Thursday, February 06, 2020

Falling out over Pushkin.



The Onegin Live site offers a free download of Pushkin's 'Eugene Onegin' read by Stephen Fry. But there is also a brief historical bibliography of over forty translations of the great Russian novel in verse. 

Much of it would be known who have an interest in Pushkin, but still I found this snippet thoroughly enjoyable. Nabokov and Edmund Wilson falling out over whose translation is best:

In 1963, Walter Arndt published a verse translation of Eugene Onegin preserving the rhyme schemes and metrical structure of Pushkin’s text. Vladimir Nabokov reviewed Arndt’s work in an essay entitled “On Translating Pushkin Pounding the Clavichord” that was published in The New York Review of Books. Nabokov furiously criticised Arndt’s translation; according to him, the attempt to preserve the original iambic tetrameter resulted in Arndt’s defacing Pushkin’s spirit and the literal meaning of the novel. Arndt replied with a letter “Goading the pony” that was followed by an article “The strange case of Pushkin and Nabokov” by Edmund Wilson, a critic who rose to Arndt’s defence and thus ruptured his close friendship with Nabokov.

In this clip Nabokov reads Pushkin's testament 'Exegi Monumentum' (1836) -


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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Putin's changes don't matter.



Putin has proposed constitutional changes. 
A power shift from presidency to a little known body. 
Gorbachev was planning a shift in power from the Communist party to his newly formed presidential administration. It didn't end well. 

Government resignation and Mishustin's appointment don't matter, shouldn't be in the main news&

Friday, January 03, 2020

Haji Qassem and War in the Middle East



In Baghdad, early this morning, Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was killed by an American drone strike. The attack was sanctioned by US President Trump. According to the White House, a "decisive defensive action" was carried out. Soleimani was a major general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and commander of its Quds Force, the elite division for operations outside Iran. Some say he was the second most powerful man in Iran. Soleimani's convoy was hit by an American drone.


Qassem Soleimani
photo credit

This event can be considered as a "declaration of war" by the USA against Iran. It is one thing to pursue terrorists on the run, it is aomething completely different when a foreign high official is assassinated on foreign soil with official blessing by the President. In any case, this is an extremely dangerous escalation of the conflict in the Middle East, directly affecting Russia as well. What is even more dangerous, is that is that it is not clear what American strategy is for the near future, what are the next steps. 

Reaction in France and Britain shows there was not enough consultation, if any, before the attack. Experts there expect an "asymmetrical" counter-attack from Iran. They also say that the attack has thrown in disarray a strategy of careful, step-by-step strategy of engaging with Iran, of drawing it away from radical actions throughout the region.

Soleimani (among his supporters he was knwon by the respectful nickname Hajj Qassem, like Tolstoy's Haji-Murat) was heading to Baghdad in connection with the prolonged siege of the American embassy by pro-Iranian groups. It is not clear why, was it in order to continue to act against the American military presence in Iraq, or the opposite, in order to restrain the further escalation of the conflict. 

From the outside it is not always clear, but after the fall of the regime of Saddam and especially as a result of a long war with Daesh (ISIS), Iraq turned out to be a field of direct rivalry between the United States and Iran. And the further events unfolded, the more the situation developed unfavourably for the United States. The government of Iraq is now insisting on the withdrawal of all remaining US troops from the country.

Soleimani is considered the chief architect of Iran’s military-political expansion in the region, including an alliance with Russia. As a result, the country has become a regional superpower. This suits some, while others are extremely worried, in particular those in the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel. In the US, Soleimani is on the official list of terrorists. He is also on the sanctions list of the European Union.

Soleimani was the commander of the Iranian special forces Quds with an estimated number of 10 to 20 thousand elite fighters. Quds supported the armed opposition in Afghanistan against the pro-Soviet government in the 80s, then groups that fought against the Taliban regime, and still later supported the Taliban who fought against the pro-American government.

In Iraq, the Iranian Quds supported the Kurds in the fight against the Saddam regime, and later in the fight against Daesh (ISIS). According to some reports, the Quds militants fought in Bosnia on the side of the Muslims there against the Serbs. In the war against Daesh, Soleimani fighters played a key role in a number of important battles. He himself was reportedly seriously injured. In Iran, these reports were denied.

General Soleimani was a confidant of the Russian military. According to reports, it was "Haji Kassem" who brought Russia to Syria. He convinced Moscow of the possibility of a successful military operation there in order to support the Assad regime and defeat Daesh (ISIS). And he began  pressuring Russians as early as 2013, even before the Ukrainian crisis. During 2015-2016 he visited Moscow four times for negotiations.

With Russian already in Syria, it was Soleimani who led the operation of the special forces that saved the Russian SU-24 pilot Konstantin Murakhtin, shot down by the Turkish F-16 near the Syrian-Turkish border in November 2015. Soleimani contacted Russian commanders and suggested using special forces under the Iranian command to rescue Murakhtin. The rescue group included 8 Hezbollah fighters and 18 Syrians from a pro-Iranian group. With satellite and air support from the Russian forces, the group penetrated 6 km “beyond the enemy’s lines” (that is, apparently into Turkey) and liberated the pilot, who later returned to the Russian base in Syria (according to reports by the AFP, The Times of Israel, Iran’s Fars Agency and the Persian-lnaguage service of Sputnik).

So far, the US conflict with Iran had remained within the framework of the proxy war. Even despite the fact that over the past two months in Iraq there have been 11 serious attacks on US military and civilians. On the eve of the New Year America began moving additional strike force to the region. Now there are up to 14 thousand US troops there, the army, marines, navy and aviation.

It is unclear how much Washington took into account the role of Soleimani in the Russia-Iran-Turkey triangle. It is clear that this blow to Iran is also a blow to Russia. Further escalation of the conflict will put Russia in a dangerous proximity to the military confrontation with the United States.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Happy New Year from Tetradki!


My traditional New Year's Card
Computer graphics, all drawings made in Apple's Pages programme


Friday, September 27, 2019

Though cowards sneer and traitors flinch...



Language of Brexit



It takes one communist (me) in the history of this great island to point out that the PM, the Surrender Boris, and other brekkers (formerly known as brexiters, or, to the admirers, as brexiteers) get their language mostly from communist sources.  

Here is a short list of the common words and expressions thrown by brekkers at anyone who supports the core democratic principle of fighting for your views, that is that Britain should stay in the EU. 

Surrender — 
[Surrender Bill = the Benn Bill = democratically adopted Parliament Act forbidding a no-deal Brexit] 

It may sound like it’s evoking Churchill’s famous ‘We shall never surrender’ speech, but in fact it has  other, sinister overtones. 
It hails back to Lenin’s ‘defeatism’, the idea that socialists should help the defeat of their own country in an ‘imperialist’ war in order to facilitate a revolution. Lenin, it is claimed, was paid by the German General Staff in the hope that his ideas would help defeat the Russian Empire in the first world war. 
The point of this reference is in accusing your opponent of being a surrenderer/defeatist, and on top of this being an agent of a foreign power or an agent of its influence.  

Traitors — 

The ‘Red Flag’, anthem of Labour, both British and Irish (and also of the Japanese Communist party and the North Korean Army), goes as follows
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer We'll keep the red flag flying here 
The original tune is the German ‘O, Tannenbaum’ made famous in the form of ‘Oh, Christmas Tree’ by Disney’s ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ (1960). 
However, note the word ‘traitors’ in the text. The violent hatred of ‘traitors of the cause' goes back to the roots of socialist-communist movement, and has become a curse word since long ago, and a killing curse since Stalin’s great purges of 1930s, when ‘traitors of the Motherland’ were summarily executed. 

A communist source again.

Entryism —

It is an invention of Trotsky. In 1930s he suggested that radical left-wing groups should dissolve and join larger, main-stream socialist and social-democratic parties to work inside them and shift their agenda to radicalism, hence ‘entryism.’

Enemies of the people —

Next, and most obvious. It is another Stalinist term. This is not a Soviet invention, but the term was widely applied during Stalin's rule, became known throughout the world, and is associated with the infamous Show Trials of the Great Purge under Stalin in 1930s when often innocent people were accused of being 'traitors of the Motherland' and ‘enemies of the people’ on trumped up accusations and killed or sent to Gulag. Some were rehabilitated twenty years later. 

Non-aggression pact —

Farage promises a majority of a hundred or more for brekkers if tories agree to a ‘non-aggression pact’ with his Brexit Party. 
But what is this ‘non-aggression pact’? The term comes from the agreement between Stalin and Hitler in 1939 that helped to unleash the second world war with the attack on Poland, and to dragg England and France into war. 
On the ashes of that war, the European Union was founded to prevent such catastrophe happening ever again. 
Now Farage is offering it to us again. Thank you, Nigel.

People’s will —

What is this ‘people’s will’? It is one of the oldest populist cliches of all. Roman Emperors ruled dictatorially in the 'name of the people.' Bolsheviks suppressed the people in the ‘name of the people’. 
While our own John Stuart Mill fiercely argued against the ‘tyranny of the majority.’


Democracy —

What about democracy? 
Defending democracy, i.e. the people’s will, a democratic choice, expressed in the 2016 Brexit referendum, has become the main line of attack by brekkers on all those who want a reasonable European deal for Britain. That leaving the EU means losing Britain’s independence in the face of such superpowers as the USA, China and, yes, the European Union itself, is another story. 
What is important for the purposes of this argument, the debunking of the brekkers’ language, is to point out that this ‘democratic’ point is taken straight out of the Communist Party Charter. There, it is called ‘democratic centralism’ and demands ‘absolute submission of the minority to the majority’. 
It was the guiding principle of the Soviet Communist Party since Lenin, and then of the whole of the Soviet Union as a state. It is still in use in China and North Korea. 
Needless to say that true democracy demands respect for minority rights and opinions.


So, be careful, when you talk of democracy. Ask for definitions and their sources. 

PS: Here, we look at it from the left point of view. Tetradki will look at how the right views the language at a late stage. 

In this clip Winston Churchill (played by Gary Oldman aka George Smiley in 'Tinker, Tailor') makes his famous speech 'We shall never surrender'. At the end, one of his tory rivals says, 'Winston mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.' In fact, this phrase was made famous much later by President John Kennedy, who in turn borrowed it from an American broadcaster, the great CBS anchor Ed Murrow. — 


And here is the Red Flag sung by Billy Bragg —


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Will of the People


Will of the people, will of the people, will of the people, they say.

If Moses had listened to the will of the people, the Israelites would still have remained Pharaohs' slaves. (Exodus, 16:2)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Taking a sickle to the balls


(Lord Sumption on Boris's 'hammer and sickle' attitude)


In the UK, on the eve of the Supreme Court hearings on two challenges to Boris Johnson's decision to prorogate (suspend) the Parliament, a prominent lawyer Jonathan Sumption QC used a loaded metaphor to describe the situation. 

On BBC television's Newsnight programme he said: 


"If you behave outrageously and defy the political culture on which our constitution depends, a lot of judges are going to be tempted to push the limits out.

"Boris Johnson has taken a hammer and sickle to our political culture in a way that is highly provocative to people who believe that there ought to be solutions consistent with our traditions."


Now, hammer and sickle, of course is a well-known communist emblem. It originated early in the Russian Revolution, roughly at the same time as swastika was being adopted by the nazis in Germany. Today, it is still in wide circulation in Russia and remains in use in the remaining communist countries but banned in many others as the symbol of brutal totalitarian oppression.

Which makes Lord Sumption's application beautifully apposite. He says, in effect, that Johnson is disregarding the delicate constitutional setup of Britain. Disregarding it to the point of destruction in a bolshevist manner, applying the 'hammer and sickle'.

While this meaning is widely known in the West, few would know, I think, another Russian idiomatic expression with the sickle — пройтись серпом по яйцам, take a sickle to the balls. It may not be for a polite company, but basically means the same as in the above quotation by the Right Honourable Lord Sumption, to harm someone, to damage, to assault brutally, literally — to castrate.

Which, to finish this, may be added to the notebooks of those who see the hammer and sickle as a Dan Brownesque sexual symbol, hammer for man, sickle for woman.

Here is a clip from Newsnight's Twitter with Lord Sumption's quote. (Watch a longer, more detailed 2 min video of the interview is on The New European site





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