Letter From the Editors

Any translator of a Western language into English will tell you that constant hazards of the job are faux amis – those deceptive lexical items that look like English words but mean something different. A shining (or shall we say glaring?) example in this week’s collection of Russian articles is the verb realizovat, which looks like realize but does not match its primary meaning (to become aware of). Instead, the Russian word means “to cause to become a reality” (as in “realize one’s dreams,” a marginal usage in English). A more customary equivalent is the verb implement. For example, following this week’s visit by a multinational delegation to the Donetsk Basin conflict zone, American diplomat Rodney Hunter called on Moscow “to implement all of the commitments it made under the Minsk agreements”; the verb was translated into Russian as realizovat.

But when going from Russian into English, the task gets trickier because, like most Russian verbs, realizovat can take many shapes – passive voice, reflexive form, imperfective aspect – which leave key elements unspecified, such as who is doing the “realizing” and whether it has been (or will be) accomplished.

Examples abound in our feature on the Petersburg Politics Foundation’s report that contemplates potential scenarios for the State Duma elections – which range from rigorous “mobilization” of voters by the United Russia party to its need to form a coalition with other parties. The authors bandy about various forms of realizovat, but as translators we need to be judicious about implying that it’s all up to the Kremlin whether to “implement” a given outcome. After all, the third scenario envisions United Russia losing its legislative majority.

Yelena Mukhametshina describes pundit Konstantin Kostin’s outlook as follows: “The above scenarios should not be viewed dogmatically; all of them will take place to some degree.” Here, the italicized phrase corresponds to realizovat in the future passive form, which does not specify an agent. Consequently, we avoided the word implement, especially since Kostin surmises that the regime’s ratings may drop (certainly not an intentional act). On the other hand, Aleksandr Kynev describes the Kremlin’s efforts to secure a constitutional majority in the Duma (first scenario): “Every regional official responsible [for ensuring a certain result] is always going to worry about what might happen. So the first scenario is always going to be implemented.” In this case, the standard equivalent is a viable option, although the Russian verb is used in the reflexive imperfective form (which doesn’t necessarily imply that the regime’s efforts will succeed). Therefore, an equally accurate translation could cast the whole situation in a more indefinite light, such as “the first scenario will always come into play.”

This cognate can also occur as a noun (realizatsia). For example, see the italicized equivalent in our translation of Maksim Artemyev’s article, in which he defends the Russian authorities’ recent statements about breaking off relations with Europe: “The essence of the EU’s demands toward Russia can be defined as follows: ‘We want you to become like us – but since you are not, we will punish you.’ It is clear that this goal is not only counterintuitive but it stands no chance of being accomplished in the foreseeable future.” Another variation on the word comes in Belarussian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei’s interview with RBC Daily, when he talks about the importance of convincing the younger generations that the Lukashenko regime offers them chances at samorealizatsia (self-fulfillment). This remark makes us wonder whether one such chance was the sustained series of protest rallies against alleged fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Now that the protests seem to have fizzled out, can perennial leader Aleksandr Lukashenko’s declaration of victory last August be considered a self-fulfilling prophecy?