Ukrainian Historian Attacked for “Ukrainophobia” – Part III

Dear Readers:

Today concluding my translation of the VZGLIAD interview with Ukrainian archaeologist/historian Peter Tolochko.  Recall that Tolochko’s book-signing had been disrupted by Ukrainian nationalists belonging to the neo-Nazi Svoboda political party.  Tolochko had explained some of the points covered in his book; the issue of the historical origins of “Rus” or “Russia”; the concept of “Ukraine” as a nationality; and why some Ukrainian nationalists get bent sideways at the tiniest fact which challenges their own simplistic and racialistic view of their country’s history.

Ukranian nationalists liked Hitler a lot.

Although Ukrainian nationalists differ among themselves on some of the finer points of their ideology, I believe it is safe to state that the majority of them believe in these core precepts of their twisted worldview:  (1) Ukry are an ancient Aryan race, and (2) therefore racially superior to Russians, who are intermingled with Mongol blood, (3) Mongols being, by definition, an inferior race.  Why?  Because Hitler said so.  Yes, I just dropped the H-word.  Gasp!

Historian Peter Tolochko

Moving to a sidebar:  When I was searching the internet for this photo of Peter Tolochko, I found this other “translation” of his interview.  In fact, a translation of the entire VZGLIAD piece (without attribution) from Russian into pidgin English.  This translator, whose name I believe is HAL Mark II comes up with gems such as:

OPINION: Peter, as the presentation you blew off, could you now explain what your new book differ from the previous?

Peter Shcheglov: I Have a book of authorities in Ancient Rus’, but to the subject of the origin of Russia, I got only recently. In the new book considers the perennial question posed by another chronicler Nestor: “where have gone the Russian land”.

Wait a minute!  Peter Shcheglov??  Who he?  I thought the guy’s name was Tolochko.

Also interesting in this pidgin rendering, and relevant to a discussion with one of my commentators, Alexey, is the translation of the Russian word “pogrom”, while describing the Svoboda actions to disrupt Professor Tolochko’s book presentation.  HAL chose to translate “pogrom” as “massacre”.  Which is a bit extreme, considering that nobody actually died at the event, unpleasant as it was.

Little Nell: “Grandfather! Disagreements I have with Quilp are not.”

Now, amusing as these computer-generated translations are (and I am actually a huge connoisseur, I like to read them for a good laugh), I sort of disapprove of them, because they are so inaccurate.  Some people say, “Better than nothing.”  Maybe, and I admit to using Google translate sometimes myself.  But just for individual words and phrases.  Not for whole stories!  Because these are worse than inaccurate.  People reading the above will come away thinking there is this man named Peter Shcheglov who was massacred because a woman named Olga worked as a maid in Pskov.  Sort of like a twisted murder mystery told by a demented schizophrenic.

Alan Turing: “I must say that for Ukraine this is not so news. They’re stripped and performances, and meeting of the courts, where to get careless with volunteers.”

In other words, I don’t feel threatened and I am not quite ready yet to shut down my blog and hand this job over to computers.  I may not be the greatest writer in the English language — that laurel would have to go to Charles Dickens — but I can certainly do better than penning such gems as: “The Vikings are essentially built into the system.”

Oh, and please do not riposte me with, “Well, computer translations will get better over time.”

No, they won’t.  Digital Computers (aka big bloated Turing Machines) are great with regular expressions and fairly good with context-free regular languages.  As for human language:  Gibberish is as good as they will ever get.  If you don’t believe me, then please read up on Alan Turing’s theory of automata and languages.

But enough of this ineffectual and self-indulgent ranting.  It is time to continue with a real translation, done by a real, if highly flawed, human being,  of Professor Tolochko’s final thoughts on this unpleasant matter of Russian history.

But What About Them Damn Mongols?

VZGLIAD:  The Secretary of the Security Council (of Ukrainian government), Alexander Turchinov, declared back in April:  “The Ukrainians had their own state with its capital in Kiev long before the appearance of the Moscow Ulus of the Golden Horde.

“I despise Mongols!”

Mongol: “Turchita, you will wear my yoke!”

Professor Tolochko:  When these “Ulusy” appeared, then Kiev was also an Ulus, so to speak.  And we, indeed, for a certain period of time, were (also) under the Golden Horde.  And, as to the essence of the matter, were Turchinov an historian, rather than an economist and Protestant Pastor, then he would have known, that Moscow was, in its time, a component of an overall Russian state space.  Moscow arose in the 12th century, later, of course, than Kiev, and it was not the capital at that time, but it acquired its governmental authority not because of the Tatars, but due to its own internal development.  Later than Kiev, okay.  But what’s so bad about that?

VZGLIAD:  Does the current politcal and moral atmosphere (in Ukraine) hamper your scientific work?

Professor Tolochko:  My convictions come from knowledge of the subject matter, knowledge of the sources.  For many years now I have dwelled more in the world of Kievan Rus than even in the present.  I study the ancient manuscripts, I track the Mongols, I journey with princes, I accompany them on their military campaigns and their battles, I converse with the chroniclers….

Professor Tolochko accompanied Prince Igor on his ill-fated campaign against the Cumans.

None of any of this (that is happening) can have any bearing on my professional work.  But it will affect the work of the younger generation.  I myself am not young any more, and I have acquired a name and a reputation.  I am a (respected) Academician, and not just in Ukraine.  But can you imagine what would happen if they start to pressure a young historian in such a way?  They will simply break him.  And by tomorrow he will be writing only the things that they want to hear.  This is all very tragic!  As a result of this we might lose an entire younger generation of academics.

VZGLIAD:  The attackers also accused you of publishing your book “with Russian financing”.

Professor Tolochko:  This is actually true, to a large degree.  Well, and if I had published it with English financing, what would they have screamed then?  They themselves live on American money, they publish a mass of literature (on that money).  And they don’t see anything wrong with that.  The fact is, that the theme of my book is a general one, it concerns all Eastern Slavs, therefore it is of interest to Russians, as well as Belorussians and Ukrainians.  I see nothing shameful in that.  If somebody in Ukraine had wanted to finance (the publication of my) book, then please do so!  But nobody wanted to.

And just one more word about my book:  Whether it is bad, or good, that is the issue. not whose money paid for its publication.  These guys were screaming at me:  “Why didn’t you present your book in the Ukraine Palace?  Are they insane?  The “Palace” is a concert hall seating 4,000 people.  Can a scholar really be expected to present his book there?  And in reality, these (attackers) just came together in their single point of hatred towards me, and towards Russia.


(of all culture as we know it)

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19 Responses to Ukrainian Historian Attacked for “Ukrainophobia” – Part III

  1. Lyttenburgh says:

    You know, this whole talk about “Kiev stronK! Moscals are Finno-Ugro-Mongolian pig-dog shit-bloods! Gib back clay, monies and relevance!!!” is a clear sign of un-fulfillment and deep-seated butthurt. I mean, can you imagine, just for a second, the citizens of Cologne going full retarded and saying: “Berlin?! Bah! Irrelevant frontier village, that has no right to call itself a capital of DAS REICH! Cologne stronK! Built by Romans! Can into relevance! Catholic Christian – Best Christian! Remove Prussians – half-Slavic untermenchen!”. Or, I dunno, Bavarians staging thousands-strong marches with banners proclaiming that “Lederhosen – the genetic code of Bavarians!”.


  2. Cortes says:

    Very interesting articles. Thanks again.

    On machine translation

    The Eco book has several exquisite samples of machine translation which you may enjoy.

    As an aside, it really rips my knitting to see the expression “traduttore, traditore” rendered along the lines of “the translator betrays” when the real meaning is probably “the translator passes things on to us.” As in “tradition” or “heritage.”


    • yalensis says:

      “All this sends Eco back to the idea of a ‘perfect language’ – a logical, mathematical language, free of cultural variations and eccentricities.”
      A “perfect language” would have to be like a computer language, parsable, and context-independent.

      Speaking of which, another thing that boils my grits is when people write supposed “Logic Puzzles” which assume knowledge of context. I very much enjoy working logic puzzles, but I won’t buy them if they assume context. For example, when you can’t solve a 5-variable-grid type puzzle unless you just happen to know that “Susan” is a female name in English-speaking countries.

      A crossword puzzle is another example of a “context-dependent problem”, and is one of the reasons I don’t care much for crossword puzzles. It is not enough to have good pattern recognition: To solve the puzzle you need to have a vocabulary of words and know what they mean. For example, even the best crossworder would not be able to solve a Japanese crossword puzzle if s/he didn’t know Japanese.
      To this day, I can’t understand why Alan Turing was so keen on crossword puzzles and even considered them a test of intelligence. Maybe it was just because they didn’t have more decent logic puzzles back in those days.

      I personally prefer logic puzzles which assume no knowledge of context. It’s okay if they are “word problems”, just so long as the clues are laid out with abstractable variables and assertions. The solution involves setting up grids or truth tables, without needing any knowledge of culture, or any knowledge outside of what is laid out in the premise of the puzzle itself.

      Do you get what I’m trying to say?


      • Cortes says:

        Susan = Azucena = lily.

        All those cryptic crosswords = shit.


        • yalensis says:

          Thanks, yeah, well I was just using “Susan” as a random example that I pulled out of my head. In a well-constructed logic puzzle the setup might start with: “This classroom has 10 children, five girls and five boys…” and as part of the puzzle you are asked to guess the genders of the children who are studying different subjects, etc., so “gender” is one of the variables; but you derive the genders from internal clues (or that information is simply given to you), you don’t need to know anything about the etymology of English names. Because that is “contextual” information outside of the context of the universe of the puzzle.

          And yeah, cryptic crosswords are full of shit, as are any supposedly “logic problems” which are actually vocabulary exercises.

          I also despise “word seach” and “jumble” problems which are extremely popular among Americans, for some reason. And sudoku, while context-free, simply fills me with inertia. Once you know the method to solve a sudoku, then there is no challenge any more, it’s simply grunt work.

          Returning to Alan Turing:
          He must have known that the ability to solve a crossword puzzle is not a true indicator of logical intelligence. At least not the kind of brain power required to solve the Enigma. For that you need a different set of skills. So, I don’t understand why Turing made Bletchley applicants fill out crossword puzzles. Why not just make them play scrabble and pick the winner?
          “Great, you put ZEBRA on a triple-word tile! Now go figure out today’s wiring of the Enigma plugboard.”


          • Jen says:

            Turing may have been looking for people who not only had a broad general knowledge but who intuitively used various mental solutions to solve crossword puzzles. With some crossword puzzles, the answers to some questions are not obvious until you have correctly answered enough of the other questions that suddenly you see what the other questions require, a sudden light goes off in your head and you can just race through to the end.

            Also in Turing’s day, British culture was not so varied or fragmented as it is today in the sense of having various sub-cultures that have weak links to one another through the mainstream media. Crossword puzzles and especially cryptic crossword puzzles may have also changed over time to become more bound by rules that the person trying solve the puzzles has to guess.



            • yalensis says:

              That’s an interesting piece from the Telegraph, thanks for posting it. I don’t time right now, but maybe over the weekend I’ll sit down and test myself with that puzzle, to see if I am Bletchley material. Probably not because, as I mentioned, I am not very good with crossword puzzles. Which is probably why I sound so bitter about them. And I personally think that I would have been a great asset to the Bletchley team, but Alan would have rejected me because of a stupid crossword puzzle??!!

              On the other hand, I am pretty good with logic puzzles. I have books of them, and buy the magazines, and I can solve even 5-star ones, although the really hard ones, with many variables, might take me quite a lot of hours of my free time.
              Oddly enough, I had a mis-spent youth, not playing video games, but solving logic puzzles. Many many many hours of my time absorbed in this task. My mother once asked me, in exasperation, if I would ever derive any benefit from this. I think she would have been happier if I had been out playing pool with the neighborhood hoodlums.
              But here is the twist to my story, which makes it sound like a Hollywood “feel-good” movie:

              In order to obtain the job which I have now (which is so high-paying that even my mother is impressed), I had to pass an intelligence test that was designed for this company by an outside vendor. It was a timed test – 2 hours, if I remember correctly.
              Not a personality test (thank goodness, on those I come off as a borderline sociopath), but an actual intelligence test. With several sections, including basic math and algebra skills, verbal skills, computer programming skills (duh! – this is a programming job), and — get this! — a section of logic puzzles.
              And when I skimmed the logic puzzles, I saw that they were all basically just 3-star types, even 2-star types, ones that could be solved with a simple grid or very basic truth table and which, because of my many hours of training, I could solve in my sleep.
              So I nailed the test and got the job.

              And I swear this is a true story!


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