Monday, February 28, 2005

Comparing a five-kopeck coin to a salted cucumber

Masha Gessen’s column in The Moscow Times was devoted to yet another pathetic attempt of pro-government activists to start yet another youth organization – a real ‘blue baby’ as an obstetrician would say. There’s really not much to write about if not for a little scandal that involves dipping into dirty snow Ilya Yashin, the leader of liberal Yabloko party’s blue baby. The base to Masha’s emotionally charged accusations is the first passage of the story:
Imagine for a minute that in some country other than Russia -- say, in the
United States, or in Britain -- there appeared a political organization that
called itself "Us." Not U.S. as in the United States, not Us as in Us Magazine,
but Us as in "us vs. them." Imagine further that this is an organization that
supports, and is evidently supported by, the country's current government. Now
imagine the hue and cry, the outrage of all the righteous people who argue that
an organization that openly divides its own country into those who are "us" and
those who are "them" is despicable -- and a government that supports and even
inspires the use of the rhetoric of war against its own citizens is
I don’t find any ‘rhetoric of war’ in the word ‘nashi’ (‘us’). It’s more like: we’re fans of Dinamo soccer team – we’re ‘nashi’ vs. fans of Spartak. Or cosmonauts are ‘nashi’ vs. astronauts are Americans. Masha’s interpretation of the word is far-fetched for any Russian native speaker.
I’m sure when an American reader would imagine for a minute that in the US there appeared such a political organization, she or he would be terrified and shocked but I don’t find any sound ground for comparing Russia with the US. What was the reason? Do they belong to the same culture? Perhaps both countries are equal economically? Or they are equal democratically? Or citizens of the US like to compare themselves to Russians? Or vice versa? There’s a good old Russian saying: “Don’t compare a five-kopeck coin to a salted cucumber”. Or better: “Сравнил жопу с пальцем!”
Masha’s story looses all its pathos if only we compare Russia with ‘comparable’ countries. “Imagine for a moment that in some country other than Russia – say, in Burma, or in Venezuela, or in Brazil, or in Ukraine…” The most obvious answer to this call is “So what?”


Anonymous said...

I found your blog through Blog Explosion. It's been a long time since I heard the saying that titles your post. I enjoy the philosophical questions you pose. Thank you
~Lady in R3d

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