Archive for April, 2009

What to get the partisan who has everything?

Monday, April 13th, 2009

Russian President Dmitrii Medvedev just signed into law a change in the list of Russian military holidays. June 29 is now the “Day of Partisans and Underground Resistance.”

First a linguistic note: the word in the Russian text for “underground resistance” is “podpol’shchikov,” which could just as easily refer to Bolshevik party members on the run from the tsarist police as to heroic resistance against the Nazis. It’s the same word.

Still, the context makes it pretty clear this is NOT what those who introduced the bill had in mind. This change in the list of holidays originated from Briansk (close to the western border) and the specific day commemorated marks the 29 June 1941 Central Committee / Council of People’s Commissars decree calling on party and state organizations in occupied zones to take up the partisan struggle against the invaders. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to track a copy of that document online, but I’d welcome anyone who has a link. Ken Slepyan’s Stalin’s Guerrilashas a nice discussion of the context on pp. 24-25.

Much as I’d like to be able to draw some broader political significance out of this, I think it’s actually a sign of the normalization of the State Duma’s function–that its legislators are spending time on pointless commemorations of various good things.

The Importance of Education

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

My program at Kansas State has a lot of serving military officers going through masters and Ph.D programs.  At least to judge by what they tell me, they get a lot out of the history and political science courses we give them.  And in this time of tight budgets everywhere, it’s worth pointing out that we work cheap.

Still, every once in a while it’s nice to get some independent evidence of the importance of good education on the complexities of the outside world–like not opening yourself up to the snarky comments of foreign media.

To wit, I give you a bit from a recent Johnson’s Russia List:

BBC Monitoring
Russian TV pokes fun at top US general struggling with Georgian names
Vesti TV
March 31, 2009

The state-owned Russian news channel Vesti TV has ridiculed a senior US general’s inability to pronounce the names of the Georgian capital and the country’s president during his visit to Georgia.

Throughout the afternoon of 31 March, Vesti repeatedly showed a clip of Gen James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressing a joint news conference in Tbilisi with President Mikheil Saakashvili. The general could be heard saying in English: “The beauty of Tbili- of Tiblisi is world renowned. President Shaskakhvili and I had a very productive-”. The Russian translation then kicked in: “The beauty of the city of Tibl- Tiblisi is world renowned. President Shashkashvili and I had a productive meeting.”

The presenter commented: “US General James Cartwright has vowed to help Georgian defence. Among his top priorities is memorizing how to pronounce the name of the Georgian capital and president’s surname.”