Ringing Out the Old By Grigory Pasko, journalist The new year is a holiday for all. For the president of Russia especially: he was officially appointed to this post precisely on New Year’s Day, in 2000. They say that in this upcoming year, Putin is going to leave the post of president: the Constitution does not allow him to be elected to a third term. But they also say that he doesn’t intend to wander too far away from this post, so that there would be an opportunity in a year to once again return in the capacity of president. What can you do? Power, like a disease, is infectious. In the year about to end, the American magazine «Time» acknowledged the Russian president as person of the year. Let’s take a look – in honor of the New Year! – at this person with a bit of light humor, and from another side – not the one from which the obsequious colleagues from «Time» looked at him.
Putin and jokesDuring the course of the pre-election campaign of the year 2007, a book came out in Russia by the leader of the CPRF, Gennady Zyuganov. Among other materials, it contained jokes. Here are a few of them.* * * A member of «United Russia», a member of «A Just Russia», and a simple Russian man are drinking. The «UR» member gets up:“I want to drink to the death of «A Just Russia»!The «A Just Russia» member gets up:“I want to drink to the death of «United Russia»!The ordinary man gets up:“I want to drink to all your wishes coming true!”* * *After the voting in the elections to the State Duma, the Central Electoral Commission had to spend some time fiddling with the ballots:“102% for «United Russia» – that’s excessive… The locals were trying too hard.”* * *Putin: “‘Stay for a third term…, change the constitution…’ I’m sick and tired of hearing that all the time! Schedule the coronation for Thursday!”* * *The oil industry of Russia must be reformed, announced Putin. 3 companies will be founded:1. ProcuracyNeft.2. FSB Neft.3. MVD Neft.But the next joke wasn’t in Zyuganov’s book. I heard it way back at the beginning of the year.* * *It’s 2008 – a press conference by president of Russia V.V. Putin.A shout from the audience:“But you’d declared numerous times that you’re not staying for a third term!!! Why did you have to lie?!!”“I wasn’t deceiving you: I’m not staying for a third term – I’m staying FOREVER.”Much has been written in the Russian press about how the FSB is displeased with Zyuganov’s book, in which were collected jokes, including about Putin. The fact is that the FSB doesn’t like jokes. And Putin doesn’t like them either. Although he does have a sense of humor – of a sort. Besides the well-publicized examples about circumcising a journalist, soaking terrorists in the toilet, the sunken nuclear submarine, etc., I’ll give you my example: Once, in Vladivostok, Putin took part in war games on board a warship of the Pacific Fleet, and subsequently conducted a meeting in the local house of officers. I was at that meeting. And so, when Putin and the then-governor of Primorsky Kray, Nazdratenko, entered the hall, Nazdratenko started things off by praising Putin in every which way. Putin smiled gently. Then he suddenly came back to his senses and said: “Come now, Yevgeni Ivanovich, you’re praising me like I’m already dead!”It is obvious that Putin is afraid of being made fun of and of being funny. Like, by the way, many of his colleagues from the KGB shop floor. They’ve got all kinds of complexes. These complexes get in the way of their viewing themselves and those like unto themselves with irony and humor. They genuinely believe themselves to be the new Russian elite, the new nobility, demigods… And how can the rabble be allowed to laugh at the gods, even “demi-“ ones?Putin the sex symbolOne of the newspapers wrote about Putin’s trip into the regions: “…And then the head of state set off for Belgorod University, where he conducted a session of the Council on National Projects. At the sight of the president, the students shouted and shrieked, as if though this weren’t Putin, but a Hollywood actor. The president came up to greet the students, and at the same time expressed interest in why they weren’t at their studies. When the president was already going into the building, a girl in the crowd cried out: “Lord, how sexy he is!”Another example. One of the provincial journalists compared Putin with the phallic symbol of the country. The journalist was put on trial.Putin and puppetsOne time in Irkutsk I saw some talking and singing puppets made by clever Russian craftsmen. A truly fantastic spectacle. True, these were characters from fairy tales. But what if these puppeteers were to make puppets of real people – for example, high figures of state? They would never even get to the fair: they would be prohibited. It can not be ruled out that the puppeteers might even be arrested or thrown into a mental hospital.Just like, in their time, they prohibited on television the humoristic broadcast «Kukly», which parodied Yeltsin and his whole team [using caricature puppets and edgy scripts—Trans.]. There was a Putin puppet there as well. They say that the broadcast was pulled precisely because Putin didn’t like it. I think he was having all sorts of complexes about his puppet. He doesn’t like it when people laugh at him –even if “he” is just a puppet.And, on the flip side, Putin does like it when they show him in the aura of a hero: in an airplane, on a warship, on a tatami and in a judo outfit, with a naked torso… It is television, in the main, that shapes his image. That’s why Putin has always had a deep respect for television, and he means it most sincerely.In the summer of 2007, more than 60 television workers were awarded in the Kremlin with orders and medals “for big contribution to the development of domestic television and many years of fruitful work”. The ceremony was closed – it was not reported in the press and no official film was made, as is the norm for such events – inasmuch as in the Kremlin, they didn’t want to ascribe particular status to this awarding.This was already the second mass awarding of television journalists. In November 2006, more than 100 television people were awarded.Airplanes, skis, tatamis… Any psychotherapist, even a beginner, will tell you that all these things are ways to overcome an innate cowardice.Putin and caricaturesPutin has been compared on numerous occasions with Peter the Great and general De Gaulle. Those who did the comparing no doubt knew that Putin likes such analogies. Although, the comparisons, in my view, are unsuccessful for one very simple reason: in the mass consciousness, there is no way they can be regarded seriously, because the mass consciousness first and foremost reacts to an external feature. And the external feature in the given instance is but one, and, moreover, it is substantial – the huge difference in the height of the tsar with the general and Putin. Peter the Great was just about two meters tall [6′ 7″ for our American readers—Trans.]. De Gaulle – a bit less. But Putin? A meter seventy [5′ 7″] (or so they write, but in actuality, it seems to me, he’s shorter: I met him once and have seen him several times up close). And by the way, the next ruler of Russia, as whom Putin has appointed Medvedev, has a height of a meter sixty two centimeters [5′ 4″].However, this isn’t the only difference between Putin and De Gaulle. They say that the French president began every morning by searching through fresh newspapers, looking for caricatures of himself. And one time got very upset when he couldn’t find a single artistic lampoon. “That means the people have stopped loving me!”, the general noted with disappointment, and went on a deep drinking bout.Judging by the fact that caricatures of Putin and jokes about him are under an unspoken prohibition, Putin doesn’t get upset by the absence of caricatures of himself. Furthermore, he doesn’t like them. Which is why people are persecuted in Russia for caricatures of Putin. Thus, for caricatures of him in the year 2005 in Ekaterinburg, two female activists of the movement «Oborona» were arrested. Later they were released, but convicted by a magistrate’s court for an administrative offense.I remember only one caricature which, as it seems to me, Putin liked. «Moskovsky Komsomolets» once printed a caricature where Putin was depicted in a tsar’s attire on a throne, surrounded by jesters and generals.By the way, the current president of France seems to be taking his cue from De Gaulle: “I prefer for there to be too many caricatures rather than too much censorship.” – thus, so they say, spake Nicolas Sarkozy about the scandal with the caricatures in Denmark.And this despite the fact that Sarkozy is of small height. I guess that means it’s a matter of how you feel about yourself, and not of how tall you are?
Putin and flatteryPutin loves flattery. Otherwise, the multitude of grovellers would feel the dislike and would stop “kissing up” to the president from all sides and in all ways.There was the time when the Mariinsky theater in St. Petersburg opened the season with Mikhail Glinka’s opera “A Life for the Tsar”. They say that this was done in honor of Putin.Tour companies in St. Petersburg engage in the organization of special tours of “Putin’s Petersburg”. Fans of the president can familiarize themselves with a view of the house where he lived with his parents, his school, his university, and even the building of the KGB, where he began his career.Here are several examples of sheer flattery and puffery to the address of Putin:“All successes in cinematography were associated with Vladimir Putin.”(Fedor Bondarchuk, director, 21 November, at a forum of supporters of Vladimir Putin)“Is it possible for Putin to be not right?”(Chairman of the Central Electoral Commission Vladimir Churov, 9 April, in an interview with the newspaper «Kommersant»)“Vladimir Putin is a brilliant strategist, he possesses the manly qualities of a true Russian officer – in the most trying moments to take responsibility on himself… Putin is the biggest democrat in our country, and all talk about some kind of usurpation of power – is not about him.”(Sergey Mironov, speaker of the Federation Council, 10 November, at a press conference)“A democratic nation can not let its leader go. It can give him the opportunity to switch from job to job, but to part with him – this it can not do.”(Gleb Pavlovsky, political technologist, 9 February, at the conference «Lessons of the “New course” for contemporary Russia and the whole world»)“For me today (I have the pleasure of speaking thus, because I have never asked for anything for myself personally) with the name of Putin is associated the return of dignity for our country and to me personally.”(Nikita Mikhalkov, movie director, 27 November, on the program «Judge for yourselves»)Parting comment“Every people has that government which it deserves. And only the Russians have gone as always along their own path – in our country, the government has [This is a play on words: In Russian, “to have” can also mean “to have sexual relations with”, or, more precisely in this case, “to screw”—Trans.] all the people, even though it doesn’t really deserve them.” (I don’t remember the author, sorry—G.P.)