Russia's Cry for Respect May Leave a Hangover

"Ty menya uvazhayesh?"

Tipplers of the elixir will recognize this phrase as the last thing your drinking buddy mutters before collapsing on the kitchen floor or in a puddle or on the stairwell, depending on where you have chosen to worship Dionysus.

The phrase literally means "Do you respect me?" -- which would seem a natural thing to think of when you're smeared in mud, bedraggled and downtrodden, and stoned to the gills.

But the inebriated drinking partner does not ask "ty menya uvazhayesh?" out of concern for his current state, nor does it occur to him that in such condition he might not be worthy of another's respect.

Instead, the phrase reflects the culmination of the effect of the alcohol on the drinker's brain. His desire to communicate, express himself, find comradery, is heightened; in fact, it blots out all other worries.

If his interlocutor is similarly plastered and answers in the affirmative, the two enter into a special kind of bonding I'm sure you've noticed in local puddles and stairwells.

An NTV television commentator drew the obvious parallel between the eternal drinking phrase and Russian politics of late, calling the State Duma's futile no-confidence attempt last month a spektakl ty menya uvazhayesh (a spectacle of Do You Respect Me).

The beleaguered deputies, be-draggled like the rest of Russian statehood in the mess of Chechnya and punch-drunk over the Budyonnovsk crisis, found the self-expression they needed in their near no-confidence vote.

In a recent article titled "Ty menya uvazhayesh?," Moscow News political commentator Alexei Grachev finds that the cry for respect has become a sort of political buzzword.

In the cry for respect, voiced in demands for exclusively political solutions to the Balkan crisis, Russian diplomacy has forgotten its own state, expressed by the firepower the Kremlin unleashed on its own citizens in Chechnya and the human consequences. What else could be the Russian buzzword of the day? It's certainly no longer reforma, as it was in 1992, and 1993's borba za vlast' (power struggle) is surely outdated. No. This is the year of uvazheniye.

The demand for uvazheniye -- respect -- is everywhere. Respect for Russia's territorial integrity in Chechnya. Respect for Russia's interests in the Balkans. Respect for Russia as a nuclear power, a superpower.

As the drunk's question is often posed aggressively, so is the demand for respect for Russia's leaders backed up by the threat of legal sanctions such as those pending over the popular -- but alas, disrespectful -- television program "Kukly."