18848753Along with kreativ (creative [n]), it was the curious term politkonkretnost’ (“polit-concreteness”) that received the dubious award of “anti-word of the year” (antislovo goda) from a panel of linguists and literary critics appointed to name both the word and anti-word of the year fro 2007.  Although a close structural cousin to politkorrektnost’, a derivative of English “political correctness”, the term carries a subtle different meaning (and can be translated literally as “political concreteness”), more akin to what some believe to have been the very first manifestations of “political correctness”, now long forgotten, in Mao’s “correct thinking” and the Leninist “correct line-ism”.  In Mikhail Epshteins’s words,

Politkonkretnost’ is when, in politics, everything is determined in advance, such as duma elections or the election of the next president.  Putin comes out in support of “United Russia”, they get a majority, nominate a successor, and everyone votes for him.  It can be added that recently the word konkretnyi has acquired broad popularity in such slang expressions as konkretnyi patsan (real [i.e. genuine] lad) [and] konkretnyi muzhik (real bloke).

Who are these politically concrete? Those who have declared and positioned themselves within the framework of the dominant politics. The chair of the election commission who suggests that “the president cannot be incorrect” (a formula of papal infallibility). Cultural and sports leaders begging the president out of personal love for him). Pedagogues and caregivers organizing a movement of young “bear cubs” (mishki) for the sake of victory for the “all-bear” cause. You sense the difference: in the West—political correctness, in Russia—political concreteness.

On a certain level the English and Russian terms do share a common orientation—one of a certain political or social agenda and cognisant of the powerful role of language in establishing and imposing that agenda. An interesting corollary here is that both terms seem to be employed chiefly by opponents (italics in original text) of the phenomenon they are using it to describe.  While in its earliest days of its use, the label “politically correct” was worn with a sense of pride by those who viewed it as a mark of open-minded, liberal distinction, the term, over time, has taken on a more critical, or at least ironic, colouring.  Few self-respecting individuals would label themselves “PC” without at least a tinge of irony, just as few in the Russian context would willingly don the mantel of politkonkretnost’.  But the objects of criticism are quite different: in one case, Left intellectuals who are themselves largely marginalised in American culture; in the other, establishment players who belong, or aspire to belong, to dominant power structures.  One sees political correctness as an illness of an outgroup and threat to established belief, the other views politkonkretnost’ as a malady of party insiders keen on reinforcing the status quo and thereby buttressing their own claims to its authority.  One challenges the status quo, the other seeks to reinforce it.  And yet the two share one assumption: that language not only reflects but itself shapes perception, identity, reality; that how we name things and call people helps define not only their image and status in society, but our own as well. In their very differences, the two terms also reflect a second important assumption—that language, culture and politics are closely intertwined and mutually dependent on one another for meaning.

Michael S. Gorham, After Newspeak (2014)

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