Friday, 19 April 2013

Lada 2101 first produced 43 years ago

The Moscow Times today marks the 43rd anniversary of the Lada 2101: 

"Forty-three years ago today, on April 19, 1970, the first VAZ-2101 rolled off the assembly line. Better known as a Lada outside of the former Soviet Union, the VAZ-2101 was formed as a collaboration between Fiat and the Soviet government. It was a functional, family car that is currently a collector’s item for car aficionados"

To mark the occasion, here is some pictures of Ladas:

Friday, 12 April 2013

Yuri Gagarin

Today is the 52nd anniversary of the first manned space flight.  Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin shook the world when it was announced on 12 April 1961 that he had circled the Earth in a spacecraft - Vostok 1.  

After circling the planet, Gagarin became an international superstar and undertook a world tour, which included London which he visited in July 1961, three months after his legendary flight - meeting the Queen and the Prime Minister, Halrold McMillan, as well as members of the Foundry Workers Union during his visit, as he had worked as a foundryman before his career in aeronautics,

Vostok 1 marked his only spaceflight, but he served as backup crew to the Soyuz 1 mission (which ended in a fatal crash). Gagarin died in 1968 when the MiG 15 training jet he was piloting crashed - he was 34 years old.

The statue of him, pictured here, has recently been moved from Admiralty Arch to a permanent home at the Royal Greenwich Observatory in London.  On 7 March 2013, there was a ceremony held there to celebrate its new home.

In 2011, for the 50th Anniversary of his flight, a statue of Yuri Gagarin was unveiled in London just off The Mall, next to Admiralty Arch, and features the cosmonaut in his flight suit and standing on a globe. A host of dignitaries were present for the unveiling, including the cosmonaut's daughter, Elena Gagarina.

"The 12th of April 1961 was one of the most remarkable days in history, uniting all people in all countries on all continents," said Gagarina, who is the current director of the Kremlin Museums.

Yelena Gagarina was also present at the unveiling of the statue at its new Greenwich home in March and said “I would like to thank all people living in London for the support of the idea to place the statue in Greenwich park. I hope my father's statue will be evoking only smiles, and I feel very happy today for Yury Gagarin, cosmonaut and man, who was dreaming of the sky, and at the same time always dreaming of home. And finally he found this beautiful home in Greenwich”. 

The figure is a copy of one sited in the town of Lubertsy, just outside Moscow, where Yuri Gagarin trained as a foundry worker in his mid-teens.  The original was made in 1984 to celebrate what would have been the cosmonaut's 50th birthday.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

RIP Mrs Thatcher

Former UK Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher, died yesterday aged 87.  I didn't intend to mark her passing with a blog post, but I love this photo- taken during Mrs Thatcher's visit to the USSR in 1987.  She was greeted by enthusiastic crowds on her tours of eastern bloc countries (before the fall of the Berlin Wall) in the mid-eighties.

She maintained an outspoken opposition to communism that earned her the title The Iron Lady from the Soviet Union's Defense Ministry newspaper; however, much has been made in her role in ending communism in Eastern Europe.  Whilst I think her role in this has been exaggerated - these systems imploded without much intervention from the West - she was instrumental in bringing about the end the Cold War through her championing of freedom and democracy,  her belligerent stance towards the Soviet Union and forthright defence of the UK's nuclear deterrent.   Key to this, though, was recognising the reforming potential of Mikhail Gorbachev when he first rose to prominence in the Politburo in 1984.  Following her meeting with him in 1984, he famously described him as a a man with whom she can do business.  After Gorbachev became Soviet leader in 1985, she continued to develop a close relationship with him;  this helped to thaw relations between the USA and USSR, and brought the two sides together in a constructive dialogue on arms reduction.

She was loved and loathed in equal measure in the UK.   My own view?  Well, I spent much of the eighties as a left wing student despising her and campaigning against her (well for 2-3 years).  In 1984, I attended a protest march in Newcastle when she was visiting the North East.  To my shame, I took with me to the rally two eggs which I had intended to lob at her (given the opportunity).  Fortunately for her (and me) both these eggs had cracked open in my coat pocket - long before I had reached Newcastle!   Within a very short time, my political views changed considerably - especially once I had managed to get a job in a nationalised industry (after a short period of unemployment)  where I saw at first hand the profligacy and inefficient work practices she railed against which were so common in the public sector - I reassessed my views on her and became to admire what she had done for the country, to the extent that I was sad when she was forced out of office in 1990.  

Her economic reforms led to the decimation of the UK's heavy industry - it may have been in parts moribund, sclerotic,  inefficient and loss making, but her policy of refusing to subsidise ailing industries hastened their terminal decline.  The North of the UK, with its predominance of heavy industry, was disproportionally affected by the rapid industrial decline;  in areas of the North-East, where I live, where there was a reliance on such industries as coal mining, ship building, steel manufacturing, some communities never recovered from the loss of jobs in these sectors.   However, a paradox of the eighties recession, long recognised by economists, was that despite high unemployment and a shrinking economy, consumer spending continued to grow.  Unemployment rates of 10-15% were a tragedy for those who were part of that statistic, but it appears that remaining 85-90% of the workforce with jobs were doing all right, thank you very much.  This probably explains her electoral popularity.  On balance, I believe that Mrs Thatcher was one of the greatest post-war leaders the UK has had.  She transformed the ailing UK economy and its political landscape in the UK, put the great back in Great Britain.