Putin’s language doesn’t threaten Russia’s neighbors but does threaten Russia, Shchetkina says

Putin's speech at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow in February 2012, almost exactly two years before he commanded the Russian military to start the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. (Image: Ilya Varlamov)

Putin's speech at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow in February 2012, almost exactly two years before he commanded the Russian military to start the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. (Image: Ilya Varlamov) 

2016/12/03 • Analysis & Opinion, Politics, Russia

The Russian language used by Vladimir Putin — unlike the language of Pushkin — “doesn’t threaten Russia’s neighbors or the world,” Kateryna Shchetkina says, not only because of his actions but also because of his vulgarization of Russian, a tongue which before him had been one of the world’s great languages.

Kateryna Shchetkina (Image: zn.ua)

Kateryna Shchetkina
(Image: zn.ua)

In a commentary for Kyiv’s Delovaya Stolitsa, the Ukrainian commentator says that Moscow’s current effort to get Russia’s neighbors to recognize a special status for Russian might have worked five or even more likely ten years ago as a typical kind of post-imperial policy.

But Russia missed that chance by invading Georgia and then unleashing war in Ukraine, and consequently, “restoring the image of ‘a good neighbor’ interested in cultural, spiritual and educational ties” is beyond its capacity now. Instead of soft power, Putin chose hard; and he can’t change horses now.

At the same time, Shchetkina says, Putin by his own mouth has shown he has little real love for the language of Pushkin and is quite prepared to “rape” the Russian language, as some who listen to him say, and to do so with verve and relish. He violates its grammar just as much as he does all the other rules when it suits him.

And “to give him his due,” she continues, Putin has a very good sense of his audience within Russia if not beyond its borders. He understands that his vulgarities from “drowning the Chechens in the outhouse” on play well to a population in which “the rape of language is now in fashion.”

But for Ukrainians and for others who were once part of the empire, there is good news arising from this: “Putin’s language unlike Pushkin’s doesn’t threaten Russia’s neighbors or the world. The present Russian regime can only act as a parasite on it but is incapable of making it into a weapon.”

Unfortunately for Russians, what Putin is doing puts them and their culture under threat. “For Russia, the fate of their language is a question of life or death” because the language is in many ways a metaphor for Russia itself. “The Russian language, Russian culture and Russian literature are … what Russia is.”

Indeed, Shchetkina argues, Russia doesn’t exist anywhere beyond these things; and that explains why Putin has said that Russia has no borders because Russia is a “virtual” reality rather than a geographic one. And in this is a problem: “this culture and language does not belong undividedly to a country which is now called the Russian Federation.”

This culture and language “were created by an empire, by the combined efforts and contributions, free or unfree, direct or mediated of all its peoples with all their histories. After the disintegration of the empire, the metropolitan center put its paw on this ‘cultural commonality,’” and those who left agreed to that arrangement.

But Moscow and its rulers weren’t satisfied with that as they would have been had they pursued a post-imperial policy. Being a cultural metropolitan center wasn’t enough. They wanted to impose a political straitjacket over all the others and to use the Russian language to do so, an act that inevitably generated a harsh reaction and ended by hurting Russia itself.

“Within the borders of the Russian Federation,” Shchetkina says, “the Russian language and correspondingly Russian culture are collapsing,” something that is all too obvious from the words of “the poet Putin who has come in place of the poet Pushkin, the poet Okudzhava, and even the writer Stalin.”

She continues: “Having declared the space of ‘the Russian language’ the sphere of his geopolitical interests, the Kremlin parasite has transformed Russian into a threat to the national security of the neighbors and, at the same time, forced Russian speakers to become doubtful about their own cultural identification.”

Now, that lingual “areal is contracting;” and there is little reason to think that will change. And that points to a bad end because “Russian language and culture cannot develop outside the context of broad mutual exchanges. Indeed, outside of them, these things don’t exist,” the commentator says.

“It is possible to conquer Crimea, to disorder the Donbas, to mess with the land of Georgia, and to destroy the archaeological features of Aleppo,” she says. But this comes with a price: and that price is Russia itself – “the unseen and immaterial Russia which existed only in the form of language and culture.”

And Shchetkina concludes: Every time Putin achieves something on the map, he loses a little of what he says he is fighting for.


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Edited by: A. N.

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  • Mykola Potytorsky

    I hear russian is not a real language, just a mongol dialect

  • Robert

    Yes, clearly vlady is unwittingly creating “the unseen and immaterial Russia”. He is increasingly isolating, ostracizing and denigrating himself and also the RF; he is making Russia literally worthless, meaningless, bankrupt and TOTALLY FULL of SHAME, Stupidity and EVIL. No sane, civilized or sensible Human Being desires to see Russia – it’s immaterial. It’s also a total shame he’s now also doing this to Ukrainian Crimea and Donbas. What will ‘Russia after putin’ look like?

    • Fortranz

      “- What will ‘Russia after putin’ look like? -”

      That will depend on the Russians themselves. Will they throw away the Potemkin village image that Putin and his Silovik gives the world or will they free themselves and become one of Europe’s great enlightened nations?

      I’m hoping for the latter here, however, I find it hard at times to keep that hope alive.

      • Robert

        Wow! Fortranz! That is a MASSIVELY HUGE, Preciously Powerful and Profoundly Positive Hope! They (the Russian People themselves) could do it! They certainly have the resources. How do they do what Ukraine is already WELL on their way to doing: free themselves of the incorrigibly Corrupt vlady and silovik Kremlinals? Will this require a modern day Bolshevik or ‘Red Square Maidan’?

        Seriously, vlady doesn’t seem to get that – with his Mafioso behavior and utter disrespect of Russian People – HE (and, as you say, his silovik) are essentially and eventually forcing the question: What colour Revolution are we fomenting here in Russia? … (‘we’, as in vlady & his silovik criminals) …

        It appears to be a kind of race: Who will become Europe’s great enlightened nation first? Europe know there’s NO country within its existing ‘club’ that has the Natural Resources of either Ukraine or the RF. Clearly, Ukraine has a huge edge regarding Human Resources over the RF.

        Frankly, I often ponder why EU seems to subtly ‘stifle’ Ukraine’s initiatives – especially Germany – in an apparent ‘subconscious’ manner. Germany is probably ‘top dog’ today in EU. How much of their actions are based on letting Ukraine in … and having to play ‘2nd fiddle’ to a more resourceful, industrious and resource-rich sovereign nation state. … … I think they’re jealous and rather scared that not they (Germany) or ANY EU nation could EVER have the Sacred Potential of Ukraine … (if and WHEN UA abolishes the Corruption)…

        Yes, Fortranz, your Hope is Admirable, Magnanimous and actually entirely possible – that Russian People “…will they free themselves and become one of Europe’s great enlightened nations?” Heck of a Question!!! :) I love it! :) I share your Hope…

        Sooner or later … always throughout history … it comes down to the People… what do the People want … and what exactly are they willing to do to get it? Most Russians I know of that are doing something Powerfully Positive and Remarkably Rewarding (for them personally and their Families) are simply leaving the UselessSSR and now the RF. As one Husband and Father of 2 lovely Daughters from Moscow told me a few years ago: “Since I an my Family left the RF, we’re no longer being Royally Fukked”.

        There’s been a lot of media attention – both inside and outside of the RF – on the ‘BrainDrain’ that, of course, vlady denies, Denies, passes off and dismisses as if its not really happening. This, among SOoooo MANY other ‘details’ are not very much in support of your Hope about Russian People freeing themselves and become one of Europe’s great enlightened nations … unless they can do it as Diaspora (?) …

        This leaves Ukraine … IF Europe “let’s” them (?)! … BS!!! Ukraine’s gonna do it ANYWAY – ALL BY THEMSELVES – IF THEY HAVE TO!!! Ukrainians are NOT losers. They survived 3 of stalins’ Genocide Holodomor attempts! Ukraine is not dead. Ukraine is STILL HERE! Getting stronger every second, every breath, every heartbeat . . . as, “What does not kill you makes you Stronger.” They’ve (Ukraine has) already freed themselves (of the UselessSSR AND the Royal Fukkers) and (may) become one of Europe’s great enlightened nations … OR NOT!!! …

        The simple facts are:

        1. Ukraine does not ‘need’ Europe or EU. (Notice the period.);

        2. Europe and EU needs Ukraine. (Again, notice the period.);

        3. Ukraine is the (largest and most capable) FIRST LINE DEFENSE for Europe and EU against the vlady (incumbent A$$Whole) Mafioso Terrorist Criminal Invading Aggressor state, ‘RF’.

        Unless and until Fortranz’ Hope (repeated several times above) BEGINS to be embarked upon by the Russian People, … Europe, EU, the ENTIRE International Community DESPERATELY NEEDS to RALLY behind Ukraine, as, … Ukraine is the new and now “Land of The Free and Home of the Brave” – same as America was 250 years ago…

        • Fortranz

          Here’s something you might like:

          Old Russian joke.

          A train is travelling to Moscow with Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev on it.
          The train comes to a stop.
          Stalin looks out the window and orders that the engineers be shot to get the train moving.
          The train stays stopped.
          Khrushchev looks out the window and orders that the engineers be sent to reeducation camps to get the train moving..
          The train stays stopped.
          Brezhnev looks out the window then pulls down the blinds and says, “Lets pretend the train is moving.”
          Russian [USSR] chaos and demise.

          New Russian joke.

          A train is travelling to Moscow with Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin on it,
          The train comes to a stop.
          Gorbachev looks out the window and orders that the engineers be given Glasnost and Perestroika to get the train moving.
          The train stays stopped.
          Yeltsin looks out the window and orders that the engineers be sold vouchers of ownership in the railway and that they sell them to ex-KGB oligarchs to get the train moving.
          The train stays stopped.
          Putin looks out the window then pulls down the blinds and says, “Lets pretend the CIA stopped the train from moving.”
          Russian [Kremlin] chaos and demise.

          let’s both hope that the Russians will [very soon] come to see just how bad a joke this really is.

  • zorbatheturk

    Russian ” literature ” has not produced a good writer since Dostoevsky.

    • Fortranz

      Sad but true.

    • Dagwood Bumstead

      I beg to differ: Boris Pasternak, Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn to name but two.

      • zorbatheturk

        My favorite Solzhenitsyn novel is his shortest.

        • Fortranz

          Would that be – The Gulag Archipelago -? It’s not that short but it is my favorite.

          • zorbatheturk

            One Day in the Life of Ivan D… I also remember reading Cancer Ward a long to time ago as a teenager. Solzhenitsyn can be a little long-winded – to my taste. Under the Soviets writers were told what to write – or they were not published. Ergo what was produced was mostly rubbish. Originality and independent publishing are required to produce works of artistic merit. The Soviets were Philistines. Putin and his gangster state are no better. I have tried to read one or two modern Russian writers, but have been underwhelmed.