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Feature Story June 26, 2003
 
Elite versus Elitny
By Mark Ames Browse author Email
 
Page 8 of 9
 
In the car world, the basic distinction is further broken down between foreign and domestic cars. One thing I've noticed this summer is how many women now drive cars. Girls behind wheels tend to be prettier than the average girl on the street, and they almost invariably drive foreign cars, whereas men drive mostly Russian cars. I've also noticed that most women drivers can be spotted at any given time either dialing or talking on their cell phones while driving (another elitny attribute) while men, at least those in otetchesvenie cars, are hunched over and staring ahead, hoping not to catch the predatory glance of a traffic cop.

The highest layer of elitny doesn't drive at all. They have drivers who shuttle them around in their German sedans, paying no attention to traffic signals or speed limits. I've been in such cars myself. A few times, going about 120 MPH in downtown Moscow, we were pulled over by the militsia. My elitny friend and his driver literally laughed at the cop when he asked for their documents, responding to him in mocking bad English, which deeply unnerved the officer. Only a God would feel that confident. By the end of the conversation, the cop was apologizing profusely, using my friend's first name and patronymic. My friend tried to pay him a 100 ruble fine, a menacing insult; the cop refused to accept it and finally walked away, bowing and scraping.

The elitny travel, they get good health care, they eat well every day, they don't have to pay taxes and they party hard. They also like exclusivity -- ekslusivnie as it's called. They don't like going to clubs, bars or restaurants where regular people are allowed in. Their food, clothes and parties are better than anyone's. A girl I met from the miserable podmoskovie town of Pushkino told me about the local "baron," a vodka magnate who, every weekend, throws huge parties including massive fireworks shows at his dacha-castle. She was impressed. It was either that, or dead-end poverty.

Interestingly enough, the opposite of elitny is "demokratichny," or democratic. It's not necessarily a pejorative (except to the elite), but it's not exactly a compliment to a place if it's described as democratic. Democratichny implies mediocrity because you don't have to do anything or be anything special to be accepted. Prices can also be demokratichnie, but that's not as much of an insult. The real issue is one of exceptional status: If you're not exceptional, then by definition, you're unexceptional. And being unexceptional is the biggest disgrace a Russian can face. Russia has always proven Nietzsche's theory that a million humans are sacrificed to create one great one.

It's obvious why one would want to be elitny here. Objectively speaking, only a sucker wouldn't want to live like an elite. And really, do ours really live much differently? America's elite lives essentially above the law; they don't pay taxes or follow the laws in business or in private life; for them, there simply are no drug laws; they have much higher quality medical care than the rest of Americans, live longer, and own what are called "mega-mansions" which, unlike Russia's, are well-hidden. The main difference is that America's elite has much less fun on average than Russia's, not counting the Hollywood stars of course.

Russia's definition of elitism hasn't always been this earthy. In the Soviet period, Russia had a similar battle between the all-powerful nomenklatura, the real elite (like America's rightwing oligarchical elite), and the intelligentsia, the equivalent of America's "liberal elite." Like their American counterparts, Russia's liberal intelligentsia were often savage critics of the state, only they were far braver and took far greater risks than the American Left.

The nomenklatura took the intelligentsia's power seriously, far more seriously than seemed necessary at the time. Stalin nearly killed them off as a class, while Khruschev tried to co-opt them and Brezhnev wavered between moderate tyranny and qualified tolerance. Like the American right-wing oligarchy, the Soviet nomenklatura saw the Russian intelligentsia, particularly the liberal elite, as not only a threat to their power, but as inherently anti-Soviet and unpatriotic at heart. And they weren't entirely wrong, not by a long shot.


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Ames
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Email Mark Ames at editor@exile.ru.
 
 
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