The Volokh Conspiracy

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Russian Comment of the Year

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I wrote a few months ago, under the title "Everything Old Is New Again, Ukraine War Edition," about prominent Russian singer Boris Grebenshchikov singing, on occasion of the Ukraine war, a 105-year-old antiwar song by Alexander Vertinsky. The closing stanza was,

And no-one thought simply to kneel
And to tell these boys, that in this talentless nation
Even bright feats of valor are only steps
Into the endless abysses, to the inaccessible Spring.

A couple of days ago, I came across another song by Grebenschikov, called "Истребитель"; this means "fighter plane," but I think it might also carry a more sinister shading, since the literal translation is something like "exterminator."

You can see the Russian text here; it's deliberately poetically somewhat opaque, I think, but its general tone seems to be about brutality and war and the singer's and listener's complicity with them. As one commentator noted, it's about the Russian tendency to self-extermination.

In any event, the song was written in 1996, and now Grebenshchikov is singing it again on the occasion of the latest atrocity. And, to deliver on the comment I promised in the title, it's from commenter TheMrRadiator:

Удобно, когда в твоей стране более ста лет творится одно и тоже… Один раз песню написал и она всегда актуальна…

How convenient, when in your country for more than 100 years the same thing happens over and over. Write a song once, and it's always apt.

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  1. The Russian Army was corrupt and inept 100 years ago. It is not toxic Communism, it is Russian culture.

    1. Why is there $trillion in breakage? Why are there tens of thousands of working people killed on both sides for no reason? Why is Putin not being targeted every minute of the day with real time location and attacks by drones, or by special teams of dictator hunter killers? Why? Because the vile, toxic lawyer profession is telling our weak and timid leaders that assassination of a head of state is illegal. We are sick of this evil, pestilential vermin undermining our nation from within.

      1. Why? Because the vile, toxic lawyer profession is telling our weak and timid leaders that assassination of a head of state is illegal.

        Because it would be an act of war and would invite possible nuclear retaliation.

  2. We must meet the threat with our valor, our blood, indeed with our very lives. To ensure that Western Civilization...not Russian...Dominates this world now and ALWAYS!

    1. The apparent developing strategy among the United States and its allies to isolate and weaken Russia is a great step in the proper direction.

      If Russians do not wish to (or are unable to) be part of a civilized modern world -- and long-term evidence suggests the nation and its population may not be capable of being worthwhile citizens of an advanced, progressive world -- they should be excluded from the benefits of that modernity and civilization.

      I do not sense that advanced nations and people would lose much by excluding Russia. Its population is less than half that of the United States. Its government is brutish and inept. Its economy is nondescript. It has fearsome weapons, some natural resources, and not much else.

      Bar most Russians (especially those related to the nation's leaders) from transacting with or setting foot in civilized nations; seize Russia's (and many or most Russians') foreign assets; support strenuously those whom Russia attacks; be harsh with those who support Russia (and expect a clear, reliable indication of lack of support from those who wish to be part of modern civilization).

      There are things with which one cannot reason and which one should not appease. Decades of evidence place Russia in that category, in my judgment.

      1. Artie. What about your masters, the Chinese Commie Party? All lawyers are servants of the CCP, seeking to undermine our way of life from within.

        1. Looks like the Easter Bunny brought David a basket full of autism and authoritarianism!

          1. Hi, Queenie. Zero tolerance for woke, Honey. Woke is the service of the Chinese Commie Party. Woke even uses the stale rhetoric of Mao in the 1960's to criticize the USA unfairly. All woke is to be swept away and crushed. USA, USA,USA.

          2. Now, Honey, what is your preferred pronoun. I want to use it in my letter of support for you to get the job you deserve.

  3. I can offer my attempt to translate Vertinsky's "What I am obligated to say":
    I do not know why and who ordered it so,
    who, without a qualm, sent these boys to their deaths…
    but… with such a grave shame we were letting them go
    from this cheap vicious world to their kind final rest:
    Apathetic spectators muffled up in fur-coats,
    while a wobbling young woman cried and kissed the deceased’s
    cold forehead and blue lips. She stood up, shivered, strode,
    and threw her wedding ring at the standing-by priest.
    We daubed corpses with twigs, filled the ditch with mud flow.
    We went back to warm homes, rattling-on on the way
    that, “This nonsense shall stop! Otherwise, it’ll be so
    that it might be that we have to suffer someday!”
    And yet no one knelt and, instead of more prayers,
    told those fallen young boys such a plain simple thing
    that – in this shallow land – all great feats are just stairs
    to the endless abyss of unreachable Spring.
    I do not know why and who ordered it so,
    who, without a qualm, sent these boys to their deaths…
    but… with such a grave shame we were letting them go
    from this cheap vicious world to their kind final rest.

    1. Thank you for this translation.

      1. It was so very kind of you, I am truly glad you liked it.

    1. My memory doesn't go back that long. But, it does recall that sometime in the early 1970s, or so, Danny O'Keefe wrote a song called "So Long Harry Truman." About 25 or 30 years ago, when I was non-famously performing, I used to play the song. After one set, a guy came up to me and told me that it was a fine song, but, you know, those social commentary songs, they just don't last. Chris Smither recorded a nice version a couple years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oyoVP8dEnOo

      1. Funny and sad... Galich, Vysotsky, and Okudzjava proved your commenter wrong and you right. Have a lovely evening.

  4. The politicians fight, supported by their media. And the citizens suffer. In WW II, smiling posters of "Uncle Joe" Stalin appeared all over the U.S. in post offices as our ally, even though Stalin was more terrible than Hitler. Today the news is just as biased, and the people still suffer. Comedian-dancer-actor-puppet Zelensky broadcasting sometimes from a Polish-American embassy stage-setting, against ruthless former KGB Putin.

    1. Actors have been good leaders overall, better than lawyers.

      1. Zero tolerance for tyrant collaborators.

  5. Tell the jailer not to bother
    With his meal of bread and water today
    He is fasting till the killing's over
    He's a martyr, he thinks he's a prophet
    But he's a coward, he's just playing a game
    He can't do it, he can't change it
    It's been going on for ten thousand years
    Take your place on the great mandala
    As it moves through your brief moment of time
    Win or lose now, you must choose now
    And if you lose you're only losing your life

    1. The song was written by Paul Stookey (Peter, Paul & Mary), the child of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants. Written during the Vietnam war, it now seems applicable to antiwar protesters in Russia.

      1. Sorry, Peter Yarrow, not Paul Stookey.

  6. "How convenient, when in your country for more than 100 years the same thing happens over and over. Write a song once, and it's always apt."

    Seems this applies to the United States as well....funny how that works....it is almost like the same people are operating under the same plans they dusted off after sitting rather quiet for a generation....hmmmm......

    1. It's true, today's conservatives often seem to be coming from a place from 100 years in our past.

  7. Pete Seeger's "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" is spozedly based on a passage from And Quiet Flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokhov, pub'd between 1928 and 1940.

  8. Is anyone else surprised Eugene reads YouTube comments?

    1. Very rarely.

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