Articles by Asya Pereltsvaig
In recent weeks, a number of mainstream news media outlets, including the CNN and The New York Times, have attempted to explain the current crisis in Ukraine in terms of a division between the more “Russian” eastern (and southern) Ukraine and the more “Ukrainian” western (and central) parts of the country. However, the easy slippage between ethnic and linguistic terms is problematic in the case of Ukraine because the ethnic and linguistic categories are not coextensive, although they do overlap to a significant degree. Moreover, speaking of the Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking populations are forming as two different language communities is somewhat misleading, particularly for the American audience not used to the high degree of bilingualism found in Ukraine.
To what extent do various parts of the world keep with astronomical time, I wondered? Math blogger and Google engineer Stefano Maggiolo answered that question by creating a map that shows the difference between “solar time” and “clock time”, that is the discrepancy between the time when the sun is at its highest point in the sky and 12 noon as it is officially reckoned. On Maggiolo’s map, places where the sun rises and sets later than it should are shown in red and those where the sun rises and sets earlier than it should are shown in green. The deeper the shade, the farther off the local clocks are.
In a recent article in the New York Times, Jim Yardley discussed the proposal by the Spanish government to end the siesta tradition and switch to a meal- and worktime pattern “closer to a 9‑to-5 timetable”. Such a reform would also “move Spain out of the time zone that includes France, Germany and Italy” and into a geographically more appropriate zone that includes Portugal and Britain. In response, Slate’s L.V. Anderson wrote that, contrary to the Yardley’s assumption, the Spanish mealtime pattern may be better for “personal productivity”, particularly for those who “like to eat” or “are not a morning person”. Both Yardley and Anderson seem to assume that the late-meal pattern is unique to “Spain, Land of 10 P.M. Dinners” (as the New York Times headline calls it) and is due to the country’s climate. This assertion is not entirely true, however, as people in Italy and France traditionally dine relatively late in the evening as well.
“For a long time now, it’s been possible to foresee that this rabid hatred, being fired up in the West against Russia more and more with each passing year, would some day explode. This moment is upon us… The entire West came to show its denial of Russia and to block her path to the future,” wrote Fyodor Tyutchev, famous …
coverMaps are not infrequently used not to document the world as it is at the time the map is created but as propaganda tools—to show how the world should be, according to the map’s creator. A case in point is the utopian “map of twentieth-century Europe imagined in 1863” from Frenchman Henri Dron’s L’Europe au XXe siècle, published in Paris in 1863.
As mentioned in the previous GeoCurrents post, a proposed new law would provide a fast track for Sephardic Jews to obtain Spanish citizenship. What remains murky, however, is who exactly would be counted under that law as a “Sephardic Jew”. Leaving aside the descendants of “conversos”, that is Jews who converted to Christianity under duress during the Spanish Inquisition and are thus no longer Jewish, even for bona fide Jews it would not be easy to prove ties to Spain’s pre-expulsion Jewish community.
A new law has been put forward in Spain that would allow Sephardic Jews—the descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492—to obtain Spanish citizenship. The proposed legislation is generally viewed as “a gesture of conciliation for Spain’s expulsion of Jews during the Inquisition”, and preliminary indications suggest that some Sephardic Jews may take Spain up on its offer. Yet many questions remain. Is there more to this law than a belated attempt to right a historical wrong? Why is it being considered now? Will the Spanish parliament actually pass the law? And if so, how many people, and who exactly, will be eligible? What repercussions will this legislation have on the demographics and economy of Spain, Israel, and other countries as well?
If one is a true Russian patriot, we believe, one should support genuine social and economic development in the country, not national prestige symbols. Putin’s supporters, however, seem to want to sweep the country’s problems and the potential geopolitical implications of the Olympics under the carpet and present the Games merely as a celebration of “mens sana in corpore sano”, a festival of beauty and health. As beauty is a subjective notion, the rest of this post will focus on the health of the Russian nation, asking whether an Olympic celebration of “beauty and health” is actually appropriate.
A reader who commented on an earlier GeoCurrents post lamented the attention to political issues surrounding the Sochi Olympics. As he put it, “may the Olympics be an arena for sportsmen, not for dirty politicians”. A similar view is expressed in the Editorial in JWeekly. Yet Olympics has rarely if ever been a purely sporting event, immune to politics.
As Russia prepares to host the 22nd Winter Olympics in February 2014, a number of concerns threaten to disrupt the joyful atmosphere of the games. Corruption, human rights violations, security, and the “Circassian question”—as well as the better publicized gay rights issue and the Snowden affair—lurk behind the pretty façade of a “Potemkin village” constructed by President Vladimir Putin.
Continuing protests in Ukraine, widely known as EuroMaidan, began in November 2013, when President Viktor Yanukovych suspended preparations for signing a European Union association agreement that would have eased the import of European products to Ukraine and set the stage for the relaxing of travel restrictions. The derailment of the deal came as a result of pressure from Russia, which supplies some 60 percent of Ukraine’s natural gas. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens took to the streets of Kiev and other large cities in rallies that at times turned into violent clashes with police. One of the ironies of this protest movement is that it has pulled many young Ukrainian Jews into an odd coalition with the ultra-nationalist Svoboda party, drawing a wedge between younger and older generations in Ukraine’s Jewish community.
Brittany in northwestern France is one of several regions in Europe that is seeking increased autonomy, if not complete independence, and instructive parallels with Catalan independence movement emerge. In both regions, the uniqueness of local language and culture is the main declared reason for seeking greater autonomy, yet economic reasons appear to be as significant, if not more so.
In January 2013, GeoCurrents focused on linguistic issues, with articles on the Roma origins and distribution of cognates for ‘onion’ in languages of Europe. A four-part mini-series examined maps of language families around the world, ranging from Indo-European and Tai-Kadai to Tungusic and Eskimo-Aleut. In another three-part series, GeoCurrents responded to a revisionist history and classification of the English language, …
The Brazilian police are turning to an unexpected source to help counter this escalating crime wave, using weapons and training obtained from Israel. In recent years, Israel has become one of the world’s largest exporters of military and policing equipment and know-how, accounting for 10% of the world total in 2007. Israeli export of defense equipment has been growing exponentially, doubling every 2-3 years. Israel’s total arms transfer agreements in 2004-2011 add up to $12.9 billion.
A recent report in India Today mentions a fatwa (Muslim religious decree) issued by a cleric associated with the Muslim Brotherhood to prohibit women from swimming in the sea. The declared reason is that the word for ‘sea’ is grammatically masculine in Arabic, and so when a woman goes swimming and “the water touches the woman’s private parts, she becomes an ‘adulteress’ and should be punished”. An earlier fatwa issued in Iraq in 2007 “warned street vendors not to place tomatoes beside cucumbers because the vegetables are different genders”. But are authors of these fatwas driven by grammar or by culture? And how do literary translators grapple with gender issues?