A LETTER FROM MOSCOW
Amid economic crisis, Russia sees revival of Soviet-era jargon.
Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The rise in government of Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, an old-time apparatchik, and his team of Communists and sexagenarians has resurrected rhetoric that most Russians thought went out with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
These were people who as red-scarved Young Pioneers, the Communist equivalent of the Boy Scouts, were weaned on talk of collective farms, the evil bourgeoisie, and the imperialist West. With the old crowd back in power, older Russians are hearing with renewed frequency the buzzwords of their youth that had disappeared from common speech, such as "cold war" and "nationalization."
|NOSTALGIA FOR SOVIET TIMES: A Lenin flag is
waved at an anti-Yeltsin rally in Red Square on Oct. 7. Communist-era
symbols and words are enjoying some revival in Russia. |
(SERGEI KARPUKHIN /REUTERS)
Margarita Volovikova, with the Psychology Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, says such a backward linguistic glance is typical human behavior during times of social stress. "Using old language is like seeking an island of stability," she says. But she adds critically: "If our leaders had been more intellectual they would have chosen the language of Pushkin, Dostoyevski, and Tolstoy instead of Communist Party documents."
Some of these nostalgic word combinations seem pompous, untranslatable, or downright unnecessary. For instance, some critics ask, why should the new government speak of a "presidium" instead of the simpler "Cabinet"? (For those unfamiliar with Soviet history, the presidium was the executive committee of the of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1952 to 1966.)
The Communist-favored "people's" has resurfaced too, as in "The people's military-industrial complex" (defense industry), a phrase Mr. Primakov has unearthed recently. He has taken Soviet-speak even further by exhuming the long-forgotten potrebitelskaya cooperatsia. The phrase has deep resonance for those who remember the days of Stalin and his successors. It means literally "cooperation in the sphere of retail trade" - or the process by which specially authorized state officials could buy farm-grown food from private individuals. In addition, simple apples and potatoes are now "the produce of collective farms."
Another old chestnut which slipped off an official's tongue recently was "NATO soldiery." This expression was contained in a speech about tensions with the alliance over Kosovo, fanning old Western anxieties about a revived cold war.
Political commentator Leonid Radzikhovsky believes these politicians are demonstrating an inability to change, in language as well as policy. "The return of these old clich�s reflects the mentality of these guys. During the democratic era they had difficulty finding other expressions," he says.
Even those who are not die-hard Communists are playing the politically correct word game. Moscow's populist mayor, Yuri Luzkhov, was recently heard to utter the slogan: maximalno polnoye udovletvoreniye potrebnostei ludei ("maximally complete satisfaction of the needs of the people").
The phrase epitomizes the Leonid Brezhnev era, when it was used to emphasize that the Communist Party embraced the Russian people. Some observers say the words give credence to rumors that Mr. Luzhkov hopes to cozy up to the Communists ahead of the presidential elections planned for 2000.Before bookmarking this page in your browser, click here. The URL for this page is: