wd2.jpgputin-schroeder2.jpgDisclaimer: I am not making any comments or assumptions about Putin’s actual political policy.  I’m not saying whether he is a good or bad president.  I’m simply acknowledging his powerful oration skills in his own native language, and applauding him for his ability and efforts to speak foreign langauges. 

One thing cannot be denied, language is a powerful thing. And he who uses it correctly can gain endless amounts of power.  Great orators have been able to rise to power and charm the masses simply by their powerful rhetoric.  Regardless of what Putin’s policies, Putin has an incredible way of communicating. 

American politicians can be inspired by Putin(again just his communication and rhetoric abilities) in the following 2 ways: 1, Eloquence and Authority, and 2, Foreign Language, Foreign Appeal.

1. Eloquence and Authority

When speaking his own language, Putin speaks beautifully and clearly.  His remarks are trenchant, organized, authoritative and give one the sense that he knows what he’s doing and talking about.  The average citizen can understand what he’s saying and will walk away feeling that if the president can articulate a problem so perfectly he must know how to solve it.  As a foreigner who couldn’t understand most of the newscasts or political meetings, I always found myself captive when Putin appeared on the screen.  It was an incredible thing that I could understand every single word he was saying.  I wouldn’t consider myself fluent in the Official, деловой Russian that is spoken in government meetings, but Putin made it accessible and exciting for me.

We in the united states have been deprived of such a privillege for about 8 years now.  An eloquent leader can work wonders in his own nation, as well as abroad.  A leader who is well informed, has a basic understanding of geography, and makes effort to learn a little about the people and places he’s imposing himself upon, can make a huge difference in politics. Americans, our politicians included, have a tendency to go abroad and to expect everyone to cater to them, all the while critisizing and mocking the people’s culture.  We just march in and expect them to do things our way, never learning about their way. 

It’s no wonder that the world thinks that Americans are impudent fools:

Maybe you were thinking at the beginning, “Oh, cute he said g’die”, but it all goes down hill from there, culminating with his confusing Austria with Australia.  Maybe Bush didn’t even know that they were two separate countries, maybe he just thought one was a nickname for the other. 

For a president who struggles with making coherent sentences, using correct grammar, and basic awareness of problems, foreign policy may seem like a hopeless cause.  In order to have good foreign policy, you must know about things foreign and how they coorelate with things native.

2. Foreign Language, Foreign Appeal

A different language is a different vision of life.- Fredrico Fellini

How can we judge or condemn our enemies until we have tried to see the world through their vision.  When you speak to someone in a foreign language it shows respect, it shows a willingness to reason on the same level.  This kind of willingness to reach out(not just to pity or to pull them in)to that which is foreign leaves a huge impact on both the receiving culture and the reaching culture.  Remember the words of JFK, “Ich bin ein Berliner”?  Everyone remembers that speech because it made an impact.  There was some ridicule about whether the article ein made him a jelly donut, but he tried, and that speech has is one that people all over the world remember.   Imagine the power our presidents would have if they tried to speak to people in their native languages. Imagine if we went to other countries not with the intention of changing them, but with the intention of understanding and appreciating them.   Our country could afford to try to communicate rather than impose.

Putin has been a kind of international relations superstar in Russia.  He has epitomized the opening up and reaching out that is now taking place in the former USSR.  He is a great example of a powerful, educated and SOBER Russian, a kind of renaissance man. Russia’s relations with Europe have strengthened significantly since Putin has been in power.  Because of Putin’s German skills, Russia-Germany ties have been particularly great.  There is a lot of press coverage of Putin playing games and having a jolly good time with the Chancellor of Germany, Gerard Schroder, all thanks to his language ability and his appreciation for German culture.


In Putin’s recent live question and answer session,(available in Russian at http://www.president-line.ru/ )one caller asked him how in the world he manages to learn and speak so many languages(German, English, French and Tatar).  He responded modestly, explaining that he is fluent in German because he lived in Germany.  He tries to practice English and improve so as to be able to  communicate with colleagues, and as far as French and Tatar goes, he just learned a few phrases to  be able to address the speakers of those languages as a way of showing respect. 


Never underestimate the power the speaking a foreign language can have. Not only is it fun and insightful but it can work miracles and charm entire nations.  Remember the magic that Jackie Kennedy worked on Charles de Gaulle with her perfect French?  Some may credit her directly for the mended relations between US and France… 

“She had agreed to go to France with Jack, partly because she loved Parisand partly because she knew Jack was uneasy about seeing de Gaulle after the Bay of Pigs fiasco…1648020.jpg

“de Gaulle, a tall, imposing self-centered individual, did not easily warm up to people.  Jackie, seated next at lunch at the Elysee palace, completely charmed him, speaking in French about the history, arts, and culture of the country…

“Jackie had take the world by storm.  By the end of 1961, she had been voted “Woman of the Year” by one hundred international magazine editors.”

What Jackie Taught Us: Lessons From The Remarkable Life of Jacqueline, By Tina Santi Flaherty, 2005

 In conclusion, Putin may not be America’s favorite man right now, but there are things that we can learn from him.  The world is much more fond of Putin than they are of our president.  What we can learn from Putin, Bush, and Jackie, is that ethnocentrism and ignorance make you unpopular in the world.  If you want to conquer your enemies try seeing the world as they see it.  It takes a lot of guts for Putin to speak English.  He knows very well that he has got a pretty bad accent, he knows very well that people could mock him, but he is willing to try.  Whether people understand you or not, they will always be flattered that you tried to come to them on their terms. Looking at Condoleezza, and the other tyrants who are doing our international policy, I find myself desperately wondering–where’s Jackie when we need her? 

The following is Putin’s conclusion in response to the caller that asked him about how he is able to learn so many languages.  Today in Russia students begin learning a second language in elementary school and many speak two fluently by the time they graduate.  If you get lost on the streets of Moscow, or most cities, for that matter, you can always find someone who is willing to try, and, in often broken and archaic English, say just enough to help you.  Not only are they not afraid to sound like an idiot when speaking, but they are HAPPY, to get to communicate and interact with the world that you bring.  You can condemn Putin’s presidency all you want, but here is one thing that he has done right:

 Путин: (Продолжение) Но вообще иностранный язык – это ворота не просто к общению, это ворота в культуру другого народа. Это очень интересно, это целый мир. По сути, второй язык – это так, как будто вы прожили еще одну жизнь. И, конечно, мы сегодня в России, когда мы стали открытой страной, нуждаемся в том, чтобы оказывать содействие в изучении иностранных языков, и будем это делать.

Putin: (continuation) But in general, a foreign language is a gate not only to communication but to a  culture of a different people.  It’s very interesting, it’s an entire world.  To speak a second language, is like living a second life. And today in Russia, having become an open country, we are in need of furthering the study of foreign languages, and that is what we will do.

Спасибо вам, Кирилу и Мефодию, за то, что вы сделали изучение русского языка проще и возможным.  Я хочу благодарить русско-говорящих за их язык, их культуру, и их мир, в который вы так тепло и нежно добропожаловали меня.  Американцы, если вы не умеете это читать, очень жалко.  Учититесь хоть бы эспанскому, чтобы невежество тебя не душило.