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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
January 4, 2016

Publication: Windows on Eurasia
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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Putin and the Evolving Politics of Prepositions about Ukraine
Staunton, VA, January 4, 2016 -- The use of “v” versus the use of “na” as a preposition about being “in Ukraine” has become so politicized that many Russians view the use of the first as indicating that the speaker backs Ukraine against Moscow while others see the use of the second as showing that its user is virtually a Russian imperialist.

But as in all such things, the reality is more complicated and has a most interesting history, something pointed out by Irina Levontina, a specialist at the Institute of the Russian Language of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in an interview given to Gordonua.com.

Language evolves all the time, and only rarely do its speakers recognize the change. Thus, in Russian, “metro” became masculine although its ending would appear to dictate the neutral gender, and “v” as preposition of “in the Internet” displaced “na” or “on the Internet” for almost all Russians except emigres. But “no one makes anything dramatic out of that.”

However, Levontina points out, with regard to the preposition to be used to designate “in” Ukraine, the issue was “not simply raised to the level of principled heights but politics interfered as well.” Indeed, not only do most people think that the choice has a profound meaning, but they make jokes about it.

Her favorite, she continues, the following: “’Yanukovich is put on the international search list but up to now, it isn’t known where he is: “na” Ukraine or “v” Ukraine.’”

Before relations between Moscow and Kyiv soured, the Russian authorities asked linguists whether it would be all right to use “v.” Then, “even Putin used the preposition ‘v.’” But his use of it depended on the outcome of talks on gas. “If everything went well, then it would be ‘v’ Ukraine; if badly, then ‘na.’” Because things went badly, the latter became de rigueur.

More than that, those who questioned the latter were viewed as engaged in “the betrayal of [Russian] national interests,” and some even began to ask whether those who took that position had Ukrainian roots somewhere in their backgrounds.

Both of course are possible. Taras Shevchenko used both; but by the 20thcentury, “na” had become the norm in the Russian literary language. That reflects Muscovite usage, but elsewhere, including in Ukraine, there are regional variants and in Kyiv certainly “v” is thus correct. (She stresses she’s talking about Russian there and not the separate Ukrainian language.)

Levontina also discusses the evolution of meaning of three words from ones that designate an enemy to proud self-evaluations. These are “vata,” “ukrop,” and “kolorad.” The first has “a very interesting history in which are manifested the normal laws of the semantic development of the word.”

Vata” [literally "cotton"] and its derivative “vatnik” were first used as Ukrainian terms of abuse for the padded coats those who blindly follow “Russian imperial consciousness” wear. But very quickly, she says, those who wore this kind of coat took it on as a term in which they were proud. This shift was special only in that it was so quick.

“A less complicated but similar history occurred with ukrop,” she points out. First, there was the abbreviation “ukr,” from which “ukrop” [literally "dill-weed"] arose, first as a Russian term of abuse for Ukrainians and then as a Ukrainian expression of national pride. And “kolorad” or Colorado beetle as a term for pro-Moscow Donbas forces evolved in the same way, as the beetle has the black-and-orange stripes of the St. George ribbon worn by separatists.

Levontina concludes by expressing the hope that current tensions between Russia and Ukraine and between Russians and Ukrainians will be overcome and that the two will have “normal relations. Politicians,” she says, “are insane; one can’t expect anything good from them.”

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Is Kyzyl ‘Ours’? The Ironies of a Virtual Russia Empire with Virtual Enemies

 

 Staunton, VA, January 4, 2016 -- No one ever says Kyzyl or any other city or region in the Russian Federation is “ours” and deserving of our attention, Dmitry Gudkov says, because the logic of “the virtual empire” that Vladimir Putin has created not only means that Russians are faced with a ever-changing list of “virtual enemies” but also that they neglect what is already theirs.

In an article in Moskovsky Komsomolets, the opposition politician and commentator says that many Russians do not know or have much concern for real places in their real country. They don’t know where Kyzyl is – or in many cases, whether it is a city or something else.

That constitutes what he calls “the irony of empire” given that Kyzyland the Tyvan Republic of which it is the capital is a real place and larger than Bulgaria, Hungary, Portugal, Austria, the United Arab Emirates, or other places, like Crimea, that Russians do focus on and talk about whether they are “ours” or not.

For the record, he points out, Crimea occupies 28,000 square kilometers, but Tyva is six times larger with 168,000. Nonetheless, few Russians could point to where it is on a map of their own country although few could not point to where Crimea is.

Russians “precisely know … that Russia is our powerful state and no less our great country, but as for details about it, those are quite cloudy,” he writes. If tomorrow Kyzyl and Tyva disappeared from the map, Moscow wouldn’t react. On the other hand, the television would continue to talk about Crimea.

“Alas,” Gudkov continues, “the logic of a virtual empire is constructed differently. That which is already part of it isn’t interesting.” The only question anyone cares about is “what’s next?” And that is because it “can exist only by expanding and swallowing up ever new space” and not necessarily real space but virtual space as presented on television.

Such “a virtual empire has virtual enemies and therefore they can be changed with such ease, transforming one into the other and changing names and masks.” Yesterday, Russians focused on Banderites in Ukraine; today on ISIS, and tomorrow, perhaps Turkish janissaries or someone else.

"It is well know that Russia always was friendly with Oceana. That is, forgive me, always its enemy. No, again always its friend. And further according to the text left to us by the great [George] Orwell.”

Gudkov says that his wish for the new year is that Russians will leave the “virtual” empire in the past and focus on their country, “our real Kyzyl, and also Lipetsk, Gorno-Altayshk, Birobidzhan, Ukhta, Smolensk, Nizhny Novgorod, Mozhaysk, and the multitude of other real cities whose fate no one except us is involved with.”

What Russians have benefitted from the pursuit of virtual empire in Syria? Wouldn’t real Russian cities and towns be better off with the money being spend on bombs falling into the desert? And wouldn’t Russians be better off being proud and taking care of their own real places rather than worrying always about others beyond their real borders?

“Of course, the virtual empire is useful for its rulers, the very same people who when there is any attempt to talk about the real problems of the country shout louder than all the rest ‘Catch the thief!’” as a way of not doing anything real for the real Russia which very much needs help from them and ordinary Russians as well.



The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Moscow Allies with Shiites Despite the Fact that 90 Percent of Russia’s Muslims are Sunnis
Staunton, VA, January 4, 2016 -- Moscow’s alliance with Shiite Iran and Shiites in Syria – a move that Aleksandr Dugin says is “a Eurasianist fatwa” – is already generating concerns and even hostility among the 90 percent of Russia’s more than 20 million Muslims who are followers of the dominant Sunni trend in Islam.

And while as a result of Soviet anti-religious policies, the division of Sunni and Shiia may mean less to many of the faithful in Russia, the Kremlin’s tilt has the potential to radicalize some of the Sunnis there, likely leading at least some of them to be more receptive to radical Sunni ideologists of the Islamic State.

At the very least, this tilt will cause the Shiites of Russia to demand more representation in official structures. At present, none of the more than 80 Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs) there is headed by a Shiite, and most of Russia’s Shiites consider themselves to be subordinate to the Caucasus MSD based in Baku and headed by the sheikh ul Islam, Allahshükür Pashazade.

Aleksandr Dugin, the influential Russian Eurasianist, has just posed on the wall of his VKontakte page the following declaration: “Solidarity with Shiites and the battle together with them against our common enemies, the Islamists – in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, and everywhere else as well is our Russian duty."

Further, he continues, “a Russian-Shiite alliance is not simply geopolitics. It reflects a deep commonality of a religious type. Saudi Arabia must be destroyed. This is a Eurasian fatwa. Glory to the martyr Nimr al-Nimr,” the Shiite leader who was executed in Saudi Arabia on Saturday.

In reporting this latest Russian tilt, the Ukrainian portal Apostrophe.com notes that the Russian media in recent days have made it appear that 86 percent of Russia’s Muslims are Shiites, an outrageous exaggeration like the supposed approval rating of Vladimir Putin.

Indeed, things have gone so far in that direction, the outlet notes, one Russia journalist, Pavel Pryanikov,, has even offered a new Russian national anthem, the words of which are “Russia is our Shiite power/Our country is beloved by Allah/A powerful faith. Ancient Glory/Mahdi worthy for all times.”

But as another Russian blogger, Andrey Malgin, who is now based in Italy, writes, while a few Shiites from Dagestan may go to Tehran, “the remaining millions of Russian Muslims somehow make the haj” not there but as is customary in Sunni Islam “to Saudi Arabia."

This issue isn’t going to go away soon. For background, see my essay, “Who Will Manage the Two Million Shiites of Russia?” at the Moscow Times, February 10, 2010.
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Putin’s ‘International of Lies’ Based on Money, Not Ideas, Yakovenko Says
Staunton, VA, January 4, 2016 -- The International Vladimir Putin has founded is “unique,” Igor Yakovenko says. It differs from all its predecessors and counterparts in that it is not based on any ideology except loyalty to Putin personally and his regime and instead is founded on the use of money to promote itself.

“Despite all the financial problems of Putin’s Russia,” the Moscow commentator points out, there is always enough money for Putin to promote himself domestically and abroad because he controls far more of Russia’s budget which is much smaller than that of the US than does Barack Obama of his much larger one.

In an essay today entitled “The Putin International of Lies: Information War and the Schoederization of Elites,” Yakovenko cites as evidence of this the fact that Moscow currently spends 20 times more on its English-language channel Russia Today than the US does on broadcasting in Russian.

Yakovenko argues that “it would not be a bad thing for the leaders of Western countries to at least become a little acquainted with this [Putin] instrument of influence and learn how to counter it.” To that end, he offers a brief description both of the International and of the views of the man behind it.

“Lenin created the Komintern for the struggle against Western civilization,” he begins. After World War II, the USSR “broadened its arsenal” with a whole range of institutions. But now, despite the failure of many in the West to appreciate it, Putin has both expanded and transformed this tool.

Everyone must understand, the Moscow commentator writes, that “Putin is an absolute moral idiot and his closest entourage has been chosen to reflect that. He is completely lacking in the ability to distinguish good and evil. [And] he is convinced that all other people in the planet also do not distinguish the two.”

Because that is the case, Yakovenko says, Putin “does not understand what is bad in the fact that he first completely denied the presence of Russian forces in Crimea and then admitted they were there. He does not understand why his words about ‘certain Turkomans’ about which he ‘didn’t suspect’ when he directed bombs and cruise missiles on their territory are not viewed as quite right.”

“Deception is part of its professional preparation as a graduate of the KGB Higher School. Therefore Putin always and on everything lies. And namely on the total lie is built the Putin International.” But in contrast to other internationals, Yakovenko continues, Putin’s has an enormous portion that like an iceberg is not visible on the surface.

The visible portion consists of “three main structures:” the propagandistic (Russia Today and other propaganda broadcasts), “the intellectual expertise (the Valdai Club above all),” and the Russian foreign ministry, with branches throughout “all the state apparatus, political structures and civil society of practically all the countries of the international community.”

The basic method the Putin International uses against the West recalls the way in which a spider kills something caught in its web, but instead of injecting poison as a spider does, the Putin International injects money, something that leads to “the Schroederization of elites” and transforms them into victims of Moscow.

Russia Today gets more attention, but it doesn’t have nearly the impact many assume: its ratings are microscopically small both in Europe and in the US. “A much more effective structure,” Yakovenko says, “is the Valdai Club which now is focused less on “telling the world about Russia with love” than with setting the agenda Putin needs in other countries.

Its top people are former heads of European countries, and its “second level” includes people like Nikolay Zlobin, Alexander Rahr, and Stephen Cohen “and such like who seek to transfer the Putin cult to the West or at a minimum to create the impression in Russia that there is such a cult in the West.”

“And the final element” of the Putin International are those “whom Lenin justly called useful idiots. They don’t have to be bought. They simply need to be taken by the head, looked at in the eyes mysteriously, and then they will say RUS-SI-A” with the best of them.” There are many in this category, unfortunately.

But “the useful idiot of the year 2015,” Yakovenko says, is “by a large margin,” US Secretary of State John Kerry” who has performed just as Vladimir Putin and Sergey Lavrov would have him.

Clearly, the Moscow commentator concludes, “the existence of such an instrument as the Putin International together with the possession of nuclear arms allows the owner of these two devices to be the greatest threat to world civilization.” It would indeed be well if Western leaders would wake up to this fact.
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