Saturday, July 12, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Putin Jokes Moving from Internet to Back the Streets, Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 12 – After a period in which most new anecdotes about Vladimir Putin,  arose on the Internet, they are now appearing in Russian streets, a shift that is changing their form and possibly their impact, according to one of the co-authors of “Anecdotes about Stalin: Texts, Commentaries and Investigations.”

            In an interview published in “Gazeta” on Thursday, Aleksandra Arkhipova, a philologist at the Russian State Humanitarian University, says that anecdotes are constantly being created in response to events but in many cases are being recycled from the past because they have passed into the memory of the people (

            Thus, anecdotes originally told about Stalin were later told about Brezhnev and Yeltsin and are now being reprised about Putin. As they are retold, of course, they are updated.  A joke about Stalin might have talked about his comrades “vanishing” as they were purged; now, Russians might say he “unfriended” them.
            That shift highlights the rise of the Internet, but Arkhipova  says that sites devoted to anecdotes are not necessarily effective in their spread. Instead, jokes that appear on such sites may circulate only among those who go to them and no further. Again, now as in the past, the most popular jokes are those that pass into the streets.

             (The Moscow scholar offers a few examples of Putin humor in her “Gazeta” interview. For a more comprehensive compilation, see her study “Traditions and Innovations in Anecdotes about Putin” at

            One Putin anecdote that Arkhipova says she heard only a few days ago goes as follows:
Оbama called Putin, Putin put his phone on the auto-answer mode:
The auto-answer text is:‘Hello, you're calling the president of Russia, Putin. Unfortunately I'm not able to answer you now.If you want to surrender, click on: 1.If you want to threaten me with new sanctions, click on: 2.If you want to discuss the situation in Ukraine, click on: 3.
All buttons except the button 1, activate our intercontinental rockets Topol-M, good luck!’”

            She also cites two older Putin anecdotes that remain current. In the first, Gerhard Schroder encounters Putin washing his hands, putting his head in a refrigerator, and holding a heater to his chest. When the German asks why, Putin says it is because “a Chekist must have clean hands, a cool head and a warm heart.”
            And in the second, when Putin faces some management problems, he decides to ask for Stalin’s advice. Stalin tells him to first pain the Kremlin green and then shoot all those who have demonstrated against him.  Putin asks “why green?” And Stalin replies that he is “glad that there are no questions about the second point.”
            Jokes about other prominent post-Soviet figures are rarer. Few are told about Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov, Arkipova says, and none need to be told about Vladimir Zhirinovsky: the latter is funny enough just by being quoted.  But there was one interesting anecdote about former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich: Now people know why the enormous Louis Vuitton suitcase was on Red Square.
            Russians are also telling jokes about foreign leaders, she continues. One anecdote about Obama runs as follows: The US president puts up a picture of Chapayev in his office.  When Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov sees it, he is shocked and asks the US president why he has that picture up. Obama replies “I don’t know who he was but he really hated whites!”
            And Arkhipova concludes with an anecdote about the Russian annexation of Crimea. One Russian asks “What is cognitive dissonance?” And a second replies, “That’s when you go go to a meeting about re-unification [of Crimea] to a country [Russia] in which meetings and referenda are prohibited.”

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