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Russian Boxer Goes Yeti Hunting, Mongolia Mines Its Economic Potential

Plus, 2012 Eurovision could test Azeri homophobia and Kosovo sends police to its northern border.

by S. Adam Cardais and Barbara Frye 16 September 2011

1. Russian Boxer Seeks Elusive Hairy Humanoid.


Nikolai Valuev
Our contender for quirkiest story of the week: RIA Novosti reports that former WBA heavyweight champion boxer Nikolai Valuev left for western Siberia 15 September to search for the Yeti, a mythical creature said to haunt the Himalayas.


Evidently some were concerned that Valuev, at 2.2 meters (7 feet) tall and roughly 143 kilograms (315 pounds), was out to harm the Yeti. Valuev's spokesman clarified, however, that the Russian boxer only wants to locate the creature to "talk to him about life."


Two years ago Russian authorities released a report that hunters had spotted a large "hairy humanoid" near the Azass Cave on Siberia's Mount Shoriya, according to RIA Novosti. Though the report included a picture of an unidentified footprint from inside the cave, researchers have yet to confirm the Yeti's existence.


A warning to ramblers. Photo by poppet with a camera, from flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.


2. Mongolia, Central Asia’s Tiger, Roars.


Mongolia is in the midst of a stunning economic transformation. The former backwater's growth is so rapid that "the country's capital has bypassed the typical icons of an emerging capitalist economy and leapt straight to the top-end luxury brands" like Louis Vuitton and Ermenegildo Zegna, The Australian reports in fascinating detail.


Growing at around 17 percent annually, the Mongolian economy is among the most robust in the world. Last year its stock exchange put up extraordinary numbers, while profits at restaurants in the capital, Ulanbaataar, grew 800 percent, according to the report.


"Our dream scenario has been exceeded, and our dream has come true," the report quotes one prominent investor as saying.


So what's behind this economic miracle? Mining. Mongolia has one of the world's five largest copper mines and the world's largest undeveloped coking coal deposit, in Tavan Tolgoi, in the south of the country.


3. 2012 Eurovision in Baku to Reveal Azeri Homophobia?


Will gay Eurovision fans feel comfortable in Azerbaijan when Baku hosts the popular song contest next year? Maybe not, according to a 15 September BBC report. Though officials argue the contrary, Azeri society has a record of homophobia that will impact Eurovision, which has a large gay following, the report suggests.


"If a family decided to kill a gay relative, most people would approve," one quoted man says. "I have never met an openly gay person around here."


Not everyone agrees. The BBC quotes Alekper Alijev, author of a controversial book about a romantic relationship between an Azeri man and a man from Armenia: "During Eurovision, no one will bother gay foreigners in Baku. People here don't mind, as long as it's not in their family."


A presidential spokesman also points out that Azerbaijan decriminalized homosexuality in 2001. The Eurovision hysteria, he says, is just that.


4. Kosovo to Send Police to Key Border Checkpoints.


Practical matters related to the 3 September trade agreement between Pristina and Belgrade to end an embargo of Serbian goods by Kosovo and secure the northern border are being implemented this week, with Kosovo expected to send its police force to two key checkpoints today, Balkan Insight reports. Speaking at a press conference, Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said Kosovo police will take command of gates one and 31 under the oversight of EULEX border police forces.


The gates came under sustained attack from local Serbs in July after Kosovo sent forces to the border to block Serbian imports in an ongoing trade dispute. The atmosphere in predominantly Serb northern Kosovo, which is often referred to as a "frozen conflict," is calm in expectation of the police mobilization, according to Balkan Insight, but the Southeast European Times reports that Serbs blocked several roads in the north 13 September to protest the move.


5. Armenia Says It Downed Drone in Nagorno-Karabakh.


Armenian forces say they have shot down an Azerbaijani unmanned drone in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Although Baku is keeping quiet, as proof Armenian officials have offered photos of the wreckage, EurasiaNet reports.


Quoting an unnamed Armenian journalist, the report says Armenian officials believe the drone was on a reconnaissance mission near the so-called Line of Contact between the two armies. Meanwhile, an army press officer said the shooting was "a result of special measures undertaken by units of air defense and radio electronic warfare of the Karabakh Defense Army."


A primarily Armenian-populated region in the South Caucasus, Nagorno-Karabakh was assigned to Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1920s. Armenia and Azerbaijan fought for the area from 1988 until 1994, when a cease-fire was declared.


6. Air Baltic Takes a Steep Descent.


This might not be the year to take a holiday-season break in the Baltics, at least not if you’re relying on Latvia’s national carrier, airBaltic, to get you there. The airline has just announced that it will lay off 500 employees and cancel more than 1,400 flights in November and December, the Baltic Times reports. Losses of 34 million lats ($66 million) and an emergency bailout – the airline has requested more than 60 million lats – come despite steady growth in passenger traffic, the website reports.


They are also a far cry from the carrier’s regional dominance and the bold predictions of growth that were being made for it only a few years ago. In a 2008 article about competition between airBaltic and the smaller (and now defunct) flyLAL, TOL correspondent Mike Collier wrote that airBaltic President Bertolt Flick “oversaw a swift and complete reorganization of the airline. In came an eye-catching green color scheme for the brand, fresh uniforms and better training for aircraft staff, and new, well-organized administrative headquarters in Riga.”


Profits were low, Collier wrote, because revenues were plowed back into the airline: “Short-term profits have been sacrificed for long-term advantage. Pretax profits for the first nine months of 2007 were a modest 7 million euros, with 171 million euros in turnover, up 40 percent from the year before. Income is growing steadily.”


Three years later, the airline’s offices were raided as part of a corruption investigation, the prime minister has said he’ll approve the bailout on the condition that Flick steps down, Flick has said politicians shouldn’t meddle in his running of the company, and some Latvian media report that the government may have lost its controlling share in the company. The government, for its part, says that last bit is untrue and that additional shares that the minority holder (controlled by Flick) tried to register were bogus.


Keep your seatbelts fastened, indeed.

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Barbara Frye is TOL’s managing editor.


Around the Bloc is TOL's daily digest of the important, the trivial, the tragic, the weird, and the sober from its coverage region. Got an item for Around the Bloc? Send it to

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