Sunday, July 28, 2013

Bashkir Language in the Russian Countryside


As always, it has been a busy week and I cannot believe it is already the end of July!!! The highlights of this past week were trips to the National Museum of the Republic of Bashkortostan on Sunday with my American friend, and a family outing with Liobov, her sister-in-law Tatiana, and Tatiana's 18-year old son, Misha, on Tuesday to the house-museum of Sergey Aksakov. 

The house-museum of Sergey Aksakov was interesting -- a scaled-down version of Monticello. But I will devote this post to my visit to the National Museum. 

These two images are of traditional Bashkir jewels. Notice the similarity between them  and some of the Kazakh and Tatar jewels (pictures I previously posted from Kazan).

No, that is not a swastika. That is a traditional Bashkir cloth. The swastika symbol dates back thousands of years to  Indus civilization. Archaeologists have found the swastika symbol inscribed on arch-arrows in the Ural Mountains. Swastikas have also appeared in Egyptian, Chinese and African sources. Ignorant of history (among other things), Hitler foolishly and inaccurately adopted the symbol to represent the Aryan race. 

In the top, center, notice an original copy of Lenin's 1902 publication, "What is to be done" (Shto delat'?). Lenin actually took the title from Nikolay Chernyshevsky's 1863 novel, also called "Shto delat'?" Lenin's older brother Alexander Ulyanov, was involved with a radical, leftist underground organization that plotted to kill Tsar Alexander III. The assassination attempt failed and Alexander was killed by the Tsar's authorities in 1887. Alexander and Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) were both extremely influenced by Chernyshevsky's 1863 book. It is said that Vladimir Lenin read the book several times in one summer. the ideology, combined with his personal experiences, certainly contributed to his motivation to lead the Russian revolution.

Russian-language poster from World War I. Please notice the American soldier walking across Siberia, smoking a pipe, holding a pistol and strutting an American flag in his back pocket.

The delegation of  from Bashkortostan visits Moscow in 1939. Please notice in the bottom right-hand corner of the photo Joseph Stalin seated between Comrade Foreign Minister Vyacheslov Milkhanovich Molotov (who Winston Churchill famously called a "stoneass"/"hardass"). The word Molotov is derived from the Russian word "Molotok" which means "hammer." He was Foreign Minister from 1939 to 1949, concluding the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact), as well as gaining the honor of being the only senior Soviet-official to outlive Stalin (i.e. be in Stalin's inner circle and not be sent to the Gulags) and is the namesake of the "Molotov cocktail" (a nickname that developed during the Russo-Finish War in the late 1930s). The man to the right of Stalin, I believe, is Marshall Zhukov -- but I might be wrong. Hard to tell in this photo (please correct me if you know)!

This is an internal identification card that was issued to a citizen of the Bashkir republic in 1922. Notice how the test is in Russian (cyrillic) and Bashkir (arabic). The Bashkir language was historically written using an arabic script, but adopted the cyrillic alphabet under Stalin.  In addition to Soviet-era material, the museum also featured posters and official government documents issued between 1905 and 1917, and during Tsarist rule prior to 1905. Many of the documents were written in Russian and Bashkir (I could not take a picture due to the babushka in the corner of each gallery, watching our every move).  This was really fascinating to me, as it shows a continuation in policy towards the treatment of non-Slavic, Turkic peoples on the frontier regions of the Russian empire and Soviet Union. During the Soviet Union, posters, coins, printed monies (bills), journals and magazines were printed in Russian and in the language of titular republics. Granted, the material was overwhelmingly printed in Russian and Russian was the lingua franca, without a doubt, but there was linguistic diversity.

In fact, the topic of linguistic diversity in Russia and throughout the Soviet Union is a fascinating one. Here in the Republic of Bashkortostan, the official languages are Bashkir and Russian. After 1991, Bashkir was a mandatory course for all students. There is a significant Tatar population and many of them objected to this policy, so after 2010, when a new Republic President came into office, Bashkir language became an optional course. This is understandable -- after all, there is no such thing as a "pure Bashkir." Intermarriage between Bashkirs and Tatars occurred throughout history and most people I have met identify themselves as "half Russian, half Tatar," or "half Tatar, a quarter Bashkir and a quarter Russian," or "half Bashkir, half Kazakh," etc.

While nearly everyone speaks Russian, I have been told on several occasions that if you go into the countryside and visit the villages, you will find that the rural Bashkirs speak incredibly poor Russian. Some do not even speak Russian, and those who do, speak with an accent. A few weeks ago, I had dinner with Diana (my Russian tutor) and her mom. Her mom grew up in a kolkhoz (village) where they learned Bashkir and Tatar --- it was not until later, in university, that she really perfected her Russian. And my host father, Renat, grew up in a Bashkir kolkhoz where he spoke Bashkir. Renat, however, learned Russian in school. When I asked one ethnic Bashkir if the level of Russian-language education in the rural, Bashkir villages decreased after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, I was surprised to hear that in his opinion, the intensity of Russian language education improved: more people now speak Russian in the villages, than during the Soviet Union. I was surprised for two reasons: first,  his perception that Bashkir language was more frequently spoken in the villages during the Soviet Union than after 1991and second, the fact that the quality and intensity of Russian language instruction improved in remote village areas after 1991. While I have noticed some people speak Russian with a Turkic accent (similar to the Kazakh accent in the Russian in Kazakhstan), I have not encountered a person who does not speak Russian. This however is likely a reflection of my experiences, as many of the kolkhoz are in southern Bashkortostan, 

Meanwhile, in the Central Asian Republics, Russian-language education has declined as ethnic republics try to revive national dialects (however, there is some great Pew polling data that suggests citizens (particularly migrant workers) value Russian-language education).

Anyways, I could go on and on about the national museum and some of the Tatar and Central Asian connections. But I will stop for now -- the moral of the story is that throughout history, there has been a tension between Bashkir and Russian language in Bashkortostan. While the two languages manage to coexist and and occupy the same spaces (mass media, conversation, school, government communications), throughout history there is variation in the geographic reach and force of implementation of Bashkir- and Russian-language policies. 


Speaking of the Russian countryside, yesterday I went to Krasnosoulsk, a resort town in the Ural mountains famous for its fresh, spring water and healthy mud. People walk around in bathing suits, enjoy shashlyk picnics and relax, taking occasional breaks to spread mud all over themselves. There is also a village church and monastery. It was a really beautiful place and reminded me of a combination of summer camp, six flags a bar and a church. Pictures from my camera to come -- but for now, here are some photos I snapped on my phone along the 2-hour drive. 

Welcome to the Russian countryside! I posted this photo at the risk of coming off tacky and devoid of class-- but I couldn't help myself. We passed SO MANY COWS during the drive. This picture features a sign written in Bashkir and cows. 

Mountains in Bashkortostan.

A field in Bashkortostan that produces some form of cereal product I am assuming.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

People and Places I Encounter on My Daily Jog


This was a long week -- it always is after a long weekend away (in Kazan). To let off steam at the end of the day and clear my mind, I like to go for an evening jog/power walk. In this post, I will share some highlights from my daily jogs:

A poster that says "Marathon for peace and human rights 2013." Then in black text "Human Rights should be realized and not an idealistic dream." This poster appeared on the side of a restaurant in one of the central squares of the city, not far from the university BGPU (where I study). It is financed by a private company.

My new pravoslav (Christian Orthodox) friends. As I was jogging one day, a mass of bicyclists in red and yellow t-shirts swarmed pass me -- I felt like baby simba in the lion king when he was stuck in the stampede of hyenas. It turns out, it was a youth organization that was representing the Eastern Orthodox Church. They were distributing anti-abortion pamphlets and CDs and wore t-shirts that read on the front "My family - My church" and on the back "New Generation Against Abortion."
I went up to these gentlemen and asked them about their cause. One of them handed me the CD and pamphlet and said "take this, you'll need it." I of coursed smiled and graciously thanked him, but deep down inside I didn't know if I should be offended or not. Was he judging me? I was wearing my running t-shirt and spandex leggings, but certainly that does not imply that I will need this literature on abortion. I asked him why I will need this information and he responded that it is good for my family. I asked them if they were all pravoslavs. One responded that they were not all pravoslavs but were members of different faiths who shared a belief in this one cause. I said thank you, asked them for a picture and went on my merry way. They were very friendly.

Pravoslavs in the park. While I  do not necessarily agree with their cause, I do applaud them for using a peaceful means of demonstration to promote their cause. Religious organizations are a great way for people to be involved in their community, or to use political science jargon, "civil society." After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the komsomol, youth and sports leagues, a lot of kids turned to violence, drugs and gangs. Organizations like this are ultimately a healthy and safe way for people to be involved in their communities and build leadership skills. Plus, under the Soviet Union, abortion was the only form of birth control. So this view against abortion is not necessarily inappropriate. However, I personally would like to see a more balanced discussion with  other peaceful groups promoting alternative contraception options for women and serious couples. My views aside, the fact that there are grass-root, peaceful civic organizations is a productive development in Russian society. 

View of the skate park and white river from the jogging track. A major hang out place for Russians at night. 

Track. There is a nice track and field area downhill from the monument of Salavat Yulaev. I always see Russians jogging there or playing soccer. On Fridays, we Americans play frisbee with our Russian tutors. The other day, there were some older men racing toy cars.

View of track and field (with my hand in the corner).

Anyways, that's all for now folks.  

Monday, July 15, 2013

Adventures in Kazan


This past weekend I ventured to Kazan -- the historic capital of the Kazan Khanate and the center of Tatar culture. To give a really short history: Kazan was captured by Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible, or more accurately "Ivan Grozny") in 1552. Ivan was expanding and consolidating the rule of the Russian government in Moscow and embarked on a campaign to gain alliances with other Slavic principalities (Tver, Suzdal, Vladimir, etc.) and ventured down the Vulga river to capture Kazan and Astrakhan (1555). Kazan and the Tatar people remained under the control of Russian leaders throughout the Romanov dynasty and into the Soviet period. Tatarstan today is an ethnic administrative republic in the Russian federation (Bashkortostan, where I am, is also an ethnic republic). The Tatars, like Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Bashkirs, are Turkic peoples. So naturally, I was super excited to go to Kazan.

This was a free weekend, so other kids went to. Eleven Americans and seven Russian tutors were Kazan-bound this weekend, so we rented an 18-person bus and off we went! We left Friday around 2 PM and arrived in Kazan 11:30 PM local time. There is a 2-hour time difference between Kazan and Ufa, so we arrived in Kazan 9:30 PM Ufa time, which means we spent a good 7 hours in the car (with only a few stops). While long, the ride gave me an opportunity to witness Russia's green, flat, never-ending territory. Just hours and hours of flat, unoccupied land. Some industry. Then more land. Really incredible.

Miles and miles of the flat, green Russian countryside.


Portrait bust of Comrade Lenin at a bus stop on the border of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.  Fact: wherever you go in Russia, there will be a Lenin statue. 

Rustem, busdriver extraordinaire. Resident of "Chicago" (Chernikovo) and officially one of my new friends. The guy cracked me up.

Saturday morning, I was out the door by 8 am, along with four other people. We went on an excursion to the Kazan Kremlin and saw a Mosque and Church. The Kremlin was really interesting, especially since I previously studied the history. The historic center was definitely well-manicured and exuded a European flare. One of the kids on the program told me when he was in Kazan two years ago it was not as pruned. The government has invested in upgrading the tourist facilities for the Kazan olimpiade games.


Interior of Mosque in Kazan Kremlin. Capacity is 2500 people.

Church in Kazan Kremlin. During the Soviet period, the Church was used as a storage facility for documents.

The Presidents Residence in the Kazan Kremlin.

Walls of the Kremlin.

Early morning view of Museum (on right) from entrance of the Kremlin.

Bauman street. Notice KFC.

We then walked down one of the main streets, "Bauman Street" and passed Kazan National University, which is where the young Vladimir Lenin studied. There is even a statue of Lenin (a younger, less idealized and more boyish statue).

Boy Lenin

We continued to walk in the direction of a bazaar of which I have heard raving reviews from friends. We didn't end up making it to that bazaar, but went to "old Kazan" which is a less-glamorous district that features older shops and mosques and a BAZAAR (Rynok)!! I have been craving a rynok, because everyone in Ufa says "we do not have rynoks, they've been converted into "torgovnie tsentrs" (trade centers...basically malls) should have come in the 1990s." I do not buy that argument -- given the large numbers of migrant workers and the average income of pensioners and those laborers, and the fact that 29% of the Russian population makes less than $315 a month, according to a 2012 article by Mark Adomanis -- the complete annihilation of rynoks is mathematically impossible. Rynoks are a major source of self-employment with low barriers to entry and offer very cheap goods. Torgovli tsentrs are much more expensive. Plus, in the summer, many Russians rely on their dachas and personal gardens for produce.

Awesome fruit/nut/turkish toffee/khalva store.


Construction of new stalls in Rynok in the "Old Kazan" section of city.


Anyways, the Kazan rynok was awesome. I was particularly impressed by two features: first, I noticed a sign above two separate fur-coat vendors that said "we accept credit" with the sign for a Russian bank. I wasn't able to get a picture, but this is unheard of -- a credit card in a rynok!?! This is really impressive and shows that (a) consumers need credit to buy goods (b) rynok vendors are attempting to satisfy consumer demands (c) the rynok vendors qualify for a relationship with a bank and can handle credit-card transactions, i.e. they have legitimate businesses -- not just rinky-dinky stands. What we see here is the transition from an informal bazaar structure to a more formal "torgovnie tsentr" model. That is really cool.

Second, new stalls were being added to the rynok. These were not just containers, but a new type of construction I have not yet encountered. Usually there are some containers in between rows of vendors, where goods are stored and easily accessible (lets say if a vendor needs to get a different size dress for a customer). But here, these are thin walls without storage space (containers).

And all of the bazaar vendors were super friendly --- one Azerbaijani vendor who moved to Kazan during the 1990s to flee the war even gave my friend two complementary oranges as a gift. We bought some dried fruit and awesome fruit-chocolate-nut trail mix from this one store that specialized in near-east products.

Then we went to the national museum of Tatarstan. The museum was very well done and had a great collection of Golden Horde items. My one critique, however, is that the museum details Andronovo culture and the rise of the Kazakh khanate and the Golden horde, and then jumps to Catherine, skipping over entirely the rise of Moscow, the founding of the Russian government in Moscow under Ivan III, and solidification of the government's power under Ivan IV. There is also no history of temporary alliances between different Turkic and Mongol khanates along with Russian principalities. Basically half the story of Tatarstan's history is missing. But the material on Tatar folk attire and Catherine was very comprehensive.

A traditional Tatar dress. However, the print is extremely Uzbek in style. 

Tatar jewelry.

Finally, the day ended with a basketball match -- the Olimpiada!! I'm not a huge sports fan, but sine I'm a Hoya and I was in Kazan during a major sporting event, why not? So I went to the U.S. versus Australia girls basketball game with two other friends. U.S. won 79-78 -- it was a really close game. The final basketball game is tonight (Monday) between the U.S. and Russia. As much as I love Russia, I will of course be rooting for the USA tonight!

Team USA!

This game also wins the prize for most interesting half-time show. Bikers.

Final scoreboard -- so close!!

Team tents. Notice "Almaty 2017" -- Kazakhstan is bidding to host the games. Location of 2017 games to be  announced in November !

After the game, we spotted three sets of American parents. We went up to them and introduced ourselves as Americans who came to support our fellow Americans. They were SO THRILLED to hear English, see other Americans and have normal communication (since they don't speak Russian and don't know the culture too well).

We were exhausted by the end of the game, went home and slept. Sunday morning we walked around the city some more, before heading out for an 8-9 hour drive (Sunday traffic returning from dacha).

All in all, was a great, albeit exhausting trip. Now back to studying.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Meeting Ufa's Artists


Yesterday, Liobov and I went on an excursion to visit the master studio of one of Ufa's leading painters, a professor at Bashkir State Pedagogical University and long-time friend of Liobov, Grigorii Zagvozdkin. Grigorii's studio is located on the top of a 4-story apartment building (the master studio is an add-on), and features high ceilings, huge windows and tons of space. The Ufa Artists' Union owns various masters studios throughout the city, leaving the artists to cover the cost of water and heat. It's great to see this kind of community support for local artistic talent.

We had a pleasant chat over tea about life in Ufa, artistic education (I could relate to this part of the conversation because my sophomore-year roommate was an Art History and Fine Arts major, so she was always painting). We also discussed how being an artist under the Soviet Union differed from being an artist today. While artists now enjoy more freedom to select their subjects, under the Soviet Union, they enjoyed greater financial stability. What was really cool was our conversation about the leading singer of Yuri Shevchuk of the Russian rock band DDT, who is from Ufa and was a classmate of Grigirii and Liobov.

As we were admiring his paintings (I ended up buying a landscape of Ufa's "White River"), Vladislav Eduardovic Meos (whose Wikipedia page can be viewed here) walked in. Meos shared the masters studio with Grigori. It turns out that Meos holds the title of the "National Artist of the Republic of Bashkortistan." The title "National Artist" (Narodnyi Khudojnik) is very prestigious -- only four people hold the title according to Grigori.

Vladislav Meos was a character -- very charming and funny. He showed me his book he wrote on Ufa's history, flipping through the pages and referring to younger images of himself "wouldn't you date that good-looking guy?" He asked Liobov (and myself) if we were married- he is one of those types of jokesters. I of course am happy to play along with the joke. He then showed me pictures of his parents -- his father died in 1942 while serving in the war.

Left to Right: Grigorii Zagvodskin, me, Vladimir Meos, Liobov. When we took the photo, I asked if we should smile or have a serious Russian face. Meos joked we should smile and say "Hi Obama."

It was a really cool and unique opportunity to meet some of Russia's most interesting and talented artists. Thank you Liobov, Grigorii and Vlad!

I'm off to Kazan for the weekend! The Olimpiade games are taking place, but I'll probably spend my time visiting the city's historical monuments and Kremlin.