Scandal In Crimea: An Actual Potemkin Village? – Part I

Dear Readers,

Folks even marginally familiar with Russian history might have heard the expression “Potemkin Village”.  It basically means a series of fake facades, like those fake storefronts on the set of a Hollywood Western.

The term is named after Prince Grigory Alexandrovich Potemkin, who was very good friends with the Russian Empress Catherine the Great.  According to wiki, the traditional story goes something like this:

Prince Potemkin — but that’s not the real guy, it’s his wax effigy!

Grigory Potemkin was a favorite lover of the Russian Empress Catherine II. After the Russian annexation of Crimea from the Ottoman Empire and liquidation of the Zaporizhian Sich (see New Russia), Potemkin became governor of the region. The region had been devastated by the war; Potemkin’s major tasks were to rebuild it and bring in Russian settlers. In 1787, as a new war was about to break out between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, Catherine II with her court and several ambassadors made an unprecedented six-month trip to New Russia. The purpose of this trip was to impress Russia’s allies prior to the war. To help accomplish this, Potemkin set up “mobile villages” on the banks of the Dnieper River. As soon as the barge carrying the Empress and ambassadors arrived, Potemkin’s men, dressed as peasants, would populate the village. Once the barge left, the village was disassembled, then rebuilt downstream overnight.

“New Russia” aka “Novorossiya”

Wiki goes on to say that contemporary historians dispute this traditional account of events, and that the whole thing might just be some myth or humorous story, elevated to the level of supposed history.  More than likely, Potemkin just ordered the peasants to spruce the place up a bit.  This is what everybody does when a monarch comes to visit, no?

Be that as it may, the expression “Potemkin Village” has entered the lexicon of every language, and is used to denote some grand beautiful fakery concealing a shabbier essence.  It is also important to note that Potemkin’s story is inextricably tied with that of Odessa, with Novorossiya, and with the Crimean Peninsula.

The Odessa Stairs: Communist propaganda at its most effective

And from the other side of the political fence, lefties remember Prince Potemkin as he who gave his name to the famous Battleship whose mutinous crew sparked the 1905 Russian Revolution.  The name of the actual boat was “Prince Potemkin of Tauris”.  As Wiki notes, this was a pre-dreadnought type battleship constructed for Imperial Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

The mutineers of 1905 seized the ship, tossed their officers overboard, and, after a series of wacky adventures, sailed off to Romania.  In the next two decades, the rusting ship changed hands several times until its checkered career finally ended in 1923, when the Soviets turned it into scrap iron.  But not before the officers of Russia’s fleet had learned a valuable life lesson:  Never serve maggoty meat to hungry sailors.

Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein created his brilliant propaganda film, The Battleship Potemkin, in 1925, and to this day everybody who is anybody, knows about the famous scene set on the Odessa Stairs.  Which, by the way, are also known as the Potemkin Stairs.  As they were renamed by the Soviets in 1955, not so much to honor Prince Potemkin of Taurida as to honor Prince Eisenstein of the Silver Screen.  The stairs constitute a magnificent construction project also known as the gateway into Novorossiya.

Shariy’s Expose

With that backstory out of the way, it is time to turn to current events.  Invaluable Ukrainian blogger Anatoly Shariy recently published this expose of a new “Potemkin Village” in modern Crimea.  In this case, in the port city of Feodosia.

The video expose was created by Shariy in conjunction with Crimean social activist and blogger Alexander Talipov.  Now, I am not 100% sure that the person I just linked and whose photo I pasted below, is the same guy.  There could be more than one Alexander Talipov running around Crimea engaging in beneficial community activism.  But I am reasonably sure that this is the same guy.

Alexander Talipov

The issue to which Shariy/Talipov call our attention is that of Crimean residents who need better housing; and who are being given the run-around by the bureaucracy.  Even unto the highest levels of Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksenov.

A few days back, 7 November, forty lucky families in Feodosia were invited to a big media circus and, in front of a visiting high dignitary from Moscow (!)  ceremoniously handed the keys to their supposed brand new shiny flats.  But the keys turned out to be …. just keys.  Keys to a facade.  Keys to a real-life Potemkin Village!  And the disappointed families are still stuck in their rundown dwellings, waiting for the new comfortable, modern-style apartments that they were promised.

[to be continued]

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