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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Doublespeak: Russia's Path Back to the Future?

I sometimes wish I had a dollar for every time someone has told me that Russia has come too far to ever go back to "the bad old days." Maybe it is just that some local superstition has rubbed off on me, but such claims always make me nervous. And perhaps what makes me most nervous is that I can't recall ever hearing a Russian say this.


Anyone tempted by the view that there is no going back for Russia should take a look at "Rossiya i sovremennyi mir" ("Russia and the Contemporary World"), the latest pamphlet by Gennady Zyuganov, Communist Party chief and perhaps the leading candidate to become president of Russia in June. It is an excellent lesson in doublespeak -- a lesson one could only receive from an inveterate communist.


Zyuganov opens his tract with a blistering attack on the government of post-Soviet Russia, which he says is characterized by "gotovnost' k neogranichennym repressiyam vnutri strany i yadernomu shantazhu vo vne" -- "a readiness to use unlimited repression within the country and nuclear blackmail outside of it."


On the other hand, according to Zyuganov, the Soviet period was marked by nearly infinite achievements, including "obespecheniye garantirovannogo prava na otdykh" ("securing a guaranteed right to rest") and "prava pol'zovaniya kul'turnymi tsennostyami" ("the right to the use of cultural treasures").


Without even batting an eye, Zyuganov bolsters his arguments by citing such kul'turniye tsennosti as the philosophers Nikolai Berdayev (exiled from the Soviet Union in 1922), Ivan Ilin (also 1922) and Pavel Florensky. When Florensky was summarily shot in 1937, his fellow philosopher Sergei Bulgakov wrote that it was "odno iz samykh mrachnykh sobytii russkoi tragedii" -- "one of the darkest moments of the Russian tragedy." Bulgakov, by the way, was exiled in 1923.


Of course, the grand tradition of doublespeak involves more than merely calling black things white. Its masters must also be able to drone on at length without saying anything at all. Take this nearly random example from Zyuganov: "Dialekticheskoye yedinstvo bor'by v ideologii i sotrudnichestva v politike bylo deformirovano" -- "The dialectical unity of the struggle in ideology and cooperation in politics was deformed."


But what would a future with President Zyuganov hold for Russia? Readers of this monument to doublespeak would, appropriately enough, have difficulty saying for certain. Zyuganov spends most of his time arguing for "zdorovyi natsional'nyi pragmatizm" -- "a healthy national pragmatism" -- without ever troubling to explain what the term means.


So much for this "reformed" communist.


As for domestic policy, Zyuganov is equally opaque.


But sometimes he slips into some tried-and-true doublespeak formulas. What could he have in mind, for instance, when he says it is "neobkhodimo prorabotat' mekhanismy mobilizatsii vsekh potentsial'nykh vozmozhnostei obshchestva" -- "it is vital to work out the mechanisms for mobilizing all the potential possibilities of society"?