General board / Announcements

This is a literal ‘ask me anything’ forum: a place where you can ask me or other readers questions about, well, anything, really. I’ll as open questions too. Of course Russia- and blogging- related questions are preferred, but why not talk about drawing, fiction, movies, insects, language studies or the weather too? Just be sure to follow the rules of common decency and behavior. You can ask me about my personal opinon of Putin or how it feels to live in Cricket-hell, but you can’t ask about obvious personal or compromising information.

Let’s see how long this runs.



  1. NYU Jordan Center: Russian Studies is Thriving, Not Dying

    As U.S.-Russian relations continue to spiral downwards, popular commentators decry the lack of expertise on Russia in the United States. In a well-argued critique of popular discourse on Russia in the United States, Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky recently noted: “those capable of a more nuanced approach are in increasingly short supply in the U.S. Years of low funding and poor career opportunities have thinned out the Russia expert community….only a small number of Dostoevsky nerds have been interested in a country often described as a fading regional power.” In these sentiments, Bershidsky echoes National Interest, Washington Post and the New York Times. That “Russian studies is dying” has almost become a trope in the policy making community.
    The only problem is that Russian studies is thriving, at least in Political Science, the field I know best. Consider the flagship journal in the field—the American Political Science Review (APSR). It publishes about forty articles per year from all four specializations in Political Science, including American politics, comparative politics, international relations, and political theory and it has an acceptance rate of 8 percent. That is, 92 percent of submissions are rejected. This figure is especially impressive since scholars tend to only send their best work to the APSR for review.
    Yet in the last year, four articles on Russia were published in the APSR and two more are on the way. These works are written for an academic audience and can be quite technical, but they do explore core issues in our understanding of Russia.

    Okay, so poli sci is doing fine. But there’s more to Russian Studies than poli sci, and IMO the strongest Russian Studies program is the one that draws on the strength of not just poli sci but history, language, sociology, international comparative studies, and literature too. A living, dynamic, multidisciplinary organism. A horse can’t stand, even if one leg is as strong as can be, if the other three are weak.

    But more students enter undergraduate and graduate programs already having Russian language skills. Of the nine graduate students I’ve advised at Columbia in the last decade who work on Russia, four are Russian citizens. And similar ratios likely hold for my colleagues at other Ph.D. granting institutions. The many excellent political scientists writing on Russia have little need for Russian language classes.

    So there’s more Russian citizens in your poli sci program studying Russia. How’s that supposed to improve the overall quality of RAS research? They can access Russian-language sources more easily, but they’re still analyzing this stuff through a rigid political science framework, right?

    There are many reasons for the all too simplistic treatments found in much popular discourse about Russia from the sheer difficulty of studying a country as opaque and complex as Russia, to a hyper-polarized media and political environment that rewards exaggeration and simplification, to the failure of academics to translate their work to a broader audience.

    Now you’re on to something…

    Certainly the academic study of Russia faces many challenges and we can use more experts in the field, particularly in the study of foreign policy. But the lack of nuance in public discourse about Russia is not rooted in the low quality of academic research in Russian studies.

    Well, maybe…but we need to take a closer look at the type of experts we’re producing, because obviously something’s not working. Authorperson, you work at Columbia University, for chrissakes – you can’t pretend that the ivory tower-to-gov/media pipeline doesn’t exist. May I again recommend a multidisciplinary model, plus a pedagogical method leading ample room for confronting different POVs and working out one’s own position regarding Russia?

    And also – who’s defining “quality” here?

    Obviously this guy’s never been to the kvu, where at least one professor has had to crosslist her Russian lit course in ECON in order to draw in enough students to save her course from higher-ups a little too obsessed with numbers… 😦


    • >NYU Jordan Center [goran]
      > “Защитники” [double groan]

      “At a time of profound social division and national discord, it managed to unite Russians into one harmonious voice.”


      ” making it the worst-reviewed Russian film of 2017. Congratulations”

      There was a steep competition from “Viking” and “Matilda” though… Oh, and “Twillight+Distric 9 unintentional parody” aka “Притяжение”. That’s… impressive!

      Here’s Evgeny “BadComedian” Bazhenov’s humorous review of the “За-SHIT-ники” (eng subs availible!):

      “The following piece by José Alaniz, Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures in the Department of Comparative Literature, Cinema & Media at the University of Washington”

      Entire professor is reviewing this movie! This is… undeserving. Or maybe this movie deserves such a reviewer? I don,t know, but the fact that the Jordan Center re-published that is already a bad thing.

      “Who better than Sarik Andreasian, working with producer brother Gevond Andreasian and their Enjoy Movies production company, to challenge Hollywood’s hegemony and debut a new, domestic superhero franchise?”

      That a joke, right? Uhm, how to put it mildly… Would you trust Adam Sandler with $150 mln budget for the new Superman movie, starring Rob Sneider? You see, Andreasian has a… “reputation”. Two man, one woman and a bear team is a meme iteslf in Russia, thanks to the old sketches of the “Village of fools/Деревня дураков”:


      • ‘Entire professor is reviewing this movie! This is… undeserving. Or maybe this movie deserves such a reviewer? I don,t know, but the fact that the Jordan Center re-published that is already a bad thing.’

        Still more readable than his book on Russian comics.


  2. The New Politics of Russia review has been dropped from the queue.
    Not because it’s bad – 5/5 stars, это стоит почитать. И перечитать. – But because my review would be too similar to the Irrussianality one (if a little less articulate).


    • “политота” – a slang term for the topic of politics, when brought up suddenly, off-topic, especially when done in the most aggressive, rude form.

      There is an ancient заговОр (“spell”) to ward one from such unwarranted conversations:

      Перейди на Федота
      С Федота – на Якова
      С Якова – на всякого”

      True story ™. 😉


        • “Will it work in English? On my fellow undergrads?”

          Not sure ;).

          [Humor mode: On]Your American highways network had been constructed with the principles of the Sacred Geometry in mind and together they form one gigantic pentagram. As of its use there are different opinions – some say it’s the ultimate magic(k)al protection ward for entire country making spellcasting impossible, while others are sure it’s a Doomsday Device to summon the proverbial legions of Hell in case of Russian invasion.

          But, sure – try to use this spell on your fellow students. If it fells then it’s the former. If it succeeds, though…


  3. Translations needed for:

    -Will provide sentences and context if needed.


    • – “нелитовка” – I suspect it means “non Lithuania (female)”. “Литовка” means “female ethnic Lithuanian”

      – “переначитанность”. “Начитанный” – “well-read”, so here we have a neologism “over-read” (in the bad sense).

      – “возомнить”. To start thinking too high of oneself or to start imagining oneself to be someone who you are clearly not. E.g. “возомнить себя великим политиком” (to start imagining/pretending to be a great politician)

      – “контрофициоз”. “Официоз” – “officialdom”, e.g. dealing with someone in the most hide-bound by the book manner and giving airs of pretentions while at that. OR it might mean a general definition of the “official”, i.e. “pro-establishment” papers and media. By adding “counter-” we have an opposite to either of that.

      – “бормотой”. “Бормота/бормотать” – (to) mutter, babble.

      – “дукатский”. Needs context. I doubt it something to do with “ducats” of old.

      – “ява”. Needs context, but can I assume it means cigarettes of this particular brand ?

      [Who in Russia smokes “Yava” anyway?]

      – “непара”. Literally – “not a couple”. If used in the sentence like this – “он ей не пара”, it means “he is not worthy of dating her”. Needs context.


      • Thanks.

        – “дукатский”./ “ява”.

        Булочки и джемы … отвлекали её всякий раз, … на вид были явно вкуснее Игоря Фёдоровича, провонявшего дукатской явой …

        – “непара”.

        Она оказывалась очевидной непарой ему.


        • “Она оказывалась очевидной непарой ему”

          Like I wrote – “not a couple for him” or he was not a dating material for her.

          “провонявшего дукатской явой”

          Turns out there is a settlement of the city type Ducat in Magadan oblast (pop. 1261). Could it mean that he was smoking “Yava” cigs bought here?


  4. Translations needed for:
    -любера (pl)/люберецкий (the text identifies them as “bandits of the first democratic wave”, so I need more of an English equivalent to the name rather than translation here.)
    -слегка не по себе


    • «Любера» got their nickname from the Moscow’s quarter Люберцы . Just imagine some other “bad-off”, tough blue-collar mostly residential part of some other big city in the world, and you’ll get the equivalent. Oh, and they were only part-time gopniks – other time they were spending in качалки or kicking the crap out of hippies, rockers, punks and other неформалы.

      Not sure about 100% equivalents in the West, because they were much local and very (late period) Soviet phenomenon. Maybe Chavs ?

      “слегка не по себе”
      To feel yourself a little bit uncomfortable/ill at ease


  5. Admin update 1/6/18:
    A planned commentary comeback to David Satter’s notorious X-mas 2017 article in the Wall Street Journal has been cancelled, as I discovered you need a WSJ subscription to read the full article.


    • …as I discovered you need a WSJ subscription to read the full article

      1) There is Russian translation on InoSMI

      2) There are… other ways… to get full articles without becoming WSJ subscriber. But this pathway some consider to be… unnatural. 😉

      3) The article itself is a nice illustration of the “Russia That We Have Lost” (1990s version, aka “The Democratic Russia”). How the author uses that fact to justify his lede of the articles was… “impressive”.


      • InoSMI to the rescue!

        But any text I use in the comeback will be a metatranslation. I just hope InoSMI retained as much emotion from the original as it could…


      • Прочитав статью:
        Yup, still cancelled.
        I was expecting a Scott Gilmoresque, how-the-[censored]-did-this-get-published cornucopia of cherry-picked facts, misleading statistics, and absolutely no context. This article wasn’t that. The conclusion Satter draws from his anecdote is ridiculous and reeks of orientalism, but on the whole this piece doesn’t give me enough material for a commentary comeback (nor the desire to, you know, come back).


  6. Help Wanted: Scouts

    In preparation for an upcoming post, I’m collecting as many book covers featuring St. Basil’s Cathedral as I can. I’ve found 22 thus far, but I’m sure there are many more.

    If you happen upon a book cover meeting this criterion, please post a pic of it or a link to the page on which you found it under this comment. Genre is irrelevant. I just want that cathedral.

    (See it hiding in the background?)


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