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    Russian Press - Behind the Headlines, November 23

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    Madonna Cleared of All Charges/ Ten-year-old Boy Washes Cars to Support Sick Mother/ Russian Grain Output Could Triple by 2020

    MOSCOW, November 23 (RIA Novosti)

    Moskovsky Komsomolets

    Madonna Cleared of All Charges

    The Trade Union of Russian Citizens has been asking for a 333 million ruble penalty to be imposed on Madonna since her concert in St. Petersburg last summer.

    The singer is alleged to have publicly supported the gay community and offended believers with her crucifix dance.

    The hearing was postponed several times – first, because the judges had no way of contacting the defendant to notify her of the charges. Perhaps it was ridiculous to expect Madonna to appear in court but some people still waited patiently for her to show. The singer, however, did not show up and the hearing went ahead without her.

    It was an open trial, but the courtroom was too small for all the journalists and onlookers who wanted to get in. The scenes in the courtroom resembled a slapstick comedy. The judges spent a lot of time scrutinizing a photo of two men kissing, taken at the concert. Referring to a Wikipedia article on the LGBT movement, prosecuting lawyer Alexander Pochuyev claimed the show contained numerous emblems of sexual minorities. Moreover, given that there were children present in the audience, the singer bared too much flesh. The exact proof of Madonna’s support for the gay community remains unclear.

    Luckily, common sense prevailed. Judge Barkovsky smiled and suggested that it was Navy Day and this was just two former shipmates happy to see one another. But the claimants had an ace up their sleeve. They showed a YouTube video in which Madonna called on the people of St. Petersburg to be “tolerant toward each other.” Is this really evidence of gay propaganda?

    In another short video clip, Madonna allegedly stamped on an Orthodox Christian cross. Why Orthodox Christian, the trade union could not explain, just like many other claims. And then it all became slightly surreal. Madonna was blamed for all the country’s troubles, from low childbirth rates to the corruption in Russia’s Defense Ministry.

    “The defendant has damaged the institution of marriage and violated the social order. She has breached fundamental human rights. Madonna’s performance was designed to affect birth rates because young people will be more interested in sexual experimentation than in starting a family. This will eventually lead to Russia’s inability to man its army.”

    Tired of the absurd hearing, the poor judges took a break, returning to try Madonna until late in the evening. It took them an hour to deliver a verdict and bin the case. The plaintiffs were ordered to pay 20,000 rubles in damages to the concert organizers.

    The claimants who signed the lawsuit refused to give their names because they “were in a court, not a circus.” But is this not exactly the right name for what was happening in the courtroom?

    Komsomolskaya Pravda

    Ten-year-old Boy Washes Cars to Support Sick Mother

    The two sons of a Rostov woman who has cancer have been struggling to help her survive for the past 18 months.

    Anzhela Skrynnikova, 33, was diagnosed with cancer several years ago. Severe pain eventually forced her to quit her job, which was the only source of income for the single-parent family.

    When their mother told them she was ill, her two sons, Daniil and Dmitry, realized that their childhood was over. Without their assistance, their only living relative would die. They had no other choice but to grow up quickly and take adult decisions.

    Anzhela needed expensive cancer treatment, so 10-year-old Daniil took a job at a gas station to provide for the family.

    “I wash about 10 cars a day. It was hard in the beginning, but then I got used to the work. I can do it much better now. My daily wage varies, depending on luck,” he said.

    Every ruble he makes he brings home to his mother. Anzhela says she is very proud of her son, and not just because he has taken over as the provider for the family.

    “The kids are a great support to me. They give meaning to my life and it is only thanks to them that I’m still holding on,” she said.

    Her elder son first took on adult responsibilities when she was put in the hospital for a two-week course of chemotherapy. He had to do without his mother’s help, and what’s more, he also took care of his eight-year-old brother. For two horrible weeks, he remained Dmitry’s only parent: he cooked, helped him with his homework, put him to bed and told him every day that Mummy would be all right and would definitely get better.

    Anzhela and her two brave sons are living on a meager monthly social benefit of 6,000 rubles ($193). What remains after they have paid their rent and utilities bills is not even enough to buy food.

    The family lives in a small dilapidated house, not connected to the gas or water mains. Coal for heating eats up another chunk of their modest budget. Still, they do not complain or ask for help. But volunteers and parishioners of the local St George Church are doing it for them.

    “This family is in desperate need. Anzhela has had several operations, and undergone chemotherapy and radiation therapy. She needs medication. City hospitals are reluctant to provide quality services to someone who has no money,” a local resident said.

    Rostov residents, who learned about this family’s desperate situation, are also trying to help by donating clothes, food and medicines. But there is something Anzhela and her sons want more than anything else: a big washtub. Their house has no bathroom.

    Nezavisimaya Gazeta

    Russian Grain Output Could Triple by 2020

    Russian agriculture may grow much faster than the 2.4%-2.5% outlined in the government program for 2013-2020. In particular, grain production could more than triple to 300 million metric tons.

    The agriculture sector of the Moscow Economic Forum, which met in the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry yesterday, discussed the future of agriculture. The main report was delivered by Konstantin Babkin, President of the Roi political economy club.

    He said that rural unemployment was twice as high as in cities, some 20,000 villages had disappeared over the last 20 years and the government’s agricultural policy was proving ineffective. Babkin said that the 2013-2020 program only gives a slight growth of 2.4%-2.5%, as a result of which Russia could fall far behind the world’s agricultural leaders.

    Russia’s WTO accession is no positive achievement either, he argued. It has opened the Russian food market to cheap imports, while prohibitive duties hinder Russian exports. The EU import duty on Russian grain is nearly EUR 100 per ton. Babkin also criticized the government’s policy of restraining food prices, which makes farmers’ work increasingly unprofitable.

    The current system of government support is ineffective and even ruinous for farmers. Subsidies should be issued not to agribusinesses but to socially disadvantaged sections of the population, so that the sector would receive support through the stimulation of consumer demand. Babkin also proposes banning agricultural imports and lifting the embargo on exports. Farmers’ shortfalls from the embargo on grain exports in 2010 totaled 140 billion rubles ($4.5 billion). The Russian agricultural sector could grow rapidly and ultimately feed one billion people, Babkin said. Grain production could be increased three- or fourfold, to 300 million metric tons, by raising the yield and using the 40 million hectares of farmland currently lying idle.

    Sergei Doronin, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Agriculture, said that one of the sector’s biggest problems is the 1.6 trillion rubles ($51.4 billion) of loans taken out at 12%-13%. The government is spending around 130 billion rubles ($4.2 billion) to compensate 8.25% of the loan interest, but farmers are dragging their feet while the banks are raking in huge profits. Doronin proposed writing off part of the farmers’ debts and increasing the loan repayment period to 20 years.

    David Epshtein from the North-Western Research Institute of Agricultural Engineering said that productivity in agriculture is rising by 4%-5%, while resource intensity is falling by 2%-7% a year and energy intensity is decreasing, too. But for its innovative development to become irreversible, the funding of relevant research must be at least doubled. Epshtein proposed approving a food tax of 1.5%-2%, which would not be a huge burden on people but would ensure sustainable funding for agricultural research.

    Alexander Rodin, Chairman of the Association of Family Farms and Agricultural Cooperatives of the Rostov Region, said the problem would not be settled without land reforms. He also recalled that President Putin had promised to legalize land ownership for 9 million farmers.

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