March 01, 2011

Pamela Potemkin

Pamela Potemkin

Quite a few russian leaders and eminences have left their imprint on our mother tongue.

We owe the idiom потёмкинские деревни (“Potemkin villages”) to Prince Grigory Potemkin, Catherine the Great’s favorite. Historical legend has it that during Catherine’s visit to Crimea in 1787, Potemkin, who was commanding the campaign in the South, had hollow façades of villages constructed along the desolate banks of the Dnieper, in order to impress the monarch and her travel party with the value of Russia’s new conquests, thereby enhancing his standing in the empress’ eyes. Thus have Potemkin villages become a synonym for показуха (window-dressing). Recently, Izvestia headlined an article about показуха in Russian hospitals (inspected on president Putin’s orders) Потёмкинские больницы (Potemkin hospitals).

Pyotr Stolypin, Nicholas II’s interior minister, was not one to put on velvet gloves when dealing with what he called great upheavals (великие потрясения). He was famous for the term столыпинские галстуки (Stolypin’s ties) – i.e. виселицы (nooses), which were used to execute revolutionaries and anarchists.

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