The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Russian political humor is back

April 21, 2011

Vadim Nikitin has an excellent run down. With a possible Putin – Medvedev face-off looming for next year’s presidential elections, the campaign season has already begun. This trailer shows how it all might go down in 2012 and was featured on, of all places, the Russian Communist Party’s website. The clip ends with “There’s always an alternative: Communist Party of Russia.”

Nikitin has translated the key points as they appear in the clip:



Clip of Putin: “The next elections in the Russian Federation are in 2012″



Medvedev: “Let me first say what I think about this, as President”

Putin: “I am the president of the Russian federation”

Medvedev: “I am”

Putin: “I am”

Medvedev: Laughs

Putin: “I am not joking!”


Putin, on screen: “Mr Medvedev and I have a very effective tandem”

Medvedev: “That is a lie”

Putin: “Medvedev and I are of a traditional [sexual] orientation”

Medvedev: That is a lie

Cuts to a man in a control room remarking in amazement: “Wow!”


KOMPROMAT (cuts to a young woman getting out from under Putin’s desk)

THREATS (clip of Putin saying “we need a small, victorious war”)

and HIGHER POWERS (clips of Medvedev praying)

Nikitin also notes the new context of political humor…and how not everything has changed:

The group that has done most to revive the absurdist and anarchic spirit of Daniil Kharms has been Voina. Translated as War, the collective of artistic provocateurs gained worldwide fame for painting a penis on a St Petersburg drawbridge overlooking the FSB headquarters, projecting a skull and crossbones onto the Russian White House, kiss-a-cop day, crossing one of Russia’s busiest streets blindfolded with a blue bucket, and staging an orgy at a Moscow museum.

But if the Soviet tradition of humorous dissent has returned, so has its age old partner – state repression. Since the start of the year, Voina members have been arrested, beaten up and jailed, most recently for a prank involving overturned police cars; their leader has fled the country.

It’s like that old joke:

Comrade Brezhnev, is it true that you collect political jokes?” — “Yes” — “And how many have you collected so far?” — “Three and a half labor camps full”

For those of us trained in Soviet Studies in the 1980s, political humor — especially that coming out of Leningrad — was a staple and gave us a lot of insights into Soviet society. I was never a big fan of Reagan, but I always liked this one:

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Jon Western has spent the last fifteen years teaching IR in liberal arts colleges at Mount Holyoke College and the Five Colleges in western Massachusetts. He has an eclectic range of intellectual interests but often writes on international security, U.S. foreign policy, military intervention, and human rights. He occasionally shares his thoughts about professional life in liberal arts colleges. In his spare time he coaches middle school soccer, mentors the local high school robotics team, skis, and sails.