Daily Archives: May 2, 2007

Ukrainians Learn How to Speak Their Own Language

The Associated Press reports on how, at long last, the language of oppression and exploitation in Ukraine (that is, Russian) is being opposed at ground level. Ukrainians are learning to speak their own language — and there’s not a thing Russia can do about it!

The fidgeting, wide-eyed girls and boys squeezed around a table in Elizaveta Moklyak’s kindergarten class are helping lead a cultural and political revolution.

With her pointer and colorful posters, Moklyak teaches Ukrainian to Russian-speaking children — ensuring that by the end of the school year, the language of their homeland no longer sounds like a foreign tongue.

Today Ukrainian has emerged from second-class status, slipping quietly into the chambers of government and popular culture. This is more than a cultural change: It could doom any hopes Russia may have of restoring its traditional political influence over the country.

Just two years ago, some Russian-speaking regions in eastern Ukraine talked of secession, fearing dominance by Ukrainian speakers in the west. The language debate was one of the most divisive of the 2004 Orange Revolution, which helped oust Ukraine’s pro-Moscow leadership.

While competition for political power continues, Ukrainian may already have triumphed in the language war.

“I think there is the sense that Ukraine has passed over the hump on this issue, that there has been a big, but quiet, victory,” said Ivan Lozowy, a political analyst.

President Vladimir Putin appears deeply worried about the erosion of the use of Russian worldwide, and last week called for creation of a national Russian Language Institute. “Looking after the Russian language and expanding the influence of Russian culture are crucial social and political issues,” Putin said in his state-of-the-nation address.

In countries like Ukraine, that influence is shrinking. The nation’s Ukrainian-speaking west yearns to be part of Europe; the Russian-speaking east and south is the base of politicians who want to maintain Ukraine’s historic ties to Moscow. Pro-Russia Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych has said he would oppose aggressive “Ukrainianization.” But even Yanukovych has brushed up on his Ukrainian and now uses it — not only at official meetings, but at rallies of his Russian-speaking supporters.

Some Russian speakers feel besieged. Mykola Levchenko, 27, secretary of the Donetsk city council, said Russian speakers like himself suffer daily insults, and some Ukrainians even question his patriotism. When he buys a Ukrainian-made home appliance, he says, the directions come only in Ukrainian.

“In world society, Russian is a major language, Ukrainian isn’t,” he said. “Why would we give this up?”

After Ukraine became independent, it declared Ukrainian the sole state language and switched over more than 80 percent of its schools. Nearly all universities now teach in Ukrainian; as a result, parents push children to study Ukrainian early.

“Without this it would be difficult for him in life,” said Yulia Bondarenko, who speaks Russian at home to her 7-year-old son, Zhenya, but sends him to a Ukrainian-language school.

Ukrainian and Russian both use the Cyrillic alphabet and have the same linguistic roots, and it’s not uncommon to hear people slip seamlessly from one to the other. Many words are similar — the Russian word for apple is “yabloko,” Ukrainian is “yabluko” — but differences also are common.

For example, thank you in Russian is “spasibo;” in Ukrainian, it’s “dyakuyu.” And even simple words can be different: in Russian, yes is “da” and no is “nyet;” in Ukrainian, yes is “tak” and no is “ni.”

Ukrainians in Kiev joke that if a traffic cop pulls them over, they’ll curse in Russian, then switch to Ukrainian — which conveys an air of authority — to try to persuade the officer from writing a ticket.

“We have nothing against Russian, we all use it,” said Yuliya Vladina, a 22-year-old DJ. “But we have a language — Ukrainian — so why shouldn’t we promote that? It’s progressive. It’s hip.”

Ukrainian’s identification with pop culture appears to have been a key factor in its success, particularly among young people. Many popular bands sing in Ukrainian. Ivan Malkovych, director of a Ukrainian-language publishing house, rushed out a Ukrainian translation of the fifth installment of the Harry Potter series, beating Russian-language publishers. That success, he said, helped attract young readers to other Ukrainian-language titles.

Russian does maintain its dominance in some fields. Most national newspapers publish only in Russian, as do many magazines.

But every year, the demand for Ukrainian publications increases — propelled by readers who began learning the language in kindergarten classes like those taught by Moklyak.

May 2, 2007 — Contents


(1) Another Original LR Translation: Everything Old is New Again

(2) Another Original LR Translation: Is the Kremlin Weak or Strong?

(3) The Mighty Moscow Times Blasts the Kremlin over Estonia

(4) Illarionov Remembers Yeltsin

Another Original LR Translation: Everything Old is New Again

La Russophobe‘s Original Translator offers another installment from the pages of Yezhedevny Zhurnal, this time a column by Maksim Blant (pictured) looking at the dismal prospects of the Putin regime. The article might just as well be titled to include the 1890s, in order to reflect Russia’s apparent willingess to once again allow an obscene polarization of society between a tiny rich class and an enormous impoverished one.

Don’t Repeat the Mistake of the 1990’s

Maksim Blant

Yezhednevniy Zhurnal

April 18, 2007

In Russia the Power Model of governance has taken hold. The diagnosis has been made: Andrey Illarionov has with his usual thoroughness performed a fairly detailed analysis, presented with a wide range of materials, tables and graphics on the website of the Institute of Economic Analysis, which he heads. His recent column in Yezhednevniy Zhurnal (“Approaching Zimbabwe”) presented conclusions from a few of his investigations – conclusions which the authorities more than graphically illustrated the past Saturday in Moscow and Sunday in Saint Petersburg. The completely unwarranted and unprovoked use of force came from only one side – from the side of the government, directed at private citizens. The force was not used to uphold law and order, but quite the opposite, to prevent the people from exercising the rights and freedoms guaranteed to them by the Constitution and laws of the Russian Federation.

There is no point in doubting that this regime will collapse. The leadership of the Corporation of Special Service Collaborators (KSSS) will be removed from power and, perhaps, placed before a court. But today the leaders, including the President, are nothing but “moles” and “stool pigeons”, operations officers and informers, who started their careers in the Soviet period, prosperously survived the 1990’s, and fit right into the current regime. Fitting right in as well were those who, at the end of the 1980’s and early 1990’s selflessly flailed the “democratizers”, “just following orders.”

The OMON police officers were also just following orders, beating people this past weekend, in the process committing crimes that are punishable under the criminal code (I personally witnessed a series of incidents that I am ready to testify about in any court). The Corporation depends on exactly these executors of orders, because these are what allow it, even after being beheaded, to resurrect itself and quickly resume its struggle for power.

Hiding behind their orders and their depersonalizing uniforms, specially trained and equipped with the “means for suppression”, these people nowadays feel themselves completely above the law, inasmuch as the monstrous government machine of today completely relies on them. And while there is some question as to whether following an illegal order is itself illegal, all of civilized humanity decided this question for itself over a half-century ago – at the Nuremburg trials – but in Russia for some reason many do not consider this truth to be obvious.

All of this leads to some unpleasant thoughts. Even if the current authorities are forced to leave, and this is more than a change in the window dressing, there is no guarantee that the Corporation will not return in time, putting to the forefront figures yet unknown and uncompromised to the general public. For this reason sooner or later we will have to do what was left undone after the breakup of the USSR – we will have to undergo lustration, cleansing the organs of state power of former and active “collaborators”, both clandestine and open.

This is in no way a call for a “witch hunt”, nor a desire to avenge and punish; those who have committed no crime have nothing to be punished for. This action is necessary in order to defend the power of the country from being monopolized by a well-organized, tight-knit and disciplined force, which has its own aims and interests. In addition, the country should place a permanent ban on the profession. No one is suggesting we should dissolve the army or abolish the intelligence or law enforcement agencies. They deserve our respect and admiration when they valiantly perform their proper functions. But not when they start working against private citizens. It is simply necessary to exercise civilian control over their activities, and people who are making a career or considering a career in the intelligence services must understand that the path into the organs of state control, or leadership positions in government companies, has been closed.

Another Original LR Translation: Is the Kremlin Weak or Strong?

Translator Vova Khavkin offers the following translation of a post about the “Other Russia” crackdown by the Kremlin from blogger Dmitriy Shusharin. Russian speakers can click through the link to read the exenstive comments, and ultra-blogger Anton Nossik has commented here with approval, also with numerous comments from readers. Nossik’s remarks are translated following the Shusharin piece.

“An ‘Other’ View”

Russian Blogger Dmitriy Shusharin

It’s a new publication. They asked, so I spoke my mind.

I’ve heard that it’s been published. The editors came up with the title of their own. I don’t know what it was.

Generally, it’s about what people have been talking the whole week and will keep on talking about.

“In interpreting the events around the ‘Dissenters’ Marches’ which are (please note the present tense) taking place in various Russian cities, the following views prevail—to wit, that the authorities got scared, are showing weakness, and are despicable. Needless to say, I am talking about an interpretation of the current events by their participants and by those who are on their side. Or at least assume that no one has yet repealed the Constitution, although we are moving in that direction. So here it is: We are indeed moving in that direction. And this course of events does in no way attest to the authorities’ weakness; rather—to their decisiveness, assertiveness, and strength. The last word is certainly the key here, and it was uttered before me by Andrey Illarionov who spoke quite recently about a model of coercive government.

The only thing that might be added to this is that the coercive model is characterized in that the state institutions and statutory bodies become coercive. Thus, the Central Election Commission becomes a coercive agency. And what drives the activities of the supposedly public youth movements is not demagogy, which right in front of our eyes is being reduced to the logic of “Thank you, Comrade Putin, for our happy life,” but rather belligerent street actions. They are still confined to the streets, but the project “Dump the boss” reminds us of the Maoist “Fire on the staff” [炮打司令部] and, of course, oprichnina [extra-judicial rule by a violent inner circle during the time of Ivan the Terrible].

And keeping in mind that the cliché about the West’s support for the “dissenters” now goes hand-in-hand with the argument that Mikhail Kasyanov has maintained his links to Russia’s oligarchs and bureaucrats, one can expect that we should soon hear something similar to [Stalin’s] notion of intensification of class struggle as we progress towards socialism. The key here is “intensification of struggle” rather than the words “class” and “socialism.”

The initial impression is that the government’s actions are hysterical and obviously excessive. But I suppose that this is a false impression. The ruling clan has so far been able to get what it wants. Andrey Illarionov’s arguments miss the key point: An evaluation of the government’s actions from the viewpoint of the government itself and within the scope of the mission they themselves have defined. And if you use this approach you have to admit that all the objectives have been achieved. And now you have to exploit the gains.

It they will be exploited—through force and force alone—without any regard to the public opinion or the international community, without any concern for the legal or ethical standards; moreover, by rejecting, first and foremost, any moral obligations to the members of the political elite. If you look at it, they are already disregarding it—who are these Berezovskiy, Khodorkovskiy, and Kasyanov, if not former “kinfolk?”

Only the elite itself is capable of counteracting this—if it finds the strength to go beyond internecine squabbles. Lacking this, all marches and all street actions will simply be a part of the government’s confrontational game. Don’t console yourselves with the notion that the authorities are supposedly setting a trap for themselves. Those who consider themselves to be the opposition may end up in the trap—unless they are already there.”

Here’s the take of uber-blogger Anton Nossik on the piece:

Strength or Weakness?

April 23, 2007

Blogger Anton Nosik

Dmitriy Shusharin posted on his LiveJournal blog page a column about the logic of the Russian authorities’ behavior regarding the dissenters’ marches. In his column the author argues with those of the “dissenters” who tend to interpret the disproportionate use of violence against peaceful demonstrators as a manifestation of the authorities’ fear and weakness. In fact, Shusharin argues, “this course of events does in no way attest to the authorities’ weakness; rather—to their decisiveness, assertiveness, and strength.”

Andrey Illarionov’s proposition that a coercive state is being built in Russia cannot be called either new or original. One does not need to attend any marches but simply listen to the Government’s paid propagandists who speak their master’s mind. Indeed, the enforcement bloc in the [power] “vertical” has long ago become superior to the economic [bloc]. And the further we go, the greater its role will be in all social processes, be that elections, rearing the young generation, mass media, Internet, or foreign trade.

Unfortunately, however, this does in no way obviate the fact that the authorities are paranoid, and therein is their weakness.

All totalitarian regimes, whose deeds are—one way or another—mentioned in Shusharin’s article, have been led by clinical paranoiacs fit to be tied: Both Russia in Ivan the Terrible’s time, and Stalin’s [Soviet] Union, and Mao’s China.

Supreme power’s paranoia is the root cause of the continually strengthening role of enforcement structures in the state—the security services first and foremost—whose mission is to identify and suppress domestic enemies. Because the paranoid authorities’ perception of their numbers is greatly exaggerated vs. the reality of it, the security services are given a mission which is quite consistent with their own interests: To breed enemies in a vacuum and concoct seditious conspiracies for the sake of subsequently unmasking them. This, first of all, is easier to do than fighting real enemies, like the terrorists who are well armed and fairly clandestine, and secondly, government’s “request for procurement” to multiply the number of public enemies is an excellent pretext for the enforcement agencies’ bloated staff, budget, and authority. As it was during Ivan the Terrible’s time, today this helps them, inter alia, greatly improve their own wellbeing.

So dealing with real threats—something for which the enforcement agencies have no time left—could simply be reduced to an information blockade which prevents the public at large from learning about their existence. Just as the public never knew at the time they happened about either Chernobyl or the anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk [now Yekaterinburg]. It’s been observed—by others—a long time ago: Troubles in the country happen because mass media report them…

Mighty Moscow Times Blasts Hypocritical Kremlin

The Mighty Moscow Times blasts the Kremlin’s hypocrisy over Estonia with a trutly withering salvo. Are they next on the Kremlin’s hit list?

As indignation and anger among ethnic Russians in Estonia has peaked over the last couple weeks, Moscow’s rhetoric against Tallinn has been abhorrent. This was made clear Tuesday when a group of Russian lawmakers laid flowers at the foot of the Soviet monument that caused all the fuss.

The memorial to slain World War II soldiers has been the scene of clashes between ethnic Russians and Estonians for years, especially on the Victory Day holiday on May 9, when Russia celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany. From the moment Estonian officials announced a plan to move the monument out of central Tallinn, Russian media, particularly the three state-run national television channels, have referred almost exclusively in their news reports to the “dismantling” of the monument. As viewers turned on their televisions Tuesday to the sight of the lawmakers visiting the monument at its new location, in a Tallinn military cemetery, many must have understood that they had only been given half the truth. They had been told about the removal but not the relocation, it would seem, to stoke public indignation against Estonia’s “extreme nationalist” and “blasphemous” attitude. That indignation led to behavior that can only be described as “inhuman” — a favorite Kremlin word — by the Russians who participated in the Friday and Saturday riots that killed one man and injured dozens of others.

Put plainly, Moscow’s conduct in the whole affair has been glaringly hypocritical. When the Kremlin or City Hall explains why opposition marches in Moscow have been banned, they usually cite concerns over unrest and disorder. When the Estonian government tries to avoid the unrest and disorder that usually spoils May 9, Russian officials describe this as “blasphemy.”

At home, members of opposition groups who throw mayonnaise or pies at political figures are branded “extremist.” But in Tallinn, members of pro-Kremlin groups who take part in demonstrations where Molotov cocktails are hurled at police officers and shops are looted are being branded “patriotic.”

Moscow is regularly accused of refusing to respect the independence of countries that were once under its control. In some cases these accusations, including from Estonia, come across as overblown and a bit paranoid.

But if we apply Moscow’s own standards — and the idea of “sovereign democracy” so beloved by Kremlin political theorists — to the case of the monument in Tallinn, there is no excuse for the course Russia has taken. Surely the Estonians have the right to decide where to put a monument in their own capital.

When anyone dares to question Russia’s official interpretation of past events, they are immediately accused of rewriting history. By playing fast and loose with the facts surrounding the recent clashes in Tallinn, Moscow is attempting to rewrite the present.

The MT editorial was followed by a second icy blast from columnist Yulia Latynina of Echo Moskvy radio:

Russia has once more affirmed its status as a great power and bolstered its authority in the world on President Vladimir Putin’s watch. Shortly after the State Duma condemned the relocation of a World War II memorial in Tallinn, the valiant defenders of the Bronze Soldier provided us with a textbook example of how to fight injustice.

They looted the Wool & Cotton, Sportland and Hugo Boss stores late last week in the Estonian capital. They looted a wine shop and burned a few cars. One defender of the monument was stabbed to death during the riot. Dozens of people, including police, were injured. A female police officer’s leg was broken. Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip received a death threat by e-mail.

There’s nothing new about Russian attempts to implement policies aimed at restoring the country to greatness.

One recent example was in 2005, when thugs in Poland beat up the children of Russian diplomats and stole their mobile phones. Putin sharply criticized the actions of Polish authorities. A few days later, patriots beat up three Poles — two diplomats and a journalist — on the streets of Moscow.

Another case was in September 2006, when Georgia detained four Russian military officers on suspicion of espionage. Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili identified the officers as senior members of the General Staff’s Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU. The Defense Ministry immediately refuted the insinuation in the Georgian media that the GRU was involved in intelligence gathering. Then again, under Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, the GRU may well have been involved in some other activity, such as cactus farming.

Putin responded with a call for measures to protect the rights of native vendors in our markets. After that, Russia declared war — not against Georgia, but against Georgians living in Russia. The crackdown dealt Georgians a crushing financial blow that benefited the cops, and the deportation process claimed several lives.

Now Estonia is feeling the heat.

It should be noted that Russia reacts to external challenges in a very selective fashion. The Kremlin saw nothing amiss last July when a North Korean missile landed in Russian waters near the Pacific port of Nakhodka.

When Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal arrived in Moscow for a recent official visit, he announced upon landing at the airport that his movement would not recognize Israel’s right to exist, thereby rendering senseless Russia’s attempt to draw him into the negotiating process. Once again, the Kremlin took the slight in stride.

In other words, Russia never takes offense when a so-called rogue state spits in its face.

There’s no point even talking about the official reaction to events here at home. The parliament was unmoved last week when the remains of six Soviet World War II pilots buried at a memorial in Khimki were unearthed by a bulldozer, the gravestones were tossed around, protesters were beaten by police and the remains went missing. No one called for a boycott of goods from Khimki or for the mayor to be declared persona non grata.

Countries that were once part of the Soviet empire — Poland, Georgia, Estonia — are another matter entirely. When something happens there, the wrath of Putin, the Russian police and bands of curiously elusive avengers is always ready to rain down on those who forget the words of the old song: “Our armor is strong and our tanks are swift.”

And this wrath delivers tangible results. After its diplomats were beaten up, Poland, for example, began talking about allowing the United States to install interceptor missiles on its territory, a move that infuriated the Kremlin. Georgia appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and the Kremlin still can’t figure out why.

Both of these examples clearly demonstrate how Putin’s foreign policy bolsters Russia’s prestige and restores its former imperial greatness.

Illarionov on Yeltsin

Writing in the Moscow Times, Andrei Illarionov, former economic policy advisor to President Vladimir Putin and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, remembers Boris Yeltsin:

Boris Yeltsin lived and died a free man.

The most important things he did in his life he accomplished on his own, right from the banya he built one log at a time with his own hands for his grandfather as a young man, to giving up his place in the Kremlin on the last day of the 20th century. This kind of independence is the mark of a free person.

Yeltsin was a dissident. Brought up in a family that had suffered Stalinist repression, he lived his whole life in defiance of it. In 1986, against all of the rules and traditions of Party bigwigs, he took to the streets alone to tour Moscow’s trolley buses and stores, with no escort or fanfare. In the summer of 1991 he ordered the pilot of the plane bringing him back from Kazakhstan to land at a different airport, thus allowing himself and those around him to elude capture by the KGB agents waiting at the planned landing place. On Aug. 19 of that year, against the advice of his assistants and advisers he went to the White House, despite the uncertainty and real possibility that he could be killed.

Dissidence is a sign of a free person.

Yeltsin answered for his deeds. Both for his great accomplishments — the victory over communism, the peaceful dissolution of the empire, the liberation of the economy and the introduction of a democratic constitution — and for his gravest mistakes — Order 1400, which dissolved the parliament in 1993, the first war in Chechnya and the falsification of the State Duma elections in 1996. He didn’t hide behind anyone or try to shift the blame. He didn’t just talk about taking responsibility — he took it. Not only for his own errors, but for those of others. He didn’t try to hide moments of incompetence, make excuses for his weaknesses or resort to meanness in blaming others. He took all of the responsibility on himself. Whether it was for those who lost their lives defending the White House, for hyperinflation and economic decline or the horrors of war, he took the heat for others, and paid for it with a fall in his own support and popularity.

To be able to shoulder responsibility and bear up under its weight is the sign of a free person.

Yeltsin made mistakes and, in keeping with his character, they were enormous. But he turned out to be the rare Russian politician who wasn’t afraid to admit to them and, when possible, fix them. From the demolition of the Ipatiyev house in Yekaterinburg where Tsar Nicholas II and his family were executed came the erection of a monument on the same site. He began the first Chechen war and brought it to an end. As he left office, he apologized to the Russian people.

The ability to accept responsibility for your errors is a sign of real strength, and this kind of strength can only belong to a free person.

Despite his strong political instincts, Yeltsin could be remarkably naive. He could believe sincerely in the invulnerability of the ruble on the very eve of the 1998 devaluation, for example. But no matter how mocking, grinding and baseless the attacks in the press became, he never targeted them with a word of political rebuke or tried to restrict the activities of journalists.

Freedom of speech is only understood and valued by a truly free person. The idea of freedom of speech was central for Yeltsin.

Yeltsin loved and clung to power. It’s hard to imagine anyone who fought so hard to achieve power and then to retain it. For him, it was a rare and valuable instrument. Its value was in what it could be used to achieve, and not just for itself. He didn’t become a slave to power. He was greater than power.

Yeltsin needed power to use it for Russia. It was as if there was nothing he wasn’t willing to do for the country. In striving for its freedom and prosperity, he performed great feats and made tragic mistakes. He clung to power and then surrendered it for Russia. He pulled the country out of communism, out of empire and out of its past — for the future. He pushed it forward, toward civilization, openness and freedom.

Every person creates in his own image, and it impossible for an unfree person to create a free society. Russia is free because Yeltsin and those around him in 1991 were already free.

For his dear Russians, the result was always either something wonderful or something catastrophic. Perhaps he didn’t have the necessary education, vision or experience. But it is clear now that this small-town boy from the Urals showed more consistency, patriotism and human decency than any graduate of a big-city university.

No slave can be a patriot. A slave belongs to money, assets, corporations, friends or power itself. A patriot belongs only to his country. Patriotism is in the character of a free person.

Yeltsin spent his whole presidency looking for a successor — not to defend Yeltsin’s interests, but those of the country. Prior to the 1998 economic crisis, he looked for this figure among his young economists. All of them, from Yegor Gaidar to Sergei Kiriyenko, failed the test. Following the crash, his focus shifted to young members of the security services, all of whom failed the test even more quickly. Vladimir Putin, the eighth figure to be examined, looked like the best of the lot. The choice was made and Putin was given everything: power, resources, emotional support and so on. Most of all, he was given one important and heartfelt command: “Take care of Russia.”

But initial doubts eventually turned to questions, and these questions ultimately turned into objections. Yeltsin reacted painfully to the betrayal not of himself, but of Russia. But there was nothing he could do to halt the march backward. His private concerns and his public appeals were cut off quickly. It had turned into his biggest mistake.

All that had been done in those years, in the course of an immense struggle that claimed so many victims, was lost. Everything created by Yeltsin in the name of Russian freedom has been systematically and methodically destroyed.

What could he do once the awful mistake had already been made? When nobody was guilty aside from Yeltsin himself? When he no longer had the power, health, time or even the opportunity to speak out and try to reverse the error. What could he do? Could he just sit back and listen to, tolerate and resign himself to what was happening? Could he have reconciled himself to it and, by his silent agreement, sanction the destruction of the free Russia he had created? That would have meant fighting for freedom all your life and, at the end of it all, helping bury it. Not a chance. Yeltsin refused to play along. Trapped at a dead end, Yeltsin found a way out — the exit for a free person.

Yeltsin made the most important decision in his life himself. His heart couldn’t stand the pain of today’s Russia.

So he left.

As a sign of protest

As a sign of refusual.

As a sign that he would not accept what was happening to in the country.

He never surrendered his freedom to anyone. He remained free. Forever. A free man of a free Russia.