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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Гуляния за Навального в день рождения Путина / Marching for Aleksei Navalny on Putin’s Birthday

Navalny march participant

Audio content: Young people in Moscow explaining why they came out to support Navalny at a demonstration.
Visual content: Young protesters and some of the protest memes (ducks).

Video available at TV Rain.

The anti-corruption crusader Aleksei Navalny is running for president of Russia in the election scheduled for March 2018. His campaign is a quixotic one: Putin remains very popular across the country and is expected to run for another six-year term (although he has not yet made an announcement as of mid-November 2017); genuine opposition campaigns are suppressed with legal harassment and state control of the mass media; and Navalny is probably legally barred from appearing on the ballot because of embezzlement convictions in 2013 and 2017. The convictions appear to be politically motivated — the European Court of Human Rights declared the 2013 trial unfair and, in a sort of dark comedy, the Russian Supreme Court obligingly overturned the conviction, only for Navalny to be re-tried and re-convicted in 2017.

Nevertheless, Navalny is running an energetic American-style campaign. Starting in September 2017, he began travelling to weekend rallies in cities all over Russia, organizing them through his network of regional campaign offices. In Russia rallies in public spaces must be approved by the local government. The campaign’s opening series of rallies received this administrative approval, albeit usually for sites on the outskirts of town rather than in the preferred easy-to-reach central locations. Crowds of over 1,000 people came to hear Navalny speak and answer questions in Murmansk, Yekaterinburg, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, so that over two weeks the politician criss-crossed Russia from the far north to the far east.

On the morning of September 29, however, just as Navalny was headed to catch a train from Moscow to a planned rally in Nizhny Novgorod, he was detained and charged with repetitive violation of the procedure for organizing public meetings. On October 2nd he was sentenced to 20 days in prison. He has since been released and the battle between Navalny’s campaign and its many opponents continues. As local authorities have been more frequently denying outright permits for public meetings, the campaign has taken to to organizing rallies on private property. When such a meeting occurred in Tambov in late October, several local campaign workers were arrested and given short sentences for violating administrative procedures. After a meeting in Irkutsk, the businessman who had offered his privately owned retail space for the rally was arrested. In Kemerovo, the boyfriend of Navalny’s local campaign coordinator was expelled from his university and her mother was fired from her job. Because Navalny is particularly popular among high school and university students, local leaders will sometimes conduct “prophylactic talks” (профилактическая беседа) with young people in advance of rallies, urging them not to be tempted by Navalny’s rhetoric.

The event featured in this post occurred on October 7 in Moscow while Navalny was serving his short sentence in prison. October 7th happened to be Putin’s 65th birthday and Navalny’s supporters ironically marked this event with a number of protest events in major cities. The TV Rain correspondent Vladimir Romensky interviews a few of the Moscow demonstrators. You will see that two of the interviewees are holding duck-shaped balloons, which, as they explain, have become a symbol of opposition and anti-corruption politics as a result of Navalny’s investigations of Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, who was found to have a special house for ducks on a pond on one of his vacation properties. The Moscow march was not officially approved, so participants presented themselves as simply being out for a walk along Moscow’s central Tverskaia Street. Only one person was arrested, unlike some of the summer protest rallies where well over 1,000 young people were detained.

For more great language practice related to Aleksei Navalny and his movement, see this post on his speech at an opposition rally in 2015 and this post on nationwide anti-corruption demonstrations in March 2017.


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Navalny march participant 2

Watch the video at TV Rain.


Russian Transcript


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День ВДВ в парке Горького / Paratrooper Day in Gorky Park

paratrooper celebrating in Gorky Park

Audio content: Former paratroopers talking about how they celebrate their famous annual holiday.
Visual content: Paratroopers young and old in their “telniashka” shirts, Gorky Park, people swimming in fountains, paratrooper banners.

Watch the video at Телеканал Дождь.

One late summer event that always gets a fair amount of media attention in Russia is День ВДВ, i.e. “Paratrooper” or “Airborne Forces Day,” marked annually on August 2. “ВДВ” stands for “Воздушно-десантные войска” (“Air descent forces”) — soldiers trained to parachute from airplanes into enemy territory. August 2 is the anniversary of the first jump by airborne forces in 1930, and it’s now the day that both current and retired paratroopers — often called “десантники” — gather together to express pride in their organization, have a good time and reminisce with former comrades. Anything related to aviation had a special cachet starting in the early days of the Soviet Union, which may be one reason this particular segment of the military is so celebrated. Or maybe it’s just the paratroopers’ holiday flair that has drawn attention. In any case, two key elements are always associated with this celebration: watermelons and swimming in fountains. Neither element is necessarily officially supported, as a certain irrepressible lawlessness is part of the cultural image of the holiday. In recent years watermelons have not actually been supplied. (If I understand correctly, paratroopers paying for the watermelons was never part of the tradition.) Many men do end up in public fountains regardless of whether park administrators have decided to officially allow this activity. In Moscow, paratroopers traditionally gather in Gorky Park (Парк Горького). They wear blue berets and тельняшки, the iconic blue-and-white striped shirts that are part of their uniform (they are also part of the Navy uniform, and are fairly commonly worn by men outside the military as well). Many of them drink alcohol. In 2017 revelers reported that security allowed alcohol into the park as long as it was in plastic containers. A common exclamation is “Слава ВДВ!” (Glory to VDV!), which you can hear shouted at 9:55 in the video for this post. The paratrooper motto is “Никто кроме нас!” (“No one but us!”). Although the holiday has a reputation for rowdiness, it can also be a family event, and reports indicate that in recent years more and more men are bringing their wives and children for a picnic in the park.

In 2017 a reporter for НТВ reporting on this event was unfortunately punched live on air by a drunk man yelling about Ukraine — but it was reported that he was just a bystander, not actually a paratrooper (he was wearing neither a telniashka nor a beret). Nevertheless, perhaps in that spirit, the reporter from TV Rain who went to Gorky Park in 2017 ended up talking mostly to paratroopers who were too inebriated or too profane in their speech to provide good material for language practice (the profanity is bleeped out, so there is no learning potential there). So I went back to the segment for 2016, when TV Rain’s intrepid Vladimir Romensky managed to interview quite a few men who had interesting things to say about their military service and the holiday traditions. All of the segments were enjoyable to watch so I included them all below — pick what you like. In the first segment, a relentlessly optimistic and pleasant young paratrooper manages to fend off Romensky’s somewhat challenging questions in his determination to give the holiday a positive and appealing face and downplay all the wars happening in the world right now. In the second segment, a middle-aged man shares some interesting information about traditions of paratrooper service and the ways the army has changed over the past few decades. And in the third segment, a man who is a bit more profane and drunk than the first two puts an interesting spin on the question of whether or not to swim in fountains on this day.

Here’s a photo gallery from the 2017 celebration in Gorky Park.

Заметки о языке:
– A common nonstandard or regional variation of Russian is to use the preposition “с” in place of “из.” For example, referring to a city, a  person who does not speak standard Russian might say “с ростовской области” or “с Пензы” (the city) instead of “из ростовской области” or “из Пензы.”
– The third speaker uses “ё-моё” several times as a euphemism for obscene language. Obscene phrases and their euphemisms can be tossed into speech almost as a filler, to express mild surprise or irritation.

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paratrooper by fountain

Watch the video at Телеканал Дождь.

Russian Transcript

Part One

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День победы 2017 / Victory Day 2017

boy holding portrait of veteran

Audio content: Participants in Moscow’s Victory Day celebration tell the story of their family’s connection to the war.
Video content: Images of the “Immortal Regiment” Victory Day event in Moscow.

Links to two videos below.

My first blog post concerned the remarkable “Immortal Regiment” event that has become a popular part of Russia’s annual Victory Day (День победы) celebration on May 9. Two years later, the event has only grown in scale, and so I thought I’d offer some fresh material drawn from the most recent iteration of this popular parade. While many people associate Russia’s Victory Day celebration with the traditional Soviet military parade (the military parade still occurs; for images, see this video), the “Immortal Regiment” is a very different event, one based on the mass participation of regular citizens. The point is that people walk while carrying portraits of family members — parents, grandparents and great-grandparents — who participated in the “Great Patriotic War” (or, “Great Fatherland War,” Великая Отечественная Война), as World War II is known in Russian. The event allows even those ancestors who did not live to see the end of the war, or who were far away from major cities when Germany surrendered, to symbolically participate in a victory parade. The event mixes happiness and sorrow as Russians celebrate a historical moment of great national pride while preserving the memory of the immense sacrifices made to defeat the Nazis.

The “Immortal Regiment” is a new phenomenon in Russia. The first Immortal Regiment was spontaneously organized by journalists at an independent TV station in Tomsk in 2011. (The station, ТВ2, no longer broadcasts — like most other non-government-affiliated media outlets, it was gradually shut down in 2014.) The Tomsk event was soon picked up at the federal level and began to receive government support. “Immortal Regiment” marches now occur in cities across Russia and in former Soviet republics or nations with significant Russian populations. Vladimir Putin joined the event in Moscow for the first time in 2015 and this year once again walked at the head of the Immortal Regiment. Official estimates are that 850,000 participated in this year’s event in Russia’s capital, where the route runs down Tverskaia Street to Red Square, and that eight million people marched across the country.

The main symbol of Victory Day in Russia is

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Крупные акции протеста против коррупции / Major Protests Against Corruption

Schoolboy at protest in Tomsk

      Photo: Марат Хамматов, Tomsk.ru

Audio content: Voices from the March 26 anti-corruption protests in cities across Russia.
Video content: Images of the protests, chanting crowds, speakers, police detainment of protestors.

I’ve finally found time to put together a great selection of voices and images from the anti-corruption protests that occurred in cities across Russia on March 26, 2017. The protests, which drew more participants than any similar event in the last several years, were organized by Aleksei Navalny’s Фонд борьбы с коррупцией (ФБК, Anti-Corruption Fund). In particular, demonstrators were reacting to the recently released video Он вам не Димон (He’s Not “Dimon” to You — a reference to a very casual nickname for Medvedev, which his press secretary famously rejected), in which Navalny methodically — and with quite a bit of PR skill — presents evidence that Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev has profited from numerous corrupt arrangements that give him access to magnificent vacation properties and luxury goods. The video is part of Navalny’s quixotic campaign to be elected president in the 2018 elections, an endeavor that is unlikely to end in his actual electoral victory but that nevertheless threatens to significantly undermine the political security of Putin and his circle.

Navalny’s video, together with details turned up by his foundation’s earlier investigations, is a pop culture phenomenon. The video seems to have appealed to young people in particular: many observers commented on the large number of high school students and college-age people at the protest events. Numerous “memes” related to Medvedev are visible in the videos below. They include ducks (a reference to a house for ducks located in a pond at Medvedev’s alleged secret dacha), athletic shoes (the first “thread” in Navalny’s investigation is a pair of colorful athletic shoes visible in Medvedev’s Instagram, which Navalny links to an Amazon order sent to an anonymous email account supposedly linked to Medvedev) and the phrase “сами вы держитесь!” (“hang in there yourself!!” — referring to Medvedev’s ham-handed response to a group of elderly people complaining about their meager pensions in 2016 — he told them to just “hang in there”).

Any group political protest in Russia is supposed to be pre-approved and assigned to a particular site by the authorities. Several of the March 26 protests were officially approved, but most were not. In Moscow, participants claimed they were just out for a “walk” (прогулка) near the Pushkin statue on Tverskaia street in the center. Although the vast majority of protesters attended the events without experiencing immediate repercussions, significant numbers were arrested, including about 700 in Moscow, according to the video from Телеканал Дождь below. Police also visited the offices of the Anti-Corruption Fund, initially claiming there were concerns about a fire, and took all employees into custody. Navalny was given a fifteen-day prison sentence. Authorities blamed him for leading the youth astray by encouraging them to engage in dangerous activities.

Four videos are linked or embedded below. They include images and participant comments from the Moscow protest (video one), speeches in Novosibirsk that give a taste of the protesters’ rhetoric (video two), an overview of events in multiple cities with chanting crowds and comments from individual participants (video three), and a viral video of a school-age boy’s short speech in Tomsk (video four). Also, Meduza compiled a photo gallery of events in numerous cities.

To learn more about Navalny, see this earlier post on his speech to an opposition rally.

Заметки о языке: Useful words include “вор” (“thief”), “воровать” (“to steal”), “митинг” (“demonstration”), “акция” (“rally”), “позор” (“shame,” commonly chanted at police who are detaining protesters), “коррупция” (“corruption”), “власть” (“power,” “the authorities”), “задержать” (“to take into custody, detain”), “молодёжь” (“young people”), “терпеть” (“to be patient, to put up with”).

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Russian Transcript

Video One


Ведущая: Я напомню, что в нескольких десятках городов России сегодня, двадцать шестого марта, проходят акции против коррупции, поводом для которых стало расследование Фонда борьбы с коррупцией Алексей Навального о премьер-министре Дмитрии Медведеве.

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