July 01, 2005

When P.R. Sounds Like Samovar

When P.R. Sounds Like Samovar

The Russian language abhors a vacuum and, as with, say, computer parlance, has a tendency to fill new lacunae with foreign words.

There is hardly any area in the Russian linguistic space like PR – public relations. Here, foreign borrowing has been “met with open arms,” so to speak. Even die-hard nationalist Duma deputies are joining in the use of alien vocabulary in this sphere. And it should not be surprising. After all, the very notion of PR was non-existent either in Russian political campaigns or in Russian business. Both were, in a manner of speaking, виртуальные (virtual) realities here. Instead of political campaigns preceding elections, in Soviet times we had what they called всенародный праздник единения партии и народа (“a national holiday of the union between Party and the people”). Hence, no need for PR. Can you imagine, for instance, Josef Stalin openly vying for the post of party leader with Sergei Kirov, printing a PR article in Pravda to present an embellished image of himself in the eyes of party delegates? Not. Easier to simply arrange for Kirov to be shot by a maniac in the corridors of Smolny. Why waste time and money on PR?

Of course, Uncle Joe did use his own brand of PR, but it lacked a certain subtlety. Some would even claim (after he was safely beyond the grave), that it rose to the level of cult-building (a.k.a. the infamous культ личности – personality cult). As to business – there was none (no business, that is). All we had was the “народное хозяйство” (national economy); PR (not to be confused with propaganda) was rare. Sure, a plant or a factory could promote itself as the “victor of socialist competition” (победитель социалистического соревнования) or claim the dubious знак качества (symbol of quality) on its products, but these titles were attributed (or rather distributed) in ways that had little to do with true business competition.

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