Yesterday a new Culture War erupted in Russia, this time taking the form of a poetry slam. The contestants: The usual suspects. In this corner of the ring:
We have the chubby enfant terrible, writer and poet Dmitry Bykov. A typical representative of the “non-systemic” Opposition to the government. For those not in the know, these are a caste of people, both intelligentsia and not so much, who oppose the Putin government, but do not run for political office. Instead, they mock the government and everything that it does. They are sometimes called “kreakls”, a neologism invented by Dissident Thinker Lev Natanovich Shcharansky, formed from the contraction “Kreative Klass”. Also sometimes referred to as the “Fifth Column”, because they give ideological aid and support to Russia’s enemies.
In the other corner of the ring:
We have Maria Zakharova, feisty blonde spokesperson of the Putin “regime”. Maria works for the Russian Foreign Office, but she is no ordinary diplomat. She is a master of the social medias, and has proved time and time again that she can dish it out, tit for tat, to Russia’s enemies, both internal and external.
This time the battle erupted in the form of poetry. I will tell both sides of the story, and leave it to my readers to judge, which side won this Poetic Catfight.
So, here is the plan: Today I will give you Bykov’s opening salvo. Tomorrow, in place of my usual month-ending “How’m I doing” I will give you Zakharova’s response (and even though it will be April Fool’s Day, Zakharova is no fool), putting off my monthly audit piece to April 2. So, if we are all agreed upon that, then….
fired the first shot with this poem. The context is political. And, as usual, Bykov is attempting to ridicule people he doesn’t like and to place the Russian government in the worst possible light. In this case, by mocking the attempts of government leaders (Putin, Lavrov, Shoigu) to form a Russian national football league. As a response to threats from the “international community”, led by the U.S., to isolate Russia and ban it from the regular international football league. Russia is supposed to host the FIFA soccer games in 2018, but, as with the Sochi Olympics of 2014, Russia’s enemies simply do not want the country they hate so much, to enjoy this type of international prestige. Hence, many attempts to ban Russian athletes and take away the Games. Or, if that is not possible, then at least to besmirch Russia as a racist, doping, homophobic, cheating country, or whatever. These ideological shots and shame tactics almost always picked up and amplified by non-systemic Opps. Who, to put it bluntly, look towards the West to signal them, what to say and do.
Readers, please note, I long ago gave up on the notion of translating poetry from Russian to English. I don’t even believe in the concept any more, of translating poetry from any language to another language. At least not trying to capture the unique essence of a language’s meter, rhyme, alliteration, etc. The best that can be done is to give a sense of what the poem literally says, and then offer some kind of context or interpretation. Other than that, it is futile. I hasten to add that, technically speaking, Bykov is a worthy craftsman of the Russian language. His poems are good. Not Pushkin-good, but good. He employs meter and rhyme effectively. His works make for effective Oppositionist propaganda.
Please note, again, I am not even sure how to translate into English, the key term in Bykov’s poem, дворовая команда, which means something like “backyard team”. Not sure what is the analogous term in English, but clearly the intention is something amateurish, something that people play in their yards, for fun. Maybe “street ball”, or something like that. In any case, the word двор (“yard”) in its variants is a continuous theme for rhyming and punning, in both Bykov’s poem and Zakharova’s response.
So, without further ado, here is Bykov’s (untitled) poem:
Сдержать эмоций не могу
И от восторга холодею:
Нашел Лавров, открыл Шойгу
Она бразильской не хужей.
Играй, народ, ногами двигай!
Достанем всех из гаражей
И соблазним футбольной лигой.
Отнять грозятся мундиаль
(Отнять не смогут, но грозятся) –
А мы готовы, нам не жаль,
Никто не будет угрызаться.
Мы хорошо защищены
От ваших санкций нездоровых
И проведем внутри страны
Чемпионат команд дворовых.
Так повернулось колесо:
Побыв гламурными для вида –
Айда во двор! Дворово всё:
Война, культура, спикер МИДа.
Лавров и вместе с ним Шойгу –
Два короля козырной масти,
И я бы внешнему врагу
Все обозначилось давно.
Отброшен лоск, уже не годный.
Пришло народное кино,
Народный спорт и вождь народный.
Ушло бабло, похерен труд,
В эфире вой, в бюджете голо.
Эпоху нашу назовут
Порой дворового футбола.
I cannot contain my emotions
And I am trembling with excitement.
Lavrov, along with Shoigu,
Have discovered a new National Idea!
This idea is worthy of the Brazilians,
Go out and play, people, move your feet!
Get everybody out of their garages,
Entice them with a football league!
They are threatening to take the “Mundial” away from us.
They won’t be able to, but they threaten.
But we are ready, we don’t care.
Nobody will fret.
We are well protected
From your unhealthy sanctions.
And we shall conduct, inside the country,
A championship of backyard teams.
Thus has the wheel turned:
Abandoning our attempts to be glamorous,
Everyone into the yard! Everything is yard-like:
War, Culture, the Ministry of Defense spokesperson.
Lavrov, and along with him, Shoigu,
Are two Kings of a suit of Trumps,
And I would even feel sorry somewhat
For the external enemy, to have such enemies.
Everything was determined long ago.
The gloss has been discarded, and not recently,
We now have a national film industry,
National sports, and a national leader.
The perks are gone, the work is harder,
Battles in the media, an empty budget,
Our epoch shall be called
The era of Backyard Football.
Footnotes and Interpretation
АЙДА ВО ДВОР – common expression – “Everyone out to play”
“Lavrov” – Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister
“Shoigu” – Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s Defense Minister
“Mundial” – 2018 FIFA games
“Defense spokesperson” – Zakharova herself
“a national leader” – Putin
“empty budget” – caused by foreign sanctions against Russia
Now, this is what I never got to do in “literature class” in school, i.e., just come out and tell you in plain language, what I think the poet is saying, without a lot of B.S. or using fancy Greek words.
Bykov, like most of the kreakls, believes that Russia has become a third-rate dinky country. Thanks to international sanctions and international ostracism. Which are Russia’s own fault. Because Russia became a rogue nation, with a rogue leader, who defied the civilized Western world (mainly America and Europe) in various ways. Due to this, sanctions are causing budget restrictions and impoverishing the people. Now, thanks to this incompetent political leadership, all that Russians get to have is dinky third-rate stuff, such as amateur sports leagues, and suchlike.
[to be continued tomorrow – with Zakharova’s poetic response]