European Russia

by John Q on October 26, 2006

Reading recent posts, it’s clear nearly everyone here knows more about Eastern Europe than me I do, so probably others won’t be surprised as I was, by the information in this Washington Post story that Russia, as a member of the Council of Europe, is subject to the European Court of Justice Human Rights, and that

Russians now file more complaints with the court — 10,583 in 2005 — than people from any of the 46 countries that make up the Council of Europe, according to court statistics

Among other stats, the Court has issued 362 rulings on Russia, all but 10 going against the government.

This and other things point to the fact Russia’s primary strategic relationship nowadays is not with the US, where things are still viewed through the prism of residual Cold War rivalry, but with Europe. And this relationship is full of ambiguities, starting with the old question of whether Russia is part of Europe, part of Asia, or belongs in a special category of its own.

This is a big problem on both sides, but it’s hard to see any positive alternative to the logic of gradual integration implied by membership of a growing range of European institutions, and ultimately of the EU itself. Europe could try to draw permanent lines that excluded Russia (and maybe also Belarus), rather than deal with the problems of integration, but that seems unlikely, even with the recent backlash against expansion. More plausibly, Russia could turn in on itself, perhaps repudiating bothersome institutions like the Court of Human Rights. That would be bad for (nearly) all concerned, but clearly there are powerful forces in Russia pushing in that direction.

As I said, lots of people here understand more than me about all of this, so I’d be interested in comments, pointers to further reading and so on.



marcel 10.26.06 at 7:51 pm

Reading recent posts, it’s clear nearly everyone here knows more about Eastern Europe than me,

“Than me???” C’mon John, even you know more (grammar) than that.


Benjamin Nelson 10.26.06 at 8:27 pm

I never understood this grammatical conceit that doesn’t allow for utterances like John’s. “Me and my girlfriend went to the concert” seems relatively functional, easy to understand, etc; replacing it with “My girlfriend and I went to the concert” seems pointless. Obviously, there’s some kind of a difference between “I” and “me” (since “I like breadsticks” is better than “Me like breadsticks”). But I doubt that difference has any power in this context.

Er, also, so that this isn’t totally off-topic: in Soviet Russia, breadsticks like YOU!!


Alan 10.26.06 at 9:18 pm

The European Court of Justice is an EU institution and has no juridsdiction in Russia. The court the Russians are going to is the European Court of Human Rights, which includes a number of non-EU countries.


John Quiggin 10.26.06 at 10:13 pm

My brain is really going badly today. I checked, and got the Court of Human Rights correct further on down, but still managed to get it wrong in the lead para. I’ve fixed this now and the grammar as well (but managed to type ‘grammer’ while I was reporting this fact).

While I’m at it, has anyone seen my keys?


Doug M. 10.26.06 at 11:02 pm

Two points. One, the Russians — even in their Imperial and Soviet incarnations — have always had a funny legalistic streak. So, the USSR might do all sorts of horrible stuff, but then it would bend over backwards to comply with the Antarctica Treaty or the Convention on the Law of the Sea. Strange but true.

(This is, BTW, the reason that Gerald Ford was one of the two or three great Cold War Presidents: his administration produced the Helsinki Accords. No, seriously. The Accords gave the Soviets conniption fits… somehow they touched that legalistic nerve, and the conflict between /we must comply/ and /we cannot possibly comply/ caused serious problems from the late ’70s onwards.)

The other interesting point here is Russia’s strange love/hate, envy/contempt relationship with Europe. But that’s worth a post in its own right.

Doug M.


Christopher M 10.26.06 at 11:19 pm

Language Log on the “than I”/”than me” contretemps.

Linguist Mark Liberman’s conclusion (based on the most authoritative descriptive grammar of English in existence): “As is often the case with such prescriptions, the underlying grammatical analysis [that would hold ‘than me’ incorrect] is faulty.”


michael 10.27.06 at 2:44 am

fwiw, and just to prolong jq’s agony, german certainly insists on saying “als ich” and not als mich but french only allows “que moi” and forbids que je. The argument for the nominative is obviously that you are simply shortening the “than i do” phrase. I am not sure what the grammatical argument for the accusative might be. I suppose the “than me” is a latinification of the germanic roots of the english language. And no, i don’t know much about russia either.


Danbye 10.27.06 at 3:08 am

Over here in Europe it’s becoming increasingly clear that Russia’s turning East from us, too, towards the newest player on the world stage: China.


Doug 10.27.06 at 3:40 am

It’s unlikely in the extreme that Russia will join the EU in any reasonable time frame. First, there are no segments of the Russian elite or leadership seeking membership. Even on the fastest timetable (see Hungary et al.) the route from near-unanimous desire in policy circles to actual membership takes a decade and a half. Then there’s the slower lane currently being traveled by the Western Balkans and Ukraine, where membership takes more like two decades. Then of course there’s the Turkish lane, which is going on four decades and counting.

Second, Russia would break all of the Union’s institutional arrangements. Almost twice the population of any other member states, famously spread across eleven time zones. In Germany it’s currently fashionable to say that security starts at the Hindu Kush, but Russia has land borders all across Asia and a geographic dispute with Japan. A Union that had to call in Colin Powell a couple of years back because Spain and Morocco couldn’t come to terms over a pair of uninhabited rocks is not in the least bit prepared to deal with Russia-sized problems.

Further, Russian elites see their country as co-equal with the Union as a whole. Accepting that in certain circumstances Malta will exercise a veto over Moscow’s wishes is not part of this view.

EU enlargement will eventually reach an end, around 2020 if the former Roman provinces in North Africa do not join, rather later if they do, and Russia will not be a part of the Union.


Doug M. 10.27.06 at 5:01 am

Firm agreement with the other Doug. Russian elites have zero interest in joining the EU. (And EU elites aren’t too enthusiastic about Russia.)

“The logic of gradual integration” misses a key point: Russia, as Doug says, sees itself as an equal to the EU.

Note the unease with which Russia views Ukrainian membership.

Doug M.


chris y 10.27.06 at 5:58 am

#4. Here, John.


jallabo 10.27.06 at 8:15 am

Full Russian membership in the EU is certainly not an option within the forseeable timeframe. But some form of limited associated membership (mainly on economic matters) might be very well achievable in the short to medium term. As for the Chinese-Russian relationship: If Chinas economic modernization continues on a path similar to those taken by Japan, Taiwan or South Korea, and considering Russias bleak demographic outlook, by 2050 this relationship would look in terms of power distribution a lot like the current one between the USA and Canada: Around 1400 million wealthy Chinese facing around 100 million Russian whose overwhelming majority live in Europe. Russia might get prosperous from selling the riches of Siberia to China, but they would be very much the junior partner in any form of strategic relationship.
I am not sure if such a scenario would be more palatable to the Russian elites than a theoretical full integration into the European framework.


Anderson 10.27.06 at 9:33 am

Poor Russians, having to go to an international court to seek justice for violations of law by their government.

I’m so glad that America has no such problem, and that Rumsfeld, Addington, and Yoo have all been indicted in the D.C. district court.


dearieme 10.27.06 at 12:13 pm

“than me” is not only legit, but surely massively preferable – who on earth invented the cock-and-bull story about a [do] that’s “understood”? “me and my girlfriend”, on the other hand, is tosh.

And who invented the linguists’ quasi-religious doctrine about its being evil to prescribe? And do they apply it when bringing up their own children?


JR 10.27.06 at 12:17 pm

“Me like breadsticks” – not ok
“Me and my girlfriend like breadsticks” – ok
How about:
“Me and my girlfriend? We like breadksticks”


abb1 10.27.06 at 12:28 pm

It’s “me and me girlfriend”.


marcel 10.27.06 at 12:53 pm

JQ: You missed the second occurrence of “than me” (the one in the final sentence).

(I like this getting in first – it makes a successful hijacking of the thread much more likely – hee hee.)

The language pedant strikes again.


abb1 10.27.06 at 1:06 pm

Also in the final sentence you may want to put a comma before “and so on”, unless you’re asking for pointers to various things, “further reading” being one of them.


Alan 10.27.06 at 1:48 pm

I blame Old Europe. They should have found more distinctive names for their two courts.


Benjamin Nelson 10.27.06 at 8:38 pm

Dearieme, I think the main argument against prescriptivism is that it offers such a lack of stimulating, interesting, and convincing reasons for considering something grammatical or ungrammatical. For instance, if the prescriptivist were to say, “that’s tosh” or “not ok”, one can easily rebut with the equally convincing “nah” and “sure ’tis”.

This is not to beat up on prescription in general. I’m quite sympathetic to *lexical* prescriptivism, for example. Historical usage gets to weigh up against popular usage, and the former isn’t necessarily destined to be subverted by the latter (and nor should be feel ourselves obliged to help that process along).

I just wanted to reaffirm the fact that, if I had a girlfriend, then it would be because I would previously have made a solemn vow that me and her would not have this kind of conversation.


John Quiggin 10.27.06 at 10:43 pm

“Russia, as Doug says, sees itself as an equal to the EU.”

True, but at least three current members see themselves as being greater than or equal to the rest put together (or have only abandoned such pretensions in the recent past).


Stevenkarmi 10.28.06 at 5:50 pm

And now the report–published in today’s NY Times–that Russia has been leading the world in sales of weapons and other military technologies to “developing” countries.

Recent Russian immigrants are leaving Israel in large numbers (mostly those who are not ‘legally’ Jewish, primarily for Germany and Poland.

Russia is in a very tough spot, caught between the U.S. and China in the emergence of the 21st century balance of Superpowers. They are maneuvering themselves rather clumsily, like half-educated drunks stumbling across the world stage. It is a very dangerous situation.

Give them a small role in demilitarizing both North Korea and Iran (i.e. pulling down those regimes) and then…

a serious effort at democratizing the Russian regime. How? God knows, but it has to involve the emmigrants returning with more than just money and molotov cocktails on their minds! I would like to see a study done of the civic and social attitudes of Russian emmigrant high school and university students in eastern and central Europe–and Israel. Much is at stake.


doug 10.28.06 at 6:33 pm

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