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'Nazi Atmosphere' Drives Prominent Linguist From Russia

  • Dmitry Volchek
  • Robert Coalson

Ilya Frank: "I just do not want to live in an insane, artificially cooked-up atmosphere where 90 percent of the population is infected" with a "virus of self-aggrandizement and hatred for others."

Ilya Frank: "I just do not want to live in an insane, artificially cooked-up atmosphere where 90 percent of the population is infected" with a "virus of self-aggrandizement and hatred for others."

Later this year, renowned Russian linguist and teacher Ilya Frank will shut off the lights in his Moscow apartment, head for the airport, and close the Russia-based chapter of his life.

"My family and I are leaving because of the Nazi atmosphere that has formed in Russia, in which it is very unpleasant to live," says the 52-year-old scholar. "Although I work at home and don't go out so much, as soon as I do go out, I feel it immediately."

"I have a young daughter," he adds. "In a year, she has to go to school. I am horrified at the thought that she might go to a Russian school because it will be full of this propaganda. So recently I got permanent-residence status at the Israeli Consulate."

Frank joins a growing wave of Russians leaving their country. According to the Russian government, 203,659 people left in the first nine months of 2014, up from 120,756 in the same period the year before.

And many of them are heading to Israel. In 2014, 4,685 Russians moved to Israel. The nongovernmental Jewish Agency for Israel says immigration to that country from Russia surged an additional 40 percent in the first quarter of this year.

And the average emigrant is now younger, better educated, and far more likely to come from Moscow than before.

Clear Nazi Parallels

Frank is the author of numerous volumes on cultural studies and linguistics, and has developed a unique method of learning foreign languages that has opened up the world for thousands of Russians. Now he plans to take that business with him to his new country.

In June, Russian political scientist Vladislav Inozemtsev wrote that Russia under President Vladimir Putin is more readily comparable to Fascist Italy under Benito Mussolini than to Nazi Germany. Frank, however, is not so certain.

"Maybe it is more similar to Fascist Italy, but that also was hardly attractive," Frank says. "However there are definitely parallels with [Hitler's] Germany. It is interesting that the speeches of the leaders of the country, and even leaders of the [Russian Orthodox] Church, often use the same figures of speech as [Nazi propaganda chief Joseph] Goebbels. Apparently some sort of preparation is going on. They directly borrow phrases with just some insignificant changes. Those who write their speeches now are simply using an old formula."

"By training I am a teacher of German, so I read a lot of German books about the 1930s," Frank says. "I've seen the documentary films and listened to Goebbels in the original. Of course, I see parallels and it is extremely unpleasant."

Frank said that when he was at the Israeli Consulate, he was struck by the photographs of ordinary life in Israel that decorated the walls, saying they contrasted sharply with the "virus of self-aggrandizement and hatred for others" that he sees in contemporary Russia.

"I just do not want to live in an insane, artificially cooked-up atmosphere where 90 percent of the population is infected" with this virus, he says.

Frank says he feels this atmosphere when watching videos that Russians post to YouTube and other sites and when he surveys the books on sale in Moscow bookstores -- "the memoirs of fighters in [Ukraine's] Donetsk, books about [evil] America, about the horrible things that have happened in Ukraine since Maidan."

He feels it as well in the slogans that he hears and that he sees painted on cars and billboards in Moscow.

And it seems to him a bit as if history is repeating itself.

"I think this is exactly what people who had been raised in a different era felt when the Stalin era began," Frank says. "This was unbearable for them because they saw the stupidity that was being expressed in this new language, in conversations and in slogans. And they, as a matter of fact, wrote about this later."

Will the pendulum swing back the other way someday?

"I think it will," Frank says. "But I simply don't know how long that will take. And I'm already 52 years old."

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