The New Russians (Russian: новые русские Novye Russkie) were a newly rich business class who made their fortune in the 1990s in post-Soviet Russia. It is perceived as a stereotypical caricature. According to the stereotype, "New Russians" achieved rapid wealth by using criminal methods during Russia's chaotic transition to a market economy. Not all new Russians are ethnic Russians.
While initially considered a neutral designation for this new class, shortly after its appearance the term began to be used in a negative and ironic sense: New Russians became known as a class who grew rich quickly in a dubious or illegal manner. Having a modest education and social background, New Russians are perceived as arrogant nouveau riche and gaudy, conspicuous consumers with poor taste. Money and status symbols are prominently displayed by the New Russian, in particular jewellery and luxury cars. In the early 1990s, prominent attributes of the New Russian stereotype also included mobile phones and crimson jackets. A wide range of elite restaurants and nightclubs catering to the New Russian social circle have sprung up in Moscow.
In the 1990s, the “New Russians” became common characters in Russian jokes and anecdotes, overtaking the popularity of jokes and stereotypes about traditional businessmen.
The exact time and place, as well as the authorship of this expression, have not been fully established.
Some consider that the expression Новый Русский (lit. "New Russian") arose in the Russian-speaking sphere in the demonstrated English-language form of "New Russian", and was then calcified into the Russian-language form. Another sparse theory suggests the term appeared in foreign press, and then made its way into Russia. Supporters of this theory consider that the author of the expression was the American journalist Hedrick Smith who published two books about Russia: "The Russians" (1976) and "The New Russians" (1990).
There's also a theory that it's more of a pun, playing on the French words "nouveau riche" (i.e. new rich), having an absolutely similar meaning as the term "New Russian". It is worth recalling that during Russia's industrial revolution at the end of the 19th century, Russians also used a term that was similar in meaning and use - “rich man” - (Russian: скоробогач) a person who very suddenly became wealthy; perhaps an individual with low moral principles).
In the documentary film "With a hard-sign on the end" (С твёрдом знаком на конце) dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the creation of the newspaper Коммерсантъ, and shown on Channel One on 30 November 2009), author Leonid Parfenov demonstrates a copy of Kommersant from 1992 in which an editorial letter was addressed to the "New Russians". Parfenov confirms that the newspaper first introduced this word into daily life, and at first it didn't have any negative or ironic connotation, merely serving to describe the representatives of Russia's growing business class.
Following the resolution of November 19, 1986, private enterprise, predominately in the form of sole proprietorship and cooperatives, was allowed for the first time in the USSR (after a long break since the New Economic Policy, NEP) and took place at the height of Perestroika. This decree marked the first stage of development of new Russian entrepreneurship. However, at this point few people engaged in private business as it was initially negatively perceived by other members in Russian society.
This newly created private sector of the economy had to be integrated into the existing socialist system, which denied private property and the use of hired labor. Therefore, at that time the very concept of private enterprise was largely absent. The ideologically approved term “individual labor activity” was used to describe the concept instead. The first wave of entrepreneurs mainly opened small catering or trade enterprises and were referred to as "cooperatives". They worked under extremely harsh conditions associated with high taxes, restrictions on attracting hired labor (under the aforementioned resolution of 1986, sole proprietorship could only be engaged in by oneself or together with family members, exclusively in their spare capacity outside of their main profession), distrust from other parts of society and the communist powers, etc.
The second wave of private enterprise development came about at the end of Perestroika, in the period from 1989-1991, when the gradual curtailment of socialism and the transition to a market economy began. Entrepreneurs in this second wave sought to prove themselves in the business world, not taking into account its economic component. During these years, senior government officials also engaged in business. As numerous banks, exchanges, joint ventures (JVs) become the common forms of doing business, the basic backbone of financial and stock market structures began to appear. During this period, cooperation started to take the form of a Western-style business, with all the relevant attributes: stock capital, open-space offices, office equipment, business style of clothing and behaviour, etc. The term “business”, previously associated exclusively with Western capitalism, was itself legalized.
During this period, the expression “new Russians”, which at this point did not have a positive or negative connotation, appeared as the name of Hedrick Smith's book “New Russians” (“A New Type of Soviet Man”). Within it, the author describes repeated visits to the USSR in the late 1980s. Released in 1990, it was a continuation of Smith’s book "Russians", which describes life in the USSR in the 1970s.
The third stage of this development began after 1991 and was known as the period of mass entrepreneurship. The collapse of the socialist system led to a large increase in the number of entrepreneurs (sometimes involuntarily, following mass layoffs). This stage was characterised by an expansion of those entering the business world. Private enterprise was not longer characterised simply by enthusiasts interested in entrepreneurship, but also those who went into business out of a desire to survive and, possibly, get rich.
In 2010, chief researcher at the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Renald Simonyan noted that the “new Russians” were the product of the reforms of the 1990s, giving them the following characteristics: “Physically strong, poorly educated, assertive, devoid of moral values, and materialistic types”.
In the 2000s, the term gradually started to fade from everyday discourse. In 2014, in the monograph “Communicative Characteristics of Mass Culture in Media Discourse”, V. A. Buryakovskaya describes the expression “new Russians” as a “phrase that is gradually becoming obsolete,” which will finally go down in history. In general, by the 2010s, the concept of “new Russians” was used as a retro term for the era of the “dashing 90s.”
Characteristic attributes of 1990s new Russians are considered:
- Red or crimson jacket – distinguishing style of clothes for ostentatious people, status symbol (likewise a symbol of tastelessness), black jeans of a popular brand, steel-toed black boots. In the words of the gameshow player Andrei Kozlov from "What? Where? When?", New Russians began wearing crimson jackets after their appearance on this gameshow. Although, there is another version of appearance of crimson jackets – in 1993 Sergey Mavrodi, founder of financial pyramid MMM greeted the nation on New Year's Day – 1994, wearing a crimson jacket.
- Massive gold chains around the neck ("golda"), gold chains worn outside.
- A weighty gold signet ring ("nut")
- Large watches ("cauldrons") of an expensive brand, preferably solid gold and with expensive stones
- The automobile: Mercedes-Benz 600 model with the W140 body ("six-hundredth Mers", "600th Merin", "Suitcase", "Bandit", "Boar", "the one-forty"), Jeep Grand Cherokee ("Chirik", "Cherkan", "Jeep", "Zhyp", "Cherokez", and the close-pair Широкий "Wide"), Nissan Terrano ("Tiranka"), Mitsubishi Pajero ("Podzhary"). Toyota Land Cruiser ("Cruzak", "Kukuruzer": a play on the Russian word for corn), Mercedes Geländewagen ("Gelik", "Cubic"), Chevrolet Tahoe ("Coffin"), Volvo 940, Mercedes-Benz W124, BMW 5, BMW 7 ("Bimmer, /ˈbumʲɪr/"), Audi 100, Lincoln Town Car
- Mobile phone (труба "trumpet/pipe/tube", "mobila", сотовик "celly"), until the beginning of the 2000s, considered an item of luxury and prestige
- A buzz cut or shaved head or back-of-the-head ("репа" "turnip")
- The "sign of the horns hand" gesture, with or without thumb extended ("fingers", "fingering", "finger goat").
- Hair licked back.
- Leather Jacket.
- Leather black shoes with pointed toes.
- Use of New Russian jargon (words such as "like-a", "in nature", "cleanly", "concretely", "anyway", and so on). Thief-cant.
- "Cabbage" – wads of cash in US dollars, or money in general ("bucks", "babki", "bablo", "green", "lave")
Terms closely associated with "new Russians":
- "Roof" (krysha, Russian: крыша): refers to the protection of business, including illegal business, by law enforcement or criminal structures (“roofs”) for an ongoing retainer fee.
- “Brothers” (bratva, Russian: братва́): arise from the criminal underworld, using force and criminal methods to resolve conflicts that arise.
- "Throw" (Russian: кинуть): skillfully deceive, "breed" for money.
- “Arrow” (strelka, Russian: стрелка): a meeting with the goal of resolving a certain conflict, sometimes by armed means.
- "Sit down" (Russian: перетереть): talk, fight or even arrange a shootout.
In modern society
"New Russians" became by conventional wisdom, the heroes of a multitude of anecdotes appearing in various films, plays, and broadcasts. The archetype itself repeatedly progressed into other spheres and walks of life (see: New Russian Bucks). Also in the year 1996, the program Gentleman-Show had "Vovan Sidorovich Scherbatyy" as a guest performed by actor Oleg Shkolnik. The program "Town" (Russian: Городок) often staged anecdotes about the "new Russians". There was even a whole episode - "New Russians of our town." "New Russians" were also the protagonists in monologues, which were performed by Evgeny Petrosyan, Mikhail Zadornov, Vladimir Vinokur, among others.
The image of the “new Russians” was also to some extent developed in the television series, The Brigade (Russian: Бригада), as well as in the film Dead man's bluff (Russian: Жмурки), and the series Bandit Petersburg (Russian: Бандитский Петербур).
Many Russian jokes revolve around New Russians.
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