The outreach of the Russian language and interest in the Russian culture is growing worldwide. After the horrific discrimination to which Russian language was subjected in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldavia, and lately, in Ukraine, I am glad that Russian Ministry of Education and Science, previously often criticized for inactivity and inertia, is finally starting to make bold moves in the right direction.
I love this wonderful new initiative, whose popularity seems to be mushrooming nationally and internationally! Check it out!
Today, April 16, 2016, as dawn reached various cities and countries, scores took the voluntary Russian language exam. It began in the Far East and as the sun rose, it spread all over the globe. Regardless of age, education, occupation and nationality, people challenged themselves to test their grammar and ability to write in Russian. They took it on Russian subs and icebreakers, on planes and while on an exotic nature tour, in Moscow, Estonia, Japan and China…
This is a new Russian tradition, born a few years ago in Novosibirsk, Western Siberia. It’s called : ‘Totalny Diktant’ – Russian: “Тотальный диктант,” and its popularity is taking over the world. Language diktant in itself is a very old, tried and true Russian educational tradition, which stood the test of time for centuries, and perhaps, millennia.
Diktant is translated to English as: ‘Written exam during which a teacher, or designated reader, reads aloud the secretly pre-selected text to a class (sealed envelope containing text is opened in front of students). Each student listens and writes it down verbatim, while attempting not to make any mistakes. The exam is fully handwritten. What is tested: general erudition and literary language comprehension, attention span, fast reaction (you have to keep up with the speed of dictation), grammar, spelling and punctuation.’
Phew… out of breath just trying to describe in English the meaning of the little Russian word диктант.
‘Totalny Diktant’ is organized by the Russian Ministry of Education and Science. Organizers say that all top ‘students’ – everyone who makes only one mistake or zero mistakes – will receive prizes.
Totalny Diktant, in other words, ‘the total diktant,’ is so named because it is an all-encompassing simultaneous event, whose geography and outreach keep growing.
Here is a brief video with some of the exotic geography and broad outreach of today’s event – time stamps and my explanations/translation underneath the video.
At 0:25: totalny diktant taken by seamen serving on nuclear icebreaker Yamal, Murmansk; 1:00 sailors of the training tall ship Pallada, en route to Japan.
At 1:15: Listvianka village, Lake Baikal, Siberia – local adults and tourists writing their diktant at school desks. 1:20: Kungur, Permsky Krai – extreme Total Diktant: tourists write it in the wilderness of the ancient ice caves, with candles and lots of warm clothes. 1:30 Krasnoyarsk, Siberia – cozy setting of the local bar kinda clashes with this year’s diktant topic: ancient civilizations. 😉
1:40 Novosibirsk University – the birthplace of Totalny Diktant. This year’s topic and text were developed here.
At 1:50 Moscow – in this college diktant is read by Russian Minister of Education and Science, Dmitry Livanov.
Total Diktant this year is taken on all continents: Europe, Asia, Africa, S. and N. America, Australia and Antarctica. Total number of diktant venues: 2185, almost twice as many as in 2015.
At 2:18 Tallinn, Estonia – diktant gathered a record 2000 people, who packed the entire national hockey arena.
2:30 Diktant in the sky: flight Novosibirsk – Moscow.
2:36 – Totalny Diktant in China: “Russian language challenges for the Chinese: hard to tell ‘b’ from ‘p’, as well as ‘a’ and ‘o’ in those cases when they are with, or without, accent.”
2:52 Largest number of participants were in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In the two capitals the diktant text was read by famous actors, politicians, scientists and artists.
The total diktant was followed by live TV/internet guidance, with detailed tips and analysis of common mistakes.
3:30 One of the many unusual venues: Donskoy Men’s Monastery, the text read personally by Father Superior.
3:45 Pushkin, St. Petersburg venue – text read by Sergei Naryshkin, Speaker of the Russian Duma.
4:00 Japanese and Chinese students in Vladivostock, the Far East.
4/17/16 Received a question where to find info on Totalny Diktantand and who can participate.
This is a voluntary global initiative, no restrictions on age or nationality. You can do it in any country, as long as you can write in Russian. As I said, this year the exam was taken on every continent. For those interested in participating or organizing it in your city next year, here is the site. The site also includes Russian language tutorials, and as far as I understand, you can also take the diktant online. Check it out and good luck!
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Posts in this series appear under category Ask Lada
For the new Ask Lada episode, I chose the following question.
In response to my latest video: WHO REALLY RULED USSR? The Secret of Brezhnev’s Passport
Lada’s Guide to the 85 Subjects of the Russian Federation
If located in the densely populated European part, oblast in size could be between a US state and county. It’s typically bigger than any US county, but sometimes smaller than a state. If it’s located in Siberia, it tends to be bigger than many of the world’s countries.
Sometimes oblast is incorrectly translated as a ‘region.’
Russia’s administrative structure is federative, which means that there is a federative agreement between various parts of the country. This is due to the multi-national, multi-confessional and multi-cultural composition of Russia. In fact, Russia is the most multi-national country in the world, with about 100 nationalities living on its territory. It is also one of the few truly multi-confessional countries, although the main religion is considered Russian Orthodoxy.
Presently, Russian Federation has 85 subjects, including the latest two: Crimea and Sevastopol (the map below is several years old and doesn’t include them).
Many, but not all, of the 85 federation subjects are oblasts. Oblasts are generally the predominantly and traditionally Russian-populated territories within Russia, directly subordinate to the capital, Moscow. Most oblasts, with a couple of exceptions, have a large central city as their capital. Usually, oblasts are called by the name of the capital city.
Example of an important oblast without a large central city is Moskovskaya Oblast (area around Moscow – excluding Moscow proper, which is a separate subject of the Federation). Examples of oblasts headed by large cities: Lipetskaya Oblast (capital Lipetsk) and Voronezhskaya Oblast (capital city of Voronezh), both in central Russia; Novosibirskaya Oblast in Western Siberia (capital Novosibirsk).
Another administrative subdivision in addition to oblast is kray. A great example is Krasnodarsky Kray, which includes some of the most fertile agricultural lands in Russia, as well as the famous Black Sea resorts, such as Sochi. Kray (krai) means a parcel of land, or alternatively, ‘the end, edge or outskirts.’ Incidentally, the word Ukraine ‘ u-krai-na’ is a derivative of the word kray.
Black Sea resort of Sochi (Sochi Winter Olympics 2014 venue), Krasnodarsky Kray
Normally, krays are those lands where the cossacks traditionally settle. They were given land and special rights by the Russian Empire, and later, by the Russian Federation. Their administration was a little different. Kray is often bigger than oblast, although some are comparable in size and population. Other examples are Krasnoyarsky Kray in Eastern Siberia (capital Krasnoyarsk) and Dalnevostochniy Kray (the Far Eastern Kray).
Beautiful Lake Baikal, Eastern Siberia. Shared administratively by Irkutsk Oblast to the west and Buryatskaya Autonomous Republic (Buryatia) to the east.
Next, there are autonomous oblast, autonomous okrugs, and autonomous republics.
Autonomous oblast and autonomous okrugs are governed much like any other oblast, but they have more of an ethnic flavor, with more school subjects in small native languages, celebration of small ethnic cultures, etc. There are a few autonomous okrugs, but only one Jewish Autonomous Oblast (capital Birobidjan). They all are in Siberia, Far East and the European north, where small native populations reside. As I said in previous articles, their heritage is meticulously preserved.
Incidentally, the word ‘native cultures’ is a misnomer – the situation in Russia was completely different from that of the USA or Australia. However, since we don’t have a different word to express this notion in English, I am still utilizing it for the ease of reference.
Although there is a lot of debate about this, presently, the governor of any oblast, autonomy or kray is elected locally. There are a lot of voices advocating that all governors should be appointed by the Russian President.
It has to be noted that the territory of the krays, oblasts and okrugs in Siberia and the Far East are larger than most countries. Meanwhile, the population of these is usually very small.
Autonomous republics are a whole different thing. They have their own head of state, called president or something else. A good example is Ramzan Kadyrov in Chechnya. There is a big debate whether it’s appropriate for an autonomous republic’s head to be called president, since there can be only one Russian President. I believe Kadyrov himself raised this issue and said he wouldn’t call himself ‘president,’ choosing instead the title of the ‘Head of the Chechen Autonomous Republic.’ Meanwhile, Tatarskaya Autonomous Republic (Tatarstan) and Bashkortostan preserve the title of president. As we see, autonomous republics have a lot of say in how they self-govern.
Regardless of size, autonomous republics are those that have a predominantly or partially different population than ethnic Russians. Usually the core population is Muslim and they are mostly concentrated around the Black Sea/Caucasus and Volga/Urals regions. Exceptions are in Siberia, such as Buryatia, which is Buddhist, not Muslim.
Each autonomous republic has its own state language (together with Russian), own flag, troops and anthem. Their chain of command is different. First they respond to their own head of autonomy, who also has more pull and influence over local laws. Only then they respond to the federal center.
In addition to Chechnya, some other well-known autonomous republics are: Crimea (capital Simferopol), Tatarstan on Volga (capital Kazan), Bashkortostan (capital Ufa). There is also Dagestan in Caucasus, Buryatia near Lake Baikal in Siberia, etc.
Moscow, capital of Russia, city of federal significance
Finally, Russian Federation has 3 cities that do not belong to any oblast, kray or autonomy. Instead, they are separate subjects of the federation, answering directly to the Russian President, aka, ‘cities of federal significance.’
These are: Moscow (governed separately from Moskovskaya Oblast), St. Petersburg (also separate from the surrounding Leningradskaya Oblast). The newest city of federal significance is Sevastopol, base of the Russian Black Sea fleet, which is governed separately from the Crimean Autonomous Republic.
St. Petersburg (former Leningrad), city of federal significance
(More data can be found on Wikipedia.)
A bit of history
Russian Federation was established by Lenin in 1918-22. The structure remains very similar since then. In addition to the largest republic called the Russian Federation (Rossiyskaya Federatsia), USSR consisted of 14 other republics (15 in total), some of which had only oblasts and others, autonomies as well.
Before the Soviet Union, the Russian Empire existed within the borders of the USSR, plus several other, presently independent countries, such as Finland and Poland. The Russian Empire’s administrative borders were very similar to the present day oblasts, krays and autonomies, plus the former Soviet republics. However, there were no formal autonomies, although local style of governorship, customs and laws were honored. Each territory was formally called ‘guberniya,’ meaning governorship. Each governor was appointed by the Russian Emperor.
The situation in former Soviet republics
Incidentally, the now independent countries of Ukraine and Belarus both consist exclusively of oblasts. They have no autonomies or krays. Moldova has oblasts and one autonomy – Gagauzia (population: Orthodox Turks), which threatens to secede any moment, preferring to join Russia. Pridnestrovie seceded formally from Moldova, trying to re-join Russia for the past 23 years. Georgia lost its 2 autonomies, Abkhazia and S. Ossetia, after having mistreated their population.
Of course, Crimea seceded from Ukraine to join Russia. Donbass (Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts) has also de-facto seceded from Ukraine, although the civil war so far rages on.
Ukraine is refusing to adopt federative structure, insisting it is a unitarian country, although many forces inside and out push Ukraine towards federalization. Kiev authorities rightly feel they would swiftly lose their grip on power, should federalization occur.
While ethnically and linguistically extremely close, ideologically and culturally Ukraine has one of the most diverse populations. For such situation as in Ukraine, it seems federalization is the only solution in order to keep peace. But then the question immediately becomes: why be separate from Russia? Kiev rightfully fears that once Russian language is officially recognized as official, all of East and South of Ukraine will recall their Russian roots and ask to be re-united with Russia.
At the same time, parts of western Ukraine may drift off to Hungary, Slovakia or Poland. The danger is very high of the artificial state of Ukraine – created within present borders by Soviet leaders Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev – disintegrating at the seams.
From the above we can see that in the post-Soviet space only Russia is able to keep its extremely diverse and multi-cultural population working together in peace and stability.
Watch new video: WHO REALLY RULED USSR? The Secret of Brezhnev’s Passport
Everyone in the world knows the famous Trans-Siberian Railroad (Trans-Sib), built in the 19th century and connecting Europe through the expanse of Siberia, along the southern shore of Lake Baikal, to the Pacific Ocean and China.
Old rails along the shore of the pristine Lake Baikal
Old railroad tunnel, Baikal
But few abroad know about another, equally famous in Russia, railroad called the simple abbreviation, BAM. BAM means Baikal-Amur Railway, or in Russian: Байкало-Амурская магистраль.
It is also called Baikal–Amur Mainline. “The Baikal–Amur Mainline is a 1,520 mm broad gauge railway line in Russia. Traversing Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East, the 4,324 km long BAM runs about 610 to 770 km north of and parallel to the Trans-Siberian railway.” Wikipedia
Map of BAM and Trans-Siberian Railroad. BAM is in green and orange. Trans-Sib is in red.
The construction of BAM began 40 years ago today, July 8. It was dubbed the ‘construction of the century.’ Many young enthusiastic people moved to Siberia to build this railroad. The excitement was tremendous, reminiscent of the earlier Soviet industrialization years. The young people formed many of the so-called ‘stroy otriad,’ which means a ‘construction band’ as in ‘a band of brothers and sisters,’ and would go together to the cold Siberia. After they had completed the construction, they would often stay there, start a family and man the railroad they had helped build.
I remember some pretty awesome songs that were written especially for BAM. Here is one of them. It is called Яростный стройотряд, 1979 – The Roaring Construction Band. This video contains some authentic photos from that period. Performed by the legendary Alexander Gradsky and well-worth listening to! Gradsky has one of the best voices you would ever hear – I promise; and the song is cool, too. I’ve translated a couple of verses:
I’m the fresh wind, the soaring flame,
And it’s our time, my friends.
I wish us luck on our quest
To save ourselves from the indifference.
The joyful tune of the guitars,
A roaring construction band,
As if a fire in the steppes,
The campfires of songs ablaze.
Have a listen:
In the 19th century, the Russian Empire had plans to build the railroad covering the northern part of Lake Baikal and Eastern Siberia and running parallel to the Trans-Siberian. This was a super-ambitious project as such railroad would go through the wild permafrost lands that no man had ever traversed. The project never materialized.
Only in the second part of the 20th century USSR dared it again. On July 8, 1974 the very first rail was set into Siberian permafrost, and BAM was born. Baikal-Amur Railroad went parallel to the Trans-Siberian, but much further north, by the northern shore of Lake Baikal and further into the Far East, towards the Amur River.
BAM was finished before 1991. At that point, USSR collapsed and the new rulers decided BAM was a waste of time and money. The ambitious project was criticized and maligned. BAM was neglected and its enthusiastic, but aging population was forgotten.
However, the times have changed. On July 8, 2014 Russia has celebrated the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the famous construction by starting a new, even more ambitious, line of the BAM railroad.
Vladimir Putin has announced that Russia will spend over $150 bln in order to add another 7,000 kilometers of rails to BAM by 2030. This will complete the railway coverage of the entire Far East. The money for the new mega-project comes out of the Russian reserve fund (specifically, the Russian Commonwealth Fund), which until recently Russia invested in the US Treasuries.
This effectively signals 3 very important things:
1. Russia’s ambitions are back – this is the signal that the country expects growth and robust development.
2. Russia is confirming its Asia pivot – as I’ve been predicting since February 2014. BAM connects Trans-Siberian and Baikal with the Far East/Pacific Ocean and various points in Asia and Siberia. This includes the resource-rich points of the north, as well as potential hard-to-reach tourist destinations.
3. Russia re-affirms that it will stop the silly practice of financing US dollar (which is a form of economic slavery) and will instead use its hard-earned reserves to finance projects inside the country. Finally – it’s about time!
This is a massive shift, and yet another confirmation that the US dollar is approaching its point of no return!
Below is Putin’s Skype with BAM engineers and railroad workers for the 40-year anniversary of BAM. He congratulates them with the anniversary and talks about the $150 bln investment at 13:10. Towards the end, the new leg of BAM is symbolically initiated:
What BAM looks like today – report from the BAM capital, Tinda starts at 0:30 (includes some historic footage from 1970s). Map of BAM starts at 1:34:
Another map of BAM and Trans-Siberian Railroad here.
More awesome pics of Sacred Lake Baikal: THE EARTH SHIFTER Mystical Setting: Lake Baikal, Siberia
from THE EARTH SHIFTER