My Guest Post At The Mezzofanti Guild: How To Get Started Learning Russian

A little while ago, Donovan, the intrepid blogger behind the excellent blog The Mezzofanti Guild, approached me about writing a guest post for his blog about learning Russian. Donovan loves Arabic as much as I love Russian (he studies it constantly and speaks it really well), but he’s also lived in Russia and speaks Russian, too. Anyway, I really like how the post turned out and you really should go read it, like right now.

And, of course, a big thank you to Donovan for letting me write something for his blog! Hopefully this is one of many guest posts I will write, both for his blog and others. :)

If Putin Wants Sweden, Let Him Have It!

So, you may have heard of the mysterious, probably Russian submarine that’s roaming around Swedish waters (to the extent that a submarine can roam, of course). RFE/RL says:

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that “there have been no irregular situations and, even less so, accidents involving Russian naval vessels.”

But the respected Swedish daily “Svenska Dagbladet” has reported that a damaged Russian submarine is at the center of a search by Swedish boats, troops, and helicopters for an unidentified submarine that began on October 17.

The newspaper says the Swedish military had intercepted a distress signal in Russian that was sent to a naval base at the Baltic seaport in Kaliningrad.

The Swedish military has refused to comment on the newspaper’s reports.

Putin's interlocutor, Sergei Ivanov, currently Chief of Staff for the presidential administration.
Putin’s interlocutor, Sergei Ivanov, currently Chief of Staff for the presidential administration.

Now, the title of the post is supposed to be a joke—a joke, I repeat, so don’t leave me indignant comments about me being a lawless Russian imperialist. I’m just having a very fun time imagining the conversations taking place in the Kremlin about this incident. Here’s the scene:

President Putin paces in his office. Sergei Ivanov, a fellow ex-KGB man, but one who is more cautious (and possibly cleverer) than Putin, urges restraint.

Putin: How dare they accuse us of having a submarine there! As if we would ever want Sweden.

Ivanov: But Vladimir Vladimirovich, we do have a submarine in Swedish waters.

Putin: Never mind that! Do those stupid Swedes remember what happened after they tangled with us? It may have been in the eighteenth century, but we trounced them! And remember the Battle of Poltava?

Ivanov: Mr. President, they probably don’t remember that.

Putin: If we invaded Sweden, they’d capitulate in a day! Or even less!

Ivanov: That may be so, but it would be unwise to invade Sweden, as it is an EU member.

Putin: The EU? Tell me, Seryozha, how many divisions has the EU? None, of course!

Ivanov: As true as that may be, it still would be unwise.

Putin stomps out of office to chew out Viktor Chirkin, commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy, leaving bewildered Ivanov behind.

Like it? I totally should be a playwright, right?

On a more serious note, Russia certainly has been engaging in more and more military provocations. Smart countries and their intelligence agencies ought to keep an eye on this.

The first commenter who finds the veiled Stalin reference in my little Putin scene wins… something. I’m not sure what, but I’d like to think my reference is well-concealed, so anyone who spots it has my respect.

Russia, Lenin, And The Battle For Modern Ukraine

Graphic from here.
Graphic from here.

It won’t surprise any long-time readers here that I was not a supporter of the recent “Euromaidan” revolution in Ukraine. I have written on the unconstitutionality of the election of President Poroshenko (this article landed my blog on the Google News homepage!), a follow-up to that article, an epic article by a former Czech president concerning Ukraine, and maybe some more stuff I’m forgetting. I appeared on the BBC earlier this year, in February, to provide a counterpoint to the plethora of Euromaidan supporters interviewed. And yes, I have a recording of the interview, which I’ve been meaning to upload for a while.

Given all those facts, you’ll probably be surprised to know that there’s one consequence of the “Euromaidan revolution” that I heartily support: the destruction of Lenin statues. Lenin statues are an unfortunate remnant left over from Soviet rule. I traveled throughout European Russia five years ago and only saw one statue (plus the creepy mausoleum on Red Square). I’ve only been to one city in Ukraine (Kiev) and I didn’t see a single statue there. However, both Russia and Ukraine are vast countries, and I’m sure I missed out on many statues simply because there wasn’t time to go to cities that have them.

Lenin statues are a disgrace because Lenin was a blight on European history. Few people have wreaked more havoc, sowed more destruction, and caused intense misery to such large numbers of people. I never was a Lenin supporter, even when I was taught a mildly positive view in school, and I think everyone should read Dmitri Volkogonov’s magnificent biography of the man.

Anyway, anti-Russian Ukrainians are tearing down these statues as a symbol of protest against Russian rule. These people want to be free to choose a “European path” free of that nasty Putin’s overbearing Russian influence, the media tells us. Yet the ironic thing about Ukrainians’ dislike for Lenin is that Lenin was actually the founder of modern Ukraine. Here’s an excellent article on Russia Insider concerning Lenin and Ukraine:

Lenin was a founding father of modern Ukraine. He created Ukraine as a republic which has kept its current borders (minus Western Ukraine and few other regions). He gave away the territory of Novorossiya, which historically never belonged to Ukraine.

Later, the Soviet leader Khrushchev gave a similar present to Ukraine – Russian Crimea.


Some would argue that Stalin is guilty for the perversion of Soviet system and that if Lenin remained alive it would be different story. The truth of the matter is that Stalin did not think up anything that was not there under Lenin: mass executions, hostage taking, gulags (Soviet style concentration camps) and all the rest.

The article is much longer and quite good, so go read it. It goes on to list the numerous bad things Lenin did for Russia: coldblooded murder of the Tsar’s family, giving away territory to end Russian participation in World War I, outright stealing of property that did not belong to him, murder of people just because he had the power to kill them, and more.

I’m also going to bookmark that Russia Insider website, as it looks quite interesting.

Constructed Slavic Languages

The flag of Interslavic. I don't know the significance but I like it.
The flag of Interslavic. I don’t know the significance but I like it.

I’m too tired to write anything substantial tonight, but I wanted to post a bit about something cool I found: a constructed language called Medžuslovjanski jezyk, or Interslavic. The most well-known constructed language is probably Esperanto, which I’ve never felt the urge to learn. I used to think constructed languages were silly and that no one spoke them. The second point may very well be true—not that many people speak them—but I don’t think they’re silly anymore. I actually really like the idea of this Interslavic and want to explore it more.

Do you speak a constructed language? Would you consider learning one? Why or why not?

This Is Why I Love Serbia

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I’m a huge Serbophile. (My spellchecker is telling me that’s not a word, but I say it is.) I’ve never been to Serbia, but I really want to go, as I’m a great admirer of the Serbian language and Serbian people.

This story on the Royal Russia blog further proves why Serbia is amazing: a monument to one of my favorite people, Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia, has been put up in Belgrade.

A new monument to Russian emperor Nicholas II has been installed in the center of Belgrade, in recognition of his support of Serbia and the Serbian people in 1914.


The grand opening of the reconstructed park and monument to Emperor Nicholas II is scheduled for November 11th. The event will be attended by senior officials from Russia and Serbia, while the chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk expressed the hope that the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill will consecrate this monument during his visit to Serbia in mid-November.

It is interesting to note that at the beginning of the 20th century a monument to Emperor Nicholas II stood in front of the Embassy of the Russian Empire in Belgrade.

And because a blog post about a monument isn’t complete without a photo, here’s one.

Click to see larger
Click to see larger

Yet another reason I need to go to Belgrade—I need to see this monument for myself!

Confessions Of A Pretentious Classical Music Elitist

Inspired by this writing prompt at The Daily Post

When I was in fifth grade, my music teacher gave my class an assignment. We had to bring in one piece of music, identify some rhythms in it, and try to identify what time signature it had. (Time signature means how you count a piece: for example, all waltzes are in three.) The piece I chose came from a CD called Classical Favorites that my parents often played when we ate dinner and was an orchestral arrangement of Beethoven’s Für Elise. My mom let me borrow the CD and I proudly brought it into class, where my teacher played the track on her CD player while all of us listened.

On the car ride home that day, I was full of righteous indignation. “Can you believe I was the only one to bring in some classical music?” I said. “It doesn’t surprise me at all,” my mom said. It was true: out of fifteen or so students, only I had chosen classical music. Everyone else had made the rather bad, in my opinion, choice of some form of pop, rock, or metal music. (The only other piece I can remember was from my classmate Molly, who chose a song from a group called the “Suicide Machines.” Apparently this fact was distinctive enough to stick in my mind all these years.)
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I’ve been worrying a lot recently, mainly about stupid stuff. Some of the things that have been invading my brain are: What if I never make it in my career? What if I end up not even liking my career? What if I never finish a decent novel? What if I never make it as a writer and no one ever gets to read my ideas? What if I get so busy in the next few years that I never got to practice violin and I completely forget how to play, even after having taken lessons for over ten years?

The latter is a legitimate problem (though I practiced for half an hour yesterday—not as much as is ideal, but I figure it’s better than nothing!), but the other worries on my list may be silly. You see, while bored at work last week, I read some posts on LinkedIn (because that’s what we ultra-cool bankers do in our spare time) and I found this one, by James Altucher, called Can You Do One Page A Day?. I think the link will work if you aren’t logged in to LinkedIn, but I’ll post excerpts anyway because it really resonated with me.

When I started a novel when I was younger, I wanted to finish it the next day. When I start a business, I want to sell it a day later. Count the riches.

When I started graduate school, I was already planning how I was going to be the fastest PhD in history.

Around the time that I had initially planned on receiving that Phd , I ended up getting thrown out. “Lack of maturity,” the letter said.

He goes on to talk about the guy who invented Pringles (I never thought of someone actually sitting down and inventing those, but it makes sense that something like that happened). After he got rich from his invention, he didn’t just sit around doing nothing.

He writes a page a day. A page is about 300 words. A paragraph or two. Can you do that? 25,000 pages. About 80 books worth of pages.

Gene [the Pringles inventor] ended up writing 50 published novels, including many bestsellers and award-winners.

He didn’t get stereotyped and stuffed into that Pringles can. As dead as the chips he created.

He did what he loved to do. That’s what keeps you alive every day. That’s The Push.

Anyway, that’s the gist of the post. It makes me feel slightly better. I’m an impatient person overall and when I’m writing, I want the novel I’m working on to be done yesterday. I usually write between 500 and 1,000 words a day, which means the progress can feel slow sometimes. I know I’ll eventually finish if I keep at it, but sometimes, it’s just so hard to keep going.

Now please excuse me while I go plan the book I’ll be working on for NaNoWriMo in November.