A democracy does not use the language of a totalitarian society. Russia, however, has gone to another extreme. Having broken free from totalitarianism, the country has seemed unable to stop its euphoric carnival and this has even influenced the language.
Professor Lyudmila Verbitskaya, president of the International Association of Russian language and literature teachers, recently published a series of pocket dictionaries for Russian politicians titled "Let's speak correctly". The books are useful and have become popular.
But why is such a well-educated country as Russia facing the need to teach politicians how to speak correctly? The problem is that tribunes have been flooded by "lowbrow style". In the past, it was used only in del-arte comedies or in some shows for the public. Now it has been transferred to the State Duma: a deputy takes a microphone and starts speaking, using the first words that come into his head.
Besides, the people who have come to power are very different. This can only be welcomed from the democratic viewpoint, but many of them have no experience in both political and linguistic culture. Sometimes, however, even quite educated politicians resort to the lowbrow style. I recently happened to analyse an article by Boris Nemtsov, former deputy prime minister, written for the Inostranets newspaper. He used quite serious words and expressions alongside such coarsenesses as "no one will make me lick their butt" or "I tell the guys who are in the Kremlin now, and the guys there are pretty smart, that the country is ready to go to bed with the authorities..." etc. I believe this is bad, lacking in discipline and, most importantly, unconvincing.
In point of fact, serious politicians tend to think over their public speeches in advance, as their words carry specific weight. An example is Winston Churchill, who worked on his famous Fulton speech for almost six months, polishing every word, including the well-known phrase about the iron curtain. Every person in the public sphere must feel responsible at least because people tend to imitate popular figures. Some books titled "The Grainy Thoughts of Politicians" have been published in Moscow to show that their lapses do not remain unnoticed and are subject to ridicule. However, I recently read an interview with Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russia's ambassador to Ukraine and former prime minister, who is one of the most frequently quoted statesmen, and he chooses his language on purpose. I have read his speeches many times and believe you cannot say he is illiterate. His chosen form does raise an ironic smile, but it is always clear what he wants to say. For example, the phrase "I have long been in the atmosphere of oil and gas" does induce a chuckle, but it is nevertheless clear that he is referring to his long years of work in the oil and gas sphere.
In my opinion, President Putin speaks absolutely correctly, with the specific features of St Petersburg pronunciation and word choice. He clearly expresses his thoughts and his opinions and his verbal constructions are always thought out.
I have not analysed the speeches of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, but they have not made a poor impression. On the whole, the cabinet uses quite normal Russian language. Education Minister Andrei Fursenko stands out with his brilliant speaking style, but this is hardly surprising. Yet in general, Russia's political culture of speech today is lower than in Europe. I can make this comparison, as I know several European languages. It would be wonderful if our politicians remembered Margaret Thatcher, who, when she embarked on her political career, did her best to turn her cockney into RP.