29 March 2008

Soviet Orphans of the Great Purge

From The Whisperers: Private Lives in Stalin's Russia, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2007), pp. 335-343:
The Great Terror swelled the orphan population. From 1935 to 1941 the number of children in living in the children's homes of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine alone grew from 329,000 to approximately 610,000 (a number which excludes the children 'lent out' by the orphanages to Soviet farms and factories)....

Nikolai Kovach was born in 1936 in the Solovetsky labour camp. Both his parents had been sentenced to ten years in the White Sea island prison in 1933. Because his mother was then pregnant with his older sister Elena, they were allowed to live together as a family within the prison. But then, in January 1937, the NKVD prohibited cohabitation in all labour camps. Nikolai's mother was sent to a camp in Karelia (where she was shot in November 1937); his father was dispatched to Magadan (where he was shot in 1938) ... but Nikolai was taken north to Olgino, the resort on the Gulf of Finland favoured by the Petersburg elite before 1917, where the NKVD had set up an orphanage for children of 'enemies of the people' in a wing of the old white palace of Prince Oldenburg....

Without the influence of a family, Nikolai and his fellow orphans grew up with very particular ideas of right and wrong; their moral sense was shaped by what he calls the 'laws of the jungle' in the orphanage. These laws obliged every child to sacrifice himself for the collective interest. Nikolai explains:
If a person had done something wrong, for which we could all be punished, then that person was made to confess to the authorities. We would make him take the punishment rather than be punished as a group. If we could not persuade him verbally, we would use physical methods to make him own up to his crime. We would not denounce him – it was forbidden to betray one's own – but we made sure that he confessed.
But if it was forbidden to betray one's own, a different law applied to the relations between children and adults. The orphans all admired Pavlik Morozov. 'He was our hero,' Nikolai recalls.
Since we had no understanding of a family, and no idea what a father was, the fact that Pavlik had betrayed his father was of no significance to us. All that mattered was that he had caught a kulak, a member of the bourgeoisie, which made him a hero in our eyes. For us the story was all about the class struggle, not a family tragedy.
The moral system of the orphanage – with its strong collective and weak familial links – made it one of the main recruiting grounds for the NKVD and the Red Army. There were millions of children from the 1930s who spent their lives in Soviet institutions – the orphanage, the army and the labour camp – without ever knowing family life. Orphan children were especially susceptible to the propaganda of the Soviet regime because they had no parents to guide them or give them any alternative system of values. Mikhail Nikolaev, who grew up in a series of children's homes in the 1930s, recalls that he and his fellow orphans were indoctrinated to believe that the Soviet Union was the best country in the world, and that they were the most fortunate children in the world, because everything had been given to them by the state, headed by the father of the country, Stalin, who cared for all children:
If we had lived in any other country, we would have died from hunger and from cold – that is what we were told ... And of course we believed every word. We discovered life, we learned to think and feel – or rather learned not to think or feel but to accept everything that we were told – in the orphanage. All our ideas about the world we received from Soviet power.
Mikhail, too, was very struck by the legend of Pavlik Morozov. He dreamed of emulating his achievement – of exposing someone as an enemy or spy – and was very proud when he became a Pioneer. Like many orphans, Mikhail saw his acceptance by the Pioneers as the moment he fully entered Soviet society. Until then, he had always been ashamed about his parentage. He had only fragmentary recollections of his mother and father: a memory of riding with his father on a horse; a mental picture of his mother sitting by a lamp and cleaning a pistol (which made him think that she must have been a Party official). He did not know who his parents were; nor did he know their names (Mikhail Nikolaev was the name he had been given when he first came to the orphanage). He recounted an incident from when he had been four or five years old: his former nanny had come to visit him in the children's home and had told him that his parents had been shot as 'enemies of the people'. Then she said: 'They should shoot you too, just as they shot your mother and father.' Throughout his childhood Mikhail felt ashamed on this account. But this shame was lifted when he joined the Pioneers: it was the first time he was recognized and valued by the Soviet system. As a Pioneer, Mikhail looked to Stalin as a figure of paternal authority and care. He believed all goodness came from him: 'The fact that we were fed and clothed, that we could study, that we could go to the Pioneers Camp, even that there was a New Year's tree – all of it was down to comrade Stalin,' in his view.

The children at Mikhail's orphanage were put to work at an early age. They washed the dishes and cleared the yard from the age of four, worked in the fields of a collective farm from the age of seven, and, when they reached the age of eleven, they were sent to work in a textiles factory in the nearby town of Orekhovo-Zuevo, 50 kilometres east of Moscow. In the summer of 1941, Mikhail was assigned to a metal factory in one of the industrial suburbs of Orekhovo-Zuevo. Although he was only twelve, the doctors at the orphanage had declared him to be fifteen on the basis of a medical examination (Mikhail was big for his age) and had given him a new set of documents which stated – incorrectly – that he was born in 1926. There was a policy of declaring orphaned children to be older than their age so that they would become eligible for military service or industrial work. For the next two years Mikhail worked in the steel plant in a brigade of children from the orphanage. 'We worked in shifts – one week twelve hours every night, the next twelve hours every day. The working week was seven days.' The terrible conditions in the factory were a long way from the propaganda image of industrial work that Mikhail had received through books and films, and for the first time in his life he began to doubt what he had been taught. The children slept in their work clothes on the floor of the factory club and took their meals in the canteen. They were not paid. In the autumn of 1943, Mikhail ran away from the factory and volunteered for the Red Army – he did so out of hunger, not patriotism – and became a tank driver. He was just fourteen.

Like Mikhail, Nikolai Kovach was extremely proud when he joined the Pioneers. It gave him a sense of inclusion in the world outside the orphanage and put him on a par with other children his age. Kovach went on to join the Komsomol and become a Party activist; The History of the CPSU was his 'favourite book'. He joined the Red Army as a teenager and served in the Far East. When he was demobilized he could not settle into civilian life – he had lived too long in Soviet institutions – so he went to work for the NKVD: it enabled him to study in the evening at its elite military academy. Kovach served in a special unit of the NKVD. Its main task was to catch the children who had run away from children's homes.

28 March 2008

Akebono: From Rikishi to Pro-Wrestler

Japan-based blogger Ampontan backs into a retrospective of former yokozuna Akebono's spectacular career in sumo and his troubled career afterwards. The story starts with a wrestling match at Yasukuni Shrine and ends up being a requiem for a yokozuna. Here are a few paragraphs to whet your appetite.
There is a long tradition of professional wrestlers fighting at Yasukuni Shrine. The most recent occasion was April 23, 1961, when Japanese wrestling legend Rikidozan presided over a card that featured youngsters Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki, who would become stars in their own right. (Inoki also would later form his own political party and win election to a seat in the upper house.) The event attracted 15,000 people....

Holding wrestling matches for the divinities at a Shinto shrine is not as outlandish as it may seem. There is a very long tradition in Japan of festivals with competitive events at Shinto shrines. In addition to sumo, which is closely linked to Shinto, competitions at shrines include archery, tug-of-war, and, according to my reference, even cock-fighting. The idea is that the divinities will favor the more deserving competitor, and the victors in these events will have good fortune in the year ahead....

The primary draw this year was the appearance in the ring of the former sumo yokozuna Akebono fighting as one member of a six-man tag team match....

Akebono’s career match record was 654 wins and 232 losses. He won 11 tournament championships, ranking him 7th in the modern era at the time. (After Akebono retired, another foreign rikishi, Musashimaru, racked up 12. Today’s fallen superstar, the Mongolian Asashoryu, later broke Akebono’s records for speed of promotion, and won 22 championships to place fourth on the all-time list. But that’s another story.)...

Eight years ago, Akebono appeared in a sumo ritual at Yasukuni at the pinnacle of his professional fame. Last weekend, few even in Japan noticed as he threw his weight around once again to take down his opponents. He said he was nervous at first, but happy to be back.

He seems to have found his niche. He said he wants to continue his career as a professional wrestler as a single instead of being part of a tag team.
Rikidozan and Giant Baba were the first pro-wrestlers I ever saw—and that was on a black and white Sharp TV in Kyoto in the 1950s, the same place I used to catch the end of sumo tournaments after school. Sumo captured my imagination in a way that pro-wrestling never did.

27 March 2008

Early Days of the Polynesian Society

I recently discovered that the right venerable Polynesian Society in New Zealand has been slowly digitizing the back issues of its long-lived Journal of the Polynesian Society and mounting them on its website, working together with the University of Auckland Library. At this point, one can browse volumes 1 (1892) through 40 (1931). A perusal of the front matter in the earliest volumes transports one into another era.

Volumes 1 (1892) through 3 (1894) list the Patron of the Society as "Her Majesty Liliuokalani, Queen of Hawaii." Her reign began in 1891, after the death of her brother, King Kalākaua. The Queen was deposed in January 1893, the rebels declared the Kingdom a Republic in July 1894, and then arrested the Queen in January 1895 after suppressing a royalist counterrebellion.

Volumes 4 (1895) through 8 (1899) accordingly list the Patron of the Society as "Liliuokalani, ex-Queen of Hawaii." No Patron is listed in the volumes from 1900 through 1903, but the ex-Queen still heads the list of Honorary Members, with her address given as "Honolulu, Sandwich Islands." Next on the list is the "Rev. R. H. Codrington, D.D., Wadhurst Rectory, Sussex, England." Codrington was the author of The Melanesian Languages (Oxford, 1885).

From 1904 through 1910, the ex-Queen's address is given as "1588, 21st Street, Washington, U.S.A." and the Rev. Codrington's as "Chichester, England." In 1911, the ex-Queen is back in the "Hawaiian Isles." Back numbers of the journal in those years cost 2s. 6d.

In 1905, the Society acquired a new Patron, "His Excellency, Lord Plunket, Governor of New Zealand." From 1911, the Patron is listed as the "Right Hon. Baron Plunket, K.C.M.G., K.C.V.O., ex-Governor of New Zealand, Old Connaught, Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland."

The annual report report of the governing council for the year ending in December 1911, which appears in volume 21 (1912) begins with a retrospective and ends with its customary financial report.
The Council feels in presenting its nineteenth report that there is some justification for congratulating the Society on having attained its twentieth year of existence....

Our financial position is good, though there are a few members in arrear with their subscriptions. We end the year with a balance to our credit of £28 18s. 7d.
At that point the society had 201 members. Good show, chaps.

Perils of Trust Inside the NKVD

From The Whisperers: Private Lives in Stalin's Russia, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2007), pp. 283-285:
Mikhail Shreider was another NKVD officer who voiced his opposition to the mass arrests. In his memoirs, written in the 1970s, he describes himself as a 'pure Chekist', inspired by the Leninist ideals of Feliks Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Cheka in 1917. Shreider wrote his memoirs to justify his work in the Cheka and portray himself as a victim of the Great Terror. According to his version of events, he became disillusioned with the Stalinist regime as he observed the corruption of his fellow NKVD officers during the 1930s. Comrades he had known as decent and honest men were now prepared to use any form of torture against 'enemies of the people', if it meant advancing their careers. Shreider was also troubled by the scale of the arrests. He could not believe in the existence of so many 'enemies of the people'. But he was afraid to express his doubts in case he was denounced. He soon discovered that many of his colleagues shared his fear, but no one would break the conspiracy of silence. Even when a trusted colleague disappeared, the most that any of his comrades dared to say was that he might be an 'honest man'. Nobody suggested that he might be innocent, because this would expose them to the risk of denunciation for questioning the purge. 'No one understood why all these arrests were happening,' recalled Shreider, 'but people were afraid to speak out, because that might raise suspicion that they were aiding or communicating with the "enemies of the people".'

For several months, Shreider watched in silence as old friends and colleagues were arrested and sentenced to death. Unable to oppose the Terror, he became a sort of conscientious objector by not attending the executions of NKVD colleagues in the Lubianka yard. Then, in the spring of 1938, Shreider was transferred to Alma-Ata, where he became the second-in-command to Stanislav Redens, the NKVD chief of Kazakhstan (and the brother-in-law of Stalin). Shreider and Redens became close friends. They lived next door to each other, and their families were always in each other's homes. Shreider noticed Redens' growing disgust with the torture methods of his operatives. He thought that Redens was a man of humane sensibilities. Redens, for his part, had marked out Shreider as somebody who shared his doubts about the methods used in the Great Terror. Late one night he drove him out of town and stopped the car. The two men got out and began to walk. When they were out of earshot of the chauffeur, Redens said to Shreider. 'If Feliks Eduardovich [Dzerzhinsky] were still alive, he would have the lot of us shot for the way we're working now.' Shreider made out that he did not understand: to show complicity in such a thought was enough to warrant his immediate arrest, and he could not be sure that what his boss had said was not a provocation. Redens continued talking. It became clear to Shreider that he had meant what he had said. Shreider opened up his troubled soul as well. Once this trust had been established, the two men confided in each other. Redens regretted that all the decent Communists had been destroyed, while the likes of Yezhov remained untouched. Yet there were still subjects that were too dangerous for him to talk about. Looking back on these whispered conversations, Shreider thought that Redens knew far more about the Terror than he had let on: 'His situation and the circumstances of the times obliged him, like all of us, not to call things by their name, and not to talk about such things, even with his friends.'

Shreider was emboldened by his conversations with Redens. They made him feel remorseful and angry. He wrote to Yezhov to protest against the arrest of an old colleague in the NKVD, and against the arrest of his wife's cousin, a student in Moscow, vouchsafing the innocence of both these men. A few days later, in June 1938, Redens received a telegram from Yezhov ordering the arrest of Shreider. Presented with this news in Redens' office, Shreider begged Redens to appeal to Stalin: 'Stanislav Frantsevich, you know me well, and you, after all, are his brother-in-law. It must be a mistake.' Redens replied: 'Mikhail Pavlovich, I shall put in a word for you, but I fear it is hopeless. Today it is you, no doubt tomorrow it will be my turn.' Shreider was imprisoned in the Butyrki prison in Moscow. In July 1940, he was sentenced to ten years in a labour camp followed by three years in exile. Redens was arrested in November 1938. He was shot in January 1940.

26 March 2008

Soviet-style Neighborhood Watch

From The Whisperers: Private Lives in Stalin's Russia, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2007), pp. 180-181:
By the middle of the 1930s the NKVD had built up a huge network of secret informers. In every factory, office, school, there were people who informed to the police. The idea of mutual surveillance was fundamental to the Soviet system. In a country that was too big to police, the Bolshevik regime (not unlike the tsarist one before it) relied on the self-policing of the population. Historically, Russia had strong collective norms and institutions that lent themselves to such a policy. While the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century sought to mobilize the population in the work of the police, and one or two, like the Stasi state in the GDR, managed for a while to infiltrate to almost every level of society, none succeeded, as the Soviet regime did for sixty years, in controlling a population through collective scrutiny.

The kommunalka played a vital role in this collective system of control. Its inhabitants knew almost everything about their neighbours: the timetable of their normal day; their personal habits; their visitors and friends; what they purchased; what they ate; what they said on the telephone (which was normally located in the corridor); even what they said in their own room, for the walls were very thin (in many rooms the walls did not extend to the ceiling). Eavesdropping, spying and informing were all rampant in the communal apartment of the 1930s, when people were encouraged to be vigilant. Neighbours opened doors to check on visitors in the corridor, or to listen to a conversation on the telephone. They entered rooms to 'act as witnesses' if there was an argument between man and wife, or to intervene if there was too much noise, drunken behaviour or violence. The assumption was that nothing could be 'private' in a communal apartment, where it was often said that 'what one person does can bring misfortune to us all'. Mikhail Baitalsky recalls the communal apartment of a relative in Astrakhan where there was a particularly vigilant neighbour living in the room next door: 'Hearing the sound of a door being unlocked, she would thrust her pointed little nose into the corridor and pierce you with a photographic glance. Our relative assured us that she kept a card index of his vistors.'

In the cramped conditions of the communal apartment there were frequent arguments over personal property – foodstuffs that went missing from the shared kitchen, thefts from rooms, noise or music played at night. 'The atmosphere was poisonous,' recalls one inhabitant. 'Everyone suspected someone else of stealing, but there was never any evidence, just a lot of whispered accusations behind people's backs.' With everybody in a state of nervous tension, it did not take a lot for fights to turn into denunciations to the NKVD. Many of these squabbles had their origins in some petty jealousy. The communal apartment was the domestic centre of the Soviet culture of envy, which naturally arose in a system of material shortages. In a social system based on the principle of equality in poverty, if one person had more of some item than the other residents, it was assumed that it was at the expense of everybody else. Any sign of material advantage – a new piece of clothing, a better piece of kitchenware, or some special food – could provoke aggression from the other residents, who naturally suspected that these goods had been obtained through blat [blackmarket networks]. Neighbours formed alliances and continued feuds on the basis of these perceived inequalities.... Mitrofan Moiseyenko was a factory worker who supplemented his income by repairing furniture and windows and doing odd jobs for the residents of his communal block in Leningrad. In the spring of 1935, he was involved in an argument with his neighbours, who accused him of charging them too much for his repairs. His neighbours denounced him to the police, absurdly claiming that he had been hiding Trotsky in his workshop in the basement of the block. Mitrofan was arrested and sentenced to three years in a labour camp near Magadan.

22 March 2008

Osaka Grand Sumo Finale and Freakonomics

Going into the final day of this year's Osaka Grand Sumo Tournament, the two Mongolian yokozunas, Asashoryu and Hakuho, are tied for the lead with 2 losses each and will meet each other for the deciding match. Right behind them are two mid-level maegashira, the Georgian Kokkai and Estonian Baruto, with 3 losses each.

Seven rikishi are going into their final day with records of 7 wins and 7 losses, and therefore must win to retain their rank. It will be interesting to see how many of them win. (According to stats compiled in Freakonomics, about 5 out of 7 them will win.) All but one are facing opponents who have already secured a winning record, and the sole exception (Asasekiryu) faces an opponent who has no chance at securing one.
  • Goeido (M8, 7-7) vs. Kakizoe (M14, 8-6)

  • Wakanoho (M4, 7-7) vs. Tochinonada (M8, 8-6)

  • Miyabiyama (M2, 7-7) vs. Baruto (M7, 11-3)

  • Asasekiryu (M1, 7-7) vs. Aminishiki (M2, 6-8)

  • Kotoshogiku (S, 7-7) vs. Kisenosato (K, 8-6)

  • Ama (S, 7-7) vs. Kyokutenho (M4, 9-5)

  • Kotomitsuki (O, 7-7) vs. Chiyotaikai (O, 8-6)

UPDATE: Sure enough, six out of seven won their final bouts. (The winners are in boldface.) Baruto had too much to prove to go easy on Miyabiyama. He and Kokkai ended up at 12-3, tied with Hakuho, who lost his final match with fellow yokozuna Asashoryu. Baruto and Kokkai both shared the Fighting Spirit Award for the tournament.

Did the losers intentionally take a fall? Maybe not. Maybe the winners were just hungrier for that last win. Also, except for the ozeki (O) and Baruto, the winners also outranked their respective opponents, which meant they had better records in previous tournaments than today's losers did.

UPDATE 2: Like every major sport worldwide, sumo has its ongoing scandals. Washington Post foreign reporter Blaine Harden updates us on one of them, the beating death last year of a trainee.

21 March 2008

Romanian Idioms: Doamne, Paşti, paşte

Here are some entries featuring Doamne 'Lord' (vocative) and Paşti 'Easter' from the Dicţionar Frazeologic: Englez-Român, Român-Englez (Teora, 2007). I've added literal translations (in square brackets) and edited the idiomatic ones (except those in quotes) when the English seems too archaic, unfamiliar, or awkward (as many do).

The first such expression I learned was from way back in Army language school: la paştele cailor [at the-Easter of-horses] meaning 'when pigs fly', 'when hell freezes over', or "when two Sundays come in one week" (according to the Dicţionar Frazeologic, which also provides a synonymous la calendele greceşti [at the-calends Greek] ad calendas Graecas).

din an în Paşti [from year to Easter] once in a blue moon, once in a while

din Paşti în Craciun [from Easter to Christmas] once in a blue moon

Doamne ajută! [Lord help] God help me!

Doamne apără! [Lord defend] God forbid, "not for the life of me!"

Doamne/Dumnezeule [O Lord/O Lord-God] Good God! Great God Almighty! Goodness gracious!

Doamne fereşte [Lord forbid/protect] God forbid! Lord have mercy!

Doamne iartă-mă [Lord forgive me] God forgive me!

Doamne păzeşte [Lord guard] Lord have mercy!

Doamne sfinte [Lord holy] (archaic) see Doamne/Dumnezeule

BONUS: Here are a few idioms beginning with the verb a paşte 'to graze on' (same root as English pasture):

a paşte bobocii [to graze-on the-buds/ducklings/goslings] to be gullible or feeble-minded

a paşte vântul [to graze-on the-wind] "to gape at the moon; to catch flies"

paşte, murgule, iarbă verde (lit. 'graze, o bay roan, on green grass') "you may wait till the cows come home"

20 March 2008

On the Origins of Stalin's Great Terror

From The Whisperers: Private Lives in Stalin's Russia, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2007), pp. 234-236:
Extraordinary even by the standards of the Stalinist regime, the Great Terror was not a routine wave of mass arrests, such as those that swept across the country throughout Stalin's reign, but a calculated policy of mass murder. No longer satisfied with imprisoning his real or imagined 'political enemies', Stalin now ordered the police to take people out of the prisons and labour camps and murder them. In the two years of 1937 and 1938, according to incomplete statistics, a staggering total of at least 681,692 people, and probably far more, were shot for 'crimes against the state' (91 per cent of all death sentences for political crimes between 1921 and 1940, if NKVD figures are to be believed). The population of the Gulag labour camps and colonies grew in these same years from 1,196,369 to 1,881,570 people (a figure which excludes at least 140,000 deaths within the camps themselves and an unknown number of deaths during transport to the camps). Other periods of Soviet history had also seen mass arrests of 'enemies', but never had so many of the victims been killed. More than half the people arrested during the Great Terror were later shot, compared to less than 10 per cent of arrests in 1930, the second highest peak of executions in the Stalin period, when 20,201 death sentences were carried out. During the 'anti-kulak operation' of 1929-32, the number of arrests was also very high (586,904), but of these victims only 6 per cent (35,689 people) were subsequently shot.

The origins of the Great Terror are not easy to explain. Nor is it immediately clear why it was so concentrated in these two years. To begin to understand it, we must look at the Great Terror not as an uncontrolled or accidental happening, a product of the chaos of the Stalinist regime that could have erupted at almost any time – a view occasionally put forward – but as an operation masterminded and controlled by Stalin in response to the specific circumstances he perceived in 1937....

The key to understanding the Great Terror as a whole lies perhaps in Stalin's fear of an approaching war and his perception of an international threat to the Soviet Union. The military aggression of Hitler's Germany, signalled by its occupation of the Rhineland in 1936, and the occupation of Manchuria by the Japanese, convinced Stalin that the USSR was endangered by the Axis powers on two fronts. Stalin's fears were reinforced in November 1936, when Berlin and Tokyo united in a pact (later joined by Fascist Italy) against the Comintern. Despite his continuing support of 'collective security', Stalin did not place much hope in the Soviet alliance with the Western powers to contain the Axis threat: the Western states had failed to intervene in Spain; they appeared committed to the appeasement of Nazi Germany; and they reportedly gave Stalin the impression that it was their hidden aim to divert Hitler's forces to the East and engage them in a war with the USSR rather than confront them in the West. By 1937, Stalin was convinced that the Soviet Union was on the brink of war with the Fascist states in Europe and with Japan in the East. The Soviet press typically portrayed the country as threatened on all sides and undermined by Fascist infiltrators – ‘spies’ and ‘hidden enemies’ – in every corner of society.

'Our enemies from the capitalist circles are tireless. They infiltrate everywhere,' Stalin told the writer Romain Rolland in 1935. Stalin's view of politics – like many Bolsheviks' – had been profoundly shaped by the lessons of the First World War, when the tsarist regime was brought down by social revolution in the rear. He feared a similar reaction against the Soviet regime in the event of war with Nazi Germany. The Spanish Civil War reinforced his fears on this account. Stalin took a close interest in the Spanish conflict, seeing it (as did most of his advisers) as a 'valid scenario for a future European war' between Communism and Fascism. Stalin put the military defeats of the Republicans in 1936 down to the factional infighting between the Spanish Communists, the Trotskyists, the Anarchists and other left-wing groups. It led him to conclude that in the Soviet Union political repression was urgently required to crush not just a 'fifth column' of 'Fascist spies and enemies' but all potential opposition before the outbreak of a war with the Fascists.

19 March 2008

Romanian Idioms: a face din ..., a face pe ...

Here are some entries in the Dicţionar Frazeologic: Englez-Român, Român-Englez (Teora, 2007). I've added literal translations (in square brackets) and edited the idiomatic ones, except those in quotes.

The two patterns here are: a face din X Y lit. 'to make from X Y', corresponding to English to turn X into Y; and a face pe (Xul/Xa) 'to do/make the X', corresponding to English to play the X, where X is a definite noun indicating a type of person. Personal direct objects in Romanian require the untranslated preposition pe, which in other contexts most commonly translates into 'on', as in pe jos 'on foot'.

a face din alb negru şi din negru alb [to make white into black and black into white] to blow hot and cold, to play fast and loose

a face pe cineva din cal măgar [to turn someone from a horse into an ass] to discredit (a discredita), or to humiliate (a umili) someone

a face din lână laie lână albă [to turn grey wool into white wool] "to turn geese into swans"

a face din noapte zi [to turn night into day] to turn night into day

a face din om neom [to turn a person into a nonperson] "to undo smb."

a face din ţânţar armăsar [to turn a mosquito into a stallion] to make a mountain out of a molehill

a face din zi noapte [to turn day into night] to turn day into night

a face pe boierul [to play the lord] to play the lord, lord it (over others)

a face pe bolnavul [to play the sick] to fake illness

a face pe bufonul [to play the fool] to play the fool

a face pe clovnul [to play the clown] to play the clown, "to bear the cap and balls"

a face pe deşteptul [to play the clever] to play expert, give oneself airs

a face pe gazda [to play the host] to play host

a face pe mărinimosul [to play the benefactor] to pretend to be generous

a face pe mironosiţa [to play the prude] to pretend to be innocent

a face pe modestul [to play the modest] to fake modesty

a face pe moralistul [to play the moralist] to play the moralist

a face pe mortul [to play the dead] to play possum

a face pe naivul [to play the naif] to act naive

a face pe nebunul [to play the fool] to play the fool

a face pe neştiutorul [to play the ignorant] to feign ignorance

a face pe politicosul [to play the polite] to act polite

a face pe prostul [to play the idiot] to play the fool

a face pe savantul [to play the savant] to play the scholar

a face pe sfântul [to play the saint] to play the saint

a face pe tiranul [to play the tyrant] to play the tyrant

a face pe victimul [to play the victim] to play the victim

UPDATE: Here's a nice idiom that begins with a more typical use of pe 'on'.

pe dinafară trandafir, pe dinăuntru borş cu ştir [on outside rose, on inside borscht with pigweed] "fair without, foul within"

18 March 2008

Unbelievers vs. Believers in Tibet

The subtitle of Rosemary Righter's analytical piece on Tibet in The Times highlights Tibet's religious advantage in its conflict with the current Chinese government, "The Dalai Lama's spiritual power terrifies Beijing. Might, not persuasion, is its only response":
When the last imperial dynasty collapsed in 1911, Tibet swiftly declared independence. One of Mao's first acts after 1949 was to beat Tibet into line.

The second reason why Beijing needs Tibet to be convincingly pacified is ideological. For many people, China has become an easier and freer place to live over the past 20 years, but it remains the case that the Communist Party cannot tolerate any belief system that even implicitly challenges its monopoly over “right thinking”.

This is, if anything, even more true today than it was, because with the demise of Maoism and, now, the jettisoning of Marxist-Leninism, the party lacks a belief system of its own to buttress its legitimacy. Hence the party's pathological persecution of the eccentric but harmless Falun Gong religious sect. Hence its increasingly harsh control of religious practice in Tibet, where Zhang Qingli, the Tibet Party Secretary sent there two years ago by President Hu Jintao, declared on his arrival a “fight to the death struggle” against the Dalai Lama.

The Chinese are paranoid about the Dalai Lama for essentially the same reasons that the rest of the world respects him: as the humbly persuasive spiritual leader of a leading world religion whose lack of temporal power diminishes in no way the loyalty and love he commands. He is the main reason why China's methods of ethnic colonisation, fairly effective with other minorities, have failed in Tibet. Not only is Tibetan culture too far removed from Chinese for assimilation to be feasible; it revolves around religious loyalties that the State cannot reach.

Because the Dalai Lama is at the centre of these loyalties, Beijing considers him a dangerously subversive political agitator. They are appalled that he only has to make an address far away in India and his people obey; as when he advised Tibetans to stop wearing fur to save wild animals from extinction, and people rushed out to join public fur burnings. Two years ago rumours that he was returning swept Qinghai province and overnight thousands headed for the great monastery at Kumbum to greet him. To Beijing, this confirms what a danger he is.

The Dalai Lama talks about the Tibet problem in terms of “the identity of a people”. On this, if nothing else, Beijing agrees. It can end resistance in Tibet only by destroying Tibetan identity. It is deliberately swamping the population with Han Chinese and other immigrants, imposing “patriotic education” and Chinese-language qualifications for jobs, and stifling - other than as tourist exhibits - Tibet's customs. The Dalai Lama seeks for Tibetans the autonomy to which they are lawfully entitled as an “autonomous region” of China. But that would up-end Beijing's strategy. That is why China's leaders accuse him of inciting Tibetans to challenge, they say, the “stability of the State”.
Unbelievers—having to prove a negative—are always at an ideological disadvantage when dealing with true believers. At the same time, true believers should not be too quickly dismissed as 'eccentric but harmless'.

17 March 2008

Who Were the Soviet Collectivizers?

From The Whisperers: Private Lives in Stalin's Russia, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2007), pp. 91-92:
What were the motives of the men and women who carried out this brutal war against the peasantry? Most of the collectivizers were conscripted soldiers and workers – people anxious to carry out orders from above (and in some cases, to line their pockets). Hatred of the 'kulaks' had been drummed into them by their commanders and by propaganda which portrayed the 'kulak parasites' and 'bloodsuckers' as dangerous 'enemies of the people'. 'We were trained to see the kulaks, not as human beings, but as vermin, lice, which had to be destroyed,' recalls one young activist, the leader of a Komsomol brigade in the Kuban. 'Without the kolkhoz,' wrote another collectivizer in the 1980s, 'the kulaks would have grabbed us by the throat and skinned us all alive!'

Others were carried away by their Communist enthusiasm. Inspired by the romantic revolutionary passions stirred up by the propaganda of the Five Year Plan, they believed with the Bolsheviks that any miracle could be achieved by sheer human will. As one student in those years recalls: 'We were convinced that we were creating a Communist society, that it would be achieved by the Five Year Plans, and we were ready for any sacrifice.' Today, it is easy to underestimate the emotional force of these messianic hopes and the fanaticism that it engendered, particularly in the younger generation, which had been brought up on the 'cult of struggle' and the romance of the Civil War. These young people wanted to believe that it was their calling to carry on the fight, in the words of the 'Internationale', for a 'new and better life'. In the words of one of the '25,000ers' – the urban army of enthusiasts sent into the countryside to help carry out the collectivization campaign: 'Constant struggle, struggle, and more struggle! This was how we had been taught to think – that nothing was achieved without struggle, which was a norm of social life.'

According to this militant world-view, the creation of a new society would involve and indeed necessitate a bitter struggle with the forces of the old society (a logic reinforced by the propaganda of the Five Year Plan, with its constant talk of 'campaigns', 'battles' and 'offensives' on the social, economic, international and internal 'fronts'). In this way the Communist idealists reconciled the 'anti-kulak' terror with their own utopian beliefs. Some were appalled by the brutal violence. Some were even sickened by their own role in it. But they all knew what they were doing (they could not plead that they were ignorant or that they were simply 'following orders'). And they all believed that the end justified the means.

Lev Kopelev, a young Communist who took part in some of the worst atrocities against the Ukrainian peasants, explained how he rationalized his actions. Kopelev had volunteered for a Komsomol brigade which requisitioned grain from the 'kulaks' in 1932. They took everything, down to the last loaf of bread. Looking back on the experience in the 1970s, Kopelev recalled the children's screams and the appearance of the peasant men – 'frightened, pleading, hateful, dully impassive, extinguished with despair or flaring up with half-mad daring ferocity':
It was excruciating to see and hear all this. And even worse to take part in it ... And I persuaded myself, explained to myself. I mustn't give in to debilitating pity. We were realizing historical necessity. We were performing our revolutionary duty. We were obtaining grain for the socialist fatherland. For the Five Year Plan!

16 March 2008

Romania's Growing Bear Problem

Romania has a large and growing bear problem, reports Doug Saunders in the Toronto Globe and Mail.
Elsewhere in Europe, bears are almost non-existent. In 2006, Germany saw its first wild bear in 170 years, which the media named Bruno and became a major celebrity until he was abruptly shot by hunters last June.

But Romania, which last year became the European Union's newest member (along with neighbouring Bulgaria), is the lone European country that is experiencing the opposite problem.

"It's fair to say that our bear population is well above its natural level, and it is increasing far too fast," says Serban Negus, who studies bears for the Brasov-based Forest Research Institute.

Romania's central forests and mountains are home to between 5,000 and 5,500 bears, by Mr. Negus's estimate, and that population is growing by 10 per cent, or about 500 bears, every year. This has led to a series of unfortunate encounters between humans and bears....

Under the 34-year dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu, bears were kept safe: He made bear hunting a serious offence to make the entire bear population available for hunting parties he held for his close friends and comrades. As a result of that legacy, Romanians remain wary of bear hunting....

Romania's bear population is kept in check through an ingenious policy devised by the government: It allows wealthy Europeans, especially Germans and Italians, to hunt the bears during seasons that span half the year.

In exchange for this rare hunting privilege, they pay a licence fee of between $15,000 and $23,000 per bear, depending on its size. That has been good for the tourist industry, and it's brought badly needed revenues to this poor country's coffers.

But the policy simply hasn't produced results. Romania allows just over 300 bear licences each year, which isn't enough according to biologists, and most years it hasn't managed to sell all of them.
For lack of enough old Ceausescu hunting cronies or rich foreign hunters to keep the bear population under control, some conservationists have proposed resettling them in the now Braunbärrein forests of Central and Western Europe.
But the logistics are extremely difficult: Aside from the mountainous regions of the Alps and Carpathians, where bears tend to thrive, there are few places in Europe where they wouldn't be poking their snouts in human settlements.

Albania's Leftover Weapons Problem

Albania's ample supplies of leftover weapons and ammo have helped fuel the violence in Kosovo. And they're also fueling explosions within its own borders.
The blast flattened the village of Gerdec and caused widespread destruction over a square mile (kilometer and a half), leaving a huge crater.

It highlighted Albania's woes in trying to destroy some 100,000 tons of explosives, remnants of its communist past. Authorities say most of the ammunition was Russian and Chinese artillery shells made in the 1960s.

Albania, which is hoping to join the NATO military alliance, has seen similar accidents in the past. In one such case three years ago, careless handling of ammunition killed a military officer.

"This was bound to happen," a Western military official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter. "There are depots in much worse condition around the country."

More than 100 other depots storing excess ammunition dot Albania, many of them in heavily populated areas.

First Catholic Church in Qatar

The first Catholic church, Our Lady of the Rosary, has opened its doors in Qatar, but lacks any external signs of being a church.
"The cross should not be raised in the sky of Qatar, nor should bells toll in Doha," wrote Lahdan bin Issa al-Muhanada, a leading columnist in Doha's Al-Arab newspaper.

But Abdul Hamid al-Ansari, the former dean of the Islamic law school at Qatar University, disagrees. He wrote that having "places of worship for various religions is a fundamental human right guaranteed by Islam."...

In Doha, the call to build a Catholic church has grown as waves of migrant workers from South Asia and the Philippines arrived in the Gulf, answering the call for cheap labor to fuel the region's runaway economy.

But the Christian immigrants have sometimes collided with the native Qatari population, which practices Wahhabism, a strict interpretation of Islam.

Native Qataris account for only 200,000 of the country's population of 900,000.

The Vatican estimates there are 100,000 practicing Catholics in Qatar. They attended underground services until seven years ago, when Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the country's current ruler, granted permission to five denominations to open churches.
I'm old enough to remember when new Protestant churches in Franco's Spain were prohibited from displaying the usual church architecture, opening schools, or evangelizing in public.

Nowadays there's a big shortage of mosques in Spain.

via Belmont Club

12 March 2008

Overcompensating Kids of 'Kulaks'

From The Whisperers: Private Lives in Stalin's Russia, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2007), pp. 143-145:
Many 'kulak' children ended up as ardent Stalinists (and even made careers for themselves by joining the repressive organs of the state). For some the transformation involved a long and conscious process of 'working on themselves' that was not without its psychic costs. Stepan Podlubny is an example. Born in 1914 to a peasant family in the Vinnitsa region of western Ukraine, Stepan and his mother fled to Moscow in 1929, after his father had been exiled as a 'kulak' to Arkhangelsk. Stepan found a job as an apprentice in the factory school of the Pravda printing plant. He joined the Komsomol, headed a brigade of shock workers, edited a wall-newspaper (a form of agitprop), became a member of the factory board, and at some point it seems he was recruited as an informer by the police. All this time he carefully concealed his 'kulak' origins. He kept a diary which charted his own struggle to purge the 'sick psychology' of his peasant ancestors and reconstruct himself as a Soviet citizen. He tried to read the correct books, to adopt all the correct attitudes, to cultivate himself by dressing neatly and learning how to dance, and to develop in himself the Soviet public virtues of activity and vigilance. He drew up a 'balance sheet' of his 'cultural progress' at the end of every year (just as the state's own planning agencies drew up annual balances of economic progress in the Five Year Plan). His 'kulak' background was a constant source of self-loathing and self-doubt. He saw it as an explanation for his own shortcomings, and wondered whether he was capable of ever really becoming a fully equal member of society:

13.9.1932: Several times already I have thought about my production work. Why can't I cope with it painlessly? And in general, why is it so hard for me? ... A thought that I can never seem to shake off, that saps my blood from me like sap from a birch tree – is the question of my psychology. Can it really be that I will be different from the others? This question makes my hair stand on end, and I break out in shivers. Right now, I am a person in the middle, not belonging to one side nor to the other, but who could easily slide to either.

Podlubny was constantly afraid that his origins would be exposed, that he would be denounced at work (a 'snake pit' filled with 'enemies'), leading to his sacking and possible arrest. Eventually his 'kulak' origins were indeed discovered by OGPU, which told him it would not take action, provided he 'continued to do good work for them'. It seems likely that Podlubny began to inform on his work colleagues. In his diary he confessed to feeling trapped – he was repulsed by his public persona and he clearly longed to 'be himself'.

8.12.1932: My daily secretiveness, the secret of my inside – they don't allow me to become a person with an independent character. I can't come out openly or sharply, with any free thoughts. Instead I have to say only what everyone [else] says. I have to walk on an uneven surface, along the path of least resistance. This is very bad. Unwittingly I'm acquiring the character of a lickspittle, of a cunning dog: soft, cowardly, and always giving in.

The news that a fellow student had not been punished after he had been exposed as the son of a 'kulak' was greeted by Podlubny as a 'historical moment', suggesting as it did that he no longer needed to feel so stigmatized by his social origins. He embraced this personal liberation with joy and gratitude towards the Soviet government.

2.3.1935: The thought that I too can be a citizen of the common family of the USSR obliges me to respond with love to those who have done this. I am no longer among enemies, whom I fear all the time, at every moment, wherever I am. I no longer fear my environment. I am just like everybody else, free to be interested in various things, a master interested in his lands, not a hireling kowtowing to his master.

Six months later, Podlubny was accepted as a student at Moscow's Second Medical Institute. He had always dreamed of studying at a higher institute, but knew his 'kulak' origins would be a stumbling block. The fact that the Komsomol at the Pravda plant had supported his application was for him the final affirmation of his new Soviet identity.
It sure would be nice if a lot of people who are either born into 'class enemy' status or educated into it could work out their feelings of guilt and entitlement outside the political realm. Let them manage hedge funds, not governments.

Trouble Filling the Quotas for 'Kulaks'

From The Whisperers: Private Lives in Stalin's Russia, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2007), pp. 86-87:
The destruction of the 'kulaks' was an economic catastrophe for the Soviet Union. It deprived the collective farms of the work ethic and expertise of the country's most industrious peasants, ultimately leading to the terminal decline of the Soviet agricultural sector. But Stalin's war against the 'kulaks' had little to do with economic considerations – and everything to do with the removal of potential opposition to the collectivization of the village. The 'kulaks' were peasant individualists, the strongest leaders and supporters of the old rural way of life. They had to disappear.

The 'liquidation of the kulaks' followed the same pattern nationwide. In January 1930, a Politburo commission drew up quotas of 60,000 'malicious kulaks' to be sent to labour camps and 150,000 other 'kulak' households to be exiled to the North, Siberia, the Urals and Kazakhstan. The figures were part of an overall plan for 1 million 'kulak' households (about 6 million people) to be stripped of all their property and sent to labour camps or 'special settlements'. The implementation of the quotas was assigned to OGPU (which raised the target to 3 to 5 per cent of all peasant households to be liquidated as 'kulak') and then handed down to the local OGPU and Party organizations (which in many regions deliberately exceeded the quotas in the belief that this demonstrated the vigilance expected by their superiors). Every village had its own quota set by the district authorities. Komsomol and Party activists drew up lists of the 'kulaks' in each village to be arrested and exiled. They took inventories of the property to be confiscated from their homes when the 'kulaks' were expelled.

There was surprisingly little peasant opposition to the persecution of the 'kulaks' – especially in view of Russia's strong historical traditions of village solidarity (earlier campaigns against the 'kulaks', in the Civil War for example, had failed to split the peasantry). Certainly there were places where the villagers resisted the quota, insisting that there were no 'kulaks' among them and that all the peasants were similarly poor, and places where they refused to give up their 'kulaks', or even tried to defend them against the activists when they came to arrest them. But the majority of the peasantry reacted to the sudden disappearance of their fellow villagers with passive resignation born of fear. In some villages the peasants chose the 'kulaks' from their own number. They simply held a village meeting and decided who should go as a 'kulak' (isolated farmers, widows and old people were particularly vulnerable). Elsewhere, the 'kulaks' were chosen by drawing lots.

07 March 2008

Early Soviet Outer vs. Inner Life

From The Whisperers: Private Lives in Stalin's Russia, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2007), pp. 37-38, 46-48:
Increasingly, there was nothing in the private life of the Bolshevik that was not subject to the gaze and censure of the Party leadership. This public culture, where every member was expected to reveal his inner self to the collective, was unique to the Bolsheviks—there was nothing like it in the Nazi or the Fascist movement, where the individual Nazi or Fascist was allowed to have a private life, so long as he adhered to the Party's rules and ideology—until the Cultural Revolution in China. Any distinction between private and public life was explicitly rejected by the Bolsheviks. 'When a comrade says: "What I am doing now concerns my private life and not society," we say that cannot be correct,' wrote one Bolshevik in 1924. Everything in the Party member's private life was social and political; everything he did had a direct impact on the Party's interests. This was the meaning of 'Party unity'—the complete fusion of the individual with the public life of the Party.

In his book on Party Ethics, Solts conceived of the Party as a self-policing collective, where every Bolshevik would scrutinize and criticize his comrades' private motives and behaviour. In this way, he imagined, the individual Bolshevik would come to know himself through the eyes of the Party. Yet in reality this mutual surveillance did just the opposite: it encouraged people to present themselves as conforming to Soviet ideals whilst concealing their true selves in a secret private sphere. Such dissimulation would become widespread in the Soviet system, which demanded the display of loyalty and punished the expression of dissent. During the terror of the 1930s, when secrecy and deception became necessary survival strategies for almost everyone in the Soviet Union, a whole new type of personality and society arose. But this double-life was already a reality for large sections of the population in the 1920s, especially for Party families, who lived in the public eye, and those whose social background or beliefs made them vulnerable to repression. People learned to wear a mask and act the role of loyal Soviet citizens, even if they lived by other principles in the privacy of their own home.

Talk was dangerous in this society. Family conversations repeated outside the home could lead to arrest and imprisonment. Children were the main source of danger.... The playground, especially, was a breeding ground of informers....

Many families did lead a double life. They celebrated Soviet public holidays like 1 May and 7 November (Revolution Day) and conformed to the regime's atheist ideology, yet still observed their religious faith in the privacy of their own home.... The secret observance of religious rituals occurred even in Party families. Indeed it was quite common, judging from a report by the Central Control Commission which revealed that almost half the members expelled from the Party in 1925 had been purged because of religious observance. There were numerous Party households where Christ rubbed shoulders with the Communist ideal, and Lenin's portrait was displayed together with the family icons in the 'red' or 'holy' corner of the living room.

The nanny, another carrier of traditional Russian values within the Soviet family, was a natural ally of the grandmother. Nannies were employed by many urban families, especially in households where both parents worked. There was an almost limitless supply of nannies from the countryside, particularly after 1928, when millions of peasants fled into the cities to escape collectivization, and they brought with them the customs and beliefs of the peasantry.

Virtually all the Bolsheviks employed nannies to take care of their children. It was a practical necessity for most Party women, at least until the state provided universal nursery care, because they went out to work. In many Party families the nanny acted as a moral counterweight to the household's ruling Soviet attitudes. Ironically the most senior Bolsheviks tended to employ the most expensive nannies, who generally held reactionary opinions.
I have a hard time conveying to people who've never experienced it what life is really like in a totalitarian dictatorship—whether communist or theocratic, it matters not. To academics, I like to say that the level of paranoia is as if everyone is constantly under evaluation for tenure, but can never be sure the evaluation period is over. Few are more paranoid than pretenure academics whose future careers ride on the outcome. But the passage cited above suggests another parallel. It's as if everyone is constantly running for political office and can become the object of oppo research by anyone who resents them for whatever reason, whether real or imagined.

The other side of the coin in totalitarian societies is the rare friendship that allows you to puncture the public tatemae and get to each other's inner honne, even when you know your treasured friend (or lover, as in Orwell's 1984) may have to betray you to placate those who can do real harm to both of you. The shared danger of revealing one's apostasy heightens the sense of intimacy, as does your appreciation of the duress that leads your intimates eventually to betray either you or themselves. Is it all that different among candidates and their staff in electoral democracies?

06 March 2008

St. Olaf Website on Hidden Christians in Japan

Japanese Bible verseIn 2006, Brendan Eagan put together an impressive online documentary on the history of Kakure (Hidden) Christians in Japan, based on firsthand interviews and site visits in southern Japan by a team from St. Olaf College in Minnesota. Here are links to the Statement of Purpose, Historical Overview, Photographs, and Interview Transcripts.

via The Marmot's Hole

04 March 2008

Spreading Chinese Reforms in Africa

The cover story of the March issue of Prospect magazine is China's new intelligentsia by Mark Leonard. Although interesting in its own right, the part that most grabbed my attention was China's attempts to export its economic reforms, especially to Africa.
In February 2007, Hu Jintao proudly announced the creation of a new special economic zone complete with the usual combination of export subsidies, tax breaks and investments in roads, railways and shipping. However, this special economic zone was in the heart of Africa—in the copper-mining belt of Zambia. China is transplanting its growth model into the African continent by building a series of industrial hubs linked by rail, road and shipping lanes to the rest of the world. Zambia will be home to China's "metals hub," providing the People's Republic with copper, cobalt, diamonds, tin and uranium. The second zone will be in Mauritius, providing China with a "trading hub" that will give 40 Chinese businesses preferential access to the 20-member state common market of east and southern Africa stretching from Libya to Zimbabwe, as well as access to the Indian ocean and south Asian markets. The third zone—a "shipping hub"—will probably be in the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam. Nigeria, Liberia and the Cape Verde islands are competing for two other slots. In the same way that eastern Europe was changed by a competition to join the EU, we could see Africa transformed by the competition to attract Chinese investment.

As it creates these zones, Beijing is embarking on a building spree, criss-crossing the African continent with new roads and railways—investing far more than the old colonial powers ever did. Moreover, China's presence is changing the rules of economic development. The IMF and the World Bank used to drive the fear of God into government officials and elected leaders, but today they struggle to be listened to even by the poorest countries of Africa. The IMF spent years negotiating a transparency agreement with the Angolan government only to be told hours before the deal was due to be signed, in March 2004, that the authorities in Luanda were no longer interested in the money: they had secured a $2bn soft loan from China. This tale has been repeated across the continent—from Chad to Nigeria, Sudan to Algeria, Ethiopia and Uganda to Zimbabwe.

But the spread of the Chinese model goes far beyond the regions that have been targeted by Chinese investors. Research teams from middle-income and poor countries from Iran to Egypt, Angola to Zambia, Kazakhstan to Russia, India to Vietnam and Brazil to Venezuela have been crawling around the Chinese cities and countryside in search of lessons from Beijing's experience. Intellectuals such as Zhang Weiying and Hu Angang have been asked to provide training for them. Scores of countries are copying Beijing's state-driven development using public money and foreign investment to build capital-intensive industries. A rash of copycat special economic zones have been set up all over the world—the World Bank estimates that over 3,000 projects are taking place in 120 countries. Globalisation was supposed to mean the worldwide triumph of the market economy, but China is showing that state capitalism is one of its biggest beneficiaries.
States are among the worst robber barons on earth, but if state capitalism can build wealth that improves the lives of state citizens, I'm all for it.

via Arts & Letters Daily

03 March 2008

Marksena, the Little Red Princess

From The Whisperers: Private Lives in Stalin's Russia, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2007), pp. 11-13 (reviewed here and here):
Anna Karpitskaia and her husband Pyotr Nizovtsev were high-ranking Party activists in Leningrad (as Petrograd was called after Lenin's death). They lived in a private apartment near the Smolny Institute with their three children, including Marksena,* Anna's daughter from her first marriage, who was born in 1923. Marksena rarely saw her parents, who left for work before she awoke in the morning and returned very late at night. 'I felt the lack of a mother's attention,' recalls Marksena, 'and was always jealous of children whose mothers did not work.' In the absence of their parents the children were placed in the care of two servants, a housekeeper and a cook, both peasant women who had recently arrived from the countryside. However, as the eldest child, from the age of four, as far as she recalls, Marksena had 'complete authority and responsibility for the household'. The cook would ask her what to make for dinner and ask her for the money to buy food from a special store reserved for Party officials. Marksena would report to her mother if the servants broke the household rules, 'or if they did something I didn't think was right', but more often, she recalls, 'I would tell them off myself if they did anything I did not like.' Marksena felt responsible—she understood that it suited her mother to leave her in charge—and accepted this as natural: 'My mother made it clear that what went on at home was no concern of hers, and I never questioned this.'

Brought up to reflect the values of the new society, Marksena was a child of 1917. She was regarded by her parents as a 'small comrade'. She had no toys, no space of her own where she could play freely as a child. 'My parents treated me as an equal and spoke to me as an adult,' recalls Marksena. 'I was taught from an early age to be independent and to do everything for myself.' On her first morning at primary school, when she was only seven, her mother walked her to the school and told her to memorize the route—a complex journey of nearly three kilometres—so that she could walk home on her own that afternoon. 'From that day on, I always walked to school,' recalls Marksena. 'It never crossed my mind that anyone should walk with me.' Marksena bought all her own books and stationery from a shop in the city centre which took her an hour to reach by foot. From the age of eight she was going to the theatre on her own, using the pass her parents had for Party officials which let her sit in one of the boxes by the side of the stalls. 'No one ever told me what to do,' recalls Marksena. 'I brought myself up on my own.'

Marksena's parents were distant figures in her life. Even during holidays, they would travel on their own to one of the resorts for Party officials in the Crimea, leaving the children in Leningrad. Her parents did, however, impose their ideological rigidities, which Marksena recalls as a source of annoyance. Her mother would reprimand her for reading Pushkin and Tolstoy instead of the didactic books for children favoured by the Party, such as Vladimir Obruchev's scientific adventure Land of Sannikov (1926) or The Republic of Shkid (1927) by Grigorii Belykh and Aleksei Panteleyev, a story about homeless orphans sent to school in Leningrad, both of which were brought home by Anna and dutifully read by Marksena but then put in a cupboard and forgotten. Marksena was forbidden by her mother to invite friends home from school, because, she said, it was better that they did not see how comfortably the Party's leaders lived—albeit modestly and in a Spartan style—compared with their families. She was very seldom praised or given compliments by her parents, and almost never kissed or held. Her only source of affection was her grandmother, who looked after her when she was ill. 'I liked going to her house,' remembers Marksena. 'She paid me lots of attention. She taught me how to sew, how to thread a bead necklace. She had toys for me and even bought me a little wooden toy kitchen, which she set up in the corner of her room, where I liked to play.'

An absence of parental affection was described by many children born to Party families after 1917. In this respect the child-rearing customs of the Soviet elite were not that different from those of the nineteenth-century Russian aristocracy, which took little interest in the nursery and left the children, from their earliest days, in the care of nannies, maids and other household servants.
*After Marx and Engels—one of many Soviet names made up from the annals of the Revolution after 1917. Other common 'Soviet' names included: Vladlen (Vladimir Lenin), Engelina, Ninel, Marlen (for Marx and Lenin) and Melor (for Marx, Engels, Lenin and October Revolution).

02 March 2008

Braille Family Resemblances and Mutations

Matt's recent post on No-sword about Japanese Braille prompted me to look at other varieties, all of which derive in one way or another from the system first invented in France between 1821 and 1825 by Louis Braille (1809-1852), who was himself inspired by a more complex system of night-writing designed to allow military units to communicate in the dark without betraying their positions.

All varieties of Braille render the characters of their respective languages in a six-dot matrix (or did until until recently); all are read from left to right, even in Hebrew; all use word-spacing, even in Chinese and Japanese; and all tend to place diacritic characters before the characters they modify.

14 0_ 0_ 00
25 __ 0_ __
36 __ __ __
EN: a b c

14 __ 0_ __ 0_ __ 00 _0 0_ _0 0_ _0 00
25 __ __ __ 0_ __ __ _0 __ _0 0_ _0 __
36 _0 __ _0 __ _0 __ 00 __ 00 __ 00 __
EN: A B C 1 2 3
= cap-a cap-b cap-c num-a num-b num-c

In English, the same formation of dots can represent either a letter or a number, depending on the preceding context. Each formation can also serve as a contraction, so that b = be, c = can, d = do, e = every, f = from, j = just, l = like, v = very, and so on.

The designers of Japanese Braille (点字) retained the letter = number equivalency, marking numbers with the same prefix, but introduced some genetic mutations to adapt to the kana syllabary. They redefined a b c d e as the vowels a i u e o, which is how everyone nowadays begins to recite the kana syllabary. The dots for these five letters are confined to positions 1-2-4 (a = 1, i = 1+2, u = 1+4, e = 1+2+4, o = 2+4), leaving positions 3-5-6 to render the consonant on each syllable, so that k = 6, s = 5+6, t = 3+5, n = 3, h = 3+6, m = 3+5+6, r = 5. The syllable n is written as m without any vowel in positions 1-2-4.

There are no capital letters in Japanese kana, but the same method is used to add the dakuten and handakuten marks to following consonants: a prefix with a dot in position 6 is used to transform h- into p-, while a prefix with a dot in position 5 is used as a to transform voiceless initials into their voiced equivalents.
14   0_   0_   00
25 __ 0_ __
36 00 00 00
JP: ha hi hu

14 __ 0_ __ 0_ __ 00 __ 0_ __ 0_ __ 00
25 __ __ __ 0_ __ __ _0 __ _0 0_ _0 __
36 _0 00 _0 00 _0 00 __ 00 __ __ __ __
JP: pa pi pu ba bi bu
= '-ha '-hi '-hu ''-ha ''-hi ''-hu

Braille takes up a lot of space, so its regular users rely a lot on contractions. (There's also a kind of Braille shorthand.) The word Braille itself is usually written with just the letters B-r-l. These contractions can have different meanings even in closely related members of the Braille family, like French and English. For instance, the French circumflex vowels are rendered by adding an extra dot in position six (which I will show as ^) to the first five letters of the alphabet, so â = a+^ (1+6), ê = b+^ (1+2+6), î = c+^ (1+4+6), ô = d+^ (1+4+5+6), and û = e+^ (1+5+6). (The filled dot 6 also adds a circumflex to Esperanto versions of Braille.) In English, these same contractions respectively indicate ch/child, gh, sh, th/this, and wh/which.

English double letters are contracted and rendered within a single cell by a different method: shifting the position of the dots but retaining their shape. Thus, the dots for b/but occupy positions 1+2, while bb drops to positions 2+3; c/can sits at 1+4, while cc drops to 2+5; d/do sits at 1+4+5, while dd drops to 2+5+6; and g/go sits at 1+2+4+5, while gg drops to 2+3+5+6.

A similar principle plays a key role in Korean Braille, invented in 1894 by a Canadian missionary who introduced some radical (and brilliant) mutations to adapt it to the (equally brilliant) Korean alphabet. Korean vowels occupy their own cells, while some diphthongs take up two cells. The letterㅏ(a) occupies dots 1+2+6, whileㅑ(ya) occupies its mirror image, dots 3+4+5. Similarly,ㅓ(eo) at 2+3+4 is a mirror image ofㅕ(yeo) at 1+5+6; ㅗ (o) at 1+3+6 is a mirror image ofㅛ (yo) at 4+3+6; ㅜ (u) at 1+4+3 is a mirror image ofㅠ (yu) at 1+4+6; and ㅡ (eu) at 2+4+6 is a mirror image ofㅣ(i) at 1+3+5.

The possible syllable structures of Korean are too numerous to fit into a six-dot matrix, so Korean syllables are written sequentially, typically (C)V(C), just as in French or English. In order to avoid putting spaces around each syllable, so that readers can distinguish initial from final consonants, Korean braille has two versions of every consonant, one for initial position, the other for final. Each consonant has the same shape in each position, but the one in final position is either lower than its initial counterpart or a mirror image.

Thus,ㄴ(n) occupies dots 1+4 if initial, but drops to 2+5 if final; ㄷ(d) occupies dots 2+4 if initial, but drops to 3+5 if final; andㅁ(m) occupies dots 1+5 if initial, but drops to 2+6 if final. Meanwhile, mirror-image consonants don't drop, they flip:ㄱ(g) flips from dot 4 in initial position to dot 1 in final position; whileㄹ(r) flips from dot 5 to dot 3; andㅂ(b) flips from dots 4+5 to dots 1+2. As a result, Korean 점자 'dot characters' display the same kinds of symmetry and inversion that the Korean alphabet itself displays.

Chinese Braille comes in at least two flavors, Cantonese and Mandarin. Both represent Chinese characters in three cells, one for the onset, the second for the rime, and the third for the tone, just as in Zhuyin/Bopomofo. In practice, however, tone is frequently left unmarked, generating a good deal of ambiguity. Perhaps the new system designed in the 1970s, which represents all three components in just two cells, will eventually solve that problem.

UPDATE: Matt has added a new post about attempts to render Japanese kanji in Braille. The more complicated method is geared to the shape of the kanji and requires two extra dots in each cell. The other method uses three six-dot cells per kanji. The first cell broadly classifies the type of character to follow, the second gives one mora of the Sino-Japanese reading of the character, and the third gives one mora of the native Japanese reading of the character. The second method strikes me as akin to the structural division of many written kanji into one part that broadly classifies the semantic domain, and another that indicates the (Sino-Japanese) sound value. The combination of native and Sinitic reading is also how Koreans routinely distinguish similar-sounding Chinese characters. It's as if English speakers routinely distinguished similar-sounding Latin roots by saying 'foot-ped-' vs. 'child-ped-'. The typical Japanese strategy, by contrast, is to cite a well-known compound in which the kanji occurs, just as English-speakers might distinguish 'ped- as in pedestrian' from 'ped- as in pediatrics'.