Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Old Man Lukashenko

To Our Readers

The Moscow Times welcomes letters to the editor. Letters for publication should be signed and bear the signatory's address and telephone number.
Letters to the editor should be sent by fax to (7-495) 232-6529, by e-mail to, or by post. The Moscow Times reserves the right to edit letters.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

??????: father, friend, husband, leader, priest

For people who love the thrill of elections, the last few weeks have been busy indeed. Of course, some of the elections didn't provide much suspense. In Belarus, for example, there was no question that Alexander Lukashenko would be elected president for a third term. The only question that readers of the Russian press might have had was the honorific that is often used with the Belarussian president's name. One headline about his re-election called him ????????????? ?????? (the unsinkable "batka"). So what is this ???????

?????? (or ??????) is an all-purpose word of affectionate respect for men. In translation of Russian literature, it's often rendered as "little father," which makes it seem as if Russia were the Land of the Munchkins, inhabited by a race of very small -- but very admirable -- men. It can be used to refer to one's father: ????? ? ?????? ???? ? ?????? ? ???????. (Every summer I go visit my old man in his village.) In the 19th century, it was one way that wives addressed their husbands, usually in the patriarchal merchant or peasant class, where a husband was the ruler of his family kingdom: ??????, ??????! ?????? ?? ????? ??????! (Wake up, old man! They're raising the alarm outside!) In the south of Russia and Ukraine, it was used to refer to the commander of a partisan or Cossack division. It can also mean a priest, as in the expression ??? ?? ??? -- ??? ??????, which means "it's all the same" (literally "if he's not a priest, he's a preacher"). You don't hear this expression often these days, but it's good to know as you read 19th-century Russian literature: ?? -- ??? ?? ???, ?? ??????. ?? ???? ?? ?????, ????????? ?? ??????. (She doesn't care who her husband is. She just wants to get married, and she's not picky about the man.)

When used with Lukashenko, it conveys the notion of beloved leader and father of the nation. Or it's used to poke fun at his rather patriarchal manner. Take, for example, a recent parody in which Putin contemplates his neighbor to the west. ??? ???, ????????, ????????? ?????? ????????. ??????? ?????! ????? ???? ???????. (Those Belarussians really honor their Lukashenko. They call him batka! Makes me envious from time to time.) The parody continues with Putin's admiration for his neighbor's way with words. ?????? -- ?? ?? ??? ??? ????????? ??????, ??? ??? ?? ??? ?? ?????????. (In two days batka comes out with more stuff than we could dream up in a year.)

Lukashenko's plain and folksy speech does make him sound more like the head of a family than a head of state. Sometimes the sense gets a bit garbled, but he still comes through as a man of the people, determined to lead his nation. ? ????????? ???????????, ? ??? ??????????? ?????, ???? ? ?????????. (I'm the president of this state, and this state will exist as long as I'm president.)

Much of his efforts in Belarus have been aimed at raising the living standards, even if there are hard times ahead: ???? ?????? ?????, ?? ???????! (You're going to live badly, but not for long!)

Besides, it's hard to solve all the problems at once: ?????? ? ?????? ?? ????, ??? ????? ????? ???????. (As soon as I got my hands on the egg problem, butter disappeared from the shelves.)

If the economy is a slippery business, the business of power is something else. ? ???? ?????????? ??? ?????. ? ??? ?? ??? ??????, ??-?? ????? ?????? ??????? ???????. (I'm going to be legitimate for a long time. I haven't done everything, and for that reason I'm not going to lose my hold on power anytime soon.)

And that's what the elections showed. Another headline put it simply: ?????? ?? ????????. (Batka didn't lose.)

Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.