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Kazakhstan: Fifth Congress of World Religions

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photo_57020The Fifth Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions will take place on 10-11 June 2015 in Astana, putting forward 'The dialogue of religious leaders and politicians in the name of peace and development'. The growing threats of terrorism, extremism and conflicts on religious grounds attract particular attention to the event, and explain the growing interest of politicians in participating, searching for solutions in co-operation with the clerics of 'modus vivendi', guaranteeing the peaceful co-existence of different faiths. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been consequently battling against the 'clash of civilizations' approach, convinced that a synthesis of different cultures in a global world is not a dream, but a must.
The growing threat of terrorism and radicalization has put a great deal of pressure on politicians requiring an immediate and adequate response to the challenges, making the Congress at most timely and useful platform for international community to debate over the new challenges.
For many participants it is not only an intellectual quest, but a unique opportunity for personal exchanges with opponents, which is definitely an encouraging sign, as at the Congress the clerical disputes are secondary to the major aim of serving humanity, thus uniting against violence and the abuse of the religious doctrines that are instrumentalized for political purposes by radical Islamists groups.
Kazakhstan as a country with Sunni Muslims as the major religious community has so far carried high its profile of a model of a multicultural and multi-faith society, where within a secular framework major world religions peacefully co-exist.
"We all are people on Earth. It is wrong that clashes of civilizations are inevitable. The future of humanity is in co-operation," said President Nazarbayev, addressing the First Congress. This concept remains a guideline, tuning the debate where the differences are patched by genuine desire irrespective of doctrinal disagreements to ensure harmony in a larger picture of reconciliation in humanism and civility.
Once established as a unique arena for the communication of the world's major faiths and a peacemaking tool, the Congress developed into a highly appreciated institution for exchanges between politicians and clerics, confirming the growing significance of  beliefs in a post-Cold War world. The meaningfulness of Congress has been expressed in the profound interest shown by the UN and UNESCO and a growing number of attending delegations from almost hundred countries so far, starting with just 17 back in 2003.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appreciated Kazakhstan's model of multi-ethnic and multi-confessional peace and reconciliation, underlining that the Congress initiated by Nazarbayev is an 'important and effective' forum for dialogue.
The key element of Congress has always been its attention to the education of youth as the antidote to radicalization, the promotion of the system of views and opinions based on tolerance, respect of lives and opinion of the others, helping young people to avoid terrorist activities. The galloping developments of IT technologies has changed the structure and methods of work of the terrorists, shifting to more horizontal organization and smaller groups, making the counter-terrorist operations difficult and resource consuming activity.
This reality calls for offering a comprehensive approach of fighting religious fanaticism at the grass-roots, thus according to the majority of the participants through enhanced educations programs and co-operation between the state and religious communities.
"We are seriously concerned about the situation in the Middle East, the activities of the so-called" Islamic State, which is trying to impose its will, the ideology of the young people not only in our part of the world, but also in Europe. We have to discuss seriously these issues from the perspective of why the ideology of the  'Islamic state' becomes attractive for some young men, and why they are involved in such terrorist activities, rejecting modern values" said Senate Speaker Kasym-Jomart Tokayev ahead of the Congress.
The other burning issue is the definition of the borders between the individual right of the religious freedom of expression of an individual and the development of modern democratic stated based on the civic values – he debate which is more passionate in some European countries than in Kazakhstan where the population is moderately religious, according to recent Gallop research, comparable to Northern Europe states.
The citizens of Kazakhstan don't consider themselves as intensely religious, being self-defined as 'culturally' Muslim or 'culturally' Orthodox with approximately two thirds Sunni Muslim, including President Nazarbayev, one third Russian Orthodox, with the other religions representing around 50 faiths in a 17 million population. The individual manifestations of religious preferences such as as wearing scarfs by women in public places or Christian crosses remain rare in comparison with EU countriesThere are many cross-marriages among people of different faiths.
Both Muslim and Orthodox major festivities are included in the state holiday calender, underlining respect for the largest religious communities in the country. Kazakhstanies regard the upcoming Congress in Astana as a milestone in the construction of a successful multicultural society, promoting world-wide tolerance and peace that is so characteristic of traditional Kazakh life in the vast steppe of Central Asia.

EU law

In divorces, the odds are stacked against women

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Among the many side effects the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have had on Europe is a particularly shameful one: skyrocketing domestic abuse. France – with its deeply embedded chauvinism – has stood out in particular, as calls to the government hotline for abused women rose 400 percent during the lockdown.

At the same time, leaving these relationships is not easy. For legally married women, a divorce would be a logical step, but not all women are willing or even able to make that move. The reasons behind that are manifold, yet one of the most common ones is one of the most frequently overlooked as well: the fact that women are commonly disadvantaged in divorce settlements that are leaving women in economic and social hardship more often than men.

Women get the short stick

This fact is surprisingly uniform across the globe, which is why it’s even more of a shock that women continue to find the odds stacked against them in highly developed regions with a strong women’s rights and equality agenda, such as Europe. A 2018 study assessing the gender differences in the consequences of divorce, using data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (1984-2015), found that “women were strongly disadvantaged in terms of losses in household income and associated increases in the risk of poverty”. Worse, these losses were permanent and substantial, without significant changes over time.

Even when a settlement results in a 50/50 division of assets, women often feel disadvantaged due to lower earning power caused by childcare responsibilities and reduced hours available to work, or make strategic career choices. Furthermore, women are frequently left indebted by the legal costs of divorce proceedings because their lower savings levels mean they have to rely on eye-watering loans. Women’s financial positions rarely recover enough to reach pre-divorce levels, while men’s incomes tend to rise by 25 percent on average following the split.

 

Rich or poor, you lose

While these problems are common occurrences across different cultures around the world, they’re also independent of the social class. It may seem obvious that these problems are exclusive to the middle class rather than the wealthiest members of society. However, women divorcing rich husbands face the same hurdles and adverse prospects. Indeed, if there’s one common factor that unites women across all social strata, it’s how they have to fight disproportionally harder than their ex-husbands to obtain their fair share of the divorce pie.

Case in point is the bitter divorce fight between Azerbaijani oligarch Farkhad Akhmedov and his ex-wife Tatiana Akhmedova. Farkhad Akhmedov, who is based in Baku despite having failed to obtain Azeri citizenship, made his fortune in the gas sector but left the industry after being forced to sell his stake in Northgas to Inter RAO in 2012 for $400 million under value. Tatiana, a British citizen, was awarded 40 percent of her ex-husband’s fortune by a UK court in 2016, amounting to roughly £453 million – the biggest divorce settlement in history. Instead of accepting the judgement and paying out, Farkhad Akhmedov has been fighting tooth and nail to avoid making payments, or handing over the assets given to his ex-wife in the settlement, including an art collection, real estate and superyacht, valued at £350 million

 

The divorce of the century

In the process, Akhmedov has frequently not only fought with the gloves off, but outright dirty. From the very beginning, Akhmedov’s defense argued that the couple got divorced before, namely in Moscow in 2000. According to the defense, that alleged divorce supersedes the British decision, painting Akhmedova as a fraud. However, the attempt at slandering his ex-wife backfired: no evidence for an earlier divorce ever materialised, leading Justice Haddon-Cave in 2016 to declare “… that the 2000 Moscow divorce documents … were, at all material times, forged.”

This should’ve been a lethal blow to Farkhad Akhmedov’s defense, but four years on, no significant pay-outs have been made – despite the fact that the original 2016 decision in Akhmedova’s favour has been upheld in other courts. In 2018, Akhmedov was ruled to be in contempt of court and was criticised by Justice Haddon-Cave for taking “numerous elaborate steps” designed to avoid the judgement’s execution, such as “concealing his assets in a web of offshore companies.” These entities, primarily located in Liechtenstein, were recently ordered to transfer Akhmedov’s assets to Tatiana.

 

This is a men’s world

It shouldn’t be surprising that this hasn’t happened yet, all the while the oligarch’s contempt for both British law and his ex-wife are unwavering. In fact, the Akhmedov case – owing to the volume of assets and great publicity involved – serves to highlights the stark contrast in divorce outcomes and that women are generally fighting an uphill battle for equity of the settlement that can last for years, straining their ability to move on and restart their lives.

Yet it could help to raise awareness for this deeply engrained inequality, where women all over the world seeking divorce or justice for domestic abuse are exposed to odds overwhelmingly in their ex-spouse’s favour. Stronger, more relentless enforcement of rulings – including painful punishment in case of non-compliance – is the only way to break the vicious circle. Otherwise, gender equality will forever be imperfect, even unattainable.

 

 

 

 

 

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LUKOIL’S Oil Pavilion named world's best project for use of Virtual Reality

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LUKOIL became a winner of the international IPRA Golden World Awards in four categories for the restoration of the historical Oil Pavilion at Moscow’s VDNKh. It is the largest Russian multimedia exhibition dedicated to applied science, which presents oil industry to its visitors through interactive installations.

The Oil Pavilion was awarded the status of the best global project in Gaming and virtual reality, Business-to-business, Media relations and Sponsorship categories.

This is the second LUKOIL’s IPRA Golden World Awards win; the Company received two awards last year. LUKOIL’s campaign to promote the city of Kogalym (Yugra) as a tourist centre of the West Siberia received awards as the world’s best project in Travel and tourism and Community engagement categories.

IPRA Golden World Awards (GWA) is the world’s most influential global public relations and communications competition.

IPRA GWA, established in 1990, recognizes excellence in public relations practice worldwide, taking into account such criteria as creativity, complexity of realization, and unique character of the project. World’s greatest communications and marketing experts and leaders, including representatives of the various largest enterprises, form the GWA jury.

 

 

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#Amex reputation at stake due to a controversial Russian partner

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By any standards, Russian billionaire Roustam Tariko needs a stiff drink – no doubt a double vodka – if he is to ward off accusations of being a “fraudster”.
For the second time, the man who gave the world “Russian Standard Vodka” is accused of serving up a short measure. Once again, he’s defaulted on Eurobond payments.

And that could lead to his empire losing one of its best customers – American Express.

It was Tariko, 58, who brought the ubiquitous card to all Russians.
At the height of his pomp he told Forbes Magazine:
"I have one of the best vodka brands in the world and one of the biggest retail banks in Russia.
"If I just maintain what I have and grow it, that will already be enough to be proud of myself."
But pride goes before a fall…

Roustam Tariko

Roustam Tariko

Tariko’s problems started when his Russian Standard Bank (RSB) did not cough up $400 million in 2017.
RSB was the collateral on the loan.
Now, international bondholders are planning to claim a 49% stake in the bank.
They called in the Center for Financial Investigations and Forensic Expertise (CFIFE) to go through the RSB books.
Although confidential, the analysis was later shown in documents lodged with the Moscow Arbitration Court.
And it makes for uncomfortable reading for Tariko.
Investigators say the full sum of Tariko’s debts are more than $800 million.
And, they are convinced that cash and assets are being stripped from the bank.
According to the CFIFE these fears are “not unfounded”.
Last month (July) the creditors started an action to collect its collateral.
The Center reports more than $300 million has been withdrawn from the bank.
It added: “Since 2017, the value of the bank's assets has been constantly and sharply decreasing, while the share of illiquid assets, on the contrary, is growing just as rapidly.”
David Nitlispakh, head of the Swiss fund Pala Assets, represents the creditors of Russian Standard Ltd.
Pala Assets is a Switzerland-based investment company focusing on emerging market bonds.
Mr Nitlispakh said: “We have stated for a long time that the shareholder of Russian Standard organized a massive withdrawal of money from the bank.
“We are convinced he should bear full responsibility for unlawful actions to inflict such large damage on the bank.
“We are confident that it will not be possible to break the law with impunity.”

Russian Standard Bank

Russian Standard Bank

Pala Assets is considering filing an application to start a criminal prosecution.
A spokesman said: "What is happening is a clear malicious violation of the law, and we believe that the criminal activity of depriving the bank of its liquid assets must be stopped."
One creditor said: “The shareholder of Russian Standard Bank has been playing with his bondholders for three years, every time promising repayment of debt and then breaking the promise.
“This is done to squeeze all valuable assets from the bank before it is taken by bondholders as a collateral.
“This scandal can seriously tarnish the reputation of Amex whose exclusive partner in Russia is Tariko.”
Commenting on RSB’s future, Alexey Sanaev, of the Russian brokerage company Finam, told Cards International:
“The bad thing is that if the transactions are what they appear to be, then it would put the reputation of Tariko at significant risk.
“He may be labelled as a fraudster, which is bad.
“What will most likely happen is that the international bondholders will become the primary shareholders of the bank.
“Ultimately, that would help to make sure the bank’s reputation continues to grow in a positive direction. “
And, in a world where reputation is everything, global banking giant American Express finds itself caught up in the financial farrago.
Amex ran a famous advertising campaign in the 70s and 80s with the catchphrase “that’ll do nicely, sir”.
It was aimed at promoting how its credit card was welcomed worldwide and loved by all.
An Amex card carried cache. It was for the aspirational. It appealed to the new entrepreneurial Russian.
Amex and RSB have been close trading partners since the turn of the 2000s.
It was an alliance that saw Amex cards issued in Russia.
But as the worldwide reputation of RSB diminishes, there is a fear Amex may well be looking to distance itself from its partner.
Mr Sanaev said: “Russian Standard Bank was the first – and is still the only – bank to issue American Express cards in Russia.
“When the two companies first collaborated, the market was booming, and consumer spending was growing.
“The bank was a pioneer and one of the greatest beneficiaries of this market.
“I don’t think it is a surprise that American Express chose RSB as its exclusive partner.
“Back then it was the right thing to do, and a good name in the prospective market for Amex to be associated with.
“But the question remains as to whether that is the right thing to do now.
“Amex’s exclusive partner is suffering in terms of its reputation.

“I am not sure if Amex will continue to operate with RSB.
“It isn’t a question of the reputation of Amex in Russia, but the reputation of Amex in America, and globally that may be affected by the activities of its Russian partner.”

Mr Sanaev believes Amex will soon drop the damaged RBS.

He said: “Amex will choose a different partner in Russia, one with a cleaner reputation.
“I think that is an obvious thing to do.
“Amex is no longer gaining from the partnership with Russian Standard Bank – financially and in terms of reputation.”
In the early days Tariko embodied what Amex is all about.

He made his fortune from scratch – unlike many other oligarchs who helped themselves to a considerable slice of the nation’s industrial assets during the 1990s.

After graduating in 1989 with an economics degree from the Moscow Institute of Railway Engineering, he turned his hand to importing luxury items into Russia.

His money was made in chocolates and Italian sparkling wines.

It was a stepping stone to bringing more big-name drink brands to Russians – and then offering vodka to the world.

In the early days Tariko embodied what Amex is all about.
He made his fortune from scratch – unlike many other oligarchs who helped themselves to a considerable slice of the nation’s industrial assets during the 1990s.

"I made a fortune selling vodka to the Russians and now I am making a fortune selling it to the British.”, said Tariko to Forbes magazine.

However, some believe Roustam Tariko is now drinking in the last chance saloon as he fights to keep his business empire and – more importantly – his good name.

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