Day: May 21, 2006


In Russia the Eurasian movement continues its reorganization and realignment. The movement's youth wing, ESM (Eurasian Union of Youth), is picking up members from other nationalist organizations, especially the National Bolsheviks. On the ESM website it's possible to read about youth camps and rallies where Eurasianist ideology is preached – it's intensely anti-American, anti-NATO and "anti-Orange".

The Eurasian movement has members at the highest level of the Russian Federal Government, and its "Higher Council" is led by figures such as the vice speaker of the Russian Duma, A.P.Troshev – vice speaker of Russian Senate, A.A.-M. Aslakhanov, adviser to President Putin, M.V. Margelov, president of the Duma Committee for International Affairs, and V.I. Kalyuzhny, vice-minister of Foreign Affairs.

IHF: Joint Statement

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Vienna, Austria

As Russia Takes Over the Chair of the Council of Europe It Must Show Respect for Human Rights

Joint call by Amnesty International, Center ‘Demos’, Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Civic Assistance Committee, Human Rights Center ‘Memorial’, Human Rights Watch, International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Moscow Helsinki Group, Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia

19 May 2006.

Today for the first time the Russian Federation will assume the chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, shortly after the 10th anniversary of its joining the Council of Europe. We, Russian and international human rights organizations, strongly believe that this occasion carries special responsibilities and heralds opportunities. The country occupying the chair of this inter-governmental organization that promotes respect for and monitors compliance with human rights, rule of law and democracy in its member states should exhibit exemplary cooperation with the bodies of the Council of Europe and respect for its aims.

Russia has made considerable progress in fulfilling a number of key promises and commitments it made when joining the Council of Europe. Among them it has signed and ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and several other Council of Europe conventions; transferred the supervision of the prison system to the Ministry of Justice; introduced new criminal, civil and procedure codes; and imposed a moratorium on the death penalty.

However, we are concerned that Russia has failed to follow up on a number of the commitments it made when becoming a member of the Council of Europe and to consistently cooperate with bodies of the Council of Europe. We are also concerned that the government’s adherence to respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms, particularly in the area of political freedoms, has seriously declined in Russia in recent years.

We are hopeful that during its Chairmanship of the Council of Europe, Russia will take significant steps to enhance the respect and protection of human rights at home, and to encourage such enhancement across the Council of Europe region. We believe that by taking the measures as outlined below Russia will demonstrate its real commitment to the Council of Europe’s aims of promoting and respecting human rights, the rule of law and democracy.

· End Arbitrary Detentions, Torture, Ill-treatment, Enforced “Disappearances”, and Extra-judicial Executions in the North Caucasus.

The Russian army, federal security forces and official as well as un-official units of the government of Chechnya have to strictly obey Russian law as well as international human rights and humanitarian law. All groups on the side of the Chechen armed opposition must refrain from all activities, which endanger the civilian population.

We urge the Russian authorities to put an end to torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary detentions, enforced “disappearances”, and extra-judicial executions.

· Take Meaningful Steps to End Impunity in Chechnya

Upon becoming a member of the Council of Europe, Russia committed itself to ensuring that “those found responsible for human rights violations will be brought to justice – notably in relation to events in Chechnya.” In cooperation with the Council of Europe the Russian authorities have taken some steps towards identifying exhumed bodies and investigation of human rights abuses. However, an overwhelming climate of impunity continues to reign in the region.

We urge the Russian authorities to make real measurable progress over the next six months in the investigation and prosecution of a number of key cases of human rights violation. i)

· End Violent Abuses in the Russian Armed Forces

Upon accession to the Council of Europe, Russia also undertook “to reduce, if not eliminate, incidents of ill-treatment and deaths in the armed forces outside military conflicts”. Yet hazing and violent initiation practices in the armed forces still result in the deaths of dozens of young soldiers every year, and serious damage to the physical and mental health of thousands of others.

We call on the Russian government to present and implement a clear and comprehensive plan of action to end violent initiation practices in the armed forces.

· Amendments to the Law on Non-governmental Organizations

In April 2006, a new law governing the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) came into force, which includes provisions that dramatically increase government control over the work of NGOs, and that may lead to even more sustained political interference in the activities of NGOs.

We call on the Russian government to amend the law and introduce safeguards to protect NGOs from arbitrary restrictions of their lawful activities.

· Reform of the Procurator’s Office

Russia has made a commitment when it joined to reform the Procurator's office in line with Council of Europe standards. However, this reform has yet to happen. A large body of research by the undersigned human rights groups illustrates that the procurator’s office routinely fails to promptly, thoroughly, impartially and effectively investigate allegations of human rights abuses.

We believe that the Russian government should swiftly undertake a comprehensive process leading to a thorough overhaul of the office of the procuracy, in line with European standards and thereby allowing for access to effective redress and accountability for human rights violations.

· Cooperation with the Committee for the Prevention of Torture

In 1998, Russia ratified the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In doing so, it committed itself to cooperating with the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). While Russia has generally permitted the CPT to visit places where people are deprived of their liberty, we are concerned that during its most recent visit in May this year the CPT was initially denied access to the village of Tsenteroi in the Chechen Republic. ii)

Russia is the only Council of Europe country not to authorize the publication of all reports of the CPT’s visits. To date 12 out of a total of 13 reports of the CPT’s visits remain confidential. While not required to do so, authorization of publication of the reports has become an established practice of all other parties of the Convention.

We believe that Russia should ensure full cooperation with the CPT by among other things, ensuring the Committee access to all places where people are deprived of their liberty; making public plans for real and transparent efforts to implement the CPTs recommendations, and authorising, without further delay, publication of all reports of CPT visits to Russia.

· Ratification of Protocol 6 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR)

In 1996, Russia undertook to “sign within one year and ratify within three years” Protocol No. 6 to the ECHR, which provides for the abolition of the death penalty in time of peace. Although no death sentences have been passed or executions carried out for years, Russia has yet to ratify the protocol.

We urge the Russian parliament to ratify Protocol 6 without further delay.

· Ratification of the European Social Charter

On accession as a Member State of the Council of Europe, Russia undertook to “study, with a view to ratification, the European Social Charter”. Russia signed the charter on 14 September 2000.

We believe Russia should finalize the ratification process during its Chairmanship.

i) Such as the systematic ill-treatment and enforced “disappearance” at the Oktiabrskii District Temporary Police Precinct in Grozny in the spring of 2000 or the “disappearances” of Said-Khusein and Said-Magomed Imakaev . The later is an applicant to the European Court of Human Rights in relation to his son’s “disappearance”;
ii) On 1 May 2006, the CPT interrupted its visit to the North Caucasus after it had been denied access to the village of Tsenteroi. However, the CPT resumed the visit after receiving assurances from the President of Chechnya that it would be able to work without further interference.

The Hole


Jens-Olaf at Estland has a post about "Overcoming the Past", in connection with Drew Wilson's recently published book The Hole, a study which re-examines the sinking of the Estonia, and proceeds from the supposition that the ship had a hole – from a collision or an explosion. The Estland post focuses on aspects of Estonian social and political life in the early 1990s, which are highlighted in Wilson's book, and wonders about the real nature of Estonian-Russian tensions at that time.

I plan to discuss Wilson's book in a future post to this blog.

Translating Brodsky


Natasha Rulyova recently asked me some questions about my experience of translating Joseph Brodsky, for a book she is writing. I ventured the following replies:

Your translation of Strophes first appeared in Strand (21:1, 1979/80)

It appeared in Stand, not Strand.

and Vogue (May 1980). Subsequently, Joseph Brodsky (JB) revised it after publication.

That’s correct.

– Did Joseph Brodsky (JB) ask you to translate Strophes or was it your initiative?

One afternoon when I visited him at 44 Morton Street he asked me to translate the poem. He told me he had been keeping it for me.

– Do you know whether any other translators were approached to do the job?

No, but it’s possible to suppose that they weren’t.

– Have you ever seen any other versions of the poem?

No, apart from the revised versions of ‘our’ translation which Joseph published during his lifetime.

– Did JB try to translate it himself independently?

Yes, I believe so.

– JB had already started translating some of his own poems from the Russian when you translated Strophes. His auto-translation of December in Florence appeared roughly at the same time, in 1980. Why do you think did JB want you to translate Strophes rather than do it himself, taking into account that his control over his English translations was about to start growing?

As far as I could tell, Joseph regarded Strophes as something apart from the rest of his production at that time. For him it seemed to represent a statement that was acutely personal, and one he wasn’t sure very many people would understand. He wanted the translation to be a process of understanding.

– To what extent did JB interfere with your translation and at what stages?

He didn’t interfere much with the actual writing of the ‘final’ translation, but we had at least two long sessions where he went through various drafts of the individual stanzas with me and made suggestions. It was a sort of extended discussion, and it took quite some time.

– Did he try to russify your translation?


– Did he attempt to make it less ‘smooth’?


– If not, how would you describe the changes he suggested? Did you agree with all his suggestions?

As far as I know, I accepted nearly all his changes, which seemed to stem from his own conviction and certainty about what he was saying. There are a few problems with the translation which haven’t been resolved – as in the lines

Like our thirty-third letter
I jib all my life ahead.

where the second line is still only a very approximate rendering of the Russian, but which represents Joseph’s preferred choice.

I think it needs to be remembered that for Joseph the process of translating his own poems was in many ways not ‘translation’ in the usual sense at all. He used to talk of ‘throwing away the original, as it’s not important now’. The idea was to create a new poem in English – and that was going to involve reliving some of the same existential tensions that had led to the writing of the Russian version. I always felt that the conventional kind of ‘translation’ had negative meanings for Joseph – he tended to regard it rather as Mandelstam did. The important thing was to create something new and alive that worked in the host language. Innokenty Annensky, of whom I’d made a special study and whom Joseph greatly admired, also took this approach.

– Did you consult anybody while you were translating Strophes?

No, only Joseph.

– How did JB make his suggestions/corrections: on your manuscript in your presence, after publication without consulting you, or any other?

Essentially we made the translation together, as part of an ongoing conversation – I made changes to my own drafts on pieces of paper, and submitted them for his approval. And he made his. Each stanza of the poem was treated almost like an individual poem in itself – a kind of rhyming haiku. We also translated some poems of Tsvetaeva at about the same time by a similar process, though it was almost exclusively oral, and didn’t involve much writing down. I only saw the results when Joseph had two of the translations published in the New Yorker, under the pseudonym "F.F. Morton". The idea was that 44 Morton Street had done the translating.

– In the Beinecke library JB archive, I saw a reference to your translation of the poem ‘On the Death of a Friend’ which, according to the reference, has not been published. Did JB ask you to translate the poem?

I think it was in a group of about four poems he gave me to translate, but also gave to Alan Myers, Daniel Weissbort, George Kline, and someone else.

– Do you still have this translation?


Why was not it published?

I don’t know.

– Whose decision was it not to have it published?

Again, I don’t know.

– Did JB make any changes in it?

Once again, I don’t know.

– Have you translated any other JB’s poems which were not published?

I translated part of The Thames at Chelsea, but Joseph preferred Alan Myers’ version of the complete poem.

– What were the reason for not having them published?

I think I’ve explained the situation above.

– In From Russian with Love, Daniel Weissbort notes that he felt more ‘proprietorial’ about his translations of JB’s poems than Alan Myers who saw his translations as ‘versions’, or ‘drafts’. How would you describe your relationship with your translations?

I always saw them as open-ended drafts, which were under Joseph’s control – they were his poems, and I tried to help to find an English idiom in which to phrase the English versions of the few that I got involved with. It may seem strange, but the translation of Strophes was really an extension of the conversations we were having at the time, both about the poem itself and about other matters, rather than a literary text as such. I felt that this improvisatory process was one of the ways in which Joseph gauged the personal characteristics of his translators and of other non-Russians who surrounded him. The translations were a kind of test – not so much of linguistic or literary skill, though that mattered, of course, as of existential authenticity. I was never sure whether I passed or failed this test, though in our work together Joseph always insisted that I had passed it. I rarely had contact with his other translators.

– Did JB ever ask you to edit his English poems or to comment on his English texts?

He sometimes asked me to edit his prose texts – the short essay on Dostoevsky is an example, though it needed hardly any changes. I also read and commented, at his request, on some other texts he had written, but I don’t remember what they were now.

My translation of Strophes is here.