Friday, Aug. 06, 2010

Potemkin Villages

Grigory Potyomkin was a dashing 18th century Russian nobleman who intrigued in courts, smote his enemies upon the steppes and allegedly wooed Catherine the Great. It was while he was courting his nation's comely Tsarina — at least according to legend — that his name came to forever stand for something insubstantial. For Catherine's 1783 tour of new Russian possessions in the Crimea, Potyomkin endeavored to show her the best face of the empire. As the story goes, pasteboard facades of pretty towns were set up at a distance on riverbanks. At stops, she'd be greeted by regiments of Amazonian snipers or fields set ablaze by burning braziers and exploding rockets spelling her initials; whole populations of serfs were moved around and dressed up in fanciful garb to flaunt a prosperity that didn't exist (later precipitating famine in the region). Recent historical work has proved the tale in part apocryphal, but the legend stuck. A "Potemkin village" signifies any deceptive or false construct, conjured often by cruel regimes, to deceive both those within the land and those peering in from outside.