Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Fortuna rota volvitur

Let's see if I can set this story up so I can make myself understood.

In Russia, holidays are celebrated a little bit differently than in America. It is, for example, more acceptable for hordes of young Russian men to buy out the beer at the stores and roam around the streets chanting football slogans: "RUSSIA FOREVER" and "OLE OLE OLE" are Briullov and my favorites, as both are supposed to be nationalistic but neither use the Russian language.

There's also a strange dichotomy I won't go into here between those who buy into the newer holidays, like Den' goroda [City Days] and those who don't (for example, on City Day I said S prazdnikom [Happy holiday!] to a friendly clerk in a store as I was leaving. Her response: Eto ne moi prazdnik. [It's not a holiday for me.])

I've not been alive long enough, nor do I know enough about the peculiarities of Russian holiday-celebrating, to know if this is a deeper-running thing, or if a product of Soviet times, but the official rhetoric regarding the holiday is also over the top. On the same day, taking the metro escalator up to street-level: Moskva - eto nasha zhizn'. Pozdravlaiem, dorogie moskvichi! [Moscow - it's our life! Happy holiday, dear Muscovites!]

This is the same register as used in newspapers and official language, which uses many epithets. That is, it's not just "Dmitry Medvedev," it's always "President of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev" (just in case the citizens have forgotten?) It's never "In Moscow..." it's: V nashem rodnom gorode, Moskve "In our native city, Moscow"

And the zenith of that officialese is best represented at the beginning of the Rammstein song, Mosvka, when Tatu screams: Moskva - eto samy prekrasny gorod V MIRE! [Moscow - it's the most gorgeous city IN THE WORLD!]

There's a lot of rhetoric and hyperbole at any mass gathering, from official politics to the beginning of concerts (for example, and rather humorously, in this case - when I went to the anniversary, all-day concert at Luzhniki, the announcer said: "And here we held the best summer Olympics in the world in 1980!" Let's remember that it's the year most of the West boycotted the Olympics because of Cold War tensions. Nevertheless...)

I can't tell you if Russians have acclimated to that level of speech, or if they buy into it. To my foreign ears it sounds strange and forced, and I'd expect they'd say the same publicly, even if privately it did mean something to them (at least the Russians with whom I hang out, who generally seem to keep their own opinion on politics, nationalism, and even aesthetic tastes to themselves - they love talking *about* the topic, but not about their own opinion on it).

Then in the metro today, I read over a girl's shoulder the news magazine she had open to an editorial: Postoronniaia Rossia [Peripheral Russia, or Strange's from the word meaning "to the side," but it can have different connotations.] It was about the economic crisis, and how even with the price of oil back up to a place where Russia's national economy isn't in panic-mode, the country is in the far back, pushed toward the wing, of the glittering flock of swans led by the prima ballerina European Union.

I think I can imagine Russians reading that article feeling down on themselves, especially where the official rhetoric is so high. I think I can empathize with them, too; instead of a thousand years of tsarist and Communist Empire, I still have had a childhood education full of the "America the Beautiful" history. It was much to Wounded at Broken Elbow's dismay when I said I didn't even know what the Trail of Tears was until 8th grade; I'm not sure how I understood the situation, but I think it was something like there were so few American Indians we were able to move westward...that got beside the point. After waging war on drugs and terrorism and Axes of Evil, to suddenly read in the newspaper, "Oh, and by the way - remember how the European Union's had the edge on your dollar for so long? Well, they've totally pulled ahead now, you are no longer a leader in anything."

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