July 01, 2013

Prime Diminutives

Prime Diminutives

I have figured out Premier Dmitry Medvedev’s literary prototype — he is a го́голевский геро́й (Gogolian hero). At first, I classified him as a sort of Манилов (from Dead Souls): his much-vaunted Skolkovo project has proven a mere мани́ловщина (empty wishful thinking), of late spruced up with a bit of уголо́вщина (criminality), as investigators have begun to investigate embezzlement and other abuses.

But then Medvedev recently stunned us all by saying it was fine for people to call him Димо́н, contradicting his PR specialist Natalya Timakova’s statement warning against such панибра́тство (backslapping — see our May/June 2013 Notebook). So I thought, “he’s not Manilov, he’s Хлестако́в (from Ревизо́р, The Inspector General)!” It was Khlestakov who insisted on informality, or relations без чино́в (without undue attention to rank): “Я не люблю́ церемо́нии. Напро́тив, я да́же всегда́ стара́юсь проскользну́ть незаме́тно” (“I hate ceremony. On the contrary, I always try to slip by unnoticed”).

A self-respecting leader should never allow such фамилья́рность (familiarity), even if it is just among bloggers, unless he has totally buried all presidential ambitions, or just wants to be a virtual president. First, familiarity breeds contempt — фамилья́рность ведёт к неуваже́нию. Second, in Russian culture in general, and Russian political culture more particularly — an о́тчество (patronymic) is a must.

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