Monday, 30 January 2012

There's good news and bad news for those of us who live in the West. The good news is that skin aging is a thing of the past. A 'mum of 57' can now 'look 27'. Such are the wonders of our civilisation.

The bad news is that foreigners (who naturally don't share our capacity for critical thought) are being encouraged to read books. Lots of them. By Vladimir Putin.

What sort of books, you might ask? Well, I dunno, Putin hasn't said. But this guy has a pretty good idea. It will almost certainly be full of the kind of thing Stalin would approve of. The bright spark also ominously notes that George Orwell will not appear in Vladmir Putin's canon of greatest Russian novels.

In fact so sagacious are his words, Te Graun links to his article and quotes:
"Social engineering through state mandated literature: Nothing else that Putin has done has been quite so nakedly Soviet in its desire to manipulate the human intellect into docility," writes Nazaryan, predicting that "the books that will benefit from Putin's new cultural policy will almost certainly be Soviet-era schlock churned out by Writers' Union foot soldiers who glorified their compatriots' miserable existence".

Somehow Te Graun's quoting the bloke's comments about Putin's 'desire to manipulate the human intellect into docility' by getting them to read (I'd guess) War and Peace and The Brothers Karamazov actually works a lot better than the original. Probably something to do with it not appearing alongside an ad on reversing skin aging. And getting thin from a 'weird diet' (vegetables?).

Similarly, his comments about Putin's naked Sovietism are also a bit more convincing for not showing an anti-Putin protest with red flags everywhere. And for omitting to mention that Putin 'has already maligned writers like Boris Akunin and Edvard Limonov for their anti-authoritarian political leanings'. Yes, but in Putin's defence maybe he mistook the 'anti-authoritarian' Eduard Limonov for the nazi bolshevik Eduard Limonov. It's an easy mistake to make.

Still, he makes an excellent comment about how scary Putin's speech is if you substitute Russki Narod for Volksdeutsche. Actually, wouldn't it just be simpler to say 'it's a lot scarier if you imagine it was written by Adolf Hitler'? Or would that just sound a bit daft? A flip it, we'll do it live:
'If you’re not frightened by this, I suggest you listen to one of Hitler’s speeches. Substitute “Russki narod” for “Volksdeutsche” and you pretty much have the same idea. What makes us unique is not any civic institution, or any body of laws, but our ineradicable identity.'

That really made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Any sane person knows that its a country's 'body of laws' that give it character. Only a Nazi thinks anything else. Anyway, Hitler not enough? How about the Tsar and Stalin:
'The obverse to writers’ importance in Russian society is the importance of silencing them, whether it’s Dostoyevsky on the gallows or Solzhenytsin in the Gulag'
Except neither of them were punished for being writers. Whilst there's a lot I dislike about Putin's regime, I find it sad how in the west it is hated for its patriotism and pride in its culture far more than for its authoritarianism. The western efforts to suggest moral equivalence with Nazism are ironically strangely Soviet.


  1. Great blog post. As an American, I always find it funny when people criticize Putin for supporting Russian patriotism, while the Right in this country believes that the United States is "the greatest best country God has ever given Man on the face of the Earth." Really, Fox News mouthpiece Sean Hannity actually said this:

  2. Hi John
    Thanks for your comment. It is indeed strange that so much of the American and British media are quick to imply that Russian patriotism is fascism but American patriotism is good.

    Re Hannity, one thing I do have to say about the American conservatives is they're not boring like the Brit right. My 'flip it, we'll do it live' was a reference to a Bill O'reilly classic. Except he didn't say 'flip'.

  3. It's hard to see what the fuss is about-- most countries have a list of classics which are taught in school, something which I agree with.

    However,making an arbitrarily definitive list of 100 titles will probably be as futile as any 'the 100 best ever..' lists. Hopefully it will be done with some consultation and not just by Putin over breakfast.

    In Poland, the canon of classic Polish literature is still taught alongside European classics such as Goethe and Shakespeare.

    The real problem, however, is just getting young people to read any books. The majority of Polish students prepare for literature exams by reading annotated summaries and Wikipedia,rather than the boks themselves.

    I can understand the desire to preserve and promote Russia's literary culture but, just like in the UK, Poland or pretty much everywhere else, it will take more than set reading lists.

  4. @CK
    Thank you for your comment. I would agree that the Russian canon concept will probably have a fairly low impact in practice.

  5. Hi Gregor

    I've just resurrected my own blog and whilst looking through the old posts I noticed that you had asked me a question about the pronunciation of the name 'Jimenez'.

    Better late than never-- I don't really know. Not only is there a wide variation between Spanish-speaking countries, but there can also be variations in one country.

    Due to lack of contact my Spanish is not what it once was but i would personally pronounce 'Jiminez' so that it roughly rhymes with 'Megadeath' but how they say it in the Tex-Mex borderlands of Melquiades Estrada I have no idea (good film BTW)

    Are you still learning Spanish? If so, how's it going?

  6. Hi CK
    Good to hear you're blog is going again. You've been making good points on Neil Clark's blog but these days I find British politics so immensely depressing, I can't find the strength to add to the conversation much.

    Yeah, Spanish accents vary a lot: European, Argentinian, Chilean. my learning has been very poor and irregular. I can read a fair bit, but I don't have much of an ear for it and bad at the grammar. Really should get motivated to do it properly.