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Feature Story December 13, 2001
 
Operation Enduring Sovok
By Matt Taibbi Browse author
 
Page 5 of 7
 
After Stalin comes a series of leaders with a nearly identical inability to wear a suit: Khruschev, Brezhnyev, Andropov, Chernenko. There is a brief interruption with Gorbachev, and then the trend continued with Yeltsin, who looked uncomfortably simian and poorly-fit in the most expensive suits money could buy.

Gorbachev could wear a suit. And he looked clean. And yet, even here, in the area of hygiene, Gorbachev was far more sovok than Putin. Gorbachev's flair for expensive foreign suits was, even more than Yeltsin's, a symptom of another extreme form of sovok, the grasping Europe-envy sovok. Sovok in the old days occasionally sold "German beer" -- not German light beer or German dark beer, just "German beer", because the only thing that mattered was that it was German. Gorbachev with his palaces on the Black Sea and his furs for Raisa and his Italian and French suits was pathologically sovok. In his student years, Mikhail Sergeyevich might have committed murder to shop at a store called "Finnskaya Mebel'". Yeltsin would not have. The effort it would have taken to get into one would have cut into his drinking time.

Putin, on the other hand, was clean and comfortable in Soviet suits back in the day, and clean and comfortable in Italian suits now. There is nothing grasping about his look. His suits do not appear to be suffering on his body. This might be because he has class -- or it might be because he is not wholly human or even warm-blooded. A cobra would look good in a suit as well. Whatever it is, it isn't sovok.

4) Blabbering.

You hail down a taxi and get inside. The driver asks you the address. You tell him and tell him which way you want to go. He tells you you've chosen the wrong way, and that he knows a short-cut.

"Why would you want to go that way?" he asks. "That's ridiculous. Along the boulevard. Why, you can go through Lubyanka!"

Now, you know that it's actually faster to take the Boulevard, because, unlike the driver, you've taken this same route to your office a hundred times. So you try to insist once. The driver replies angrily: "I've been a taxi driver in this city for fifteen years. I know this city, after all."

So you decide to let is slide and go his way, so as to avoid argument.

Here is where sovok really kicks in. As soon as you concede in your argument about the route, a silence will fall over the car. But it is a false silence. Because sovok dictates that once an argument is over, it must necessarily be revisited later on. A minute, two minutes, three minutes pass. You are watching the driver out of the corner of your eye. Finally he turns to you and says:

"Because the problem with the Boulevard is that there's traffic. Now, if I go through Lubyanka, there's no traffic..."

This is another aspect of Sovok that has a direct explanation. In Soviet times whole ranges of conversational subjects were taboo. The only thing to talk about was nothing. Worse, silence actually was an indicator of private inquiry and examination. If you were intermittently quiet, it mean you were occasionally taking real stock of the situation. This was dangerous during lengthy stretches of the Soviet period. It was safer to show absolute cooperation out loud at all times by always talking -- about nothing.

This is why Russian television is filled with shows that feature a single person sitting in front of the camera talking open-endedly about some idiotic topic, or reminiscing about some forgotten matter that was not particularly interesting even to contemporaneous observers. "My Conversations with Paustovsky" is the kind of thing that makes good television in Russia.

Sovok By Numbers

Map of Moscow wdth regions commented

The capital of Sovok nation is not all Sovok. As any Muscovite knows, some neighborhoods in the capital are more ??‚??‚? than others. From the balmy shores of Serebryanniy Bor to the majestic thoroughfares of Kashirskoye Shosse, here's our guide to Moscow's neighborhoods: 1. Center 2. Wouldn't really want to live there 3. Poor air quality 4. Neighborhood with potential 5. Sovok


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