Thursday, January 10, 2019

Some Muscovites Talk about a Non-Existent Language and a Non-Existent Place in Russia Beyond the Ring Road

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 10 – It is a measure of the ignorance of Muscovites about Russia beyond the ring road that a prominent journalist has referred to the “Marielsky” language rather than Mari as spoken in the Mari El Republic and to “Petrozavodsk Oblast” even though no such place exists on the map.

A Russian blogger points to the first of these as evidence of the low quality of journalists who think that “in Mari El live Marieltsy” (, and the Region.Expert portal notes the second, adding that “for the capital of the empire, all the surrounding country is an exotic Terra Incognita” (

This of course recalls Saul Steinberg’s 1976  New Yorker cover showing the US and the world the way residents of that city view the world, with much of their own country reduced to “flyover” land; but it is especially sad given Muscovites’ view of themselves as better than that (

The Russian beyond the ring road that many Muscovites  and even more non-Russians know about is an extremely diverse place that challenges many of the assumptions often made by Russians and others sitting in the capital even if they don’t make such glaring errors as calling the language of Mari El “Marielsky.:

Indeed, each week brings a rich harvest of stories about this other Russia, stories that are not only interesting in and of themselves but instructive about the territories and peoples included with the current borders of the Russian Federation.  Among them, these five stand out on the wires in the last few days alone:

1.      Thirty-six thousand of the villages still designated on official maps of the Russian Federation  have one resident or fewer, of which 20,000 have no people in them at all (

2.      Russians sometimes fuse with other peoples and even identify as a new group rather than simply as members of a territorial community, an indication that assimilatory pressures can work both ways and not always in the Russian direction (

3.      Regions and republics want to have a voice and to play a role on the borders of the Russian Federation rather than simply being the executors for Moscow policy (, and many of them  have the resources necessary to insist.

4.      Some 4700 households in a single oblast (Penza) are too poor to be able to purchase a new television capable of receiving digital signals. As a result, they will be without television for the foreseeable future unless the government comes up with funds (

5.      And while the central government in Moscow is aging right along with Vladimir Putin, many of the regional and republic governments are filled with young people, many of whom are likely to be around and perhaps play a role at the center after its current denizens leave the scene (

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