Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center (not to be confused with the reporter of the same name) writes in today’s Vedomosti:

As far as I can recall, in The Conformist, the novel by Alberto Moravia on which Bernardo Bertolucci’s famous film is based, the protagonist’s father, confined in an asylum, imagines himself a minister for Hungarian affairs in Mussolini’s government. A position quite similar to the new appointment of the overly talkative governor.

Well observed. This past Monday, Putin fired Samara governor Nikolai Merkushkin and appointed him special presidential representative for liaison with the World Congress of the Finno-Ugric Peoples, of which Hungary is a promiment member. There are probably as many Hungarian  speakers as the speakers of all other Finno-Ugric languages taken together.

Merkushkin was governor of Mordovia in 1995-2012 and of Samara Oblast in 2012-17. Apart from achievements typical of a post-Soviet governor (charitably put, accusations of corruption and vote rigging), his ultra-loyalist utterances owed something to Saltykov-Schedrin or Vladimir Sorokin. He has claimed that Americans hacked into the email servers of the Samara regional government in 2016, that Alexey Navalny was part of the Dulles plan, and that United Russia’s 90%+ share of the Mordovian vote fended off a Maidan-style revolution in Moscow.

Kolesnikov tweaked Moravia a little bit for greater effect, but he didn’t pick Hungary out of thin air – it’s right there in the novel:

At last, this time, the madman spoke, in a low, stumbling, hurried, hostile voice, just like someone who has been disturbed while doing an important job…

“He thinks he’s a minister,” Marcello’s mother whispered.
“Minister of Foreign Affairs,” confirmed the professor.

“The Hungarian affair,” said the madman suddenly in a swift, low, labored voice, continuing to write, “the Hungarian affair…”

(Translated by Angus Davidson.) If Merkushkin was too chatty, Marcello’s father was fond of writing:

He held one of his papers at eye level, and without further comment, in a strange and breathless haste, began to read it: “Duce, chief of heroes, king of the earth and of the sea and of the sky, prince, pope, emperor, commander, and soldier” – here the madman made a gesture of impatience, tempered however by a certain amount of formality, as if to signify, “etcetera, etcetera”…

I should read the whole of it.


  1. I’ve seen the film, which I admired rather than loved. Great cinematography by Vittorio Storaro, who was a massive influence on 1970s US directors such as Coppola, some even going so far as to rob entire shots wholesale from “Il conformista”. Also, a brilliant performance by Jean-Louis Trintignant as the rather repulsive Clerici, too cowardly to be an outright villain. Worth seeing just for the way Trintignant defines the character through his walk.

    • My spam filter placed three of the four comments you left in the spam folder. I have no rational explanation for this. My apologies.

      Once I’m done with my current reading, I should read the novel and maybe see the film as well.

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