Weekly Round-Up: Syria, Petersburg, Evtushenko, ФБК

A full-fledged new post will come in a few days, but for now I thought I’d post links to some notable reports I saw during my weekend perusal of the Russian TV news. Time being finite, I generally look at two sources, Первый канал (Channel One) and Телеканал Дождь (TV Rain), to get the “official” and the “opposition” perspectives. I’ve been posting some of these links on the site’s Facebook page and thought it would be good to also include some of this content in the blog itself. There are many more interesting videos out there than I can possibly write up with an entire introduction, transcript and translation, but that doesn’t stop me from at least pointing some of them out in between the more comprehensive blog posts!

 

1. Russia’s response to the US attack on the Syrian airbase

Link: По прямому приказу президента США десятки ракет выпущены по территории Сирии. Погибли военные и мирные жители

Here’s how Первый канал / Channel One is spinning the Syria attack: The airbase that was attacked was being used by the Syrian government to fight “terrorists” and ISIS (Russian media consistently presents all enemies of Assad as “terrorists”); civilians, including children, perished in the attack; most of the American missiles didn’t even hit their targets due to incompetence or malfunction; last week’s chemical attack on Syrian civilians was probably caused by an explosion at a chemical weapons warehouse controlled by the “terrorists”; Trump’s action has no legal basis and he refuses to answer any questions on this topic; Russia is concerned about last week’s chemical attacks and would like to investigate them.

 

2. Citizens respond to the St. Petersburg Metro bomb

Link (Первый канал): В Санкт-Петербурге в память о жертвах теракта в небо выпустили 13 белых голубей

Link (Дождь): Уроки человечности от Петербурга: как люди помогали друг другу после теракта (TV Rain)

Первый канал has some interviews with people who attended anti-terror rallies in support of Petersburg. And TV Rain has a great feature (behind their paywall, I think) on all the wonderful ways people came together to help each other. Near the site of the blast, cafes gave out free food, local residents took in those who couldn’t make it home after the metro was closed, cell phone companies reimbursed charges for calls from the area. Also, apparently there’s an online game called “Ingress” that involves driving around the city to virtually “capture” territory — well, participants in this game came together to give people free rides home. Petersburgers are rightfully proud of their civic spirit!

 

3. Remembering the poet Evgeny Evtushenko

Link: Во всем мире люди вспоминают Евгения Евтушенко, который был больше, чем поэтом

Первый канал has a nice feature on Evgeny Evtushenko, the poet who passed away about a week ago.  You can hear his declamatory style, and see what he looked like when he was younger, reading to packed stadiums of poetry fans, and when he was older, and still wearing his trademark colorful jackets.

 

4. People arrested in the anti-corruption protests are released from jail

Link: «Отоспался, чувствую себя бодрым»: как сотрудники ФБК провели время в СИЗО

Телеканал Дождь / TV Rain put together a nice selection of comments from people who were just released from detention. I believe most of them are employees of Navalny’s ФВК (Anti-Corruption Foundation). They say they were treated reasonably well! The food was OK, prison officials followed the proper procedures, they could take showers, reading material was passed through to them, they got along OK with the other prisoners. As they note, they were in a temporary detention center, not an actual prison. (This video is probably also behind the paywall.)

 

5. Changing views of Trump in Russia

Link: От любви до ненависти: что говорили о Трампе в России до и после ударов по Сирии

Mikhail Fishman reports that the “honeymoon” period in Russia’s relationship to Trump is over. The opening parts of this video are a bit less interesting — it shows Duma members and United Russia officials criticizing the attack on Syria — but in the end Fishman offers a good compilation of excited, pro-Trump statements from just after the election. (This video is probably also behind the paywall.)

Юбилей первой женщины в космосе / Birthday Celebrations for the First Woman in Space

Valentina Tereshkova

Audio Content: On her eightieth birthday, Valentina Tereshkova reminisces about her groundbreaking flight into space. The post also includes a few examples of heartfelt, formal Russian birthday congratulations and an interesting exchange that shows what governing looks like in the Putin era.
Video Content: Great archival images of Tereshkova’s training and space flight and of her life today as a member of the Duma.

Links to two videos are below.

The Soviet Union was responsible for many of humanity’s space firsts, including the first artificial satellite put into orbit, the first man in space and the first woman in space. The first man in space, the beloved hero Yuri Gagarin, died in a jet crash while still in his 30s, but the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, has enjoyed a long public career in the space program and in politics. She is currently a deputy in the Duma representing her native region, Yaroslavl Oblast.

Tereshkova celebrated her 80th birthday on March 6th, 2017 and was prominently featured in news reports that day. The videos below remind viewers of her history: how she was a simple worker at a textile factory in Yaroslavl, participated avidly in a local aviation and parachuting group, was chosen as one of five finalists for the project of sending a woman into space and launched into orbit on June 16, 1963. Tereshkova’s reminiscences are interspersed with archival footage of her training and flight.

The videos are also of interest for a few other reasons. They include an excellent example of the sort of greeting that might be extended to someone in Russia on her birthday — typically very warm, even gushy, somewhat lengthy and formal (see the end of video one). Video two, in which Vladimir Putin offers gifts and congratulations to Tereshkova, offers an interesting view of the public image of governance in a more or less authoritarian, single-party-dominant political system: Tereshkova thanks Putin for sending Yaroslavl a great new governor, Putin thanks her for her support, and everyone ostensibly is working together for the good of the region with none of what Putin might view as the ineffective squabbling of a democracy. Finally, we also encounter some contradictory Russian views of gender, at least as they tend to be expressed on one of the mass-audience federal television channels. In the first video in the news report (actually video two below) the anchor early on refers to Tereshkova as a representative of the “отнюдь не слабый пол” “the definitely-not-weaker sex.” But later, in the second segment (video one below), the elaborate celebration of Tereshkova ends with a reference to women as “представителницы слабого пола” “representatives of the weaker sex”! The term is casually employed for variety and rhetorical flourish. The two uses manage, in the one instance, to acknowledge the derogatory implications of the term and, in the other instance, to present it as an innocuous reference to physical differences.

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Russian Transcript

Video One

Valentina Tereshkova

Watch the video at Первый канал

0:00
Ведущая: Добрые пожелания в адрес Валентины Терешковой сегодня звучат от ее коллег по парламенту, друзей и просто тех, кто помнит, как она вписала новую строчку в историю космонавтики. […]

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Жизнь во время войны на Донбассе / Wartime Life in East Ukraine

older woman living in wartime Donbas

Audio content: Several women describe their decision to remain living in villages that have been under heavy fire during the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Visual content: Images of wartime destruction in some Ukrainian villages and small towns.

Excerpted clips are posted below. You can view the entire report in high-quality video at TV Rain. (A subscription or one-time payment is required, but your money goes toward a good cause — supporting one of the last independent TV news organizations in Russia.)

The war in Eastern Ukraine has been in the news again, sadly, as the conflict that began in April 2014 flared up again in early February 2017, soon after President Trump’s inauguration. The Ukrainian government based in Kiev continues to battle the pro-Russian separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, which have been functioning as self-declared autonomous governments under the names “Donetsk People’s Republic” (Донецкая народная республика) and “Lugansk People’s Republic” (Луганская народная республика). (The entire region is often called “Donbas,” an abbreviation of “Донецкая бассейн,” i.e. the basin of the Donets River.) Russia, despite official denials, is supporting the breakaway regions with both troops and supplies. Hostilities first began in the wake of the late-2013 “Maidan” revolution in Kiev, which deposed the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in favor of a pro-European-Union government. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in spring 2014 is another part of this same geopolitical conflict, which arises from Russia’s desire to maintain its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. Since Ukraine used to actually be part of the USSR, it seems that Putin is not willing to let the country drift out of Russia’s sphere of influence entirely without putting up a fight. The Kremlin’s goal in eastern Ukraine is probably not to fully annex the pro-Russian regions, as happened with Crimea; instead, Russia, via the internationally-brokered negotiation process in Minsk, Belarus, is urging Kiev to grant a large degree of autonomy to the eastern territories — which could then function as a sort of Russian foothold within Ukraine. The “Minsk Agreements” have produced temporary ceasefires and incomplete political resolutions but have failed to stop the violence permanently. The latest surge in violence was centered on the town of Avdiievka, which is not far from some of the villages featured in today’s videos. Besides the rise in violence, the eastern Ukraine conflict also entered the news recently when Russia controversially declared it would recognize passports from the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. The Ukrainian conflict also factors into concerns over the Trump administration’s ties to Russia. Specifically, it has been reported that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen brought a peace plan to the White House that would have the US and Ukraine essentially recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea (by granting Russia a long-term “lease”) in exchange for peace in the eastern regions. The plan was given to Cohen by a Ukrainian parliament member who has now been accused of treason.

The videos featured in this post are excerpted from an early 2016 report by TV Rain. TV Rain sent the reporter Viktoriia Ivleva into some Ukraine-controlled territories very close to the border with the breakaway republics. Ivleva brought humanitarian supplies as well as video cameras. Although the footage is over a year old, it gives us insight into what life probably looks like for residents of the same region today. Ivleva talks to some tough yet traumatized people who, through a mixture of courage, stubbornness and a lack of better options, have stayed in their village homes despite the war. During active periods in the fighting, artillery fire severely damaged most of their homes and forced many of them to live in their basements. The communities presented in the video are Sjeverne (Северное, Ясиноватский район), Opytne (Опытное, Артёмновский район) and Krasnohorivka (Красногоровка, Донецкая область).

For more on this topic see my earlier posts on the Maidan and on life in Crimea after annexation.

Заметки о языке: The most notable linguistic feature of these videos is the distinctive pronunciation of the letter “г” as something closer to the letter “х,” a typical feature of the southwest Russian or eastern Ukrainian dialect of Russian.

 

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Excerpt 1

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Nemtsov March

I have a new post ready to go — it will appear in a day or two — but in the meantime, an earlier post about Boris Nemtsov is newly relevant. Today in Moscow and other cities thousands of people marched in memory of the assassinated politician. My earlier post featured a committed group of people who were participating in round-the-clock guardianship of the unofficial memorial at the site where he was shot.

 

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Крещенское купание в проруби / An Icy Swim for the Baptism Feast

Epiphany icy swimming hole

Audio Content: Comments from people who are marking Epiphany (Baptism of the Lord) with a purifying wintertime dip in icy water.
Visual Content: Images from across Russia of the baptism practice, including cross-shaped holes in the ice, the blessing of the water, church processions, threefold dips in the water and people in bathing suits.

Watch the video at Первый канал.

On January 19, the Russian Orthodox Church and other Christian churches in the eastern tradition mark the religious holiday Крещение Господне (Baptism of the Lord), also known as Богоявление (the Appearance of God). The holiday commemorates Jesus’s baptism as an adult in the River Jordan. The rite was performed by John the Baptist and is considered to mark the beginning of Jesus’s public life. The Gospels claim that during the baptism God spoke from heaven, proclaiming Jesus his son, and also that the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove; thus Jesus’s divine nature was revealed. This Orthodox holiday roughly corresponds to the Roman Catholic Epiphany, which similarly marks the appearance of God (“epiphany” comes from the Greek for “showing” or “appearance”), although the western holiday is primarily associated with the visit of the three wise men shortly after Jesus’s birth. Technically, Epiphany / Крещение falls on January 6th in both western and eastern Christian churches. However, since the Russian Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar, the celebration falls on January 19th in secular terms.

Water is believed to acquire extra purifying power on the feast of Крещение. Many believers mark the holiday by baptizing themselves in icy water, dipping three times successively in holes cut through the frozen surface of lakes and ponds. The hole in the ice is often cut in the shape of a large cross; the water is then blessed by members of the clergy. Warming stations with hot beverages are commonly set up to support the icy swimmers. Believers are convinced that their commemorative baptisms bring both spiritual and physical benefits: the holy and very cold water washes away sins, purifies the soul, gives the body a refreshing energetic shock and contributes to good health throughout the following year. Thus these icy baptisms illustrate the growth of Orthodox religious practice in today’s Russia as well as the longstanding popularity of folk medicine in Russian culture. One article I read reported that more than 1.8 million people marked Крещение with baptisms in 2017.

This post lets you listen in on a few of the comments believers make about their dips in the icy water. You can see several more pictures of the ritual in this article.

Заметки о языке: The hole in the ice is called a “прорубь” from the verb “прорубить”=”to chop through.” “Окунаться в проруби”=”to take a dip in a hole in the ice.” After 2:25, the priest appends the conversational suffix “-то” to a few words. This adds emphasis and in some ways is a replacement for the definite article that doesn’t exist in Russian. After 3:50, “обалденный” (from the verb “обалдеть,” to be stunned) is a fun slang word for “awesome, amazing.”

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Video Clip

young woman out for baptism dip

View the video clip at Первый канал.

 

Russian Transcript

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Сергей Карякин: шахматист и звезда / Sergey Karjakin, Star Chess Player

Sergei Kariakin interview

Audio Content: Russian chess grandmaster Sergey Karjakin discusses his recent World Championship match and his relationship with the game of chess.

This video can’t be embedded. Watch it here — at the new online television project from РБК.

Chess (шахматы) has long been a popular “sport” in Russia. The country produced many of the twentieth century’s chess grandmasters and World Champions, including Boris Spassky, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik. An interesting linguistic and cultural idiosyncrasy is the fact that chess really is referred to as a “sport” (вид спорта) in Russian, and its players are called “athletes” (спортсмены).

National interest in chess was reinvigorated in late 2016 when the Russian grandmaster Sergei Kariakin (or Sergey Karjakin, which seems to be the transliteration he usually uses) unexpectedly came very close to winning the World Champion title from the reigning champion, Magnus Karlsen of Norway. Karjakin is a chess prodigy who was the youngest person to ever achieve the “grandmaster” (гроссмейстер) designation; he was twelve years old when he won this honor in 2003.  Karjakin learned to play chess in Ukraine, his native country. In 2009 he moved to Moscow to continue his chess career and was granted Russian citizenship that same year. The 2016 World Chess Championship (Чемпионат мира по шахматам) occurred over the course of a few weeks in November. Karjakin had won the right to face off with Karlsen by winning the “Candidates Tournament” in March. The November contest was closely fought all the way through. At the end of twelve games, each player had only one victory, while the other ten games had ended in a draw. The two opponents then played four games of rapid chess as a tie break, with Karlsen emerging as the victor after wins in games three and four. Thus the Norwegian managed to defend his World Champion title, but Karjakin — or one of the many other talented Russian chess players — will likely have a chance to return the championship crown to Russia at the next World Chess Championship in 2018.

In the video featured here, Karjakin gives an interview to a journalist from the business media company РБК. In the portions of the interview included in the below transcript, he talks about his relationship with his opponent, his love of chess, his newfound stardom and his hobbies besides chess. In the second part of the interview, which goes beyond the scope of this post’s transcript, the two of them start to talk about politics and money. Karjakin seems to prefer to avoid politics, but when questioned he does say that “of course” the annexed province of Crimea belongs to Russia — an unsurprising point of view, given that he grew up in the Russian-oriented eastern part of Ukraine. He also discusses his income (his award for a second-place finish was 450,000 euros) as well as the high costs of hiring the best chess coaches for his training.

Заметки о языке:

• As already mentioned above, one interesting aspect of this video is the use of the terms “вид спорта” and “спортсмен” to refer to chess. Although it can sound odd to foreigners, this is normal usage in Russian. Also note that the word for chess, шахматы, is always grammatically plural. The word is an amalgam of the words for “check” (шах) and “checkmate” (мат).

• Karjakin’s speech is reasonably comprehensible but not always as clear as it could be — he sometimes partially swallows syllables or runs them together. However, this is a fairly common style of articulation for native speakers of Russian, so this clip makes for good practice in developing listening comprehension. Compare Karjakin’s style to that of his interviewer, for whom clearly articulated Russian is a professional expectation.

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