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March 2


Mikhail Gorbachev, architect of glasnost and peristroika, turns 90

The first and the last Soviet Union president, Mikhail Gorbachev, celebrates his 90th birthday in a year that also marks the 30th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The milestone birthday invites new attempts to clarify his place in Russian and world history. He has weighed in frequently on both.

The 89th year of the architect of glasnost (restructuring) and perestroika (openness) saw other key anniversaries – the 35th anniversary of his accession as Soviet leader and 30th anniversary of his Nobel Peace Prize.

His efforts to democratise his country’s political system and decentralise its economy led to the downfall of communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union on Dec 26, 1991. The changes ended the Soviet Union’s postwar domination of Eastern Europe.

Gorbachev is reported to be angry about the battles he had to fight in the late 1980s in pursuit of perestroika and glasnost – with the conservatives of the party hierarchy to one side, and Russian leader Boris Yeltsin on the other. He is reported to blame Yeltsin for the "wild capitalism" and "privatisation at a stroke" that led to what Gorbachev regards as the plundering of the country.

Lionised in the West, he was awarded "The German of the Century" title after the unification of Germany and is an honorary member of over 30 universities around the world.

Russian opinion polls reveal a mixed picture of his legacy. President Vladimir Putin famously dubbed the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union the greatest catastrophe of the 20th Century, and he and many Russians have long lamented the blow its demise dealt to Moscow’s great power status. A BBC article timed for Gorbachev’s 75th birthday noted that in those places where life has become easier, many people have a more sympathetic view of Gorbachev’s legacy. In those places where life hasn’t improved since the break up of the USSR, he remains the focus for anger, disillusionment and generations of dashed, unrealisable Soviet dreams.

In shaky health, Gorbachev lives quietly in a dacha outside Moscow – but not silently. He weighs in periodically on current events, and has given scores of interviews since 1991 to tell his side of the events that led up to the dissolution.

He is likely to be sought for his insights on the past and on current events on the birthday.

#23675 Published: November 27, 2020

March 5-8


Roman Catholic pope and Shiite leader plan meeting in Iraq

Pope Francis and Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, plan to meet during the Catholic leader’s pastoral visit to Iraq – the first ever papal visit to the Middle East country. It is anticipated that during the meeting in the southern city of Najaf, described as private and without formalities, they will sign the Document on Human Fraternity, a text calling for an end to religious hatred.

Francis signed the document with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar mosque, during a visit to Abu Dhabi in 2019.

His itinerary includes visits to Baghdad, Mosul and Ur, the southern city named in the Bible as the birthplace of Abraham. The pope will also hold mass in Baghdad and the northern Kurdish city of Erbil, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Pope is the head of the world’s estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. The 90-year-old Sistani is the spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shiite majority and is a highly revered figure for millions of Muslims around the world.

Pope Francis has visited several Muslim-majority countries since becoming pope, including Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. The Iraqi Foreign Ministry has described the upcoming papal visit as "a message of peace to Iraq and the whole region."

Iraq once counted more than 1.5 million Christians, according to the French news service. Iraq’s ancient Christian population has dwindled since the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2003 and the sectarian violence that followed.

#23825 Published: February 1, 2021

March 5


Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon hits Chinese movie theaters

Disney’s film Raya and the Last Dragon is set to open in movie theaters in China on this date, the same day as it is released on Disney Plus in other territories.

It is one of the first foreign titles to announce a release date after the conclusion of the Chinese New Year holiday, which is the country’s top movie-going week of the year, and a time when the authorities impose an official blackout on foreign imports.

China is one of the few markets where Disney currently has no plans to release its streaming platform, given that Beijing requires those operating within its borders to abide by draconian censorship rules.

The promo for the film in China leans on the star power of 33-year-old Zhao Liying, who will be dubbing the main character, Raya, into Chinese.

#23850 Published: February 23, 2021

March 6-18


Iditarod race rerouted due to coronavirus pandemic

The 2021 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska has been rerouted due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of heading for Nome, the teams of mushers and their sled dogs will make an 860-mile loop that starts and ends in Willow. Their turn-around spot in the event trademarked The Last Great Race on Earth will be near the mining ghost town of Flat.

All mushers must test negative for the coronavirus before the race begins, and they will be tested again along the trail. Face masks and social distancing will be required at checkpoints.

The Iditarod ceremonial start is scheduled for March 6 in Anchorage, with a restart in Willow the next day.

There are 57 teams signed up to compete, including recent champions Pete Kaiser, Joar Leifseth Ulsom and Dallas Seavey. Norway’s Thomas Waerner is the defending champion. Waerner won the 2020 Iditarod in 9 days, 10 hours, 37 minutes and 47 seconds. It was his second Iditarod attempt, his first being in 2015 when he was named Rookie of the Year. Seavey, four times Iditarod champion, is back after a doping scandal took him out, and he will be chasing a record. Alaska Daily News reports that his return gives him a shot at what has so far proved to be an unbreakable record – Rick Swenson’s five victories.


March 6-15


New Zealand defends 36th America’s Cup in race of flying monohulls

Emirates Team New Zealand faces Italy’s Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team for the 36th America’s Cup. The Italian team scored an emphatic victory over Ben Ainslie’s INEOS Team UK in the best-of-13 Prada Cup final in February, winning 7-1. American Magic’s bid for the cup ended on Jan 17, when its yacht, Patriot, capsized and nearly sank during a race against the Italian team.

All the crews have been sailing futuristic AC75s monohull yachts, which Cup organizers describe as "designed to fly." They replace the foiling multihulls of the previous three America’s Cup races.

The trophy defender and the Challenger of Record win the right to set the agenda for the following Cup, so the New Zealanders and Italians made the key decisions for 2021.

Encyclopedia Britannica notes that the America’s Cup has often resulted in litigation, particularly over boat design. The controversial race of 1988, between the winning American 60-foot catamaran (multihull) and New Zealand’s 132-foot monohull had to be decided in the courts. It led to a redefinition of the rules governing future races.

According to Britannica, the America’s Cup was first offered as the Hundred Guinea Cup in 1851 by the Royal Yacht Squadron of Great Britain for a race around the Isle of Wight. The cup was won by the America, a 100-foot (30-metre) schooner from New York City, and subsequently it became known as the America’s Cup. The American winners of the cup donated it to the New York Yacht Club in 1857 for a perpetual international challenge competition.