Grigory Potemkin (1739-1791) was a Russian nobleman who achieved a great deal of power under Empress Catherine the Great. Catherine who ruled Russia 1762 to 1796, was one of Russia’s greatest and most powerful rulers.
Potemkin may or may not have been Empress Catherine’s lover, as rumored. For whatever reason, Catherine delegated a great deal of authority to him, and Potemkin became the most powerful bureaucrat in the empire.
In 1782, the Empress wanted to see her newly conquered territory in the region where the Volga flows into the Black Sea, including the newly conquered Crimea. An extended tour was arranged for Catherine, orchestrated by Potemkin. He wanted her to see how the lands were populous and prosperous. Potemkin arranged for fake villages to line the banks of the rivers Catherine’s great tour boated down, and for fake villagers to cheer her. Catherine seems to have been convinced that her new provinces were prosperous and loved Russia.
The phrase “Potemkin Village” has ever since meant any construction aimed at deceiving others that things are better than they really are—like the false facades on Hollywood film sets. It’s a wonderful story. The trouble is, the story is false.
Apparently the real purpose of the story of Potemkin’s fake villages was propaganda aimed at the Ottoman Empire. Russia had just conquered the Crimea, for centuries a dependency of the Ottomans. The idea was that the Ottomans would hear the story and think Russia was weak, and declare war to get the Crimea back. The Turks did so, and got trounced in the ensuing war, giving Russia even more formerly Ottoman territory.
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