Thursday, 15 July 2010

I Take it Back

Who'd have thunk it - as soon as I decide to be rude about Russians, a hero of our time pops up to make me feel a fool.
I'm sorry; I was mistaken. Uri Shevchuk proved it with his brave attempt at speaking truth to power. I've no idea what kind of ghastly noise he makes in his professional life in the name of music. It doesn't matter. He took on Putin and he spoke nice clear Russian that even I could almost understand (unlike Putin who, some people say, sounds like a member of the Russian mafia, although I wouldn't know, never having met any, at least wittingly).
So my new revised backflip position is: Go Russians, you did produce Chekhov, you did produce Pushkin, maybe you aren't too bad after all (I know, I know, there is still the question of humour, but there's nothing very funny about Putin and his gang, so maybe now's not the time for larking about).
And, while we're speaking of Putin, I do hope Mr Shevchuk takes care what he eats and drinks from now on, never uses the lift in his apartment building and doesn't succumb to suicidal thoughts straight after a visit to the supermarket like some of his troublesome compatriots.
I should also point out that there are those who say the whole incident was just some sort of complicated, wheels within wheels, Machiavellian, internecine, add in all the other cliched terms for conspiracy theories, staged, Putin-backed exercise in public relations or something. There are always those. There are also those who say that Shevchuk's gesture had no obvious instant effect. The Moscow Times reported it this way:
'Despite his best intentions, Putin failed in his attempt to play the role of a democratic politician who respects the opposition’s rights and is tolerant of their opinions. He gave himself away when Shevchuk stood up and offered a toast, wishing that the country’s children will grow up not in a “corrupt, totalitarian, authoritarian [country] with one political party … but in an enlightened, democratic country in which everyone is equal before the law.”
As Shevchuk ended his toast while everyone’s glasses were still raised, someone at the table said, “We are raising glasses of water! No one toasts with water.”
Grinning like a Cheshire cat, Putin retorted, “The beverage fits the toast!” (One colloquial meaning of “water” in Russian is meaningless, empty words or padding.)
Kudos to Putin for his quick and sharp wit. But in those five words, he instantly threw off his liberal mask and revealed his true disdain toward political opponents, democracy and pluralism.
Shevchuk, clearly hoping for a breakthrough dialogue with the prime minister, prefaced his questions to Putin by saying, “This may be the beginning of a genuine civil society.” But judging by Putin’s responses, it may very well have marked the end.'
So not a great outcome then, but full marks for trying all the same.


  1. Another Russian liberal smashes into the wall.

  2. Gogol was always good for a giggle.

  3. Gaw - I hope he just got bruised
    Kevin - Yes, Gogol's good. While we're on Russian writers though, I might as well confess my great shame, which is that I cannot see the point of Turgenev. I've tried Fathers and Sons six or seven times and somehow its wondrous qualities always elude me. A sign that I have a puny intellect, I am informed.

  4. What a hero this Uri Shevchuk is, rather putting Sting and co to shame. Put Putin really had the last laugh there - makes one wonder if other dictators would have been more successful if they'd mixed in a few jokes per diatribe. Daniil Kharms was a scream.

  5. Oh yes, how right you are about Sting and all his posturing. I hope Putin doesn't really have the last laugh. Have just looked up Daniil Kharms about whom I was ignorant - do you really recommend him or was that a joke itself? Early soviet-era surrealist and absurdist, it says on the internet thing - could be quite hard work, but await your advice

  6. I actually know Kharms only from the play 'Out of a House Walked a Man' by the celebrated international mime troup Théâtre de Complicité - have I put you off yet? - which was excellent. If you do ever read any of his work, please tell me how you get on.