As we get used to a country where nothing is true but everything is possible, we should also learn some of the vocabulary that can help us frame what is happening here in the United States. It is only fitting that we draw inspiration from Soviet and Russian words that define political phenomena that are becoming more and more important in this country. These Russian words used to describe the Soviet experience, but are now finding new meaning in today’s American politics.
Blat: (pronounced blaht). My mother constantly reminds me that nothing, in both the Soviet Union and in the U.S., could get done without blat. These are favors in your informal network. How did you become the White House counsel? Blat. How did Trump Inc. get a building permit in Argentina? Blat. In the U.S., we might network or attempt to call in favors to find a new job. In Trump’s world, you need only be the right son-in-law or a company’s namesake.
Politburo: This word used to describe the executive committee of the Communist Party, where the leader considered and decided all policies while other members of the party would nod in forced agreement. With a motley crew of ex-Goldman Sachs executives, private billionaires and family members, the White House is shaping up to be its own bona fide politburo under the guidance of the smartest man in the room.
Nomenklatura: The who’s-who of the Soviet world comprised the Community Party elites. As Trump pads his White House, we’ll see a new nomenklatura coming to Washington. Rather than draining the swamp as Trump promised on the campaign trail, he’s introducing a dangerous new breed of alligators. The nomenklatura was able to operate in a completely different world than ordinary citizens. They were afforded freedoms and luxuries that no one else in the vast country could. Trump’s Washington will not look any different.
Kompromat: The short form of “compromising materials,” or translated roughly as blackmail. We had a taste of what kompromat is throughout the election cycle. These could be true, mostly true or completely fabricated stories that seek to discredit or control an opponent. Russia, after its chaotic 1990s, has developed expert capabilities in deploying kompromat. Using intelligence and security officials, the Kremlin was able to essentially create a library of kompromat and use it against political enemies. Mayors were sacked, opposition leaders run out of the country. Russia is an expert. So much so, that they are now taking the game overseas. With Hillary Clinton’s email leaks and the unverified dossier on Trump, there’s no doubt that we’ll continue to run across this word. Ordinary Russians see entertainment value, as much of the kompromat includes sex scandals or overseas bank account dramas. For Russians, kompromat is part of life. We should get used to it here as well.
Welcome to Trump’s brave new world.