Muddling the Masses, Russian Style

The Russian government is no exception. They want to do something almost none of their 130 million citizens is going to like – raise the pension age five years for men and eight years for women. Their task, as they reportedly told the major Russian news outlets, is to ensure that the law to raise the pension age is perceived positively – or at least neutrally.

Since the dawn of time, when leaders have wanted to do something their subjects aren’t going to like, the first thought is not how to change their plan to make it easier on them, but rather what to call it to make them think it’s better than it is.

To that end, they are not using the word raise, lest people focus on five to eight more years of hard labor, or reform, since that is associated with the economic upheavals -i.e., impoverishment of the population – during the 1990s.

Instead, they are using the word change and phrases like improving pension legislation, and they are recommending – i.e., ordering – everyone else to do so, too.

And so they are. If you check the reports on the main television channels pre- and post-request, you see that folks have toed the new line. On one channel, law on pension reform became draft law to change pension legislation. On another, gradual reform was out and draft legislation to change the parameters of the pension system was in.

Other bland, vaguely positive and totally opaque phrases to describe the plan appeared, like changes and transformations to the pension system and amendment of one parameter of the pension system, which succeeds in being simultaneously absolutely true and utterly deceptive. After all, they are just changing one thing, right?

When in doubt: modernize. Everyone wants to be part of the 21st century, so let’s call it modernization of the pension system.

While this was going on, the newspaper Novaya gazeta had a better idea. Putting their faith in the ingenuity and wit of the народ (the people), they asked them to come up with their versions of what to call this law. And the people did not let them down.

One suspects that some of them have government experience. Who else but a good bureaucrat could come up with diversification of labor resources; pension renovation; pension reorganization); or expanding the limits of work capacity? Or come up with this lovely bit of bureaucratic balderdash: reclassification of the population’s age-related liquidity?

Others presented this as a great opportunity for the older generation. It’s not a burden! It’s strengthening the constitutional right to labor; stimulating active employment of the older generation; and integrating the older generation into the labor market. No ageism here!

The techie crowd took a page from their lexicon and thought the law should be presented as optimization. Only of what? How about money-age optimization or optimization of the number of non-working resources?

And one person sent in this gem: The main directions of the government’s efforts to stabilize the growth of the labor activity of the population.

Unfortunately, the prime minister is not permitted to take part in the contest.

Some contestants recalled the Soviet era penchant for abbreviations. So they suggested Pension Innovation System, or PenIS); the dark State Correction of Human Pensions, or its Russian abbreviation GKChP, the name used by the 1991 coup plotters); or the cheery Optimization of pension burden, Russian acronym OPaNa – Wowza!

Other contestants decided: you’ve got to call a spade a spade. So they proposed pension robbery; pension genocide; pension racket; pension default or euthanasia. Or this just might be called the four hundred and first relatively honest way to seize money from citizens.

Or it could just be called what it really is: An attempt to stave off economic collapse.

May the best wordsmith win!

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