Black Friday

Despite its declared war on “satanic” western values, Putinist Russia continues to slavishly imitate all the worst the mythical west has to offer, including “Black Friday,” as exemplified by this image from an email flyer sent to me earlier today by the major online retailer Ozon, featuring the pop singer Dmitry Malikov. Nor has Putin’s “proxy war” with the west stopped the pidginization of the Russian language, as seen in the second-to-last piece in this grim holiday collage. ||| TRR


The expected tourist flow from Iran may amount to approximately two thousand people a week starting in the spring of 2023, director of the municipal tourist information bureau Yuri Bogdanov said on November 24. According to him, relevant negotiations are underway with air carriers.

“We are negotiating with airlines that want to provide direct flights between Iranian cities and St. Petersburg. We hope that there will be six flights per week with an average number of around 300 seats on board. This is already about two thousand people a week. We expect that, beginning in the spring, these airlines will supply their airplanes,” TASS quoted Bogdanov as saying.

The expert clarified that there were more flights before the pandemic and six thousand tourists used to arrive from Iran every week.

According to Bogdanov, the flow of tourists may return to its pre-covid levels in St. Petersburg by about 2026, but at the same time primarily due to guests from Russia, and not from foreign countries. According to the figures he cited, in 2019, about five million Russians and 5.5 million foreigners visited the Northern Capital, while 6.4 million Russians and 150–200 thousand foreigners visited the city in the first nine months of 2022.

“We have reformatted the priorities for domestic tourism — we want to reach the same 10.5 million tourists a year. There is every ground for this to happen,” Bogdanov opined.

Earlier, the State Duma Budget and Taxes Committee recommended that St. Petersburg be included in the list of regions that charge tourists a resort fee.

Source: “Petersburg expecting two thousand tourists from Iran weekly from spring,” ZakS.ru, 25 November 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


At least 58 children, some reportedly as young as eight, have been killed in Iran since anti-regime protests broke out in the country two months ago.

According to Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA), 46 boys and 12 girls under 18 have been killed since the protests began on 16 September, sparked by the death of the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody.

In the past week alone, five children were reportedly killed by security forces as violence continued across the country.

Those who died last week include the nine-year-old Kian Pirfalak, who was one of seven people – including a 13-year-old child – killed in the western city of Izeh on Wednesday.

Speaking at Kian’s funeral on Friday, his family said security services had opened fire on the family car, where Kian was sitting next to his father. Iranian security services have denied responsibility for his death, blaming the shooting on “terrorists”.

Iran’s mounting child death toll comes amid escalating violence in cities across the country, with protests showing no sign of abating.

[…]

Young people have been at the forefront of anti-regime protests, which started after Mahsa Amini died in the custody of Iran’s morality police. She had been arrested for not wearing her hijab correctly.

The deaths of two teenage girls, Nika Shakamari and Sarina Esmailzadeh, both allegedly beaten to death by security forces for protesting, provoked further outrage.

Videos of schoolgirls across the country protesting against their killing by removing their hijabs and taking down pictures of Iran’s supreme leaders went viral on social media, leading to raids on schools where children were beaten and detained. According to Iran’s teachers union, another 16-year-old girl, Asra Panahi, died after she was attacked by security forces in her classroom in the north-western town of Ardabil on 18 October.

The attacks on children in schools is continuing, according to Hengaw, which said a 16-year-old girl from Kurdistan is on life support after throwing herself from a school van, having been arrested at her school last week.

HRA says more than 380 protesters have been killed since the protests began and more than 16,000 people have been detained, including children. The figure is disputed by the authorities.

Source: Deepa Parent, Ghoncheh Habibiazad and Annie Kelly, “At least 58 Iranian children reportedly killed since anti-regime protests began,” The Observer, 20 November 2022. Thanks to Sheen Gleeson for the heads-up.


A view of Vokzal 1853 on opening day. Photo: Sergei Yermokhin/Delovoi Peterburg

On November 21, the opening of the food hall [fud-kholl] Vokzal 1853 took place in the building of the former Warsaw railway station.

It is the largest gastronomic space in St. Petersburg and, so its creators claim, in Europe.

So far, not all the establishments in the eater have opened — the launch . The event zone [event-zona] is designed for to accommodate 2.5 thousand guests and have 4 thousand seats, while the entrance to the second floor is still closed.

The cost of renovating the former railway station exceeded 1.5 billion rubles. The Vokzal 1853 food hall [fud-kholl] is a project of the Adamant holding company and restaurateur Alexei Vasilchuk. In total, as stated earlier, more than 90 restaurant concepts [restorannykh konseptsii] will await visitors, and the total area of the food hall will be about 34 thousand square meter.

The company plans to open a concert venue, craft [kraftovye] shops, and a coworking [kovorking — sic] in the space.

Earlier, DP reported that its creators had conceived the decoration of the premises to suggest the atmosphere of nineteenth-century railways stations, and visitors would find themselves in the “epicenter of a bustling creative life.”

Source: “The largest food hall in St. Petersburg opens in Warsaw railway station building,” Delovoi Peterburg, 22 November 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


Ukraine continued to reckon with the fallout from Russia’s air strikes on its energy infrastructure, with much of the country still struggling with blackouts. Residents in Kyiv, the capital, were told to prepare for more attacks. Russian missiles damaged a hospital on the outskirts of Zaporizhia, a Ukrainian-held city not far from Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, controlled by Russia. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, said Russia was heavily shelling Kherson, the southern city recaptured by Ukrainian forces in early November. Local officials said that strikes killed seven people in the city on Thursday.

Source: The Economist, “The World in Brief” email newsletter, 25 November 2022


Maxim Katz, “Why Russians don’t protest — answered by an old experiment (English subtitles),”1,108,570 views. Nov 23, 2022. “The lack of mass anti-war rallies in Russia is often explained with some psychological defect of the Russian people. But is it truly so? Today we will talk about a social experiment called the Third Wave, and think about whether it is true that it can all be explained with some unique malleability of Russian society.”

This is a wildly disappointing exercise in sophism and self-deception by the usually much more lucid Maxim Katz. Russia has arrived at its present murderous and self-destructive bad end not through rigorous and ruthless totalitarian indoctrination and psychological manipulation, as suggested by Katz’s invocation of Ron Jones’s 1967 Third Wave experiment in a California high school, but through a chaotic, consistent indulgence of opportunism, consumerism, escapism, ressentiment, hipsterism, “westernism,” capitalism, cynicism, nihilism, and thuggery by the elites and the much of the so-called intelligentsia, thus almost completely overwhelming the decent, democratic, and egalitarian impulses and undertakings of differently minded and empowered “other Russians” from all walks of life and all parts of the country. It has been one of the missions of this website to bear witness to both these tendencies in their extreme and trite manifestations. You’ll find vanishingly little of what Katz describes in my chronicles of the last fifteen years here and on The Russian Reader‘s sister blog Chtodelat News. You will find, however, plenty of stories of brave grassroots resistance and movement building blunted and, ultimately, murdered by a police state whose PR wing has urged Russians to trade their freedom for food courts. ||| TRR

Outshined

This tool is called a chicken debeaker. It does exactly what you would expect with a name like that…it partially removes the beaks of chickens in order to reduce cannibalism, egg cracking, and feather pecking. This debeaker would be plugged into an electrical outlet which would heat the opening, like a hot guillotine. The chicken would then be held in place by a human with their beak in the opening. The human would then close the opening by stepping on the foot pedal on the ground thus trimming off a portion of the chicken’s beak. Debeaking is a common practice today in many egg laying facilities although the ethics of this practice has been called into question by many opponents of debeaking.

Source: Murray County Historical Museum, Facebook, 18 October 2022. Lightly edited to eliminate typos.


These handsome kids aren’t studying Russian.

We are announcing a contest for the most interesting story about how you learn Russian!

To enter, you need to publish a post or shoot a video in which you talk in Russian how and why you started learning Russian. You can tell us what difficulties you have encountered and what funny stories have happened to you during your acquaintance with the “great and mighty” language. If you have something to share, then we are waiting for your post.

Be sure to tag the Rossotrudnichestvo account and add the hashtags #ILearnRussianRS #RussianHouse #Rossotrudnichestvo.

The contest will run from October 15 to November 15. On November 22, we will announce three winners on our social media accounts. They receive an annual subscription to the electronic and audiobook service ru.bookmate.com.

Good luck!

Source: Russian House in Kathmandu, Facebook, 19 October 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader. A quick search revealed that the image used, above, is a stock image entitled “Studying with my boyfriend.”


The Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Russian: Федеральное агентство по делам Содружества Независимых Государств, соотечественников, проживающих за рубежом, и по международному гуманитарному сотрудничеству), commonly known as Rossotrudnichestvo (Russian: Россотрудничество), is an autonomous Russian federal government agency under the jurisdiction of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid and cultural exchange. Rossotrudnichestvo operates in Central Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe (but mostly in the Commonwealth of Independent States).

The agency was created from its predecessor agency by Presidential decree, signed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on 6 September 2008, with the aim of maintaining Russia’s influence in the Commonwealth of Independent States, and to foster friendly ties for the advancement of Russia’s political and economic interests in foreign states.

According to OECD estimates, 2019 official development assistance from Russia increased to US$1.2 billion.

Rossotrudnichestvo was assessed by expert observers to be organising and orchestrating synchronous pro-Russian public rallies, demonstrations, and vehicle convoys across Europe in April 2022 in support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Demonstrations were held simultaneously in Dublin (Ireland), Berlin, Hanover, Frankfurt (Germany), Limassol (Cyprus), and Athens (Greece).

Source: Wikipedia


Soundgarden, “Outshined” (1991)

Well, I got up feeling so down
I got off being sold out
I’ve kept the movie rolling
But the story’s getting old now
Oh yeah

Well I just looked in the mirror
And things aren’t looking so good
I’m looking California
And feeling Minnesota
Oh yeah

So now you know
Who gets mystified
So now you know
Who gets mystified

Show me the power child, I’d like to say
That I’m down on my knees today
Yeah it gives me the butterflies, gives me away
‘Til I’m up on my feet again

Hey I’m feeling
Oh I’m feeling
Outshined, outshined, outshined, outshined
Oh yeah

Well someone let the dogs out
They’ll show you where the truth is
The grass is always greener
Where the dogs are shitting
Oh yeah

Well I’m feeling that I’m sober
Even though I’m drinking
Well I can’t get any lower
Still I feel I’m sinking

So now you know
Who gets mystified
So now you know
Who gets mystified

Show me the power child, I’d like to say
That I’m down on my knees today
Yeah it gives me the butterflies, gives me away
‘Til I’m up on my feet again

I’m feeling
Oh I’m feeling
Outshined, outshined, outshined, outshined

Ooh yeah

Outshined

So now you know
Who gets mystified

Show me the power child, I’d like to say
That I’m down on my knees today
Yeah it gives me the butterflies, gives me away
‘Til I’m up on my feet again

Oh I’m feeling
Oh I’m feeling

Show me the power child, I’d like to say
That I’m down on my knees today
And yeah it gives me the butterflies, gives me away
‘Til I’m up on my feet again

Oh I’m feeling
Oh I’m feeling
Outshined, outshined, outshined, outshined

Source: Chris J. Cornell, “Outshined,” as quoted by Musicxmatch

Calcium Carbonate

Two women are talking on a bus. One is going to Kyiv, the other to Riga.

— Why are you going back?

— Oh that. I have to bury the husband, at last. He’s been lying in the crematorium for four months. They’ve finally cleared the cemetery of mines.

— …

Source: Anastasia Magazova, Facebook, 10 August 2022. In the original, the dialogue between the two women is in Russian, while the two introductory sentences are in Ukrainian. Translated by the Russian Reader


The grille of the railing on Singers Bridge (Pevcheskii most) in central Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

We were cruising the Moika by boat and came upon three military men standing on the hump of Singers Bridge — an infantry officer, a naval officer, and an aviator in the Syrian Army. They smiled at us and waved. At the last moment the sailor also shouted, nearly without an accent, “Glory to Russia!” FML

Source: Nikolay Konashenok, Facebook, 11 August 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


A Russian National Guard special rapid deployment force unit in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Militaryimages.net

while I was feeding the baby, the culture channel showed the culture news. a priest said, but our parish’s residents (we heard “rapists”) defended Russia in Chechnya and other wars. images of icons featuring saints in military uniforms flashed on the screen. such are the culture news in the russian federation.

Source: Roman Osminkin, Twitter, 11 August 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


While waiting for a friend in Kuzminki, I overheard a conversation between two old men. (Chemists?)

— Do you mean to say, Mikhail Innokentyevich, that collective responsibility doesn’t exist?

— Why not? It does exist. But you can’t dissolve in it or engage in handwringing. You have to be firm whenever you can.

— But the proportion of such a solution is what matters to me. When should one dissolve, and when should one remain a solid substance with one’s own interests?

— Well, let’s suppose it’s CaCO3.

— And what do we use to dissolve it? Water? Or hydrochloric acid?

— Hmm, hydrochloric acid, probably. But what do we do now? Can’t we even precipitate?

Source: Zhanna Chernenko, Facebook, 12 August 2022. In Russian, the set phrase vypast’ v’ osadok, aside from its literal, “chemical,” meaning — “(to) precipitate (out of a solution)” — can also mean 1) (to) be very surprised; 2) (to) break with one’s circle; and 3) (to) get very drunk. Translated by the Russian Reader

Pleased to Meat You

Dana Sideros

In English lessons at school
it was dictations that scared me most
because I would mix up meet and meat,
ship and sheep, chick and cheek.

I would write
The ship eats green grass.
The big sheep goes to sea at dawn.
I like this fried meet.
Grandma’s cheeks are yellow and funny.

If a native speaker hears you,
one of the teachers told us,
if a native speaker hears you,
they’ll find it painful, and you’ll be embarrassed.

My English has grown a bit since then,
but it is still hamstrung and stunted.

On an island in the middle of the ocean
My clumsy English and I
chatted once with a hostel mate, a Chinese woman.
She told me she had traveled by bus
through Texas, Louisiana, and Florida,
but then in Florida, in Miami,
homesickness had caught up with her,
because she did not find a Chinatown there.
Her story was exactly the same as mine.
I had traveled the same route,
and for some reason it was in Miami,
a city of dancing in the streets, beaches, cocktails, happiness, and sunshine,
where I’d also felt like going home
to the dirty gloom of Moscow in November.

But earlier, on the outskirts of Orlando,
my poor English and I
told a homeless guy,
sitting on the sidewalk in a bad neighborhood,
that my country
had, a year earlier, attacked its neighbor
and taken away the island of Cream
(I still don’t remember the word for “semi-island.”)
People always thinking up some shit, he nodded,
vaguely motioning
towards a better neighborhood.

My lopsided English and I
bought a summer dress
(baby, why do you hide your figure),
looked for a laundromat
(I had to wash my clothes),
explained the rules of a board game
(and then these guys die and go home the same way).

Language wasn’t the problem, it turned out.
I, a native speaker of Russian,
hear native speakers of Russian,
and all the words are muddled.
But my clumsy Russian and I
don’t despair — we memorize words
and phrases that come in handy in conversation.

If someone slaps you,
turn the other chick.
Pleased to meat you.

Source: Dana Sideros, Facebook, 26 June 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader. Dana Sideros is a Russian playwright and poet, currently living in Portugal. The photo of her, above, is by Slava Kovalevich.

Farida Kurbangaleyeva: My Personal Denazification

The Russian government and pro-Kremlin media say that the aim of Russia’s current war against its neighboring country is the “denazification” of Ukraine. But Farida Kurbangaleyeva argues that Russia’s government has in fact performed “denazification” earlier as well—on the “non-Russian” peoples living in the Russian Federation.

Farida Kurbangeleyeva

Chukcha tatarskaia—“you Tatar Chukchi”—an unknown woman wrote to me via Facebook. To put it mildly, she had not liked my post about the aftermath of the Russian occupation in Bucha and decided to deliver me the knockout punch with an irrefutable argument. For her, this argument was my ethnicity, and this is understandable: there is nothing more shameful for a member of the “state-forming people” than being a Chukchi, or a Tatar, or a Ukrainian yokel. That is, there is nothing more shameful than not being Russian.

This incident made me think of the “denazification” that Putin has used to justify his military invasion of Ukraine. In spite of his plan, from the start of the full-scale war many people started talking about how about Russia itself needed to be denazified—and I completely agree with this. But this is not the end of the story.

What Putin is calling “denazification” is not a struggle against Nazism, but the desire to destroy national identity, to eliminate the Ukrainians as a people. This is why in the occupied territories, as the Ukrainian authorities report, Ukrainian-language books have been removed from libraries and burned, and the study of Ukrainian has been canceled in schools. Where there is no language, there is no culture, no identity, no people. Meanwhile, in Russia, other peoples have been similarly “denazified” already. With more or less bloodshed, but in any case, quite successfully.

My personal denazification began shortly after my third birthday—when I first went to nursery school. At that age I spoke fluently in my native Tatar. One of my relatives loves to recall me energetically explaining the pictures to her from my book about the surrounding world: Менә бу әшәке гөмбә, ә менә бусы — әйбәте. (Mena bu ashake gumba, a mena buse—aibate: “This is an inedible mushroom, and this one is good.”)

I have to admit that it would be hard for me to repeat the stunt now. The nursery-school teachers had been given strict instructions: Soviet children should only have one language—Russian. Everything else was the devil’s work, forget it.

The denazification worked—by the first grade I still understood Tatar, but already had a hard time speaking it. That’s how I am now: I can understand everything being said to me, but I switch to Russian to reply. Why waste time fumbling for the right words?

For many people, Tatar language was a much-despised subject at school. And it’s not surprising: you knew that there was absolutely no reason to study it. People rarely spoke it at home, and in some places not at all, and it was unlikely to come in handy in the future either. Some of my Tatar classmates didn’t even go to Tatar language classes, preferring to take local history classes with the Russian kids instead. That is, they practically didn’t know their native language at all.

This was the late Soviet period, when the myth of the “friendship of peoples” and equality was still actively promoted. “Look at what a good student Farida is,” my teacher Anna Viktorovna would say to my classmate Roma. “Even though she’s a Tatar girl.”

I suppose that my mother had also encountered the same sort of approving motherly intonation at her first job at a nursery school (when she was just out of school and hadn’t yet entered Kazan University as a physics student). One of the other teachers—a woman from a Russian village—would tenderly refer to my mother as “my little chaplashka.”[The chaplashka is a typical Tatar skullcap, but it can be used as a condescending term for Turkic peoples.] At around the same time you could regularly hear people on the Kazan trams saying, “Hey you there! Quit talking in your language!”

But I digress. These are my memoirs, not my mother’s.

I can say that nearly all of my urban Tatar agemates—people who were kids in the 1980s—are a linguistically handicapped generation. Speaking Tatar was awkward and embarrassing. The primary native speakers at this time were people from the villages. Of course, there was also the urban Tatar intelligentsia, but it was so thin and fragile that one almost never heard Tatar spoken in the cities. Except maybe in the national theater.

Because of this, when the republic declared its “sovereignty” in the 1990s and Tatar became a required subject, the majority of the people who came to teach it in schools and universities were  villagers. Many of them spoke Russian with a strong accent, lacked a certain confidence and even dressed more poorly than their colleagues in physics, algebra, or English. People treated them correspondingly, referring to them condescendingly as “Soviet farm workers” [kolkhozniki].  

It’s hard to imagine anyone yelling at their schoolkid for getting a D in Tatar. What’s more, some parents openly admitted to encouraging their kids not to study it. No one was worried about the final grade report—by the time graduation rolled around, they would get all As and Bs. Who would want to ruin someone’s life over a pointless subject? The same situation held in the technical schools and universities.

The time came for us to become parents ourselves. What could we say to our kids in the “mother tongue”? At best a few primitive phrases. The grandparents would try to make up for lost time, but “lost” is the key word here.

I’ve observed the following scenario several times. At the playground, a group of mothers gangs up on the mother of a “late-speaking” child. “It’s all because you speak two languages at home. That’s not right, you have to pick,” they say. Some of these “instructors” themselves send their kiddos to “early development schools” where the kids are taught English as early as possible—either from the moment the child starts turning over, or maybe when it can lift its head. After all, everyone knows that the earlier you start learning a second language, the better.

Meanwhile, the Russians in Tatarstan are very tolerant Russians. They’re long since used to Tatar names and holidays, and mixed marriages. They know the words isanmesez [исәнмесез] (hello), rakhmat [рәхмәт] (thank you), and sometimes even say Alla birsa [Алла бирсә] (God willing) as a joke. When I left for Moscow, I realized that in other regions the problem isn’t just that Russians don’t want to learn the languages of ethnic minorities. Russia is both a multi-ethnic and a xenophobic country.

My experience working as an anchor on TV channel Rossiya was pretty revealing. It was 2007. Alexandra Buratayeva and Lilya Gildeyeva [who are ethnic Kalmyks and Tatars, respectively] had already made their names on national television, but the negative wow-effect was nevertheless plain to see. Online, I would periodically run into requests like “get rid of that churka” [a racial slur mostly used for people from the Caucasus and Central Asia] or questions like “What, you couldn’t find a Russian woman? Where are the Katyas, Mashas, Natashas?”

My colleagues mostly treated me with decency and goodwill. Well, if you don’t count the entertaining questions like whether I’d been on the Hajj or eaten horsemeat. Or the kinds of questions every member of an ethnic minority gets, like:

“What is your Russian name?”

“This is my only name.”

Rage, negotiation, unwilling acceptance.

I know of many cases when a Fidail has become a Fedya [Ted], a Gulnur., a Gulya, and a Kamil, a Kolya [Nick]. Even closer to home, my grandmother, Khadicha Fazleyevna, lived for fifty years in a communal apartment where she was known as “Auntie Katya.” My friend, an Avar named Maryan, told me that when she was studying at the Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow, she usually told people her name was Marianna. She thought that people would be nicer to her that way. One girl from her circle of university friends would periodically say to her, “Gosh, you’re so normal—just like us.”

I remember that once a Sberbank employee, holding my Russian Federation-issued passport and reading out my full name, asked me what my citizenship was. That the principal of the school my daughter went to wasn’t sure that her intellectual capacity was the same as her Muscovite agemates: “Southern children (!) achieve physical maturity more quickly, but sometimes lag intellectually.” A midwife in a Moscow birth center asked me whether newborns are swaddled in my country.

One time my wallet was stolen in a mall. The first word uttered by the policeman who came to investigate was “Darkies?” [churbany]. I was stunned, because in my understanding no defender of public order has the right to utter this word. I replied, “It was two women of Slavic appearance,” which obviously stunned the policeman in turn.

My second cousin Azamat was unable to rent an apartment in Moscow. As soon as they heard his name over the phone, Muscovites would ask, “What are you, an Uzbek?” and hang up. He didn’t have time to tell them about his excellent job or steady salary at Sberbank. He was able to rent only through people he knew.

To expand my examples beyond my personal life, I called all my non-Russian friends. I didn’t have to make any effort to seek anyone out or ask insistently for comments. These are all stories of just “one degree of separation.”

Ibragim, a Kumyk born in Grozny (Chechnya): “Once I submitted my papers for a foreign-travel passport and couldn’t get it for eight months. I was told repeatedly that it wasn’t ready yet. In the end I just sat down in the office of the passport officer and declared I wouldn’t leave until I got my passport. The man clearly hadn’t expected such audacity. He thought for a while and then took my passport out of his desk.”

Artur, a Chechen born in Grozny: “We fled Chechnya during the First Chechen War. I went to a bunch of different schools. When I was in the fifth grade, we lived in Cherkessk. One time in class, people started talking about Chechens, and the teacher said, looking right at me, ‘You’re basically all terrorists, you need to be isolated.’ When I started at university, I couldn’t get a job. I didn’t become a waiter at a cafe, a salesman at a store, or someone handing out advertisement flyers [like other university students]. A few years ago, I was barred from entering a Moscow nightclub on New Year’s Eve. The security guy looked at my passport and refused to let me in. When I asked him to explain why, he said, ‘No comment.’”

Alexandra, a Buryat from St. Petersburg: “I never wanted to go down into the subway, where people always gave us dirty looks. One time I was riding with my whole family and heard someone say, ‘They’re breeding up a storm.’ Another time I was walking toward the escalator and a stranger started to shoulder me out of the line. I kept going, so then he shoved me aside roughly and said, ‘You should always let Russians ahead of you! Got it?’”

Alexandra was one of the organizers of the initiative Buryats Against the War in Ukraine. She asked Russia-based subscribers to talk about examples of xenophobia they’d encountered living in Russia. She’s been getting messages for over a month now. Reading them, Alexandra nearly stopped sleeping. One time she wrote me at three in the morning to say she (and many of her respondents) needed a therapist.

But getting back to my Tatars and my denazification. A few years ago, Tatar language was once again made optional as a school subject in Tatarstan. It was happily dropped not only by Russians, whose pressure had largely caused the law to be passed, but also by many Tatars. Why bother? Everyone knows that there’s absolutely no point: almost no one speaks Tatar anywhere, and there’s unlikely to be any need for it in the future. At least at this point in history, speaking Tatar at home isn’t forbidden. The idea was just that: “Speak it at home” and even “How terrible that they used to forbid that.”

Thanks a lot, but “speaking at home” is also a road to nowhere. It also means the loss of language, just dragged out a bit. I can confirm this through the example of some Russians I know who have lived in the Czech Republic for many years.

Here’s a mother who delights in her fifteen-year-old daughter: “You wouldn’t believe it! She wrote a card to her grandma yesterday without making a single mistake!” That is, the girl speaks Russian very well (because they speak it at home), but the grammar is a real problem for her. This girl’s children will speak Russian a bit worse and barely be able to write. The grandchildren will speak in broken Russian and tell their friends that their grandma was Russian. Cool, right?

Without systematic lessons and academic programs, textbooks and teaching aids, courses and constant practice, a language cannot be preserved. All the more so if it’s optional. Imagine if people studied Russian in schools as an elective. Or chemistry, or algebra. Would many students want to take these subjects? Losing a language when it’s “study it if you want to” is just a matter of two or three generations.

No one among my Russian friends who were born and raised in Tatarstan knows Tatar or is planning to learn it. As an illustration, I offer a few sample conversations with my girlfriends. Both are cultured, educated women and highly empathetic. They would never call me a “Tatar Chukchi.”

Dialogue No. 1 (which took place prior to the reversal of the Tatar language requirement in schools):

“Tatar’s on the schedule every day, I’m so sick of it! Katya (her daughter, whose name has been changed) gets so exhausted by it. I wish they’d get rid of it already!”

“And what will you do if they get rid of it?”

“I want them to bring in English, and Italian would be good too. I’d love for her [Katya] to go to university in Italy.”

“But it’s not like all the kids are going to go do that. Many of them will spend their whole lives in Tatarstan.”

“So? What do they need Tatar for?”

“To talk with their friends, for instance. Listen, wouldn’t you like to know Tatar, so you could speak it with me? I speak Russian with you, after all.”

“You got to be kidding! Isn’t that an awfully big sacrifice to make—studying Tatar just so I can talk with you?”

Dialogue No. 2, quoted as a monologue (it was delivered after Tatar was made non-obligatory):

“Thank God, they got rid of Tatar. When I think back on my school days I just shudder (she utters in Tatar the phrase ‘My homeland is the Republic of Tatarstan,’ purposefully mispronouncing the words). They should just make them take local history instead. At work I have a ton of Russian colleagues who used to live in Kazakhstan. They have a hard time getting Russian citizenship here. They have to take a Russian-language exam if you can believe it. But in Kazakhstan they’re really mistreated—they’re forced to learn Kazakh. I even thought lucky my grandparents came here to build the KAMAZ [auto factory] instead of Baikonur [a cosmodrome built in Soviet Kazakhstan]. Otherwise, I’d be suffering—having to learn Kazakh or trying to get Russian citizenship.”

Just a minute! My grandparents didn’t go anywhere to build factories. And my other grandparents didn’t either. They spent their whole lives living on this land. And before that, for centuries, their grandparents lived on the same land. They spoke, read, and wrote in Tatar. Until the moment when someone decided to administer and regulate this process—to denazify the Tatars, you might say.

Yes, Putin started using the term, but he didn’t start the process, of course. The policy of stan “foreigners” was pursued under the Russian Empire as well and hit a high point during Soviet times. Over the past one hundred years, the Tatars have had their alphabet changed twice. Before the Bolshevik coup and for a little while afterwards, Tatars wrote and read in Arabic. This writing system was left alone even when the gate of Lyadsky Garden in downtown Kazan sported a sign saying, “No musicians or Tatars allowed.”

In the late 1920s, Tatar was switched to yañalif—an alphabet based on the Latin one, and then in 1939 to Cyrillic—by the way, easily the most inconvenient option for Tatar phonetics. Consequently, Tatars were cut off from an enormous store of literature, poetry, philosophical and religious works written using the Arabic script. And, by extension, from their own history and culture.

My father, who was born in 1940, spent his childhood and youth in the Old Tatar district—a low-lying part of Kazan where Tatars historically lived. Now this neighborhood has been transformed into a colorful tourist trap with a gaudy ethnic flair. But we have to remember that before 1917 Tatars didn’t have a choice: they did not have the right to live in the prestigious upper part of the city.

According to my papa, when he was growing up in the neighborhood, not a single Russian lived there who didn’t know Tatar. And around mid-century there were quite a few Russians living there. His childhood friends Polina and Katya would switch to Tatar every time they wanted to keep secrets from their mother, who didn’t know Tatar. This means that places spared the denazification process saw wonderful results—a genuine, not sham, friendship of peoples. With true equality, mutual respect, and the preservation of ethnic identity.

Nowadays this tale sounds fantastical, and I can’t find an answer to my question: why did those Russians not mind speaking Tatar, and where did those Russians go? I also have a feeling of guilt for not putting enough effort into developing and preserving the language in my own family. I think I should have hired a tutor. I think I should have bought a self-instruction manual. I think I should speak with my elderly parents more often. At least now, at least a little. And even in a sloppy way, I should still try to speak Tatar with my kids.

So, there is a grain of truth in what the unknown woman on Facebook said. In some sense I really am a “Tatar Chukchi”—an incomprehensible hybrid, a person without kith or kin and without a language, trying to seize hold of her roots before they wither away.

And what will happen later, when Ukraine prevails in the war with Russia, securing both a moral and a physical victory? What will happen when the Ukrainians liberate the occupied territories, when they bring Ukrainian back into the schools, when they publish wonderful new books written in Ukrainian? And when Russia (I really want to believe this) will truly and finally be free? What will happen, not with the Ukrainians, of course, but with us—the denazified Russian-dwelling chebureks? I hope I’m wrong about this, but I think I know what will happen.

I recently stumbled across an openly xenophobic comment on Facebook. The thread was discussing the sanctions that the US government was afraid to implement against Alina Kabaeva. One of the contributors wrote, “What do they expect from her? She’s a typical Tatar woman: husband, kids, family. It doesn’t take a lot of brains to do that.” This comment was liked by someone with whom I share a few dozen friends, someone who’d posted lots of fiery statements against the war in Ukraine.

When I expressed astonishment in response, the Facebook-friend posted a bunch of smile emojis and wrote, “Sorry.” But when I noted that I didn’t find it funny at all, his tone changed abruptly. He wrote repeatedly that he was “speaking with me as an equal” and advised me to “not be stuffy and blow things out of proportion.”

Thus, we non-Russians will go down with this warship. We’ll go where the free Ukrainians—who speak their native language at home, and at school, and at work, and wherever they want—sent it.

We’ll head for the bottom along with our country’s liberal civil society, which will genuinely rejoice over Ukraine’s victory, and then set about building “the beautiful Russia of the future.” But a few things in this new Russia will stay the same. No one there will force anyone to study non-native or pointless languages. After all, this is a violation of rights and freedoms and is basically non-democratic. There will be fewer and fewer people trying to study them on their own. Those who wish to can speak them at home or take elective classes. And not blow anything out of proportion. Those who attempt to get uppity about it will be declared ethnic nationalists and Russophobes.

You’re hearing this from me, the “Tatar Chukchi.”

Source: Farida Kurbangaleyeva, “My Personal Denazification,” Holod, 28 May 2022. Translated by the Fabulous AM. Photo (above) courtesy of Wikipedia. Farida Kurbangaleyeva (Фәридә Корбангалиева/Färidä Qorbanğälieva) worked as a presenter of the program “Vesti” (“The News”) on the Rossiya channel until 2014 and, later, as a presenter on the channel Current Time. Now an independent journalist, she lives in Prague.

Standers

“Immortal Regiment standers: A3-size + holder, from 550 rubles.” The window of an art supply store in central Petersburg, 14 April 2017. Photo by the Russian Reader

It’s amazing how touchy Russians are about their language. If you have a slight accent or make a grammatical mistake now and then, you are automatically stripped of the right to discuss anything with them at all.

In any case, if you have any of these “speech defects,” Russians never fail to point them out to you. It’s not that they are grammar nazis. No, they’re flesh-and-blood nationalists.

By the way, these are the same Russians who have been ripping their precious language to shreds the last several years by filling it to the brim with unassimilated anglicisms and other garbage, and by utterly abandoning the fine traditions of painstaking translating, editing and scholarship that once existed in this country.

Russia, I’m afraid, is headed straight down the tubes to full-blown fascism. Every other country in the world should make contingency plans for that eventuality. ||| TRR, 14 April 2018

Translators Against Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

The Russian authorities have unleashed a gratuitous, senseless and inhumane war on independent Ukraine. This war has been enmeshed in lies from the outset, but we, Russian citizens who are able to face the truth, know that it has already caused catastrophic destruction and taken many lives. Each of these victims is on our conscience, and with every moment the war goes on our conscience is impoverished. The dignity of Russia, of Russian culture, and of each of us is melting before our eyes. We should not and cannot tolerate this.

We, Russian translators, feel keenly that the very existence of Russia as a country of culture and the dignity of the Russian language, which we have tried to the best of our abilities and continue to promote, have come into question.

From the very first day, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has affected our professional work. International cultural organizations, academic institutions, and specific publishers and authors have ceased cooperation with the Russian Federation. This means that books will not be translated and published in Russia, including works of imaginative literature and the latest scientific and academic research. This also means that books by Russian poets and writers, and by Russian scientists and academics (who will thus not be able to contribute to research and be recognized by the international scholarly community) will not be published in the languages of the peoples of the world. Academic exchange programs with many countries, joint publishing programs, and support for Russian cultural initiatives have already been stopped. Russia is moving towards isolation not only in politics, but also in absolutely all other spheres of life. Translators understand this better than anyone else: we give those who read in Russian the opportunity to feel that they are a part of world culture, and we introduce foreign readers to Russia’s great culture. We are the link between Russian researchers and global science and research, and we are proud of our contribution to international recognition of Russian scientific and scholarly achievements. There are also technical translators among us who provide day-to-day support to foreign specialists in Russia in all areas, from documentation of petroleum and pharmaceutical equipment to business negotiations.

It is obvious that what is happening will deal a blow to the professional work of translators, to our lives, as well as to the lives of all Russian citizens, but seeing the pain, horror and loss of life [in Ukraine], we are full of anxiety, first of all, for those who are now under fire.

We demand an immediate end to the war!

Anna Matveyeva

Alexei Shestakov

Valery Kislov

Victor Lapitsky

Alexander Chernoglazov

Timofei Petukhov

Anastasia Zakharevich

Elena Dunayevskaya

Mikhail Shestakov

Catherine Perrel

Paul Lequesne

Olga Grinkrug

Maria Brusovani

Sergei Zenkin

Oksana Yakimenko

Natalya Mavlevich

Natalia Mazur

Elena Berezina

Vladimir Petrov

Vitaly Nuriyev

Mark Grinberg

Olga Varshaver

Sergei Ryndin

Alla Smirnnova

Vera Milchina

Marina Bendet

Source: Change.org. 1,425 translators had signed the petition as of 6:51 p.m. GMT on March 1, 2022. Thanks to The Village for its complete list of Russian anti-war petitions. Translated by Thomas H. Campbell, a professional Russian-to-English translator and the editor of this website and its sister publication, Chtodelat News (2008-2013) for the last fifteen years. During that time I have logged 2,813 entries, most of them translations of Russian-language traditional media and social media articles and commentary on grassroots political resistance, social and labor movements, alternative culture, and protests in Russia and the post-Soviet world.

The English Lesson

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
November 18, 2021

A trifle, but an unpleasant one all the same.

According to the Russian Penal Code, convicted foreign nationals have the right to communicate with prison wardens in any language they speak and receive a response in that language. Vitya [Viktor Filinkov], as you know, is a citizen of Kazakhstan. In response to the razor blades planted [and “found”] by prison officials in his cell on his birthday, he wrote a statement in English.

And what do you think happened? The penal colony found an English teacher, Nadezhda Ivanovna Zhavikova, who works at Night School No. 13. in Orenburg, who “checked” Vitya’s composition and “corrected” the “mistakes” in it so that the text would better suit the wardens. The only thing she didn’t do, unfortunately, was grade the composition. But the prison staff probably gave her an A.

Vitya writes, “Before I started, current inspector had said that I should REPLACE my prison uniform. I DECLINED but he took it and gave me new one.”

The meaning is clear. What does Nadezhda Ivanovna write in [her] translation?

“Before that, the duty inspector told me to PUT my clothes in ORDER. I SUGGESTED that he take it away and give me a new one in return.”

At issue here is the tunic that was replaced against Vitya’s will before he went to the baths. After he came back, prison officials “found” a shard of a blade in the seam of the tunic. It thus transpires that it was Vitya who asked for it to be replaced.

Vitya ends his statement with an appreciation of the production staged by the Correctional Colony No. 1 troupe: “I didn’t brake the razor, it’s a play. Good scenario, actors. Good game, well played.”

Nadezhda Ivanovna feigns that she didn’t understand what was at issue, and translates [the passage] as if Vitya was bragging about his own play-acting: “I didn’t break the razor, it’s a game. A good acting script. A good performance, well ACTED [by Vitya, apparently [because the verb is the singular in Russian, not the plural —TRR]].”

Maybe, of course, the teacher didn’t do it out of spite, but simply couldn’t make sense [of Filinkov’s statement]. But somehow it seems to me that she made perfect sense of it and even made it over [to satisfy the wardens].

UPDATE. On a more practical note, if you have a translator’s diploma and would like to write a specialist’s opinion for the upcoming hearing appealing Vitya’s transfer to a single-cell facility for a month, you’re welcome!

Team Navalny
Instagram
November 15, 2021

❗️ Viktor Filinkov and the torture colony

Viktor is a political prisoner in the Network case. The case is about a “terrorist community” of young men who were fond of airsoft and openly voiced opposition to Putin.

The FSB took these two facts and cooked up charges that got the defendants sent to prison for terms from six to eighteen years. Allegedly, the young men were divided into combat groups that were supposed to organize bombings in order to “sway the masses for further destabilization of the political situation in the country.”

The defendants claim that they were tortured into confessing, and that the evidence in the case was completely manufactured by the security forces.

The verdicts were announced in February 2020. But the matter did not end when the young men were sent to penal colonies: the authorities began bullying them there. We know the most about their treatment of Viktor Filinkov.

For the slightest offense — such as “didn’t say hello ten times a day to a prison employee,” “washed ten minutes earlier than he was supposed to,” “left his work station during work (he went to the work station next to his to ask how to use the machine because he hadn’t been properly instructed)” —  Viktor is sent to a punitive detention cell. Letters from [Viktor’s] friends and relatives are opened, shown to other prisoners, and even replies to them are forged.

Things are so over the top that when there was a scabies outbreak in [Viktor’s] cell, his cellmates were given ointment, but Viktor himself was not, because “he complained.”

Now Viktor is being transferred to Correctional Colony No. 5 in Novotroitsk, to an isolated solitary cell, for repeatedly violating those supremely absurd rules. This colony is a torture colony, one of the most violent in Russia. In June, twelve inmates there engaged in a “collective act of self-mutilation” to protest the torture.

The Putin regime is a regime of vengeful scum. No one is safe from their lawlessness. This nightmare will become more and more commonplace with every passing day. Don’t let that happen.

More information about how Victor is being bullied can be found in the article linked to in stories.

Release political prisoners!

Translated by the Russian Reader

Welcome to Estonia

Welcome to Narva (Estonia)! This campaign billboard from the EKRE party (Conservative People’s Party of Estonia) claims (in Russian, not Estonian) that the party will “defend children from LGBT propaganda in kindergartens and schools.”

As the person who posted this on social media explains (in Estonian), among other things the billboard violates the country’s language laws, which dictate that all such ads include text in Estonian that is displayed just as prominently.

Nearly twenty-five percent of the Estonian population is “Russian” — that is, Russophones who moved to the country when it was occupied by the Soviet Union and their descendants. For good or for ill, many of these “accidental” colonizers never bothered to learn Estonian, and the language divide persists there to this day, exploited by nationalists on both sides of the border.

Although I believe that if you deliberately avoid learning the majority language in the country where you live, insisting on your right to speak only the language of the former colonial/occupying power, you are making a very pointed political statement. When it gets entangled with homophobia, etc., that statement becomes altogether obnoxious. Especially when it’s made on behalf of Estonian fascists.

Thanks to the ever-vigilant Raiko Aasa for the heads-up. ||| TRR

[EKRE] has also been labelled “far-right” by Kari Käsper, the Executive Director of Estonian Human Rights Centre, and in foreign media by BBC News and the Christian Science Monitor. According to Fox News Channel, EKRE is a far-right party, “considered by some to have Fascist-Neo-Nazi sympathies similar to many other flourishing nationalist parties in the Baltics and Eastern Europe.” The Simon Wiesenthal Center has called EKRE youth organization’s annual torchlight procession an “extreme right march.”

Back to the Basics

Today, September 1, is the Day of Knowledge — the first day of school — in Russia and some other post-Soviet countries. As it happens, it was sometime around the Day of Knowledge thirty-one years ago that I began studying Russian. My first Russian teacher was a Hungarian woman named Zsuzsa, at Portland State University. She was only the first of many wonderful guides to the language over the next five or six years (the time it took me to achieve relative fluency), including Nora, Sergei, Zoya, and an amazing Chinese grad student who explained Russian grammar — in Russian (speaking English in class was forbidden at UDub) — better than anyone I’ve ever met; all the lovely, patient and generous lecturers and instructors at the Herzen Institute, who were selflessly dedicated to their profession at a time when working conditions for teachers in Russia couldn’t have been worse; the incomparable Katya Vidre, who introduced me to the work of Alexei Khvostenko and Sergei Dovlatov and so many other things; and countless other Russians, especially the cast of bohemians who helped me with my thesis project, a translation and line-by-line commentary of Joseph Brodsky’s long poem “Predstavlenie.”

Although you might not always guess it from this blog and its prevailingly grim subject matter, learning (and reading) Russian has been immensely liberating. Becoming a Russian reader and speaker has made me a different person, a person capable of seeing the world, however darkly or brightly, through other eyes.

I was reminded of this tremendous gift and the sheer joy of plunging into a new language by the four “Russian pedagogical moments” below. I hope they inspire some of you to learn Russian. At very least, you can read through this post and learn your first twenty-seven words and phrases in the language. ||| TRR

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“V or B? Fill in the missing letters.” This is a worksheet made by the RFL teacher extraordinaire Natalia Vvedenskaya for the immigrant children she teaches at the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center. The words are banan (“banana”), yabloko (“apple”), vaza (“vase”), kolbasa (“sausage”), divan (“couch,” “sofa”), sobaka (“dog”), rebyonok (“child”), and morkovka (“carrot”). This was originally posted on Ms. Vvedenskaya’s Facebook page.

The words and phrases on the second page of the worksheet are velosiped (“bicycle”), avtobus (“bus”), baton (“baguette”), volshebnaya palochka (“magic wand”), gruzovik (“truck, lorry”), banka s vareniem (“jar of jam”), rubashka (“shirt”), and baklazhan (“aubergine, eggplant”).

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Some of Bridget Barbara’s favorite Russian words are arkhiologicheskikh (“archaeological”), zharko (“hot”), delala (“[a female subject] was doing/did”), kavychki (“quotation marks”), prikol’no (“cool”), kuda (“to where”), sovremennyi (“modern,” “contemporary”), ping-pong (“ping-pong”), bifshteks (“beef steak”), and dostoprimechatel’nosti (“sights,” “landmarks”).

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Vadim F. Lurie, “Russia for the Sad.” Posted on the photographer’s Facebook page on August 13, 2021, and reproduced here with his kind permission. The textbook in the photo is open to pages headed with the word grust‘, “sadness.” As Mr. Lurie informs me, “The boy is examining a special book about emotions and discussing it with his mother.”

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Natalia Vvedenskaya playing language bingo with her pupils at the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center. She writes: “We discussed transport today. Bingo is still the best game for all levels of knowledge of the language and ages. Only it’s very exciting. The screaming is fearsome.”