Monday, May 10, 2010

Sayings / Поговорки: Communist History Class

Victory Day in modern Russia on May 9th.

Regarding Stalin:
  • "With the rise of authoritarian regimes in Russia, the popularity of Stalin increases."
  • "Stalin's second wife committed suicide. Allegedly, it was because of his rudeness. But he was a rude guy, so maybe it was just the manifestation of his love."
  • "Without his murderous passion, Stalin would have been a great guy."
  • "Stalin was a coward. Nearly all dictators are cowards."

Regarding Gorbachov:
(Note: In the original Russian, the ending of the last name of the General Secretary/First President of the Soviet Union sounds more like the English long "o" sound: Горбачёв.)
  • "In my view, Gorbachov had the talent of being immune to learning. Now, now, you are laughing, but there is such a talent. He simply ignored the learning and never stressed words correctly. And he had a thick Ukrainian accent for being a Russian."
In the height of Gorbachov's anti-alcoholism campaign in the mid-1980s, people began moonlighting their own hard liquor.
  • "Russian especially managed to produce something resembling alcohol out of another substance, but they died from outright poisons. Therefore, Gorbachov failed because more people died from the effects of the anti-alcoholism campaign than before its installation."
During the USSR, vodka production was under strict control of the government; a full twenty percent of the state budget was even due to revenues collected from the consumption of vodka.
Even now in the Russian Federation, it is next to impossible to buy alcohol-based goods such as nail polish remover. It is five times as expensive, and a tenth of its size.

Only in Russia, only in Russia. Hence:
  • "Vodka is a national security issue."
Regarding the "Mysterious Russian Soul":
  • "We asked questions are first, but no one stood up to defend the answers. The machine would simply break them down until they not longer raised their hands."
  • "To be from Leningrad was suspicious. After all, there were revolutions, intellectuals (intelligentsia), and a deep imperial past."
  • "Many things done in Russia do not have a human face, but if there is a face, it is a less-than-human face. In contrast, the Prague uprising represented socialism with a human face."

Sayings / Поговорки: Russian Class

In the picture above, our teacher Nina is taking my friend Ariel's blood pressure to confirm the suspicion that Arie's headaches are due to the difference between her blood pressure and the air pressure outside.

"Children need mothers and fathers. Mothers love with their hearts. Fathers love in practical ways. Children need to know and learn both ways."

"Women are like the weather. They are not stable. Sometimes they are good, sometimes they are bad. Men can never understand them." When I objected to this statement, Nina simply laughed and explained that only American women would oppose such a concept.

"The psychological condition of the contemporary Russian is that they doubt themselves; they do not trust themselves. It is a catastrophe, a parasite."

"I am not propaganda-ing anything. It is just that crime is a part of life." (There is a specific word in Russian for the verbal version of "propaganda"). For some reason, when Yulia brings up something that she considers semi-controversial, including talking about traditional Russian Orthodox religious holidays, she quickly apologizes and tells us that she is not trying to make "propaganda" for anything. Likewise when we went over the theme of crime and punishment in contemporary Russia. However, she did not follow this trend when discussing art and literature. Ah, the interesting manifestations of the Russian mentality.

"Life is too stressful everyday to be able to think of higher things, of philosophical things." A potential answer to my greatest questions about Russia?

While watching a Soviet-era cartoon about two girls out-smarting two boys in hunting mushrooms in a rural area, we asked our teacher why one of the girls had a huge, bloody scratch on her face. After all, these were actors in a children's show. Nina answers with a face indicating the obviousness of it: "Because she lives in the country."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

War and Peace / Война и Мир

Yesterday afternoon a student in our group went for a run near the university. A few blocks into his workout, he shuffled to a halt in front of flashing lights and roped off poles. Through the spectators and police in the area, he could see that there had been a very serious accident. A car was wrapped around a telephone pole. Shattered glass sparkled on the dirty St. Petersburg street. Yet something was not right. Despite the usual characteristics of a car crash (from which 30,000+ people die annually in Russia), today was different. Right there in the street, sprawled on the ground was a "severed hand in an ocean of blood," as the student described. Immediately, others commented on his Facebook status about the incident. Of those living abroad, their responses were of shock and disgust. Of those living in Russia, their responses were basically, "Only in Russia" or simply, "Russia."

Today we watched a clip of the news in our razgovor ("conversation") class. There is was again on the evening news. A bloody glove with part of the wrist hanging off. A crimson-stained jacket of the zhertv ("victim") next to the crash. We all cringed during the clip, even as it was being fast-forwarded. Our professor, a very traditional Russian woman, was horrified by our desire to watch the recap. Explaining that one of the students saw that in person yesterday, she exclaimed, Bozhe Moy ("Oh my gosh!") and continued fast-forwarding as if to erase the images from our minds.

Instead, we took notes on the segment that we were intended to watch, a longer look into the repetitsya ("repetitions") for upcoming 65th anniversary of the end of World War II, or Victory Day, in Russia. Streets have already been decorated extensively with banners, advertisements, and the like, similar to our Christmas season preparations. Orange and black striped ribbons flutter on the antennae of cars. Veterans receive a plate of cookies instead of higher pensions. Millions are spent on updating technika ("technique")--the vast array of tanks, machinery, armed soldiers, and missiles that were once a part of the familiar military demonstrations in the Soviet Union, and yet again, have reintroduced themselves in the Russian Federation.

The fundamental question is whether these months of preparations, parades, and celebrations are to honor the veterans and other notable "defenders of the Fatherland," or it is to show the military might and prowess of a once world power. As we discussed today with our professor, we lean to the latter.

After all, Russian school children cannot even name who "won" the war, why it happened, and why they are celebrating it this weekend. Again, what is more important? The minds of the next generation that may revolutionize the current problems of Russia, or the Soviet-style tanks strutting down streets in Moscow and St. Petersburg this weekend?