting in a thickening of the interior of the vessel. But there was no evidence of this on autopsy, and Lenin’s syphilis test was said to have been negative. He had been treated anyway with injections of a solution containing arsenic, the prevailing syphilis remedy.
Then, in his last hours and days of his life, Lenin experienced severe seizures.
An autopsy revealed a near total obstruction of the arteries leading to the brain, some of which were narrowed to tiny slits. But Lenin did not have some of the traditional risk factors for strokes.
He did not have untreated high blood pressure — had that been his problem, the left side of his heart would have been enlarged. He did not smoke and would not tolerate smoking in his presence. He drank only occasionally and exercised regularly. He did not have symptoms of a brain infection, nor did he have a brain tumor.
So what brought on the stroke that killed Lenin?
The clues lie in Lenin’s family history, Dr. Vinters said. The three siblings who survived beyond their 20s had evidence of cardiovascular disease, and Lenin’s father died of a disease that was described as being very much like Lenin’s. Dr. Vinters said Lenin might have inherited a tendency to develop extremely high cholesterol, causing the severe blockage of his blood vessels that led to his stroke.
Compounding that was the stress Lenin experienced, which can precipitate a stroke in someone whose blood vessels are already blocked.
But Lenin’s seizures in the hours and days before he died are a puzzle and perhaps historically significant. Severe seizures, Dr. Vinters said in an interview before the conference, are “quite unusual in a stroke patient.”
But, he added, “almost any poison can cause seizures.”
Dr. Lurie concurred on Friday, telling the conference that poison was in his opinion the most likely immediate cause of Lenin’s death. The most likely perpetrator? Stalin, who saw Lenin as his main obstacle to taking over the Soviet Union and wanted to get rid of him.
Communist Russia in the early 1920s, Dr. Lurie told the conference, was a place of “Mafia-like intrigue.”
In 1921 Lenin started complaining that he was ill. From then until his death in 1924, Lenin “began to feel worse and worse,” Dr. Lurie said.
“He complained that he couldn’t sleep and that he had terrible headaches. He could not write, he did not want to work,” Dr. Lurie said. He wrote to Alexei Maximovich Gorky, “I am so tired, I do not want to do anything at all.”
But he nonetheless was planning a political attack on Stalin, Dr. Lurie said. And Stalin, well aware of Lenin’s intentions, sent a top-secret note to the Politburo in 1923 claiming that Lenin himself asked to be put out of his misery.
The note said: “On Saturday, March 17th in the strictest secrecy Comrade Krupskaya told me of ‘Vladimir Ilyich’s request to Stalin,’ namely that I, Stalin, should take the responsibility for finding and administering to Lenin a dose of potassium cyanide. I felt it impossible to refuse him, and declared: ‘I would like Vladimir Ilyich to be reassured and to believe that when it is necessary I will fulfill his demand without hesitation.’”
Stalin added that he just could not do it: “I do not have the strength to carry out Ilyich’s request and I have to decline this mission, however humane and necessary it might be, and I therefore report this to the members of the Politburo.”
Dr. Lurie said Stalin might have poisoned Lenin despite this assurance, as Stalin was “absolutely ruthless.”
Dr. Vinters believes that sky-high cholesterol leading to a stroke was the main cause of Lenin’s death. But he said there is one other puzzling aspect of the story. Although toxicology studies were done on others in Russia, there was an order that no toxicology be done on Lenin’s tissues.
So the mystery remains.
But if Lenin had lived today, or if today’s cholesterol-lowering drugs had been available 100 years ago, might he have been spared those strokes?
“Yes,” Dr. Vinters said. “Lenin could have gone on for another 20 or 25 years, assuming he wasn’t assassinated. History would have been totally different.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: May 8, 2012

An earlier version of this article misstated, using information provided by the University of Maryland, Vladimir Lenin’s age when he was shot twice in an assassination attempt. He was 48, not 38.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Putin's History Lesson - WSJ.com

Putin's History Lesson - WSJ.com


  • May 4, 2012, 7:48 a.m. ET

  • Putin's History Lesson

    'Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers from which they dare not dismount.' --Winston Churchill

    MOSCOW—At the start of his second term as Russia's president, Vladimir Putin gathered some leading free-market policy wonks for brainstorming at his dacha. One of them, José Piñera, had been a cabinet minister in Chile during the 16-year dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
    Mr. Piñera's advice went beyond economics and included a warning against holding "too much power for too long." Quoting the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, he bluntly urged Mr. Putin, in a Moscow newspaper essay after the meeting, to retire after two terms: "Oh, kings, you owe your crown and writ/To Law, not nature's dispensation."
    Mr. Putin has dominated Russia ever since, as president or as prime minister. Having weathered a winter of large anti-Kremlin protests, the 59-year-old leader won a tightly controlled election in March and will start a third presidential term on Monday. He hasn't ruled out re-election in 2018 to stretch his tenure to 24 years, longer than any other Kremlin leader since Josef Stalin, but says he would step down if he lost public support.

    Masters of Longevity

    The careers of Fidel Castro, below , and other embattled autocrats hold lessons for Vladimir Putin as he starts a new presidential term in Russia.
    Associated Press
    But rulers in Mr. Putin's shoes are loath to give up power, not least because of fear their successors will turn on them. Monarchs aside, recent history offers relatively few examples of embattled autocrats who manage to die peacefully in office or step down gracefully. Consider the misfortunes of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak (now on trial) and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi (dead) in last year's Arab Spring, and the way other strongmen, from Angola to Syria, took note and dug in.
    Since the last decade of the Cold War, I've chronicled the decline of autocrats in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Northern Africa, and know the early-warning signs. Russia's winter of civic awakening felt much like the first widespread pot-banging protests against Gen. Pinochet in 1983—a noisy, unmistakable signal that Chileans had lost their fear and were turning against him, although he would hang on for another seven years.
    Foes of Mr. Putin say he, too, embodies a regime built on corruption and intimidation. Some supporters doubt that its pillars—manipulated elections, subservient courts, loyal security forces—could withstand a rising clamor for democracy.
    So what's his likely exit strategy? Whenever he contemplates one, he'll find limited options. Nowhere in the accumulated wisdom about building democracy is there a sure-fire retirement plan for autocrats, a guaranteed safe landing if they agree to step down.
    Here, though, is a short list of options and autocratic role models who could offer Mr. Putin some guidance:

    Option 1. Lead your people to democracy. Flight Lt. Jerry John Rawlings abruptly changed course in Ghana after his military dictatorship failed at socialist governance and ran out of money. He revived the economy by liberalizing, then allowed open political competition and was freely elected president twice. By embracing democracy before there was much demand for it from citizens, he gained popularity and lowered the risk of payback for prior violent excesses. He slid securely into retirement in 2001, abiding by term limits after 20 years at the helm.

    Option 2. Fireproof your exit route. Weakened by a U.S.-armed insurgency against his decade-old Sandinista regime, Daniel Ortega agreed to hold Nicaragua's first free election, in 1990, and lost. Before stepping down, he cut a deal obliging all parties to refrain from post-war retribution. The deal also kept his brother in command of the armed forces. For good measure, the outgoing ruler authorized the hurried distribution of state property worth hundreds of millions of dollars, enriching his Sandinista cohorts. (This so-called piñata included several sprawling homes on the block where I lived at the time.) Thus fortified as an opposition party, the Sandinistas remained powerful and loyal to Mr. Ortega, helping him return to the presidency in elections in 2006 and 2011.

    Option 3. Hang tough. Despite economic ruin and stiff political opposition, President Robert Mugabe seems bent on ruling Zimbabwe for life. He's been at it for 32 years, mixing limited openness with populism and, when necessary, brutal police crackdowns. His exit strategy, it appears, is not to exit. Deflecting international pressure, he accepted a power-sharing arrangement with his chief rival in 2008 but continued to harass and jail the rival's supporters. In February Mr. Mugabe celebrated his 88th birthday by stumping for re-election. One secret for staying the course: Diamond profits help cement the loyalty of his security forces and a narrow circle of cronies.

    Option 4. Build a dynasty, or a one-party state. Monarchies are one way to perpetuate iron-fisted rule; uncrowned autocrats find other means. Fidel Castro turned over dictatorial power in Cuba to his brother. Haydar Aliyev of Azerbaijan handed it off to his son. China's Communists have mastered the art of one-party rule and leadership turnover that worked smoothly for decades in Mexico and the Soviet Union. Leaders from such parties accept curbs on their personal power—China's presidents have term limits—but are less likely than personalist dictators to be overthrown, disgraced or betrayed by a successor.

    Mr. Putin's day of reckoning, his choice of an end game, may be years away, considering his many strengths. He has reasserted state control over much of Russia's oil wealth and has a loyal power base in the security services. The Kremlin controls television and portrays him as a Slavic stud, in contrast to the ailing Mr. Mubarak or the disgraced Slobodan Milošević, who lost his grip on Serbia after defeat in the Kosovo war.
    Russia's opposition is far weaker and less unified than the peaceful movements that took down Mr. Milošević in 2000 and entrenched regimes in Georgia and Ukraine a few years later, overturning rigged elections. There's no Russian counterpart yet to Velimir Ilić , a gutsy small-city mayor I met in Serbia, a man whose connections and plotting with dissident officers sparked mass police defections and undermined the regime.
    The upheavals so close to home spooked Mr. Putin into mobilizing pro-Kremlin youth gangs to counter the Russian opposition and restricting its Western funding .
    "Nobody has studied the dynamics of these revolutions in order to pre-empt them more intensively and obsessively than Putin," said Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and a leading scholar of democratic transitions. "He strikes me as a skilled and adaptable autocrat."
    Would he adapt to renewed popular pressure by leading Russia to democracy (option 1) or hanging tough (option 3)? A former senior Kremlin official said Mr. Putin favors "an evolutionary approach" and would liberalize politics to the extent that people demand it.
    But Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, a New York University professor who co-authored "The Dictator's Handbook," said Mr. Putin would have little incentive to ease up as long as Russia's oil revenue remained high enough to keep rewarding a narrow circle.
    "He doesn't need massive support," said Mr. Bueno de Mesquita, who is known academically for his international research on political survival. "But he'd be in trouble if he stopped paying the army and security forces."
    In other words, the professor concluded, he'd more likely take his cue from Zimbabwe's durable Mr. Mugabe. "That would be the lesson: You can cling to power an extraordinarily long time."
    That sounds improbable to Gleb Pavlovsky, an image-making consultant retained by the Kremlin for years. Sooner or later, he predicted, Mr. Putin will opt for a typically Russian exit—pick two loyalists willing to shield him from prosecution and engineer an election one of them is likely to win. Mr. Putin himself rose to power that way, as President Boris Yeltsin's anointed one, and pardoned his ailing patron's wrongdoings.
    But pitfalls abound. Mr. Putin has chosen not to build a Chinese-style ruling party capable of assuring such a transition. And as Gen. Pinochet found out, even the best laid retirement plan can go awry.
    The Chilean strongman gave up the presidency in 1990 after voters rejected him in a yes-or-no plebiscite, but he held on to his post of army commander for another eight years and after that became an unelected senator for life. With that power base, he wielded influence over elected governments and sought to remain above the law.
    He didn't count on the tenacity of jurists abroad. In 1998 he was arrested in Britain on a Spanish judge's warrant for genocide, torture and kidnapping. Sent home to Chile instead, he spent his final years fighting hundreds of lawsuits related to human rights abuse and personal enrichment.
    Gen. Pinochet, who died in 2006, all but predicted his comeuppance in a magazine interview shortly before his arrest.
    "I read a lot, especially history," he said. "And history teaches you that dictators never end up well."

    Write to Richard Boudreaux at richard.boudreaux@wsj.com


  • Updated May 7, 2012, 4:24 p.m. ET

  • Riot Police Stifle Protests as Putin Is Sworn In Again

    [putin0507]European Pressphoto Agency
    Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin takes the oath of office during his inauguration in the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow on Monday.
    MOSCOW—Vladimir Putin was sworn into office for a third term as Russia's president on Monday, amid a sweeping police crackdown that left the streets of downtown Moscow eerily quiet.
    Within the Kremlin, departing President Dmitry Medvedev hailed a "reborn" Russia and promised a new stage of development. Mr. Putin told thousands of handpicked guests in the gilded throne room of the czars that he considered it "the meaning of my whole life" to serve Russia, a choice of words likely to stir speculation that he will seek another six-year presidential term in 2018.
    Riot police in Moscow put on a show of force and rounded up opposition demonstrators on Monday, the day of Vladimir Putin's inauguration. Raw footage by WSJ's Greg White. (Photo: AP)
    Mr. Putin's inauguration came as he has turned up pressure on critics, who have been demanding a rerun of tainted parliamentary and presidential elections that paved the way for his official return to the Kremlin.
    On Sunday, police beat and detained more than 400 people who held a demonstration in central Moscow and tried to march over a bridge leading to the Kremlin. More than 100 of them under age 27 were issued draft notices, the Interfax news agency reported. On Monday, police arrested at least a hundred more people as they secured the route of Mr. Putin's motorcade to the inauguration.
    Kremlin critics said the crackdown before the inauguration presages Mr. Putin's coming presidential term, which they had hoped to prevent or at least shorten with street protests. Police swept all onlookers off main thoroughfares before the ceremony began, so Mr. Putin's limousine and escort vehicles approached the Kremlin through empty streets.

    Amid Protests, Putin Sworn In

    Vladimir Putin entered the Kremlin ceremony at which he was sworn for another six-year term as Russia's president Monday.
    Riot police detained and pummeled potential demonstrators who were anywhere near the route of the motorcade. About 10 minutes before the inaugural ceremony began, police swarmed a cafe about 100 yards off the path, overturning tables and seizing opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who had just sat down at an outdoor table and was speaking with reporters.
    "We came out today to show there are many people who are not afraid of this man who has usurped power," said Mr. Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister under Boris Yeltsin, just before his arrest. "But he is afraid of his own people. Look how he has fenced off the city."
    Mr. Nemtsov said later that the police clubbed him hard several times on the back and ripped his T-shirt as they dragged him from the cafe. Of the dozens of times he has been detained by police over the years, he said, this was the first time he had been beaten. "They wanted all the opposition leaders in jail for Putin's first day in the Kremlin," Mr. Nemtsov said by phone from the police station where he was being held. He was later released without charges.
    Police continued to patrol through downtown Moscow in the hours after the inaugural ceremony, detaining those whom they suspected might spark a demonstration.
    After allegations of ballot-stuffing and vote fraud in parliamentary elections in December sparked the largest opposition protests since the fall of the Soviet Union, Mr. Putin promised to loosen some control over society. But he has since backed away from those promises, and the guest list at the Kremlin ceremony was carefully vetted. While foreign heads of state weren't expected at the inauguration, some political players such as Italian former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a friend of Mr. Putin, did attend.

    Masters of Longevity

    The careers of Fidel Castro, below , and other embattled autocrats hold lessons for Vladimir Putin as he starts a new presidential term in Russia. (Putin's History Lesson)
    Associated Press
    Mr. Medvedev, a longtime protégé of Mr. Putin, is expected to take on Mr. Putin's old job as prime minister but recede largely into the shadows. Western-leaning liberals in Russia had initially hoped that Mr. Medvedev, who totes an iPad and is an avid Tweeter and blogger, would deliver on frequent promises of political and economic modernization.
    But his popularity plummeted after his announcement last year that he was stepping down from the presidency to make way for Mr. Putin's return. Many erstwhile supporters now decry him as a toady to Mr. Putin and incapable of independent action.
    Mr. Medvedev issued a farewell tweet on Monday, in which he thanked "everyone for their support over the past four years as President of Russia."
    "Our dialogue will continue," he wrote. "There is much work ahead!"
    Write to Alan Cullison at alan.cullison@wsj.com and Richard Boudreaux at richard.boudreaux@wsj.com