Small Homelands.

I’m reading Vera Tolz’s Russia’s Own Orient: The Politics of Identity and Oriental Studies in the Late Imperial and Early Soviet Periods (you can read a review by Denis V. Volkov here [pdf]), and I found this passage (on p. 37) of interest from a linguistic point of view:

In the 1870s, Russia’s size and underdeveloped systems of communication began to be depicted in the Russian press as an obstacle to the consolidation of the Russian national core. Russia, it was argued, was far too large and diverse for people to be able easily to identify with the state (otechestvo) as a whole. The proposed solution was to start national integration by fostering people’s particular affinity to their so-called ‘small native homeland’ (malaia rodina)—the region and the immediate locality where they lived.

The footnote says “In the discussion of the relationship between local and national identities, authors constantly use the expressions ‘rodina’ or ‘malaia rodina’ to refer to a particular locality and the word ‘otechestvo’ to describe Russia in its entirety.” I confess I had thought of otechestvo and rodina as pretty much synonymous, with the latter having more emotional force (“Родина-мать зовет!”); this use to mean ‘small homeland’ reminds me of French pays. A little later Tolz refers to the comparable German Heimat movement of that period; we don’t really have a comparable word in America — being more urbanized, we talk about one’s hometown. At any rate, I was wondering if the Russian use she describes still seems valid to my Russian-speaking readers.

Comments

  1. English is my native language, but I believe I have been exposed to this distinction. And I feel like I have also seen родину used to refer to something like the immediate family of one’s birth, in a way that отечество is not used at all.

    Ушаков supports at least the former small sense of родина.

  2. родину used to refer to something like the immediate family of one’s birth

    I think that must be derived from род, the household god of pagan Russia. Note also the well-known родной/чужой ‘ours/anoher’s’ opposition.

  3. Going by my L1 feeling, rodina can mean both the whole country and a smaller area of ones childhood and youth. Depends on context. Otechestvo is not now used in ordinary speech as a noun, only adjectival forms. Of course, it was in much wider use in 19th century. You might enjoy this little fragment on the distinction of rodinas

  4. Maybe there isn’t a single word in English, but people in the US use lots of different terms to refer to the area that surrounds their hometown, but does not align with the state borders.

    If you watch the local news broadcasts, they almost always use somewhat generic terms like ‘The Tri-State Area’ or ‘Central (insert state name)’. Most are more specific, like ‘The Ozarks’ or ‘The Central Coast’, but all of these probably arose historically from the limits of the radio or television station broadcast signals.

  5. I think French terroir comes pretty close?

  6. You might enjoy this little fragment on the distinction of rodinas

    I did! (Eldar Ryazanov was a genius.)

    Maybe there isn’t a single word in English, but people in the US use lots of different terms to refer to the area that surrounds their hometown

    But that’s not the same at all: “the Tri-State Area” and “the Ozarks” are not comparable to common nouns like rodina and pays.

  7. SFReader says:

    Perhaps the second meaning arose under influence from Ukrainian “rodina” (“family”).

  8. So how is it different from just saying ‘the region’, or ‘local area’, or any other generic terms that are smaller than countries? If I am completely missing the point… what exactly is the point?

  9. It’s like the difference between “mother” (a basic, highly emotive word) and “maternal parent” (a dry descriptive phrase).

  10. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    Interesting because now Russia seems to be divided into Moscow (+Petersburg, maybe) and the Province — with regional identities being weak. Judging by the 19th century literature I’ve read it was much the same then. Regional identity is stronger in Poland, I think (esp. in the areas that once belonged to Germans/Austrians) but still it’s very weak compared to, say, Germany or the Anglo-Saxon world (although we do have some urban non-standard dialects, mostly the Silesian one, while urban Russian is pretty monolithic as far as I know).

    The closest thing to Heimat in Polish is probably moje strony or moje rodzinne strony (pl. tantum, the singular strona is ‘side’) but isn’t as romanticized and ideologized as the German word. There’s also the much narrower ojcowizna, which refers to the land you’ve inherited from your father (in rural contexts) and it’s something people are said to be emotionally attached to (more so than to their strony).

  11. Very interesting.

    I am positive that nobody in America uses the term ‘hometown’ in any way related to that. Maybe as in the baseball song with “root, root, root for the hometeam.” but that is the limit.

    But, I have lived in Germany now for over 10 years, and I can’t find that normal people actually use any such terms either.

    It must be subtle, and not really used outside of propaganda. Why else would it be used unless bringing together ethnic or language groups?

  12. Rick — you’re onto something: I wouldn’t use either of those words without at least a twinge of irony. But they still have a lot of cultural significance and resonance and we all understand what they mean. I think the distinction between отечество and родина isn’t very far from what the etymology implies: the Fatherland is what you’re supposed to be willing to die for, whereas the Motherland/Homeland/Birth-land is what you’re supposed to pine for and be vaguely embarrassed for when it does stupid things.

    By the way, something I never understood as a teenager during the Bush years is why no one else was as bothered by the Orwellian naming of the “Department of Homeland Security.” I was always waiting for someone in the media to start referring to it regularly as the Department of Fatherland Security and it never happened.

  13. In Ireland one may speak of one’s “home place”, the place where one grew up, provided one now lives far away from it. Online dictionaries suggest US “homeplace” is just the family residence, but in Ireland it connotes a vaguely defined locale; a community such as a village or townland. I don’t associate it with large urban areas, or neighbourhoods within them; perhaps others might. Brian Friel has a play called “The Home Place”, which I have not seen.

  14. I long ago learned Spanish patria chica with exactly the same meaning as malaia rodina. And I do think that the term “homeplace” corresponds more or less in English, at least hereabouts.

  15. Huh; the term “homeplace” is completely unfamiliar to me. And it’s not in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, which suggests it’s not a US term.

  16. On reflection, I’m not sure I grew up with “homeplace,” but it seems to have become common in the past few decades among the sort who make appeals to “thinking locally.”

  17. And it’s not in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, which suggests it’s not a US term.

    It is in M-W Online, which suggests it was just overlooked (or perhaps suppressed as a regional term).

  18. > suggests it’s not a US term.

    Collins says “US” and “mainly dialectal”

  19. I didn’t know малая родина is so old. I thought it was a late-Soviet cliché. It’s still in use and leaves no doubt as to the meaning.

    As for родина more generally, I think D.O. has put it perfectly; many thanks for Georgy Burkov’s monologue from The Garage. I should mention the Soviet term, на родине героя, referring to the place the hero was born and/or reared.

  20. F, I think, you are not alone. I remember Chris Matthews once said “homeland security”, interrupted himself and remarked parenthetically “We are sounding like Russians” (or something close to it. But Russians were there.)

  21. There is no widespread term for a “small homeland” in Polish. If we speak of mała ojczyzna, it’s usually with German culture in mind. The reason, I think, is that the word ojczyzna has a strong historical and political load and its referent must be a state-size unit — a “country” rather than a “region” or “place”. But we do use the phrase patriotyzm lokalny, and the regional/local sense of identity and loyalty it refers to is important to Poles. I would describe myself as a local patriot of the city of Poznań within the historical region of Wielkopolska, my “small homeland” of choice, with looser but still important ties to the area and place where I was born and where I grew up (the suburban zone of Warsaw).

    But it’s complicated, as the FB relationship status says. One of the Polish national bards, the Romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz, began his best known epic poem (published 1834) with the apostrophe Litwo! Ojczyzno moja! (Lithuania, my homeland!), referring to a region rather than a country (he was born near Nowogródek/Navahrudak, then in the “Lithuanian” part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and now in Belarus; ethnically, he considered himself a Pole and wrote all his poetry in Polish). He published the poem when in exile in Paris, after Poland ended its existence as a state and was partitioned by Russia, Prussia nad Austria. The poem is all about Polish patriots in the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania conspiring to start an uprising against the Russian occupants, but still he didn’t write Polsko! Ojczyzno moja!, though it would have scanned just as well. The upside of his complex identity is that Belarus and Lithuania can also claim him as their national poet. Thus, one poet’s “small homeland” happens to create ties between three modern states — a triumph of local patriotism.

  22. The original idea was to call it the Department of Homeland Defense. However, it was realized that such a name would conflict with the already existing Department of Defense. Personally, I think they should have just changed the latter back to War.

  23. Jim (another one) says:

    “> suggests it’s not a US term. – Collins says “US” and “mainly dialectal”

    The term “down home” is a lot more common. I have never heard anyone from either the South or the Mid-South use the term “home place”, so if it’s dialectal, that would leave New England or Hawai’i. I have never heard the term anywhere on the West Coast either. It doesn’t sound at all Yankee to me. That leaves Hawai’i, and in fact it has kind of an Hawaiian feel to it. That would explain why mainlanders don’t recognize it.

  24. SFReader says:

    -Belarus and Lithuania can also claim him as their national poet.

    His clearly Mongolic appearance suggests that he may have had Tatar roots – from the Tatar minority which resided in Lithuania since 15th century.

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9c/Adam_Mickiewicz_według_dagerotypu_paryskiego_z_1842_roku.jpg

    Pushkin and Mickiewicz made a great pair – African looking Russian patriot and Asian looking Polish patriot exchanging nationalistic diatribes at each other…

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/56/Portrait_of_Alexander_Pushkin_%28Orest_Kiprensky%2C_1827%29.PNG

  25. gwenllian says:

    In Serbo-Croatian there’s zavičaj. But you’re more likely to hear it simply called rodni kraj.

  26. His clearly Mongolic appearance suggests that he may have had Tatar roots – from the Tatar minority which resided in Lithuania since 15th century.

    That would make him a cousin of Charles Bronson, the most famous Lipka Tatar of all. Other people descended from them include Magdalena Abakanowicz, a Polish sculptor who died two days ago, and Henryk Sienkiewicz, a novelist and the 1905 Nobel Prize winner. Strangely enough, a 17th-c. Lipka Tatar military leader (and bastard son of Toğay Bey, as it turns out), is the chief villain of the last part of his rather nationalistic Trilogy.

Speak Your Mind

*