Russia unveils statue of AK-47 inventor Kalashnikov
Russia unveils statue of AK-47 inventor Kalashnikov
A priest sprinkled holy water on the seven-meter tall statue of Kalashnikov gripping his deadly creation, which will now loom over motorists from a traffic island in one of the sprawling capital’s central thoroughfares.
Culture minister Vladimir Medinsky praised the inventor and called the rifle — which has been reproduced an estimated 100 million times worldwide — a “cultural brand for Russia.”
Kalashnikov had “the best traits of a Russian: an extraordinary natural gift, simplicity, integrity,” Medinsky said.
Born in a Siberian village in 1919, Mikhail Kalashnikov died in December 2013 in Izhevsk, the capital of the Russian republic of Udmurtia, where he lived.
Kalashnikov came up with the idea of inventing a new automatic rifle that could work in all conditions after becoming disgruntled by the Soviet weaponry as he recovered from an injury during WWII.
Eventually that would lead to the creation of the AK-47 — short in Russian for Avtomat Kalashnikova 1947 (Kalashnikov Automatic Rifle 1947) — that would become the standard issue for the Soviet Union’s vast armed forces.
Known for its simplicity, the gun became a symbol for independence struggles and leftist radicals around the world during the Cold War, finding its way onto the national flag of Mozambique and the banner of Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah.
But Mikhail Kalashnikov never touched the fortunes from the sales of millions of the rifles that bear his name and used by the armies of over 80 countries. He stopped working only a year before his death, at the age of 93.
While his invention made Kalashnikov a household name around the globe, the man himself had a more nuanced view of his lethal creation.
Six months before his death he wrote to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, expressing regret for his role in making the world’s most commonly used rifle.
“My spiritual pain is unbearable,” he wrote in the letter which was later published in the Izvestia newspaper.
The erection of a monument to the gunmaker — who met personally with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2013 — has raised eyebrows among some Muscovites.
But the move chimes with a surge of nationalist pride under Putin that has seen the Kremlin glorify the military achievements of the Soviet period while playing down the gross abuses.
The Kalashnikov factory that makes the rifles, in decline since the death of the inventor, has since been modernized, with most of its capital coming from private investors.
It has also been transformed by a PR campaign to improve its image in Russia and abroad, even opening a souvenir store in Moscow’s main Sheremetyevo Airport.
Iraq’s top musicians play on despite unpaid wages
In a dusty Baghdad dance studio, conductor Mohammed Amin Ezzat tries to fire up the musicians of Iraq’s National Symphony Orchestra, whose enthusiasm has been dampened by eight months without pay.
An aging air conditioner fights to beat back the summer heat in the cramped space at the capital’s School of Music and Ballet as the 57-year-old maestro leads the group through a rehearsal of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain.”
The shaggy-haired Ezzat and the 40 musicians surrounding him are gearing up to perform at Baghdad’s National Theater on Saturday, but the group’s morale is at an all-time low.
The ensemble has lost more than half its members since the start of the year, when the government issued a directive barring state employees with two jobs from receiving two salaries.
The anti-corruption measure was suggested by the World Bank and should affect only about a third of the orchestra’s musicians, but because of delays in carrying out the reform wages have been withheld from the entire group.
“The orchestra is in great danger,” Ezzat said. “Some don’t have enough money to come, and others are disappointed by the impact of politics on the orchestra.”
Officially created in 1970 after several unsuccessful attempts, Iraq’s national orchestra has survived decades of upheaval.
It has survived wars, an invasion, a 12-year international embargo and a devastating three-year battle against Daesh militants, which came to an end last year.
But this may be the last straw for the outfit, a collateral victim of Iraq’s “war on corruption.”
“Not being paid for eight months has had a terrible psychological effect on the musicians, but we’ll continue to resist peacefully with our music,” said Ezzat, who became the orchestra’s first Iraqi conductor in 1989.
“We’re on the precipice but sure that we won’t jump.”
When all its salaries are tallied up — including the maestro’s $1,200 a month, peanuts for a major conductor — the orchestra costs the state about $85,000 (€73,000) a year.
The sum is a pittance compared to the exorbitant figures siphoned off by ministers and high officials who have either fled or been arrested.
The conductor, his daughter Noor, a timpanist, and his sons Hossam and Islam, who play the cello and viola respectively, have all been without a salary since January.
But according to Raed Allawi, the head of administrative affairs at Iraq’s Culture Ministry, there is no reason to panic — the wages will soon be paid.
“The Finance Ministry has asked for a regularization of contracts. Verification measures are underway and this explains the late payment of wages,” Allawi said.
“The orchestra is one of the country’s cultural showcases (and the ministry) respects its artists and their talent.”
For the symphony’s musicians, however, these are empty words they have heard already.
Saad Al-Dujaily, a professor of medicine and a flutist, thinks the measure is regressive. “I’ve been an obstetrician and a flute player since I was very young,” he said.
Because of the directive, the 57-year-old practitioner — who teaches at Baghdad’s Al-Nahrain University and plays in the national orchestra — is now entitled to only one salary.
“In Iraq, we’re proud to have more than one job, to have more than one love, to practice two professions with the same love and passion,” said Dujaily, who plans to continue with the orchestra to help preserve its quality.
Further along into the rehearsal, the studio’s electricity cuts, a common occurrence in a country plagued by power outages.
The orchestra cannot afford the diesel to fuel the building’s generator.
But the musicians play on in the windowless room, using their cell phones to illuminate the sheet music. “There have been crises in the past, but this is the worst,” said Doaa Majid Al-Azzawi, an oboe player.
“Especially since my father and I are musicians. We don’t know what will happen, but if the orchestra has to stop, it’s culture in Iraq that will be dealt a deadly blow,” the 25-year-old said.
When the studio’s lights eventually make a flickering return, so too does the players’ enthusiasm, and the music swells.
“As long as we live, music will live. It’s our culture,” said Noor, the conductor’s daughter.