Silence: Problems of the Modern Russian Political Metaphor

A mistake exists only in its consequences —

only they make it meaningful. An unperpetuated mistake

can not be regarded as a mistake at all.



Political metaphors are normally employed only by political technologists in their efforts to generalize election campaigns experience. However, metaphor structures social-political reality, defines main aspects of the processes and events that constitute this reality and is essential to understanding them.

Metaphor is viewed as a language (speech) analogy that allows including a new subject into the space of the old one by comparison. A special role in the social life belongs to metaphors that M.Foucault called “fundamental”1 Foucault 1993.1, S.Popper — “root”2 Pepper 1970.2, J.Lakoff and M.Johnson — “orientational”, and E.McCormack — “basic”3 McCormack 1990.3. Such metaphors do not only create conditions for comprehending a phenomenon, but also structure the whole system of notions, and are referred to as a “hypothetic assumption that lays a basis for theory, scientific discipline”, metaphysical conceptions etc.4 Ibid.: 383.4

The most important advantage of metaphor is its ability after being repeated over and over again to launch mechanisms of social and political management. The metaphor that is articulated by a high-rank political official (for example, by a president) is not just a verbalized idea, but rather a complete program of actions on different levels of social life. Metaphor, in essence, is about the goal that all efforts are made for, which is the main part of organizing social-political processes. It is exactly political metaphors that are responsible for goal setting and its achievement in the end5 Parsons 1997.5. The political metaphor “Sochi is the capital of the Olympic games 2014” expressing a desirable condition organizes work process of different bodies on how to achieve those goals and determines economic and social-cultural development of the city, region and state.

Presenting political metaphors in Russia that means setting goals and tasks of the social development is usually an exclusive power of political leaders, parties, movements, federal institutions. As for the regions, they normally play only an executive role acting in line with Moscow attitudes. Russian regions scarce contribution of metaphors into the world of politics is mostly accounted for the fact that political metaphor without any practical steps such as programs, laws, investments, events sinks in the scale becoming just a figure of speech. What is more, the central authorities hardly ever support regional initiatives. It is clear that under such circumstances regional politicians try to avoid political metaphors. Otherwise, such wordplay might undermine people’s confidence in them.

In particular, analysis of the regional media clearly demonstrates regional officials’ fear to use political metaphors. District and local newspapers with “a word” being their main instrument usually practice creating metaphors in the socio-economic sphere. Here are the most remarkable headlines of the editorials and other key articles published in April-May, 2007 in the newspaper “Tihookeanskaya zvezda” that is very popular in the Khabarovsk district and positions itself as a highly experienced edition of the social-political character: “Million of ordeals, or why summerhouse people are upset” (navigation of the Amur river), “Woodcutter axe’s noise in the district court” (illegal wood cut), “Minor peoples have big problems” (VII Congress of the Far North minor peoples), “Arbitrage as a mirror of economy” (Khabarovsk Court of Arbitration’s anniversary), “Accumulative building: go full sail” (problems of accumulative building in Khabarovsk), “Want hepatitis — bathe in Amur” (sanitary situation on the Khabarovsk beaches), “Khabarovsk housing cooperative asks soon to turn off the light” (conflict between Khabarovsk housing cooperative and Energy supply structure), “Migration murky secrets” (migration problems in the Far East), “School of the future” (creating a new type of education institution).

To sum up, while the federal authorities, which political metaphors destiny is dependent on, easily make them up, regional officials prefer to keep silent, since they are not able to significantly impact political and economic situation by lobbying projects that are of interest to them. Federal politicians who are most of the time unaware of regional initiatives retreat from this tactic only in the period of election campaigns. On the eve of the elections into the Khabarovsk district Legislative Duma, for instance, “The United Russia” actively supported the local authorities’ proposition on the exploitation of the Tungus water deposit, thereby getting additional votes in the district capital, where after the accident on the Chinese chemical plant the problem of drinking water supply gained topicality.

Political metaphor organizes any — financial, scientific, intellectual — efforts targeted at achieving the announced goal. This is what happened when the bridge across the Amur River was built. The bridge is essential for the region and the whole country; that is why the efforts in the building process were made consciously, whereas the metaphor was born accidentally. The words “we are constructing the bridge” had a unifying effect on the district community and amalgamated private, corporative, production, economic, political, regional and finally state interests. Khabarovsk citizens always show the bridge cross the Amur River to the city guests not only because it is a masterpiece of engineering and dwellers industrious work, but it is also an embodiment of the local authorities political will. Assumingly, the underlying message of this political metaphor is overcoming their own stagnation and inaction (that is rather typical of the Far East people) as well as dealing with unfavorable conditions. The bridge across the Amur River not only facilitated communication between the right and left river banks, but also unified Khabarovsk district people. In other words, by structuring human activity political metaphor also influences the identification and self-identification processes of the social-political subjects. However, as it was stated before, local authorities fear being accused of allegations and thus try to avoid political metaphors, thereby depriving themselves of some opportunities.

“Silence” of the regional structures is caused by “deafness” of the federal ones. The process of constructing metaphors in the regional politics unavoidably sublimates into making decisions on practical problems. This approach without a shadow of a doubt has its advantages. However, social, economic, law, cultural, educational and ecological activity should by underpinned by common values, which can be elaborated only within the creative political work with new metaphors playing a great role in this process.

Regional silence and inactivity in creating metaphoric structure of the modern Russian politics are rather harmful. By refusing to take part in political initiatives and holding only executive responsibilities regional politicians delegate all the functions on the strategic planning to the center that is not always able to take into account regional specificity. Moreover, political center and regional officials begin to speak different languages and view the same problems from different perspectives (political and economic), which destroys common communication network within a system.

The process of spreading political metaphors within the Russian political discourse is unidirectional: from federal authorities towards regional. That is why regional politicians in their statements only echo metaphors that come from above, that is from the political center, for instance, “National projects can not stand idle talk”6 Onoprienko 2007: 3.6 or “Accessible housing” national project can become engine of economy”7 Mishin 2007: 3.7. Such structure of political creative work does not encourage building of democratic society since democracy implies permanent open dialogue8 Arendt 1996.8, which means bidirectional movement of political metaphors. One should also remember that if the metaphors constructed by the center do not meet expectations of the regions they can be totally ignored on the local level, which could throw discredit on the center that had already happened many times throughout the Russian history.

Political “deafness” of the center and “silence” of the regions are interconnected: both are results of the opaque Russian political space and its week communication abilities. It is highly possible that these negative features come from the fundamental metaphor that underlies Russian interpretation of politics as a process that is launched and overseen by the center. According to such model, regions can only obey or disobey the center; this scheme does not provide any communication neither between regions nor between regions and the center. Inadequacy of such approach towards politics is clear. With reference to the Aristotelian understanding of a state as a superior form of communication between people one can claim that politics is a system of communications9 This idea was developed in the works of H.Arendt, K.Deutsch, N.Lumann, J.Habermas and some other modern advocates of the communication model of politics.9. The better political communication is organized, the more efficient management will be and the more successfully state will be able to exercise its functions. Those who do not participate in the communication process cut themselves off the political system and turn into the objects of manipulation. In order to be an element of the political system, a region should “speak out”. Something that is not comprehended is regarded as an external reason, whereas something that is understood is within a system10 Lumann 1989.10. However, in order for political system to recognize its elements, they should present some kind of identification. Presenting political metaphors is one of the key mechanisms of creating identification.

The Far East International Economic Congress that is going to be held on a regular basis is designed to encourage developing new and reviving old channels of political communication between the center and outlying regions. In his address to participants of the First Far East Congress in September 2005 the Chairman of the Council of Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation S.Mironov emphasized that the forum “would help Moscow to understand better problems of the Far East regions”11 Litvak, s.a.11. According to the Congress’s conception, its main purpose is “holding a broad and free discussion between the representatives of the political, business and academic elites on the socio-economic development problems of the Russian eastern regions, possible vectors of integration into the Asian-Pacific region, and prospects of efficiently including Russian eastern regions as well as the whole country into these processes through the international scientific, technical and humanitarian cooperation12 http:// www.dvcongress.ru.12. It might seem as if regional politicians were provided with vast opportunities for creating new political metaphors that would consolidate efforts of the state, financial organizations, Russian and world business elite. However, Moscow still possesses superiority in producing broad political generalizations. In this sense it is important that the same Mironov tied tasks of the Far East Congress to the strategic importance of the eastern regions that was stressed in the annual message of the President to the federal Assembly13 Ibidem.13.

In his welcoming speech, K.Pulikovsky who in 2005 was holding a position of the presidential representative to The Far East Federal District used the boldest political metaphor: “The eastern outlying regions of Russia and the countries of the Asian-Pacific Region will be developing only together”14 Ibidem.14. Such statements could not help but provoke quite controversial responses in media. The Federal Assembly’s magazine “The Russian Federation today” that provided informational support to the Congress regards it as a “Russian window towards the “Asian tigers”15 Rossiyskoe okno, s.a.15, whereas the independent NewInfo viewed it as a leash thrown on the Far East initiatives by the Kremlin that is afraid of losing its control over the region16 Lober, s.a.16. Such confrontation within the metaphors is unavoidable since they reveal the whole variety of the authors’ positions.

Metaphor in politics as well as metaphor itself is a myth in a short-hand form17 Yachin 2001.17. In its turn, myth is a “cultural universal based on trust, which enables primary understanding of the complexity of the world through such processes as perception, expressing emotions and learning”18 Savelova 2006: 53.18. In other words, myth is a universal code, while metaphor and wordplay are universal forms of communication, within which subjective and objective meanings are put together. Combining formal and informal levels19 Blyakher 2003.19, political metaphors restore participants’ right to be subjects of politics. Political metaphor like a bifurcation point, at which new meanings are elaborated, or empty space that allows ascribing its own meanings to the declared expression, collocation, slogan, etc. represents one of the mechanisms of communication and interaction between actors. Clash of metaphors causes communication tension, which leads to an intensive search for areas of common interest and opportunities for interaction that facilitates further deformalization of political declarations.

Circulation of metaphors in the communication space does not only unite political subjects by common interests, but also links together metaphors of different levels, which ultimately might produce the so called penetrating metaphors that will permeate into all branches and levels of politics. In 1998 Khabarovsk Governor V.Ishaev published a book “Special region of Russia” that is dedicated to the problems of his district20 Ishaev 1998.20. This metaphor strongly tied life in the Khabarovsk district to the life of the whole country: the region should be a part of Russia and serve its country, but from its side the center should take into account and make use of the regional specificity. The idea that was ignored by the federal authorities received further consideration in the concluding documents of the First Far East International Economic Congress: in their recommendations the participants of the round-table discussion “Innovative way of the Russian East development” pointed out that “in the region where expenditures (energy, transport, labor, etc.) for the single production one and a half times or even twice higher than the average statistics of the other regions, there is no other alternative than to concentrate on the hightech production that is being constantly modernized21 http:// www.dvcongress.ru.21. The metaphor about the “specificity” of the Far East region successfully contributed to the conception of the “export-and-import arc”. The core idea of the latter is processing transit goods coming through the Far East to the border territories. Such economic-political proposition becomes of particular importance in the light of the president’s calls for the development of the Asian-Pacific economic cooperation. Stressing that the eastern areas of Russia “possess various natural resources as well as scientific and technical potential for the mutually beneficial cooperation between the state-members of the APEC Putin stated: “Being a member of the APEC we seek to actively include our eastern regions into the economic integration mechanism already existing in the framework of the forum. Driven by sober pragmatism, on the one hand, we try to participate more actively in solving problems the Asia-Pacific community is facing today; on the other hand, we try to use the opportunities of the regional multilateral cooperation in the interests of the Siberian and Far East development”22 Putin 2003.22.

In this sense, the Far-Eastern territories are becoming a platform for implementation of the Russian far-fetched political-economic plans in the sphere of the international cooperation. It was not by accident that the Governor of the Khabarovsk district in his welcoming speech for the Congress participants stressed that “goals and tasks of the forum were dictated by the necessity of the accelerated economic growth of the Far-Eastern border ries and increase in their role in promoting cooperation between Russia and its contiguous states”23 http:// www.dvcongress.ru.23. This mostly consolidated penetrating political metaphor is supplemented by the idea of creating a “World Russian city” in the subregion “Pacific Russia”. According to M.Tersky, Director of the Pacific Center for strategic studies, “the core cities of the new sub-region are by definition Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, which even before represented “sub-regional center of the Asian-Pacific Region”24 Tersky, s.a.24.

The First Far East International Economic Congress was held under the motto “Horizons of partnership between Russian and Asian-Pacific Region courtiers: a man, nature, and economy”, while the second one (September, 2007) under the following: “Through the development of Siberia and Far East towards modernization of the country”. The theoretical basis for such a challenging political metaphor was found in the report of the academician A.Nekipelov, in which he advocates the idea that “the eastern part of Russia is developing at a slower rate than other territories” and suggests that stabilization fund resources should be provided for the modernization of the Far East economy25 See Sarychev, s.a.; Minakir 2005.25.

Holding economic congresses alone has a profound impact on the infrastructure development of the Far East region as a whole and the Khabarovsk district in particular. The international forum brought in significant changes into the town-planning activity: it appeared that the district’s capital was not entirely ready to host events of such scale and standard, and thus, Khabarovsk planned to build a business-center, hotels and some other objects.

The political metaphor of the “World Russian city” created by M.Tersky and also the metaphor “Khabarovsk is a city for people” suggested by the major A.Sokolov26 Komsomolskaya Pravda. 2007. N 78.26 fit well into the program of creating in Russia 14 supercitiesmillionaires, including Khabarovsk. This is exactly the way how a professional politician, statesman or party worker should present metaphors in order to ensure mutual understanding between political communicators. If interests, desires and demands of different social groups and classes are not articulated in the society, it will lose its structure and become something amorphous or split into conflicting corporations with irreconcilable positions. A politician of any level is a mediator between people and their groups27 Melville et al. 2004: 30—31.27, and political metaphor creates a platform for a dialogue and compromise.


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