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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
July 12, 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.
Where Spiderman and Jack Sparrow are Defeating the Russian World Every Day
Staunton, VA, July 12, 2016 - Much ink has been spilled on the conflict between the television and refrigerator for the hearts and minds of Russians; but an even more important battle may be raging between Western culture and Russian values – and it is one that in Belgorod Region, at least, Western values are winning out hands down among the young.

That is the conclusion offered by Dmitry Bosov in his study of the reactions of young Russians to the heroes they see in films (“Western Mainstream Cinematography as a Factor in the Socialization of Russian Students,” (Vestnik Volgogradskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta, Seria 7: 4(30) (2015): pp. 139-144).

Yesterday, the editors of Tolkovatel excerpted and summarized Bosov’s findings, suggesting that the sociologist had chosen Belgorod “not by chance” because it is “a model region for present-day Russia,” one that gives the incumbent regime the highest levels of support including for Moscow’s repressive laws.

In his study, Bosov noted that “among the 125 Western films” Belgorod young people have watched, 122 were from the US or the UK. That in turn means that globalization isn’t about the dialogue of culture but about “the domination of the world of mass culture in its American and English-language forms.”

Belgorod young people like Western films about fighters and comedies, but “in essence, Bosov continues, the two “form a single picture of the world which is based on action without reflection (the militant films) and a definite cynical view on the world (the comedies) with a laughing dismissal of traditional and modern values.”

Indeed, the sociologist argues, these two kinds of films reinforce one another, promoting anti-intellectualism and action without reflection. And those values, he says, are the ones that are “spreading in the student milieu [of Belgorod Region] under the impact of mainstream cinematography.”

The four favorite movie heroes of the students are Blade, Spider Man, Jack Sparrow and James Bond, Bosov says, all of whom are expressions in extreme form of the typical “mass man.” They may have abilities greater than others, but they are people of action rather than reflection and promote the idea that genius is somehow equivalent to “madness and criminality.”

“In present-day Russia,” the sociologist continues, “almost in all spheres of spiritual-artistic and aesthetic life, mass culture and art of the American type have penetrated. As a result, young people evaluate others not by their work of creative achievements but by their bank accounts.”

Bosov draws the following conclusions: American films are “stigmatizing” work and intellectual achievement even as they celebrate thoughtless violence and anti-intellectualism, and they are leading Russian young people to conclude that “primitive bodily strength” is the basis of who wins, something that is leading to “the demoralization and degradation” of society.”

Tolkovatel says that if one translates this from the language of sociology into everyday speech, this means that in one of the most Russian areas of Russia, young people are increasingly oriented toward “Western ideals of life, admittedly in a hypertrophic form,” a development that means that Russian state propaganda has finally and irretrievably lost ‘the information war.’”

Or put in even more common language, the Russian portal concludes, it means that the heroes of Western mass culture like Spiderman and Jack Sparrow “are winning” the battle with “the Russian World.”

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Three Portents of the Weakening of the Russian State

Staunton, VA, July 12, 2016 - Vladimir Putin says and many accept that the Russian state has strengthened in recent years, but three developments reported this week – the disappearance of government institutions in villages, discrimination against Muslims in police hiring, and the increasing reliance of regional leaders on local identities -- point in a different direction.

First, in a commentary on, Arkady Babchenko says that over the last 15 years he has visited his home village a number of times and what he has NOT seen – the presence of the Russian state and its accoutrements -- is even more striking than what he has.

In his village, “there is no militia, no FSB, no procuracy, no court, no jail, no patrols, no Cossacks, no popular front, and no groups organized to help Novorossiya.” In short, Babchenko says, “in general there is nothing of the repressive-patriotic-propagandist apparatus of the state at all.” About the only government things remaining are schools and the post office.

Twenty-kilometers away in the district center are all the things that are missing in the village which is quietly living its own life without much reference to what is occurring in the district center or in Moscow and the broader world, a measure of how little what Putin has been talking about has reached this part of the Russian people.

Second, there is now “an unwritten rule” in the Tver Region Interior Ministry Administration not to hire Muslims or people from the Caucasus, clearly the result of Putin’s policies but something that undermines the unity of the state the Kremlin leader says he is promoting.

Yevgeny Smorodov, an MVD official, told a Tatar applicant directly that “’we have an unwritten rule: we don’t hire people from the Caucasus, Chechens, Dagestanis and so on.” And that list is being extended to others such as the Tatars lest by hiring other non-Russians officials find themselves in difficulty with their bosses.

The Tatar applicant recorded all this and so was hardly surprised when he received a formal rejection of his application which specified that he wasn’t being hired because “the results of psychological testing” suggested that he would not be able to meet the requirements of such service.

The Nazaccent report did not speculate as to how widespread this is, but it seems likely that such blatant discrimination is not the work of a few individuals but at the very least reflects the atmosphere of the Interior Ministry of Russia today and consequently exists elsewhere around the country.

To the extent that is so, the Russian police are becoming a source of increasing division within Russia rather than a force that ties the country together, as the Kremlin and its propaganda outlets invariably insist.

And third, regional leaders whose careers have depended less on the feelings of the population on the territories of which they are in charge than on the attitudes of the Kremlin which appoints them are increasingly engaged, at least in this electoral season, with a rebalancing of the two, focusing on the population rather than the Kremlin.

Perhaps the clearest example of that is provided by embattled Dagestani head Ramazan Abdulatipov who is being challenged by religious and nationalist activists and who in an effort to save himself and his regime is implicitly calling into question the notion that Moscow, not Makhachkala, is where all the decisions should be made.

In an extensive interview with RBC, the Dagestani leader stresses not his own role in the ruling United Russia Party but says that in his republic, “we have only one political party and that is Dagestan” – a line that may help him in the elections but that won’t help Russia in the future.

Obviously, these are only portents of problems in the future, and Moscow still has the resources to combat them. But the fact that it now must do so or seem them grow into something even more threatening is likely to become an ever more important part of the Russian political algebra and one that will be ever less easy for the Kremlin to solve.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Ukrainians Can Take Heart from Seven Signs NATO is Being Reborn, Kyiv Commentator Says
Staunton, VA, July 12, 2016 -  Some Ukrainians were disappointed that NATO’s Warsaw Summit did not move further toward integrating Ukraine and Georgia into the Western alliance, Maksim Mikhailenko says. But they should take heart from seven signs NATO did give at that meeting which show that it has “finally come out of its coma.”

First of all, he writes in a commentary in Kyiv’s Delovaya Stolitsa, the alliance agreed to base troops in Poland and the Baltic states, and the countries that agreed to put troops there included many Vladimir Putin had been counting on to slow the recovery of NATO. He thus suffered a defeat.

But this is “only the tip of the iceberg” into which the Kremlin’s ship ran: it also now must cope with the fact that the Western alliance again “views Russia as a threat and has begun to officially apply the principles of containment to it, Mikhailenko says.

Second, the Kyiv commentator says, the fact that the alliance said it was open to dialogue with Moscow was a defeat for the Kremlin as well because it undercuts the Kremlin’s repeated propagandistic claims that the West won’t talk and therefore Russia has to proceed without talking to NATO. That alliance position puts the ball in the Kremlin’s court.

Third, Mikhailenko continues, the Western alliance has made it clear that it is going to be more involved in Ukrainian affairs not only by overseeing the Minsk accords but also by forming a group of countries that is ready to provide arms to Kyiv. Moreover, NATO has demonstrated that both these policies have the approval of all the countries of the alliance.

Fourth, simple content analysis of the Warsaw summit documents highlight the new centrality of Ukraine in the thinking of NATO countries. In the final communique, NATO mentioned Ukraine 32 times, far more than it did even at the Bucharest summit in the early 1990s. And it mentioned containing Russia 56 times, far more than it said the same about ISIS.

Fifth and perhaps most important, the alliance declared that “Russia is a moral threat to the world,” a declaration that is symbolically extremely important give the alliance’s Article 5 guarantees.

Sixth, the alliance specified that NATO is concerned not only about its member states but about the region around them, a region that includes Ukraine, and that intends to be “a global player in the military-political sphere” rather than a regional one with a geographically limited purview.

These six things give Ukraine important support: NATO now recognizes that Russia is responsible for the war in Ukraine, that Moscow is thus a side in the conflict and not an observer as the Kremlin insists, that there is no possibility of conducting elections in the occupied areas at the present time, that sanctions can only be lifted after Moscow withdraws from eastern Ukraine, and that the alliance wants to work with all countries at risk of Russian aggression.

And seventh, NATO at Warsaw defined its relationship as “a distinctive partnership,” a term it had not used before, and thus set the stage for movement toward a membership action plan. The ball, Mikhailenko says, is thus in Kyiv’s court. To move toward an MAP will require that Ukraine conduct reforms and bring its military into correspondence with NATO standards.

It will also require that NATO carry out the package of policy declarations that it made in Warsaw, something Kyiv should do everything it can to make easier and more likely in the coming months.