Outrageous fortune in Russian II


November 20, 2014 by AK

I’ve looked up “яростная судьба” in different cases and unearthed three other instances of its use in poetic translation, none of them as appropriate as Lozinsky’s. “Средь диких дум о яростной судьбе” (prepositional case) is found in Georgy Shengeli‘s 1930s translation of Byron’s Lara, corresponding to “In wild reflection o’er his stormy life.” The Russian word “судьба” can mean “fortune”, “fate”, “lot”, and in a narrow sense, “life” as in “his life was shaped by a string of unfortunate coincidences.” Shengeli knew what he was doing, as an accomplished poet and translator, but it’s not clear from his text whether Lara is looking back at his turbulent past (as he is) or meditating upon his future misadventures.

Byron comes up again in a search for the instrumental case, “яростной судьбой”, in Vladimir Lugovskoy’s (1901-1957) translation of Prometheus. This time, the rendering is not nearly literal: the Russian expression refers approximately to “deaf tyranny of Fate”. “Rage” is of suspicious relevance here. “Deaf tyranny” suggests Fate’s insensitivity to its pawns’ actions and entreaties, which the poet in the next paragraph took for granted.

Back to the original genitive, “яростной судьбы”. I have come across another remarkable instance of its use: “Тот не умен, кто мнит ценой смиренья // От яростной судьбы себя спасти…”  Literally, “He is not wise who fancies to save himself from outrageous fortune through humility…” The original is a sonnet by Boccaccio, XXXV in the standard index of his poems (not to be confused with Petrarch’s sonnet XXXV), and the translator is Yury Korneyev (1921-1995). The curious fact here is that no “raging” or “furious” is found in Boccaccio’s poem. “He has little sense who trusts to bar Fortune with prayers or tears” is the literal meaning – a remarkable statement from a Christian author.

Outrageous fortune in Russian I


November 19, 2014 by AK

I have commented on Argumentative Old Git‘s post on Shakespeare performances outside Britain. Preti Taneja’s call in The Guardian, “It’s time to break the national monopoly on Shakespeare,” is two centuries late. Maybe more. Russia was a latecomer to the fest but as early as 1837, Pavel Mochalov created an exemplary Russian Romantic Hamlet at the Maly Theater.

As I wrote in the comments, the Russian Wiki entry on Hamlet lists 32 translations of the play into Russian – not all complete, not all in verse, but one translation in 6.25 years! The two canonical ones, Lozinsky’s and Pasternak’s, are relatively recent, from 1933 and 1940. The reason for this post is one line by Lozinsky, “Пращи и стрелы яростной судьбы”, a word-by-word translation, amazingly, of “The slings and arrows of outrageous Fortune.”

Why did he choose яростный for “outrageous”? Simply because the metric pattern fits and technically, the modern sense “violent or unrestrained in behaviour or temperament” is pretty close to the Russian word? Lozinsky – held by Akhmatova and others to be Zhukovsky’s equal in the art of translation – knew his French well and, therefore, realized that “outrage” is derived from outré and ultimately from ultra and is akin to French outrage. That’s all well but I suspect Lozinsky realized it was impossible for an English reader not to parse, if naively, “outrage” as “out-rage”, so “rage” cannot be evicted from “outrage” – and “rage” is properly translated as ярость.

Then I found out that Lozinsky’s fortunate find, яростная судьба, took on a life of its own in Russian poetic translation. To be continued.


Concluding remarks on the Valdai history of Ukraine


November 17, 2014 by AK

A final write-up on Putin’s Valdai hisitoricizing, following parts 1, 2, 3. The “lands wrongly handed over to Ukraine” meme seems to go back to the short-lived Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Republic, the DKR. The majority view is the DKR was a temporary Bolshevik quasi-state that was supposed to merge into a united Soviet Ukraine once Communist domination over the whole of the country was established. Some claim the DKR had grassroot support and its existence reflected the fact than the Ukraine of Sloboda and Novorossia was different, economically and culturally, from the Ukraine of the former Hetmanate, to say nothing of Galicia. The DKR’s incorporation into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1920 was a tragic error according to that view.

As for Putin’s “proletariat” remark, it appears to be based on a 1920s article by Mykola Skrypnik, an influential Ukrainian Bolshevik leader and proponent of Ukrainization of cities, who committed suicide in 1933.

This said, the DKR was still a Ukrainian republic, not a Russian province. And a Russian president pontificating on Ukrainian history is not a credible source for the the being.

The passing of Kakha Bendukidze


November 15, 2014 by AK

Kakha Bendukidze, the brain behind the Georgian reforms under president Saakashvili, has died in London at 58. The Georgian reform team achieved something out of the ordinary in 2004-8: Georgia became the first post-Soviet country east of the Baltic where it was easy to start a business AND traffic cops did not take bribes. Although Russia’s Soviet and post-Soviet intellectuals have been sympathetic with Georgia for decades, it was once considered incorrigible as far as corruption was concerned. (Some Germans probably feel the same way about Italy.) But once Saakashvili stepped down after serving two terms and his party lost the parliamentary election in 2012, the new Georgian government brought trumped-up charges against some of the reformers and even imprisoned one of them, Vano Merabishvili.

Kakha Bendukidze advised the new Ukrainian government on economic reform; its inaction upset him enormously, much like it frustrated Pavlo Sheremeta, the economist who quit as economy minister in September. The problem was the government’s unwillingness to take unpopular measures such as eliminating energy subsidies, cutting government spending, firing superfluous government servants, and privatizing state-held assets. It could have changed since the Rada election because the cabinet, as well as the president, have a perfectly legitimate mandate now, but let’s not forget Yuschenko’s failure, for which Ukraine is now paying dearly. Populist economic policy can only push Ukraine back into Russia’s arms. Bendukidze explained what’s wrong with it in his possibly last interview, with Bloomberg on October 30.

An incongruous claim III


November 14, 2014 by AK

Following parts I and II, I repeat parts of Putin’s “true history of Ukraine“:

Perhaps you are not aware that in 1922, part of the land that you just named, land that historically always bore the name of Novorossiya… Why this name? This was because there was essentially a single region with its centre at Novorossiisk, and that was how it came to be called Novorossiya.

See part I on what’s wrong with the last sentence above.

This land included Kharkov, Lugansk, Donetsk, Nikolayev, Kherson and Odessa Region.

See part II on why Kharkov and parts of Lugansk do not belong in this group.

More of Putin’s historical musings:

In 1921-22, when the Soviet Union was formed, this territory was transferred from Russia to Ukraine. The communists had a simple logic: their goal was to increase the share of proletariat in Ukraine so as to ensure they had more support in various political processes, because in the communists’ view, the peasantry was a petty bourgeois group that was hostile to their aims, and so they needed to create a bigger proletariat. That is my first point.

Second, what also happened I think is that during the Civil War, nationalist groups in Ukraine tried to seize these regions but didn’t succeed, and the Bolsheviks told their supporters in Ukraine: Look what you can show the Ukrainian people. The nationalists didn’t manage to get hold of this territory, but you have succeeded. But it was all one country at the time and so this was not considered any great loss for Russia when it was all part of the same country anyway.

As an aside, however the Bolsheviks drew the borders in 1922 or 1954 cannot justify Russia invading Ukraine in 2014. But I’ve been trying to understand where Putin got these ideas from and to disentangle bits of truth from this mess of distorted history.

In this post, I am mostly going to show that the areas that, according to Putin, were wrongly “transferred” to Ukraine, were majority populated by native speakers of Ukrainian and that the partitioning could be justified on Wilsonian grounds.

The starting points will be this map and this database. The map compares the borders of Soviet and post-Soviet Ukraine with the borders of Imperial governorates. Broadly speaking, Ukraine’s present-day territory includes nine governorates (gubernias), central and southeastern Galicia, northern Bukovina, Transcarpatia and the Budzhak. Were these provinces majority Ukrainian in 1920? Let us check with the most helpful Demoskop for 1897 census data sorted by mother tongue. It does not matter whether the “Minor Russian” of the census is closer to modern literary Ukrainian, Southern Russian dialects or the derided surzhik. I hope it is fair to say that respondents who self-identified as native speakers of “Minor Russian” thereby self-identified as Ukrainians.

According to the 1897 census, the three governorates that Putin is so concerned about – Kharkov, Yekaterinoslav and Kherson – had Ukrainian majorities of 81%, 69%, and 53%. Moreover – unless I made a calculation error – all the districts of these governorates (as well as the two non-Crimean districts of the Tavria governorate) also had Ukrainian majorities, except Odessa and Tiraspol, the latter now in Moldova, mostly in Transnistria.

True, in all the 100k+ cities in the three governorates – Odessa, Kharkov, Yekaterinoslav – native Russian speakers were either the absolute majority (Kharkov) or the largest linguistic group, with Yiddish speakers the second-largest group in Odessa and Yekaterinoslav. Among the three 50k-100k towns, Nikolaev (Mykolaiv) was predominantly Russian-speaking; about half the Kherson residents spoke Russian natively and about a quarter, Yiddish; Yelisavetgrad (now Kirovohrad) had more native Yiddish than Russian speakers, the two groups making up three-quarters of total.

But this picture it’s no different from the whole of the nine Ukrainian governorates (less Crimea) with their eleven 50k+ towns and cities. Native Ukrainian speakers were the largest group exactly in one of them: Poltava, a city at the heart of Gogol’s Ukraine, the area whose dialects gave rise to standard Ukrainian. But in Kremenchug (Kremenchuk), 100 km SW of Poltava, 47% residents were native Yiddish speakers. In Berdichev (Berdychev) on the right bank, this number was 77% out of 53 thousand – that stereotypically provincial town was about as large as Tver and Poltava, both governorate centers. In 1941, Nazis killed most of Berdichev’s Jews as described in Vasily Grossman’s The Murder of Jews in Berdichev. “A large town in the Pale of Settlement”, writes Keith Gessen of Grossman’s birthplace; “a small town not far from Kiev,” Foreign Affairs calls it.

It’s true that, Russian- and Yiddish-speaking, most of Ukraine’s cities were not linguistically Ukrainian – but they were also small islands amid the Ukrainian-speaking countryside. Odessa, the fast-growing Black Sea port, was an exception, as the empire’s fourth-largest city after St. Petersburg, Moscow and Warsaw. Thanks to Odessa, 28% the Kherson governorate were urban residents, way above the 13% average in the empire’s European areas (excluding Poland) but way below the 40% share in the US in 1900. Yet in the Kharkov and the supposedly industrialized Yekaterinoslav governorates the shares of urban residents were 11% and 15%.

Looking specifically at the border with Russia, one finds that four districts (uezds) of the Chernigov (Chernihiv) governorate and a small bit of Donbass in the Yekaterinoslav governorate were cut off and transferred to Russia. On the other hand, one district of the Kursk governorate and two patches of the Don Cossack Region were appended to Ukraine, most notably a strip of land east of the river Kalmius, the old eastern border of Zaporozhye. Ukraine also added small chips off Orel and Voronezh.

By Soviet standards, the border revisions were minor. Moreover, they were broadly in line with the demographic data from the turn of the 20th century, that is, the native language of the majority population.

It turns out that three of the Chernigov districts annexed to Russia were dominated by Russian (“Greater Russian”) speakers and the fourth, by Belarusians. I have no idea why all four went to Russia but Ukraine’s claim on these was tenuous. To the east of Mariupol, the Taganrog district (okrug) of the Don Cossack Region was its only district with a Ukrainian majority, 61% in 1897 and 69% with Taganrog excluded. (So Chekhov grew up in a bustling Russophone town with a strong Greek, Armenian and Jewish presence surrounded by villages of recent Ukrainian settlers.) This seems to be a workable reason why Ukraine appended the strip between the rivers Kalmius and Mius. Also, the Putivl district of Kursk (yes, the Putivl from the Tale of Igor’s Campaign) had a small Ukrainian majority, justifying its inclusion in Ukraine.

The same could be said about the Novy Oskol district of Kursk but somehow it remained with Russia. So did the overwhelmingly Ukrainian-speaking Ostrogozh and Boguchar districts and the majority Ukrainian Biryuch district of Voronezh with a total of 640,000 native “minor Russian” speakers. Either of the Ostrogozh and Boguchar districts had about a quarter million native Ukrainian speakers, almost all of them rural, equal to the total population of Kiev in 1897. This should not be surprising since the three districts were settled by Ukrainian Cossacks from the Ostrogozh regiment and were part of the Sloboda Ukraine.

An incongruous claim II


November 8, 2014 by AK

Continuing from part I, I’m going to focus on a misstatement that may not be important compared with Putin’s other claims but I’d still like to talk about it. “This land [Novorossiya] included Kharkov, Lugansk, Donetsk, Nikolayev, Kherson and Odessa Region,” said Putin.

Kharkov, or Kharkiv in Ukrainian, has little to do with Novorossiya. The Kharkiv-Sumy-Belgorod area is sometimes called Slobozhanschina or the Sloboda Ukraine (note that Belgorod is in Russia). This map seems helpful, although I cannot vouchsafe for its accuracy. Once a sparsely populated frontier of the Russian tsardom, Slobozhanschina was largely settled in the second half of the 17th century by Ukrainian Cossacks fleeing Poland-Lithuania for Russia during the Khmelnitsky wars and the so-called Ruin. Therefore by the mid-18th century, when the Russian government began its efforts to colonize Novorossiya, most of Slobozhanschina had been a sizable – by frontier standards – permanent population.

For about 100 years ending in 1765, the Sloboda Ukraine enjoyed a degree of autonomy and self-government while its Cossacks served as the Russian tsar’s frontier troops – on guard mostly against raids by Crimean Tatars. In fact, the north of the Lugansk oblast – currently under Ukrainian control – is properly part of Sloboda rather than Novorossiya. For example, Starobelsk or Starobilsk was founded in 1598 as a Russian frontier fortress but became part of the territory settled by the Ostrogozh Cossack regiment – formerly Ukrainian Cossacks in Polish service. Interestingly, the town of Ostrogozhsk itself, the regimental capital, is now in Russia, probably because it was historically on the Russian side of the Belgorod line, an exception among Sloboda townships.

In contrast to Starobelsk, Lugansk (Luhansk) did not exist as a proper settlement before 1795, when Charles Gascoigne set up an iron foundry there, and was officially recognized as a town as late as 1884. In 1733-1775, the land now occupied by the city was part of Zaporozhye’s Kalmius district, a large and almost unpopulated steppe. Here’s an interesting list of early Cossack settlements, some seasonal, and makeshift fortresses in the Kalmius district: none of them came close to a real town.

An incongruous claim I


November 4, 2014 by AK

President Putin said this during the Valdai club meeting about ten days ago:

Perhaps you are not aware that in 1922, part of the land that you just named, land that historically always bore the name of Novorossiya… Why this name? This was because there was essentially a single region with its centre at Novorossiisk, and that was how it came to be called Novorossiya. This land included Kharkov, Lugansk, Donetsk, Nikolayev, Kherson and Odessa Region. In 1921-22, when the Soviet Union was formed, this territory was transferred from Russia to Ukraine.

I’ll focus on this part first: “there was essentially a single region with its centre at Novorossiisk, and that was how it came to be called Novorossiya”. It sounds like, “That state had Kansas City as its capital, and that’s how it came to be called Kansas.” Of course Kansas City has never been the capital of Kansas and most of Kansas City as actually in Missouri. The state was so called after the Kansas river. Likewise, Novorossiysk, the Russian port on the Black Sea, was founded in 1838, by which time the term Novorossiya had been in use for 80 year or longer: the first Novorossiyskaya governorate existed in 1764-83. The city never was the capital of Novorossiya. It was not even part of the region as originally defined, although it could be considered part of an enlarged New Russia settlement area at the turn of the 20th century.

Perhaps Putin was referring to Dnepropetrovsk, founded as Ekaterinoslav in 1776. It was called Novorossiysk and was the center of the second Novorossiyskaya governorate in 1796-1802. But it was named after Novorossiya, not the other way round, and to 99% of Russians Novorossiysk is the southern port and definitely not a city in Ukraine.

By the way, it should be easy to see why Ekaterinoslav was renamed twice within a decade: Paul I, who inherited the throne in 1796, was not much fond of his mother, Catherine the Great (Ekaterina in Russian) and was only happy to remove her name from the map of Russian when and where possible. His eldest son Alexander I was, in contrast, a big fan of his grandmother. In 1801, Alexander inspired the palace coup that ended in Paul’s violent death. Predictably, Novorossiysk became Ekaterinoslav again in 1802.

“The insidious power of framing”


October 30, 2014 by AK

The Russian government has found a pretext to cancel FLEX, an exchange program that let Russian teenagers spend several months with American host families and go to a local school. Masha Gessen comments on the deceptive framing of the story by Russian media:

But such is the insidious power of framing: whoever tells the story first controls it. Russian propaganda outlets have this down to a science. They shape the stories, and Western journalists, even those who make a good-faith effort to unpack them, can fall into traps of narrative and terminology.

Journalists have to do something counterintuitive: follow the lead, but insist on disbelieving almost everything about it until it has been proved.

Preach it: “whoever tells the story first controls it… journalists… can fall into traps of narrative and terminology.” It applies to many more cases apart from FLEX.

On the way down


October 25, 2014 by AK

According to Vyacheslav Volodin, first deputy chief of staff to the president, “attacks against Putin are attacks against Russia”, and Russia’s people understand “that if there is no Putin, there is no Russia.”

According to his boss Sergei Ivanov, chief of staff to the president, “One cannot imagine today’s Russian without Putin… moreover, I cannot imagine Russia’s future without such a national leader.”

The two sycophants were immediately compared on Twitter to Rudolf Hess, who said in September 1934 that Hitler was Germany and vice versa. Yes, we’re dealing with two delusional, paranoid nations. Yes, but…

In July 1934, Hitler (45) gets rid of his only Nazi rival, Röhm (46). Less than three months later, Hess (41) proclaims, “Deutschland ist Hitler”. Everyone loves the winner. That year, Germany’s real GDP grows by 9% year-on-year. Unemployment is down to 15%, from 26% in 1933. Five years later, in 1939, Germany’s GDP per capita more than doubles on 1932 and unemployment drops below 2%.

Over to 2014. Putin is 62, Ivanov is 61 and the youngster Volodin is 50 years old. Putin has ruled for 15 years. In 2003 he promised to double the Russian GDP within a decade. It rose by 50% instead; by the end of 2013 GDP growth had all but stopped. Russia is cut off from advanced know-how in its main export industry. It’s locked out of Western capital markets. Its “counter-sanctions”, aka “import substitution”, aka “foot-shooting”, have led to double-digit food inflation. The oil price is falling and threatening a depression next year.

It’s cause enough for panic and desperation: to paraphrase Jim Morrison, “where will we be when the Führer’s gone?” “We won’t give back Crimea in a hundred years” is another mantra that sounds like self-therapy.

Disaster in Vnukovo


October 21, 2014 by AK

Christophe de Margerie‘s jet hit a snowplow and crashed on a Vnukovo runway last night. Total’s CEO and the three crew members died. Margerie was returning to Paris from Gorky, south of Moscow, where he took part in a meeting of international investors with PM Medvedev. Russian investigators are now claiming the snowplow driver was drunk. He has been detained. His lawyer claims he was perfectly sober.

Is this going to be a case of “the switchman is always guilty”? After the previous major accident in Moscow, the July metro disaster, “a senior track master and his assistant” were detained and are still sitting in jail waiting for their day in court. However more senior people have also been charged, although not arrested.

Judging by the Investigative Committee’s latest statement, the switchman isn’t the only bad guy: “It is already evident that the reason for what had happened was not a terrible, tragic turn of events – as the airport’s representatives are trying to claim – but criminal negligence of executives who failed to ensure coordinated action by the airport staff.”

Perhaps — but it’s been less than 24 hours since the accident and the investigators say they already know who to blame, even as the “black boxes” remain unopened. Typical.

Yesterday, October 20, was the International Day of the Air Traffic Controller.


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