The Russian word troika originally referred to a sled drawn by three horses. First used in the 18th century, it became a symbol of Russia. Troika rides are still offered to tourists seeking a traditional Russian experience, but with more sophisticated forms of transportation now reaching even the remotest parts of the country this humble sled has lost its place in the national culture.
In the 20th century the word became more commonly known for something far less appealing. Soon after Communist rule began, troika came to describe a three man committee authorised to pass sentence without trial. Under Stalin, the troika’s three members, an officer of the Commissariat for Internal Affairs, a public prosecutor and the local Communist Party secretary, acted as fast-track judge and jury for countless unfortunate victims of the state.
These days troika is often applied to any group of three with the power to make decisions. It’s become a popular name for companies formed by three directors, but not everyone uses the word positively. It’s recently been applied to representatives of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund whose decisions dictated the fiscal policy of countries such as Greece, whose economies have been too weak to survive without intervention. Opponents of the EU have attacked what they see as anti-democratic behaviour, deliberately raising the spectre of Stalinism. This may be a harsh analogy, but either way the days of the innocent horse drawn sled are long gone.
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