In Sunday’s Izvestiya there was an article about two Red Army men, Shchekochikhin and Chernyshev, who had behaved as heroes on the occasion of the explosion and fire at Kolomna. The article tells how the commander of the local garrison went up to Red Army man Shchekochikhin and asked:
‘Do you (ty) know who I am?’
‘Yes, you (vy) are the garrison commander.’
I doubt whether the dialogue has been correctly recorded in this case. Otherwise, one would have to conclude that the garrison commander does not use the right tone in speaking to Red Army men. Soldiers of the Red Army may, of course, use the familiar form when talking together as comrades, but precisely as comrades, and only as comrades. In the Red Army a commander may not use the familiar form when addressing a subordinate if the latter is expected to respond in the polite form. Otherwise an expression of inequality between persons would result, not an expression of subordination in the line of duty.
‘Ty’ and ‘vy’ are, of course, only matters of convention. But definite human relations are expressed in this convention. In some cases the familiar form is used to express close comradely relations. But when? When the relationship is mutual. In other cases the familiar form will convey disdain, disrespect, looking down one’s nose, a shade of lordly hauteur in one’s attitude to others. Such a tone is absolutely impermissible in the Red Army.
To some this may seem a trifling matter. It is not! A Red Army man must respect both himself and others. Respect for human dignity is an extremely important factor in what holds the Red Army together morally. The Red Army soldier submits to his superiors in the line of duty. The requirements of discipline are inflexible. But, at the same time, the soldier feels and knows that he is a conscious citizen, called upon to fulfil obligations of high responsibility. Military subordination must be accompanied by civic and moral equality, which does not allow the violation of personal dignity.
1. Russian, like many other languages, and like English in earlier times, has two forms for the second person singular: ty (‘thou’) which is familiar, and vy (‘you’) which is respectful or polite.
Last updated on: 28.12.2006