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The phrase Potemkin villages (an alternative spelling is Potyomkin villages, derived from the Russian: Потёмкинские деревни, Potyomkinskiye derevni) was originally used to describe a fake village, built only to impress. The phrase is now used, typically in politics and economics, to describe any construction (literal or figurative) built solely to deceive others into thinking that some situation is better than it really is. It is unclear whether the origin of the phrase is factual, an exaggeration, or a myth.
According to the story, Russian minister Grigory Potemkin who led the Crimean military campaign erected fake settlements along the banks of the Dnieper River in order to fool Empress Catherine II during her visit to Crimea in 1787.
Historical debate 
Modern historians are divided on the degree of truth behind the Potemkin village story.
While tales of the fake villages are generally considered exaggerations, some historians dismiss them as malicious rumors spread by Potemkin's opponents. These historians argue that Potemkin did mount efforts to develop the Crimea and probably directed peasants to spruce up the riverfront in advance of the Empress' arrival.
According to Simon Sebag-Montefiore, Potemkin's most comprehensive English-language biographer, the tale of elaborate, fake settlements with glowing fires designed to comfort the monarch and her entourage as they surveyed the barren territory at night, is largely fictional.
Aleksandr Panchenko, an established specialist on 19th century Russia, used original correspondence and memoirs to conclude that the Potemkin villages are a myth. He writes: "Based on the above said we must conclude that the myth of "Potemkin villages" is exactly a myth, and not an established fact."
Panchenko writes that "Potyomkin indeed decorated cities and villages, but made no secret that this was a decoration."
Also, the close relationship between Potemkin and the Empress would make it difficult for him to deceive her. Thus, the deception would have been mainly directed towards the foreign ambassadors accompanying the imperial party.
Regardless, Potemkin had in fact supervised the building of fortresses, ships of the line, and thriving settlements, and the tour – which saw real and significant accomplishments – solidified his power.
So, even though "Potemkin village" has come to mean, especially in a political context, any hollow or false construct, physical or figurative, meant to hide an undesirable or potentially damaging situation, it's possible that the phrase cannot be applied accurately to its own original historical inspiration.
According to a legend, in 1787, when Catherine passed through Tula on her way back from the trip, the local governor Mikhail Krechetnikov indeed attempted a deception of that kind in order to hide the effects of a bad harvest.
Modern uses 
Examples of Potemkin Villages 
- Following the Manchurian Incident, and China's referral of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria to the League of Nations in 1931, the League's representative was given a tour of the "truly Manchurian" parts of the region. It was meant to prove that the area was not under Japanese domination. Whether the farce succeeded is moot; Japan withdrew from the League the following year.
- The Nazi German Theresienstadt concentration camp, called "the Paradise Ghetto" in World War II, was designed as a concentration camp that could be shown to the Red Cross, but was really a Potemkin village: attractive at first, but deceptive and ultimately lethal, with high death rates from malnutrition and contagious diseases. It ultimately served as a way-station to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
- Kijŏng-dong, built by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) in the north half of the Korean Demilitarized Zone. It is an uninhabited village built at great expense during the 1950s in a propaganda effort to encourage South Korean defection and to house the North Korean soldiers manning the extensive network of artillery positions, fortifications and underground marshalling bunkers that are in the border zone.
- In 1982, Mayor Ed Koch of New York City covered the windows of abandoned buildings in The Bronx with decals of plants and Venetian blinds to hide the blight.
- In 2010, 22 vacant houses in a blighted part of Cleveland were disguised with fake doors and windows painted on the plywood panels used to close them up, so the houses look occupied. A similar program has been undertaken in Chicago and in Detroit during the World Series festivities in 1984.
Term used in legal system 
The term "Potemkin village" is also often used by judges, especially members of a multiple-judge panel who dissent from the majority's opinion on a particular matter, to describe an inaccurate or tortured interpretation and/or application of a particular legal doctrine to the specific facts at issue. Use of the term is meant to imply that the reasons espoused by the panel's majority in support of its decision are not based on accurate or sound law, and their restrictive application is merely a masquerade for the court's desire to avoid a difficult decision.
Often, the dissent will attempt to reveal the majority's adherence to the restrictive principle at issue as being an inappropriate function for a court, reasoning that the decision transgresses the limits of traditional adjudication because the resolution of the case will effectively create an important and far-reaching policy decision, which the legislature would be the better equipped and more appropriate entity to address.
For example, in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey (1992), Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote that "Roe v. Wade stands as a sort of judicial Potemkin Village, which may be pointed out to passers-by as a monument to the importance of adhering to precedent."
Other uses 
Sometimes, instead of the full phrase, just "Potemkin" is used, as an adjective. For example, the use of a row of trees to screen a clearcut area from highway drivers has been called a "Potemkin Forest".
The term "Potemkin Court" implies that the court's reason to exist is being called into question; it differs from a kangaroo court in which the court's standard of justice is being impugned.
Many of the newly constructed base areas at ski resorts are referred to as Potemkin Villages. These create the illusion of a quaint mountain town, but are actually carefully planned theme shopping centers, hotels and restaurants designed for maximum revenue. Similarly, in The Geography of Nowhere, American writer James Howard Kunstler refers to contemporary suburban shopping centers as "Potemkin village shopping plazas".
In fiction, The West Wing episode "Twenty Hours In America" (Season 4, Episode 1) had the character Josh Lyman quote president "Jed" Bartlet as saying "the challenge of running the country is too great for a Potemkin presidency..." Lyman also says in the episode "Freedonia" (Season 6, Episode 15) that his campaign staff should thank their "Potemkin advance team".
In the documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Enron's trading floor, used to fool visiting analysts, is described as a "Potemkin Village". Traders were thought to be engaged in dealing with outside clients, but were in fact conversing with people in the same building and each other.
Hardcore Punk band Propagandhi released an album in 2005 called Potemkin City Limits. The cover depicts kids playing in a city which is drawn on the ground, a facade city. Their 2009 album Supporting Caste has a song called "Potemkin City Limits", about the statue of Francis the pig, in Alberta, Canada. 
See also 
- "The Straight Dope: Did "Potemkin villages" really exist?".
- Aleksandr Panchenko, " 'Potyomkin villages as a cultural myth," (rus) in Panchenko, O russkoi istorii i kul´ture (St. Petersburg: Azbuka, 2000), 416. "В связи с вышесказанным должно сделать заключение, что миф о «потемкинских деревнях» - именно миф, а не достоверно установленный факт."
- Aleksandr Panchenko, " 'Potemkinskie derevni' kak kul´turnyi mif," in Panchenko, O russkoi istorii i kul´ture (St. Petersburg: Azbuka, 2000), 416. "Потемкин действительно декорировал города и селения, но никогда не скрывал, что это декорации."
- Davies, Norman. Europe: A history London: Pimlico, 1997, p. 658.
- "Русский литературный анекдот XVIII-XIX вв". Fershal.narod.ru. 2010-11-18. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
- Tohmatsu, Haruo and Wilmott H.P. A Gathering Darkness: The Coming of War to the Far East and the Pacific, 1921–1942 Lanham, MD: SR Books, 2004. pp 38–39.
- Tran, Mark (2008-06-06). "Travelling into Korea's demilitarised zone: Run DMZ". The Guardian (London: Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 2009-07-05.
- "Magazine Features - Bronx Tales". Artnet.com. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
- Livingston, Sandra (25 August 2010). "Program uses decorative boards to try to blend vacant homes into Cleveland neighborhoods". The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio: Advance Publications). Retrieved 23 November 2010.
- http://www.keepcincinnatibeautiful.org/index.php/main/show/futureblooms[dead link]
- Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 966 (1992-06-29) (“Roe v. Wade stands as a sort of judicial Potemkin Village, which may be pointed out to passers-by as a monument to the importance of adhering to precedent. But behind the facade, an entirely new method of analysis, without any roots in constitutional law, is imported to decide the constitutionality of state laws regulating abortion.”).
- Kunstler, James Howard (1993). The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape. New York: Touchstone.
- Propagandhi's discography, containing the album cover at their official website.
- "Supporting Caste" lyrics, official Propagandhi website, see track 7.
- "Supporting Caste" release news, which briefly describes the track.
- Chen Jo-hsi. (1978). The Execution of Mayor Yin and Other Stories from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-12475-1
- EircomTribunal, "2003 Potemkin Village Award," EircomTribunal.com, "ET - 2003 Potemkin Village Award". Eircomtribunal.com. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
- Goldberg, Jonah. "Potemkin Village in Cuba: Let's make one of our own", National Review, April 19, 2000."www.nationalreview.com/goldberg/goldberg041900.html".
- Katchanovski, Ivan and La Porte, Todd. "Cyberdemocracy or Potemkin E-Villages? Electronic Governments in OECD and Post-Communist Countries," International Journal of Public Administration, Volume 28, Number 7-8, July 2005.[verification needed]
- Ledeen, Michael. "Potemkin WMDs? Really?", National Review, February 2, 2004 "Michael Ledeen on WMDs & Iraq on National Review Online". Nationalreview.com. 2004-02-02. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
- Smith, Douglas (ed. and trans). Love and Conquest: Personal Correspondence of Catherine the Great and Prince Grigory Potemkin ISBN 0-87580-324-5
- Potemkin Court as a description of The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (from the Washington Post)
- Potemkin Parliament as a description of the European Parliament (New Statesman, Sept 20 2004)
- Sullivan, Kevin. "Borderline Absurdity", Washington Post, January 11, 1998.
- Buchan, James. "Potemkin democracy" as a description of Russia. "New Statesman", July 17, 2006.
- New York Review of Books, "An Affair to Remember", review by Simon Sebag Montefiore of Douglas Smith, Love and Conquest: Personal Correspondence of Catherine the Great and Prince Grigory Potemkin
- Smith, Douglas. Love and Conquest: Personal Correspondence of Catherine the Great and Prince Grigory Potemkin
- Album by Propaghandi "Potemkin City Limits"
- Denmark: Potemkin Village
- University of Houston Research Building
- Potemkin, Inc An adaptation of the original Potemkin villages to modern business