October 16, 2013
So this summer I had the opportunity to take my husband and my parents to Russia and Ukraine to see my favorite places on earth and meet all of my friends from those places. I’m only now getting around to writing about it because immediately after I got back from my three week trip I started teaching Russian at two different universities. So life is busy. But I will start writing about this dream-come-true trip as the time arises.
I’m not a fan of Petersburg. Let’s just get that out first and foremost. I don’t know why. I didn’t like it, okay, I wouldn’t say I don’t like it, I just don’t feel the awe and adoration for it like I feel for Moscow and Kiev. People are always baffled by this, but I like the parts of Russia where Russia looks RUSSIAN and not European. But it’s a very important place in Russian history, I understand that. I wasn’t super impressed with it the first time I went there in 2003 and I wasn’t super impressed with it when I went there 10 years later.
I took my parents to all the must-see places: The Hermitage, the Peterhof, The Bronze Horseman, Nevskiy Prospect. But I felt kind of underwhelmed by all of it. Which was unfortunate because it was our first stop on our journey and I wanted to feel my heart swell with love and joy.
Anyway, there were two things I liked in Petersburg: The Russian Museum (Had lots of RUSSIAN art and folk art, which I just love) and the monument to Anna Akhmatova across the river from Kresty.
Since my parents didn’t really know who Anna Akhmatova is I just made my husband come with me to the monument. I printed off directions about how to get there from a website and made my way there. I had been reading about this monument since it was first erected in 2006. I can’t even describe what I felt to finally see it in person. Even my husband, who only knows what I’ve told him about her poetry and her life, said he got major chills as we stood there at the foot of the monument.
Anna Akhmatova has a very special place in my heart. You can find a previous post I did on one of her love poems here. She was actually the first Russian poet that I fell in love with, yes, even before Pushkin.
Her poem Реквием, or Requiem in English is about a very interesting time in Russian history that we didn’t study when we studied history in my classes in Russia. It is about the Stalinist repression or Большой террор (Lit. Big Terror) of the 1930’s when artists, scholars and anyone that was considered a threat to the regime was sent to prison, gulags or executed altogether. The infamous prison Kresty in Petersburg had housed many political prisoners since 1730. Akhmatova’s husband, Nikolay Gumilev, a fellow poet had been executed in 1921 by the Cheka.
Then her terror continued when, in 1938 her son, Lev Gumilev, was arrested and imprisoned in Kresty in addition to her second husband, Nikolay Punin (who later died in prison). If anyone could be considered a victim of political repression, it was she. Requiem talks of the terror of the people who waited outside that prison hoping to speak with their loved ones.
Her poem captured the struggles and despair of the people who were living through this terror and she wanted this to be her legacy. She held onto this poem until after Stalin died before she even brought it out for anyone to read. It wasn’t officially published in Russia until 1987. What makes this monument so powerful is its location and how it is the perfect embodiment of this part of her life. In a section of her poem Requiem she writes:
And by “here” she means outside of Kresty, which is just across the river. And sure enough, in 2006, marking the 40th anniversary of her death, they made this monument to her. This site is so haunting, the statue is so powerful, she stands in despair looking helplessly at the prison that has her son locked in and her locked out.
Closer down near the river bank there are a few more vague monuments to “Victims of Political Repression” This is the only such monument I’ve seen of its sort. Interesting that no specific mention is made to Stalin himself.
This was my favorite place in Petersburg, hands down. Perhaps because there were no tourists. It felt like a little treasure that I had found. It really is in the middle of a bunch of apartment buildings and a parking lot. Someone who didn't know about Akhmatova or her poem would never know just how powerful this site is. And maybe that's why I enjoyed it so much.
September 12, 2013
Perhaps good ideas and peaceful approaches can come out of Russia. I’ve been trying to tell people this for years. In fact, that’s what this blog is all about. So, with the recent issues on policy, I’ve been very proud to see Russia step up and take a peaceful stand on things. Their suggestion that Syria turn their chemical weapons over to the international community is a sign that Russia can be more than just ‘America’s competition’ in the international community. The leftover sentiment from the Cold War is that the Americans and the American press is hesitant to give Russia credit for any good thing it does. So the fact that I’m hearing everywhere talk about Russia actually having the best approach and that our politicians are open-minded to it, gives me hope that maybe we can come to see Russia as a viable international partner.
I’ve said in the past that I have issues with Putin. There are definitely many shady areas in his past. But this letter is a huge gesture on his part. Not only is his argument true, it’s rational and reasonable. Two words that the American press has not associated with Russian/Soviet leaders for many years.
I don’t claim to know a lot about politics. But I’m happy to see the role that Russia is playing in this. And I hope that we can find a peaceful solution that strengthens our relations with Russia.
What Putin Has to Say to Americans About Syria
By VLADIMIR V. PUTIN
Published: September 11, 2013 3556 Comments
MOSCOW — RECENT events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.
The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.
No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.
The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.
Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.
Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.
From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.
No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.
It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”
But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.
No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect.
The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.
We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.
A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action.
I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations.
If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.
My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
Vladimir V. Putin is the president of Russia.
June 19, 2013
You might have read my previous post about my experience taking the OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview) in Russian. It’s an official test administered by ACTFL (American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages).
Taking the OPI in Russian (read about how I thought I bombed it)
Well, in my blog post I talk about how I felt it went HORRIBLY! But I got my results. And I’m pleased. All’s well that ends well(that’s what the title of this blog post means, btw)!
And I’ve already got two different jobs lined up at two universities for teaching this fall. So I’m feeling good. I hope to still be able to post every now and then.
May 9, 2013
Hooray! Today is the day I get to write a happy post! I love Victory Day. I love those sweet old WWII veterans that walk around Moscow carrying flowers and getting kissed on the cheek by pretty young girls. If I were in Moscow today I would be kissing them all! On days like this I remember why I love Russia and Ukraine(and I’m sure I would love Belarus too) so much. Because they have been through so much–tragedy after tragedy and they are still the most wonderful, loving and open-hearted people you will ever meet in your life.
They deserve this day. They deserve a day to celebrate after all that they’ve been through.
Here are a series of happy photos to lighten your mood after my previous two posts(on the Destruction of War and the Faces of War. The modern pictures come from this awesome article from Boston.com about Victory Day. There are many more beautiful photos. I didn’t include them all in my post. They made my heart swell with love.
Please push play on this song and listen as you look at the pictures.
Поздравляю всех с Днем ВЕЛИКОЙ Победы!!!
Victory Then and Now
These beautiful present day pictures come from this article from The Boston Globe.
I hope this day will continue to be a celebration for people of all ages for centuries to come. May we always remember these heroes’ sacrifice!
May 7, 2013
It’s easy for us (especially in America) to think of war as something that happens far away with tanks and soldiers. But for Europeans, and specifically the Soviets during World War II, it was by no means something that was happening far away.
Today I’ve compiled several pictures from World War II from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus to help us remember the human part of war. As I look at these pictures I just can’t imagine what it would be like to have to be a mother or a wife during this war.
Today the focus is on the faces of the people who lived in the middle of this terror. I purposely want today’s post to be depressing so that tomorrow when I post about the victory and the celebration you can really understand why May 9th is such a joyous day in these countries now–because it meant an end to this…
May 6, 2013
Victory day was one of my most favorite days in Russia. It is celebrated on May 9th but I thought I’d do a couple of posts remembering World War II leading up to the actual holiday, to help you better appreciate why this day is so important in Russian culture.
Somewhere in my collection of DVC tapes is a treasure box of memories that I captured with my video camera on this day eight years ago. One of my favorite things I witnessed on Victory Day was the WWII veterans dressed in their uniforms, adorned with medals walking around Moscow. They got to be recognized as the heroes they truly are. Young people would shake hands with them, pretty young girls would kiss them on the cheek, all thanking them for their service. We watched the parade on TV, went to Sparrow Hills to watch a firework show (Салют) and afterward danced and sang old songs on the street while an old veteran played the accordion.
I was so touched by this. It is impossible for us Americans to comprehend what the Soviet Union, specifically Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltics went through in that horrific war. We Americans talk about Pearl Harbor and September 11 as being horrific, and they were indeed. Imagine such tragedies happening everywhere for a four year period and then you can begin to understand the beginning of the suffering these countries faced. Populations, communities, industry and families were entirely torn apart.
So I will do a couple of posts this week about this beautiful holiday that makes me feel so proud of Russia and those Eastern countries, even though I’m not a native. That war may have ended differently if it weren’t for all the sacrifices on the Eastern Front.
When studying World War II in America we typically focus on the fight in Japan and the concentration camps. Not a whole lot gets mentioned about the devastation and loss in Eastern Europe. So today I will show some pictures to help illustrate that, so that we can understand why May 9th represents the end of an unimaginable nightmare.
I don’t claim to be a historian, nor do I claim to have fully accounted for all the suffering and details of that time. I recognize that all of Europe suffered greatly during those times as well as our American soldiers. I just wanted to gather a few pictures to help you imagine what came to be every day scenes for people living in Ukraine and Russia and Belarus during those years.
The Siege of Leningrad (informative link here)
The Nazis took control of Leningrad and cut it off from all supplies. Meanwhile, residents died by the hundreds of thousands (anywhere from 600 thousand to 1.5 million) due to constant bombardments from the Germans and starvation that resulted from the blockade.
There was so much death over the 900 day period that dead bodies had to simply be taken to mass graves. These scenes of dead bodies either left in the street or being dragged on sleds was a common one during the siege.
In addition to witnessing death and suffering daily, imagine seeing your homeland and your own home in shambles.
Kiev also suffered greatly. Kiev, was also cut off from food supplies and starved. The city, with all of its beautiful ancient churches and sacred relics and places of Holy Rus was plundered. The Germans hauled off anything of value and emptied entire libraries and burned books.
The number or losses in Ukraine during WWII range from 7 million to 13 million, which would mean losing almost a quarter of your population. (More on this here)
And the suffering in countless other cities:
The stories of destruction and suffering are endless. I wanted to post these pictures to help us Westerners comprehend that suffering that people in that part of the world have endured and why May 9th deserves to be a happy and meaningful day, because it represents the end of this.
May 2, 2013
So, I am now a Master of Arts. I have my Master’s degree and I’ve already got a teaching job lined up for the fall, so I was feeling good. Then I took the OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview) in Russian. Ahhhhh, nothing will take you down a notch like doing horribly on a test. Let me first explain that I DON’T TEST WELL. Something about the pressure just makes my brain buckle. I, for some reason, was feeling really nervous about the OPI, so this anxiety did not help my performance. I really just took it because I took a class on Language Testing, where we talked in great depth about the OPI so I was curious to experience. Additionally, I wanted my official score so that I can put my level down on my resume or CV. I still don’t know my score, and I don’t know that I want to know.
Here are a couple of my observations:
-To establish that you speak on the Superior level you are supposed to be able to speak at the discourse level(page length). Well, the interview is only 30 minutes, so they’re cutting you off to start on the next topic before you can neatly make your argument.
That rush just contributed to my anxiety and made me stutter. Moreover, I did the stupid thing that I always do when I’m speaking (in any language) in a high pressure situation. I start to talk about really random things that, in my head, perfectly relate to the topic, but usually I don’t end up tying them into what I’m talking about (this is why I always use Powerpoints when I teach. They keep me on track).
The interview went so fast and I was so stressed out that I couldn’t really remember what exactly I had said about things. I had this vague memory that I had mentioned at some point the bible and the end of the world. He (and probably you) must have thought I was wacko. Well, in my head this tied in perfectly to the question he asked me about citizens’ responsibility to improve the ecological situation of our planet. What I WANTED to explain was that I live in a state of very religious people who believe the worsening of conditions on earth is a sign of the end of the world… and since you can’t stop the end of the world why try and keep the world in good shape. Although I am religious, I think we need to respect the earth and do our part. Well, that makes sense, right? But I don’t think I ended up saying the part after the ellipses. So to my interviewer it just sounded like I was ranting about the end of the world.
Ahhhh, but what can you do. It is what it is.
In preparation for my OPI I was trying to search on the internet to know what to expect as far as format and possible topics go. So I thought I’d do a blog post in case there’s anyone else out there who wants to get a feel for possible topics that might come up.
1. I talked about myself, my areas of interest and so on.
2. He, upon finding out that I have trained to be come a teacher, asked me (in Russian, obviously) “What should teacher’s raises be based on? Grades? Student Ratings?”
3. He then asked me my opinion of online learning, whether it is an effective method and so on.
4. He then asked me “Some people are complaining that the money spent on the Sochi olympics might have been better spent on developing social programs or improving infrastructure. Do you think that that money would have been better spent and if so, on what?”
We kind of danced around in circles on this topic and I concluded, “Ну, мы зря обсуждаем эту тему–все уже решенно. Эти деньги уже трачены” (We’re discussing this topic in vain. Everything is already decided. That money is already spent)
Looking back I realize he was trying to get me to hypothesize, (a grammatical skill needed at the advanced and superior levels) which I can do in terms of the language but couldn’t in that moment in terms of imagination.
But I did explain that if the goal of these games is to make a good impression they might want to start with some of their recent political policies that seem to be pushing parts of the world further away and are by no means making a good impression.
Or if the goal is to develop tourism they might want to start with simplification of the visa process (which I’m doing right now for my trip this summer and it’s a pain) and eliminating bureaucracy and corruption.
And the last question, which I already mentioned, was about our responsibility to take care of our planet.
Maybe I’m overly talkative but I felt like he was interrupting me and not letting me finish up my argument.
Anyway, I have major issues with the system of assessment if they’re rushing you to try and elicit very specific grammar structures. Maybe if I take it again(which most people do) I’ll have a better experience.
But if you’re taking it anytime soon. Good luck to you. Just relax (which I didn’t do) and enjoy the ride.
Find out my results in this post.
March 8, 2013
As you’re congratulating all the wonderful women in your life I thought I would give you a lovely background song to do it to. Since I’ve been posting lots about music lately I thought this beautiful love song by Okean Elzi, a Ukrainian group, would be very appropriate for this holiday.
In Russian you say “поздравляю тебя/вас с днём женщин!”
If you have a special Ukrainian speaking lady in mind you would say “Вітаю тебе/вас з днем жінок!” And if you really want to be romantic you can recite the lyrics of this song to them.
March 7, 2013
As many of you might remember, I also love Ukraine and Ukrainian. In fact, some of my most favorite music comes from Ukrainian artists. So I think it’s only fair to include a few of my favorite Ukrainian songs.
Boombox sings in both Russian and Ukrainian. I absolutely adore their music. It is so creative and the lead singer, Andrey Khvylnyuk has an awesome voice.
Today’s song always tugs at my heart strings. I noticed while in Ukraine that everyone seems to have someone they know or have loved that works “за кордоном” (abroad). It seems like everyone is trying to get out of Ukraine. Although these opportunities have helped the economic prospects of many people it has made relationships for many young people kind of complicated. This was an issue for almost every young person I met there. Many of whom had had someone they were in love with but the relationship fell apart when one of them went to live and work abroad.
This song is about how young love too often falls victim to the complications of real life and geography. I hope you love it and learn a little Ukrainian while you’re at it.
March 1, 2013
Several years ago I posted about my like for Mummy Troll, and I how I attended their concert here in my city a couple of years ago. Well, it was my friend Pasha who introduced me to their music. He was the one that introduced me to good Russian rock.
Today’s song is one I use in my Russian class. Of all the cases Instrumental is my favorite. Wait, did I just say that I have a favorite case? Wow, I’m a nerd. But it is my favorite.
It can be used to convey a few things. For the purpose of this song we’ll discuss two of its meaning that first year Russian students learn. With the preposition ‘c’ it means ‘together with’ without the preposition and with just the instrumental declension it typically means ‘by means of’.
I like to have students listen to this case and see if they can count all the instrumental plural endings both of nouns and adjectives.
This song would also be good to teach the word ‘ли’ in Russian, which means ‘whether’.
Underlined are the words in my FAVORITE case.
Some other songs that seemed to be very popular based on the crowd’s excitement and singing along at the concert are:
My favorite: “Невеста”