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Ethnic literatures have been revived in Russia through Russian language

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Ethnic literatures have been revived in Russia through Russian language


Editor’s office of the Russkiy Mir Portal

More than 190 nations live in Russia. They write and read in 60 literary languages. But what do we know about such literatures besides the Russian one? Meanwhile, work of modern authors representing various nations of Russia embraces a wide range of styles and genres, such as poetry, prose, folklore, and children's literature, realism, postmodernism and even rap poetry.

The Soviet Union had an integral policy aimed to support ethnic cultures. When tough times came, a lot of things were neglected. For instance, development of ethnic literatures ceased its functioning as one consistent system. As a result, authors lost each other; translations of ethnic literatures into Russian as an intermediary language and one of the main world languages were snuffing out. However, experts acknowledge that one of the primary ways to preserve ethnic diversity is as complete as possible translation of ethnic authors into Russian language, though it may seem to be against logic. After all, this is the only way a certain author or an entire literature may become known by a truly wide range of readers, thats not to mention promotion of their books abroad.

Conference on promotion of ethnic literatures in Russia and the world (Moscow, September 6, 2019)

Although local programs for preservation and development of ethnic languages have existed at the regional level, and national theaters have operated there, for a long time there was a lack of support from the federal center. Finally, in 2015, the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications initiated a program to support ethnic literatures of the nations of Russia.

According to Svetlana Dzyubinskaya, the deputy chief of the Office of periodical press, book publishing and printing industries of the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications, this is the first project of such kind in Russia, and so far 2.5 thousand authors, linguists, experts, scientists, etc. have already joined the Program. In addition to this Program, the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications has also increased expenditures to support ethnic media. Over the past year, the agency granted support to 87 representatives of printed media (newspapers, magazines, etc.) in ethnic languages in the amount of 61 million rubles (for comparison, in 2014, the support was received by 26 representatives of printed media and it amounted to 5 million rubles only).

The idea to establish a program to support ethnic literatures of the nations of Russia came, in essence, from public. Maksim Amelin, a poet, a translator, the editor-in-chief of the OGI Publishing House, and the editor-in-chief of the Program, has no doubts in it. He shared that during numerous trips around the country, he had been repeatedly asked about the translation of ethnic authors into Russian.

Amelin believes the Program is very useful, not least because of possibility for all authors to become acquainted again and establish new connections. Activities within the framework of the Program include regular workshops on translation from ethnic languages held in different regions and translators forums, which are organized every other year. Amelin noted that during such meetings it turned out that ethnic authors and translators simply missed some of the Russian Silver Age, restricted during the Soviet age. So recently works of Mandelstam, Khlebnikov, Zabolotsky, etc., have been translated into some ethnic languages to fill the gap. For the first time their verses were heard in Erzya, Moksha, Udmurt, Altai and some other languages.

Maksim Amelin

The country is huge, and writers, poets, playwrights, scientists, translators live in different corners of it. So it used to be quite difficult to establish even some kind of simple ties between them, and that was not possible for a long time,” said Maksim Amelin at a round table held at the Moscow International Book Fair - 2019, which was dedicated to promotion of ethnic literature. At the same time there are other programs, for example the development program for Finno-Ugric languages, which has been implemented by the European Union through Hungary, Finland and Estonia. A huge number of translations from Moksha, Erzya, Khanty, Mansi have been performed into Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian. There is a large Turkish program of the International Organization of Turkic Culture. The Chinese extensively work with some Far East languages, since certain ethic groups live in China as well, for example, Evenks, Nanai people. Then, do not forget that the United States of America are our neighbors in the Bering Strait, so they have Eskimos, who also live in our country. We started our Program taking into consideration such situation.

The main project that is being implemented as part of the Program is publication of several large anthologies.

Contemporary Literature of the Peoples of Russia: Poetry was the first published anthology. It is particularly remarkable that for the first time in the history of translations from ethnic languages all works were presented in a bilingual version. Altogether, 57 ethnic literatures were included into the book. By the way, the Paratype Company, with the support of the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications, developed three official fonts, including all types of styles and diacritics, which support all ethnic languages required for the publication. This is undoubtedly another achievement of the anthologists. It is no coincidence that the book received several literary prizes.

Anthologies of Contemporary Literature of the Peoples of Russia. Photo credit:

It was followed by the illustrated anthology - Contemporary Literature of the Peoples of Russia: Children's Literature. A dedicated group of artists was formed for publishing of the book. They created ethnic illustrations in ethnic style. The anthology includes Russian literary translations of poetic and prose works of more than two hundred authors, which have been written over a quarter-century of the existence of new Russia in 55 ethnic languages.

In general, children's literature is one of the most delicate and vulnerable branches of ethnic literatures. As a rule, it is closely connected with folklore, introducing a little reader to cultural heritage of his/her people. That is why it requires particular attention.

Children's literature in ethnic languages is contributed by a very small circle of authors, and the main task of this Program was to expand it, said Alyona Karimova, a poet, a translator, an expert of the Program for support of ethnic literatures of the nations of Russia.

According to the expert, this task is partially solved: a fairly large number of poets, children's writers and scriptwriters got involved in creation of the anthology. However, there is also the second task - inclusion of readers. For childrens literature, it is particularly relevant, Karimova said, if children dont read in their ethnic language, we will never ever get adult readers.

There are about 60 children's literatures in Russia, and it is very important to think now about forms in which literature is offered to children. The expert believes that big scale promotion of children's literature in ethnic languages requires digitalization: creation of apps for smartphones, voice-over for games and cartoons in ethnic languages…

Illustrations in the anthology of children's literature. Photo credit:

The anthology of children literature was followed by Contemporary Literature of the Peoples of Russia: Prose, which includes translations from 50 languages. This very anthology became one of the finalists of 2019 Book of the Year Award.

Apparently, another book from this series will be released as early as in 2020. It will be the anthology of contemporary dramaturgy of the peoples of Russia presenting approximately 40 literatures. Dramaturgy is always associated with the national theater, however not all nations have the one. Moreover, national theaters have a clear lack of modern dramatic works. Nevertheless, modern plays have been created and, following Mikhail Shvydkois idea, some national theaters could use works of neighboring nations in the absence of their own. The new edition should undoubtedly help to fill this gap, at least partially.

It is worth noting that the Anthologies have already begun to promote ethnical literatures outside of Russia as well. Very soon, the UAE is going to host the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair 2019, where the national stand of Russia will also be present. According to Maksim Amelin, some stories from the Anthology of prose will be featured at the fair; they are now being translated into Arabic. Furthermore, representatives of the Bologna Children's Book Fair, the largest exhibition floor for children's literature in Europe, became interested in the Anthologies. It can be explained by the fact that nowadays literature in local dialects is being actively developed in Italy, and the Russian anthology fits into this trend quite well.

And such was the original goal: that Russian becomes an intermediary language for the promotion of ethnic literatures, including promotion in the international arena.

And finally, here is the last (so far) project within the framework of the Program for support of ethnic literatures of the nations of Russia, which is gaining momentum only now: a portal of ethnic literatures has been created. It features texts from the Anthologies and also forms a news feed. From next year, videos of authors reading their works in their native languages will be uploaded to the portal. Such a forum will provide ethnic authors with an outlet into a relatively new for them media environment, and beginning of a completely new stage in existence of ethnic literatures in Russia can be foreseen.

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