March 22, 2003 by AK
Gamal Abdel Nasser was the only Nasser whose name Russian announcers articulated with a stress on the second syllable: Nah-SER. The audience enjoyed punning on that surname because this pronounciation brought to mind a rude Russian word, a rough equivalent of “to crap”. Khruschev was the first Soviet leader to be joked about domestically; Nasser probably the first foreign leader Soviet Russians cared to make fun of. The former not only invited the latter to Moscow and promised eternal friendship (the Aswan damb was later built with considerable Soviet assistance), but awarded him the golden star of the Hero of the Soviet Union.
Now even in these days when no value is left undevalued, most Russians have residual respect for those Heroes, either of the USSR or of post-Soviet Russia. The Golden Star was supposed to be awarded for self-sacrificial bravery on the battlefield or in an emergency (the first Heroes were the pilots who rescued the Chelyuskin expedition) and was strongly associated with WW2 feats. To award the honor to an Arab president who, among other things, persecuted — and executed — Communists in his country was to insult the feelings of too many in the USSR. (Of course Stalin would have gotten away with anything, but he was Satan in flesh, and Khruschev merely human. Whether ordinary Russians knew about Nasser’s anti-Communism then, I don’t know, but that’s possible. For instance, Soviet papers could have reported on that before he became Khruschev’s Arab favorite.) Just to say “Hero of the Soviet Union Gamal Abdel Nah-SER” was to tell a joke; and these words were also part of a short, irreverent poem.
Nasser took advantage of the situation (what a typically Russian expression — I wonder if it comes from French) and imported Soviet military advisers, some with WW2 experience. Naturally, they were appalled to find a portrait of Hitler in his office, but what could they do?
The advisers didn’t help, though, — Egypt lost two wars with Israel, and Anwar Saddat, Nasser’s successor, sent them back and turned to the US for further assistance, only to be “executed” by the Muslem Brotherhood. You know the rest, Camp David and all.