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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Hundred and One Ways to Say I Fire You

Of the many formulas used to announce the removal of disgraced Russian officials, none can be as humiliating as the reason given for the recent firing of Andrei Illarionov.

The terse announcement of the sacking last week said that Illarionov, a government economic adviser, had been removed za progul, "for absenteeism."

It was bad enough that Illarionov had resigned a day earlier over differences with cabinet policies, while the alleged violation occurred in January.

However, the reason the announcement was so humiliating is that no one in the Soviet or post-Soviet period has ever been fired for absenteeism (probably because it would have set a precedent that would seriously deplete the work force).

In fact, there have been few periods in Russian history when the official reason given for a government firing was za neradeniye delu, "for negligence on the job."

Usually your epitaph depended on who you were and how you fell out of favor.

Low-level workers who drank and got in fights on the job were removed za grubiye narusheniye trudovoi distsipliny, "for rude violations of work discipline."

Artists, actors, writers, journalists and theater directors who disagreed with the leadership could be sacked for a thing called kosmopolitizm.

Engineers, scientists inventors and factory directors could be removed for vreditel'stvo, meaning something like "sabotage."

Aging political strongmen edged out of power in palace coups were removed po sostoyaniyu zdoroviya, "for reasons of health," like Nikita Khrushchev, ousted in 1964 by Leonid Brezhnev.

Khrushchev's fate represented progress for a country that lost millions of citizens to Stalin's terror in the 1930s for being branded vragi naroda, "enemies of the people."

In the late Soviet period, the usual announcement was osvobozhdyon v sootvetstvii s perekhodom na druguyu dolzhnost', "removed in connection with a transfer to a different position."

This is what happened to Boris Yeltsin in 1987 when he lost his job in Mikhail Gorbachev's politburo and was exiled to a position as head of construction in the Urals.

Yeltsin later got his revenge, removing Gorbachev v svyazi s raspadom Sovetskogo Soyuza, "in connection with the breakup of the Soviet Union."

One enemy the president could not fire hard enough was former Vice President, Alexander Rutskoi. Over a period of months, Rutskoi lost his dacha, his car, his staff, his Kremlin office, and ultimately his freedom, ending up in prison for his role in the October violence. But Yeltsin never had the constitutional authority to fire Rutskoi, so he dissolved the institute of vice president instead.