Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Russians Must Insist on Distinction between “Russkiy” and “Rossiyskiy,” Writer Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 7 – Russians must maintain the distinction between “russkiy,” an ancient term referring to ethnic membership and not initially having anything to do with the state, and “rossiyskiy,” a more recent innovation referring to those who are part of a state, first in their own work at home and then in the use of these terms by those writing in foreign languages.

            In an essay posted on the portal yesterday, Yuri Serb says that Russians in both the ethnic and the political sense must understand this distinction themselves, must maintain it in their own work and in translations, and must insist that foreigners writing about the people and state of Russia follow this distinction as well (

            “It is understandable,” Serb says, “that two words, different in content and as a result of shear accident having only one foreign analogue inevitably give birth to misunderstandings, all the more so when this circumstance helps some to create ‘misunderstandings’” for their own purposes.

            A generation ago, he continues, “representatives of the Russian White Emigration in the US had occasion to protest against the use of ‘russkiy’ in a negative sense when what was referred to were purely Soviet aspects of reality and of the political practice of the USSR.” President Reagan issued an order on this, but “in fact nothing changed.”

            More recently, the Russian Federation foreign ministry “called upon the Spanish authorities and mass media to more responsibly use the word ‘russkiy’ when they are talking about the arrests of Russian-language criminals.  As a rule, these are people with citizenship in the CIS and not of Russia and also have foreign passports.”

            “For the ministry, it is not a matter of indifference when individuals who do not have any relationship to the Russian Federation are called Russians in either sense.  And for simple citizens of Russia, not diplomats, it is also not a matter of indifference when [such people who may behave badly abroad] are called Russians” when they have no connection of that kind.

            Unlike the foreign ministry, Serb writes, “citizens of Russia do not have instruments at hand to attract the attention of this or that country to the incorrect use of the word ‘russkiy.’” But educated Russians nonetheless must promote this distinction, first in their own work and then in translations or the work of their partners.

            To help in that regard, Serb offers his own dictionary entry on the appropriate and inappropriate use of these two terms in English:
“Russian adj. 1 . related to the Russian Federation as a state, or to its territory; (of persons) having the citizenship of the Russian Federation, holding a Russian passport
n. 1 . (inappropriate use) person who emigrated from the former Soviet Union
    2 . (inappropriate use) any person of Russky descent, irrespective of citizenship
Russky n. (pl. Russkie ) 1. one belonging to the most numerous people of Russia , the Ukranian Republic and Belarus (White Russia), totalling over 85 percent of population
2. the East Slavic language spoken throughout Russia and Belarus , and in most of the Ukranian Republic.”

            Similar definitions can be worked up for French, German, Spanish and other languages, he suggests and gives the following example: “The French word russe by its sound value and morphology best corresponds to our russkiy; for the translation of the meaning rossiyskiy, more suitable would be russianique, formed in complete correspondence with the laws of French word formation.”

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