Brainwashing vs. Reverse Language Localization

“Brainwashing” California-style, from my morning post

“Brainwashing”, “an old Soviet tradition,” and the absence of inconveniences: why are Russian speakers in no hurry to get vaccinated against the coronavirus?

The share of native foreign-language speakers among the unvaccinated residents of Finland continues to grow. The Yle newsroom found Russian speakers who had not been vaccinated against COVID-19, and found out their reasons

Jevgeni Bogdanov • Yle • 19 January 2022

With the advent of omicron, the Finnish authorities expressed particular concern for the republic’s foreign-born residents: there are many infections among them and a noticeable number of people who have refused vaccination.

Special attention paid to native foreign-language speakers

The vaccination rate continues to grow in Finland, including among residents whose native language is not the official Finnish, Swedish, or Sami. According to estimates by THL (Department of Health and Social Development), this indicator does not differ much among Russian speakers than from other native foreign-language speakers.

At the same time, the proportion of native foreign-language speakers among the unvaccinated has increased.

“In October, people who speak foreign languages [as native languages] accounted for 21% of all unvaccinated people in Finland. In mid-December, this figure rose by a couple of percent points,” said Natalia Skogberg, research director of THL’s group on COVID-19 among people of foreign origin.

Skogberg notes that the reasons for refusing to be vaccinated can be very different: doubts about the safety of the vaccines, confidence in one’s own health and the lack of risk from the virus, distrust of public officials, difficulties with the Finnish language, and the inability to distinguish misinformation from reliable information. She argues that the opportunity to get answers in one’s native language is a “big plus.”

“The authorities have published a lot of information in different languages. Information and recommendations have varied depending on the stage of the epidemic and, for example, the level of vaccination,” Skogberg assured us.

A Finnish health service video about coronavirus vaccines with Russian voiceover

THL’s travel recommendations in Russian have been viewed 16,000 times during the pandemic. More than 4,000 people have viewed its Russian-language page about the coronavirus, and a video about the vaccines with a Russian voiceover has garnered almost 1,700 views. THL noted that they have been trying to convey information through Russophone organizations and targeted advertising on social networks.

Russophone anti-vaxxers have their say

Kymsoten koronarokotuspistellä istuvia henkilöitä Kauppakeskus Hansassa Kouvolassa.
A vaccination center at a shopping mall in Kouvola. Photo: Antro Valo / Yle

The topic of vaccination is raised not only in THL bulletins. Heated debates for and against vaccinations take place on forums and online communities for Finland’s Russian-speaking residents. A Yle News journalist sent dozens of messages to those who opposed vaccination on the internet, asking them to substantiate their position for this article. Many of them turned us down. One person explained that they had rejected our request because our questions about vaccinations were “quite provocative.” Another person said they did not want to be involved in “brainwashing.” A third person called the work of the authorities and the media during the pandemic “one hundred percent misinformation” and “a crime against [human] rights and humanity.” One of our interlocutors was hospitalized with the coronavirus during our correspondence.

However, there were also those who were willing and able to express their opinions.

Tatyana (her surname has been withheld at her request), who is a Finnish citizen and lives in Kuopio, said that she did not want to be vaccinated “for personal reasons.”

“I’m not going to get vaccinated either in Finland or in any other country. […] I believe that before they are vaccinated, people with certain health problems or with a history of heart surgery should at least be given a complete physical” said the woman, who works in the cleaning industry.

According to her, this decision has already begun to affect her work, as her boss had threatened to cut her hours. In other areas of life, she did not feel any problems, since she had “no need of pubs and discos.” The woman also noted that she did not need information about vaccination in Russian, as she speaks Finnish.

Vladimir, an information and communications technology specialist living in Porvoo, has also refused to be vaccinated. (He also requested that his last name be withheld.)

“The vaccine is new and the side effects in the long term are unknown, as well as the number of vaccinations that will need to be done,” the young man said when asked to substantiate his position.

He also pointed out that even with three vaccinations, one can get sick with COVID-19, and a vaccinated person can infect people with whom they come in contact.

“I think it is more important to be able to do a test and be sure that you don’t have the virus, that you don’t have the asymptomatic form and won’t infect anyone. I consider [good] hygiene and a medical mask sufficient precautions,” Vladimir argued.

He also pointed out that being unvaccinated did not cause “critical inconveniences” to life in Finland. Among recent difficulties, the ICT specialist recalled that he was not able to eat at a particular restaurant due to the QR-code mandate. The man found a way out: he went instead to a nearby fast food outlet, where he was not asked for a code.

Vladimir argued that dividing people into “the vaccinated with their privileges” and the unvaccinated did not encourage them to sign up for vaccination in any way. He admitted that his position would change only if his employer “obliged” him. The man noted that some of his friends had been vaccinated for this reason.

“News about the coronavirus has turned into background noise, I don’t follow it in detail,” said Vladimir, adding, however, that he had read official recommendations and Yle’s news reports.

THL responds and even agrees

Yle asked THL chief medical officer Hanna Nohynek to comment on the stance of our unvaccinated protagonists. She even agreed with some of their points.

Thus, one of THL’s main COVID-19 spokespeople said that mRNA vaccines were not in widespread use until 2021. At the same time, she noted that the technology itself had been researched for about twenty years, and today hundreds of millions of doses of mRNA vaccines had already been produced.

“Detailed safety monitoring is carried out, so even rare side effects are known. And there has been constant reporting,” Nohynek assured us.

According to her, some restrictions were made for safety reasons. People under the age of forty are better off not getting adenovirus vector vaccines (AstraZeneca, for example), and the Moderna mRNA vaccine is not recommended for men under the age of thirty.

Nohynek also acknowledged the truth of the claim that even with three doses of the COVID-19 drug [sic], one can get sick.

“This is true, but the vaccinations are primarily aimed at preventing severe forms of the coronavirus. […] None of us can know how badly they will suffer from the disease when faced with omicron,” THL’s chief medical officer argued.

Nohynek said that having a medical examination before getting a vaccination was an “old Soviet tradition” that is not considered necessary in Finland. However, she noted that it was important to be aware of allergies. Perhaps it was not worth getting an mRNA vaccine if one had them.

THL’s chief medical officer commented on a specific problem that, judging by the discussion on the internet, Russians face. If a person has already been vaccinated with Sputnik V, can they be vaccinated in Finland?

“It is effective and safe to use different vaccines. Of course, when a large number of doses is involved, more local symptoms may occur, such as short-term fever, muscle pain, and fatigue.”

Nohynek concluded by saying that the protection provided by the vaccine is considerable even for healthy young people.

Thanks to Tiina Pasanen for the heads-up. The lead image, courtesy of Montage Health, was not part of the original article. Translated by the Russian Reader



Yle’s Finnish translation of its original Russian-language article is a brilliant example of what I would call “reverse” language localization. Here is a telling passage:

THL:n ylilääkäri Nohynek: rokotteet ovat turvallisia ja niiden tärkein tehtävä on suojata vakavilta tautimuodoilta
Novosti Yle pyysi THL:n ylilääkäri Hanna Nohynekiä kommentoimaan Tatjanan ja Vladimirin väitteitä.
Nohynek kertoo, että mRNA-rokotteita ei ole ollut laajassa käytössä ennen vuotta 2021, mutta itse tekniikkaa on kuitenkin tutkittu jo parikymmentä vuotta. Tähän päivään mennessä mRNA-rokotteita on annettu satoja miljoonia annoksia.

This is my English translation of this excerpt:

THL chief medical officer Nohynek: the vaccines are safe and their main function is to protect against severe forms of the disease
Novosti Yle asked THL’s chief medical officer Hanna Nohynek to comment on Tatyana and Vladimir’s claims.
Nohynek explains that mRNA vaccines were not in widespread use until 2021, but the technology itself has been studied for some twenty years. To date, hundreds of millions of doses of mRNA vaccines have been administered.

Here is the “same” passage in the original Russian article:

THL отвечает и даже соглашается
Редакция Yle попросила главного врача Ведомства здравоохранения и социального развития Ханну Нохинек прокомментировать позицию наших невакцинированных героев. С некоторыми пунктами она даже согласилась.
Так, один из главных спикеров THL по вопросу COVID-19 сообщила, что вакцины, произведенные с использованием технологии мРНК, не были в широком использовании до 2021 года. При этом она отметила, что сама технология изучалась около 20 лет, а на сегодня сделаны уже сотни миллионов доз мРНК-вакцин.

This is my English translation, as above:

THL responds and even agrees

Yle asked THL chief medical officer Hanna Nohynek to comment on the stance of our unvaccinated protagonists. She even agreed with some of their points.

Thus, one of THL’s main COVID-19 spokespeople said that mRNA vaccines were not in widespread use until 2021. At the same time, she noted that the technology itself had been researched for about twenty years, and today hundreds of millions of doses of mRNA vaccines had already been produced.

2 thoughts on “Brainwashing vs. Reverse Language Localization

  1. Hello

    Would you please clarify the part of “brain washing”. What do you mean with it?
    Do you mean this part?:
    – Original: на сегодня сделаны уже сотни миллионов доз мРНК-вакцин.
    – Finnish translation: tähän päivään mennessä mRNA-rokotteita on annettu satoja miljoonia annoksia.
    – your translation of Finnish: To date, hundreds of millions of doses of mRNA vaccines have been administered.
    – your translation from Russian: today hundreds of millions of doses of mRNA vaccines had already been produced

    So you translate Russian “сделать вакцину” as “produce”. Is this the problem or am I missing something? Anyway, the Russian verb “следать” means “to do”. And when we combine this verb with a vaccine it actually means to vaccine somebody. So you are translating the verb wrong, it is not “to produce” but to actually give somebody a vaccine. The Finnish translation is also correct, “hundreds of millions doses have already been given to people”. And the English verb “administrated” is also correct.

    1. Thank you for thoughtful comment!

      “Brainwashing” is mentioned in the title of the Yle article I translated here — and in this passage:

      A Yle News journalist sent dozens of messages to those who opposed vaccination on the internet, asking them to substantiate their position for this article. Many of them turned us down. One person explained that they had rejected our request because our questions about vaccinations were “quite provocative.” Another person said they did not want to be involved in “

        brainwashing

      .”

      But no, I wasn’t making a direction connection between “brainwashing” and language localization. Except that I found it striking that the Finnish translation of the article quite clearly either soft-pedals or modifies certain things in the Russian original. In the passage I quoted in the postscript, it was the first part that struck me more:

      THL отвечает и даже соглашается
      Редакция Yle попросила главного врача Ведомства здравоохранения и социального развития Ханну Нохинек прокомментировать позицию наших невакцинированных героев. С некоторыми пунктами она даже согласилась.

      THL:n ylilääkäri Nohynek: rokotteet ovat turvallisia ja niiden tärkein tehtävä on suojata vakavilta tautimuodoilta
      Novosti Yle pyysi THL:n ylilääkäri Hanna Nohynekiä kommentoimaan Tatjanan ja Vladimirin väitteitä.

      You’ll agree, I think, that the Finnish translation is not exactly “literal.” I would even venture to say that it was “localized” because a literal translation would have irritated or confused Finnish readers.

      So, for whatever reason, Yle’s journalists and editors think the same (covid-19 and vaccine) story has to be told slightly different to different groups of readers in Finland (and abroad, for that matter, since lots of Russians with ties to Finland also read Yle Novosti).

      As for the second part of that passage, your point is well taken. The Russian original could mean “doses administered” rather than “doses produced.” I asked my wife, who is a native Russian speaker (and is fluent in English and competent in Finnish). Initially, she translated it as you did. But then she thought about it again for a minute and said that it could also mean “produced.” She promised to think it over again later.

      But the second part wasn’t the focus of my larger point about “reverse language localization.” So, perhaps, I should have left it out of my postscript.

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