Flirting with the corporate state

My grandfather had several English-Russian dictionaries. The preface to one of them, a sold, detailed wordbook, began more or less like this: “The teaching of I.V. Stalin on language has opened the way to a truly scientific, Marxist study of linguistics…” Stalin published his “teachings on language”, to replace Nikolay Marr’s theories, in mid-1950. By 1954-55, worshipful references to Stalin’s genius were no longer obligatory and in later editions, the preface probably started with “The Marxist theory of language…”

In the less cannibalistic decades of Khruschev’s and Brezhnev’s rule, a Soviet manual on pretty much any human activity would still have to cite Marx, or Engels, or Lenin, or some great Leninist thinker, or the latest Communist Party congress or plenum. A book on cocktail mixing would start with a quote from the twenty-something-th party congress, which “made a vital emphasis on improving the culture of leisure among the Soviet laborers”.

Over to 2014. Gazprom’s flagship corporate magazine (called Gazprom: keep it simple) is printed on thick, glossy paper with high-quality photographs Soviet printers could but dream of. Gazprom mostly writes on industry issues but there’s often room for off-topic pieces: “Mr. XYZ, deputy assistant director of a subdivision of a regional department, has kindly agreed to show us his collection of paintings.”

This year began with a double issue on Ukraine. The choice of subject was unsurprising – Ukraine was once Gazprom’s most profitable export market – and the angle predictably anti-Maidanite. But the April 2014 issue went much further: it carried a piece (in the Culture section) entitled “The Fifth Column” by Natalia Burlinova, “program director” of the A.M. Gorchakov Fund for Public Diplomacy. It’s a nasty piece of neo-Soviet propaganda, basically saying that most of the Russian intelligentsia are a bunch of US-fed traitors.

Under “Discussion”, Gazprom printed an even more Soviet-ish piece – “The Murder of Democracy” by Veronika Krasheninnikova, “Director General of the Institute for Foreign Policy Research and Initiatives” (I’d never heard of it). At once, the author acknowledges her inspiration: William Blum, the Osama bin Laden-recommended author. The text could come from a Soviet 1983 booklet: an evil CIA wreaking havoc on the world; Victor Yuschenko’s wife as a devious, fascist, madcap-nationalist CIA operative; and the bold claim, “the FRG’s intelligence started out as a subsidiary of the CIA, and little has changed since” – note the pre-unification use of “FRG” for Germany.

The preamble is over. Now the racy part.

Flirt is a free illustrated magazine that started out as a catalog of advertisements for sexual services. Living in Moscow, one can expect to find a copy under the windshield sooner or later, even if one is female and keeps a pink teddy bear atop the dashboard. For context, last time I checked – in 2013 – The Moscow Times still carried black and white sex ads on the last page. Flirt was no match for the respectable MT, so it came under pressure from whatever regulators cared to interfere, and was forced to diversify – into culinary receipts, cars, sports, event guides, and “erotic poetry”, the latest masterpiece signed by “Eva (the) Insatiable”.

That was not enough. Alas, I cannot find a PDF file but here’s the cover of the latest issue. Can you see the blue-and-yellow subtitle on the left, right under the red title? It says, “The battlefield is Ukraine” and asks, in smaller print, “Is neofascism rearing its head?” Below, set in pulsating porphyry, “Erotic Poetry”. The “culture of leisure” is definitely improving.


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