Saturday, July 17, 2021

Collapse of System of Translating Non-Russian Writers Forcing More of Them to Write in Russian, Akhmedov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 11 – Younger writers in Daghestan say they feel compelled to write in Russian rather than in their native national languages because under current conditions, there is little chance their works will be translated and thus reach a larger audience, according to Magomed Akhmedov, head of the Union of Writers of Daghestan.

            If these writers “were certain that they would be translated and published in Russian,” Russian journalist Aleksey Polubota adds, “it is possible they would be able to publish the originals not in [Russian] but in their ethnic languages,” thus helping these languages to survive (

            This exchange about the ways in which the center is restricting money for translations of the work of non-Russian writers emerged in discussions at a meeting on translations of the Union of Writers of Russia that took place at the end of last month in Daghestan, a meeting that generated an appeal to the Kremlin to change course.

            That letter, the full text of which has not yet been published, addressed just one part of this issue; but in doing so, it pulled back the curtain that has been concealing yet another way in which the Putin regime has been working to destroy non-Russian languages while boosting all things Russian.

            Specifically, the letter attacked the Institute for Translations that was set up by the Federal Printing and Mass Communications Agency a decade ago. That body was supposed to focus on the translation of non-Russian writers into Russian and Russian writers into non-Russian languages but in fact has focused on translating Russian works into foreign tongues.

            This breakdown in what had been an active program in Soviet times of translating non-Russian writers into Russian and Russian writers into non-Russian languages of the country means that it is now impossible for non-Russians to read many contemporary Russian writers and for Russians to read contemporary non-Russian ones.

            Yevgeny Reznichenko, the director of the Institute for Translations, has responded; and his response shows that this shift has less to do with his institute’s decisions than with the allocation of budgetary funds by the government and with Moscow having concluded that if the non-Russians want their writers translated, the regions not the center should pay for that.

            Initially, Reznichenko says, his institute was intended to be a Russian analogue of Germany’s Goethe Institute or Spain’s Cervantes Institute and promote Russian writers abroad. But then it was told to focus as well on translating Russian writers into domestic non-Russian languages and non-Russian writers into Russian.

            His institute does what it can but there isn’t enough money to do everything, he said; and he added ominously to non-Russian ears that “the translation of Russian literature into foreign languages is a task of the federal level and the federal level but national literatures must be helped by the budgets of the regions.”

            In short, if the non-Russian republics want their literature translated, they need to pay for it, something few of them have enough money for given the other unfunded responsibilities the central government has laid upon them. Some better off republics like Tatarstan and Chechnya may be able to do something, but most of the others can’t.

            In taking this position, Moscow is putting even more pressure on the intellectual elites of the non-Russian nations to use Russian rather than their native languages in their writings, something that will stunt the growth of non-Russian literature and contribute to a further decline in the use of non-Russian languages in Russia today. 

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