Your Potemkin Village

As the story goes, during a visit by Empress Catherine II to Crimea in 1787, Russian minister Grigory Potemkin supposedly constructed fake settlements to conceal the dilapidated conditions of the towns. After the 1783 Russian annexation of Crimea from the Ottoman Empire and the formation of a New Russia, Potemkin became governor of the region. Crimea had been devastated by the war, and Potemkin’s primary task was to rebuild by bringing in Russian settlers. In 1787, as a new war was about to break out between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, Catherine II, with her court and several ambassadors, made an unprecedented six-month trip to New Russia. Supposedly, Potemkin set up “mobile villages” on the river banks. As soon as the barge carrying the Empress and ambassadors arrived, Potemkin’s men, dressed as peasants, would populate the village. Once the barge left, the village was disassembled, then rebuilt downstream overnight.

Historians debate whether the story is true or fiction. One biographer says that Potemkin decorated the existing villages to make them look nicer than they were. Others say that Potemkin and Catherine were lovers, so it would have been impossible for him to pull off such deceit. Finally, some say he made fake villages, but later years’ stories were greatly exaggerated.

Whatever the case, as early as 1902, the phrase Potemkin Village came to be known as someone who built something fake to fool others. And the description remains today as Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term: “an impressive facade or show designed to hide an undesirable fact or condition.”

My question is simple; “What is your Potemkin Village?” What part of your life is fake? Where do you put on a show for other people to hide the truth? You don’t have to be an 18th-century Russian to have a village built to fool other people.  


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