Staunton, February 14 -- Umberto Eco observes that fascist rulers seek to modify the language spoken by their population so as to limit the ability of people to engage in critical thinking, introducing what George Orwell called “newspeak” so that it is more difficult to find out what is going on, analyze it, and react critically to it.
That is exactly what Vladimir Putin has been doing to Russian, according to Moscow commentator Igor Yakovenko, who cites recent research showing that the media following his lead have stopped using emotive words like “explosion” and introduced others without a similar punch (ej.ru/?a=note&id=34689).
The Russian media now uses terms that hide from readers or viewers what is going on; and if people don’t know what is happening, they aren’t going to be in a position to react to it – and that is precisely what the Kremlin leader wants. Indeed, Yakovenko says, an entirely new language is coming into being.
Among the cases where one term is replacing another in Putin’s newspeak are the following: “increase in infections” for “epidemic,” “hard landing” for “plane crash,” “sovereign democracy” for “fascist dictatorship,” “effective manager” for “bloody dictator,” “liquidation” for “extra-judicial murder” and “president of the Russian Federation” for “usurper.”
This creeping destruction of the language may have more serious consequences for Russians than the ongoing destruction of the Russian Constitution, Yakovenko says. After all, some countries, like Great Britain, do very well without a written basic law. But no country can do well without an effective language.
Putin has gone to war against it, Yakovenko says; but there is reason for at least modest optimism. “Russian survived Soviet newspeak, and it will survive the Putinist version. True, not without harm to itself. After the disintegration of the USSR, the number speaking Russian declined significantly.”
“After the disintegration of Putin’s Russia, there will occur a further reduction in the use of Russian,” Yakovenko says. And among those who will be responsible for this, he suggests, are those who today are working hard to ensure that Russians use only “politically ‘correct’ euphemisms” so that they don’t recognize what is happening to them and their country.