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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Presidential Approval Of Foreign Intrusions

There he was, decked out in his light blue suit, his silver cowlick combed back immaculately. It was the tape-delay broadcast of Boris Yeltsin's Oct. 4 press conference, and the Russian leader exuded ... Russianness.

We don't remember what the reference was, but we remember what we were doing and where we were at the time he said it (7:15 P.M.). Yeltsin was wrapping up his response to someone's question with his trademark arched-eyebrow, eyes-askance wink. Here it came: "Kak govoryat" ("As they say,"), started the president, "No problem."

Alert! Alert! Where were the headlines the next day? Where was the CNN special dedicated to the incident? Russian President Speaks English!!!!

"Kak govoryat, no problem." Sure, Yeltsin put the accent on the wrong syllable, on the "e," as in Russian. But this was definitely not, "Nyet problem." This was, "No problem."

This, from the man who once refused to call a privatization voucher vaucher because it wasn't a Russian word. We quote: "I call it by its Russian name, privatizatsionny chek." That's what you said, Mr. President.

But hey, no problemo, dude. Things change. Stuff happens. Say, Boris Nikolayevich, did you happen to catch the Oct. 5 coverage of the State Duma? Surely your aides told you that when a deputy appeared in a T-shirt that had "Megadeth" printed on it, another lawmaker suggested he go home and change? Sure, the deputy was only joking. But did you notice that when Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov proposed passing a law protecting the Russian language from foreign intrusions, everybody cheered?

No problem. You're the president, you can say what you want. The Duma's internal regulation that the only language of official discourse is Russian does not apply to you. Good thing, too. Did you know that, after they passed that rule, a deputy actually proposed that Vladimir Wolfovich Zhirinovsky change his patronymic to the more Russian-sounding Volkovich?

That deputy was only joking, too. Everybody likes to joke with languages. Even the irreconcilable opposition. A group of youths in one of those demonstrations last week was chanting something in English, something about what they thought you should do, something we can't really print. The older demonstrators did not know what the kids were saying. They needed a translation.

And that, Mr. President, is why some people say it's not polite to speak in foreign languages, at least not without offering a translation. But hey, Nyet problem. We're cool. And since the opposition can't understand us, could you please tell us, in English, what really happened on that plane?