HUMOUR AND SATIRE IN CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN POLITICAL DISCOURSE
Someone once said that politics is show business for ugly people
(Clinton 2005: 70)
The objective of the article is to demonstrate use of humour and satire in contemporary Ukrainian political discourse. A couple of observations have to be made regarding 1) the development of the Ukrainian language during independence, 2) major Western and Ukrainian publications on this issue as well as 3) peculiarities of post-totalitarian political discourse evidenced by the case of Ukraine. Ukraine has been undergoing tremendous political, economic, societal, educational transition on its road of building an independent state (see, for, example, Isajiw 2003).
Ukrainian language during independence. Speaking about Ukrainian language during the communist period, Laada Bilaniuk (2005: 15) remarks: “In other cases (as with Ukrainian during the Soviet period) the low language is standardized, codified, and has its own literature, but it is ideologically construed as backward and associated with lower classes. The low language is seen as limited in use to informal contexts, with or among people with little or formal education. It may also be considered particularly appropriate for expressing humour or satire”.
Eighteen-year period of Ukrainian independence witnessed certain spread of Ukrainian as well as elevation of its status and prestige, though, at the same time Russian is dominant in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine, competing strongly with Ukrainian which is in the status of a state language.
The main Western published sources on this issue are Bilaniuk 2005, Kulyk 2006, Fournier 2002 and others. Ukrainian language lexicon has been developing fast and filling in gaps and lacunae that existed in its system during the period of “communist era” (see, for example, Busel 2005 and review article on the first edition of this dictionary in Polkovsky 2006 a).
Dictionaries devoted to subsystems of the Ukrainian language appeared (see Stavyts’ka 2005 b) and research of jargon, slang and argot (Stavyts’ka 2005 a) has been meticulously presented. Recently a couple of leading Western Slavic journals published articles devoted to the research of the Ukrainian language and its diverse and fast developing lexicon (see, for example, Polkovsky 2006 b, Polkovsky 2006 c). General interest towards post-Orange Ukraine is reflected in special issues of these journals (see Slavic and East European Journal 50, 3 (2006), Canadian Slavonic Papers 47, 3-4 (2005), upcoming Harvard Ukrainian Studies). Among publications on Ukrainian lexicon published in Ukraine one can single out Boiko 2006, Mazuryk 2002, Struhanets’ 2002, Styshov 2002. Articles and recently defended Candidate dissertations appeared as well (see, for example, Movchun 2006, Kovtun 2006, Tiapkina 2006).
Articles on political discourse in Ukraine. There is growing interest among researchers in Ukraine towards analysis of complexities of political discourse (based on Ukrainian, Russian, German or American cases, as evidenced by some of the recent articles: Pasichnyk 2006, 2005, Slavova 2006, 2005, Maniutina 2005, Kondratenko 2005, Onchulenko 2006, 2005, Vashchuk 2006, Voitenko 2006, Kus’ko 2006). The issue of language and politics is one of the hottest research topics in contemporary linguistics and the cases of various countries and languages have been presented recently (see, for example, Beard 2000, Clyne 2005, Polkovsky 2005).
Special dictionaries devoted to political slang (see Barrett 2004) or examples of politician’s speech (see Weisberg 2004) appear as well. Books written by politicians with an inside keen observation of political process and its main political figures and participants become instant bestsellers (see Clinton 2005, as an example).
Sources. Two field trips were made to Ukraine (August – October 2004 and December 2006 – January 2007) to conduct the research. The following newspapers were analyzed: Ukrains’ka dumka (UD) 1998, Ukrains’ka hazeta (UH) 1998, Vechirnii Kyiv (VK) 1999, Molod’ Ukrainy (MU) 1999, Zoria Poltavshchyny (ZP) 2006, Vysokyi Zamok (VZ) 2005-2007, Ternopil’s’ka hazeta (TH) 2005, Nova Ternopil’s’ka hazeta (NTH) 2005, Ukraina moloda (UM) 2004-2006, Ukrains’ka hazeta plius (UH plius) 2005, Rivne vechirnie (RV) 2004, journal Vsesvit 1997, brochure (Tak!, 09.2004), books: Karpenko 1997, Dubynians’kyi 2005, Irvanets’ 2005, Russian Nezavisimaiia gazeta (NG) 1999, Russian speaking MK v Ukraine (MKU) 2007, site TabloID 2007, TV programs, etc.
Humour and satire in recent Ukrainian linguistic journals. The problem of use of humour and satire in contemporary Ukrainian has been touched upon in a couple of recent articles published in Ukrainian linguistic journals. Among these I can point out Rusanivs’kyi 2005, Karpenko 2006, Kalyta 2007.
Rusanivs’kyi (2005:3), one of the leading Ukrainian linguists, remarks:
Ukrains’kyi humor – tsilkom oryhinal’ne iavyshche, v iakomu zlylysia dvi absoliutno protylezhni stykhii – dobrodushnist’ i zlist’
Ukrainian humour is a purely original phenomenon in which two absolutely antagonistic elements (natural forces) – good heartedness and anger/wrath are blended together’.
Ihor Chepil’, the famous humorist from Ivano-Frankivs’k (VZ, 06.01.07) considers humour as an integral part of Ukrainian mentality. An interview with him is published under the title (the words are from the interview):
“Iakby ukraintsi ne smiialysia, to ne vyzhyly b”
‘If Ukrainians do not laugh, they would not survive’.
… sichovi stril’tsi smiialysia, navit’ iduchy u bii
‘Sich Riflemen were laughing, even going to the battlefield’.
Rusanivs’kyi considers jokes as belonging to pure humour (with the exception of political ones, which are close to satire) (2005: 4). Our concrete examples actually prove this point of view. Boundaries of satire were functionally narrowed during communist regime (Rusanivs’kyi 2005: 4).
Karpenko (2006: 24), also one of the leading Ukrainian linguists, points out that
…obsiah i parametry humorystychnoi syly vlasnykh nazv dostatn’oiu miroiu shche ne vstanovleni
‘…the volume/size and parameters of humorous effect of proper nouns has not been sufficiently defined yet’.
Actually, the Presidential 2004 election campaign in Ukraine proved that proper nouns were a powerful enough source for creating a basis for humorous and satirical use. Only a couple of examples will be presented in this article, for the rest, see Polkovsky 2005.
Kalyta (2007: 35) pays special attention to the context as the main precondition of actualization of the ironic sense. Our examples prove that context plays a unique role in creating an ironic or humorous situation. Knowledge of context is extremely important for ”decoding” political jokes, understanding political connotations and associations with certain person, event, content, etc. Without this knowledge quite often the humorous, ironic or sarcastic connotation can be easily lost. It is especially lost for the readers who do not reside in the country (let us say Ukraine) and follow political events there sporadically and occasionally.
Current Ukrainian political discourse. Some of the researchers, especially in the West, are pretty sceptical about politicians in Ukraine: “… politicians still put forth the same old propaganda slogans, with a few different words substituted” (Bilaniuk 2005: 14). Vivid contradictions between current situation in Ukraine (political, economic, ecological, etc.) and “old propaganda slogans” quite often lead to creating ironic, or even sarcastic attitude towards politicians, who use these slogans (especially evidenced by numerous comments on politicians’ quotations/citations, which are becoming more and more popular in contemporary Ukrainian mass media). A couple of newspapers (UM, for example) have the special rubric (column) called “prykoly” (slang, which can be roughly translated as ‘joke, witty expression, lit. pinch, prick’).
‘Politicization’ of the vocabulary (plus use of abbreviations, borrowings, slang/jargon and unpredictable word combinations in the language of contemporary Ukrainian mass media)
Researching contemporary Ukrainian newspapers and magazines one can note the extreme activization of political vocabulary (new parties appeared, election system has been undergoing constant change, political system is absolutely unstable and unpredictable, with severe power struggle between the President, PM and Supreme Council (Verkhovna Rada) of Ukraine). Names of political factions (previously hromadivtsi (from Hromada party), rukhivtsi (from Rukh party), zeleni (Green party), now nashoukraintsi (from Nasha Ukraina ‘Our Ukraine’ party), rehionaly (‘Regions of Ukraine’ party), biutivtsi (Block of Yulia Tymoshenko), based on the name of the leader (udovenkivtsi, kostenkivtsi) are quite frequent . The same tendency can be noticed in contemporary Russian political discourse (zhirinovtsy, from Vladimir Zhirinovskii, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, barkashovtsy, extremists, Barkashov followers). Role of acronyms and stump-compounds has been growing and is already enormous. To understand contemporary Ukrainian political language one has to follow the political process, be familiar with recent lexical innovations, occasionalisms, play of words, etc., like in any other country or language:
…the circumstances of countries in central-eastern Europe and those in the CIS (‘path dependence’ in political science jargon) are very different ( English speaking Kyiv Post 2007, 1: 7, the example is taken from Taras Kuzio’s article “Ukraine’s constitutional crisis drags on”)
Political words break through definite constrains of political vocabulary and too often go into the general mainstream. The achievements of the Rukh movement in gaining independence by Ukraine in 1991 was enormous and that is why the words Rukh, rukhivtsi became widely used (with positive connotation by right-wing parties and nationally conscious people and with negative connotation by left-wing parties and “back to the USSR” people). With the division of Rukh-party into two (and later even into three) and political crisis in both of them the word was still widely used, but currently with lost political influence the word is used less and less. Both factions of former Rukh party were often called by names of their leaders – Hennadii Udovenko (udovenkivtsi) and Iurii Kostenko (kostenkivtsi).
During the Communist regime the political vocabulary was official, it did not include any criticism of the political system, the country itself or its leaders (restricted only to dissidents, often imprisoned and serving long sentences for their “anti-Communist propaganda”). Transition from clumsy political language of the “socialist society” to the political lexis (vocabulary) of the post-totalitarian society deserves close attention and with rare exceptions, unfortunately, has not been seriously researched. At present the Ukrainian language tries to reflect all the complex processes taking place in the political life of the modern Ukrainian society. These connections between processes in language and society are tight and many revolutionary changes are reflected in language. Language becomes more flexible and mobile reacting to minute swifts and switches.
For close to eighteen years now Ukraine has been an independent state having the opportunity to build its own political system, political ties and relations with other countries, political culture, its own political image. Majority of current political leaders of Ukraine represent traditional industrial (Russified) centres as Donetsk (Donbas) and Crimea (and though some of them speak Ukrainian in public or in the Parliament, their language of everyday use and communication is obviously Russian) which also hampers the proper formation (molding) of contemporary Ukrainian political vocabulary and discourse in general.
What are the trends in the development of Ukrainian political vocabulary?
1) Extensive use of the last names of the political leaders as derivative basis (foundation) for creation of new words representing new phenomena (in author’s opinion):
The most widely used has been the last name of the former President of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma: kuchmonomika [Kuchma + ekonomika] = economic policy during Kuchma’s presidency; economic crisis in Ukraine etc.; compare with reihanomika [Reihan + ekonomika], the period of economic prosperity in the US. (Kuchmonomika is highly ironic, even sarcastic, because Ukraine did not achieve significant economic progress during Kuchma’s two-term presidency).
The title of the article – “Kuchmonomika sebe vzhe vycherpala: Fas i profil’”
‘Kuchmanomics has exhausted itself: Front and profile’ (UH, 29.06.98, No. 25, p. 1);
kuchmokratiia [Kuchma + demokratiia, curtailing of democracy during Kuchma’s presidency]; po-kuchmivs’ky; Kuchmyna p’iatyrichka (Kuchma’s five-year plan, allusion to the famous Soviet five-year plan economic policy); verb kuchmanity (VK, 28.10.9, p. 4); kuchmism (transitional period between communism and capitalism in Ukraine:
Nashe pokolinnia bude zhyty pry kapitalizmi, kuchmizmi, komunizmi
Our generation will live under capitalism, kuchmism, communism
(VK, 11.11.99, p. 5, extreme ironic effect is achieved, putting together capitalism and communism, and adding enigmatic kuchmism to the mix); prokuchmivs’kyi zakhid ‘pro-Kuchma event’ [compare with Russian: antikuchmovskaia partiia v Kremle ‘anti-Kuchma party in the Kremlin; “antikuchmovost’” Chubaisa ‘anti-Kuchma sensitivity/feeling by Chubais (NG, 11.12.99, p. 5).
Many other last names are used extensively (in plural, to denote some phenomena like: kontrol’ hrachovykh “control by the Hrachovs’ (Grachev, former minister of defense of the Russian Federation); suchasni tolochky ta tolochkopodibni ‘current Tolochkos and Tolochko-likes (Tolochko, Academician of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences); kochubei, mazepy (Ukrainian hetmans); demokratyzm malynkovychiv ‘democratism of the Malynkovychs’ (anti-Ukrainian journalist); zhyrynovs’ki (leader of the LDP of Russia, member of Parliament); komuno-morozivtsi (Moroz – leader of the Socialist Party of Ukraine, former speaker of the Parliament); kosakivshchyna (from Kosakivs’kyi, former mayor of Kyiv), kosakivs’kyi period ‘Kosakivs’kyi period’, prokosakivs’ki zasoby masovoi informatsii ‘pro-Kosakivs’kyi mass media’; iufivshchyna (from Iufa – criminal businessman, fled from Ukraine, resides in Israel), iufovyi sup ‘Iufa’s soup’; shmarovshchyna (from Valerii Shmarov, former minister of defense of Ukraine), shmarovy (Karpenko 1997).
2) Acronyms (abbreviations) and different types of compounds:
KUIn – Konhres Ukrains’koi Intelihentsii (Congress of Ukrainian Intelligensia’), Dem PU – Demokratychna Partiia Ukrainy (Democratic Party of Ukraine), KUN – Konhres Ukrains’kykh Natsionalistiv (Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists), VR – Verkhovna Rada ‘Parliament’, Miniust – Ministerstvo iustytsii ‘Ministry of Justice’, Minpresinform – Ministerstvo presy ta informatsii ‘Ministry of Press and Information’, UT – ukrains’ke telebachennia ‘Ukrainian TV’, nardep – narodnyi deputat ‘people’s deputy, MP’
3) Tendency to use allegoric names to denote some political figure:
“Patron”, vin zhe “Papa” ‘”Don”, he is also “Father” (title of the article, about Kuchma); “kindersiurpryz” ‘kindersurprise’(about Serhii Kyriienko, former Prime-Minister of Russia) (VK, 23.10.99, p. 4-5).
4) Extensive use of English borrowings and their derivatives:
Imidzhmeikery ‘image makers’, peredvybornyi imidzh ‘pre-election image’, moskovs’kyi imidzhmeikers’kyi servis ‘Moscow’s image making service’; inavhuratsiia Prezydenta (sometimes inauhuratsiia) ‘President’s inauguration’; impichment ‘impeachment’, etc.).
5) Colloquialisms, slang, jargon:
“ment = militsioner ‘policeman’ (title of the article “Nardepy i “menty” ‘MPs and policemen’” (MU, 29.10.99, p. 2); “naihaty” ‘to exert pressure, to demand’; “prokol” ’mistake (literally ‘puncture’) ; “vzuty” ‘to deceive, to rob’ (article “Iak Ameryka “vzula” Ukrainu”,’How America “robbed/received” Ukraine’) (UD, 1.10.98, p. 5).
6) Untraditional (unpredictable) word combinations:
konstytutsiina kovdra ‘Constitutional blanket’ (ide peretiahuvannia na/ pid sebe konstytutsiinoi kovdry) (‘the process of pulling Constitutional blanket for/under himself/themselves‘); bil’shovyts’ki bonzy ‘Bolshevik’s bosses/leaders’; baksoliubni lzhepatrioty ‘Bucks-loving false patriots’, etc. (Vsesvit 8-9, 1997, p. 176).
7) New “combined” words with the changed first part:
mandatonosets’ ‘mandate bearer’ (deputy) instead of popular in the former Soviet Union “ordenonosets’ ‘order bearer”; vladolyz (authority licker) instead of colloquial vulgar “srakolyz” (ass-licker).
PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN IN UKRAINE: LANGUAGE UTILIZATION
In the recent 2004 presidential election campaign in Ukraine, the 26 presidential candidates were themselves colourful figures – enough to provoke the electorate’s creativity and thoughtfulness. Some exaggerations, used in Yanukovych’s (one of the leading presidential hopefuls) campaign, create a truly humorous effect: Khocha, napevne, same tak i povynen vyhliadaty derzhavnyi pidkhid derzhavnoho menedzhera – zhadaty vse, peredbachyty imovirne i zrobyty mozhlyve
‘Though, probably, this is exactly how the state approach of the state manager should look like – to recollect (remember) everything, foresee the probable and do the possible’ (RV, 7.10.2004, p. 3, the article “Kontrakt z prem”ierom” ‘Contract with PM’).
By some of the media (mostly pro-Yushchenko’s) Yanukovych is described as napiv”iedynyi kandydat vid vlady ‘the half-only candidate from the power’ (UM, 10.09.2004: 5).
The criminal present and connections of Viktor Yanukovych also found its reflection in the language utilization. In the leaflet entitled Linii doli ‘Lines of destiny’ the words Buty nadiinym ‘To be reliable’ is repeated with an interesting addition Treba til’ky ne vesty pustykh balachok ‘One should not have to have useless [empty] talks’. The phrase would have gone absolutely unnoticed if it were not a copy of the legendary phrase assigned to Yanukovych Donetsk porozhniak ne gonit (Russian) ‘Donetsk is pretty serious about what it says [is pretty serious about its business], gnat’ porozhniak, slang, rather vulgaric, universally understood as the lexicon of the societally low-brow and frequently criminal elements. See also “Porozhniak” vid Prem”iera: L.D. 1 sumnivaiet’sia v peremozi Ia2? ‘”Cheap talk” from PM: Kuchma is doubtful in Yanukovych’s victory? (UM, 1.10.2004, p. 3). The aforementioned leaflet does not mention Yanukovych’s two imprisonments, mildly “adjusting” one of them to: Iunats’ka zukhvalist’ ta maksymalizm. Zhorstokyi zhyttievyi urok ‘Youth’s audacity and maximalism. Cruel life lesson’. It is impossible to directly “deduce” imprisonment from this neo-Ukrainian Aesopian language.
In pro-Yushchenko newspapers Yanukovych was often referred to as Velykyi Don ‘Big Don’ or simply Don. Suffice it to present here a rather lengthy introduction from the article under the colourful title ”Politychnyi “Tytanyk” Yanukovycha” ‘Political “Tytanic” of Yanukovych’ (Tak! 7.09.2004, p. 4): Povertaiuchys’ pizno vvecheri dodomu, ia stoiav na avtobusnii zupyntsi i pochuv zhart dvokh pidstarkuvatykh cholovikiv: “O, Kravchuk – za Yanukovycha. Donovi tse ne fart”. Ia pidviv ochi i zamist’ “uliublenoho” spravedlyvoho, poslidovnoho3 toshcho ia pobachyv “khytroho lysa”4. Druhyi Prezydent Ukrainy usmikhavsia meni z bih-borda na pidtrymku Yanukovycha ‘Coming back home late night I was standing at the bus stop and heard the joke of two elderly men: “Oh, Kravchuk is for (supporting) Yanukovych. Don will not have lucky break with it”. I raised my eyes and instead of “beloved” just, consistent, etc. I saw the “cunning fox”. The second President of Ukraine was smiling to me from the bill-board in support of Yanukovych’.
One of the interesting linguistic phenomena used during presidential campaign was some kind of the repossession of possessive pronouns, e.g., ‘our’ as in Our Ukraine. These pronouns were once generally appropriated by the communist authorities in the official discourse. Yushchenko’s strategists were trying to reclaim this pronoun as he was considered as the expresser of the people’s will. Yanukovych’s clan tried to portray their candidate as the follower of Kuchma’s policies.
Trying to attract Western Ukrainian audience pro-Yanukovych media were using even such slogans as “Ukraina – ne Rosiia, Yanukovych – ne Putin” ‘Ukraine is not Russia, Yanukovych is not Putin’ (NTH, 18.08.2004, p. 3), which by itself creates an involuntary ironic effect.
Ukrainian mass media coverage of the recent presidential election campaign in Ukraine vividly and strongly demonstrated immense potential of the Ukrainian language to reflect the most intricate and complicated nuances of Ukrainian people’s life, their attitude towards the present political process and its political leaders/presidential hopefuls. Eighteen years of Ukrainian independence were crucial for this change. It also revealed deep humorous nature of Ukrainian mentality.
Politicians on political process and fellow politicians. Ruslana Lyzhychko, famous Ukrainian singer and winner of “Eurovision 2004” contest, known as Ruslana (see Pavlyshyn 2006), MP from pro-Presidential faction/fraction Nasha Ukraina “Our Ukraine” stated in her interview to the Fifth channel of Ukraine, 12.01.2007:
“Sutsil’na fal’sh u Verkhovnii Radi. Polityky nichoho ne navchylysia z 2004 roku. Ukrains’ka polityka – sutsil’nyi konflikt”
‘Total falsehood in the Parliament. Politicians have not learnt anything from 2004. Ukrainian politics is a total/absolute conflict’.
Freedom of speech created a situation where politicians (especially current and former MPs) try to reveal their smart and witty nature, try to show their intelligence and high IQ, be ruthless and are sarcastic towards their opponents from opposing parties. Quite often their comments state that political process is a show/ a bad show, one does not have to take politicians seriously, etc. The famous soccer player and previous coach of the Ukrainian national soccer team Oleh Blokhin (he was a two-term MP), answering a question about possibility of coming back to politics, remarks:
Ia uzhe buv u politytsi – i z mene zrobyly klouna. … Sposterihaiuchy za nynishnim parlamentom, ia prosto smiiusia
‘I was already in politics and they made clown of me. … Observing current parliament, I simply laugh’
Being an MP, Blokhin himself changed his party affiliation from Communist to Social-Democratic Party of Ukraine (united).
Oleksandr Turchynov (2004: 106), Yulia Tymoshenko’s deputy, puts the following words into the mouth of his protagonist Garik:
A posmotri na nashikh gosudarstvennykh deiatelei – tak oni vse prosto dauny
‘You can look at our state leaders/activists – they are all simply Downs’.
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Petro Poroshenko (UM, 15.12.06), MP from the pro-Presidential fraction Nasha Ukraina “Our Ukraine”, commenting the appointment of Nestor Shufrych to the Ministry of Extraordinary Situations (ministr iz nadzvychainykh sytuatsii), remarked:
Nestor Ivanovych sam ie nadzvychainoiu sytuatsiieiu. I ia dumaiu, shcho u n’oho bude z chym borotysia
‘Nestor Ivanovych himself is an extraordinary situation. And I think there will be enough stuff to fight with’.
Dmytro Vydrin (MK, 3-10.01.07), famous Ukrainian political science expert and futurologist, MP from Block of Yulia Tymoshenko, remarks that Ukrainian politics more and more corresponds to the sign of the year [Pig – V.P.]. Parliament could be called a large team of pigs, who are fighting for a better trough. With great pleasure and satisfaction he describes the visit of a group of Ukrainian parliamentarians to Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, to participate in the work of Inter-parliamentary Assembly Ukraine-Lithuania. One of Ukrainian MPs, former minister in the Government, said a couple of times at the reception that he was so glad to be in the capital of Lithuania – Riga, where his brother lives, Riga is a beautiful city and we are very happy to be in the capital of Lithuania – the city of Riga. Only half an hour later one of the Lithuanians said: “Our capital is not Rigga, but actually Vilniuss”. Vydrin concludes: “I still wonder about attempts of our MPs for intellectual superiority when they can not differentiate until now Riga from Tallinn or Vilnius”.
Quite often, ironic or even sarcastic effect was created in the case when the author wanted to be serious and deliver his message:
U ts’omu vypadku formula “hovorymo Yushchenko – rozumiiemo “Narodnyi Soiuz”, i navpaky” – pravyl’na
‘In this case the formula “we say/pronounce Yushchenko – and imply “People’s Union”, and vice versa” is correct’
(allusion to “My govorim “Lenin” – podrazumevaem “partiia”, my govorim “partiia” – podrazumevaem “Lenin”, ‘We say “Lenin” and imply/mean “party”, we say “party’ and mean “Lenin”, Vladimir Mayakovskii’s poem, if I am not mistaken).
The statement was said by Roman Bezsmertnyi, head of Nasha Ukraina ‘Our Ukraine’, pro-Presidential party.
Quite often absurdity is leading to comic situations – “Some of the proposals we considered were so absurd they were comical. When someone suggested we impose fees for Coast Guard services, I asked how they would work. It was explained that the Coast Guard was quite often called upon to bring in boats that were in distress; often due to the negligence of the operators. I laughed and said: “So when we pull up alongside, or throw down a rope from a helicopter, before we do a rescue, we’re going to ask, ‘Visa? MasterCard?” We let that one go, but eventually we did come up with more than 150 budget cuts” (Clinton 2005: 35).
Sometimes the language used by politicians is self-revealing, showing their ignorance, low cultural level, vulgarity or criminality. Volodymyr Shcherban’, former governor of Sumy Region during Kuchma era, who fled Ukraine to the US, being afraid of criminal charges and who recently came back to Ukraine, said:
Znaiete, iak kazav odyn klasyk, iakshcho ia vykhodzhu na vulytsiu bez “shtuky”, to pochuvaiu sebe , niby bez shtaniv. ‘Shtuka” – tak, ie zavzhdy
‘You know, as one classic said, when I am going to the street and do not have “1000 bucks’, I feel myself being without pants. “1000 bucks” – yes, I always have them’ (UM, 15.12.2006, p. 8).
The word shtuka – slang, is used very rarely, adds tremendously to the creation of humorous effect.
Then mass media is playing with this situation, when politicians flee the country, escaping the responsibility:
To de zh ty, Bodia? U vitchyznianykh ZMI z”iavylysia chutky pro povernennia v Ukrainu rozshukuvanoho Interpolom eks-mera Odesy Ruslana Bodelana
‘Where are you, Bodia? Rumours appeared in the Ukrainian mass media that the ex-mayor of Odesa Ruslan Bodelan, who is the subject of an international search by Interpol, is coming back to Ukraine (UM, 13.12.2006, p. 2).
Bodia – nickname of Bodelan, as well as shortened variant of Ukrainian man’s name Bohdan. The question ‘To de zh ty, Bodia?” creates the effect as if small kid is hiding from persecution.
Brief and laconic statement appeared recently about one of the MPs:
Nashoukrainets’ Borysov nedoperespav
‘Our Ukraine’ MP Borysov under-over slept (TabloID, 6.02.2007).
There are actually two words in Ukrainian nedospaty ‘to have not enough sleep’ or perespaty – ‘to have too much sleep’, the coined version nedoperespaty is highly comic. Analogous nedoperepyty ‘not-enough too-much drink’, highly ironic, used when the person was too much drunk, but was planning even to drink more, probably passed out and could not finish the process. Nedoperespaty brings immediate connotation with nedoperepyty, because of joint/common part nedopere.
People on politicians and their “legacy”, elections, etc. In his poem “Khto i shcho zalyshyv ukraintsiam” (‘Who left what and what has been left to Ukrainians’) (UH plius, p. 5) Mykhailo Lytvynets’ in poetic form (and highly sarcastically) summarizes the legacy of the first two presidents of independent Ukraine – Leonid Kravchuk and Leonid Kuchma (in his poem they are correspondingly, second and the third, with Mykhailo Hrushevsky, being the first president of Ukraine after 1917 revolution):
Chym slaven druhyi prezydent-pronoza?
A tretii, shcho nas desiat’ lit tomyv?
Nam dav kravchuchku tsei (banal’na proza!),
Shcho khatku v Al’pakh vziat’ sobi zumiv,
A nedorika dav nam kuchmovoza!
‘What is the second ferreter (intriguer) president is famous for?
And the third one, who tired (oppressed) us for ten years?
This one gave kravchuchka to us (banal prose!),
And managed to obtain “small hut” in the Alpine mountains,
A stuttterer (stammerer) gave us kuchmovoz!
Kravchuchka – small cart, used in Kravchuk’s presidency term for carrying luggage, derivative of Kravchuk plus noun ending –ka). Kuchmovoz – trolleybus, used during Kuchma’s ten year presidency, produced at Pivdenmash plant in Dnipropetrovsk, where he previously worked as director there, formed by Kuchma plus vozyty ‘carry’. Khatka, khatynka ‘small hut’ – the word first used by Kravchuk himself responding to the questions posed by MPs at the question period at the parliament on the allegations about his property abroad; later used sarcastically by people about luxurious properties of Ukrainian statesmen abroad, or even about pretentious real estate property of Ukrainians inside the country. Pronoza and nedorika – colloquial words bearing highly negative connotations about people’s qualities.
More than 300 Ukrainian MPs (out of 450) are millionaires and some even billionaires (the richest one is Rinat Akhmetov, has been considered as the one who acquired his initial huge capital illegally). In this case Bill Clinton (2005: 49) was absolutely right and witty in his remark: “Economic disaster loomed, as the rotting remains of the Soviet economy were exposed to free-market reforms, which brought inflation and the sale of state-owned assets at low prices to a new class of ultra-rich businessmen called “oligarchs”, who made America’s robber barons of the late nineteenth century look like Puritan preachers”. Life in politics requires quick reaction and wit, grasping the situation in a metaphoric way, comparing it to analogous ones in other countries (in this case, Russia of the late XX century vs. America of the late XIX century). Geography can be also the basis of humour and sarcasm. The situation becomes instantly comic when they (Ukrainian MPs) try to describe ordinary people’s needs and “to care” about them.
People have their own thought on politicians’ constant complains that Ukraine is a poor state and it is so difficult to provide people with decent living standards:
Holovne dlia mozhnovladtsiv – zapevnyty narod, shcho nasha derzhava bidna
‘The main thing for our power bearers is to convince people, that our state is a poor one’ (ZP, p.4).
Sarcasm, irony are employed time and again with specific Ukrainian humour and quite often specific colouring (the citation is taken from Parliamentary 2006 election campaign):
Zamist’ pratsiuvaty, kokhaty, rostyty ditei, pyty horilku I tishytysia zhyttiu ukraintsi distavatymut’ shchodennu politinformatsiiu pro te, khto v kraini naimylishyi, naikrasyvishyi, naimudrishyi …. z odnoho boku, i zapevnennia, shcho vse bude v shokoladi, z inshoho.
‘Instead of being able to work, love, raise kids, drink vodka and enjoy life, Ukrainians will be getting daily political information who is the kindest, the most beautiful, the wisest/smartest in the country …. on the one hand, and reassurances, that everything will be in chocolate, on the other’ (TH, 29.09.05).
Verbs of action (to work, to drink, etc.) are used versus adjectives (kindest, the most beautiful) [lack of real action, intrigue, political technologists’ phantom], which creates additional ironic/humorous effect. Polititinformatsiia ‘political information’– dating back to Brezhnev era, instead of ‘everything will be OK’ vse bude v shokoladi ‘everything will be in chocolate’.
Oleksandr Irvanets’ (2005: 37) is ironic about Ukrainian politicians’ inability to see the extreme danger of growing corruption:
Inshi vsi nekhai na mistsi tuptsiaiut’,
Ty zh, narode, v maibuttia hriadesh!
Akh, ty khochesh znaty pro koruptsiiu?
Tse des’ v Somali i v Banhladesh…
‘Let other countries stay running in place
You, my people, are moving fast to the future,
Oh, you want to know about corruption?
It is somewhere in Somalia and Bangladesh…’
The poem is entitled Koruptsii u nas nema: Tak samo, iak v SRSR ne bulo seksu ‘We do not have corruption. It’s the same as there was no sex in the Soviet Union’. Legendary phrase ‘Seksa u nas net’ ‘We do not have sex’ was pronounced by Nina Andreeva, during TV show in the former Soviet Union.
Lexical innovations/occasionalisms (nonce words). The neologism ‘bihmordy’ (big mugs) ‘derivative from bihbordy ‘billboards’) was extensively used by Yushchenko supporters during Presidential 2004 election campaign, characterizing huge billboards with Yanukovych (see in detail Polkovsky 2005: 324 on the word itself). New sarcastic example, singular, instead of morda (feminine) masculine mord (nonexistent in Ukrainian) is used:
Same takyi “bihmord” iz nezabutnim eks-prem”ierom Pavlom Ivanovychem Lazarenkom prykrashaie Dnipropetrovs’kyi TsUM.
‘Exactly such “big mug” with unforgettable ex-PM Pavlo Ivanovych Lazarenko is beautifying Dnipropetrovsk Central Universal Store’ (VZ, 5.11.05)
(title of the article Lazarenko povernuvsia v Ukrainu … na plakati
‘Lazarenko returned/came back to Ukraine … on a poster’,
Lazarenko is currently serving his term in the US prison for embezzling huge amount of money from Ukraine).
Conclusions. Humour and satire are an integral part of contemporary Ukrainian mass media discourse as well as political discourse in general. Utilization of humour, irony, sarcasm and satire rapidly increases during peak political events (like Presidential 2004 election campaign in Ukraine and Orange revolution), where at stake was future of the country and its independence. There are too many worthy and interesting examples of use of humour and satire that could be presented and analysed in this article. The article is only a short and brief introduction to an amazing topic – humour/satire and politics in contemporary Ukraine.
1) L.D. stands for Leonid Danylovych
2) Ya. stands for Yanukovych (both acronyms were extensively used during election campaign)
3) from words on Yanukovych’s billboards
4) nickname of Leonid Kravchuk, first president of Ukraine
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