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Scotland Russia Forum Review December 2010

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review the scotland-russia forum no 24 december 2010 £1.50


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2 june 2010 december 2010 scotland-russia forum review contents dear readers as i write this on a red double-decker bus in london i m thinking about how on earth this edition of the review is actually going to reach you wipe the steamy windows and i see clear black roads here and there in the odd shady patch perhaps a bit of frost for many of you wipe the windows and there s whiteness so let s hope the postman makes it not just for this review but for your cards and presents too our front cover is graced by pictures from three films shown at the academic rossica film festival in november the top picture is of alexei popogrebsky s award-winning how i ended the summer below that is mitya vorobiev from yuri shiller s film vorobei next to him stand vika and sadyk from yusup razykov s gastarbeiter all three films have a sensitivity to the past and an attempt to try to understand how it both infects and enriches russia s present this attempt at trying to understand russia is carried into our reviews section we have two reviews of meaty books the first is analysis and commentary of russia the second is a collection of russian texts in translation of course to really get to know the place you gotta speak the lingo and we review the latest `street russian offering recently i discovered a wonderful website a wealth of new russian music graciously quality-sifted by a professor david macfadyen in los angeles you may have seen it mentioned in one of jenny s newsletters here professor macfadyen tells us about the link between the pop scenes in russia and scotland we look at conflict on russia s borders the 2008 georgia-russia war as interpreted by ronald d asmus and this summer s events in kyrgyzstan as told by kanykey jailobaeva who is from the south of country we also review mary woloschin s autobiography rachel polonsky s travelogue of russia ben hellman and andrei rogachevskii s study of a film version of one day in the life of ivan denisovich and peter aleshkovsky s story of domestic violence thank you to our contributors a fine set of russia enthusiasts without whose time and care this review would not exist and welcome to our new reviews editor samantha sherry that s the naughties pretty much done and dusted and although i ve no idea what `what-ties we re now heading into i wish you all the very best of fortune and happiness for them merry christmas and a happy new year 13 chris delaney editor chair s report 2010 3 kyrgyzstan from within russian film festival music far from moscow 4-5 6 7 reviews street russian by jack franke filming the unfilmable by ben hellman and andrei rogachevksii the green snake by margarita woloschin molotov s magic lantern by rachel polonsky fish a history of one migration by peter aleshkovsky understanding contemporary russia by michael l bressler the russia reader by adele barker and bruce grant 8 9 10 11 13 editor chris delaney reviews editor samantha sherry the scotland-russia forum 9 south college street edinburgh eh8 9aa tel +44 0131 668 3635 registered charity no sc038728 the srf review is published by the scotland-russia forum the opinions expressed are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the committee or the editor 14 a little war that shook the world by ronald d asmus 15-16


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srf notes scotland-russia forum review december 2010 3 what has 2010 meant for the scotland-russia forum report from srf chair jenny carr t he aim of the srf is to promote interest in russia and her neighbours ­ and we are delighted by the evidence of rising interest in both our own activities and the activities of other russian organisations in scotland the russian supplementary schools are all growing fast and student numbers at all three university russian departments are strong however there is considerable work to be done in convincing society as a whole that trying to understand russia is both fascinating and necessary ­ the problem is exemplified by the scottish qualifications authority s view that `there is no demand for russian and their catastrophic decision to abandon school exams in the subject we will continue to provide them with evidence not only of demand which is strong when allowed to show itself but of the necessity to encourage demand and hope to persuade them to reverse that decision we have had a busy six months at the srf since the last review with some very interesting and popular exhibitions and talks as well as encouraging signs of the possibility of sponsorship not enough to secure our future ­ yet ­ but encouraging all the same growth continues apace ­ membership is rising all the time and we have recently recruited a major new corporate member the civil engineering university of moscow two relatively new activities language classes and the lending library became well established in 2010 showing large increases in use since they began the year before visitor numbers to the scotlandrussia institute are also rising as we become better known ­ our exhibitions programme is an important but not the only attraction the variety of events and services we now offer exhibitions talks `chai `n chat student activities psychology the shop the library language classes and more means that the scotland russia institute is becoming a hive of activity with both visitors and volunteers manning is always a problem but we are continuing to attract good numbers of volunteers and thanks to a very generous offer of sponsorship from a member hope to be employing a part-time administrative assistant soon this is a very useful start towards the necessary professionalisation of the forum we are expected by our members and others to provide a professional service and hope that we do so in many respects ­ but it just is not always possible with a volunteer workforce w hat of the future the committee has reviewed the viability of prolonging our lease at south college street for another two years from june 2011 when our initial funding from s&n comes to an end and decided that we can afford to carry on so long as we continue to bring in funding on the same scale as we have been doing ­ from a combination of sponsorship sales and earnings we will recommend this to the agm on december 16 and if members agree we hope we can rely on your support as we go into the next stage of our life at the scotlandrussia institute membership growth members at year end growth in events attendance and visitors to the sri growth in srf language classes student numbers


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4 december 2010 scotland-russia forum review opinion from within kyrgyzstan kyrgyzstan is tentatively trying to form a stable coalition government following june s violence kanykey jailobaeva a kyrgyz from the south of the country gives her interpretation of the reason behind april s violence and looks to the future of former soviet republic 2 010 has been politically and socially volatile for kyrgyzstan in april there was social unrest which claimed the lives of over eighty people and resulted in the overthrow of the bakiev s government the creation of the interim government led by former opposition members did not stabilise the situation in june a conflict between uzbeks and kyrgyz broke out in southern kyrgyzstan with devastating consequences officially more than 371 died and over 2320 were wounded unofficially reports suggest these numbers could be much higher the infrastructure of osh and jalalabad the two central cities in southern kyrgyzstan has been significantly damaged social and political factors should be taken into account to understand this turmoil kyrgyzstan s economy has been slow to develop in comparison with economies of other central asian countries since the collapse of the soviet union the state in kyrgyzstan has been weak with a high level of corruption and a lack of infrastructure to support quality services most importantly the government has failed to provide people with employment and proper social services therefore people have been socially and economically frustrated in particular this has been the case in southern kyrgyzstan which as part of fergana valley is densely populated and relatively poorer with tensions over resources i n april some of the population protested against the government of bakiev because of extreme deterioration in the standard of living and state suppression of vital attributes of democracy and freedom such as a right to assemble and protest after the march revolution in 2005 the bakiev s government failed to improve the lives of people within five years kyrgyzstan encountered increased corruption a hydro-energy crisis and organised crime in june 2010 according to the current government `ethnic awareness between uzbeks and kyrgyz in the south was exploited for political purposes there was a wide public discussion of events such as the recording of telephone conversations between family members of bakiev which pointed to their involvement in the instigation of violence in bishkek to undermine a referendum introducing amendments to the constitution despite previous ethnically-motivated violence between uzbeks and kyrgyz namely in 1990 when hundreds were killed this year s conflict in the south cannot in my opinion be portrayed as being incited by ethnic tension i was in edinburgh studying kyrgyzstan civil society at the university of edinburgh when these dramatic events unfolded in kyrgyzstan coming originally from southern kyrgyzstan i was emotionally conflicted and during my visit to kyrgyzstan in july i sought to explore as far as i could the situation particularly the conflict in the south i had a number of informal conversations with kyrgyz and uzbek people of various socio-economic backgrounds in different areas.


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opinion scotland-russia forum review december 2010 5 d uring my trip i learned that mixed communities where uzbeks and kyrgyz live together had a better chance of surviving because of mixed relations and joint activities marriages friendships business weddings funerals traditions and others that have taken place there these people are too interconnected and committed geographically morally and emotionally to fight each other moreover people from mixed communities had an impact beyond their communities for instance a kyrgyz fireman in osh phoned his uzbek friend to make sure that he was fine his uzbek friend jokingly asked if he was burning houses of uzbeks or putting off the fire the kyrgyz fireman replied `no my friend i am helping them [uzbeks do not think like this the post-conflict situation requires sensitive handling there is a need for a strong government and sound state policies kyrgyzstan urgently needs to define its nation building strategy strong state robust policies and accountability are words familiar to everybody since independence however the question is how to achieve these in a country where the people feel that everything has failed in june 2010 there was a referendum where people voted for a new constitution which stipulated that governance in kyrgyzstan would be based on parliamentary democracy in october 2010 there were elections for a new party-based parliament five political parties with diverse agendas won the elections currently they are in the process of building a coalition it is a time for kyrgyzstan to show its commitment to building democracy the way forward is by coming together cooperating promoting peace and withstanding political manipulation jointly as did mixed communities in southern kyrgyzstan during the conflict kyrgyzstan timeline 10th-13th centuries kyrgyz people migrate southwards from central siberia eventually settling in what is now kyrgyzstan 1876 russian forces conquer the khanate of kokand and incorporate present-day kyrgyzstan into the russian empire 1921 area of present-day kyrgyzstan becomes part of the turkestan autonomous soviet socialist republic 1990 several hundred people are killed in interethnic clashes between uzbeks and kyrgyz over access to land and housing around the town of osh 1991 kyrgyzstan declares independence askar akayev wins another term in office 2001 us air base opens at manas 2003 russian air base opens at kant 2005 parliamentary elections spark wave of protests as opposition candidates are barred from standing akayev flees for russia kurmanbek bakiyev appointed president 2010 april opposition protests spread from northern kyrgyzstan to capital bishkek president kurmanbek bakiyev flees the country and later resigns former foreign minister roza otunbayeva becomes interim president 2010 june hundreds are killed in what un high commissioner for human rights navi pillay describes as ethnic clashes between kyrgyz and uzbek communities in the southern cities of osh and jalalabad 2010 november exiled former president kurmanbek bakiyev goes on trial in absentia for shooting of protesters during his ouster in april along with 27 other officials source bbc kanykey jailobaeva is a phd candidate at the university of edinburgh top and left kyrgyz tadjik and uzbek celebrate a wedding in ala-buka village jalalabad region in july previous page a burned-down house in osh.


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6 december 2010 scotland-russia forum review film it s all in the past parallel themes in three films shown at the 4th russian film festival in london by chris delaney as `abandoned many might say freed it follows sadyk an elderly uzbek who goes to moscow to find his missing grandson sadyk is returning to the capital after 50 years when he left the red army he tries to sell his war medals to raise money for the stay but the metallic symbols of his past sacrifices raise barely enough for a night in a hotel during his search he is helped by vika pictured on front cover with sadyk a young bulgarian prostitute with a golden heart a hackneyed idea but the film get s away with it one of the film s most powerful scenes sees sadyk turning to a former acquaintance who we learn imprisoned sadyk years previously the man sits on his porch protecting himself against fictional intruders with a shot-gun and against suppressed memories with vodka sadyk s appearance brings forth former sins and in a moment of sobriety he sees the clarity of his sins we can only guess what they were and puts the shot-gun to his mouth i saw three films at this year s academica rossica russian film festival how i ended the summer by alexei popogrebsky gastarbeiter by yusup razykov and sparrow by yuri shiller popogrebsky s arctic drama i chose because it had ­ surprisingly according to some ­ won the best film prize at the london film festival the previous week the other two ­ razykov s story of immigrants in moscow and shiller s portrayal of modern life in a russian village ­ i chose arbitrarily their showing times suited me best funny then how the three shared common themes of russia s relationship to its past how i ended the summer is set in a meteorological station on a remote island above the arctic circle we meet two characters sergei the station s veteran technician and pavel who is spending his summer there helping to record radioactivity levels it starts off as a classic story between town and country between the traditional and the newcomer pictured above sergei left and pavel the opening scene shows pavel taking radiation readings with a geiger counter from an unexploded shell that sticks out of the ground like a fat man stuck upsidedown in a manhole while sergei pictured on front cover is away fishing pavel calls the mainland and learns that something terrible has happened to sergei s family for motives that are never made entirely clear pavel doesn t tell sergei and the secret the mere act of not being honest poisons the developing father-son relationship just as the silent radioactive shell a metaphor for russia s ruthless scientific progress poisons the land in sparrow by yury shiller panning shots of a herd of horses moving in unison like a flock of starlings introduce us to the village of vasilievka the villagers venerate the herd claiming that it appeared centuries ago of its own will but after a failed harvest and without money to pay wages the village factor decides to sell for the horses for slaughter the film s main character mitya vorobiev pictured on front cover takes extreme measures to try to save the herd the horses represent the village s link with its past before the arrival of capitalist market forces they also represent something more intangible we never find out really why they are so revered but that doesn t matter ­ important is the process of revering that which can t be counted weighed and sold something mystical gastarbeiter looks at the flow of migrants to moscow from former soviet countries ­ described by the director i n each film the past is an infectious creeping encroaching entity it can be heard in the buzzing of the radioactive shell in the arctic in the longing songs of the uzbek migrants in moscow in the rumble of horses hooves in vasilievka in how i ended the summer pavel is driven from the meteorological station into the bitterly cold late-summer night and in a delirious shiver he approaches the shell and bathes his face and hands in its warm radioactive outpour this unnatural product of the soviet past provides instant relief from the cold while slowly infecting him the landowner of vasilievka needs to pay his debts killing the horses will give him enough money but possibly at the risk of destroying the only thing that binds together the dying village and in gastarbeiter uzbek migrants in moscow sing folk songs that comfort and prick in equal measure their souls which ache for home in these films the past is something that keeps the present alive but possibly at the expense of the future anne applebaum recounts in her book gulag a trip to the solovki among the most notorious gulags now restored as a monestary-come-tourist day-trip she asks a russian tourist about the gulag and is sharply rebutted for bringing up the shames of the past these films clearly don t represent a shift in russia s infantile i m-not-lookingso-you-aren t-there approach to its own history but they signal a mature reflective consideration of unpleasant events at least among three filmmakers it s a start.


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music scotland-russia forum review december 2010 7 heather-flecked slav-rock far from moscow is an online catalogue of new music from russia and its neighbours it is run by professor david macfadyen of the dept of slavic languages and literatures university of california los angeles he tells us here of how scottish romanticism keeps alive the dream of fame in a bleak russian music market d ue to both piracy and the economic downturn in moscow much of the entertainment industry finds itself online ­ legally or otherwise all across russia and neighbouring nations unknown amateurs and major stars find their work scattered over countless sites when it comes to the younger end of that generational and financial spectrum ­ the newcomers ­ attracting attention can be impossible a lack of proper aggregator sites and local scenes leaves performers drowning in an ocean of blogs webzines and other nameless locations since cooperation in the real world is unlikely nobody can afford to tour or hire venues what common passions might bring people together online what sense of joint purpose say might a young performer in petrozavodsk find with a colleague in khabarovsk thousands of miles away clearly such people driven to make music for no money are incorrigible romantics endless effort is invested in an activity with little chance of social renown and zero chance of profit in several instances that same romance is tied to scotland the link between russian and scottish romanticism born in the nineteenth century became a fixed element of the soviet school curriculum those same classroom habits have rolled into the present day ­ and the charm of heather-flecked hilltops is strong even now one need only for example look at how whisky is marketed in slavic climes everybody recognizes ­ and likes ­ the same metaphors and so in the realm of online happily amateur songwriting a few scottish reference points also endure they help to bring a sense of unity to far-flung individuals three of these are worth pointing out as a quick introduction one from the past a second from a few years ago and a third that is only now coming to light he oldest ­ and arguably most significant ­ influence would be the cocteau twins from grangemouth throughout the 1980s vocalist elizabeth fraser developed a lyrical form of expression that belonged to no particular language snippets of english would vanish in waves of mellifluous improvisation nowadays given the major complications caused by the russian language for any westward-looking artist the cocteau twins are often quoted as a hopeful example if a form of sung esperanto could reach the dizzy heights of critical acclaim within the notoriously pernickety uk scene then maybe slavic singers could do the same so goes the argument and even if our starry t eyed singers fail the style of `dream pop that resulted from the cocteau twins discography forms a consoling soundtrack for unappreciated songsmiths closer to the present we can find constant words of praise for glasgow s franz ferdinand who helped to bring the angular chords and chiselled cheekbones of uk art-school pop to a new generation of russians simple structures liberal helpings of irony and narrow trousers all look appealing to faraway bands on a small budget fashionable clothes need not come with deep pockets and just as importantly we should not forget that franz ferdinand by their own admission are deeply indebted to the earlier glasgow traditions of postcard records many of today s musicians of course have put aside guitars in favour of plugs keyboards and laptop wizardry currently modish in several russian cities is the complex dance music known as `wonky due to its tricky time signatures this disorienting jazzy style is yet another product of glaswegian bedrooms ­ as many russian youngsters know and so the influence of scottish pop continues to this day helping to give men and women divided by multiple time zones a sense of common purpose downloading a pirated copy of `trainspotting doesn t hurt either.


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8 december 2010 scotland-russia forum review books street russian nicknames obscenities and superstitions jack franke tries to tell us when to wish someone good luck and when to tell them to break a leg natasha samoilova assesses whether he s got the message across mong books for students of russian as a foreign language this is an unusual encounter it is not a conventional textbook it s a practical guide to slang and colloquial expressions in today s russia it provides not only a glimpse into everyday language as spoken in various walks of life but also contains streetwise russian by jack franke numerous exercises and audio recordings mcgraw hill 2010 pp 224 £11.99 to help the reader to learn the colloquialisms and slang expressions streetwise russian contains 20 dialogues that present interactions between young people on such topics as `at the club `military service `guy talk `girl talk etc each dialogue is accompanied by a translation into english and a vocabulary list the latter shows both english equivalents and synonymous expressions in neutral register for example `to draft literally `to have your head shaved syn a `you are kidding next to `okay `unlucky or `doorman in this situation you have to rely solely on translation and trust that a colloquialism in russian corresponds to a colloquialism in english and slang corresponds to slang some equivalents however including the translation of raise doubts a fascinating feature of the book is cultural notes on various aspects of the russian life and culture that include nicknames obscenities superstitions hazing in the russian army drinking vodka for instance among superstitions we come across the following `when you want to wish russians good luck you should use the expression the response to this wish is to the devil the equivalent in english is `break a leg streetwise russian is undoubtedly a very useful book for those who want to get clued up on colloquialisms and slang currently used by russian speakers moreover due to translations of the dialogues and vocabulary lists it can be equally interesting for russian students studying english dr natasha samoilova phd st andrews has taught russian at all levels and is currently course organiser of russian language at the scotland-russia institute b eing a practical guide the book contains exercises many of which are crosswords that will help the reader remember new vocabulary and all of the dialogues and vocabulary can be found on the accompanying disc at the same time the english-russian and russian-english indexes at the back allow students to use streetwise russian also as a slang dictionary what one finds missing from a practical guide is a clear indication in the vocabulary lists of what is a colloquialism and what is slang in order to know when to use it if to use it at all we come across such colloquial words and expressions as `okay `don t care or the srf institute hosts its very own russian lessons courses cater for beginner intermediate and advanced levels as well as classes for individual needs you ll have access to the library materials via email should you miss a class and free tea and coffee courses are led by natasha samoilova for further information on all russian courses email:


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books scotland-russia forum review december 2010 9 solzhenitsyn and suffering for art filming the unfilmable is a labour-of-love that fills a hole in solzhenitsyn studies while leaving room for research writes claire knight spps 94 soviet and post-soviet politics and society edited by dr andreas umland ben hellman andrei rogachevskii filming the unfilmable filming the unfilmable casper wrede s `one day in the life of ivan denisovich stone from his already slender form but also removed the caps on his front teeth he then abstained from eating for a day prior to shooting a scene wherein the ravenous gulag inmate partakes of a scanty meal he also refused a body double opting instead to suffer the sub-zero conditions of open-air filming for days on end in order to heighten the authenticity of his performance t ibd ibidem filming the unfilmable casper wrede s one day in the life of denisovich by ben hellman and andrei rogachevksii ibidem 2010 pp 250 34.10 t his study of the 1970 film adaptation of solzhenitsyn s one day in the life of ivan denisovich dir casper wrede is a labour of love for russian literature scholars ben hellman and andrei rogachevskii chock-full of fascinating and often witty footnotes the main text is well researched and provides a thorough account of the film s production following opening remarks on the novel and the director who was to bring it to the big screen the authors illuminate the film s development from its financing to set-design and costumes beautifully illustrated to the wintertime filming in the mining town of røros norway s hollywood hellman and rogachevskii show a sound respect for the lengths to which british-trained finnish director casper wrede and lead actor and producer tom courtenay went to create as faithful an adaptation as they could as ivan denisovich courtenay not only shed half a he strengths and weaknesses of this study come to light most clearly in the final two chapters the first provides a meticulous comparison between the two preserved versions of the script and the final film with occasional reference to the novel noting where the order of scenes was reshuffled and dialogue cut the final chapter surveys the critical reception of the film in sweden norway america and britain with a spotlight on solzhenitsyn s personal reaction to the work both chapters are painstakingly researched bringing to bear hitherto unconsidered archival sources and delighting in tracking down the details and referencing a wide range of press sources in the final chapter yet both chapters remain somewhat unfinished nowhere is there a systematic analysis of the film itself as an independent cinematic work hellman and rogachevskii s study provokes a number of intriguing analytical questions but does not address them head on for instance instead of exploring what renders a cinematic adaptation successful ­ thus acknowledging its distinct nature as a film as opposed to a literary work ­ the authors present wrede s one day as a success due simply to its fidelity to the literary source dismissing negative critical responses to the film nor do they deal with the failure of the film to connect emotionally with numerous critics or the tendency for viewers to `misinterpret the film likewise the documentary-like feel of the film is mentioned but without any exploration of the significance origin or even intent of this effect with this book hellman and rogachevskii set out to fill a gap in solzhenitsyn studies this they do while yet leaving enough room for further analysis of the film in its own right as a cinematic product and not merely an adaptation hellman/rogachevskii claire knight is a postgraduate student at emmanuel college cambridge she is studying post-war stalin era cinema.


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10 december 2010 scotland-russia forum review books in search of the `folk-soul margarita woloschin s memoirs are a remarkable account of a richly lived life and as writes lucy weir they are a tale as diverse in language as in events character and a genuine reverence for spirituality she brings to life mystical elements of the orthodox faith but cannot treat pivotal figures in her own development with the same empathy this spiritual element begins to overshadow the biographical nature of the book which at times becomes rather tiresome similarly the theme runs throughout of a quest for the `russian folk-soul something with which woloschin and steiner seem to have been equally fascinated but their loosely defined search assumes a slightly patronising air she never quite explains the nature of this `folk soul and indeed having spent a great deal of her life amongst the upper echelons of society one comes to wonder how deep was her engagement with russian `folk or perhaps more appropriately peasant reality f the green snake an autobiography by margarita woloschin floris books 2010 pp 432 £20.00 i n this memoir translated for the first time into english margarita woloschin recalls her life from privileged beginning in turn-of-the-century russia to the development of her artistic career and her involvement with the anthroposophical movement led by rudolf steiner this account of her life is fascinating she details her relationships with figures such as tolstoy and repin woloschin writes with an artist s eye for aesthetic detail but in places this tendency lends a rather impersonal edge to her writing for example descriptive passages such as those chapters describing the building of the goetheanum are long in parts and lyrical accounts of the beauty of the frozen neva tend to have more personality than conversations with iconic intellectual figures such as steiner or tolstoy the green snake is littered with deeply spiritual musings indicating a devout aspect to woloschin s or the majority of this sizeable memoir woloschin uses otherworldly language in explaining the importance of anthroposophy but for the lay reader it is difficult to determine what the term means in practice woloschin s writing picks up a new sense of pathos towards the end of her memoir where she gives in emotive language a personal account of the beginnings of the russian revolution her description of widespread illness and suffering including her own hospitalisation during a typhus outbreak lends a more humane less abstract quality to her writing as well as a more palpable sense of the extraordinary difficulties of everyday existence in revolutionary russia it is really the last section of her work detailing her time in moscow and st petersburg which she refuses to call leningrad that a more personal quality pervades the writing including accounts of bolshevik trials and the terrible famines which occurred across early twentieth century russia woloschin s life spanned some of the most exciting artistic developments and traumatic events of russian history and clearly her social status brought her into contact with russia and germany s intellectual elite it is a shame that her rendition of such events has a slightly meandering tone at times lessening the emotional impact of her truly remarkable life lucy weir is a postgraduate student at the university of glasgow she researches avant-garde dance and performance.


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books scotland-russia forum review december 2010 11 putin molotov and mystical kingdoms or a number of years rachel polonsky her husband and children lived at a prestigious address in central moscow no 3 romanov molotov s magic lantern a journey in russian history by rachel polonsky pereulok formerly home to many of the faber and faber 2010 pp 416 £20 soviet nomenklatura polonsky begins her voyage of exploration in the apartment above which once belonged to vyacheslav molotov stalin s brutal foreign minister she discovers his library ponders his books with their annotations and underlinings she finds his magic lantern and turning the handle gives her the idea for this book each of the book s fourteen chapters like a magic lantern conjures up the landscape and the history of a particular place its inhabitants past and present their ideals and hopes and their tragic or notorious destinies polonsky starts in moscow including a hilarious visit to the sandunovsky bathhouse then towards zvenigorod and the dacha areas of lutsino and mozzhinka beloved of chekhov and levitan next novgorod staraya russa one-time home to dostoevsky prophet of what was to come in russia then down south to rostov on don and taganrog up north to vologda archangel and murmansk out east to irkutsk ulan ude and kyakhta the result is a unique journey through russian time and space polonsky has a gift for catching the immediacy of a place in snippets of conversation glimpses of passers-by in the scenes of post-soviet dereliction in the vulgarity of the new and the enduring beauty of the landscape polonsky is steeped in russian history and culture but her learning is carried lightly she is drawn to the quirks oddities and coincidences of history as well as the brutal facts read this book if you want to find out how many death warrants molotov actually signed how st savva s relics were kept safe through soviet years what shelley s sister in law was doing in zvenigorod in the 1820s what the british spy sidney reilly was really up to with his troupe of pretty actresses why lev f rachel polonsky s journey across russia is steeped in charm and little-known historical details writes ann shukman gumilev akhmatova s son has become a cult figure where vladimir putin hopes to find the entrance to the mystical kingdom of shambala ­ and much more in this exploration of russian reality certain voices recur molotov himself of course but also the historian dmitri likhachev writers such as chekhov and shalamov and the poets mandelshtam and akhmatova these last-named are for polonsky the torch-bearers of sanity through the soviet darkness just as the exiled decembrists evoked in the far eastern chapters are witnesses of human courage and decency in an earlier age this is a rich insightful book to be mined for profit and pleasure the ruslan russian course john langran and natalya veshnyeva the leading uk russian course for adults and young people new this winter the ruslan russian grammar 256 pages full colour with audio cd beginner to advanced level clear explanations lots of examples including songs and poems 287 practice exercises declension and conjugation tables 400 verbs three levels from beginner to advanced structured approach lively dialogues and an exciting story line clear explanations lots of practice dti prizewinning interactive cdrom high quality recordings ongoing internet support for schools colleges universities adult education and individual learners an excellent course my students start to speak straight away ruslan breaks down people s expectations that russian will be difficult thank you Ñïàñáî elena cooper atlas language centre paignton devon


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12 december 2010 scotland-russia forum review books flesh-and-blood gambling chips peter aleshkovsky s portrayal of violence towards women is vivid and emotive but his firstperson narration of suffering left wendy muzlanova with a bad taste in her mouth never cried before the tears made gennady irate he hit me once but so hard that he split my eyebrow and blood instantly covered my face according to amnesty international each day 36,000 women in the russian federation are beaten by their husbands or partners aleshkovsky handles the drugging and rape of the central character with apparent authenticity `the uzbek now materialized as a horrendous giant whose massive shoulders had blocked out all the light and i obeyed because if i hadn t done what he wanted at that moment he would have simply torn me apart the way a starved man tears up a flat bread t fish a history of one migration by peter aleshkovsky translated by nina shevchuk-murray russian information services 2010 pp 232 $16.00 i t has to be said that peter aleshkovsky signed up for a challenging task when he decided to write `fish from a first-person female point-of-view this he does remarkably well ­ for the most part his descriptive writing is in some places quite outstanding vera s childhood is portrayed using vivid imagery `i would bite into the cold sugary watermelon flesh and ecstatically slap my watermelon-stuffed belly with my sticky hand his prose borders upon the lyrical `the moon that peeked in the window was flushed coy and generous like the face of the old tajik i bought milk from when i was little vera s husband is verbally and physically abusive towards her when he hurls the nickname `fish at her in an accusation of frigidity she begins to cry `i had he effect of the stigma upon the victim is insightfully written as vera begins to have suicidal thoughts and ends up being admitted to a psychiatric ward `i remembered the neighbours faces with their mixed expressions of sympathy and disgust another character ninka is wagered by her boyfriend in an ill-fated card game which ends in gang rape it is to aleshkovsky s credit that he highlights the idea of women as property as flesh-and-blood gambling chips but there is too much of a sense of suffering as moral pornography here for my liking in a strange kind of sub-plot vera has the mystical gift of being able to bring comfort to those in pain by means of some kind of florally-described russian reiki she is unable however to help herself it would appear that vera s destiny is to endure all manner of suffering whilst still being a force for good surprise surprise it s true that aleshkovsky s `fish has had praise heaped upon it and the work was short-listed for the russian booker prize ­ but i am going to risk an alternative opinion and say that i found the general feel of the book irritating in the extreme the pushing of a new heroine-cum-martyr role model on to russian women by a male writer pretending a female voice ­ now why might i find this distasteful just look back at those statistics wendy muzlanova is coordinator of the perth russian conversation group and a member of the soutar house writers group in perth her first collection of poems is `the night you come the day we kiss


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books scotland-russia forum review december 2010 13 the real russia today s michael l bressler s collection is lucid concise and illuminating if only for an american readership writes lewis white ince the soviet union s collapse in 1991 many popular western conceptions of russia and the russians were abruptly rendered obsolete no longer the ominous communist monolith lurking at the periphery of west-central europe long since a great power of the old european order russia is now something of an unknown to many in the west trying to understand the relevance of a once mighty empire in an increasingly globalised world it is this vacuum in understanding that michael l bressler et al seek to fill in this volume the book is simply structured with each chapter dedicated to a specific sphere of contemporary russian life this interdisciplinary approach allows contributors to present assessments of areas as diverse as the history and geography of this huge land through the politics and economics of the modern russian federation to environmental and gender issues and modern film and literature as bressler himself states in his introduction this volume is aimed at providing a general thematic introduction to contemporary russia and the style and structure remain geared to this throughout accessible in language and tone and neatly subdivided into chronologically or thematically ordered segments each chapter is also supplemented by a useful bibliography for further reading most sections provide historical overviews to set their subject in context and are occasionally accompanied by reasonably clear statistical data charts or the odd black and white photograph steven g marks s historical context the longest chapter in the book offers a necessarily whistlestop introduction to over one thousand years of russian history in around sixty pages but the narrative remains strong enough to show in relief the prevalent motifs defining russia s relationship to her people and to the rest of the world marks s assessment of russia s tumultuous relationship with the west is particularly incisive and the section is supplemented by a useful chronology current themes such as the ongoing conflict in chechnya are also introduced in other sections while bressler lucidly charts vladimir putin s rise and the subsequent strengthening of the presidency at the expense of democracy in his section on politics in russia j ames r millar s chapter on the russian economy and russia s reliance on oil and gas revenues ties neatly into allen c lynch s examination of current international relations particularly when considering russia s recent attempts to use gas supply as a foreign policy tool the contributors are primarily us-based academics and it is clear that the book is targeted at a us readership certain points of reference may not be as relevant to a uk audience in the geographical preface for instance we are told that fourteenth century muscovy was `about the size of massachusetts and readers from scotland ireland and wales may be surprised to learn that the military alliance formed to counteract german sabre-rattling in the lead-up to the first world war understanding contemporary russia edited by michael l bressler lynne reinner publishers 2008 pp 423 £14.95 was between `france russia and england nonetheless these are minor foibles in what is otherwise an extremely useful introduction to an immensely complex and enduringly fascinating country while there may be little for the experienced scholar to discover in this volume this remains an excellent primer for any novichok in russian studies lewis white graduated from the university of glasgow with a degree in russian.


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14 december 2010 scotland-russia forum review books unravelling the enigma a rich and diverse collection of russian texts many published in english for the first time brings russia to life writes mary bailes the russia reader history culture politics edited by adele barker and bruce grant duke university press 2010 pp 784 £20.99 t he russia reader is a captivating and wideranging new collection of texts on the theme of russia and russianness designed as a broad introduction to the country s history culture and politics the volume presents in english translation a wealth of authentic russian voices and scholarly commentaries on diverse aspects of russian life selections are drawn from poetry song short stories and novels the latter ranging from war and peace to the 2005 lives-of-the-nouveaux-riches thriller casual as well as political speeches and trial transcripts private letters snippets from autobiographical accounts and personal diaries the texts thirty of which are published here in english for the first time are arranged in sixteen sections running chronologically from 10th century kyivan rus through to the postcommunist decades or according to regional themes sections on siberia and in particular the caucasus convey the complexities of russia s shifting boundaries and ethnically diverse population the book s emphasis on eye-witness accounts brings a sense of immediacy to tumultuous historical events voices of peasants workers and soldiers appear alongside those of political elites academics and artists offering a whole spectrum of personal experience and an alternative to grand narratives of traditional history between an extract from e h carr s essay on the background of revolution and lenin s the withering away of the state for example we find viktor shklovsky s riveting firstperson account of disorder privation and anticipation in the capital during the final months of tsarist rule and excerpts from letters written by exhausted soldiers at the front to the petrograd assembly `all of these millions who are in the trenches can say only one thing let there be peace as soon as possible only that can make us happy and only then will we feel the freedom and liberation that our fallen brothers gave us informative introductions provide context for each section and text but the editors keep comment and analysis to a minimum sections on stalin and the great patriotic war are sensitively handled and sensationalism is avoided leaving the texts and chillingly the numbers to speak for themselves anna akhmatova s requiem is reproduced here as is a newly translated diary of the blockade of leningrad a quietly spoken account of unimaginable conditions made all the more poignant by the fact that its author a geography teacher was sentenced to death by firing squad in 1943 t ragedy conflict and drama inevitably feature significantly throughout the book yet barker and grant take care also to present a sense of byt of domestic and everyday life such as rituals of food preparation or the banya vivid details like the constantly replenished bag of pelmeni sitting permanently frozen and `hard as pebbles on a siberian balcony in ol ga marchuk s memoir of akademgorodok are at once mundane and almost iconic motifs of russian life zoshchenko s the bathhouse on the other hand provides comic relief despite the fact that humour is notoriously tricky in translation indeed the only selections which fell slightly flat for me were the somewhat stilted jokes in later sections overall the russia reader is excellent it is a tremendous introduction for the newcomer to russian history and culture and even the well-versed reader should find fascinating new material amongst the rich variety collected here mary bailes is a postgraduate student at the university of glasgow she is researching the history of science in tsarist russia.


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books scotland-russia forum review december 2010 15 conflicting pressures and the role of states in war the catchy simple of title of ronald d asmus s book about the 2008 georgia-russia war belies an account that needs to be approached with care writes liam o shea searching questions of russia s role in international relations and the response of western states and institutions the book is divided into an introduction and eight chapters the first chapter chronicles the georgian decision to go to war the second seeks to frame the conflict as part of a larger geopolitical struggle and describes how the various parties interests developed prior to the conflict in chapters three and four asmus describes how these interests came to collide following a souring of relations between russia and the west after kosovo s declaration of independence and efforts to secure nato membership for georgia and ukraine the book ends with a description of the diplomatic failings leading up to the conflict the conflict itself the diplomatic manoeuvrings that took place after fighting began and the impact the conflict has had and is likely to have on future east-west relations a little war that shook the world georgia russia and the future of the west by ronald d asmus palgrave macmillan 2010 pp 272 £20.00 a t he subject of ronald d asmus s book the russia-georgia war of august 2008 is as contested as it is complicated asmus a former deputy assistant secretary of state for european affairs during president clinton s second term in office provides a useful account of the high-level western and georgian diplomacy which occurred during the conflict the book however does not provide incontrovertible evidence to support the author s claims that the reasons for the war were russia s determination to undermine georgia s desire to align itself with the west and that the war was aimed not only against georgia but at the west more generally despite this asmus does ask some smus s theoretical approach is heavily influenced by what is known in political science theory as realism which whilst not necessarily flawed can result in parsimonious analyses consequently asmus stresses the importance of states interests often pitted against each other in a zero-sum game but he does not explain the structural complexity of the conflict for example he argues that war broke out largely as a result of russian manipulations rather than the complex history of the region whilst there is evidence to suggest a degree of russian manipulation the importance of structural historical causes could have been analysed in greater detail the actor-centred approach can also make it seem that the conflict can be explained by the behaviour of a few monolithic actors yet states rarely behave as united entities and although much of what happened can be explained by what leaders planned and executed in capital cities it is also important to acknowledge how leaders were influenced by and reacted to pressures from below asmus supports his arguments largely with evidence garnered from interviews with elite policy makers and diplomats and with articles from the media/think tanks he sources a few academic books but very few articles from academic journals continued on back page



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