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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
February 22, 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.
Officialese, Not Imported Words, Biggest Threat to Russian Language, Journalist Says
Staunton, VA, February 22, 2016 -  Commenting on a new study by the Pushkin Institute of Russian language knowledge by officials at various levels, Marina Koroleva says that the greatest threat to the national language is not foreign borrowings, jargon or curse words but rather the spread of chancellery language throughout the population.

The journalist says that officialese is an illness like diphtheria, is spread “from bearer to bearer, is very infectious, and extraordinarily vigorous. Times change” as they have since the Soviet period, but this plague continues to affect people with “only small mutations.” It seriously threatens Russian.
“Of course,” she continues, “the speech of the present-day bureaucrat is not a copy of the speech of the Soviet bureaucrat. The words he employs are to a large extent different. Besides, the bureaucrat of Soviet times in generally never broke away from the printed page.” His speeches were the same as his writings.

But if current officials are more used to speaking, they nonetheless have not managed to avoid many of the phrases and hence habits of mind of their predecessors. And consequently, Koroleva says, Russians need to be vaccinated against it not just when they reach school but as soon as they enter kindergarten.

The journalist’s comments came in reaction to a report by Moscow’s Pushkin Institute that studied remarks by officials on Russian television and evaluated the level of grammar and usage displayed by federal ministers, Duma deputies, heads of regions, and heads of municipalities.
Rating the members of these groups by the number of errors per minute of air time, the Institute’s experts found that federal ministers used Russian the most correctly, followed by Duma deputies and mayors (in a near tie), with heads of federal subjects in last place by a wide margin.

While the overall level of literacy was high, the Institute suggested, there were many mistakes with ministers often misusing verbs, deputies putting stress on the wrong syllable or misusing words of all kinds, and mayors and governors often making all these mistakes and more besides.

Because of this, the Pushkin Institute recommended that “officials when preparing a public speech do not forget to look at the dictionary and then after the speech to find time to analyze it in order to avoid typical mistakes in the future.”

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Chechenization of Russia Latest Case of Russia’s Adapting Itself to Its Imperial Borderlands, Portnikov Says
Staunton, VA, February 22, 2016 -- A major reason that Moscow has reacted so hysterically to Andrey Piontkovsky’s statement that Russia has been transformed into a greater Chechnya is that the Russian commentator has pointed to something “everyone knows but no one wants to admit,” according to Vitaly Portnikov.

The Ukrainian commentator argues that “the Russian Empire in contrast to other empires of the past has always tried to adapt itself” to its new borderlands beginning with the absorption of Ukrainian lands and ending with the re-conquest of Chechnya, “changing the form of the metropolitan center in favor of the borderlands."

Thus, “the ‘Chechenization’ of Russia” of which Piontkovsky speaks is “only a detail of a general picture” of what has taken place again and again in Russian history, Portnikov argues, and of something that has happened more than once in the post-Soviet period as well despite all the talk of Russian centricity.

He suggests that what happened in Tatarstan in the 1990s is the clearest possible evidence of this. Tatarstan in many ways stood apart from what was going on elsewhere in Russia, the Ukrainian commentator suggests. After August 1991, “Russia was a country learning democracy but Tatarstan was simply a renamed Tatar ASSR in which were preserved all the customary system of interrelationships of state and society, all the party-state vertical.”

Portnikov recalls speaking with Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiyev at a time when it was becoming clear that for the next while at least, Tatarstan would remain part of the Russian Federation, and seeking to find out how the Kazan leader would adapt to that situation in the future.

He says he expected Shaimiyev to obfuscate with talk of some kind of “’complex of measures’ for democratization.” But instead, he turned the tables and asks why Portnikov “considered that Tatarstan must become like the rest of Russia?” Perhaps,” Shaimiyev said, “Russia should become like Tatarstan given that it has an effective system of administration.”

The succeeding years “showed that Shaimiyev was right,” the Ukrainian commentator says, and the elections of 1996 showed that “Russia has already become ‘a real Tatarstan,’ an oligarchic state in which practically all power is concentrated above; and the population plays only a decorative and supportive role, taking part in elections and voting as they should.”

And it was thus “an irony of fate” for Shaimiyev when he tried to support “the ambitions of Primakov and Luzhkov,” Portnikov continues, only to be “quickly reminded that he now was living in a greater Tatarstan” rather than a democratic Russia.

Chechnya represented another challenge, one that in the end Moscow adapted to in much the same way. The Chechnya of the early 1990s seemed “alien and even wild simply because it was a model of a state organization in a province that was revolting” and therefore “it was necessary that Chechnya again become an inalienable part of Russia.”

To that end, Moscow adapted to Chechnya rather than the other way around, Portnikov says.

For many Russians, he suggests, “it would have been preferable that not Russia should have become like Chechnya but Chechnya like Russia.” But then one has to ask, like “what Russia?” Like the one similar to Tatarstan? “The Russia of Piontkovsky or the Russia of Dugin?”

It might have happened that the Russian government might simply have “copied the Soviet power vertical and the Soviet organization of society and its relationships with the societies.” But what happened was that the Kremlin copied “the Chechen model,” with its “fear, unrestricted power of the state, and the authority of the leader.”

The Russian Empire in its various guises is “like an onion,” Portnikov concludes. “The pealing away of its layers began already a century ago and always has been accompanied by tears. But the main thing is that no one knows” what in fact is at the center given that the center has been “mimicking” the outer layers for so long.
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russians Are Far From The Only Militant Nation Of Russia
Staunton, VA, February 22, 2016 - In advance of Defender of the Fatherland Day tomorrow, a Russian portal has reminded its readers that the ethnic Russians are far from the only nation within Russia that displays military qualities and that the co-existence of these people within one state has thus often been anything but easy.

In a 2,000 word essay, Russkaya Semerka offers a list. Some of the facts it adduces and the comments it offers make for interesting reading given the Russia-centric nature of most of the coverage in advance of this holiday and more generally.

Among the nations whose military spirit the portal suggests has long been especially high are the following:

· The Russians. “A several climate, extensive territories, and an unending series of conquerors has forced among the Russians an enormous force of will and persistence in achieving victory,” the site says. Over the last 250 years, the Russian army has won 31 of the 34 wars it has taken part in, winning 279 of the 392 major battles, even though in most cases, it faced a more numerous enemy.

· The Baltic Germans. At the end of the imperial period, the Baltic Germans were among the most militant of the nationalities of the country. On April 15, 1914, 48 of the 169 full generals in the Russian Army were Baltic Germans. They forced equivalent fractions of lower-ranking commanders. The portal devotes particular attention to Baron Ungern who conquered Mongolia and “became one of the main threats for Soviet Russia.”

· The Cossacks. Both as supporters and opponents of the Russian state, the Cossacks have shown enormous martial spirit.

· The Circassians. The self-designator of the Circassians is “Adyg” and that word means “warrior,” an appropriate title given their ability to resist the advance of Russian forces while behaving with respect to their opponents and their opponents.

· The Vainakhs (Chechens and Ingush). From the times of the Golden Horde to the present, these peoples have been known for their martial spirit.

· The Ossetins. Among the most militant peoples in the country, the Ossetins more than many of their neighbors in the North Caucasus have worked with rather than against the Russian state.

· The Tatars. Since the time of the Golden Horde, the Tatars of the Middle Volga have been a militant people.

· The Nogays. “One of the most frightening and militant peoples of Eurasia,” the Nogays took their name from the Golden Horde commander Nogay; and their horde and its influence extended over “an enormous territory from the Don to the Danube.”

· The Kalmyks. A Buddhist people, they have been militant as well since Golden Horde times. In recent centuries, they have been shock troops for Russia.

· The Mansi. A Finno-Ugric people of the far north, the Mansi have shown sufficient military spirit to force their larger neighbors to take them seriously. In response to defeats by the Cossacks, they fought as they retreated further to the north.

· The Tuvins. A numerically small Buddhist people on the eastern borders of Russia, the Tuvins were among the most committed soldiers in the Soviet army during World War II, a group who terrified the Germans.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Obscenities an Inalienable Part of Russian Language and Life, Expert Says
Staunton, VA, February 22, 2016 -- Russians today have an “ambiguous” attitude toward obscenities, a specialist on the Russian language says. “On the one hand, there is an official prohibition of their use” in the media and even a fine for cursing in public. But on the other, many public figures and even more ordinary Russians use such terms on a regular basis.

Snezhana Petrova notes that Russians have been using obscenities and vile language for centuries but that there is no agreement on how they began doing so or why they have continued. Some blame the Mongol conquest but that is unlikely as traveler reports show that the Mongols didn’t use obscenities.

Others, drawing on the birch bark records of that period, say that Russians came up with these terms on their own. And still others root the Russian use of obscenities in a more general Slavic inclination to employ such terms, something that also shifts responsibility away from the Mongols.

Petrova for her part clearly favors the last explanation and says that obscenities or filthy language (known as mat) are an inalienable part of Slavic culture and arose from words designating male or female sex organs or sexual acts. According to one hypothesis, these became curse words as a way of expressing anger; according to another, they arose from a first use by witches.

As Christianity spread in Russia, the often phallic statues of pre-Christian divinities were destroyed, and the vocabulary associated with them was declared “taboo. But as is said, you can’t take words out of a song and the people continued to curse. The church in response struggled with those who used such curses.”

Petrova points out that it should not be forgotten that “those words which [Russians] today consider curses were not so conceived in [earlier] times.” That is shown by the fact that even Orthodox priests sometimes used some of these words in their homilies and texts about “women of easy virtue.”

“Only relatively recently, beginning with the 18th century, did today’s vile language become such. Before that, these words designated either physiological characteristics of the human body or in general were quite ordinary words.” But in the second half of that century, a sharp distinction emerged between the literary lexicon and ordinary speech, as a result of the rise of printing and the prohibition of the use of certain words in printed matter.

That pattern continued “until the end of the 20th century,” Petrova continues, but many poets and writers as well as others continued to use obscenities in their “’unofficial’” productions. Today, the attitude of Russians toward obscenities is “ambiguous,” with some official prohibitions remaining in place but increasingly ignored by various public figures.
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Moscow’s Creeping Annexation of South Ossetia Via the Military
Staunton, VA, February 22, 2016 -- Leonid Tabilov, the president of South Ossetia, says that he and the Russians are working on a supplemental agreement that will include the units of the small armed forces of the republic within the Russian military, the latest example of the kind of creeping annexation of that breakaway republic into the Russian Federation.

In an article entitled “South Ossetia Will Enter Russia Via the General Staff,” Svobodnaya Pressa journalist Anton Mardasov says that Tabilov in his February 19th message nonetheless stressed that “the republic must preserve a numerically small but effective part of its own army."

That is necessary, the South Ossetian president said, so that his country will be “capable of solving military tasks” and responding to “diversionary-terrorist acts and provocations without the application by the Russian Federation of its own Armed Forces.” But the thrust of his message was that the 500-man South Ossetian force will be integrated into the Russian Army.

The supplemental agreement between Russia and South Ossetia was supposed to be signed at the end of January, but the South Ossetian side was not ready. It had not drafted the portions of the accord having to do with the security services and military. And thus the two sides had to await the appearance of the Russian draft.

“At first glance,” Mardasov says, “news about the inclusion of a number of units of the Armed Forces of the republic into the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation looks like a sensation” because it represents the beginning of the unification of South Ossetia and the Russian Federation “via the military.”

Moreover, it addresses a serious problem. Because of high unemployment and the departure of many of its residents to Russian cities, the South Ossetian military has not been able to meet its draft quotas. Now, it will be able to count on Russian assistance. But in fact, this arrangement does nothing more than put on paper what is already a fact: the South Ossetian army is “part of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.”

The real concern apparently is how the West may react to even this move, given that it appears to be a kind of creeping annexation of the breakaway republic especially because in the words of one expert Mardasov cites, “de facto South Ossetia is part of Russia,” even though it has been recognized by Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru and Tuvalu.

Moscow isn’t interested in moving further just now, Mardasov says; and statements by officials in South Ossetia about yet another referendum on unification with the Russian Federation are all about the domestic politics of the republic rather than a reflection of thinking in the Russian capital.