November 01, 2023

"Accursed" Questions of Russia's New Reality

"Accursed" Questions of Russia's New Reality

The Russian intelligentsia has a longstanding tradition of grappling with unanswerable existential questions. In the mid-nineteenth century, two such “accursed” questions (проклятые вопрoсы) were raised in debate-provoking novels that were central to the country’s revolutionary movement: Who is to Blame? by Alexander Herzen and What is to Be Done? by Nikolai Chernyshevsky.

In the twenty-first century, these questions persist, including in the form of memes. Meanwhile, wartime has stimulated the evolution of the Russian language, so these classics have been joined by a number of new formulations. Here, we continue our study of СВРЯ (Special Military Russian Language – see Russian Life, Summer 2023) by examining a few “accursed” questions that have recently enriched Russians’ options for expressing themselves.

This catchphrase is used to mock people who don’t take an interest in politics and either pretend or sincerely believe that everything is hunky-dory. The phrase gained meme status in the early months of the war, when Russians were startled by rising prices, a falling ruble, and the departure of Western brands but failed to draw the obvious connection. In early March, a screenshot with the caption: “F***, I went to IKEA and it’s closed. Who knows what happened?” started making the rounds. The gulf between people crushed by the horrors of war and those in a state of clueless denial of reality is also often expressed using a similar formulation: someone sees your gloomy face and asks, “Did something happen to you?” (У тебя чтó-то случилось?)

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