March 01, 2008

Two Bears in One Den

Two Bears in One Den

When Unified Russia party annointed Dmitry Medvedev (whose last name derives from медведь, “bear”) the formal successor to Vladimir Putin, who then said he would gladly serve as prime minister under Medvedev, political observers were puzzled. As the Russian proverb has it, “два медведя в одной берлоге не уживутся” (”two bears won't survive in one den”). In other words, you can’t have two bosses.

Then again, as one smart commentator put it, Medvedev is just a медвежонок - a little bear (also, incidentally, slang for a small, fireproof safe), so he will peacefully cohabit the den with “momma bear” (матерый медведищe) Vladimir Putin, who will retain his position as the only top Russian politician to know where the honey is, so to speak (etymologically, медведь is just an inversion of ведмедь: ведает где мёд, i.e. “knows where the honey is”).

OK, so they will share a den, but what if Medvedev needs to hear a report from his Prime Minister? Such meetings under Putin were often televised. How will it look, now that the boss has become the bossed? Well, Medvedev, despite his name, is hardly as clumsy as a bear (неуклюжий как медведь). He has been around Putin for 17 years, so he's got an ear for things (in other words, "the bear didn't stomp on his ear" - ему медведь на ухо не наступил). He will surely find a formula to make sure the wolves are fed and the sheep are safe (и овцы целы, и волки сыты), and find his place in the Russian political forest, so to speak.

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