Orientation and Recommendations

I’m taking a break from adding new posts as it’s been harder to find suitable material. The 40+ existing posts continue to be useful and relevant — I generally tried to pick topics that would retain their interest for some time as a glimpse into (more or less) contemporary Russian life. Below I’ve highlighted posts that I think are particularly engaging and useful for language learners and instructors. I also fixed a couple broken links, so everything should be in working order. In addition, I updated the “More Online Russian Language Resources” page, and the Dictionaries page remains a good guide for language learners who haven’t yet discovered how helpful it is to consult a real, human-created bilingual dictionary!

So, click through for some immensely useful orientation and recommendations… and note that the full list of contents is always available from the main menu above.

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Рэп-баттл: Интервью Гнойного (часть 2) / Rap Battle: Interview with Gnoiny (Part 2)

Gnoiny and Dud

Audio Content: Continuation of YouTube star Yuri Dud’s interview with the top “battle rapper” Gnoiny, and some excerpts from his rap battle with Oxxxymiron.
Visual Content: The rapper Gnoiny at his home.

Video embedded below.

A few lively parts of Yuri Dud’s interview with the rapper Gnoiny didn’t make it into the previous post, so here is the follow-up I promised. There’s an amusing segment where Gnoiny ostentatiously counts a pile of cash while fending off Dud’s attempts to cast him as a hypocrite for his obscene criticisms of “Versus,” the battle rap venue that had just made him a star. (Gnoiny attacks Versus out of allegiance to a competing venue, SlovoSPB.) Later, Dud makes Gnoiny discuss the one incident where he was in fact forced to recant some of his insults. This occurred when Gnoiny referenced Chechen women as part of his sexual posturing and subsequently began receiving threats. Finally, I also include a sample of the rap battle itself, namely the start of Gnoiny’s first round. (Note that Gnoiny uses the name “Слава КПСС” during this battle.) This is the part of the battle when, after having listened to a barrage of insults from Oxxxymiron in the opening round, “Slava KPSS” commences the relentless attack that would succeed in dethroning the established star. In particular, “Slava KPSS” targets Oxxxymiron’s 2015 album Gorgorod, a “conceptual” album that narrates the story of Mark, a writer who meets and falls in love with a young woman while being pressured by his agent to finish his manuscript.

As with the previous post, the clips featured here contain a lot of obscene language. If you haven’t already done so, read the language note on Russian obscenities from the prior post as well as the background information provided in the introduction to that post. Here are a few more obscene slang words not already translated in the last post:

заеба́ть  –  to wear someone out, generally to become tiresome, irritating, boring
заеби́сь  –  used in the predicate, means “awesome, great, excellent”
на́ хуй  –  with “пошёл” implied, means “fuck off”, or is an interrogative, “what the fuck for?”
ни хуя́  –  obscene alternative to “ничего”
пизда́тый  –  excellent, high quality

The full text of the Gnoiny / Oxxxymiron battle is available here.

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Clip One – A Clip from Gnoiny’s Victorious Performance


[English translation below]

Ресторатор: SLOVOSPB. Первое слово Славы КПСС. Дайте максимум!

Слава КПСС [=Гнойный]:
Слава КПСС и Oxxxy – новая панк волна.
Все ждали выступления короля и шута!

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Рэп-баттл: Интервью Гнойного (часть 1) / Rap Battle: Interview with Gnoiny (Part 1)

rap battle Гнойный and Oxxxymiron

Audio content: A top “battle rapper” in an interview with the YouTube star Yuri Dud.
Visual content: The rapper Гнойный at his home, plus a few clips from the battle.

Videos embedded below.

There’s a dynamic rap scene in Russia, including both recorded music and the verbal sparring contests called “battle rap.” Russian-language Internet culture is also very lively. For young people in particular, numerous YouTube stars with millions of subscribers offer an alternative to the controlled space of national television channels.  The current post brings these two phenomena together with a video of Yuri Dud’s interview with the rapper Gnoiny. Dud (Юрий Дудь) is a professional journalist who also interviews prominent Russians for his widely watched YouTube channel. He’s good at challenging his subjects with questions aimed at their weak points while also remaining cordial and nonjudgmental. Gnoiny (Гнойный, meaning “rotten,”; he is also known as “Слава КПСС,” an ironic play on his first name and a Communist slogan) is a guy originally from the city of Khabarovsk in Russia’s Far East who began participating a few years ago in the live “rap battles” (рэп-баттлы) run by the St. Petersburg venue “SlovoSPB.” Battle rap suddenly grabbed the attention of the broader Russian public, including people who generally don’t follow the rap scene at all, after the sensational battle between Гнойный and Oxxxymiron in August 2017. This battle broke viewership records (it currently has more than 36 million views on YouTube) and was discussed as a significant cultural phenomenon even in the conservative state-supported media. The battle featured two contrasting personalities. While Gnoiny was hardly known outside battle rap circles, Oxxxymiron was already a very well-established rap artist and entertainment entrepreneur. He was also a founding figure in the leading battle rap venue “Versus,” a competitor to Gnoiny’s preferred venue “SlovoSPB.” Oxxxymiron’s role in the August contest, hosted by Versus, was to prove that — after years of lucrative tours and the release of conventional albums — he hadn’t lost his talent for live rap battles. But in the end the upstart challenger Гнойный won the contest decisively.

This post is linguistically different from all prior blog posts in that the video is drawn from an uncensored Internet platform and therefore can contain obscene language. Unsurprisingly, considering the nature of rap culture, the interview contains a LOT of obscene language (and when his interviewees use obscene language, Юрий Дудь follow suit). So this is a chance to improve your familiarity with a significant and  extensive segment of the Russian language. Read the linguistic note below for more comments. However, if you’re a Russian language learner, don’t start using these words around native speakers or in Russia because you’ll probably sound like an idiot and make a poor impression.

In any case, the more objectionable aspect of battle rap culture is not its obscenity but the homophobic, misogynist, anti-Semitic and bigoted motifs that battlers sometimes draw on in their attempts to land a good “punch.” At the same time, good battle rap relies much more on linguistic creativity, cultural references and details from the opponent’s biography than on plain bigotry. The Gnoiny / Oxxxymiron battle was celebrated for its wealth of literary references but is not free of social prejudices. So be forewarned.

Most of what we see in this video is Gnoiny, basking in the glow of his recent victory, answering questions while striving to maintain his “arrogant nihilist asshole” pose. See how he responds when Dud goes after him for the supposedly poor quality of some of his non-battle-rap work. Also, a fun feature of this interview is that the symbolic patron of the Luch sveta site, Nikolai Dobroliubov, has a cameo! I only picked out a few minutes from the interview to highlight, but even that takes up a lot of space, so I’m going to break this topic into two posts. Wait for part two to hear about the “diss” Gnoiny wrote against Dud and about what happened when he insulted Chechen women.

The full text of the Gnoiny / Oxxxymiron battle is available here.

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Заметки о языке:
I’ll repeat the warning once again: obscene language in Russian is very strong and you’ll probably sound like an offensive, immature, vulgar idiot if you decide to start using it when you’re still in the process of learning the language. That said, here’s how it works:

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Чемпионат мира в России: Победа! / The World Cup in Russia: Victory!

celebrating soccer fan

Audio Content: Russian soccer fans ecstatic after their team’s victories!
Visual Content: Moscow’s Nikolskaya Street, the gathering place for jubilant soccer fans from all over the world (video two).

With Russia’s hosting of the World Cup 2018 successfully concluded, let’s have a look at some of the fan celebrations. France took home the championship trophy, but Russians were very happy with how their national team performed. Expectations were low before the tournament started because the Russians had played very poorly in preliminary practice games and were at the bottom of the national rankings. The team, however, surprised its fans with a resounding 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in their first official match on June 14. The first video below highlights one happy fan’s reaction as he exits the main Moscow sports stadium, Luzhniki.

A second victory, this one against Egypt, was followed by a close loss to Uruguay, concluding the group stage of the tournament. Russia had performed well enough to make it into the World Cup play-offs for the first time since 1986, when it was still playing as part of the Soviet Union. This was already more than fans had expected, but one more stunning win was on the way. This came on July 1, when Russia beat Spain and advanced into the quarterfinals. This game, tied at 1 -1 after regular play, was decided by a penalty shootout. The decisive moment came when the Russian goalkeeper Ivan Akinfeev made an improbable penalty save with his foot. The second video below, shot on Nikolskaya Street in Moscow, shows fan reactions after the victory over Spain. Nikolskaya Street served during the World Cup as an unofficial center for soccer fans from all over the world, as it was decorated with hanging lights and had many bars and restaurants to attract fans. In the video below, TV Rain’s correspondent makes his way through an international crowd of people who have poured out into the street at the conclusion of the big game. Also see Meduza for a number of good photos of celebrations after the victory over Spain (look for the fan in the horse mask).

Russia ultimately lost to Croatia in the quarterfinals.

So watch the videos below and find out: What were fans expecting? How do they express extreme excitement? How far did they think Russia would go? Who plans to stay sober amid all the partying?

Заметки о языке: A generic Russian word for “team” is “команда,” but a unified national team is more often called a “сборная,” from “собирать” = “to gather.” A victory of any type is a “победа,” but winning and losing in the context of playing games is expressed by adding prefixes to the verb “играть” = “to play.” To win a game is выиграть (perf.) / выигрывать (impf.) матч. Losing is проиграть (perf.) / проигрывать (impf.) матч. To express beating a particular opponent, use “обыграть / обыгрывать (кого?).” And fans are “болельщики,” a word that has a (troubling?) connection to the verb for being sick.

Regarding the Luch Sveta project in general: There are more paywalls and geographic video streaming restrictions appearing in Russian media outlets, and even for a major topic like the World Cup it’s harder than one would expect to find useful language practice segments. But good things do come up now and then and I’ll post what I find. Friendly topics like international sports events are nice, but of course there are also lots of controversial yet important and interesting topics related both to Russia’s domestic dynamics and its influence campaigns abroad. I try to mix different kinds of topics, but a lot depends on where I happen to find decent audio quality and relatively clear, interesting language. For those interested in Putin, U.S.-Russia relations and Trump’s preference for Putin’s talking points over U.S. intelligence, some earlier posts here and here give a pretty good idea of Putin’s style, views and persuasive power.

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Video One

June 14, 2018



Когершын Сагиева, ведущая Дождя: Ну, а прямо сейчас в фан-зоне ФИФА рядом с Лужниками находится наш коллега Алексей Коростелёв. Лёша, привет!

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#MeToo в России / Russia’s #MeToo movement

Daria Zhukova

Audio Content: Women describe experiences of sexual harassment–or of male gallantry.
Visual Content: Mostly the women speaking, but also a few shots of the Duma.

Life is busy, but I’m not ready to let the blog die. Here’s a new post!

The #MeToo movement arrived in Russia in late February, just in time to offer a darker and more combative counterpoint to the rituals of male gallantry and flower-giving that are acted out on March 8, International Women’s Day. Although the scandal in question certainly did not attain the resonance of the Harvey Weinstein scandal in the U.S., and was not covered on Russia’s state-affiliated television networks, it did cause a considerable stir in political, journalistic and progressive circles. The initial reports emerged on the independent channel TV Rain (Телеканал Дождь) on February 22. Leonid Slutsky (Леонид Эдуардович Слуцкий), a longtime deputy in the State Duma and chair of the Committee on International Affairs, was accused of harassing female journalists who cover the parliament. At first the accusers remained anonymous, but as Slutsky denied and dismissed the charges, several of them decided to make themselves known. Daria Zhuk, a producer at TV Rain, described unwanted sexual aggression when Slutsky came to their studio for a news program (she tells her story in the video below). Farida Rustamova of BBC Russia had the most vivid story, backed up by an audio recording: when she visited Slutsky’s office for commentary, he called her “little rabbit,” suggested she become his lover and put his hand near her genitals. The third woman to publicly accuse Slutsky was Yekaterina Katrikadze of the television network RTVI.

Duma members mostly rallied around their fellow deputy. One exception was Oksana Pushkina, who called for legislation that would criminalize sexual harassment. More typical reactions were questions about why the women didn’t say anything earlier, suggestions that women who are unhappy in the Duma should find another place to work, assurances about having never observed any objectionable behavior from Slutsky, and claims that this is all a “provocation” somehow related to the upcoming presidential election. Nevertheless, members of the Duma determined that the issue needed to be addressed via the proper official procedures. On March 21 the Duma’s Committee on Ethics questioned Zhuk, Rustamova and Slutsky in a closed hearing and concluded that (subtitled video] no ethics violations had occurred. The next day, a few dozen news organizations (but, of course, none of the state-affiliated federal television networks) announced a boycott of the Duma.

In the first video below, Daria Zhuk announces that she is one of the anonymous accusers. She defiantly addresses Slutsky and

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Новогодние пожелания и урок географии / New Year’s Wishes and a Geography Lesson

people dancing outdoors in front of lights and tree

Audio content: Lots of New Year’s wishes and hopes.
Visual content: Images from the Far East to the westernmost regions of Russia of all varieties of public New Year’s celebrations.

New Year’s Eve (Новый год) is probably Russia’s most important and beloved holiday, the centerpiece of a long work- and school-break that extends until after the Orthodox Christmas on January 7. Most students of Russian know that this holiday features a fir tree (ёлка), Grandfather Frost (Дед Мороз) bringing gifts and families gathered around a well-laden table until the wee hours of the morning. And no Russian celebration would be complete without lots of warm wishes for all the good things in life! In the videos below you’ll hear many examples.

Today’s post offers what could be considered the “official” image of Russia’s New Year’s Eve festivities. Our source for the videos is Channel One (Первый канал), a widely watched federal channel that presents the Kremlin’s preferred spin on domestic and international events in a polished production style. People want to feel good about themselves and their country on the New Year and they want to mix a festive spirit with the warmth and familiarity of tradition. In Channel One’s news reports they see an idealized, wholesome, ethnically Slavic version of themselves and their holiday celebrations — with several “useful” official messages thrown in.

Geography features prominently in today’s videos. Russia’s vast size is a source of national pride and the nation’s huge extent is highlighted every year by the eleven different time zones that ring in the new year (see this useful infographic). Excitement builds as the nation watches the celebration march from the Kamchatka peninsula in the Far East to Kaliningrad. Be sure to find all the locations mentioned in today’s videos on a map.

Here are a few other themes you’ll see in the videos.

  • Demographic crisis: Russian’s birth rate fell sharply in the 1990s, and although it has since partially recovered to near replacement rate, the state is still intent on encouraging childbearing. It’s probably no accident that the videos include several people happily anticipating the birth of children.
  • Chiming bells (куранты) and fireworks (фейерверк, салют): Two key elements of civic celebrations. The most famous of these is the Kremlin’s Spasskaya Tower (Спасская башня). Its midnight chimes are featured in the president’s annual new year’s address to the nation.
  • Year of the Dog / Год собаки: Many Russians take note of the Chinese zodiac. Much of Russia of course lies in Asia, and fortune-telling of many kinds has deep roots in Slavic folk culture, so it’s no surprise that some Russians are happy to borrow the rich horoscope system of their Chinese neighbors.
  • Public decorations: Lavish public decorations seem to have become the standard for major holidays in Moscow lately. They draw on Russia’s abundance of creative talent. Not everyone is happy with the huge sums of money spent on these projects. Photos of impressive light-studded arches and hanging garlands can be seen here.
  • Nationality: Video two features some foreigners who are very excited to be visiting Russia, but the actual Russians presented in the videos appear to be of mostly Slavic ethnicity. About 20 percent of Russia’s population is made up of Turkic, Uralic, Caucasian and other non-Slavic groups.
  • Other elements of Russia’s winter holiday culture as seen in these videos are the ice skating rink (каток), the sauna (баня) and dips through a hole in the ice (проруб), sparklers (Бенгальские огни) and street theater.

Немного о языке

  • The verb “желать” means “to desire, to wish” and is most commonly used in the sense of wishing something for someone else, as in a birthday or holiday greeting. In this meaning its governance pattern is: желать кому (dat.) чего (gen.). That is, the thing (noun phrase) you are wishing goes in the genitive case. (This makes some sense because the genitive case is associated with absence, and if you are wishing something to someone the implication is that it is not yet immediately present.) This fact explains the numerous genitive case forms we see in the comments featured below. Even if the speaker does not explicitly say “желаю вам…” / “I wish you…” the verb “желать” is implied, so we see the genitive forms “здоровья” (nom. здоровье), мира (nom. мир), доброты (nom. доброта), любви (nom. любовь), счастья (nom. счастье), etc.
  • But what if you want to wish someone something more complicated that requires a whole clause with a verb? These sorts of wishes use the conjunction “чтобы” followed by a verb in the subjunctive mood (the subjunctive looks just like the past tense in Russian). You’ll see a construction like this at least twice below. Remember that the verb in this case is not in the past tense. E.g. “[Я хочу / я желаю,] чтобы каждый ощущал себя нужным” = “[I want / wish] that every person would feel wanted/needed.”
  • Holiday greetings are expressed with “с” + instr., as in the ubiquitous “С новым годом!” = “Happy New Year!” Remember that phrases like this are a truncated form of the full construction “Я вас [acc.] поздравляю с… (праздником, новым годом, днём рождения).” There is no natural-sounding literal translation of this construction into English, but the idea is something like “I greet/congratulate you on the occasion of (the holiday, the new year, your birthday).” It all sounds very normal in Russian, at least!
  • Although the usual verbs for “marking” or “celebrating” a holiday are “отмечать” or “праздновать,” the expression for celebrating the New Year is “встречать / встретить Новый год,” lit. “to meet the New Year.” Note how at the start of video one the anchor lets slip the more natural-sounding word “встретят” before correcting herself to follow the script with the word “отметят.” (News language often aims for expressive variation rather than colloquial style.)

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Video one has the most cohesive language practice and is fully transcribed, video two combines a visual tour across Russia with my transcriptions of several interesting comments that are scattered throughout the video and video three is included just for the visual and cultural interest.

(Scroll down for transcripts)


Video One: This report came out just as the New Year was passing through Russia’s Far East. Residents of Владивосток and Хабаровск share their wishes and hopes for the new year.


Video Two: This video is from New Year’s Day and shows images of the prior night’s celebration from across Russia. We start in Moscow

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