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"Index of fear": The upside of a 4 percent approval rating

Gallup has just released a survey of government approval ratings in 12 post-Soviet countries. (Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are left out._ Ukraine now has the unenviable distinction of having the world's least popular government, with only 4 percent of citizens approving of their leadership. But RFE/RL's Robert Coalson provides some useful context:

You notice a big gap between the sixth least-approved governments (Latvia, at 27 percent) and the seventh (Kyrgyzstan, at 43 percent). On one side of that divide, you have, in order, Ukraine, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia, Moldova, Latvia. On the other side (the dark side), you find Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan. (It is a safe bet which side Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan would find themselves on if polling were possible there.)

The Gallup chart is actually an index of fear. What it reflects is not so much attitudes toward the government as a willingness to openly express one's attitudes toward the government. As one member of RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service told me, "If someone walked up to me in Baku and asked me what I thought about the government, I'd say it was great too."

For all the talk of Ukraine's political dysfunction, getting to the point where 96 percent of the people are eager to tell an interview they hate their government is actually fairly impressive. That's cold comfort for Ukrainians but I agree with Coalson that Gallup could have provided some more context for these results.

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Ahmadinejad: We will "stick their heads to the ceiling"

So much for hopes that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would by chastened by the events of the last few months:

"A new period has begun," he told the Association of Basiji Scholars at a meeting in Mashhad last Thursday, according to a report by the news website Farda News

"Let me take the oath of office, and wait for the government to begin its work," he told the Basiji members, who are affiliated with the militiamen clubbing demonstrators in the streets. 

"Then, we'll seize them by their collars and stick their heads to the ceiling," he said.