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Putin: the stuff of satire

The Russian election campaign has been characterized by parodies and jokes - especially in social networks on the Internet - and more often than not, Vladimir Putin is the target.

The people of Russia have rekindled their interest in politics in the last few months. The peaceful protests against fraud in legislative elections last December have become a catalyst for new forms of political activity: humor and satire.

In the Russian city of Barnaul, for example, people creatively circumvented a ban on demonstrations: they simply placed toys and dolls on the street holding banners. The militia had to clear dolls out of the way instead of people. "What's positive about this development is that humor is taking the place of bitterness," the well-known Russian satirist Viktor Shenderovich said in an interview with DW.

Cartoons and videos against Putin

Humorous videos with political content are usually distributed on the Internet. "Court case against Mr. Putin" is the name of one of these, which shows Putin instead of jailed former oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky in the defendant's cage in court. Another video shows a series of the promises Putin made but did not keep as President and Prime Minister during the last twelve years. Videos like these have received millions of clicks.

Nanoprotest in Russia

Toys demonstrated in favor of fair elections

Cartoons are also popular. Vladimir Putin the presidential candidate is drawn as Napoleon, and then as one of the many Russian national heroes the Kremlin likes to use for propaganda purposes. The list of cartoons like these is endless.

This wave of creativity has also pulled in artistic circles. So, for example, actors from the independent Moscow theater "teatr.doc" have put on a bitter, angry play called "BerlusPutin," a special Russian adaptation of a work by the Nobel Prize-winning Italian playwright Dario Fo. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi visits Putin and whines about being forced out of office. Suddenly, a terrorist attack takes place. Putin is seriously wounded in the head. To save his life, a surgeon implants the right side of Berlusconi's brain into him. The result is "BerlusPutin." He cannot remember anything and life in Russia today no longer makes any sense to him.

Trading blows with humor

Even the state media are getting creative. The Russian news agency RIA Novosti published comics with biographies of presidential candidates ahead of the elections.

The Russian prime minister's supporters aren't standing idly by in the face of the Putin satires. They, too, are making use of the Internet. Numerous video clips are used to spread the message that without Putin, life would collapse in Russia.

Putin's supporters and opponents also trade blows energetically at demonstrations. These are also often very humorous, Shenderovich said. "We know that you want to do it a third time, but we have a headache," read one opponent's poster. Putin's supporters didn't take long to come up with a riposte. It read: "Three times is normal for a real man."

Putin triggers a wave of satire

Activists with white ribbons

Activists distribute white ribbons at demonstrations

Observers in Russia think that Putin brought the satire upon himself. In a broadcast on Russian television, he compared participants in the first protest rally in early December last year to the bandar-logs, the pariah monkeys from Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book. "Come to me bandar-logs!" Putin exclaimed, referring to the snake Kaa, who was able to hypnotize the monkeys. He disparagingly compared the symbol of the demonstrators, a white ribbon, to a condom. Shenderovich believes that Putin's response was not meant satirically. The prime minister simply lost his composure during the question and answer program, he said.

This year's presidential campaign has thus been notable for jokes about the man who served two terms as president from 2000-2008 and wants to move back into the Kremlin as head of state after the election on March 4. Serious political issues have played almost no role.

Shenderovich assumes that there will be no letdown in the creativity of the protest movement even after the election: "You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube," the satirist said. But wit and creativity are not a substitute for political consolidation. And that, he says, is the problem in Russia.

Authors: Mikhail Bushuev, Markian Ostaptschuk / sb
Editor: Joanna Impey

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