Sunday, May 4, 2008

Tough-talking Putin

NPR has a good collection of some of the most famous (or "infamous") quotes from Putin's speeches and press conferences over the years. One of my favorite is here.
During a 2002 news conference in Brussels, Belgium, the president responded to a question that angered him by inviting a reporter to come to Moscow to be circumcised.

"We have specialists in this question, as well," Putin said. "I'll recommend that he carry out the operation in such a way that nothing will grow back."

I am a bit suspicious of Nemtsov's claim that Putin's KGB background helped him prepare for working with the audience because there are tons of cold faced former KGB figures in Russian politics. Besides, it is probably not a coincidence that all but one quote listed in the NPR article are from Putin's second presidential term (mostly from 2005 to 2007): he has been learning by doing (or "talking") even before he assumed the president post and doing pretty well. Actually, he is not that much an eloquent speaker even today: most of the time during his public speeches or even at his cabinet meeting he reads from his notes. There is speculation that Putin envied his mentor, former St. Petersburg major Anatoly Sobchak so much that he tried to mimic the latter's lavish style of public speeches for a while. This attempt more or less failed. But gradually Putin did develop his own style (very likely with the help of some shrewd PR advisers) . On that note, I do agree with the point from the NPR article.

"And his widely reported aphorisms are like gems. They're few and far between, and everyone remembers them."
The response to Putin's aphorism is probably more divided than this article indicates. A few of my Russian teachers were very up-set by Putin's reference to criminal slangs in public speeches. Some locals I talked to in Russia take that more or less just as a joke. There is no systematic information for us to evaluate how much popularity Putin managed to garner by all these aphorisms. One thing for sure is that this is the main reason his three-hour long marathon press conference is not boring.

I look forward to the opportunity to observe how the new Russian president develops his own style over time.

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