I’m looking at you, Vladimir Putin

My favorite part of Obama’s inaugural speech:

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

Oh, I’m sure he could have been thinking of a lot of people, but could it be, by any chance …

… someone like this?

(I know Dmitry Medvedev is formally the president, and I think it may be true that he’s accumulating more actual power; but the suppression of dissent and the clenched fist held out to the West — those are all Putin.)

Much has been made of the fact that the Chinese media (though not all) censored Obama’s speech, excising both the above passage and the one on the U.S. fighting both fascism and communism.  But according to Russian blogger chaadaev56 (link in Russian), some of the Russian media also engaged in on-the-spot censorship.  The Vesti news program on the state-owned Rossiya channel broadcast the inauguration live but the simultaneous translation skipped the reference to dissent.  Of course, simultaneous translation usually skips part of the text — it’s difficult to keep up — but the translated excerpts from the speech posted on the program’s website were also doctored.  The Russian version says, “Those who seek power by means of corruption and deceit must know that they are on the wrong side of history.”  No reference to dissent, and “seek power” suggests that Obama is talking about people who are not currently in power.

The translation by the Interfax news agency was even curiouser: “Those who rise to power through corruption and deceit, silencing decency…”

But in this case, the fault may actually be a translator with shaky language skills who innocently mixed up the words “dissent” and “decent” (though the two words sound nothing like each other in Russian).

Another news agency, RIA News, did provide the complete translation of the passage.


Filed under Barack Obama, Russia

6 responses to “I’m looking at you, Vladimir Putin

  1. Revenant


    It translates to “if you’re an oppressive ruler we’ll think bad thoughts about you, but if you mend your ways we’ll be friendly”. I doubt Putin is losing any sleep over that. Harsh rhetoric from America might even help him, given how anti-America Russian public sentiments seems to be these days. I also doubt that telling a guy who has rehabilitated *Stalin* that he’s “on the wrong side of history” is going to impress anyone. He knows firsthand that a strong and successful leader will always enjoy some level of respect, no matter how much of a bastard he is.

    What I didn’t heard in Obama’s speech was any hint that he might favor doing something more than talk. We’ll see.

  2. Yamantaka

    I thought he could’ve been talking about Lukashenko.


  3. Leif Ericson

    You have an interesting blog. But, as someone who moved from Russia to the U.S. at a young age, I am curious: why do you get so worked up about Russia, Putin, etc.? You left that country so many years go, so why do you care. There are many authoritarian regimes in the world, including most African countries, most Middle East countries (such as Saudi Arabia, our “partner in the fight against terrorism”). Russia is not that bad, compared to those places.
    Most Russian people have voted for Putin and Medvedev. They are happy to live under a Czar. They don’t want democracy. That’s how things have been there for 1000 years. So, I am personally happy I got the hell out of there 🙂 but I don’t think I have the right to take a position on their internal affairs. Besides, I am not really a Russian (neither are you by the way). So, what’s the deal?

  4. Revenant

    I can’t answer for Cathy, but there are two reasons to be particularly worried about Russia.

    (1): It used to be, however briefly, a relatively liberal democracy
    (2): It is a militarily powerful nation with lots of nukes.

  5. Those are good reasons too, Rev. I’ll supply more a little later. 🙂

  6. Leif: have you noticed that a lot of people who have no personal connection to Russia whatsoever but happen to have an interest in Russian history and culture also care what happens there? And people who weren’t born there but lived there for a brief period of time?

    I do care what happens in other countries; actually, if you look around this blog, you’ll find a couple of posts about Saudi Arabia, too. However, I happen to know Russia and Russian culture much better, so, not surprisingly, I both care about it and write about it more. Also, for a variety of reasons, Russia plays and is probably going to play an important role in the world.

    Finally, I don’t think it’s quite so simple as “the Russian people want a Tsar.” There have been many periods in Russian history where large number of people shared a certain level of aspiration for freedom (though it has always ended badly so far). Cultural differences notwithstanding, human beings are … well, human beings (and I think that Russians are far more culturally similar to Americans than are the Saudis or the Rwandans, for instance). In fact, in many ways, Russian society can be a fascinating mirror for our own.

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