Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Pavlik Morozov

A week ago I watched one of the episodes of the “Lost” series. Jack (played by Matthew Fox) – a young surgeon – saw that his dad, also a surgeon, operated while being drunk, cut an artery of the patient but reported that the girl died from natural causes. His honest son was terrified by this but when his dad promised never to drink at work again he agreed to sign the statement “nothing could be done”. But then again during the hearing of some special medical committee he was told that the girl was pregnant. We see the hurricane of contradictory emotions on the actor’s face. He cannot take it anymore and denounces his father. “Pavlik Morozov!”- we all exclaimed in unison. Pavlik Morozov was No.1 Yound Pioneer hero who denounced his anti-communist father in the early 30’s and then later was killed by his own relatives (his grandmother was among the avengers). Denouncing close relatives, no matter how evil they are, is one of the greatest crimes in Russia. It’s an ages-long taboo, the worst betrayal, an unforgivable sin. Pavlik Morozov is one of the most insulting nicknames to be given to a person. If your dad was really that bad – punish him yourself but don’t denounce him.

When Stalin made a hero out of Pavlik Morozov the message was quite clear. “You guys think that your homes are safe and you can freely say what you think of your government and Comrade Stalin? Not if your son is a Young Pioneer who wants to become a hero.” And then – “if you ever say that denouncing close relatives is immoral you will be treated as an enemy of the people”.

Catriona Kelly did a great job of researching the story about Pavlik Morozov in her book “Comrade Pavlik”. What she found is really surprising – the whole story is nothing but a Soviet myth. Pavlik Morozov didn’t denounce anyone. He and his friend were found dead in the forest and there were no proves that he was killed out of revenge. He was not even a Young Pioneer. His father was not an enemy of the people. It’s still unclear how the whole story came into being.

Catriona Kelly’s work was so thorough that he even translated into English one of the 'chastushkas' about Pavlik I liked when I was seven. We called them “sadistic poems”.

Daddy is lying in the street,
All in blood from head to feet.
His little son – oh, what a shame!
Was playing a Pavlik Morozov game

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Dostoyevskiy Style

Some people say that Russians in Dostoyevskiy novels are unrealistic. People don't burn millions of rubles just because they are angry. Oleg Liakhovich from "Moscow News" collects news you can afford to miss. This one is very interesting.

Russian Pensioner Burns 20 Kilos of Cash in Revenge
A pensioner from the city of Pyati-gorsk in southwestern Russia has burnt down the apartment of his common law wife, where he used to keep about three million rubles (at least $100,000). During their 15 years together, the man led an anti-social existence, drinking heavily and picking the garbage for food. He managed, however, to put away his tiny pension (an average monthly pension in Russia amounts to less than $100) since the 1970s, accumulating the hefty sum of about $100,000.
But a recent quarrel made him decide to destroy the stash to get back at his lover, who never even knew about the money. A spokesman for the local police unit told journalists that fire-fighters collected at least 20 kilos of scraps of 100-dollar and 1,000-ruble notes at the burnt apartment.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Russian and Western Nature

VTsIOM conducted a public opinion poll asking 1600 Russians from all over the country what they think are the best and the worst traces of Russian national character. It turned out that Russians think their best sides of nature are:
1. Kindness and honesty – 43%
2. Generosity – 26%
3. Comradeship – 13%
4. Tolerance – 12%
The worst traces of Russian character are:
1. Alcoholism – 43%
2. Laziness and inactivity – 23%
3. Rudeness – 11%
4. Crudeness – 11%
5. Irresponsibility – 9%
The same respondents were also asked a question what they think are the best and the worst traces of character of an average Westerner (a person from Europe or the US). Only 49% of respondents had any opinion on this matter. Among those who had an opinion thought that the best sides of Western nature are:
1. Efficiency – 16%
2. Responsibility – 10%
3. Respect to the law – 9%
4. Purposefulness – 8%
The worst sides of Western character are:
1. Cupidity – 15%
2. Haughtiness and arrogance – 10%
3. Prudence and selfishness – 7%
4. Heartlessness and lack of spirituality – 5%

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Russian Jokes 3

New BBC vocabulary:
Person who bombs people - a bombist
Person who shoots people - a gunman
Person who runs people over - a driver
Person who eats people - a gourmet

More jokes on Russian Marketing Blog

Monday, August 15, 2005

Potemkin Villages and Potemkin Fleet

“The Economist” on the 11th of August published an article ‘Lessons from the mini-sub rescue’ commenting on the rescue of the Russian Navy bathyscaphe. When it comes to Russia “The Economist” loves making broad generalizations. This time it rants about the chaotic and catastrophic conditions of the Russian Navy. In order to support this statement they found one of the best British “experts” on post-Soviet security issues. Professor Mark Galeotti from the Keele University compared Russian Navy to the Potemkin Fleet.
I don’t think much about Russian Navy but Prof. Galeotti could find a better metaphor – Potemkin Fleet actually symbolizes the glory of the Russian Navy when at the end of the XVIII c. Russia won several major sea battles against Turkey and France. The Potemkin Fleet is always associated with the name of Admirals Ushakov and Senyavin. Medal of Ushakov is one of the highest military awards for Navy petty officers and sailors in Russia.
Evidently, Prof. Galeotti thought that Potemkin Fleet is something like Potemkin villages, thus showing poor state of education of Russia “experts” in the UK. In Russia we would say that Prof. Galeotti farted in the public swimming pool.
As for Potemkin villages, the myth goes as if Potemkin (Prince Grigori Potemkin-Tavrichesckiy) in 1787, when Catherine the Great inspected the Ukraine and the Crimea, elaborately constructed dozens of faked villages in order to impress the empress. Well, this story is a lie. It was coined by Georg von Helbig in 1797, ten years later after the inspection tour, when both Potemkin and Catherine passed away. This tale immediately became very popular and when von Helbig published the biography of Potemkin in 1801 nobody had a single doubt about it.
Actually, one of the main reasons for Catherine’s inspection tour was a stream of slander about Potemkin’s corruption. Catherine wanted to inspect personally what was actually built in the Ukraine and the Crimea. A book was published in 1786 (a year before the trip) with detailed descriptions of what the empress expected to see on the way. She also invited seven European envoys, as important eye witnesses, to participate in the tour. Among “Potemkin villages” they inspected were Sevastopol, Kherson, Nikolaev, Ekaterinoslav. In seven years only Potemkin managed to build three major shipyards, Navy port in Sevastopol with 7 frigates (from 15 to 25 cannons), 8 line-of-battle and 20 minor ships, an arsenal, hospitals, schools, public theatres. In Russia Prince Potemkin is known as the “father of the Black Sea Fleet” as Peter the Great was the “father of the Baltic Fleet”.
Potemkin managed to attract to his “villages” more than 170 000 settlers and immigrants: Greeks, Armenians, Corsicans, Jews from Germany and certainly Russians. Russian deserters or runaway serfs were amnestied if they settled as farmers in the Crimea. It is not widely known that since 1787 thousands of British criminals were sent to the Crimea as there was trouble in the Northern American colonies, Australia was too far away and Brits never liked their convicts to stay too close to the Isles.
Anyway, this story demonstrates the power of slander. It was always very easy to check if the tale about Potemkin villages was true or not but it was (and still is) so very “convincingly” Russian that nobody took trouble to doubt it.