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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Windows on Eurasia January 8, 2016

Publication: Windows on Eurasia
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Belarusian Experience Shows Ukraine Must Have Only One State Language, Kyiv Expert Says
Staunton, VA, January 8, 2016 -- The experience of Belarus shows that any country bordering Russia that agrees to make Russian a second state language puts its own language in danger and its population at risk of russification, according to Laris Masenko, a Ukrainian philologist at Kyiv’s Mohylev Academy.

And that is why, she says in an interview with Radio Liberty’s Ukrainian Service, Ukraine must not ever agree to giving Russian the status of an official or state language but rather insist that on its territory there is only one government language and that is Ukrainian.

Since medieval times, the Ukrainian philologist points out, the Belarusian and Ukrainian languages have diverged, and as a result, “now the Belarusian language is in a much worse situation than the Ukrainian, although the situation of Ukrainian is one that cannot be considered satisfactory.”

In the 1920s, both language developed rapidly, but then the situation began to deteriorate with Soviet-sponsored russification. And that has continued since the two countries gained their independence, especially since “the Belarusians adopted Russian as a state language,” a step that has left their own language in much worse shape.

Exactly how bad things were with regard to the Ukrainian language under the Soviets is not well documented because no socio-linguistic investigations were permitted until very near the end of the USSR. Only in the 1980s did a group at the Institute of Linguistics emerge; but its researchers in fact promoted russification, Masenko says.

For example, she recalls, they conducted a survey ostensibly to find out about Ukrainian language knowledge but in fact “asked questions in order to determine how well [Ukrainians] had mastered Russian. Moreover, in every university were set up chairs for the Russian language. “Why should there have been so many researchers on Russian in Ukraine?”

At present, the state of Ukrainian is “worse” in the major industrial cities, but “the smaller the population center, the higher the percentage of people who consider the Ukrainian language to be their native tongue and use it; in the villages, the percentage is higher still,” she reports.

“In general,” the philologist continues, “the consciousness of people can be defined by the language which they consider to be native. If even a Russian-speaking individual considers Ukrainian to be his native language, this is the beginning stage as people recognize their attachment to the Ukrainian language.”

“But if a Russian-speaking ethnic Ukrainian considers his native language to be Russian, then this individual is lost” to the nation, Masenko says. “Often such people are even more aggressive than Russian-speaking Russians,” as for example, Putin’s colleagues Valentina Matvienko and Dmitry Kozak who “are helping to destroy the Ukrainian state.”

“The most important thing that the Ukrainian language has received in the years of independence is state status.” Enormous progress has been made in education with the shifting of schools from Russian to Ukrainian even in Kyiv, where there were no objections to such a change.

But Ukraine has failed to do what Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have done and establish a state agency charged with protecting and promoting the language. Were one in place, lectures in many universities would not still be given in Russian and there would be more Ukrainian in all parts of public life.

At least, however, “a generation which understands Ukrainian and masters it has grown up” since 1991. Very few of these people can say that they “do not know Ukrainian” at all – and that is progress. There has also been progress in high and mass culture, although most of this took place in the 1990s and there has been less since.

“From the middle of the 1990s, we in fact transferred the main means of mass culture – television – to a position under the influence of Russia. All our channels belong to oligarchs, and they conduct their own policy. Here very large losses have occurred” with many associating Ukrainian with compulsion and entertainment with Russian.

Despite this, there has been progress especially among the young, but not nearly enough – and no one should comfort himself with the notion that there are Russian speaking Ukrainian patriots. There are indeed some, but there are many Russian speakers who are not – and who hold Ukraine and the Ukrainian language back.

Ukrainians have not “unified education and culture, and Russia uses this,” given its “enormous tradition of falsification” and the alike. And Moscow exploits the fact that many grew up in Soviet times when Russian was dominant. Changing that is hard. As one artist put it, changing cultures is not as easy as changing buses.

And because Ukraine is a democracy, it faces difficulties in this regard that authoritarian states do not. But that also gives it advantages, and Ukrainians who care about their language and nation must exploit them by being flexible enough to allow change to emerge organically rather than by fiat.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian Sociology Bodies Should Be Expelled from International Groups Just as Soviet Psychiatric Ones Were, Yakovenko Says
Staunton, VA, January 8, 2016 -- One of the most important steps Western scholars took near the end of Soviet times was to successfully demand that Soviet psychiatric organizations be expelled from international ones for the horrific role Soviet psychiatrists played in misusing their field to support the Kremlin and suppress dissent.

Now the time has come, Moscow commentator Igor Yakovenko says to do the same thing with Russian sociological organizations given the shameful way in which many in them have prostituted themselves and their profession to support Vladimir Putin and his authoritarian regime.

Indeed, he declares, “’punitive sociology’ in present-day Russia is a no less anti-natural phenomenon than ‘punitive psychiatry’ was in the USSR,” adding that because Russian sociologists lack the resources to fight it on their own, they, again like their Soviet predecessors, need the help of Western scholars.

One finds it hard to imagine an astrologer being asked to speak to the Russian Astronomical and Geodesic Society or some faith healer being allowed to address the medical section of the Russian Academy of Sciences, but something analogous is happening with sociology “almost every day,” Yakovenko says.

Consider the following, he says. “There is the International Sociological Association of which the Russian Society of Sociologists is a member. [And] there is VTsIOM, the most well-known sociological organization in Russia which Valery Fedorov heads and which in the name of sociology … makes all kinds of declarations, predictions and prognostications.”

Not long ago, it said it had taken a poll in Crimea showing that “more than 90 percent” of residents would rather live in cold and darkness than give up their status as part of Russia. “A week passed, and there was no reaction. The heavens didn’t fall. No one from the ISA or the Russian Sociology of Sociologists jumped up and cried … “’Get out of the profession!’”

Yakovenko says he would have been more surprised if there had been a reaction now given the failure of ISA and other bodies to react at any point since September 2030 when Fedorov was imposed on sociology and began actions which can only be characterized as “the total discrediting of sociological science.”

Fedorov gives as an example of this the way in which VTsIOM misrepresented the real situation in the run up to the Moscow mayoral elections in 2013. Its figures were off by far more than the margin of error because they corresponded to what Russian officials wanted to be the case rather than to what Russian people were saying.

When the margin for error is 3-4 percent and the reports show an error of 15 to 20 percent, “this is not an error. This is something else.” It is a betrayal of the principles of sociology by those who want to serve the state above all else and will prostitute their field to do so.

“In any science, there will be mistakes,” Yakovenko continues. The important thing is how the field reacts to them. When the three major US polling agencies called the 1948 election wrong, there were demands at various levels from scholars to Congress that their methods be examined and corrected. That took time, but it eventually happened.

Yakovenko recalls that “the Soviet powers that be widely used ‘punitive psychiatry.” This involved the incarceration of “healthy but critically thinking people in special hospitals” where they were subjected to “cures” by psychiatrists working for the state. Such psychiatrists from the Serbsky Institute were “at times more horrific than KGB officers and camp bosses.”

“Over the course of a number of years, the World Psychiatric Association conducted a struggle with punitive psychiatry in the USSR” ultimately resulting in the expulsion of the Soviet psychiatric organization from that body.

In Soviet times, Yakovenko points out, “sociology wasn’t used for political abuse. Historical materialism, the ‘Short Course’ and the KGB were sufficient.” But “today ‘Fedorov-style sociology’ works hand in glove with ‘the Churov elections,” and “’punitive sociology’ in present-day Russia is a no less unnatural phenomenon” as its Soviet predecessor in psychiatry.

Given that Russian sociologists lack the resources to fight this on their own, “it would be correct to suspend the membership of the Russian Society of Sociologists in the ISA” until Russian sociologists use their science as it is intended rather than “for the deception of their compatriots.”

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Ethnic Russians Declining in Number More Rapidly than Latvians in Latvia, Expert Says
Staunton, VA, January 8, 2016 -- It has long been a staple of Russian commentaries to minimize that country’s demographic decline by pointing to the falling populations in neighboring countries --and especially in the three Baltic states -- but that attention is now backfiring because ethnic Russians in these states are declining in number faster than the titular nations.

Not only does that pattern highlight the general problems of the Russian nation: Both at home and abroad, ethnic Russians are a rapidly aging and thus declining population, with birthrates low and falling and with adult male mortality rates higher than almost anywhere in the world, including in war zones.

Consequently, when Russian outlets do pick up the issue of demographic problems in the Baltic countries, they frequently end by highlighted the even greater demographic problems of the Russian nation. One such example is provided today in an article on the site, an outlet that does everything it can to play up Baltic rather than Russian difficulties.

The portal’s Andrey Solopenko interviews Peteris Zverdinsh, a demographer at Riga’s Latvian State University, and presents the results under the headline “Before 2020, It Will be Impossible to Stop the Depopulation of Latvia."

There were approximately 2.7 million people in Latvia in 1991. Now, there are fewer than two million. And Zvidrinsh reports that some Europeans now project that by mid-century, that Baltic country will have a population of 1.45 million, even fewer than the 1.7-1.8 million he and other demographers had been predicting only recently.

In recent years, he notes, Latvia has had some success in boosting the fertility rate – it now stands at 1.65, below replacement but higher than in Russia and many other countries – and has increased life expectancy especially among men. Its population decline thus reflects primarily outmigration but that has fallen and will continue to do so.

Since 1991, Latvia has lost on average a total of 17,200 people, a figure that is declining even now; and he projects that “after 2030, Latvia can even expect a certain amount of growth.” That will be even more likely if the Latvian government adopts pro-natalist and related health policies, he says.

The decline in the Latvian population varies among the country’s regions, Zverdinsh says. The biggest declines have been in Latgale, and there has been much growth in the region around Riga. The most disturbing figures are from small settlements which are in some cases at risk of disappearing altogether.

Population decline has hit “all ethnic groups without exception,” the demographer continues. It had been true that the Roma were an exception, but now even they follow the pattern observed in other groups. Nonetheless, some groups are doing worse than others, with Latvians doing much better than ethnic Russians.

There are several reasons for this: they have a younger age structure than do the Russians and thus are having more children; they are not leaving in as large percentage terms as are Russians and other Slavs, although Latvian outmigration is high as well; and they are gaining confidence in their identity as they become a larger share of the population.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 18

Staunton, VA, January 8, 2016 -- The flood of news stories from a country as large, diverse and strange as the Russian Federation often appears to be is far too large for anyone to keep up with. But there needs to be a way to mark those which can’t be discussed in detail but which are too indicative of broader developments to ignore.

Consequently, Windows on Eurasia will present a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the 18th such compilation. It is only suggestive and far from complete – indeed, this week once again, one could have put out such a listing every day -- but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest.

1. Russians Angry that Putin Helps Ukrainian City But Not Russian Ones.  Vladimir Putin’s obsession with other countries and his neglect of his own may finally be coming back to haunt him. Some Russians are upset that he personally intervened to help a Ukrainian city but has done nothing to help Russian cities which have run out of fuel.

2. Chekists, Please Don’t Cross Yourselves!’ A Russian commentator has pointed out how offensive it is that many who worked for the KGB in Soviet times and were committed atheists now claim they were secretly baptized and are committed Christians. Such claims – and Vladimir Putin is among those who make them – offend both logic and Christianity.

3. Germans Don’t Really Think Putin is ‘Most Honest’ World Leader.  In order to advance their cause, Moscow propagandists go to great lengths, including citing small Internet polls abroad as reflecting the views of entire nations. The latest such effort is one in which Russian outlets claimed that Germans view Vladimir Putin as “the most honest world leader.” In fact, the German outlet on which this claim was based is a blog rather than any polling agency.

4. Google Translates Russian Federation as Mordor.  In what some would describe as a Freudian slip and others a technical error, Google Translate has been translating “Russian Federation” in Ukrainian into “Mordor” in Russian.

5. Russian Arrested for Photographing New Year’s Trees. In another example of the proposition that one can never be too careful when dealing with Russian officialdom, a Russian was arrested near Moscow for photographing New Year’s trees in a city square. Apparently, some militiamen viewed his actions as a security threat.

6. Odious Comments of Regional Leaders Display Their Contempt for Population. Novaya Versiya has compiled “a short list of the most odious comments of regional bureaucrats,” a list that contains remarks showing the traditional contempt of Russian officialdom for the population that has only grown under Putin as officials see that only the Kremlin’s goodwill and not the support of the people matter. 

7. Kremlin Propaganda Effort Also Directed at Liberal Outlets. Gary Kasparov points out that the Kremlin’s propagandists want to spread the official line not just among the broader population and abroad but also in liberal outlets in order to influence those who read them or at least structure their discussions.

8. Few Smiles But Much Laughter in Coca Cola Map Controversy.  Many have found the recent case in which a Coca Cola advertisement put up a map of Russia that did not show all the parts of that country Moscow thought it should, then “corrected” it, only to infuriate Ukrainians, and then dispensed with the map altogether. 

9. A Perfect Symbol of Russia Today – St. Petersburg’s Center for Tolerance Driven into Streets. Many NGOs are under attack in Putin’s Russia today, but the closure of St. Petersburg’s Center for Tolerance perhaps is the perfect symbol of the nature of the country, an act of intolerance directed at those who want tolerance. 

10. Denmark Stops Russian Ship Whose Entire Crew is Drunk.  That many Russians are drinking too much in this holiday season is no news, and that some of those who are drinking too much constitute a threat to life and limb in Russia itself is not either. But this Russian holiday tradition may represent a threat to others as well: Danish officials were forced to stop an obviously out of control Russian ship on which the entire crew had had too much to drink. 

11. Unending Winter Holiday in Russia Result of Soviet Policies.  The Soviet state did not always give its people reason to celebrate, but it did give them numerous holidays – and the continuing long winter holidays between Western Christmas and Russian New Year’s is one of the results, with some pleased and others not).

12. Moscow Began as a Village and Will End as One as All Russia Becomes a Donbass, Ukrainian Says. A Ukrainian commentator suggests that the situation in the Donbass will soon spread across the Russian Federation and that as a result, the Russian capital which began as a village will end the same way. 

13. Just 50 Miles from St. Petersburg, Elderly Have to Push Cart to Bring Bread to Their Village.  And just what that Muscovite future might look like is on display now in a small village just 80 kilometers from the Northern capital where elderly people were forced to push a wagon through the snow in order that they and their fellow villagers would have bread to eat in this year of our Lord, 2016. 

And five more from countries on Russia’s periphery: 

1. Blockade’ Ukraine’s Word of the Year.  Ukrainian linguists say that “blockade” is their selection as word of the year given how often Ukrainians employ it. Meanwhile, Google reported that Ukrainians most often searched online for “Russian spring” and “the last Muscovite."

2. Only 62 Percent of Russian and Ukrainian Words have Common Form and Meaning.  Linguists report that almost 40 percent of words in Russian and Ukrainian are different to one degree or another. That should make the task of those who supposedly have put out a guide for Ukrainians who want to forget Russian easier, the existence of which has become a meme for Russian propagandists. 

3. Moscow Churchman in Mensk Says Belarusians Won’t Come to Services If They’re in Belarusian.  Metropolitan Pavel, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in Belarus, says that Belarusians prefer Old Church Slavonic for their worship services and thus efforts to promote Belarusians in churches there have failed. 

4. Ukrainians have Taken Down 800 Lenin Statues.  Over the past two years, Ukrainians have taken down some 800 statues of the founder of the Soviet state as well as memorials to other Soviet leaders. 

5. Renaming ‘Sovetskoye’ Champagne Won’t Transform It into Veuve Cliquot. A Ukrainian commentator has suggested that the de-communization effort in Ukraine may be going too far on occasion, noting that changing the name of “Sovetskoye” champagne to “Sovetovskoye” will not do anything to improve the overly sweet bubbly. It certainly won’t raise it to the level of real French champagne.