The topic of this post was to be determined by a poll, but it ended in a tie, so I’ll try to match the expectations of both parties in one go. Continue reading
The owner uses home-made shells reloaded out of flare gun ammo. The apparent difficulty with pumping comes from the fact that “Selezen” has a slide lock, which has to be disengaged by pressing a lever before the action can be cycled. By Ivan Languev
Transcribing anything that was originally spelt in Cyrillics into Latin characters is often a problem. With Russian gun brands, there’s only one simple case: TOZ. Both TOZ (Tulski Oruzheiny Zavod, transl. Tula Gun Works) and Tula give easy and natural renderings. Not so with two other major brands: Izh or Ij?
1. Izh or Ij?
“Izh” is a contraction from Izhevks, the town where the current owner of the Baikal brand, and the producer of most guns ever sold under the brand, is located. The “zh” sound has no equivalent in the English language, but it sounds like the last sound in the French “fromage”; Russian children emit it to imitate a flight of a bug (a big bug, not a mosquito).
The correct way to transcribe it into Latin characters is “Izh”. But when Soviet guns began to be exported, the alternative spelling “Ij” was also used. Which spelling was used more often is a question for research, but offhand “Ij” seems to be the winner. So the dilemma is that “Izh” is more correct, while “Ij” may be more familiar to international audience.
2. MTs or MC?
“MTs” is an abbreviation of “Model of TsKIB SOO”, TsKIB being in turn an abbreviaion for “Tsentralnoye Konstruktorsko-Issledovatelskoye Buro Sportivno-Okhotnichiego Oruzhiya”. This translates as “Central Design and Research Bureau for Hunting and Sporting Arms”.
The first sound of the first word in Russian also hasn’t a phonetic equivalent in English – it’s exactly the same sound as when you click your tongue in disapproval. So, given the translation, it doesn’t seem a stretch to transcribe the enterprize as “CKIB”, and the guns as “MC”.
The problem here is not so much the recognizability – TsKIB guns are unknown to the majority of international gun lovers – than the natural pronounciation of MC as “Am-See”, which is very different from what it actually sounds like.
Anyway, I’ll have to make up my mind sooner or later, as to which spelling to choose, the correct or the familiar. Emotionally, I’m for the former, rationally – for the latter. Call me a nitpicker, or voice your comments on which spelling you would prefer.
I’d like to reiterate here that these posts are very far from the complete account of Soviet shotguns export. A full account of the issue would probably bring me a doctorate in Economics. The three posts are more like the starting point of an investigation, what I know by now.
Along the 1980s, with the combination of plummeting oil prices and the effect of economic sanctions, the Soviet economy was going from bad to worse to catastrophic. Soviet Government looked for sources of hard currency everywhere. However, there was a big problem. By 1990, as states a paper quoted by Egor Gaidar in his Collapse of an Empire (mandatory reading for everyone interested in the collapse of the USSR), only about 12% of Soviet manufactured products were competitive on the world markets (and for 47% of those overseas customers had serious quality complaints). Apparently, Soviet hunting shotguns were in the 12%, but their actual competitiveness is an open question. Continue reading
Export was a big deal for Soviet gun works, because it allowed them a chance for something they couldn’t otherwise get – contacts with foreign (preferably Capitalist) countries. People who never lived under the Iron Curtain can’t imagine what it meant to even know someone who routinely went abroad and could bring you blue jeans or the Beatles LP. In every provincial Russian town there used to be a riddle “What’s long and green and smells of consumer products?” (answer: the train from Moscow), but Tula is only a couple of hours ride from the capital (where you could more or less get anything), while Izhevsk is about 1000 miles away from anywhere.
Soviet and Russian gun export is perhaps the most difficult chapter to write, because information is barely available. On the Russian side, it is classified, first because the makers all belonged to the military-industrial complex, and lately as commercial secret. On the importing side, it has to do with numerous companies, some of them no longer exist. At this stage, I don’t know even know how to approach this problem, and perhaps the best way to start is to put down what I know by now (December 2015).
The export of Russian hunting shotguns did not begin until 1960s. In fact, before the second part of 1950s production capacity of domestic gunmakers wasn’t sufficient to satisfy even local demand, and the country imported scores of shotguns (mostly from East Germany). However, by 1960-1962 it became evident that the collective farm based agricultural system couldn’t feed growing urban population. The USSR had to import large quantities of food, and needed hard currency; all industries were ordered to come up with ideas for export merchandise.
There isn’t a Russian writer who hasn’t built a headline on “Pictures at an Exhibition”, title of the famous piano music by Mussorgsky. But this year’s Arms&Hunting Moscow Expo brings to mind another Russian classic – “After the Battle of Prince Igor and the Polovtsy”.