Familiar Refrains

09 Oct 2017

(Moscow-on-Thames) US Vice President Mike Pence walks out of an NFL game because players knelt. President Donald Trump considers firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, we’re told, because the latter called him a moron. What’s this got to do with Russia?

In going back through my notes for a writing project, I came across this, from an article Aleksandr Baunov published on the state of Russian politics in 2014.

Offense (оскорбление) in Russian – in the very structure of the word – is something that should force a person to feel grief. Sadness (грусть), loss (тоска), sorrow (печаль). Latin and Greek emphasize the offender, speaking of his action. Russian emphasizes the person who is offended. It is about his feelings: about the offended and aggrieved. 

Russian public figures in recent years are ahead of the pack not only in offense caused, but also in the amount of grievance registered, whether caused to them personally, to Russia, to Orthodoxy, to our great history, or to our best national, religious, sexual or other feelings. As Ivan Davydov has noted, whole issues of contemporary Russian newspapers and entire news broadcasts can consist of public offense. ‘Today, Deputy X took offense at…’. ‘Governor Y was offended by the statement about…’, the representative of such and such commission announced that he was deeply offended by so and so, someone was shocked, left speechless, demanded an apology, called to account.

Sound familiar? What happens when public life becomes an exercise in public indignation? If Russia is any example – where films about long-dead monarchs are being pulled from theaters after threats of violence incited by politicians, where prosecutors are invited to police the sensibilities of religious observers – nothing good. [...]

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