Claim that Putin plagiarized a sociological monograph disputed by its author

Here is an odd sociological story: ahead of an upcoming election, bloggers accuse Vladimir Putin of plagiarizing a sociological monograph when writing about “ethnic issues” in Russia.

Putin’s article, titled “Russia: The National Question,” was published in the influential daily “Nezavisimaya gazeta” on January 23 and was the second in a series of publications by Putin in the run-up to the March 4 presidential election…

Bloggers, however, allege that approximately one-third of the publication was lifted from a monograph by sociologist Valery Tishkov and two other researchers.

Aleksandr Morozov, editor of “Russky Zhurnal” (Russian Journal), posted the allegations on his blog, generating more than 100 comments and sparking follow-up stories on widely trafficked online news sites like Lenta.ru and Polit.ru. He spoke to RFE/RL’s Russian Service:

“When I read Putin’s strange article on the national question, I noticed that special terminology was being used that is only used by professional cultural anthropologists — words like ‘socio-cultural code,’ ‘poly-cultural,’ and ‘poly-culturalism.’ There is a standard set of [commonly used] political words such as ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘civil nation.’ But [the language of Putin’s article included] some pretty specialized expressions — even though speechwriters usually watch closely to stop scientific jargon from making its way into political statements by politicians of Putin’s level.”

But in comments to RFE/RL, Tishkov, who is a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said he was unconvinced that his work had been plagiarized:

“As for [Putin’s use of] ‘poly-culturalism,’ he also got this a little confused. Everything there is a little vague. The article is sort of eclectic; [it is written in a] purely pre-election style…so that it appeals to everyone who is voting. As for those who aren’t voting, what does he say about them? Migrants… and so on — ‘Are they responsible for everything?’ I didn’t write that kind of book. It is different from this article.”

In this day and age, wouldn’t it be fairly easy for people to determine whether Putin truly plagiarized the monograph or not? Perhaps it is not simply a case of cutting and paste text but rather using reworded ideas that seem to come from another source. Using technical terms doesn’t necessarily mean someone is plagiarizing, particularly if that person could have had plenty of speechwriters or experts write the article or help him write it. It would be a different story for a student who had never shown the ability to use such terms before.

I wonder how much sociological work is plagiarized. From my grad school days, I remember one academic talking about work being plagiarized in other countries and the difficulties one might encounter in trying to reprimand the plagiarizer. Does an increased number of  instances of plagiarism reflect positively on the popularity or value of an idea or text?

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