New Russians

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New Russians (Novye Russkie, Russian: новые русские) is a term for the newly rich business class 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.

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 jewelry 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.


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.[1] 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).[2]

There's also a theory that it's more of a pun, playing on the French words "nouveau riche" (i.e. new rich),[2][3] having an absolutely similar meaning as the term "New Russian". It's worth remembering, that the time of the Industrial Revolution in Russia at the end of the 19th century, there was a term in use "скоробогач" (i.e. quick-rich, a person suddenly and plentifully made rich; possibly without 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 November 30, 2009), author Leonid Parfenov demonstrates a copy of Kommersant from 1992 where editorial statistics were addressed as "New Russian". Parfenov confirms that the newspaper first implemented this word into daily life, and at first didn't have any negative or ironic connotation, merely annotating the representatives of nascent Russian businesses.[4]

Perhaps, the term entered into common speech thanks to the television program "Komilfo" ("comme il faut"), released in the beginning of the 1990s on the popular-at-the-time Channel 2x2. "Komilfo" was one of the first programs on Russian television advertising products and services for wealthy buyers. An unchanging attribute of the program was a cheerful host, announcing the show's catch-phrase "Komilfo - A New Program for New Russians".

Related words[edit]

The term "New Russian" is closely related to the words крыша ("racket"), братва́ ("brotherhood"), братаны ("bros") and its derivatives which indicate the descendants of criminal surroundings, using might and exploitative methods to resolving arising conflicts, as are the terms кинуть ("con", artfully deceive).


Private entrepreneurship was, for the first time after a long break (from the time of the post-revolutionary New Economic Policy), allowed in the USSR in the midst of the Perestroika, in the form of sole proprietorships and cooperatives, as decreed in November 1986.[5] From this decree began a first phase of activity of new Russian entrepreneurship, when only a few were opening businesses, because it initially caused mass condemnation of others. Entrepreneurs of the first wave opened essentially shallow businesses in catering or trading and were called "cooperatives".

The second wave was towards the end of the Perestroika period (1989-1991). Representatives of the second wave strove to prove themselves in business, not thinking about its economic component. In these three years entrepreneurship even involved high-ranking government officials. In sparse forms businesses became numerous banks, exchanges, and joint ventures. In this period, cooperations began to accept the form of business of the Western type along with all of the corresponding attributes; offices with "open space" floor plans, organizational technology, business style clothes and appearances and so forth.

In this period the expression "New Russian" did not yet have any positive or negative connotation, appearing as the title of a continuation of the series of books "Russians", written about life in the USSR in the 1970s by journalist Hedrick Smith in his description of his repeated visit to the country at the end of the 80s.

The third phase began after the year 1991, and it was called a massive enterprise. The collapse of the socialist system got to such a point that the number of entrepreneurs grew (sometimes forcibly so, after massive firings) multiple times, and then it was not only enthusiasts and passionaries, but also those who went into business out of the struggle to survive and possibly attain wealth.[2]

Head scientist at Institute of Sociology RAN Renald Simonian, noting, that "New Russians" exist as offspring of the[clarification needed], giving them the following characteristics: "Physically robust, undereducated, pushy, deprived of moral inhibitions, and materially wealthy type".[6]


Characteristic attributes of 1990s New Russians are considered:

  • Red or crimson jacket - distinguishing style of clothes for "cool/funky" (крутой) 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 namely after their appearance on this gameshow.[7]
  • 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", and "Kukurzer" 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").
  • 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")

In modern society[edit]

"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 and 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.


Many Russian jokes revolve around New Russians; for instance, the following: "Look at my new tie," says a New Russian to his colleague. "I bought it for 500 dollars in the store over there." "You got yourself conned," says the other. "You could have paid twice as much for the same one just across the street!"

Beginning in the 1990s, "New Russians" became the target of anecdotes, playing on stereotypes revolving around businessmen. The primary themes are considered here:

Low intellectual, cultural, and moral level

A New Russian is viewing a real-estate property for sale.

- Look, right here's a lake, there's a meadow, and over there is an old castle; second half of the seventeenth century.

The New Russian responds (without thinking):

- Guys... I don't quite get it - where's the other half??

Immeasurable wealth

One New Russian says to the other:

- I got myself 600 Mercedes
- Show me!
They go into the garage:
- First, second, third, ... five hundred ninety-ninth, six-hundredth.

Unscrupulousness, lawlessness

A New Russian is approached by Mephistopheles:

- Want a 600 Mercedes?.. A villa on the Canaries?
- Of course I want those!
- Then we'll strike a deal: you get all that, and I get your soul.
After a long pause, the New Russian replies:
- Man, I totally don't get it... how in nature are you conning me here?

A New Russian catches a golden fish. She says to him:

- I'll fulfill any three wishes!
- New ride, apartment in Moscow, villa in the Canaries, a model babe... and that's just the first!

Demonstrating personal wealth

A New Russian walks through a market, goes up to a merchant:

- What's this?
- Apples.
- Weigh out two kilos and wrap each one individually
Next merchant:
- And what's this?
- Cherries.
- Weigh out two kilos and wrap each one individually
Next merchant:
- And what's this?
- Buckwheat. NOT FOR SALE!

Accident involving a 600 Mercedes and a Zaporozhets - anecdotes in this series describe the conflict between the business elite and the ordinary everyman.

A Mercedes runs a red light, and a Zaporozhets runs into it. The driver of the Mercedes crawls looking thuggish with a finger-thick golden chain, goes up to the Zaporozhets where sits an intelligent bespectacled driver, and asks politely:

- Bro, how's yourself? All good? Not dying?
The spooked driver of the Zaporozhets:
- No
- You sure? Doesn't hurt anywhere?
- Not really, nothing seems to hurt...
- Well that's good. Let's go estimate the market value of your apartment.

Sometimes, righteousness prevails:

At an intersection, a 600 Mercedes collides with a UAZ truck. The New Russian Mercedes driver gets out, goes up to the UAZ, wields a pistol, and begins to bang on the door with a yell:

- You scratched my sweet ride, I'll smash your mouth!
In the UAZ, two young guys in bullet-proof vests, with AK-s and FSB badges look out.
- Did you want something?
The New Russian hides in his trunk and says:
- Yeah so, I ran into y'all. I wanted to apologize.

On the road, a Zaporozhets runs into a 600 Mercedes. Mercedes gets turned around and lands in a ditch. From the stopped Zaporozhets, an old man emerges, and with a trembling voice asks:

- Hey sonny, are you alive?
In response only silence.
- Sonny, are you alive?
- Well then thank God!

Lexicon of New Russians (thief jargon, the word типа ("like-a"), кароче ("shortly"), etc.)

Lesson in the English language for two New Russians:

Indefinite article "a/an" translates as типа ("like"). For example: a table - типа стол ("like-a table").
Definite article "the" translates as конкретно ("concretely"). For example: the table - конкретно стол ("concretely table")!

And in general:

For a businessman, everything must be ideal: His face, his mobile, his ride, and his shot in the head.

See also[edit]