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.

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