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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Special to The Moscow Times

Whatever you think of the MMM pyramid scheme scandal, you still have to admire the way the investment company roped people in.


MMM's droll, 60-second television spots, featuring ordinary Russians whose lives improve drastically after they purchase the company's stock, have captured the nation. The snippets' fictional heroes, Marina Sergeyevna and Lyonya Golubkov, have become household names.


The dialogues in these advertisements have made their mark on the way Russians speak, from the man on the street to the Kremlin elite. At a cabinet discussion of the scandal last week, nary a minister spoke without making a reference to Lyonya or MMM's first slogan: U MMM net problem, "MMM has no problems."


In an early spot, Lyonya demonstrates to his wife on a growth chart the items they will acquire after making a quick profit buying and selling MMM stock: A pair of boots, a car, a house. "In Paris?" asks his wife. Lyonya looks at the camera dubiously, but the announcer says: Pochemu net, Lyonya? -- "Why not, Lyonya?"


The phrase has become the buzzword of the new Russian permissiveness. But the MMM people, aware that many ordinary people might object to all this money-earning without work, went a step further, treating the issue of khalyava, the popular slang word for "getting something for nothing."


In an uproarious scene, Lyonya's muscular brother Ivan argues -- over vodka, in the kitchen -- that the whole scheme is dishonest: Ty khalyavchik, brat, growls Lyonya, "You're a freeloader, brother."


Lyonya retorts: Ya ne khalyavchik, brat, ya partnyor!, "I'm not a freeloader, I'm a partner."


People got an idea of what sort of partnership MMM had in store for them last week, when it devalued its stock from over 105,000 rubles to less than 1,000 rubles. As their profits melted away, they learned a new meaning for the word likvidno ("liquid"), which in the advertisements is defined as "you can buy or sell your stock at any time."


During the World Cup, MMM ran an advertisement in which the only spoken part was My boleyem za nash futbol, which translates literally as "We are rooting for our football." At first, this appeared a gesture of support for the Russian team. But it seemed strange that the ads continued long after the local side was eliminated. Then a Russian colleague explained the expression's figurative meaning: "We play to our own tune."


Clearly, people like the tune they have heard, despite the risks. As Marina Sergeyevna says as she decides to go out and buy more MMM, Nu i chto, chto obzhigalas -- "So what if I've been burned before?"