Category Archives: Bizarre

Popes and demons: Mysterious Vatican bank poses problem for new pontiff

The massive round tower, left, is the headquarters of the Institute for Works of Religion, the Vatican’s secretive bank.

GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images FilesThe massive round tower, left, is the headquarters of the Institute for Works of Religion, the Vatican’s secretive bank.
.
National Post | Mar 8, 2013by Adrian Humphreys
.
CLICK TO ENLARGE

CLICK TO ENLARGE

As the world waits for the Vatican’s conclave to select a new pope to lead 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, and the church’s sex abuse scandals dominate discourse on the incoming pontiff’s priorities, another decidedly worldly issue is also poised to take an immediate toll on the new Holy Father: money.

The public and private woes of the Vatican bank, long shrouded in secrets and whispers, might well prove to be just as challenging, if not as draining, as the lurid, faith-shaking damage of the clergy abuse scandal.

With a two-year probe by Italian authorities into money laundering, poor transparency, inadequate adherence to standards for guarding against criminal and terrorist financing, and questions over sudden changes in its leadership, the bank represents another crisis of morals, legalities and perception.

The importance of the Vatican bank in Pope Benedict XVI’s grand vision can be assumed from the urgency it held with the outgoing pontiff: among the last official acts before his shock retirement was overhauling financial leadership and church oversight.

On Feb. 15, Benedict XVI approved the appointment of Ernst von Freyberg as the new president of the supervisory board of the Institute for Works of Religion, the church agency widely known as the Vatican bank.

The appointment of the German lawyer and businessman came after assessing “a number of candidates of professional and moral excellence,” the Vatican said in a statement.

“The Holy Father has closely followed the entire selection process … and he has expressed his full consent to the choice made by the Commission of Cardinals.”

While the appointment drew immediate criticism over the involvement of Mr. von Freyberg’s Blohm+Voss, an industrial group, in manufacturing German warships, including during the Nazi era, it also raised eyebrows for its timing. Putting money under the baton of a German is not out of step with European policy these days, but for an institution already rife with conspiracy theories the sudden shuffle could not go unnoticed.

“[Benedict’s] decision to retire was so unprecedented, you would think that he would have other things on his mind than replacing the head of the Vatican bank,” said Carlo Calvi, son of Roberto Calvi, who was known as “God’s Banker” because of his close ties to the Vatican before his outlandish death more than 30 years ago.

Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg Files

Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg FilesThe city of Rome, in Italy, is seen beyond St. Peter’s Square from the roof of the Basilica in Vatican City.
.
Ernst von Freyberg. The Canadian Press Files.

Ernst von Freyberg. The Canadian Press Files.

“However, I am more surprised by the sackings — the people who were let go — rather than the appointments,” he said.

Ettore Gotti Tedeschi was chairman of the Vatican bank until he was pushed out in May with a withering assessment of not being up for the job. He had been trying to get the Vatican onto the international banking “white list” of virtuous countries.

Then, on Feb. 22, Monsignor Ettore Balestrero, a key church official pushing for better regulation and controls on the Vatican bank, was suddenly transferred from Rome to Colombia.

That transfer followed the moving of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who was credited with turning a deficit for the Vatican into a large surplus through greater accountability and controls, from the Vatican to the United States.

One of the leaked documents in the “Vatileaks” scandal was a letter from Archbishop Vigano to Pope Benedict begging he remain in Rome to continue his financial crusade. The Pope was unmoved.

The transfers suggest change is not always welcome.

“Change under the new pope will be easier said than done because they make money on this, it is a source of income that has been used for a lot of purposes,” said Mr. Calvi. To address the problems, “They need, essentially, to do a very drastic reform that would almost certainly mean foregoing a considerable source of revenue.”

The Vatican bank has not always shown such virtuous strength, as Mr. Calvi knows better than most. Few outside the Vatican’s inner circle eye church finance as closely as Mr. Calvi, who now lives in Montreal.

Watching the Vatican bank has consumed Mr. Calvi’s adult life and the Calvi name almost consumed the Vatican bank.

His father was chairman of Banco Ambrosiano, an Italian Catholic bank closely linked to the Vatican.

Graham Hughes for National Post

Few outside the Vatican’s inner circle eye church finance as closely as Carlo Calvi, who now lives in Montreal. Graham Hughes for National Post
.

The shadowy operations of Vatican finance forced its way into the public’s consciousness when Roberto Calvi was found dead, just as the scandalous operation of church finance was being revealed amid the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano, Italy’s largest private bank, with $1-billion missing.

Since then, his unsolved death, first declared a suicide, then reclassified as a murder, and the cast of powerful figures and secretive organizations linked to it — from the Mafia and the Masonic lodge P2 to the powerful conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei and the Vatican itself — make it one of modern history’s enduring mysteries, Europe’s equal to the Jimmy Hoffa disappearance.

The case was also said to be linked to landmark Cold War politics, with claims Banco Ambrosiano was used by those close to John Paul II, the Polish pope, to fund the anti-Communist Solidarity movement in Poland and by those close to U.S. president Ronald Reagan to fund the Contra rebels of Central America.

The raw puzzle and quirks of Mr. Calvi’s death compel conspiracy theories and befuddlement, with small details that seem to mean much, but with no answer to exactly what.

The banker’s body was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge, his feet dangling in the River Thames in the heart of London, on June 18, 1982; he wore two pairs of underwear, had five bricks in his pockets, about $14,00-worth of three different currencies and the business card of a Mafia figure.

It was a death shouting in the symbolic language of Italy’s underworld.

Simon Dawson/Bloomberg Files

Blackfriars Bridge in London, U.K. Simon Dawson/Bloomberg Files
.

“I am more of the idea that there are theatrical elements and not necessarily symbolic aspects to it,” said his son. “Hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars were involved — if that is not a motive for murder, I don’t know what is.”

After all, any Catholic cleric would know: Radix malorum est cupiditas, the Latin Biblical quotation meaning greed is the root of evil.

The very notion of a church bank speaks to the awkward interface between the spiritual and temporal, represented by the pope being both leader of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City state.

Unlike many Vatican institutions, the Vatican bank is not of antique origin, having been formed in 1942 by Pius XII, although it had older antecedents. Its purpose is to protect and administer the property and funds intended for the church’s works.

Unlike true national central banks, it does not set monetary policy or involve itself in currency maintenance, as the Vatican uses the euro. Also unlike most banks, its surplus or profit is supposed to go toward religion or charity.

As it is not a true central bank, and with the Vatican not a full member of the European Union, its relationship with strict regulation has been more nebulous and its ends of religion or charity have, likewise, not always been clear.

“One would be surprised at the acceptance of risky relationships and risky behaviour for an organization like the Vatican. But, objectively, I’ve seen it. It is hard to understand, but it is true,” said Mr. Calvi.

Courtesy Carlo Calvi

“God’s Banker” Roberto Calvi, whose body was found hanging from a London bridge in 1982, meets Paul VI in an undated photo. Courtesy Carlo Calvi
.

“In many cases, they seem to have little judgment in terms of the arrangements they get themselves into.”

In the fallout of the Banco Ambrosiano scandal, though it claimed no wrongdoing, the Vatican bank paid $250-million to Ambrosiano’s creditors.

Since then, its regulatory framework has still not caught up to modern standards, especially in the post-9/11 world.

Tiziana Fabi/AFP/GettyImages Files

The former head of the Vatican bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, was forced to resign from his post on May 24, 2012 “for failing to carry out duties of primary importance,” the Holy See said in a statement. Tiziana Fabi/AFP/GettyImages Files
.

In 2010, Rome magistrates froze ¤23-million ($31-million) the Vatican bank held in an Italian bank. The Vatican said its bank was merely transferring its own funds between its own accounts in Italy and Germany. The money was released in June 2011, but an investigation continues.

In July, a European anti-money laundering committee said the Vatican bank failed to meet all its standards on fighting money laundering, tax evasion and other financial crimes.

The report by Moneyval, a monitoring committee of the 47-nation Council of Europe, found the Vatican passed nine of 16 “key and core” aspects of its financial dealings. The head of the Vatican delegation to the Moneyval committee was Msgr. Balestrero.

Msgr. Balestrero said the report was a call for the Vatican to push forward with “efforts to marry moral commitments to technical excellence” to prove “the Holy See’s and Vatican City state’s desire to be a reliable partner in the international community.”

Seven months later, he was reassigned to South America.

“The Moneyval report was one of the rare bits of good news for the Vatican last year. Balestrero was the one who dealt with Moneyval and they send him to Colombia. That doesn’t sound like the way to reward someone,” said Mr. Calvi.

This week, the widely read Italian Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana, which is distributed free in Italian parishes on Sundays, carried an article calling for the bank to be closed on the grounds the pontificate should not have direct links to the world of finance.

It argued there are plenty of ethically minded commercial banks in Italy and elsewhere that could be trusted to manage the Holy See’s assets.

In January, René Bruelhart, the new director of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority, said the church was on the right track.

“Considering the particular nature of the Vatican City state, adequate measures have been adopted for vigilance, prevention, and fighting money laundering and financing terrorism,” he told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

How much further the Vatican bank will go and how quickly it can get there, under both the new chairman and a new pope, is being anxiously watched by the world’s financial community. And by Mr. Calvi.

Pier Paolo Cito / The Associated Press Files

Then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, left, now former Pope Benedict XVI, looks on as late Pope John Paul II celebrates Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in 2002. Pier Paolo Cito / The Associated Press Files
.

National Post, with files from news services

Advertisements

Russia puts murdered whistleblower on trial

2013-03-10T165253Z_1_CBRE9291AW900_RTROPTP_2_RUSSIA-PROTEST
A woman holds a placard with a portrait of Sergei Magnitsky during an unauthorised rally in central Moscow December 15, 2012.. REUTERS/Tatyana MakeyevaView Photo

His employer says the charges against him were a reprisal and he was murdered, and the Kremlin’s own human rights council aired suspicions he was beaten to death.

Reuters | Mar 10, 2013

By Alissa de Carbonnel

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A whistleblowing Russian lawyer whose death in custody became a symbol of rights abuses and strained relations with the United States will go on posthumous trial on Monday in what relatives say is revenge by the Kremlin.

Sergei Magnitsky, who died while in pre-trial custody in 2009, is being prosecuted for defrauding the state in what will be the first time Russia has ever tried a dead person, a development Amnesty International says sets a “dangerous precedent”.

Magnitsky had been jailed after accusing police and tax officials of multimillion dollar tax fraud. His employer says the charges against him were a reprisal and he was murdered, and the Kremlin’s own human rights council aired suspicions he was beaten to death.

The circumstances of his demise led the United States last year to bar entry to Russians accused of involvement in his case or in other rights abuses.

Critics say the trial – more than three years after he died and despite pleas by relatives to drop the case – is an attempt by President Vladimir Putin’s government to hit back at Washington and show the public Magnitsky was a crook not a hero.

“It’s inhuman to try a dead man. If I take part in this circus, I become an accomplice to this,” Magnitsky’s mother Natalya told Reuters. “I won’t take part in the hearings.”

Russia took the highly unusual step of reopening the investigation against Magnitsky in 2011, as international criticism of Russia over his death mounted.

“First they killed him, now they are dancing on his grave,” said a lawyer for Magnitsky’s family, Nikolai Gorokhov.

After Magnitsky’s lawyers boycotted pre-trial hearings, the court appointed a lawyer to defend him.

Contacted by Reuters, the court-appointed lawyer, Nikolai Guerasimov, declined to comment on the case. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov also declined to comment.

Magnitsky died at the age of 37 after he said he was denied medical care over 358 days in jail.

DEAD MAN IN THE DOCK

Putin said Magnitsky died of heart failure, but his former employer, London-based investment fund Hermitage Capital, says he was killed for testifying against officials he accused of a $230 million theft through fraudulent tax refunds.

Hermitage owner William Browder is being tried in absentia alongside his former employee. He also faces new fraud charges filed last week over dealings a decade ago in shares in state gas firm Gazprom.

Browder has said the charges are an “absurdity” meant as revenge for his campaigning for the U.S. rights legislations named after Magnitsky.

Pro-Kremlin television channel NTV showed a documentary alleging Browder exploited his late employee’s death for his own ends. Critics say NTV often airs such programs to influence public opinion before charges are filed against government foes.

Rights watchdog Amnesty International has called Russia’s first posthumous trial a “dangerous precedent.”

Authorities say recent legal changes make it possible. But Magnitsky’s family lawyers say the law allows such cases only at the request of the deceased’s relatives for the purpose of clearing their reputations.

No one has been held accountable for Magnitsky’s death. One prison official was tried last year but prosecutors asked the court to clear him.

“Something happened in that prison that no one wants to talk about,” Zoya Svetova, an investigator for the independent prison watchdog, the Public Oversight Commission, that probed his death.

“Magnitsky became a symbol of the fight against corruption, and the goal of this trial is to show he is no symbol but just a criminal who didn’t pay his taxes,” she said.

“It is pure state propaganda because there is no point in trying a dead man.”

The case has weighed heavily on U.S.-Russian relations.

Moscow retaliated against the U.S. Magnitsky Act with its own visa ban against Americans suspected of violating the rights of Russians abroad. It also banned U.S. families from adopting Russian children.

Silvio Berlusconi says bribes are a ‘necessary part of business’ and tells critics to ‘stop moralising’

berlusconi
No crime: Silvio Berlusconi, pictured during a political rally in Rome last week, defended the use of bribes in international negotiations saying they are ‘necessary’ when dealing with third world countries and regimes

Berlusconi defending bribes saying they are not criminal but ‘necessary’

The 76-year-old politician called critics ‘absurd’ and ‘masochist’
    
He said without bribes ‘you cannot be an entrepreneur on a global scale’

dailymail.co.uk | Feb 15, 2013

By Sara Malm

Silvio Berlusconi has defended the use of bribes in business saying they are necessary when securing international deals for Italian companies.

The former Italian Prime minister said illegal payments are vital when negotiating with ‘third world countries and regimes’.

Mr Berlusconi made the comments as a response to recent corruption scandals within several state-controlled conglomerates in Italy.

Mr Berlusconi, spoke against the arrest of Giuseppe Orsi, CEO of Finmeccanica defence group, who was taken into custody yesterday accused of paying Indian government officials to secure a helicopter contract.

The 76-year-old politician, who is running for his fourth term as Prime Minister in the country’s elections this month, said bribes are essential in international business, the Financial Times report.

Silvio Berlusconi compares himself to Benito Mussolini

Silvio Berlusconi praises dictator Mussolini for ‘having done good’

Berlusconi defends Mussolini for backing Hitler

‘Bribes are a phenomenon that exists and it is useless to deny the existence of these necessary situations when you are negotiating with third world countries and regimes,’ Mr Berlusconi said in an interview with Italian State broadcaster, RAI 3.

‘These are not crimes. We are talking about paying a commission to someone in that country. Why? Because those are the rules in that country.’

The centre-right leader also defended state-controlled energy group Eni, which is alleged to have used bribes to win contracts in Algeria.

Mr Berlusconi even went as far as to suggest that putting a stop to bribery has left Italian companies out of business.

‘No one will negotiate with Eni or Enel or Finmeccanica anymore,’ he said.

‘It’s pure masochism.’

Mr Berlusconi called those who condemn financial incentives in deals outside Western democracies ‘absurd’.

‘If you want to make moralisms like that, you can’t be an entrepreneur on a global scale.’

His comments comes one year after his own bribery case was thrown out of court.

Mr Berlusconi stood accused of handing British lawyer David Mills £380,000 to lie during two 1990s trials to shield Berlusconi and his Fininvest holding company from charges related to the billionaire media mogul’s business dealings.

The Italian general elections will take place 24-25th February where Mr Berlusconi is yet again heading the People of Liberty party and hoping for a centre-right coalition.

His comments were unsurprisingly slammed by opposition politicians, who pointed out that Mr Berlusconi himself is appealing against his October tax fraud conviction while running for Prime Minister.

Just last month an Italian court granted his defense team’s request to postpone a trial for alleged wire tapping until after the elections.

Prosecutors have asked for a one-year jail sentence for Mr Berlusconi for his alleged role in the publication of wiretap transcripts in a newspaper owned by his media empire and three years for his brother Paolo, the publisher of Milan newspaper Il Giornale.

Mr Berlusconi denies all charges.

See also: The Berlusconi Toxic Corruption Data Storage Dump

Police open fire on mother and daughter delivering newspapers

6a00d8341c630a53ef017ee85cb1e4970d-640wi
Police investigators examine a blue pickup truck Thursday riddled with bullets on Redbeam Avenue in Torrance. Officers, thinking shooting suspect Christopher Dorner might have been in the vehicle, unleashed a fusillade, wounding a woman and her mother. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times.

The truck was not a Nissan Titan, but a Toyota Tacoma. The color wasn’t gray, but aqua blue. And it wasn’t Dorner inside the truck, but Carranza and her mother delivering copies of the Los Angeles Times.

Dorner manhunt: Officers opened fire on mother, daughter

latimes.com | Feb 9, 2013

In their pursuit of a fugitive ex-cop, at least seven officers opened fire on what turned out to be a mother and daughter delivering newspapers on a quiet residential street, law enforcement sources told The Times.

It was “a tragic misinterpretation” by officers working under “incredible tension,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said Friday in an interview with The Times.

Margie Carranza, 47, and her mother, Emma Hernandez, 71, were the victims.

Early Thursday morning, Christopher Jordan Dorner, 33, allegedly shot three police officers, one fatally. And, in an online posting authorities attributed to him, Dorner threatened to kill more police and seemed to take responsibility for the slaying over the weekend of the daughter of a retired LAPD captain and her fiance.

TIMELINE: Manhunt for ex-LAPD officer

Then around 5 a.m. Thursday in Torrance, police from nearby El Segundo saw a pickup truck exit a freeway and head in the general direction of the Redbeam Avenue residence of a high-ranking Los Angeles police official, which was being guarded by a group of LAPD officers.

A radio call indicated that the truck matched the description of Dorner’s gray Nissan Titan.

As the vehicle approached the house, officers opened fire, unloading a barrage of bullets into the back of the truck. When the shooting stopped, they quickly realized their mistake. The truck was not a Nissan Titan, but a Toyota Tacoma. The color wasn’t gray, but aqua blue. And it wasn’t Dorner inside the truck, but Carranza and her mother delivering copies of the Los Angeles Times.

DOCUMENT: Read the manifesto

Beck and others stressed that the investigation into the shooting was in its infancy. They declined to say how many officers were involved, what kind of weapons they used, how many bullets were fired and, perhaps most important, what kind of verbal warnings — if any — were given to the women before the shooting began.

“How do you mistake two Hispanic women, one who is 71, for a large, black male?” said Richard Goo, 62, who counted five bullet holes in the entryway to his house.

Glen T. Jonas, the attorney representing the women, said the police officers gave “no commands, no instructions and no opportunity to surrender” before opening fire. He described a terrifying encounter in which the pair were in the early part of their delivery route through several South Bay communities. Hernandez was in the back seat handing papers to her daughter, who was driving. Carranza would briefly slow the truck to throw papers on driveways and front walks.

FULL COVERAGE: Sweeping manhunt for ex-cop

As bullets tore through the cabin, the two women “covered their faces and huddled down,” Jonas said. “They felt like it was going on forever.”

Hernandez was shot twice in her back and is expected to recover. Her daughter escaped with only minor wounds from broken glass.

Beck said he had not yet received a detailed briefing, which typically occurs a few days after officer-involved shootings to give investigators time to collect evidence and put together the basic summary of what happened. But he did say that the gunfire occurred in two bursts: The first came from an officer positioned down the block from the LAPD official’s residence, and the second when Carranza accelerated away from the gunfire and toward other officers.

After the investigation is completed, Beck and an oversight board will decide if officers were justified in the shooting or made mistakes that warrant either punishment or training.

ALSO:

Search for fugitive ex-cop to resume today in Big Bear

Dorner manhunt: Sheriff says ex-cop not a threat to ski resorts

Dorner manhunt: FBI contacted about CNN parcel, official says

— Joel Rubin, Angel Jennings and Andrew Blankstein

 

U.S. government to allow radioactive waste metals to be ‘recycled’ into consumers products like belt buckles, silverware

Nuclear Action Offering Nuclear Waste Barrels to Province North Holland in Haarlem<br /><br /><br />Nucleaire Actie Aanbieden Kernafvalvaten aan Provincie Noord-Holland in Haarlem

naturalnews.com | feb 7, 2013

(NaturalNews) The federal government is currently in the process of trying to get rid of tens of thousands of tons of radioactive scrap metal it has accumulated over the years from various nuclear testing and wartime activities. And a recent proposal made by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) would lift existing restrictions on the recycling and reuse of this nuclear waste, allowing it to be formulated into everyday consumer products like belt buckles, silverware, and even surgical devices used by medical personnel on ill patients.

The shocking proposal comes more than a decade after DOE first tried to foist this growing stock of nuclear waste onto the American public back in the late 1990s. Back in 2000, Congressman Ed Markey from Massachusetts reportedly influenced then-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson to reinstate a ban that was temporarily lifted on the unmitigated recycling and reuse of radioactive waste metals in consumer products. But now, DOE is trying once again to secretly dispose of this radioactive waste stock by allowing scrap companies to sell it to consumer product manufacturers.

“A Department of Energy proposal to allow up to 14,000 metric tons of its radioactive scrap metal to be recycled into consumer products was called into question today by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) due to concerns over public health,” wrote Rep. Markey in a recent news brief about the issue. “In a letter sent to DOE head Steven Chu, Rep. Markey expressed ‘grave concerns’ over the potential of these metals becoming jewelry, cutlery, or other consumer products that could exceed healthy doses of radiation without any knowledge by the consumer.”

If granted its request, DOE could soon be responsible for triggering the widespread poisoning of the public with even more low-dose radiation via metal-based consumer products. Such products include not only cutlery and jewelry, but also automobiles, city buses, coffee makers, toasters, braces for teeth — practically anything that contains metal could end up being tainted with low-dose radiation as a result of DOE’s efforts.

Many imported consumer products already tainted with radiation

Even though DOE’s proposal has yet to become official policy, American consumers already need to be wary of the safety of metal-based products, particularly those imported from other countries. As we reported last January, domestic merchandise retailer Bed, Bath & Beyond recalled a line of tissue holders produced in India from its stores after learning that the metal used in their production was tainted with radio-isotope cobalt-60. In fact, radioactive goods routinely slip through customs, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is a serious cause for concern.

“India and China were the top sources of radioactive goods shipped to the U.S. through 2008,” explains a March 24, 2012, Bloomberg article about radioactive scrap metal. And there is no indication that things have improved since that time, according to Ross Bartley, a metallurgist who has been tracking radioactive contamination since the early 1990s. In all likelihood, he says, the problem has remained the same or even gotten worse.

Since low-dose radiation has been shown time and time again to cause birth defects, cataracts, cancer, and many other health problems, DOE’s insistence on exposing the public to even more of it is highly disturbing. Perhaps this is at least part of the reason why DOE head Steven Chu recently stepped down from his position at the agency following Rep. Markey’s letter of opposition to the agency’s proposal, not to mention a widespread and growing disapproval among citizens of this serious affront to public health.

Contact DOE and say NO to radioactive poisoning of consumer products

Though DOE insists that the amount of radiation emitted from radioactive waste is “negligible” in terms of being a public health threat, science says otherwise. Cumulative exposure to even low-dose radiation over the course of many months or even years can damage cells, DNA, and even hormone balance. This is why it is important to oppose DOE’s proposal to end the current moratorium on the reuse of radioactive waste metals.

You can contact DOE and urge the agency to keep radioactive metals out of industrial, commercial, and consumer products by emailing: scrap_PEAcomments@hq.doe.gov

‘Stalin Buses’, Soviet Tanks and Military Parades Celebrate Dictator’s Victory at Stalingrad

340957
Five coaches bearing portraits of the moustachioed dictator have been allowed to operate in ‘Stalingrad’ (Victory Bus)

Volgograd renamed Stalingrad to celebrate key WWII battle against Nazis in 1943

ibtimes.co.uk | Feb 1, 2013

By Umberto Bacchi

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of a key World War II victory Russian lawmakers have renamed Volgograd as Stalingrad (Vicory Bus)

On Saturday, visitors to Volgograd are to experience a trip back in time of 60 years as buses painted with images of Joseph Stalin are driven around the southwestern Russian city, temporally renamed Stalingrad in honour of the Communist dictator who more than any other moulded the Soviet Union.

A military parade led by an old T-34 Soviet tank will also rally in the city centre.

Russian city gets to play ‘Stalin wasn’t so bad’ six days a year

Stalin gets his city back as Russians celebrate dictator’s triumph over Nazis

‘Stalin buses’ to mark 70th anniversary of Battle of Stalingrad in Russia

On 2 February, 1943, the Red Army won the decisively battle of Stalingrad, turning back Nazi forces after about six months of fighting.

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the key World War II victory, regional lawmakers decided to use the city’s Communist-era name in for the day and on other key anniversaries through the year.

Five coaches bearing portraits of the moustachioed dictator will operate as part of the “Victory Bus” initiative.

It is a controversial move. Nostalgics credit him with leading the country to victory in World War II and making it a world superpower but to many others he is a hate figure for his genocide of millions of fellow countrymen and for his repressive regime.

“It’s blasphemous to rename the great Russian city after a bloody tyrant who killed millions of his fellow citizens,” said Nikolai Levichev a senior federal lawmaker with the leftist Just Russia party.

“This is an insult to the memory of those who died,” Russia’s human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin told Interfax news agency.

The city was renamed Volgograd in 1961 as part of the Soviet Union’s rejection of the Stalin personality cult.

“Our people won under the lead of Joseph Stalin and there is nothing about our supreme commander to be ashamed of,” reads a statement by the Victory Bus.

“We don’t paint swastikas. Thank God, Communist ideology and Stalin’s image have not been officially condemned. We only urge the preservation of memory of the WWII victory and people who contributed to it,” organiser Aleksey Roerich told Izvestia.

Roerich said the buses are from private firms funded by the Communist party and private donors.

The so-called “Stalinobuses” will operate in Volgograd until 9 May when Russia celebrates the final victory of the so-called Great Patriotic War. Stalin’s image will also appear on vehicles in the streets of St Petersburg and Chita.

Stalin led the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953.

Photo of the day: “Your DNA Will Be Your Data”

dna

Photo taken at London Gatwick Airport…

Thanks to Edo!