Did Putin really mean 'deplore'?
April 25, 2005 7:31 AM   Subscribe

After reading this article and hearing a story on BBC radio, I was left wondering - is Putin really 'deploring' the collapse of the USSR? Or by 'catastrophe' did he just mean 'important and far-reaching event'? Russian speakers please help!

I know very little Russian and haven't seen the original speech (I presume he was using an interpreter). So could he have been misinterpreted here?
posted by altolinguistic to Writing & Language (10 answers total)
When you consider the economic shambles Russia has been in since the fall of the USSR (along with the ensuing brain drain that resulted from it) then compare and contrast to how China's handling a transition from communism, I'd say that from his perspective the collapse would be pretty deplorable.
posted by ursus_comiter at 7:42 AM on April 25, 2005

What you say may well be true, ursus, but I'm looking at this specific speech, and in particular the BBC's reporting of it. Saying that Putin has described this event as a 'catastrophe' and that he is 'deploring' it - is this misrepresenting what he actually said? Or am I reading too much into this?
posted by altolinguistic at 7:47 AM on April 25, 2005

China's handling a transition from communism

Yeah... from communism to facism that is.
posted by PenDevil at 8:31 AM on April 25, 2005

For those who read Russian, the full text of the address is here (I won't bother quoting the Russian, since the famed MeFi Preview Bug will chomp it up and excrete it as question marks). The relevant paragraph is the fifth; I'll give as literal a translation as possible of that (and the following few for context), with alternate renderings of important words so you can see the range of possibilities:
First of all, we must recognize that the wreck/ruin/collapse/downfall [krushenie] of the Soviet Union was the biggest [or 'most important': krupneishii] geopolitical catastrophe/disaster [katastrofa] of the century/age [vek]. For the Russian people it was a real tragedy [drama, literally 'drama']. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and compatriots found themselves outside the borders of Russian territory. Furthermore, an epidemic of disintegration [raspad] spread to Russia itself.

Citizens' savings lost their value, the old ideals were destroyed. Many institutions were disbanded or reformed in a hasty/offhand/slapdash way (na skoruyu ruku). The integrity of the country was broken by terrorist intervention and the following capitulation of Khasavyurt. The oligarch groups -- possessing unlimited control over the streams of information -- served only their own corporate interests. Mass poverty began to be seen as the norm. And all this happened against a background of the heaviest economic recession, unstable finances, paralysis of the social sphere.

Many then thought, it seemed to many at that time, that our young democracy was not a continuation of the Russian state system but its final failure/crash [krakh]. That it was the lingering death agony of the Soviet system.

Those who thought that were mistaken.
By "terrorist intervention" he means the Chechen struggle for independence, and by "capitulation" he means the Khasavyurt Accords of 1996 that ended the first Chechen War; Putin, of course, is in favor of crushing the Chechens, not negotiating with them. But the business about the fall of the USSR being a catastrophe doesn't mean that he wishes it were still around (though, of course, he may); he's pointing out that it was a disaster for the average Russian, which it unquestionably was.

Interestingly, the Russian news reports concentrate on his strong stand against terrorism, mostly ignoring the other aspects of the speech.

May I add that once again I fail to understand why those who don't have any useful answer to an AskMe question don't simply shut the fuck up. I flagged PenDevil's comment as "noise"; ursus_comiter's is almost as much so. Is it too much to ask to keep your snarks and vaguely relevant thoughts and guesses to yourselves?
posted by languagehat at 10:15 AM on April 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

It's interesting that in mathematics, a "catastrophe" is value-neutral. It is neither good nor bad; it is simply a sudden large change in the value of a function. I don't expect there is any element of such meaning in everyday Russian speech, however. Still, the sentence makes somewhat more sense if you think of the defining characteristic of a catastrophe as change rather than as its badness. It is bad not because it is inherently bad but because the consequences of sudden change are often negative. It doesn't rule out some or even most of the consequences being positive, it can still be a catastrophe.
posted by kindall at 10:39 AM on April 25, 2005

Mr Hat, thanks very much for that (and for your last point) - and kindall, you've helped me sharpen my thinking too.

I think 'catastrophe' has been picked up by the BBC in an unfortunate way here, and that their use of 'deplore' in the headline is unjustified.
posted by altolinguistic at 11:04 AM on April 25, 2005

our young democracy was not a continuation of the Russian state system

languagehat's analysis is great and his observation about folks needing to talk when they don't have an answer.

That said, my dictionary suggests "successor" or "child" as well as "continuation" for "????????????". And "successor" seems a better fit. My apologies if I'm wrong-- My grip on Russian is pretty weak.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:15 AM on April 25, 2005

"????????????". I thought I could get away with it. I'm so foolish.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:16 AM on April 25, 2005

Nah, prodolzhenie can mean 'sequel' but it's basically a deverbative noun from prodolzhat' 'to continue,' and all its senses derive from that. ('Child'?? What kind of a weird-ass dictionary are you using?) In this particular case, I'm not sure I see much of a distinction between "continuation" and "sequel" or "successor"; it's clearly not the same as what came before it, but we're talking about gosudarstvennost', one of those vague abstract terms the Russians love so much (deyatelnost' is another)—I've translated it "state system" but however you want to render it, it's not clear to me what the difference is between being a successor to it (in the same line of development) and being a continuation of it (but different). In any case, "continuation" is virtually always a correct translation of prodolzhenie, although another word might capture a nuance better in a given context.

I thought I could get away with it.

Bwahahaha! Nobody escapes the MeFi Preview Bug!
posted by languagehat at 1:34 PM on April 25, 2005

In case anybody ever looks at this thread again, Alexei at The Russian Dilettante has an interesting discussion of the speech, with further links.
posted by languagehat at 5:04 PM on April 26, 2005

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