Russia Reviewed Monthly, November 2018

If this feature makes it to 10 issues, I’ll celebrate with ice cream and cake!

Just kidding! I’m too poor for those things.

Current

Was going to write something here about Alexei Krasovsky’s film “Праздник,” but talked myself out of it.

Instead I’ll post links to some of the content read over the past month, and if I don’t figure out what to do with this section by next issue, I’ll cull it from monthlies altogether.

Насколько безопасно жить в Петербурге и действительно ли в Купчине опаснее, чем в центре? Рассказывает социолог (Bumaga)

Где живет жар-птица (Kommersant-Ogonyok)

Россия в долгах (Riddle – English version)

Blog News

October was quiet (though I suppose “quiet” isn’t the worst state of being for a blog…). Traffic remained at a becoming-typical-post-hiatus low, but Russia Reviewed was JRL-listed a fifth time for the Inside Russian Politics review. (Pingback on that page.)

Due to a mold problem at the J.T. residence, I had to evacuate my home library (the most important parts of it, anyway) to my kvu dorm room. Only two problems:

  1. There’s one tiny two-level bookshelf in the entire room; and
  2. This stacking technique, while space-efficient, makes individual books a nightmare to remove.

Maybe buying Kindle editions isn’t such a bad idea after all?

It’s not another ROU*, I promise…

…But I am behind in everything. Not only the TBR. Podcasts go unlistened, articles unread, and any hope of reading anything for leisure is buried under mounds of readings for class, term papers, and the ever-expanding honors thesis. Don’t you just love being at a critical juncture in your college education?

I was supposed to get to Tuva and/or Smoking Under the Tsars last month. I promise I’ll review them eventually!

At times like this, you wish there were another person aboard the S.S. Blog able to temporarily take over steering, infusing the voyage with new spirit while keeping things on course.

On the bright side…

I kicked the TBR!

There is literally no personal TBR list anymore.

You voted on topics Russia Reviewed should cover. Here are the top 5 results.

  1. Soviet history
  2. Tie: Corruption/organized crime, pre-Tsarist history, and post-Soviet history
  3. Contemporary literature
  4. Tsarist/Imperial history
  5. Espionage

Wow, three places out of the top five are occupied by history?! And these categories are broad – which specific periods or phenomena interest you? Agrarian reform under the tsars? Soviet central television? Leaving a comment would certainly clarify.

Coming up this month: A review of either Senchin’s Tuva or Starks’s Smoking Under the Tsars, ‘fore a shift towards history topics. Maybe a post about the “politicized novel” and my beef with it.

Language and translation

Microlesson: The flexibility of отойти

This accursed verb of motion (like many accursed verbs of motion) is quite productive. In general the prefix от- denotes movement away from something – not only in the material but abstract sense as well.

Отойди от собаки! Она опасная! = понятно.

Он [от жизни] отошёл. = Умер.

Я наконец отошла. = Я долго сердилась на кого-то, но перестала злиться.

Macrolesson: Let’s expand “to speak” with the power of prefixes!

An old lesson for me, but it’s still fun to create long lists like this!

говорить – to talk / Я неплохо говорю по-русски. / I speak Russian decently.

поговорить – to talk for a short period / Я бы поговорила с тобой, но пришлось бежать на урок по лингвистике. / I would’ve chatted with you a bit, but I had to run off to linguistics class.

разговаривать – to chat, various topics involved / Утром Алле было скучно, она разговаривала с подругой по телефону. / In the morning Alla was bored; she had a phone conversation with a friend.

уговорить – to talk someone into doing something / Меня уговорили записаться на курс по физике. / I was talked into signing up for a course on physics.

отговорить – to talk someone out of doing something / Олег отговорил своего брата от поездки в тот опасный город. / Oleg talked his brother out of a trip to that dangerous city.

приговорить – to sentence (in court) / Суд приговорил обвиняемого к пожизненному заключению. / The court handed the accused a life sentence.

подговорить – to talk someone into doing something negative / Мой сын не мог украсть – эти хулиганы его подговорили это сделать! / My son wouldn’t steal – these hooligans talked him into it!

переговорить – to talk over [others] / Ненавижу людей, которые всех переговаривают – кто ж они?! / I hate people who talk over everyone else – who the hell are they?

наговорить – to say a lot of / Я боюсь того, что я здесь глупостей наговорю, поэтому лучше мне промолчить. / I’m afraid I’ll say a lot of stupid stuff here, thus it’s better for me to stay silent.

оговориться – to misspeak / Извините, я оговорился: экзамен будет не во вторник, а в четверг. / Sorry, I misspoke: the exam will be on Thursday, not Tuesday.

Any word about your translations?

“A Certain Boy” and “Mausoleum” are still in purgatory. Results for the Close Approximations contest (“A Certain Boy”) will be announced Jan 17, 2019; I have no idea when “Mausoleum’s” review period ends. Эти дни для меня как агония…

Well, then. Any word about translation in general?

A conversation with translator Marian Schwartz (Cleaver Magazine)

If books don’t get published, they don’t live.

On being an emerging translator (CAT)

There is a lot of conversation around “emerging” translators—and a lot of jokes made about cocoons and metamorphosis. But the fact is that the practice of literary translation is a lonely pursuit, and the mechanisms of the publishing business are often dauntingly obscure to the uninitiated. So though the term may be hard to define and might evoke butterflies as much as it does devotees of international literature, it can be very useful to have systems of support available for us fledglings.

New discoveries

Hey look, another one!

geohistorytoday

Geohistory (or Geohistory Today) is a student-run news and opinion site affiliated with the School of Russian and Asian Studies. “For those who wonder”, “deeper understanding”, and so on and so forth.

We take the term “geohistory” to refer to the analysis of a country’s history and current state in terms of the verifiable facts on the ground: relying largely on geography and statistics to produce practical and pragmatic analysis. A country’s geography determines many things about a country – from its climate and available crops to invasion and trade routes. Statistics give us the clearest picture of what a country’s current demographic, economic, and military status is. Thus, understanding geography and statistics can give us a much deeper understanding of not only a country’s history, but also its modern political, geopolitical, and economic imperatives. (from the About Us page)

Hm, certainly “interesting” – both the site’s insistence on geography and the four occurrences of “country” in this paragraph, which I thought the editor would’ve caught. Read a few geohistories yourself – if you’re anything like me, you won’t come away fully convinced that geography and stats hold all the answers.

Other features on the site include cultural profiles, analysis, aggregated news, and politics in translation (probably its strongest feature, but in need of diversification). Readable overall but suffering many of the same problems as Harvard-run Russia Matters.

This time around, I have standout books for you!

The Freedom Factory by Ksenia Buksha (Release date: 13 Nov 2018)

The Freedom Factory is a collection of anonymized monologues by workers and managers of a Soviet military factory, existing somewhere between fiction and non. I’ve never encountered anything like it and can’t wait to read it. The publication date for this poor book keeps getting pushed back – hopefully this is the final one.

Philosophical Thought in Russia in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century: A Contemporary View from Russia and Abroad, edited by Marina Bykova et al. (release date 10 Jan 2019)

In addition to providing the historical and cultural background that explains the development of the 20th-century Russian philosophy, the book also puts the discussed ideas and theories in the context of contemporary philosophical discussions showing their relevance to nowadays debates in Western philosophy. With short biographies of key thinkers, an extensive current bibliography and a detailed chronology of Soviet philosophy, this research resource provides a new understanding of the Soviet period and its intellectual legacy 100 years after the Russian Revolution. (A’zon)

Commentary

You’d never believe some of the чушь that somehow gets past peer-reviewers into academic journals.

Good thing nothing like that happens in *this* chamber of the ivory tower, eh?

*crickets*

15 thoughts on “Russia Reviewed Monthly, November 2018

  1. “It is his work with LavkaLavka that inspired this “Open Letter to the Authorities.” In it, he returns to Lenin’s immortal question “What is to be done?””
    Posted By: SRAS Students

    In this case of universalist anonymity – all of SRAS students are idiots. They deserved to be told it in their faces every single one of them. For therapeutic effort as to prevent future idiocy.

    “The most obvious example of this would be the Times of Troubles, when state institutions were destroyed completely. Nobody knew what the heck was going on in the country (or, more precisely, “within the land,” since the country didn’t actually exist). But, in that very moment, Russian society self-organized without any tsars, boyars, or outside help and even while many oppositional and minority factions existed. A temporary government for the urban population (the “disgruntled masses”) was set up in Yaroslavl. But why did these “disgruntled masses” raise an army (and literally throw in the money to create it), hold council, and elect a new tsar, who himself was dependent on the assembly in many ways?”

    “The creation of a new Russian government in 1613 was a shining example of a citizen’s society or, at least, the seedling of one (I would call it a forest) that proved effective and left a strong impression.”

    The author is an exalted idiot. That’s what having a half-assed humanities education* half-forgotten in the later years devoted to making money and half-a-dozen ideas got from left, right, center and the bottomless pits of the Net gonna do to your brain.

    A) Russian state institutions were not destroyed as the result of the Times of Troubles – they kept functioning. Various pretenders (most notably – False-Dmitry II) could not come up with anything better than them, so they had their own voivodes (military governors), prikazes (bureaus) and various court titles and stations.

    B) Taxes were collected. Rosters of the local nobles bound for military serve were maintained. The only question was – “to whom send these financial and manpower resources?”

    C) “Russian society” did not “self-organized without any tsars, boyars”. I strongly LOLed at “no boyars” part, given who was prince Pozharsky, or the heads of the 2nd Militia and interim heads of various prikazes gathered in Yaroslavl.

    There was no Russian “society”. Driving political (and military) force during the Times of Troubles was the nobility as a class (go and “boo!”, it doesn’t make it less of a class, just it because sound oh-so-Marxist!). Lower part of the nobility, landed gentry comprising of dvoryane and deti boyarskie had been most aversely affected by the ensuing civil war and foreign intervention. They were also the most organized force out there.

    Every locality had its own so-called (warning – purely historiographical term, not a real one) “noble corporation”, which organized them for mobilization purposes and maintained cohesion in the peace time. These “corporations” were not just military units – they were also vehicles for the lobbying power, expressing their needs, woes and complaints as a collective, not as individuals to the officials in Moscow. In 17th c. power grew from the blade of a sword – and local noble corporations had enough of them. They ultimately decided the fate of Russia by fighting and winning battles. They, professional warriors, saved it.

    The price for that was that they could now successfully leverage their increased lobbying power to get what they desired most… serfdom on steroids.

    D) Reading through the rest of this historically inaccurate piece by Akimov, it’s painfully obvious what it is – a crie du ceaur by a petite bourgeois, stomping his little feet angrily, shouting: “We are the power here! Hey, Kremlin and you, Russian bydlo – why are you not taking us serious?!”. Well, mostly because he and others like him (the fact that he “did a time” for the SNOB should be viewed as Cain’s mark) does not deserve that.

    E) That it’s all about – so-called “urbanites”, or burghers or petite bourgeois want to rule. They are a tiny minority that is alienated from both the vast majority of population and also of no particular vital use for the government. They are totally replaceable. They are even not essentially needed. They can’t self-organize themselves, let alone their “lessers” or even country at large.

    They are, thus, butthurt. Damn you, Sta Putin!

    F) This… thingy is from 2013. Since then a lot of stuff happened – including mutual sanctions between Russia and the West. Boris Akimov greately profited from that:

    “Major Russian grocery chains, desperate to find new suppliers, tracked down Mr. Akimov, the founder of Russia’s fledgling farm-to-table movement, to ask urgent supply questions. How many chickens and eggs could he provide, they wanted to know, and could he deliver 100 tons of cheese, say, immediately.

    Mr. Akimov, 36, who has a heavy beard and an infectious grin, had to turn them away — his 100 farmers produce nowhere near the amounts requested. LavkaLavka, the organic farm cooperative he and a friend set up about five years ago, sells between six and 12 tons of artisanal cheese annually, for example.

    “The main thing which the sanctions have already changed is in people’s minds — in government, in business and on the streets, they have started to think more about where their food comes from,” Mr. Akimov said in an interview in his new, homey restaurant in central Moscow, where the light fixtures are sawed-off milk cans painted red. “If the sanctions give a chance to develop local farmers, to develop sustainable agriculture, it is very good. But I am not sure it will happen.”

    […]

    Members of the collective hope sanctions stick around long enough for Russians to start exploring their own food, not just substitute imports from China or Turkey for what once came from the United States and Europe.”
    – “Organic Farms Become a Winner in Putin’s Feud With the West”, The New York Times, Nov. 18, 2014.

    ““Try the deer heart,” Boris Akimov suggests from behind a bushy beard. My stomach sinks, but I cannot refuse: Akimov is a demigod in the Moscow food world, and we are sitting in LavkaLavka, the flagship restaurant of the LavkaLavka farmers’ cooperative. The crimson meat comes thinly sliced atop a celery puree, with a garnish of cowberry sorbet. It’s surprisingly tender.

    When I first visited the cooperative five years ago, its footprint was limited to a cramped shop and café hidden in a labyrinthine courtyard, and its focus on fresh produce and homemade delicacies was still novel. Russian cuisine remained mired in a Soviet-era bog of potatoes and borscht. Fine dining mostly involved imported cuisine, and locavorism remained foreign, at least in concept. Yet over the past several years, a band of Russian farmers, chefs, and restaurateurs have launched a revival of Russian gastronomy.

    They have found an unlikely ally in President Vladimir Putin. After the West slapped sanctions on Russia for annexing Crimea and stoking a war in Ukraine’s east in 2014, Putin responded by banning agricultural imports from the European Union, the U.S., and several other countries. Customs inspectors made a show of destroying banned products at the border, resulting in surreal scenes of cheese thrown into incinerators and geese flattened by bulldozers.

    Although the embargo sent food prices soaring, Russians largely supported it: According to the Levada Center, an independent polling organization, most say it has made Russia more respected. “Russia can provide for itself,” crowed the pro-Kremlin tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets. And indeed, the ban has been a boon for Russian agriculture. With many ingredients unavailable (and others rendered prohibitively expensive after the ruble went belly-up in 2014), chefs are seeking producers closer to home. “After the sanctions, everyone understood that there’s no other way out,” Uilliam Lamberti, an Italian chef behind several Moscow establishments, told the culinary magazine Afisha Eda…

    …LavkaLavka now has an expansive suburban market and five smaller shops, along with the restaurant, whose ingredients are all sourced from Russian producers.

    After the deer heart comes a salad of crab from Kamchatka and a delicate river pike perch. We chase it down with infused polugar, an ancient Russian bread wine (a forefather to vodka) that’s enjoying a comeback.”
    – “ How the Embargo Rescued Russian Food Culture ”, The Atlantic, June 2017.

    Naturally – “demigod” Akimov is now does not involve himself in politics. Times are good. To quote a quip attributed to William Rockefeller – “money loves the silence”.

    ____
    * I know what I’m talking about – my friends mother-in-law is a MSU’s Philosophy’s department prof… oh, the stories she can tell about Mikhail Gorbachev’s future wife Raisa Maximovna!

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      1. I want to start with noticing a typo – I wrote “SRAR”. It should be “all of SRAS students are idiots”.

        That’s the point, J.T. “D-” mark is also “harsh”, but serves not to punish the students, but to show that they are wrong and should do better. As I understand it, the anonymous “SRAS students” are not solely to blame – the site has editors, who allowed this to go through. Its either nobody among the editors and the students knows, that the phrase was popularized by a novel which saw the light 7 years prior to Lenin’s death, OR they knew it and didn’t care. Or they aimed for a cheap associative benefit of “Lenin = communism”, “Russia = communism”. I mean – who really knows in the West a thing about Chernyshevsky let alone read him?

        Which brings the question – what are “Russian” and “Eurasian studies”? From the POV of which science are they studying us? And, no – copy+paste of the articles that “clink” with your inner political chakras and passing this as “analysis” is not a “study”.

        But, yes, I think I should apologize, for calling every single student of SRAS an idiot. For I failed to notice what it says at the end of the article:

        “Translation and introduction by Alyssa Yorgan, who holds a BM (cello performance) and an MA (musicology) from Indiana University-Bloomington. She has focused most of her research on music and politics in the Soviet Union. She has studied abroad in Ufa, Russia (via a State Dept. Critical Language Scholarship) and has now worked abroad in a variety of fields including teaching English, working as a recruiter for American Councils’ FLEX program, and translating. She is currently studying through SRAS on a customized Translate Abroad internship and hopes to pursue future work in Moscow in the fields of translating, editing, and localization management.”

        The article is from 2014. Now she is Alyssa Yorgan-Nosova, so she made this translation and penned the intro while working for Yandex in Moscow. “From Russian with Style” site is run by her. Her translation is good – really good. It doesn’t make her a specialist in Russia though. So one has to wonder – is this a paragon of the “Russian Studies”, when just about anyone with the knowledge of the language is taken for an ultimate authority and guru by default?

        To end on a lighter note, I’d like to recount an old Eastern fable about Hodja Nasreddin.

        Once upon a time, Hodja Nasreddin served as qadi. A man once came to him to consult on the case. Having told him everything, that man at the end asked: “

        “Well, now? Am I not right?”

        “You’re right, you’re are absolutely right. Surely, you will win this case” Hodja remarked.

        The next day, that man’s opponent also came to Hodja. And he also told him about the case, but, of course, from his own POV.

        “Well, Hodja, what do you say? Am I not right?” He exclaimed.

        “Of course you are right. Surely you will win this case…” Hodja answered him.

        Nasreddin’s wife accidentally heard both these conversations and, intending to shame her husband, exclaimed:

        “Efendi, it’s impossible for both the plaintiff and the defendant be right at the same time!”

        Hodja calmly looked at her and said:

        “Yes, wife, you are also absolutely right… ”

        “Well, if all of us are right” – fumed his wife, – “then who is wrong here?”

        “That idiot who appointed me qadi” – answered Hodja Nasreddin.

        So let cellist, translators and argo-holding businessmen catering to the fine(r) tastes of the kreakleriat do what they can do and be appreciated for that. But to take their opinions for an objective truth?.. No wonder the West at large fails to understand Russia and blames it on “riddle, wrapped…”.

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        1. 1) Typo corrected.

          2) Except a D- critiques the work, while “idiot” is directed at the person. A D paper can improved with a rewrite. Recovery rates from idiocy aren’t as high.

          3) The What is to be Done/”rational egoism” Chernyshevsky?

          4) “Russian Studies” is an interdisciplinary lump term for any number of…let’s call them “academic paths” combining regional attention to Russia and other academic disciplines (anthropology, polisci, history, comparative literature, sociology, music, philosophy, etc.)

          The American higher ed system has the humanities, not the humanitarian sciences. The classic approach to RAS, slavicism (lang-lit-hist, which many people imagine when they hear “Russian Studies”), uses no science whatsoever.

          Journalists writing for the news-media about Russia are not practitioners of Russian Studies. Think-tankers are not practitioners of Russian Studies. Russian Studies exists in academia.

          That’s all I’ve got. Rest assured this question bugs me too. I’ve begun leafing through descriptive/normative documents from the ’50s, the infancy of RAS. I’m about to start asking around – i.e., ask practitioners for *their* definitions. Another day passed without any hint as to what the hell I’m doing here is another day pushing me closer to dropping everything (even the new anthropology angle) and becoming a pilot or something.

          Like

          1. “2) Except a D- critiques the work, while “idiot” is directed at the person. A D paper can improved with a rewrite. Recovery rates from idiocy aren’t as high.”

            Probably, you are right J.T. Calling people “idiots” and meaning it is like saying that they are hopeless. At least in Russia, when you’re calling someone “durak”, it is to offend someone and make a point. Real “durak/dura” will start pouting and taking offence. A smart person will analyze, whether the offense is justified and what, indeed, should be done in order to improve oneself.

            Recovery rates from self-induced idiocy are even lower among the people, who prefer only sugarcoated assessment of their work – or no critique whatsoever. At least that’s how I was brought up/taught.

            “The What is to be Done/”rational egoism” Chernyshevsky?”

            Good to know, J.T.! Even not that many Russians these days ever read him.

            “The American higher ed system has the humanities, not the humanitarian sciences. The classic approach to RAS, slavicism (lang-lit-hist, which many people imagine when they hear “Russian Studies”), uses no science whatsoever.”

            Boom! YES! Please, contact the Chamber of Weights and Measures in Paris – we have found the basic element of the Poor Understanding Of Russia. It will take it’s rightful place somewhere between the “Riddle, Wrapped in a Mystery” (inside an Enigma) and “1 Gluck” (unit of measurement for the newspaper Russophobia, named after late and unlamented André Gluksmann)

            Russian Studies, as you describe it, is a patchwork beast – a Chimera. A monster. The practitioners (we can’t call them scientist) of it are Jack’n’Jills of All Trades and Masters of None ™. Unfortunately – they are the only thing available in the adequate quantity within the market, so they became go-to “experts” in everything Russia related. Which means one thing – they are not good. At best, they are mediocre in a number of the fields.

            It’s like calling me an expert in the string theory just because I watched (up till last year) “The Big Bang Theory” TV series. The thing is – I’m not. I can retell what other people (and actors) said about that, but I lack the understanding to make my own conclusions. The same is with the people (check the “About us” and “Meet our Team” sections on SRAS and geohistory site.

            Also, it seems I was too generous to Alyssa Yorgen. E.g., she translates «рассерженные горожане» as “disgruntled masses”, thus failing to grasp the point that Akimov (lamely) tries to make here – that the political active city-dwellers (“горожане”) aka burghers aka urbanites aka petite bourgeoisie like him created the Russia That We Have LostЪ ™. The premise is totally false and unsupported by the facts, as I said in my initial comment.

            Another example (I’m sure, there are more, I’m just not on a “bug hunting mission”) is when she translates “… в провинциально-деревенских широтах… Тверской областей…” as “Tversk regions”. It’s “Tver region”, but, actually, “oblast”. Nit-picking? Maybe. But why I’m doing it and not their editors? What are they doing out there? Who are the target readership of this piece – people who are interested in Russia, but know nothing about it and, thus, can swallow such things as “Tversk” region, Lenin as the inventors of the “What is to be done?” and gross historical inaccuracies?

            That’s propaganda – indoctrination of the neophytes.

            There is an alternative explanation though – none of them takes they work seriously. Either they are accustomed to the radiant pool of ignorance about all things Russia which surrounds them in the society, so they are safe from the uncomfortable “gotcha!” moments exposing them as frauds… or they, again, don’t care. “In the kingdom of the blind even a one eyed is a king” and all that jazz. They know that they have the ultimate job security, no matter how bad they are – others are worse/no better.

            That’s absolutely horrible. This also explains why we have so much “quality” books about Russia as the ones reviewed here on Irrusionality.

            “Journalists writing for the news-media about Russia are not practitioners of Russian Studies. Think-tankers are not practitioners of Russian Studies. Russian Studies exists in academia.”

            …And, of course, some think-tankers write for the Media as if they were journos, and journos join think-tanks. Small world…

            “Another day passed without any hint as to what the hell I’m doing here is another day pushing me closer to dropping everything (even the new anthropology angle) and becoming a pilot or something.”

            🙂

            Like

            1. Lyt, it may interest you to check out the following links to American RAS grad programs and their course lists, to get an idea of their “shared values” and what kind of material they deem worth teaching.

              University of Wisconsin-Madison

              The REECAS curriculum is designed to promote:

              -A broad understanding of the cultural, political, economic, social, and historical factors that have shaped the development of societies in Eurasia, Russia, and Eastern and Central Europe
              -Professional-level proficiency in one or more languages of Eurasia and Eastern and Central Europe
              -Knowledge of methodological and analytical approaches of different disciplines that will contribute to a better understanding of the region and prepare students for conducting advanced research.

              Featured courses: their “best foot forward”
              Undergrad courses
              Grad courses

              Harvard University

              […] is a two-year program that offers advanced training in the history, politics, culture, society, and languages of this region. The REECA master’s degree offers an excellent foundation for any career that requires broad area expertise, a high level of proficiency in the Russian language, and superb research, writing, and communication skills. […] The REECA curriculum is designed to offer students the flexibility to tailor their personal plan of study to meet their academic and professional goals, while also ensuring a sound understanding of the history, politics, society, and culture of Russia and neighboring countries. […] Many REECA alumni go on to pursue careers in government service, frequently serving as diplomats or analysts. Others join international non-governmental organizations, like the World Bank, educational exchange organizations, or advocacy groups working to promote human rights.

              Course list

              Columbia University

              The program provides intensive exposure to the politics, international relations, modern history, and cultural and social formations of the region, with both a country-specific and trans-regional focus. […] The program is tailored to meet the needs of persons entering professional careers, mid-career professionals, as well as students preparing for entry into doctoral programs, and those with a professional degree, such as the J.D. or M.B.A., who want to gain regional expertise.

              Princeton University

              The Princeton Slavic Department offers the Ph.D. degree in Russian Literature and Culture. The program provides students with a firm foundation in their major area as well as the opportunity to explore related fields, for example: comparative literature, literary theory, and other Slavic languages and literatures.
              The aim of our graduate program is to further interest, knowledge, and scholarship relating to Russia and Slavic Central Europe, primarily through the cultural humanities. To this end we urge our students to explore new intellectual paths and approaches, having first provided them with a strong background in the Russian literary tradition, an introduction to major schools of theory, and the opportunity to conduct research abroad.

              Course list from 2017

              Stanford University

              CREEES’s one-year interdisciplinary master’s degree program in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies provides students with a strong grounding in historical and contemporary processes of change in the Russian Federation, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Core requirements provide intellectual cohesion, while electives and the capstone project give students the flexibility to pursue their own academic and professional interests drawing on Stanford’s excellence in teaching and research and rich library and archival resources.

              Course list

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        2. Wow, I had no idea that some clearly *very important* person from the academy was flinging around ad hominem attacks at me over a 6-year-old student paper! Thanks to backlink tracking, however, now I know. Lyttenburgh – thanks for the umpteenth reminder of what a good decision it was to leave academia back in 2011. As you noted, I am not and have never claimed to be a Russian Studies or Russian History expert and do not hold a degree in those fields. I studied translation at SRAS for a few months *before* getting offered full-time work as a translator at both Interfax and Yandex and choosing the latter. Yandex is not an academic institution, nor are any of the other major multinational tech companies that I have localized everything from websites and apps to marketing collateral for over the last several years. I can assure you that none of my clients have ever needed me to reference the boyars, Cherneshevsky, etc. They are more concerned with hiring someone who can research, write, and optimize copy to sell stuff. Check out https://www.fromrussianwithstyle.com/ for more info on the content localization solutions I offer.

          So I officially crown you “person who knows more about Russian history than Alyssa Yorgan,” and am writing a virtual A+ with a red pencil and affixing a virtual “good job!” sticker to your comments. Na zdorove.

          P.S. From the Wiki you linked to: “Vladimir Lenin, however, found it inspiring and named a 1902 pamphlet “What Is To Be Done?”.

          Like

  2. On the Western Rusistics or Всё Плохо

    Intro.

    Before I begin, let us define some basic terms.

    Science – a sphere of human activity aimed at the development and systematization of the objective knowledge of reality. The basis of this activity is the collection of facts, their constant updating and systematization, critical analysis and, on this basis, the synthesis of new knowledge or generalizations that not only describe the observed natural or social phenomena, but also allow us to build causal relationships with the ultimate goal of forecasting. Those hypotheses that are supported by facts or experiences are formulated as laws of nature or society.

    Discipline – a distinct and independent branch (field) of a given science.

    Slavistics (aka “Slavic studies”) – as per Eng-Lang Wikipedia, is “the academic field (i.e. a discipline) of area studies concerned with Slavic areas, Slavic languages, literature, history, and culture. Originally, a Slavist (from Russian славист or Polish slawista) or Slavicist was primarily a linguist or philologist”. End of quote.

    Meanwhile, Russian Wikipedia defines it as a science (rus. “наука”) that studies languages, literature, folklore, history, material and spiritual culture of the Slavic people. Initially, Slavistics began as an offshoot of philology/linguistics in the period, when most of the Slavic people were gaining the national consciousness and, thus, was useful in real life. The results of the original Slavistic studies were many, like laying foundation of the national literary tradition and languages, finalization of grammar and introduction into common circulation of the ancient documents and literary sources, inexplicably connected with the study of the language history.

    It all changed after WW2 or, not to mince words, when the Cold War began. Due to some impressive mental gymnastics, Russian studies became an “interdisciplinary field (i.e. a discipline) crossing history and language studies” totally interchangeable with politically charged “Soviet and Communist studies” and even “Kremlinology” (Wikipedia is even brave enough to mention, that “In the German language, such attempts acquired the somewhat derisive name “Kreml-Astrologie” (Kremlin Astrology), hinting at the fact that its results were often vague and inconclusive, if not outright wrong”).

    But initially, Rusistics was just a part of the Slavistics, i.e. a complex of sciences (rus. “наук”) covering the study of the Russian language, culture, literature, people and history, but, primarily, still primarily an offshoot of philology/linguistics. It’s downgrade into Sovietology resulted in having to deal with the lack of ready access to open information about the subject of the study (if you have a War, even a Cold War, you are not supposed to be chatty with the enemy). Therefore, after it’s “rebranding” Rusistics/Sovietology/Kremlinology had to use go for its sources to the journalism and intelligence data (both biased and unreliable, plus politically charged), and when it came to the processing of the data, the “disciplinarians” (can’t call them scientists, right?) resorted to the secondary (and tertiary… and…) data analysis plus the assessments by the self-styled (as per Catch-22) “experts”.

    (RuWiki) Philology – a complex of sciences that study the culture of the people, expressed in language and literary work. It is a close to linguistics, but the difference lays in the fact that linguistics as the science not always involves textual analysis, often does not involve culturology and, in general, is much closer to the precise sciences, compared to the philology.

    OR!

    (EngWiki) Philology – is the study of language in oral and written historical sources; it is the intersection between textual criticism, literary criticism, history, and linguistics. Philology is more commonly defined as the study of literary texts as well as oral and written records, the establishment of their authenticity and their original form, and the determination of their meaning.

    How we talk about things shape the way how we think about them as well. As one can easily notice, Russian and English definitions of these terms often differ in one critical aspect. Russian ones emphasize the scientific aspect of each and every kind of the -logies and -istics mentioned above, while the English key word for their description is an ambiguous study. One can study a paint on the wall, or how the grass is growing – all the while learning nothing at all.

    I’m not suggesting for the native English speakers to change their definition of the terms. I’m simply drawing attention to the fact, that we, indeed, speak different languages and our understanding of the world differs on so many levels. This, naturally, colors our different approaches to, well, everything. Here’s one example.

    Russian academic tradition defines Americanistics as a complex of disciplines that study the USA (and to a lesser degree Canada) from the POV of the relevant disciplines of history, geography, economy, sociology, jurisprudence, philosophy, political science, and, yes, philology. There is NO such “science” or “discipline” as Americanistics, studying which one can gain the supreme knowledge of America. There is no such “job” as an “americanist”. “American Sciences” is just an umbrella term that covers many spheres of study, who share the field of their research (a country) but not the target (e.g. economics, history, politics etc). Thus, someone who devoted time and effort to study Faulkner’s works is an Americanist philologist. Such person, at least in Russia, has no chances of being invited to one of the late night political talk-shows and touted before the audience as the ultimate specialist in “America”, followed by the prodding and probing from the host to explain what the hell do They want from us. OTOH, a notable professor from the Institute for US and Canadian Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences often gets invited. Why? Because it’s primarily a poli-sci (rus. “политологический”) think-tank, that focuses on political, economic, sociological and military spheres.

    To my absolutely subjective POV, in the West it’s the other way round. For, you see – Russia is an elephant.

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  3. Part I. Very quick and very dirty history of the “Russian Studies” in the West.

    “Müller is awoken at 3 AM by knocking at his door. Annoyed as hell, he goes to open it and sees a bearded man in a winter jacket, ushanka with a Red Star, and laden with a huge radio set.”

    “Elephants go north.” – says the man.

    “Elephants can go screw themselves,” – answers Müller in irritation – “Your man Shtirliz lives on the next floor.”
    – Classic Soviet anekdot about “17 moments of spring” TV series.

    I won’t pretend to be particularly knowledge, or to know some important insider information, or refer to some 100500% truthful, yet anonymous sources. Up till last week I honestly had no idea what the “Russian Studies” are, J.T. When I was asking you time and again I was not trolling – I did not know, and wanted for you to explain, to become this “insider” :).

    As I see it, Western “Russian Studies” is a monster – «чу́дище о́бло, озо́рно, огро́мно, стозе́вно и ла́яй».

    Short historical reference. After the October Revolution and failure of the international intervention to topple the Soviet government, western states chose a new tactic – international isolation and sanctions combined with the “active measures” within the country plus military-political support of the new limitrophe states on the USSR periphery to serve as the cordon sanitaire(french president Clemanseau used the term «Iron Curtain» in 1919) against the “Red plague” and a possible staging area of new war. These activities were loudly supported by the throng of new émigrés from Russia who assured (both themselves and their gracious hosts) that “The Downfall of the Regime is Imminent” ™, it will happen any moment now, juuuuust wait for it. No need to rush – or to pay attention to the “Soviet Russia”. Thus the West deliberately stunted its own (public/civilian) study of Russia, a situation made only worse by the stubborn refusal to diplomatically recognize the USSR.

    Post 1917 situation also presented another dilemma – what should be the subject of the study? New, “Bolshevik Russia” was basically a taboo subject due to abovementioned reasons. OTOH, study of the “Russia That Wѣ Havѣ LostЪ” ™ while pleasing for the nostalgia inducing had rather limited real-world applications. Still, 1920s became the time when Russian studies were introduced to the West at large in many cases due to emigrants’ efforts. In such form they were low key, lacked serious state funding and focused on “safe” topics like history and culture. According to recently deceased Walter Ze’ev Laqueur’s “In Search of Russia” (1964), in the United States from 1850 to 1950 the number of degrees received for the topics covering or having some relationship to the subject of Russia and Northern Eurasia in general amounted to about 250. Why situation with the Russian Studies of the era was so deplorable? Because the Invisible Hand of the Market made it so – there was next to none way to turn it into a profit for the market-centric American system of the Higher Education. Neither was there a prestige factor, or, the universal magic wand, of the state funding, reserved for the things of the utmost national importance – like security.

    Then, after yet another unsuccessful attempt to obliterate Russia by the coalition of countries, representing a certain pinnacle of the Western civilization, the Cold War broke out. What was the difference between 1920-30ss and late 1940s? The USSR was no longer “contained” and in international isolation, the West could no longer unilaterally do whatever it wanted on the face of the globe, and the Soviet Union became regarded as multifaceted threat to the Western Order. The West was also woefully ignorant of its newest enemy, but only this time for a change, it regarded this not as a feature but as a dangerous bug. As it often happens, overreaction was the answer. As it also often happens – there were personnel issues.

    …My head-canon pictures a Pattonesque American general, gathering in the dimly-lit undisclosed location various shy and conscientious intilligents, who, beforehand, spent their entire careers studying Christian motifs in the works of Dostroyevsky or Speransky reforms under Alexander I, and who became regarded as the ultimate authorities on ALL things Russian. In his short speech, the general would emphasize, that there is a new War. In these trying times, the Nation has to do with what it has – i.e. with such smart alecs as them. So dem smarties should congratulate themselves, on becoming the frontline soldiers of the New war. If they think to do or say something funny – look out of the window and see what brave patriot Senator Joe McCarthy does with commie lovers. More so – in order to show you what we want to get from you and to ensure ideological purity and limit the risk of the sympathy for the enemy, we will assign to your team experienced specialists from the Central Europe… Staunch anti-communists, all of them! Fought dem Russkis even before our time – like herr Professor Schmidt here. What? Oh, sorry, prof – it’s “Mister Smith” now. Now, you eggheads – at the double and give me my Russian narrative!..

    [In 1948 there were 38 Sovietologists working in the CIA, most of whom never visited Russia/USSR and only 12 knew Russian language to any degree. Only one of them was a PhD. The gamut of specialties ran from bibliography to engineering]

    And so it went since then. “Russian/Soviet Studies” could not be fashioned as a fact-finding discipline, because a) There was not much to work with; b) The “scientists” themselves were ill-equipped to do the science. For the purposes of the research, “Soviet Russia” could indeed be situated in the Middle Earth and be called Mordor. A degree of “artistic license” and truly liberal approach with the facts, going on a limb and substituting once intuition, 5th feeling, biases and blind faith instead of the facts were tolerated. Richard Pipes for his monumental work became the Absolute Guru of the Cold War Ideology during his life.

    What kind of output did the intellectual efforts of the “Russianists” gave to the humanity? They produced the narrative – that in the Soviet (or any) Russia “Всё Плохо”. Being something that sprang (can’t say “developed”) out of philology, that, inherently, operates less on reliable verifiable bases and more on perceptions and interpretations, the Russian Studies retroactively blessed all their “findings” about Russia. They further safeguarded themselves from any critique by “poisoning the well” and cultivating the complete distrust of the research done by the Russians about Russia using Russian sources, as either biased, ideologically charged or insincere, cuz, look-they-clearly-threatened-that-guy-to-write-it! Only Free People of the Middle Earth West can produce the Truth. Others are too oppressed or dumb or something.

    At the height of the Cold War, there were more than 1200 of American research centers of various types (closed, semi-closed, open) specializing in the Sovietology. Such centers were created at the ministries and departments, universities, commercial and non-commercial structures. Since the majority of “Ru-Sov Studies” research centers were funded either directly from the US state budget, or through affiliated non-governmental foundations “for the promotion of democracy and civil societies” ™, their research was often requested either by military or civilian intelligence agencies, so the topics of the research often had real-life application or, more specifically, military application. The Soviet and Russian philosopher and social scientist A. A. Zinoviev, who himself worked in several such centers during his life abroad as a guest specialist (in the West, he was considered a dissident, therefore, he was willing to be invited to participate in such projects), so characterized their work : “They did not study the Soviet Union as a zoologist studies an elephant […] They studied it as a hunter studyies an elephant in order to kill it with a single shot.”

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  4. Part 2. Sounds of the flute.

    “Rare, striped elephant, nicknamed Canopy… Has a soft, kind demeanor… For many years was kept in a cage by a foreign animal dealer, Karbofos; no longer capable of enduring the beatings and offenses, managed to escape. Wandered for a long time, until, sick and hungry, it came to us. The border guards nurtured the elephant back to health and presented it to our zoo… Notable traits: loves cod-liver oil, at the sound of the flute … loses its will.”
    Investigation held by Kolobki (1987).

    Came Perestroika, came 1991 and the Soviet Union was no more. The Soviet Studies could finally become truly Russian Studies. There was Iron Curtain no more. Archives were opened. Intelligentsia in the post-Soviet countries wanted to join the Intellectual Family of the Civilized People, to share ideas and findings. Why it didn’t happen?

    I don’t know. I really don’t know for sure – like I said, I have no insider information. I have no idea, why the Russian Studies in the West remain as unscientific as ever. I don’t know, why the researchers in the West still behave as if Russia exists on another planet, and there is no means to travel here, contact their fellow scientists and began truly exchange ideas and findings (i.e. not browbeat dem primitive natives into accepting the Holy Truth, but really, really listen to each other). I don’t know, why a ginormous amount of the people writing about Russia pretend, that Russian archives does not exist or that they are still super closed, or that any (ANY) information obtained from Russian sources is “tainted with lies”. And if I have to ask myself, why the notable Russianists often descend into solipsism, well, that would make me paraphrasing Pavel Mulyukov’s famous speech, only this time, exclaiming rhetorically – “what’s this – malignance or stupidity?”. But who am I, to insinuate, that Russian/Soviet Studies were never intended for the peacetime application and furthering of the common human knowledge about other human beings?

    No matter how banal and obvious it sounds, but places of truly higher education are mean to educate their students. Education takes the form of teaching them this or that chosen science. Student minds are a fertile soil, ready to receive new ideas and reproduce them manifold, thanks to such fertilizers as being youthful maximalist and lack of personal expertise necessary for the critical, analytical thinking. Students, naturally, put enormous trust in their professors and educators, who have enormous trust capital in the form of the degrees, honors, prizes, age and respect.

    No sane student goes to the University to be deceived and provided with erroneous, false information.

    So, what are modern Russian Studies students can expect to get in their chose “field” and beyond?

    Exhibit A. Russian studies in the making. Ultra prestigious lecture of the international luminary at the Yale U:

    The intro by Yale’s professor is priceless. By listening to it, young, eager and, most important of all, inexperienced souls of the Russists will be told, among other platitudes to their distinguished guest, that Vladimir Posner is “omnipresent in media” in contemporary Russia. They will learn from their professor, that for the last 10 years Posner hosted his own weekly show where “he interviews various national and world leaders from all walks of life” (c) (plus a short list of handshakable people who had a chance to face “Mr. Posner’s thoughtful scrutiny and be judged by millions of Russian viewers”). Mr. Posner’s opinions on diverse subjects, continues professor before his young charges, “quickly go viral” and, thus, “become a fact of Russian life” that Mr. Posner been termed (half seriously) “the spiritual leader of the nation and its moral compass” (c). More so, keeps hammering Yale’s professor, this happens despite the fact, that Mr. Posner also wields American and French citizenship. “Perhaps”, – strongly suggests the professor to his trusting audience, – “this cosmopolitan aspect of his biography is what endears him to Russian public, tired, like any other public, of ideological agendas” (c). Besides that – Moscow viewers named Mr. Posner “TV journalist №1” in 1989, and, confides dear professor, “this high mark of recognition has never decreased ever since”.

    Esteemed Yale’s professor didn’t say in his intro (and, therefore, his young inexperienced charges had no chance to learn) a lot of other things that are also true, and even much more true then what he’s been saying about Mr. Posner. Like the fact, that his very own show is hosted (and he is paid salary) by the “Kremlin controlled” 1st TV Channel, which any mainstream handshakable member of the Western Enlightened Masses dismisses as a “state propaganda”. They did not say, that upon coming to the USSR Mr. Posner graduated from the Faculty of Biology of the MSU majoring in human physiology, or that higher education in the Soviet Union was free. The reason for the return to the USSR was not due to the “call of the Motherland” of his Jewish father, but because this aforementioned father’s falling victim of the McCarthyism both in the USA (where the bloody gebnya FBI began investigating him over pro-communist sympathies) and in France (which graciously hosted oh so many of American troops). Dear professor skims past such controversial things, like Posner’s work in the “Voice of Moscow” and even highly spirited apologia of the USSR’s involvement in Afghanistan. Yale’s professor in his paean to his guest fails to mention, that not “Moscow viewers”, but a results of the Moscow-wide poll named him TV journalist number one (but how can be sure of the results of the poll in the “unfree” USSR?).

    And, of course, dear professor does not mention any examples of Posner’s opinions, that go viral… in the bad meaning of that word:

    – Said that it was one of the greates tragedies that Russia converted to the Orthodox Christianity and that “Russian Orthodox Church have inflicted the colossal harm to Russia”. After Federation of the Jewish Communities of Russia denounced his views, Posner repeated them once more on Russian public radio.

    – Unveiled, why in 1997 he had to depart from the hospital American shore and go back to the miserable Russia, due to case of CNBC censorship attempts. Also, adds Posner, there were no support or even commentaries from their colleagues the journalists. Or how in 1991 NBC fired Jon Alpert during his attempts to try cover the Iraqi war from the frontlines – and that he was barred from journalist employment elsewhere. Or how Bill Maher was fired in 2001 for his sarcastic quip about the beginning of the Afghan war. Thus, ends Posner, Russia is much more free for the journalists compared to the USA.

    – Probably no one in Russia considers Posner a “spiritual leader of Russia” even in jest. First time this expression appears in the book by a prolific Russian/Soviet journalist and writer Fyodor Razzakov’s “The Splendors and Miseries of the Russian journalism, 1992-2009” (the title, of course, is a reference to H. de Balzac’s “Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes”). The context of this expression is rather… critical of Posner.

    Posner’s interview with Sergey Shnurov, “Leningrad’s” frontman. Watch the video. Read the comments. Also – click at other Posner’s videos available on-line, to experience the level of Posner’s “endearment” to the Russian public.

    – Posner is an avowed atheist, supports legalization of euthanasia, drugs and same sex marriages.

    But what are the chances that anyone (anyone!) in that tightly packed Yale auditorium will try to find out anything of the above or even comprehend the simple fact, that the person touted before them as a “Russian voice” does not consider himself a Russian in the first place?

    Exhibit B. Mature approach of the established Russists. A typical example of the intellectual output of the modern Russian Studies:

    In the lower-right corner, there is a helpful label – “Russia & Eurasia Studies Center”. In the lower-left corner is the motto of this scientific institution – Kill! Maim! Burn!, eh, I mean “Democracy | Freedom| Human Rights”.

    Exhibit C. The real-life application of the Russian Studies in the US. This numismatic delight:

    “Хельпинский саммит”; “новое эра”; “ддипломатическая история”… As you can see – Clinton’s “Перегрузка” was not an exception.

    Roll the curtains.

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  5. Part 3 – modern Middle Ages.

    “Elephants have no knee joints, so if they fall down they cannot get up again. To avoid falling, the elephant leans against a tree while it sleeps. To capture an elephant, a hunter can cut part way through a tree; when the elephant leans against it, the tree breaks and the elephant falls. Unable to rise, the beast cries out, and a large elephant tries to lift it up, but fails. In some accounts, twelve elephants next attempt to lift it, and also fail. Finally a small elephant comes and succeeds in raising the fallen one…

    …Male elephants are reluctant to mate, so when the female wants children, she and the male travel to the East, near Paradise, where the mandrake grows. The female elephant eats some mandrake, and then gives some to the male; they mate and the female immediately conceives. The female remains pregnant for two years, and can only give birth once. When it is time to give birth, the female wades into a pool up to her belly and gives birth there. If she gave birth on land, the elephant’s enemy the dragon would devour the baby. To make sure the dragon cannot attack, the male elephant stands guard and tramples the dragon if it approaches the pool.”
    The Medieval Bestiary.

    Why Всё Плохо in the Western field of the Russian Studies (as seen by me, a subject of these studies)? Because of this:

    “There is nothing in my background or skill set to suggest that I have the magic power to search Putin’s pocket to see if it contains the man I must reluctantly acknowledge is our president. And that clearly holds true for every Russia expert consulted anywhere in the media, whether the questioner is an earnest recycler and farmers’ market devotee on NPR or by some latter-day Goebbels on Fox. As Slavists, we are no doubt better informed when it comes to Russia, and are in a better position to interpret a given political statement, event, or disaster, but we confront the same epistemological dilemma faced by educated Russians: the near-complete absence of reliable information and a decades-long tradition that relies on rumor and speculation to compensate for an informational deficit.

    Granted, that informational ecosystem is quite different from its Soviet predecessor: in the past, speculation thrived as an alternative to a monolithic, clearly mendacious media apparatus that virtually begged its audience to distrust it and seek alternative explanations. The much-ballyhooed Putinist “firehose of lies” model is more challenging, in that the state media disseminates self-contradicting theories on an almost daily basis, most likely to encourage audiences to give up any hope of finding something one might call “the truth” (a tactic either consciously embraced by Trump, or, more likely, arrived at independently through a series of narcissistic impulses and misfired neurons).

    …So why do I believe that the anti-Kyiv rebels are most likely responsible for downing the airplane?.. [I]t does come down to trust: I have more confidence in the European organizations that have investigated the disaster than I do the Russian government and media… But am I in a position to evaluate the technical findings of aeronautics experts on either side? Of course not.
    – Eliot Borenstein, “Researching Russian Conspiracy Theories in the Age of Trump”.

    Ultimately, it all comes down to trust – or Faith. Russists must Believe in the Right Things. Scientific method? No need!

    How did the learned, bookish people, who compiled the Bestiary I quote in the epigraph, came to their knowledge about the elephants and other animals? They did not travel to the places where the elephants dwell to study them in their natural habitat. No – they just compiled all previous, often diverse and contradicting, accounts by highly respectful figures who themselves often got their knowledge by unempirical means. It was totally okay for the intellectual elite of the period. Why? Because Bestiaries were not meant to be a scientific books in the first place – they, instead, ought to present the view of the world through ideological (religious) lenses, and impart upon the eager readership appropriate moral lessons (indoctrination and propaganda). Thus, real life mating habits of the elephants does not matter: The elephant and its mate represent Adam and Eve, their mating – the Fall… The big elephant represents the law, which could not raise up mankind from sin, nor could the twelve elephants, which represent the prophets. Christ is the small elephant who succeeded to raising the fallen.

    The science free methodology employed by the people “studying” Russia is akin to this:

    This is 1 (one) grape seed. Imagine some semi-randomly gathered people told to non-empirically reconstruct a grapevine – the whole plant. They can’t ask for help, they can’t plant the seed to allow it to grow, they can’t even consult non-approved “experts” (and the ones that they can have allergy to the grapes). All of these semi-random people have some skill in botany – like, flower gardening, or growing potatoes in their (or some other… stuff), or are fans of ikebana. Doesn’t matter – it’s all “close enough”. But none of them have ever seen a grapevine, or made a connection that the wine some of them might drink, comes from the grapes. And they don’t even have the grapes – only grape seeds, something, they ignored and avoided before.

    Or you can ignore my half-baked, self-made allegory and go for something already ancient, established and respected – like a parable about blind men and an elephant. Although it needs some slight modification. First – the wise people are not blind in our case, but blindfolded. Their handlers provide a multi-color diversity of the blindfolds, but all of them are very good at impairing their sight. Next – wise people had to listen to their handlers at all steps approaching a elephant (“for your own safety, for it’s a murderous beast!”) and do what they are told exactly. Third – the target area of the elephant which they are instructed to examine with their hands at the instruction of the handlers… Ahem… It’s not one of those mentioned in the original parable, included, after all, in the religious writings… Lastly – elephants does not appreciate the clumsy touch of the amateurish proctologists.

    That’s my allegory of how the Western Russian Studies approach their subject. People engaging in it are forced to overreach their own field of competence, often trying to reconstruct the whole of Russia, its people, government, mentality, based on the tiny sliver of the culture produced by the Russian/Soviet/Russian people. In the West, no one sees a problem with that or suspects, that these people might be too small for the task. There people are living in time, where such activity has a chance of getting them richly rewarded for seemingly little effort and they can not be held accountable for the mistakes they commit. I don’t want to (intentionally) offend anyone, but philologist make lousy political advisers. And it looks like that’s what the Western Russistics is all about these days.

    It’s also “highly likely” ™ that I’m totally wrong, J.T. I might have drawn wrong conclusions based on insufficient data. So how is it in the real?

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  6. Sooo…where do I begin?

    Maybe with the fact that I’m an undergrad; that calling me even a cog in the machine, let alone an insider, would be a stretch, and thus there isn’t much I can do for you.

    But here goes.

    On the terminology

    Originally, a Slavist (from Russian славист or Polish slawista) or Slavicist was primarily a linguist or philologist”

    Nowadays, American “Slavicists” are associated with language and literature as well.

    Russian academic tradition defines Americanistics as a complex of disciplines that study the USA (and to a lesser degree Canada) from the POV of the relevant disciplines of history, geography, economy, sociology, jurisprudence, philosophy, political science, and, yes, philology. There is NO such “science” or “discipline” as Americanistics, studying which one can gain the supreme knowledge of America.

    ‘Kay, so the Russian and anglophone definitions of philology are different. But this def of Amerikanistika is almost the same as the American def of RAS. With a name swap, of course. And no, grad school RAS programs are not a factory designed to churn out specialists with knowledge of all things Russia. “Russianist” isn’t a profession, but a descriptor of someone’s research interests, just like “slavicist”.

    I might just be having a “dumb foreigner” moment here, but could you please direct me to an academic article about some aspect of Russian literature or culture so I can see this “science-based philology” at work? Maybe then I’d understand better?

    And when was the last time you saw a practicing scholar on anything Russian be invited to a high-profile American political late-night talk show? Or news segment? That’s what journos/think-tankers/whichever friendlies are available in Washington that day are for.

    It all changed after WW2 or, not to mince words, when the Cold War began. Due to some impressive mental gymnastics, Russian studies became an “interdisciplinary field (i.e. a discipline) crossing history and language studies” totally interchangeable with politically charged “Soviet and Communist studies” and even “Kremlinology”

    I take issue with this statement’s finality. Why do you say Russian Studies is “totally interchangeable” with Soviet/Communist studies and Kremlinology? Because the latter two are listed at the bottom of “see also” pages? Did you not read all the article? There’s a difference between “closely related” and “interchangeable”. Sovietology (politics and economics) existed alongside historians and people studying Russian literature, and the split between traditionalists and revisionists demonstrates even sovietology itself was not monolithic. And you should not be comparing RAS with that tea-leaf s**t Kremlinology. Even a Russia-oriented politics course isn’t going to teach students to analyze the seating arrangements at security council meetings or pore over Putin’s holiday photos to predict cadre changes.

    On the history

    I think your interpretation is too top-down when the reality is more complex.

    Short historical reference. After the October Revolution and failure of the international intervention to topple the Soviet government, western states chose a new tactic – international isolation and sanctions combined with the “active measures” within the country plus military-political support of the new limitrophe states on the USSR periphery…

    Then, after yet another unsuccessful attempt to obliterate Russia by the coalition of countries, representing a certain pinnacle of the Western civilization, the Cold War broke out.

    So the US West wanted to destroy Russia through conventional means, and when that failed, it imposed its will over academia. How convenient. 140% not shorthand at all.

    What work are you referencing for your stats on Sovietologists working for the CIA? What presumably ‘50s and ‘60s academic output leads you to say “A degree of ‘artistic license’ and truly liberal approach with the facts, going on a limb and substituting once intuition, 5th feeling, biases and blind faith instead of the facts were tolerated?”

    What kind of output did the intellectual efforts of the “Russianists” gave to the humanity? They produced the narrative – that in the Soviet (or any) Russia “Всё Плохо”. […] They further safeguarded themselves from any critique by “poisoning the well” and cultivating the complete distrust of the research done by the Russians about Russia using Russian sources, as either biased, ideologically charged or insincere, cuz, look-they-clearly-threatened-that-guy-to-write-it!

    You sure it wasn’t the demagogues and/or journalists who were responsible here?

    Since the majority of “Ru-Sov Studies” research centers were funded either directly from the US state budget, or through affiliated non-governmental foundations “for the promotion of democracy and civil societies” ™, their research was often requested either by military or civilian intelligence agencies, so the topics of the research often had real-life application or, more specifically, military application.

    Yes, this was the case. Nowadays government funding is quantitatively much less and qualitatively patchier.

    I don’t know, why the researchers in the West still behave as if Russia exists on another planet, and there is no means to travel here, contact their fellow scientists and began truly exchange ideas and findings

    ASEEES (2015) reports that two-thirds (458) of its sampled specialists (666) have traveled to Russia for professional purposes at least once in 2010-2015 (p. 29). 32% of those travelers went to locations beyond Moscow and St. Petersburg. Social scientists travel to Russia more frequently than slavicists or historians, but on shorter trips.

    Slavicists and historians analyze texts and historical/contemporary documents. Two-thirds of RAS social scientists reference current Russian media reports, government documents, interaction with Russians, and interviews (p. 27). One in five social scientists with a PhD does their own surveys in Russia, and 2/5 analyze Russian survey data collected by others.

    The situation between U.S. and Russian scholars is hardly one of minimal contact and engagement. However, 2/3 of ASEEES respondents haven’t collaborated with Russian scholars in the last five years and ½ haven’t hosted Russian scholars at their home institution.

    On “Exhibit B.”

    If I create a think tank and call it the Center for Pelmeni Studies, with one to no trained pelmeni-makers on my professional staff list, and put out a briefing about how the world would be better off eradicating Ural-style pelmeni, does that make me representative of pelmenovedenie everywhere?

    I really shouldn’t have spent as much time on this comment as I did. Not when there are actual term papers in need of writing. All the same, this might just be Part I, and some day or another I’ll share some descriptive and normative academic texts from the early ‘50s about the origin of American RAS. Or run through the syllabi of recent history and literature classes. Spoiling an upcoming multipart frankenpost in the process.

    For now, this is what I’ve got.

    Like

    1. “I might just be having a “dumb foreigner” moment here, but could you please direct me to an academic article about some aspect of Russian literature or culture so I can see this “science-based philology” at work?”

      Not fair, J.T.! 🙂 Now I have to defend our philologist and pretend that I do not diss them constantly and doubt that they are a real science, and not an exercise in вкусовщина.

      Anyway, there are plenty of sources, with some of which I’m even familiar. E.g. a lecture on Kultura TV channel available on-line which describes in the “mundane” terms the subject, so that even I when watched it on TV groked most of it. Plus some definitions that look like they came out from the standard philology course at some Uni. In short, at least most of scientists agree, that Philology is not:

      A) Linguistics.
      B) Field of Culturology.
      C) “Literary Studies” (rus. “литературоведение”).

      but something else, and on scientific basis to boot, due to their connection to various disciplines.

      I suggest asking a real philologist.

      “And when was the last time you saw a practicing scholar on anything Russian be invited to a high-profile American political late-night talk show? Or news segment?”

      😉

      Julia Ioffe (major in the Soviet History) is, indeed, a “luminary” of the “Russian Studies”, engaging not just in the plain old journalism, but also some think-tanking. Like a Michael McFaul (a B.A. in international relations and Slavic languages and an M.A. in Slavic and East European Studies – how this is even possible in one year?!), who is once again an academic and another such regular at such shows, when they ABSOLUTELY need a “thoughtful” comment on any thing Russian. That was the recent ones. Granted – none of them were really in the “talk shows” akin to “Sunday Evening with Vladimir Solovyov”. But I’m simple unaware of any such American analogues. The point is – the “pool” of “Russia experts” is limited on the Western TV, and instead of inviting unhandshakable prof Stephen F. Cohen (wiki says he earned “a B.S. degree and an M.A. degree in Russian Studies”), they prefer those whose degrees in “Russian Studies” are… vague. They even invite Maria Alexandronvna Gessen who has no degree whatsoever but she really, really hates Putin, and now Trump.

      “Why do you say Russian Studies is “totally interchangeable” with Soviet/Communist studies and Kremlinology? Because the latter two are listed at the bottom of “see also” pages?”

      No. 🙂 Because when you click on the “English” version of the article about “Советология” it links you to the EngLang article about… Kremlinology 🙂 Surely, J.T., you won’t say that the fine people who gave the world such monumental intellectual monolith as Wikipedia made a mistake? 😉 Besides, I’m just translating Russian definitions. Also keep in mind, that in the Soviet times the challenges appearing before those who devoted themselves to the purely Russian (aka mostly pre-Revolutionary) studies faced the same limitations as lack of access to the “body… of knowledge” as the ones studying the “Soviet Russia”.

      In short, just as “Russia” became the “USSR” so the discipline/science that ought to study it changed its name from the Russian to the Soviet Studies – and that’ all. And just as I said previously, prior to the inception of the Cold War there was virtually zero interest in “Russia” in the West, so even first/most politics and economics works about the pre-Revolutionary appeared after that and they were, obviously, “colored” by appropriate ideological colors. The alternative would be to see for the American Russology to view pre-Revolutionary Russia and the “Soviet Russia” as two completely alien entities with nothing in common – which was not the case.

      “And you should not be comparing RAS with that tea-leaf s**t Kremlinology”

      And how often such luminaries were invited to the Higher Places (of Powers that Be) and asked about the Enemy, what it plans, how it will react to so and so – like Robert Conquest and his immortal “What To Do When The Russians Come” (1984)?

      “Even a Russia-oriented politics course isn’t going to teach students to analyze the seating arrangements at security council meetings or pore over Putin’s holiday photos to predict cadre changes.”

      … for now 🙂

      “So the US West wanted to destroy Russia through conventional means, and when that failed, it imposed its will over academia. How convenient. 140% not shorthand at all.”

      No, it saw a real threat now – one requiring a total mobilization of all resources. Fact remains that after 1945 there was a sharp increase in both funding and academic output on all things Russia compared to the prior period – and the inceptors of that hike were quite honest as to reasons.

      Surely, J.T., you are not saying, that the West did NOT want to harm, cripple and eliminate as a competitor the USSR?

      “What work are you referencing for your stats on Sovietologists working for the CIA? What presumably ‘50s and ‘60s academic output leads you to say “A degree of ‘artistic license’ and truly liberal approach with the facts, going on a limb and substituting once intuition, 5th feeling, biases and blind faith instead of the facts were tolerated?””

      All fair critique, J.T., and you are absolutely right to ask for the sources. They are:

      Know Your Enemy: The Rise and Fall of America’s Soviet Experts (2009) by David C. Engerman. I’m quoting him on the lack of proper expertise, rules of CIA employment and general shoddy shape of the specialists. The chapter 6 (“Russia History as Past Politics”) is rather telling.

      – In Search of Russia (The State of Soviet Studies) (1964) by Walter Laqueur on statistical date about the change of output before 1950s and after, and financial reasons for that.

      “You sure it wasn’t the demagogues and/or journalists who were responsible here?”

      […]

      No comments 🙂

      “However, 2/3 of ASEEES respondents haven’t collaborated with Russian scholars in the last five years and ½ haven’t hosted Russian scholars at their home institution.”

      Okay –Плохо Не Всё, but its not the same as Не Всё Плохо, let alone Всё Неплохо (let the Russian drive you mad…). Just some very, very important “bits”. And if you compare to the level of cooperation between Russian and European Higher Places of education, the contrast is even starker. I resorted to a hyperbole, yes. What I did was the equivalent of saying “they amputate his leg” instead of “they amputate his feet”. The situation is far from healthy or even tolerable and, frankly I see (and saw while still studying) little evidence of it improving. Over-reliance (by some) on the Net as a go-to place for you source is just a placebo, not a cure.

      Note to self – limit the sarcastic braggadocio to more acceptable level(s).

      “If I create a think tank and call it the Center for Pelmeni Studies, with one to no trained pelmeni-makers on my professional staff list, and put out a briefing about how the world would be better off eradicating Ural-style pelmeni, does that make me representative of pelmenovedenie everywhere?”

      YES… in the uneducated minds of pelmeni-challenged individuals who lack any idea about pelmeni in the first place (and let’s be frank here – most people ARE), only that it is such hot (geddit? pelmeni – hot!) topic, that everyone and their hedgehog are talking about, so you have a chance to “stake your claim” and live off a bonanza of the hype and adoration with no one here to correct you. Having anti-pelmeni and pro-chebupeli lobby (which claims despite all facts that they dug out the Black Sea are the long lost originals and pelmeni are Asiatic pretenders) funding you and supporting via affiliated media would surely help. They’d even suggest for you to strike down as unter-pelmenschen Siberian ones.

      From the point of view of the objective truth and unbiased observer the situation would be absurd and any such claims bogus… but in the world we live it doesn’t matter anymore. We are living in a Post-Lie world now.

      “I really shouldn’t have spent as much time on this comment as I did.”

      No, J.T., I think it was a great comment. Sorry to “steal” any of your time though. Of course, studies go first. I’d really like to see the output of the Russian studies from abroad.

      Like

      1. ffffffffffffff Julia Ioffe has a scholarly article dating from 2013 on JSTOR (“An Inadvertent Sacrifice: Body Politics and Sovereign Power in the Pussy Riot Affair”)

        Surely, J.T., you are not saying, that the West did NOT want to harm, cripple and eliminate as a competitor the USSR?

        Nope.

        Know Your Enemy: The Rise and Fall of America’s Soviet Experts (2009) by David C. Engerman.

        Ey, that’s supposed to be on the frankenpost’s TBR research list! No spoilers!

        Unterpelmenschen…I’ve created a monster.

        I’d really like to see the output of the Russian studies from abroad.

        You wouldn’t want to read any of my stuff, Lyt…it’s TRASH.

        Like

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