Russian Fishermen to Putin: “He who does not work, shall not eat.”

Dear Readers:

For today, a lazy Sunday, I have this human interest piece from ZELV.  This will be interesting mainly to people who are fascinated by Vladimir Putin and his unique leadership style.  But also gives a (tiny) glimpse into the lives of ordinary fisherfolk in the Russian heartland.

Russian “ukha” – a type of fish soup, or chowder

The headline reads:

В Новгородской области Путин с Медведевым поели супа с рыбаками.

Literal English translation:  “In the Novgorod Oblast, Putin along with Medvedev consumed some soup with fishermen.”

One of the Russian commenters to the piece complained that this is poorly crafted Russian.  It made it sound like the soup contained parts of fishermen.  The headline should have read:  “[They] along with the fishermen ate fish soup.”


The story is about Putin and his sidekick, Dmitry Medvedev.  The two men being, respectively, the President and Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, they have formed a quite stable ruling tandem for several years now.  From time to time, similar stories and videos come out showing that the two men are friends and even relax together — be it a ski vacation, enjoying a pint of beer together at a cafe, or, as in this case, a fishing trip to the Novgorod area.  Where they meet up with a collective of fisherfolk and discuss work-related issues such as poaching.


Let us begin with the location:  This fishing collective is located on the shore of the Lake Ilmen, in Novgorod.  According to wiki, in medieval times this lake  served as a major trade route between Varangians and Greeks.  At the time this whole area was occupied by Finnic tribes, and the name of the lake derives from the Finnic Ilmajärvi, which means “lake of air”.

It was to this scenic spot that the Russian tandem strolled up one day.  Ostensibly the two men were on a leisurely fishing trip and just decided to stop and chat with the local fisherfolk.  They were greeted by a very nice looking blonde lady named Larisa Sergukhina, whose title is Manager of the Fishing Boats.  There are a lot of words for “boats” of course, and the Russian word used here is баркас (“barkas”) which can be translated variously as “small boat” or “long boat”.  Not being a maritime person myself, I am not really sure what such a boat looks like.  According to wiktionary, Russia borrowed this word from the Dutch “barkas” which in turn was borrowed from the Italian “barcaccia”.  Obviously, this is one and the same with the English word “barge”, but “barge” may not be the correct translation in this context.  Delving further into this etymology, just as a curiosity, it is possible the word might go as far back as the Coptic “bari” – “small boat”.  And as a further etymological sidebar, which has nothing to do with the Putin story, this word is the source of the French word Barcarolle, from Italian barcarola (“barca boat”) which is a type of folk song originating with Venetian gondoliers.  The rhythm is meant to emulate the stroking of oars, with the tempo always being 6/8 meter moderato, and the lilting melody reminiscent of the gentle lapping of the water.  The most famous barcarolle in the classical repertoire, obviously, is French-German-Jewish composer Jacques Offenbach’s beautiful song “Belle Nuit“, a soprano/mezzo-soprano duet which Offenbach originally wrote for his operetta Die Rheinnixen, but later reused to open Act III (or, in some renderings, Act II) of his masterpiece, The Tales of Hoffmann.  That’s the one where the poet E.T.A. Hoffmann lurks on the banks of a Venetian Canal while his male companion and Muse Nicklausse makes love with, and sings the glorious barcarolle duet with, the enticing Italian courtesan Giulietta.


And in just a manner did our hero Putin and his Muse Medvedev wander up to a group of “barcarola” men for a chat.  But not about love, this time, nor the bewitching night of love.  More about day work and conditions of the fishing life.  And in place of the beatiful Giulietta there was the equally beautiful but much more wholesome Larisa.

This other piece from ZELV gives more information and also contains a short video showing the encounter.  But the video was edited incorrectly, and the jokes are shown out of order.  Here is the correct order of events, as taking from the narrative of the first piece:

“Guess who is coming to dinner?”

Larisa and the fishermen are serving up soup at the outdoor picnic area.  Lunch is served on tree stumps, with the men sitting on a makeshift picnic table:  a wooden plank stretched between two stumps.  President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev stroll up and take their seats in the middle of the plank.  This is where the vid is cut out of order, because it skips (and places at the end) the jokes about “He who does not work shall not eat”, with Putin/Medvedev jokingly reproaching their hosts for not offering them a bowl of soup.

Well, this is actually evidence that the event was not staged.  If Larisa had known these high-ranking men were visiting, she would have had lunch already laid out for them.  Such is the rule of Russian Hospitality.  But never mind, soon enough two extra bowls of soup are brought.  Medvedev is the real card here; note Putin wiping his eyes from laughing at his sidekick’s tomfoolery.

After a jump cut, the two leaders now have soup in front of them.  Medevev, still riffing irrepressibly, can’t help himself from complaining (jokingly) that his bowl of soup is pure broth — not a chunk of meat in there.  More jokes and laughter.  “But it is still tasty,” he admits graciously, not wishing to offend his hosts.

Conversation then turns to work-related issues such as keeping the lake clean; type of fishing nets used; and the struggle against poachers.  As the visit ends, Larisa invites her important guests to return at any time and promises them a more sumptious meal next time around.

This entry was posted in Economics, Humor and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Russian Fishermen to Putin: “He who does not work, shall not eat.”

  1. Patient Observer says:

    Excellent post! Your writing can have a dreamlike flow with interesting tributaries along the way. I take the events at face value. It was not a staged event nor were the locals coached. This event seems to capture something about the Russian/Slavic/Orthodox soul – a relaxed accepting approach to life. And, we bow our head to no man and ask no man to bow his head to us. Therein lies a part of the fundamental difference between the East and West.


    • yalensis says:

      Thanks, Patient Observer!

      I agree that the event does not at all seemed to have been staged, nor coached.
      And there is something quintessentially Russian in this setup and in the body language and responses of all the parties concerned. The Russian Soul is at its best when out in Nature. I think Tolstoy would have approved.


    • yalensis says:

      P.S. – here is Offenbach’s Barcarolle, sorry I just can’t resist slipping in opera wherever I can. Here, the famous duet is sung in concert format by two of my favorite opera ladies, Anna Netrebko (soprano) and Elīna Garanča (mezzo-soprano). This music will lull you into a peaceful state of mind.


  2. Cortes says:

    Barca = small boat / dinghy in Spanish (Castilian).

    The masculine version barco ( big boat) led to words like “embargo” “embark” “disembark” untsoweiter.

    My favourite “English” word = stevedore < estibador< estibar = "to stow" in Castilian.

    Better late than ever: thanks once more for a fine essay!


    • yalensis says:

      Thanks, Cortes! Aren’t words fascinating?
      From online etymology:

      Latin stipare, “to pack down or press”
      to Spanish estibar “to stow cargo”
      Noun being estibador to English stevedore

      Thanks for that! I never knew where the word “stevedore” came from. I thought maybe it had something to do with some guy named Steve. [just joking..]
      Like, maybe this guy Steve was the maritime version of Casey Jones the railroad engineer, i.e., the most productive cargo loader ever.


      • yalensis says:

        And furthermore….
        A quick research shows that this Latin root “stip-” is actually part of a family of ancient Indo-Aryan roots and stems connected with the root “STA-” with the addition of various infixes that lead to related stems such as “STA-MBH”, “STA-V”, and so on.

        Sanskrit “stambha”, a “post”, like a post standing in the ground.

        “The primary meaning of STAP would seem to have been to cause to STAND or to support”.

        English descendants include words such as “to stop” (as in to put a stopper in), “stamp”, “stomp”, “stack”, “stiff”, “stand” (obviously), etc..
        Russian, of course has “stat” as in to arise or stand up, in the intransitive sense of standing up of one’s own accord. Indo-Aryan obviously had ways of distinguishing between intransitive and transitive versions of the overall concept. For example, you stand something up, or stack it, by applying energy to an object. Versus the object or person “standing up” by themselves.
        All of of this leading indirectly to “stevedore” – fascinating!


        • Cortes says:

          And stipulare “to stipulate” is the foundation of the Civil (Roman) Law of contract.


          • Cortes says:

            Plus: to stand up by yourself = reflexive in Castilian – ponerse de pie, incorporarse.


          • yalensis says:

            Ah yes, “stipulate” – one of my favorite English words, along with “hoof” and “emporium” !
            I think the semantic connection here is:
            To stop – as to put a stopper in; to stop a debate in its tracks by conceding a certain point in advance. (?)


          • yalensis says:

            And to take the etymology of stipare even further back in time:
            Let us go back in time to the proto-Indo-European-Hittite series of dialects.

            Side note: The discovery that proto-Indo-European was part of an even more ancient language family which included the Hittite-Anatolian group of languages, was a discovery of linguistic geniuses of the 19th century. This was a discovery based on pure science, the linguistic equivalent of the discovery of the planet Pluto.
            ’cause, see, historical linguists first posited, using scientific theory alone, that ancient I-E roots such as *staa (to stand), with the long vowel, were actually descendants of a form involving a Consonant-Vowel-Consonant pattern (CVC), with the final consonant of the root being a laryngeal type sound (a guttural consonant, like you’re gargling). So, for example, postulated *deh₃ (“to give”) and *steh₃. (“to stand”). This latter being the verb we have been discussing.
            After this had been postulated, just based on pure reasoning, then lo and behold, the Hittite language was discovered and decoded. And Hittite had examples of roots with just this type of laryngeal consonant. As I said, this was the equivalent of Pluto being discovered, based on mathematical models of Uranus orbit. This wiki piece explains the history of the laryngeal theory.
            So, for example, if proto-Indo-European “stand” was pronounced something like “STEKH”, then later the final laryngeal consonant falls off (’cause people are talking too fast and start dropping sounds), and then we get, e.g., Sanskrit “STAA” with a long A vowel.

            There is not a direct example of such a Hittite verb as “steh”, but Hittite grammars show a verb root es “to be sat (down)”. with the conjugation eshahari “I am being sat down”, estari “you (thou) are being sat down”, etc.

            Transitive vs. intransitive was a big deal in I-E semantics. As I guess it would be in any human language, since this is kind of an important concept. Quoting this other wiki piece about I-E verbs :

            the basic root for “stand”, *steh₂-, was a perfective root. Therefore, the root verb had the punctual sense of “come to a standing position; to rise from a sitting position”. In order to speak about “standing” in a present, durative sense (“be in a standing position”), the root verb required a derivational marker to put it into the imperfective aspect. For this root, the imperfective aspect switcher was often reduplication (Ancient Greek hístēmi, Sankskrit tíṣṭhati), but the Germanic languages also show a nasal infix or suffix for this root (Gothic present ik standa vs. preterite ik stōþ), at least by a later period. The Slavic languages, meanwhile, also have a form derived with the -yé- suffix. Such discrepancies suggest that in PIE proper, this root had no imperfective verb at all, and the aspect-switched verbs we see in the later descendants were formed independently of each other.

            Remind me again: How did we get on this topic?
            Oh yes – stevedores!


  3. Patient Observer says:

    Is the bigger story here that Putin and Medvedev are now fully aligned with their political/economic agendas? Its a lot to read into a fishing trip but consider that hust a few years ago, Medvedev was the front man for the Atlanticist Russian faction purportedly seeking to accommodate Western interests and seeking integration if not subjugation with the West. Putin, being a sovereignist, sought a strong and independent Russia.

    Could this fishing trip be a sign of reconciliation or, more likely, a capitulation of Medvedev to the soverengnists? Sometimes, a fishing trip is a fishing trip but I like to think this trip shows an increasing level of unity in the Russian government.


    • yalensis says:

      That’s an excellent question, Patient Observer.
      I have to say that Putin/Medvedev have always seemed quite friendly on a personal level, whatever political differences they might have had. It is not unusual for them to go on vacations together, for example ski vacations; or to enjoy photo opportunities showing that they are good friends. In the fishing trip vid, their banter is quick-minded and genuine. (Although one notes that the relative hierarchy of Alpha and Beta male is in evidence here: Putin teases Medvedev, but Medvedev doesn’t tease Putin.)

      Even in staged events, the body language of the two men seems relaxed enough, there is no evidence of a seething animosity. In fact, I doubt if there ever was a need for “reconciliation”, since there never actually was much of a (personal) conflict there.

      But yes, I think Medvedev is a Russian patriot, not a tool of foreign powers. If Medvedev has a weakness, it is probably his chameleon-like nature. He is overly influenced by people around him. A couple of times in the past he went too far in the liberal direction, even coming within a hair of accepting Russian “guilt” for WWII, which is one of the action points of the purely liberal agenda. That was the business with the “Historical Commission” and so on. I am sure that Putin set him straight about that. And yet Putin himself is a liberal Westernizer and anti-communist. It’s just that Putin is a master politician who knows where the line is drawn. He knows how not to offend an entire generation of Soviets and also the 48% something of the Russian people who still honor their Soviet past.


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