Ian Bremmer, Vladimir Putin, and the Russian media looking glass

ForeignPolicy.com is getting a little more .ru traffic today, since the Russian media seems to have picked up on Ian Bremmer's list of the world's most powerful people. The Eurasia Group president's tongue-in-cheek post on the organization's FP blog, The Call, lists "nobody" as the world's most powerful person -- no surprise to regular Bremmer readers -- and Russian President Vladimir Putin at No. 2. But Bremmer's write-up isn't exactly complimentary: 

In Russia's personalized system, this is still the person who counts. He isn't as popular as he used to be, and his country has no Soviet-scale clout or influence, but no one on the planet has consolidated more domestic and regional power than Putin. 

But in Russia's state-controlled media, an FP blogger noting that Russia's political system has no checks or balances became Foreign Policy magazine bestowing an honor on Putin. Here's the wire service ITAR-TASS:

Foreign Policy magazine names Putin as most influential politician

LONDON, January 4 (Itar-Tass) — President Vladimir Putin of Russia has been named by the Foreign Policy magazine as the world's most influential political, business, and public figure.

A regular issue of the magazine, which carries a list of ratings of persons who determine ways for the development of the present-day world, appeared on sale on Friday.

Of course, there are a few things that aren't right about this. It wasn't "Foreign Policy," but one FP blogger, it's not an annual feature, and the item did not appear in the print magazine. Plus, the writer conveniently leaves out Bremmer's not-so-flattering reason for putting Putin on the list. 

Voice of Russia expands on the story, bringing in some expert opinions: 

In a prompt commentary, Director of the Moscow-based Socioeconomic and Political Research Institute Professor Dmitry Badovsky has said he believes Russia’s presidency of the G20 in 2013 should help the Russian President retain this enviable position.

Russian analysts believe the American foreign policy now has to take what they call ‘the long-term Putin factor’ into account.

Head of the Politology Department of Moscow’s High Economic School Professor Leonid Polyakov spoke about this in Moscow Friday after the Foreign Policy magazine ranked Russian President Vladimir Putin the most influential world leader of 2012.

Interestingly, Putin occupies Spot Two in the magazine’s table, while Spot One is empty. Professor Polyakov believes this betrays American reluctance to recognize a non-American as the world’s top kick.

Right, we'd never put a non-American at the top of any list. 

To their credit, Russian state-sponsored broadcaster RT got the story right, specifying that it was Eurasia Group, not FP, that came up with the list.

Some backlash to the initial coverage has already started. Leonid Storch, blogger from the independent and often critical Echo Moskvy radio station, actually looked at the website, saw the original context of the ranking, and pronounced all the hype around the list "overcooked" and the result of the media's "inability to verify information and overconfidence in the printed word."

Perhaps, though it's hardly a problem unique to Russia.


The countries that won't let you name your kid something ridiculous

A 15-year-old Icelandic girl is suing the state for the right to use her own name:

In a country comfortable with a firm state role, most people don’t question the Personal Names Register, a list of 1,712 male names and 1,853 female names that fit Icelandic grammar and pronunciation rules and that officials maintain will protect children from embarrassment. Parents can take from the list or apply to a special committee that has the power to say yea or nay.

Blaer Bjarkardottir -- the girl filing the suit -- is a particularly good test case since her name comes from a female character in a novel by Halldor Laxness, the nationally beloved Nobel Prize-winning Icelandic author. It's a bit like a French girl not being allowed to be named Cosette, and the government might be more receptive to Blaer than they were to the conceptual artist who wanted to be called "Curver" are few years ago.

Iceland has one of the stricter naming regimes, but it's not the only country where Apples, Suris, and Blue Ivys would not be tolerated.

Swedish children's names must meet with the approval of the country's tax authorities. Past offenders have included kids named Metallica, Ikea, and Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 (pronounced Albin). Interestingly, they were OK with "Google."

German children "must be given names that clearly denote gender and they cannot be given family names as first names," and there are complicated restrictions on combining last names with hyphens.

Danish parents must pick a name from an approved list of "7,000 mostly West European and English names -- 3,000 for boys, 4,000 for girls." Recently, a few non-European names such as Ali and Hassan have been added to accommodate immigrants. 

It's not just the Northern Europeans. China has a law against names using Arabic numerals, foreign languages, and symbols that do not belong to Chinese minority languages, which was bad news for the parents who tried to name their kid "@" in 2007.

As recently as the 1960s, French children had to be named after Catholic saints thanks to a Napoleon-era law. The regulation was eventually relaxed thanks to legal appeals from the Breton community. 

The rest of these countries will presumably loosen up eventually thanks to immigration, globalization, shifting gender norms, and pop culture. But perhaps not soon enough for young Blaer, who is still referred to unceremoniously as "stulka," or "girl," on her official documents.