Words Of Wisdom From The Admiral

No Wednesday Music today, dear readers. I couldn’t find/decide on a piece! But I did write a post, so at least that.

Regular readers may know that I’m a huge admirer of Alexander Kolchak, a Russian admiral who served in the Imperial Russian Navy and later became famous as a noted military and political leader for the White Movement during the Russian Civil War. I’ve been fascinated by him since I saw a Russian film called Admiral back in 2008. (Just so you know, the TV series is way better, but unfortunately not available with English subtitles.)

Anyway, about a week ago, I wasn’t having such a great day at work. Everyone kept giving me stuff to do (and of course wanted it done yesterday, i.e. the day before they gave it to me), I was worried about not being able to finish, and it was very frustrating. I opened up Twitter and, lo and behold, what did I see? A quote from Admiral Kolchak! I follow a pro-White Movement Twitter account (actually, I follow several, because that is the depth of my obsession) and someone tweeted this nice photo. It certainly won’t win any awards for graphic design, I’ll give you that, but it really made my day.

Click to see larger
Нет поражений. Есть временные трудности. -А.В. Колчак

In English, the quote is: “There are no defeats—only temporary obstacles.” Or at least that’s how I’ve translated it. There seem to be a surprising amount of shades of meaning of the word поражение [porazhenie].

Now, I realize there’s a certain bit of irony in quoting a man who was betrayed by troops who were supposed to be on his side, which led to him being handed over to his enemies, interrogated/tried by a kangaroo court, and murdered at the conclusion of this “trial.” (Kolchak’s murder took place ninety-seven years ago as of yesterday, February 7. Maybe that’s why I’ve been reflecting on this recently…) I’m not really sure what to call that other than a defeat. But hey, I think it’s an inspiring quote and I’m rather partial to anything Kolchak-related.

A lot of people at work have quotes on little pieces of paper pinned up at their desks. Most people have random inspirational stuff or favorite Bible verses. I may have to put this one up. Now that will garner some inquiries from my team, I’m sure!

P.S. Here’s how the tweet looked when it showed up in my Twitter stream. It made me so happy that I had to take a screenshot.

Yes, my phone is in Russian!
Yes, my phone is in Russian!

P.P.S. I researched this quote and to be honest, it’s quite hard to find a substantiated source for it. In my research, I found this slightly more wordier version: Не может быть поражений — могут быть лишь временные трудности. It pretty much amounts to the same thing in English, though. Despite the unsubstantiation (is that even a word?), I like it and am going to resolutely believe it is true unless I find out otherwise.

Look What Arrived In The Mail…

Dear readers, look what arrived in the mail for me last week.

From Russia with love
From Russia with love

In English, the title is Kolchak: Supreme Leader of Russia by Pavel Ziryanov. Yes, I ordered this online and about a week later, it arrived. It actually didn’t come directly from Russia. The seller I bought it from is based in New York. I read parts of this book when I was in graduate school and had access to an excellent collection of Russian-language books at the university library. I meant to buy it but forgot until recently. Luckily, I found it online, impulsively ordered it, and here it is.

And seriously, I got it for an excellent price. Only $19.00, including shipping. I found this exact book on a Russian website and even with the exchange rate that’s favorable to America right now, it was more expensive. Plus it would have taken forever to get here and the shipping was more expensive, as the site ships internationally with a private carrier. (Because, trust me, you don’t want to entrust the Russian postal service with anything of vital importance.)

A Century After the Russian Revolution, Will Putin Bury Lenin?

So reads the headline of an article published at Royal Russia last week. Here are some choice excerpts:

The embalmed corpse of Vladimir Lenin, whose seizure of power following the Bolshevik Revolution sealed the fate of the Romanov dynasty and ushered in more than 70 years of communist rule, lies on view in a squat stone mausoleum just outside the Kremlin walls.

Amid intermittent calls from Russians to put Lenin in the ground, Putin — who is often described as pragmatic — may have been weighing the possibility for years. And 2017, the centenary of the revolution, would seem like the time to do it.

For one thing, burying Lenin could drive home the message that revolution is bad.

He criticized Lenin last January, accusing him of planting a “time bomb” beneath the state and sharply denouncing brutal repressions by the Bolshevik government. Putin went further when he denounced Lenin and his government for brutally executing Russia’s last Emperor along with all his family and servants. “Why did they kill Dr. Botkin, why did they kill the servants, people of proletarian origin by and large? What for? Just for the sake of concealing a crime,” Putin said during a meeting with pro-Kremlin activists.

Others have gone further. Natalia Poklonskaya, a Russian lawmaker and former prosecutor in the Russian-imposed government of Crimea, lumped Lenin together with Hitler and Mao Zedong as “monsters” of the 20th century. And ultranationalist Zhirinovsky has called for Moscow’s Leninsky Prospekt — Lenin Avenue — to be renamed after Ivan the Terrible.

In a reference to the Bolshevik Revolution during his state-of-the-nation address on December 1, Putin said that coups invariably lead to “the loss of human life, casualties, economic decline, and misery.” He warned against “speculating on tragedies that occurred in nearly every Russian family” as a result of the revolution — a warning, at least in part, not to try anything like it again.

There’s more to the article, so you can go read it if you want. Also note that the reference of Natalia Poklonskaya lumping Lenin with Hitler and Mao was discussed on this very blog last year.

As for my personal opinion, Lenin’s burial is long overdue. I’ve despised the man for years. They should cremate him and scatter his ashes in an undisclosed location as was done to Hitler’s body after his suicide in 1945. If that was good enough for Hitler’s remains, it’s good enough for Lenin’s.

(Do I think this is going to happen? Honestly, no. But I can hope!)

The Rehabilitation of Nicholas II By Natalia Poklonskaya

I’ve been a fervent anti-Communist ever since I was old enough to know what Communism is. This fact surprises some people, especially when they find out that I put years and years of effort into learning to speak Russian. I suppose they think that a love of the Soviet Union led me to study Russian. Even though it’s been gone for twenty-five years, it still looms large in many people’s imaginations.

The thing is, though, the Soviet Union was never what led me to Russian. It was imperial Russia—specifically, the imperial Russian family of the doomed last tsar, Nicholas II, and his wife and five children. They were what initially sparked my interest in the Russian language. (I feel like there’s a certain irony in that the form of Russian I learned is slightly different than what they spoke. After the Bolsheviks seized power, they enacted a wholesale orthographic reform of the Russian language. Certain letters were removed from the alphabet and the spellings of words were changed. Even some grammar was changed. As a result, I can read the pre-Revolutionary Russian, but couldn’t reliably produce it myself since I have never learned the spelling rules that were used at the beginning of the twentieth century.)
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Russian Word of the Day: гнездо [gnezdo]

A couple Fridays ago, while having a nice relaxing afternoon, I realized I hadn’t done much intensive study of Russian grammar recently. Now, I read in Russian every day and listen to podcasts regularly, but I hadn’t done any of the focused that I used to do. I immediately had to rectify the situation, so I looked up the declension of a noun that I was unsure of. (Longtime readers may recall this post in which I explain what exactly makes Russian nouns so… frightening to English speakers.) The noun in question is гнездо [gnezdo], which means nest in English. So let’s study some Russian together. First, here’s the declension. I always found declension tables useful while learning Russian, so I’ve put one together here. (As an aside, why are tables so difficult to make in HTML? To me, they’re just not intuitive. It’s like someone invented them in 1990 in a completely illogical fashion and the code hasn’t changed since then.)

падеж [Case] ед. ч. [Singular] мн. ч. [Plural]
Им. [Nominative] гнездо [gnezdó] гнёзда [gnyozda]
Р. [Genitive] гнезда [gnezdá] гнёзд [gnyozd]
Д. [Dative] гнезду [gnezdú] гнёздам [gnyozdam]
В. [Accusative] гнездо [gnezdó] гнёзда [gnyozda]
Тв. [Instrumental] гнездом [gnezdóm] гнёздами [gnyozdami]
Пр. [Prepositional] гнезде [gnezdé] гнёздах [gnyozdakh]

The stresses in Russian are marked with bold letters because I couldn’t figure out how to get those nice accents over the letters the way I did with the transliterations. I’ve put transliterations in Latin characters in case you can’t read Cyrillic. (Though if you can’t read Cyrillic, I definitely think you should learn!) Before doing this exercise, I also hadn’t realized that гнездо was irregular in the plural with that stress shift. As an avid bird lover, nests are a pretty important thing for me to talk about, so I’m glad I found that out.

Now, for the fun part: some related words.

There’s a verb form гнездиться [gnezditsa] that means to build a nest or to live in a nest. It conjugates as follows:

  • Я гнежусь [Ya gnezhdus]
  • Ты гнездишься [Ty gnezdishsa]
  • Они гнездятся [Oni gnezdyatsa]

(I am too lazy to code another table with the full conjugation. Those three forms should be enough to show the verb’s conjugation. 🙂 )

Have you ever heard of the Swallow’s Nest castle in Crimea? Crimea was a favorite vacation spot of the Russian imperial family and other nobles and this crazy castle belonged to a Baltic German noble at one point. In Russian, it’s called Ласточкино гнездо [Lastochkino gnezdo]. Here’s a picture of it. It’s amazing and absurd-looking!

Source. Click to see larger.
Source. Click to see larger.

See how much you can learn when you dive into reading about just a single Russian word? I’ve barely even scratched the surface here. There’s a lot more to this word than I’ve talked about here. There are adjectival forms, different verb forms I don’t fully understand, and (probably) a lot more nuances to the word. Now you understand why I had to spend hours and hours studying Russian in college. Imagine going through this declension exercise on a whole group of nouns for homework.

If that didn’t scare you off… stick around for more Russian-related posts. And if you enjoyed that, consider studying Russian! The whole language is complicated like this! 😉

A Documentary About Pyotr Wrangel

I watched a fascinating documentary this weekend. Unfortunately, it’s in Russian, so if you don’t speak Russian, this post may not be all that useful, as neither video has English subtitles.

Anyway, the documentary aired on the channel Russia-24, which was once banned in Ukraine for being too pro-Russian. (I don’t know if it’s still banned.) I’ve embedded both videos below.

Wrangel in his uniform. From here
Wrangel in his uniform. From here

Baron Pyotr Nikolaevich Wrangel was a Russian general who fought on the side of the Whites during the Russian Civil War. His ancestry was Baltic German, hence the non-Russian last name. After suffering great defeat at the hands of the Reds (the Bolsheviks), he then escaped the country and went into exile and worked with other White emigres to form a group called the Russian All-Military Union that was meant to unite White Russians living abroad. This organization was active for many years, and depending on who you ask, may still exist. Since I love anything and everything to do with the Whites during the Civil War, I really enjoyed this documentary.

I haven’t really been watching many Russian-language videos recently, so it was nice to take some time to watch this documentary. I’m trying to get back in the habit of watching Russian documentaries since it’s a really fun way to keep up passive understanding of the language.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Book Review: The Billion Dollar Spy

The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and BetrayalThe Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal by David E. Hoffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a really fantastic book that tells the story of Adolf Tolkachev, a Soviet engineer who spied for the CIA and gave the United States hundreds, maybe even thousands, of technical documents pertaining to Soviet radar, military planes, weapons, and much more.

The book briefly traces the history of the CIA in Eastern Europe. At the start of the Cold War, it was very hard to recruit and run agents within the Soviet Union itself. Most of the assets spying on our behalf were doing so outside of the Soviet Union and were diplomats or intelligence officers working abroad. Eventually, this changed, and the CIA was able to recruit in Moscow itself. There was a setback during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, as the director of the CIA during this time placed more importance intelligence gained through technical means as opposed to intelligence from actual humans.

This was the environment in which Tolkachev approached the CIA. It took the poor man about a year to get the CIA to actually respond to his overtures for contact—but once they did, he produced an impressive amount of material. Originally, he hand-wrote valuable intelligence, either from what he’d seen over his career as an engineer or from documents he memorized, but the CIA quickly realized this wasn’t feasible long-term, so they supplied him with miniature cameras to photograph documents.

It wasn’t easy and he ran the risk of being caught many times, especially when he took documents home to photograph them. At one point, his wife discovered his spying and told him to stop, not because she liked the Soviet Union but because she was worried about the potential consequences for their family. In fact, Tolkachev’s hatred of the KGB and the Soviet Union stemmed from Natasha, his wife. Her family was murdered in Stalin’s purges in the 1930s and she was briefly reunited with her father when she was eighteen. He was released from a labor camp in poor health and told her everything: how Natasha’s mother Sofia was arrested and shot because she dared go visit family living in Denmark, a capitalist country, and how he refused to turn against Sofia, which led to his long sentence in the labor camp.

Tolkachev spied for many years, asking for payment in an escrow account he would have access to upon defecting, and also asked for everyday items that were hard to come by in 1970s and 1980s Moscow, including Western music for his son Oleg.

Unfortunately, despite the CIA and Tolkachev’s efforts to evade KGB surveillance in Moscow, Tolkachev was arrested, tried, and executed. His capture was the result of an internal betrayal; both Edward Lee Howard, a disgraced former CIA trainee, and Aldrich Ames helped the KGB identify him. He was executed in 1986. His intelligence helped the United States well into the 1990s: thanks to him, the United States was able to fight Iraqi pilots during Desert Storm since the Iraqis flew Soviet aircraft. Hoffman also emphasizes that the Tolkachev case shows how valuable human intelligence is, as there was no way to have acquired all this intelligence without having a source like Tolkachev.

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