Posts tagged Putin

What happened to Boris Nemtsov?

The news has been all abuzz about what happened to Boris Nemtsov when he was walking with his girlfriend near the Kremlin. I suppose after listening to his interviews that are on line, he kept saying that Putin and his thugs were robbers and thieves. I don’t expect you can believe you are protected by the laws of Moscow when the person in charge of ALL of Russia and beyond doesn’t like to have that repeated. There will be many more people who come in opposition to him as a result of this senseless murder.  Nemtsov was speaking the truth as he saw and understood it. He claimed that the last election was rigged and false numbers were used to show how much Putin was favored.  Not the case at all and yet Boris was NOT for revolutions like he witnessed of the Orange Revolution in Kyiv a decade ago.  No, he did not want to have anything bloody and crazy, he was all for a peaceful resistance.

People going to mourn his passing will go peacefully to the bridge he was on where he was gunned down. It is a busy street with the St. Basil’s cathedral in the background and the Kremlin nearby. I was able to see the video footage that was preserved from some building close by and see what apparently was a cleaning truck (what we would call a dump truck) pass Nemtsov and his partner and then you can see where there are not many cars behind after the shooter got a clear shot of Nemtsov from his vantage point of the truck.  If there were a way to show that on here, I would do it. I’m not so sure I can transfer that info.

Okay, now let’s see if this info will actually transfer:

Anyway, enough of this about Nemtsov, he will be remembered…he felt sorry for Putin because he believes things will NOT go well with him once people find out that he is in it for life…12 years after the next election and then on and on.  The Russian people will wake up to this sooner, than later.  What does this have to do with Kazakhstan? I think the people are watching this very closely in Central Asia…if Putin had his way, he would have all of the countries back again under the umbrella of the former Soviet Union. Are we back to the Cold War again, maybe?

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Politely “Unfriended” because of Russian Politics

I have a “former” Russian friend or really she was more like an acquaintance from Kazakhstan who I knew several years ago in Almaty. Last week she informed me that her grandparents were from Belarussia, Moldova, Ukraine, Poland. They had undergone much heartache with the purges under Stalin. In no uncertain terms she told me that the Russians suffered under Stalin as well. I knew that.

She was responding to one of my posts on Facebook about the Ukrainian Holodomor. I guess she was warning me a week ago that I was offending her because she thought I was blaming the Russians for what is currently going on in Crimea. I told her I was very careful to NOT say that the Russians are attacking Ukraine but rather Putin is. He, in turn, expects people to follow his orders so those in the army, who happen to be Russian, are invading Crimea and eventually Ukraine. (I have an adopted Russian nephew whom I love dearly and I realize all Russians are living under some tragic circumstances, not of their own doing!)

I am careful to not blame the Russians because I realize they have been brainwashed about what really happened on Maidan. I was not there at Maidan, but I believe video clips and eye witness accounts from my friends who were there on the ground are reliable. Russia Today (RT) is not credible. That is why one American journalist, Elizabeth Wahl, had to quit. She had to step down because she admitted there was a lot of hatred being vented toward Americans. It continues to foment, unabated.

For Putin, it is all about hatred of the U.S. and other western nations. That is what he is broadcasting to his own people, believing there are Russians trapped in the former Soviet countries. He still has the Soviet Union mentality when it was a “super power.” I believe his own country is about to implode, economically and emotionally. His own people are not happy with the way things are going. Indeed, some are satisfied with Putin. In fact, they are very proud of the Russians’ records at the latest winter Olympics. However, talk to the people who lived next to all that construction in Sochi. I’m wondering if those construction workers who helped build all the opulent buildings for the Olympics were actually paid. I believe they were slaves who HAD to do this for Putin’s own ego.

In my devotional yesterday I came across several verses that applied to Putin from Psalms 33:16-19:
“No king is saved by the multitude of an army. A mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain hope for safety, neither shall it deliver any by its great strength. Behold the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him. On those who hope in His mercy to deliver their soul from death and to keep them alive in famine.”

Yes, the Ukrainians have the famine of 1932-33 deeply ingrained in their very being. Those who survived told their families about it. They do NOT trust anything coming out of Moscow because of what happened last time. So, due to Russian politics, I have been unfriended on Facebook. I will be praying for this individual who is feeling hurt because she is probably misunderstood and feeling ostracized by other westerns where she is living in Turkey. (I’d hate to be living in Turkey next year, because of what the young Turks did to the Armenians in 1915, but that is another tragedy.)

Here is what my friend wrote to me: Sorry, I am writing you a personal message – not on your wall, just to let you know that I am unfriending you and blocking on top of it. I don’t really believe you know what God is – this is your personal opinion. Instead of living and being friends you are spreading messages of hate. You and people like you splitting others. All the best.”

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Lost Malaysian Jet and Humpty Dumpty Politics

Let the mourning begin. The closure can now happen for all those families whose loved ones perished in the Indian Ocean with the Malaysian airliner tragedy. I can’t even begin to know or understand what the family members went through with the misinformation that was thrown their way. Twenty-six countries were involved in the search and rescue and maybe that is what muddled things in the first place due to language and cultural barriers. They were trying to use the latest in technology and pinning the blame on the pilot. I have a difficult time believing that a pilot would willfully take down hundreds of people on a suicide mission. Once they find the jet’s black box and the bodies, they will know what happened. Until then, the puzzles remain.

I get many comments still on what I wrote on this blog over five years ago. I just got a comment from a Voron who is Kazakh, teaching in Malaysia. He was saddened by my misperceptions of his great country of Kazakhstan. I responded that I must have been having a bad day, week, month, well year teaching at the university in Almaty. I saw things that were over-controlled and dealing with minute details to the fraction of points on how to grade composition papers. What was most galling to me was the composition teachers would assign nearly impossible writing assignments which made it easier for them to grade but made it very difficult for students to write. If these same teachers had done their own assignments they would have found out what a crazy assignment it really was. Some of these “English” teachers could not put a sentence together in English to save their soul. I am still angry about what I went through under that system that was still very Soviet in nature.

It is true what Voron wrote that I didn’t have a chance to really know and understand what is under the surface of the Kazakh culture. I have a very high respect for Kazakhstan and what they went through in their long and troubled history. In fact, when I write about what happened in Ukraine during the Holodomor (forced starvation period of 1932-33), I cannot neglect to try and educate people that Kazakhstan went through the same devastation. You only have to read “The Silent Steppe: The Memoir of a Kazakh Nomad Under Stalin” by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov, published in 2006 to know what the typical Kazakh survived during the purges.

That is how this blog got its name, “Kazakhnomad,” in honor of what Mukhamet wrote out in his ten years of seeing what Stalin was doing to his country and how it affected his family. Right now, the focus is on Ukraine and what Putin will do next. I would hazard to guess that Kazakhstan is very vulnerable right now in the northern area of Kazakhstan because Putin would use the same logic of saying that he needs to protect the Russian speakers from the Kazakhs. No different than what he is saying about going into eastern Ukraine to protect those of Russian ethnicity. I saw a joke something to the effect of a Russian in eastern Ukraine not speaking Russian anymore. How come? Well, he didn’t want Putin to come and save him from the Ukrainians. The Russians in Ukraine have more freedom than the Russians in Russia. Eventually what Putin is trying to do may implode on him. While all his troops are off to Estonia or Moldova, he will have unrest in his own capital.

For now, we just wait and see and try to puzzle out what remains of the former Soviet Union that Putin is trying to put back together. Probably no different than when the experts finally find the big pieces of the Malaysian jetliner. Only thing is that Putin is really Humpty Dumpty and “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

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Difficult to watch…plane cockpits, black boxes and ocean

I haven’t posted for a while simply because it is so difficult to know what will happen next. I’m sad about the Malaysian airliner going in to the ocean, if that is what really happened, because there are so many families affected by this tragedy. However, I wish the news media would quit showing all the possible scenarios of plane cockpits, black boxes and ocean views from satellites. REALLY?! That is such yellow journalism, meaning that it is cowardly and not asking the hard questions about what is really happening in Ukraine.

What county would be next for Putin to “save!?” I am betting on Kazakhstan as a possible candidate. Although the fearless leader who is power in Astana would not let that happen. If something were to happen to him though, you can bet that Putin would be right there to save the Russians from all that is Kazakh! I do believe that there is enough information that has been disseminated to the people in both countries about their Soviet past so that they would not welcome a re-visit of those times again. That is what Putin wants, a re-establishing of the great and mighty empire of the Soviet Union. However, from what I have read there is much unrest and too many people who know what is going on in Russia to have that happen. Those who know the truth have been put down or marginalized which only makes things worse. The truth will eventually come to the top.

I read about Estonia where they might have a visit from Putin’s troops too once he is through with Ukraine. They made no bones about kicking out the Russian people and went back to their Estonian language with the fall of the Soviet Union. I think that would be a bad move on Putin’s part to try to tell the rest of the world that Estonia is next on his agenda. Maybe the West will wake up to this power-hungry dictator in the making. Maybe not.

Sochi Olympics was such a farce. Putin wanted everyone to think he was some benevolent benefactor of the games while all the time he is masterminding the invasion of Crimea. This has been in the works for years. Kazakhstan needs to pay attention and be ready. Perhaps the leaders in Astana are already awake to this fact. In the meantime, it is difficult to watch plane cockpits, black boxes and ocean.

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Watching the Situation in Crimea

So much has happened since the last time I posted. Maidan was a surprise and perhaps this ultimatum at 5:00 a.m. in Ukraine will be another upset for the evil side. Of course, all the propaganda that has been pumped into Russia about what has happened the last three months in Ukraine has been showing doctored up photos and changed scenarios. Interesting how the media is trying to make it look like extremists have taken over from the western part of Ukraine. I am finding out from my former students that people who live in Eastern Ukraine and are Russian ethnicity and Russian speakers do not feel compelled to be speaking the Ukrainian language. That is one of the major reasons for Russia to enter into this new set up government in Kyiv, they feel them must come in and “protect” their loyal subjects. The truth of the matter is that these people who have lived in Ukraine all their lives feel themselves to be Ukrainian even though they speak Russian. Interesting, huh?

Well, with enough countries dropping out of the G-8 meeting and the market going down for their investors in Russia, they will see that the lies they propagated are backfiring on them. Putin had his crowning success with the Sochi games, he should have been happy that they had the most medals at the Olympics. Instead, it looked like he was pre-occupied and scowling the whole time.

What is interesting is to see all the footage that has appeared of the former president Yanocovich’s (sp) palatial “dacha” just 12 miles north of Kiev. He had been given money to pave the pock marked roads in Ukraine instead he had a very nice asphalt road made to go to his dacha. That is now being called the “Museum of Corruption” and showed the opulence that he “enjoyed.” He managed to steal the people’s money in three years time and put it into this house and other toys that he collected. His wife or ex-wife lived in Donetsk and probably didn’t know anything about what lifestyle he got accustomed to. Now that has all vanished as he has sought cover from the Russian government and under Putler (Putin + Hitler).

I have read many reports on the social media about what is actually happening in the Crimea and in Ukraine along the eastern border. I have been to Sevastopol several times. I remember seeing some Crimean, Ukrainian and Russian flags flying. The city has a LOT of history and has museums about some of the great battles that have been fought on the Black Sea. It is a strategic place for Putin to secure. The Russian government was leasing it from Ukraine but now it wants it without paying anymore. It also probably wants the eastern half of Ukraine as well. Good luck with that.

What has happened, from what I can tell, is that this division created from the outside has only solidified the two parts of Ukraine because the east for sure doesn’t want to be controlled by Moscow. That smacks too much of what it used to be like under the Soviet Union.

Well, I wait and see if the 5:00 a.m. ultimatum has been met or if they are in the middle of a bloodbath as promised. I’ll find out tomorrow…stay tuned.

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Ukraine May have a Temporary Victory

I have been following the events in Ukraine very closely.  Below is a piece written by someone who lives in Kyiv, Ukraine and is in the know. This is good news, if it is true. Even if it is true for now, things could still go south.

Tonight, as I watch the funeral proceedings at Maidan attended by ten thousand people, I reflect on the day that preceded this burial service. In the end, this day could have gone any direction, but it seems at each crucial point (and there were many crucial points) the protesters (and peace) won the day.

Today sixteen statues of Lenin were toppled around Ukraine.

Today many significant votes were taken to restored a gutted constitution.

Today Yuila Timoshenko, the imprisoned former Prime Minister, was authorized by parliament to be set free.

Today the president agreed to early elections.

Today amnesty was granted for the hundreds of protesters who were arrested.

Today no protesters died.

Today neighborhood militias were formed all over Kyiv to protect from looting and unrest.

Today the guy who authorized shooting live rounds at the protesters was fired.

Today, the first day of many, there were no fires in Kyiv. (sorry CNN, I know you like the night shots of the city on fire, but I prefer it without)

….and best of all….

Today Ukraine won a Gold in women’s biathlon relay! – No matter that Putin revoked his loan deal, we’ll take the money in gold.

Many of my Ukrainian friends are talking of today as a new dawn, the tide has turned, a new era in Ukraine’s history. The contrast is striking – yesterday the darkest day since Soviet times, and today the brightest things have looked in a long time. There are even reports as I write this that the president has left the capital, it seems he, along with all sixty five private jets that left Ukraine last night (65!) have seen the writing on the wall and feel that they need to leave or face prosecution for their ill gotten gain.

But in the end the barricades are getting higher not lower downtown. The crowds are growing, not shrinking, and the highest priority of many of the protesters still stands. That is the immediate resignation of the president. As I write there are twenty thousand mad Ukrainians downtown who don’t seem to want to leave without an impeachment or a voluntary resignation, and so far they have gotten everything they want. On the other side, thus far, the president has been very reticent to give up power, and therein lies the problem. At this point it doesn’t seem like if, but when, and more importantly….how, the president will go.

In politics (as in Church history) its much easier for an opposition group come together against something, but when that thing they opposed is removed, it’s a bit harder for everyone to decide on a way forward. That is our situation in Kyiv now too. May Ukraine prosper under a just and fair government for many, many years to come. However, we understand that this complete justice and fairness don’t seem to work always, and I’m sure there will be disappointments in the long term, and the near, future.

This is where the church comes in. The church now has a big role to fill as the country slowly (hopefully) begins to calm down and clean up. Just as people are most receptive to grace when broken, so goes for the country as well. Ukraine is broken now. We have hundreds dead, we have maybe a thousand wounded, we have a burned out center in place of our downtown, we have daily inflation and we have lots fewer cobblestones than we started with. Ukraine is broken and needs renewal that comes as they seek the mercy and grace provided by Christ. Pray that the church will (continue) to fill this need, and now in a more specific way, through it’s service to the community, through cleaning up the city, through writing and thinking with others about the concept of true justice – something that Ukrainians have been seeking, and through preaching the Word.

I’m greatly encouraged by today, and recognize that it is still in a fragile state. Pray for continued peace – and mercy.

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What ELSE Hillary said in Bishkek

Apparently when Hillary was in Astana there were about 200 people in her delegation.  I was just at the Radisson today where she and all others stayed for two days.  Some other guys and I brought in 15 boxes for the book sale tomorrow for the Charity Bazaar.  People are STILL talking about the summit, getting back to normal.  (If you call way below zero temps normal?) At least the wicked wind isn’t blowing as hard as it was during the summit.

I had an epiphany moment this morning when I woke up.  I had talked to my PDP class yesterday about people back in the U.S. not  hearing or knowing about this summit conference that involved up to 65 nations. I know that realization was insulting to some Kazakhs who saw all the money that was poured into this extravagant show in order to make it happen. Perhaps if a bomb or something had blown off somewhere, the media might have been all over it. Kind of like what happened at Tianamen Square back in 1989, that is when CNN and 24/7 news coverage really took off.  But no, this was a peaceful conference and it stayed that way because of all the extra precautions to keep everyone safe.

My epiphany is that journalists have their Mr. Bottomlines editors and publishers.  Too much expense would go into the airfares alone to get to this summit by the most earnest of journalists. Astana isn’t cheap once you try to find food and shelter either!  I know one blogger recently wrote she would have gladly come to Kazakhstan but it would have cost her $4,000 roundtrip.  That’s what we are talking about people, Kazakhstan is close to the “ends of the earth”  Through no fault of its own, and I know some Kazakh people would be greatly offended  by this statement, but it is NOT easy to get to Kazakhstan.

Hillary was here in Central Asia back in 1997, she kept referring to that last trip she took in her speeches, interviews and town hall meetings.  She could have come on other junkets a lot earlier but she got a lot of mileage out of this most recent trip to Astana and then to Bishkek.  Hillary seemed genuinely pleased to be in both places and I kept looking for her to emphasize even more strongly about human rights issues.

I was very interested in what Hillary said in Bishkek when she made a quick trip there after spending a few days in Astana.  She was answering someone’s question about the color revolutions.  I thought her answers were well-informed.  That is the kind of person we need in office right now, someone who knows their history and stands up and talks about hard issues.  Very difficult issues face Central Asia because it takes many years to untangle all the webs of deceit that went on during the Soviet period.

Apparently Hillary is not going to run for the President’s office in 2012, which I find hard to believe. But she made that announcement in the last few days.  I can’t imagine keeping up the pace she did in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere. She has been doing just that for the last 20-30 years.  I think she wants to rest and maybe retire from public scrutiny.

That’s the thing about democracy, I can say or write if I don’t like her and people are okay with that. To each his own.  But there are places, even in Central Asia, where you would not DARE to say something against your elected official in office.  I found it very interesting to read through the Larry King interview of Putin.  Yes, now THERE’s an election to watch in the next few years. Read on what Hillary said to her Bishkek audience about democracy and elections and revolutions.  I got this off of this blog with the screen name of “Still4Hill.” Loyal Hillary supporter.

SECRETARY CLINTON: “Well, first, let me say we did not control or direct any of the Color Revolutions. The United States has always stood for democracy. We have always encouraged people to speak out for human rights. And we were very pleased when the former Soviet Union dissolved, and people were given a chance to go back to their own country, have their own governments, and chart their own futures. But that’s a relatively short period of time in human history, because, remember, it was 1989, 1990, 1991 when all of this happened. So 20 years is not a lot of time for countries to have a stable, functioning democracy.

But I think if you look at all of the countries that came out from under the Soviet Union – Poland, the Czech Republic, Estonia, all of these countries – they are functioning very well. They are members of the European Union, they have solid democracies, they have free market economies, they respect human rights. I think Georgia has economically developed very well…

Well, there is a lot to admire about what Georgia has accomplished. Georgia has accomplished economic growth, Georgia has accomplished some important reforms against corruption. Georgia has some challenges. And, of course, they have a real problem with Russia. They had a war in 2008, and they had lost two of their provinces, which Russia claims are not independent nations that they have recognized. So, Georgia, under very difficult circumstances, has accomplished quite a lot.

Ukraine, after the Orange Revolution, had an opportunity. But I will tell you, one of the problems in Ukraine is that the people in the government could not figure out how to cooperate, and they could not make decisions. And, as a result, they did not produce the kinds of changes that people expected after the Orange Revolution. They have a new government now. Their new president is trying a different approach, because, of course, they neighbor Russia. Russia was quite concerned about the Orange Revolution and about the elections that brought reformers to power. So now the new administration in Ukraine is trying to get along with Russia, Europe, and the United States, everybody. And they are trying to do a balancing act. We will see how it works. Not clear yet how it will work.

Kyrgyzstan, in my view, has a second chance with what you have just done. You had some real difficulties with coming out of the authoritarian regime imposed by the former Soviet Union. And many of the people who have come to power immediately out of the old Communist Party apparatus knew nothing about democracy. You can’t really expect someone whose only experience was in a totalitarian system, a command economy, to automatically understand everything about how complicated democracies are.

So, I think you are off to a good start, but it is just a start. Elections are just the beginning, they’re not the end of the democratic process. So you have a lot of work ahead. And the people have to hold the leaders accountable for getting together to solve problems, because that’s what democracies have to do. So, I hope next year, year after, in 5 and 10 years, we will look back and say that Kyrgyzstan is setting the model for this part of the world. And that’s what I would like to see.” (Applause.)

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“Encounters with Soviet People” (Final Part VIII)

The following is the last installment from Frank R. Thoms unpublished manuscript that I received from my Peace Corps assistant and Kazakhstani friend Tatyana Kazanina.  I knew Tatyana from training Peace Corps volunteers in Almaty the summer of 1993, she died in May of 1997.  However, I never met Mr. Thoms but would like to if he is still alive.  He had written what I thought were valuable insights into the Soviet educational system for my 30 plus Peace Corps volunteers who read what I had typed up.  In the seven prior installments of his book “Encounters with Soviet People” Mr. Thoms shed light on perhaps why the Soviet Union fell apart.  It was based on lies, cheating and pretending.  I believe Putin is trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, it won’t work for a number of reasons. 

For now, as of yesterday’s start of the fall semester, I’m encouraged by meeting my students from three different classes in our “westernized” university in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  I am now encountering Kazakhstani students who were educated by Soviet teachers.  Each student has a different story to tell about what their parents or grandparents have told them what it was like living in the former Soviet Union.  I will let that unfold as the semester progresses.  Enjoy what Frank R. Thoms observed about cheating and prompting in the classroom, it still goes on to some extent even today, no matter our best efforts to have that cease.

p. 149 At the end of the lesson Ludmilla gave a quiz, three problems for the whole class to solve…The murmuring persisted.  Lukasha turned around to ask Kiril for the answers, which he read from the text on his lap under the table (though he told me he knew all the answers).  While Ludmilla carried equipment to her laboratory some students held up their papers for others to see, and others shouted information across the aisles.  It was a quiz show where the contestants collaborated before giving answers.  By the time the bell rang, the room was in complete bedlam as the students delivered their quizzes to her [Ludmilla] – no doubt all with the same results.


p. 184 “…I heard students whisper to one another before answering my questions.  Initially, I thought they were nervous and were having difficulty with my American accent.  I soon became annoyed with this practice, however, especially with some of the younger groups who sounded more like a cacophony of locusts than students speaking English.  But, what surprised me the most were the teachers.  Whenever the class became silent with one of my questions, their teacher would lean towards the nearest studnt from her seat in the back corner and whisper an answer, sometimes voicing it loud enough for others to hear – including me.”


p. 185 “At my own lessons I tried to persuade students not to help each other, most often telling them that I was more interested in knowing what each of them knew rather than what all of them knew…I struggled with this issue during my two months at School 185, but it was not until my last week when I observed some of my colleagues that I began to gain some perspective.  At some of the lessons I watched students whisper as much or more than they had with me…the importance of whispering in the classroom – what the Soviets call pod skazavats or prompting… “Of course we prompt each other,” Nick answered without hesitation.  “It is an important part of our schooling.  Without it our class would not be able to get our work done.  You know the teachers can give us a mark every day, so we must be ready for every class.  And, there is too much homework.  We have to help each other.”  He smiled and added, “it is important to help my friends, more important than helping myself.”


p. 186 “Prompting kindles the collective spirit in Soviet schools.  Prompting ensures that everyone learns, that slower students will not be left behind.  Prompting provides for success at every lesson.  It enables lessons to move along, to keep pace with the demands of the curriculum.  Without it there would be silence, the dreaded silence of failure.  There is no time for waiting in a Soviet classroom, no time for pausing, no time for reflecting.  More like heavy metal rock music than a symphony, a typical lesson resonates with overlapping sounds.

In essence, prompting is a leveling process, one that keeps everyone in the mainstream.  It replaces personal responsibility.  It eliminates personal initiative.  It underlies the collective spirit where everyone learns to stay together, where no one is allowed to get ahead.  It nurtures an excellence of the middle, a perpetual mediocrity.  It disallows excelling that breeds envy.  Prompting ensures that all is well in the collective.  Buried deep in the Soviet psyche, it is endemic to schooling.


p. 187 “Students and teachers alike have admitted to me that prompting is necessary to help the poorer students.  In Liuba’s case it enabled her to get through her English classes as the camaraderie of the collective ensured that she belonged and would get by.  Yet, the irony was that prompting harmed her chances of learning.  Her classmates, by covering for her at every opportunity, denied her the right to discover her own abilities.  Her teachers, by condoning this process, admitted that they had given up on her potential to learn.  Prompting also serves a greater purpose in Soviet society.  It acts as a mouthpiece for perpetuating the expectations of the system, a system that specifies what students must learn.  By encouraging them to repeat collective thought, prompting prevents any deviations in thinking to appear in the classroom…And more insidious, prompting induces brighter students to concentrate on expected outcomes rather than to think on their own.  The collective becomes the focus of learning – what we know becomes more important than what *I* know.


p. 188 “Prompting is as much a part of Soviet classrooms as the uniforms.  Whenever I came as a guest to a school, each classroom performed according to a script.  The teacher in the front acted as producer and director.  On command, students stood and recited.  Though teachers chose the best ones to speak, others prompted to avoid any hesitations…But, before and after such performances – at the rehearsals of everyday school – prompting dominates as it helps the actors with their lines and hones their responses.


p. 189 “With great pride students who knew me well told me about different forms of cheating.  The most common included writing on their hands and thighs, on the inside of their jackets, and on pieces of paper with answers to their friends when the teacher was not looking.  Some bragged about developing new techniques, for instance, imprinting information on plastic notebook covers with a sharp point that they could read when held to the light at the proper angle.  Another spoke of a method that utilized new pens with windows near the top, which, when the button was pushed, the information appeared.  Cheating, like prompting, is endemic to most Soviet classrooms and is known either as shparlgaka, which means “crib” or as shpora, which literally means “spur” [on a saddle].


p. 190 “Zoya’s conention that cheating was not a problem if the teacher looked the other way (“looks through the fingers” in Russian) is symbolic of the denial that is pervasive in the Soviet educational system – a denial that persists despite countless efforts at reform.  “The teachers pretend to teach, and the students pretend to learn.”


p. 192 “Prompting and cheating provide knowledge for those who need it. Without them, the system would grind to a halt.  Knowledge, after all, is power in a society that has restricted access to information, where Xerox machines are locked up.”



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A Kazakh Linguist’s “Secret” to Learning Languages

Last night we enjoyed a meal at our place with a very talented linguist (let’s call him Murat).  He claims to know 15 languages and I believe him.  Russian was his first language even though he is ethnically Kazakh.  Eventually Murat mastered Kazakh, as well as Ukrainian, Uzbek along with being very proficient in German and English.  What a delight to get acquainted again with Murat after a hurried meeting in the Minneapolis airport 14 years ago when Ken was traveling with him from Washington D.C. to visit some Montana farms.  Ken and Murat go way back with their shared experiences in Soviet agriculture.


Twenty years ago, as a Communist party leader, Murat traveled with President Nazarbayev to the U.S. looking at American agriculture.  Later their delegation went to Canada representing the U.S.S.R.  In the U.S. they went as private citizens to many states, notably Kansas and later to New York where Murat’s cousin lived.  Their per diem as “communist big wigs” was $17 a day.  Murat’s cousin hosted them in New York and handed them hundreds of dollars of extra spending money, he knew $17 was not enough, especially in New York.  This same cousin of Murat’s, who is a noted Kazakh poet, was nominated to run against President Nazarbayev in an earlier presidential election.  Somehow he was talked out of his ambition for Kazakhstan’s top job and encouraged to pursue his career in poetry.  Murat’s cousin currently has an ambassador post in Italy where he can represent Kazakhstan while he writes Kazakh poems. Being linguistically inclined must run in Murat’s family.


Murat shared this advice about language learning which I think an important clue to his success:  “You have to love the people of the language you are studying.  Learn their songs, their jokes, their sayings…it does not work for Kazakh students to be forcefully told by the President to learn English or to think you will get a better job if you master the language.”  Murat went on to say that the best Russian spies who worked with the Germans succeeded only because they loved the German language and German people. (Putin comes to mind.) 


Murat emphasized, “Basic [to language learning] is that you have to love their tradition, their music.”  He heard someone say, “Switch off the Kazakh music!”  Murat is able to predict that that person would NEVER learn Kazakh with that kind of attitude.  Murat has translated into Kazakh the American folksongs “Where Have all the Flowers Gone” and also “This Land is Your Land.”  Murat did the same with translating four verses into Kazakh a German folk tune he learned from ethnic Germans born in Kazakhstan.  However, back in Germany the Germans only knew two of the verses to this very famous tune.  Obviously Murat has an ear for music which helps in language learning


Another secret to Murat’s achievement as a linguist who has mastered many languages is “Then you have to work hard, work continuously.”  He began reading English since 1966-67 every day.  He tells young people, “if you will do this, you will be better than me.”  Murat also strongly exhorts young people with, “Lazy bones, you can’t even imagine self-study in the 1960s when I learned English with only a rotating record and 25 lessons on it.  I couldn’t even imagine to travel or live in English speaking countries back in those times.  Now there is CNN to listen to American and British English, this generation has it so easy.” 


Even after 40 years he still has some of those first lessons in English committed to memory:  Mr. Green gets up early in the morning.  He dresses himself, he washes himself.”  He asks “Is breakfast ready?” then “We are having some people over for supper this evening.”  “It comes as a surprise to me what strange things people eat.  You stick to fish and chips I suppose.”  Murat listened and repeated after the record phrases over and over again.  Murat also added, “Most important I enjoyed doing it, I tried to pronounce in the same way as the native speaker, to pick up a faster speed, as fast as he speaks.”  Another key to his accomplishment was he would remember one sentence, but then insert other words in that sentence. 


Murat is a true linguist as he puzzled over westerners’ use of the word chernozem which means “black soil” in Russian.  [A very sophisticated classification system of soil was invented by Russian agronomist, Dokuchaev which unfortunately has fallen into disuse]. Agriculturalists today worldwide will mistakenly say “brown chernozem” or “chestnut chernozem” or “dark brown chernozem” but most confounding to Murat was when westerners say “black chernozem” which means black black soil to him.  We had a laugh about the nuances of languages.


Another sad but true story was when Murat was awarded by President Nazarbayev one of the first prizes for Peace in 1992.  Back then two others were also given the honor with the equivalent of $10,000 in roubles.  However, in those chaotic, first days of Kazakhstan, the worth of the rouble was plunging.  Murat’s prize amounted to only about $500 in cash prize, but the three had not even received that amount.  When Murat asked about it a year later, he was only given $200 worth of money.  Ten years later, Murat learned from other honored recipients of the distinguished, Presidential prize they received their full compensation of $10,000 worth of tenge.  He just shook his head with a smile, wistfully thinking what might have been.  Many people lost money during the early years of Kazakhstan.


Finally, as an English writing teacher I HAD to ask Murat what helpful hints he could tell me about his learning to write in English.  As a scientist, he knows how important writing is even though he has written many books about agriculture in Russian and Kazakh; he gets much of his material from literature in English. Murat said, “I worked in an international center for ten years, where every day I was writing.  More reading, more translation, if you do automatic translation, learn to speak and translating simultaneously, writing comes more naturally… you have to be committed, I knew that writing is important, as a scientist I had to learn how to write and later to publish.


One thing Murat ruefully noticed while he worked in this international office is that, “All [Kazakh] staff was local, all spoke English, but they didn’t make any effort to improve themselves in writing. They reached a certain level of proficiency and that was enough for them.” 


I fully appreciate President Nazarbayev’s vision about higher education in Kazakhstan.  In his most recent book The Kazakhstan Way on p. 329 he ended with a Kazakh proverb: “Try to master seven languages and know seven sciences.”  I believe Murat has more than achieved that as a linguist and as a scientist.  I would hope my future Kazakh students would share Murat’s contagious enthusiasm for learning. 

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