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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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The future of The eXile is in your hands! We're holding a fundraiser to save the paper, and your soul. Tune in to Gary Brecher's urgent request for reinforcements and donate as much as you can. If you don't, we'll be overrun and wiped off the face of the earth, forever.

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Automotive Section
We’re happy to introduce a new column in which we publish Moscow’s raw radio communications, courtesy of a Russian amateur radio enthusiast. This issue, eXile readers are given a peek into the secret conversations of Moscow’s traffic police, the notorious "GAIshniki."

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Good Night, and Bad Luck: In a nation terrorized by its own government, one newspaper dared to fart in its face. Get out your hankies, cuz we’re taking a look back at the impossible crises we overcame.

Your Letters
Russia's freedom-loving free market martyr Mikhail Khodorkovsky answers some of this week's letters, and he's got nothing but praise for President Medvedev.

Clubbing Adventures Through Time
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eXile club reviewer Babooshka takes a trip through time with the ghost of Moscow clubbing past, present and future, and true to form, gets laid in the process.

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Jared comes out with yet another roundup of upcoming bardak sessions.

Your Letters
Richard Gere tackles this week's letters. Now reformed, he fights for gerbil rights all around the world.

13 Toxic Talents: Hollywood’s Worst Polluters
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Everybody complains about celebrities, but nobody does anything about them. People, it’s time to stop fretting about whether we’re a celebrity-obsessed culture—we are, we have been, we’re going to be—and instead take practical steps to clean up the celebrity-obsessed culture we’ve got...


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