Being Polite

2 October 2012

Blog: Russia On My Mind

I was getting into a train at Kursk metro station when I heard the usual recorded voice saying, ‘Be polite to other passengers.’ Though I’ve heard this voice many times, for some reason this particular day it struck me as odd. After all, can one be told to be polite? The idea of being polite by compulsion, on instruction, seems to contradict the very notion of politeness. 

This train of thought reminded me of the evening before when I had watched, unusually, some of the 9 o’clock evening TV news. I saw the National Leader over what must have been 15 or 20 minutes telling people to be ‘more cultured.’ True, he seemed to have started on the theme of the recent tragedy which saw a drunk driver kill seven people in Moscow (I had switched on when the President was already in full flow). I think it wasn’t only Yulia Latynina in Novaya gazeta who pointed out that neither the Duma nor the President have seemed moved when top officials or business leaders have been apparently responsible for fatal accidents, but here they were full of rage when some ordinary fellow has been the culprit. The President even quoted the words the suspect is supposed to have told the police investigator, to the effect that: ‘I’ll do what I want to do’ (I am quoting from memory). Isn't it extraordinary that the President knew what had passed between the suspect and the officer? Does the President know about all the conversations that take place between investigative officers and the suspects of crime, I wonder?  

Meanwhile, the President’s call for people to have a higher level of ‘culture’ made me think. We don’t hear similar calls from the head of state when police officers brutally beat or kill members of the public in police stations. Surely it would be appropriate to urge police officers to be rather more cultured in their treatment of ordinary citizens – that is, not to beat them to death, or even not to beat them at all. And then one recalls the way the military was unleashed on Chechnya and the lack of ‘culture’ shown by federal forces in their treatment of the Chechen population. Did the President or his officials urge the commanders and troopers to be more cultured then?

And, when one comes to think of it, for the authorities to falsify election results does really show an appalling ‘lack of culture’. Not only did they make the rules for these elections themselves, but they refused to abide by them when there was a chance they might not win - or not win in quite the way that they wanted to. But did the President complain about this ‘lack of culture’? No, indeed. 

And when it comes down to it, here we have a man who, having served two full terms as President, decided that he wanted more. And presumably he knew the article of the Constitution which states that an individual cannot serve MORE than two terms in a row. But when his maximum of ‘two terms in a row’ was up, he couldn’t help but reinterpret the rules to his own advantage. He was like a man in a crowd trying to get through to some desirable object, using his elbows in the most impolite and uncultured fashion. ‘Really, I need to be President, I’m not letting anyone else have this!’ he presumably thought to himself. Or maybe he said it out loud. And so, elbows flailing, he pushes the competition aside (one thinks of the apparently rather more polite Mr Medvedev) to get to the Presidential prize.

And now we see how he lectures, and hectors, from the television screen on the need to be more cultured, to be more polite. At least the voice on the underground train is a disembodied recording, and one can’t, personally, take offence.