Category Archives: humor/satire

Horsepower for Gazprom

An equine solarium

An equine solarium

Novaya Gazeta reports:

Gazprom’s website has published a request for bids. It’s soliciting a contract for the supply of equipment to its equine stables in the village of Bogorodskoye, in the Leninsky District of the Moscow Region.

The company is requesting the installation of a Warendorfer Standard II Solarium with a set of built in thermal showers, to be completed by the end of this year, with a maximum contract price of 338,000 rubles (roughly $12,000). Only experienced tradesman are solicited.          

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More on the Russian Joke

The Chicago Sun Times reports:

A joke circulating among Russians these days has Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev waking up in the Kremlin in 2023 with vicious hangovers.

Putin says to Medvedev: ”Which of us is president and which of us is prime minister today?”

”I don’t remember,” Medvedev replies. ”I could be prime minister today.”

”Then go fetch some beer,” Putin says.

The new odd couple in Russian politics has become ideal fodder for keeping the cherished, and in Soviet times, once dangerous Russian tradition of poking fun at leaders through satirical jokes called ”anekdoty.” The latest crop of jokes plays on Russia’s new power-sharing agreement — where Medvedev will be sworn in as president on May 7 and Putin, his stern mentor and predecessor, will serve under him as prime minister. The jokes tend to tap into the widespread speculation that it’s really Putin who will be the boss. Puns are crucial in many of the jokes about Medvedev, whose last name stems from the Russian word for bear.

In one, Putin is asked if he will have Medvedev’s portrait in his office.

An angry Putin replies: ”I’ll put his hide on the floor instead.”

Anekdoty have long been a litmus test of public opinion and individual liberties in a country where in the past people faced exile, prison or worse for expressing their opinions directly. ”Anekdoty sometimes live for a day and sometimes survive for centuries,” said linguist Sandjar Yanyshev. ”They remain the main genre of oral tradition in Russian folk culture.” George Orwell once called the joke ”a tiny revolution.” Nowhere was that taken more literally than in the Soviet Union, where people circulated jokes at their peril about the nation’s communist leaders.

Soviet citizens told stories lampooning Josef Stalin’s heavy Georgian accent. His successor, Nikita Khrushchev, was ridiculed for his redneck joviality. Leonid Brezhnev was mocked for his mumbling speech and his later senility, while Mikhail Gorbachev was ridiculed for his reputedly domineering wife and for his short-lived campaign to eradicate alcoholism. Even after the Soviet Union, the anekdoty tradition survived. Russians told tall tales built around President Boris Yeltsin’s heavy drinking, and even the popular Putin could not escape barbed jokes about his KGB history and his use of salty slang. Anekdoty remained mostly an oral tradition until the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the first printed anthologies often outsold serious novels.

In an online poll at, one of the most popular Medvedev jokes is one that clearly pinpoints the puppeteer in Russia’s politics.

In the joke, Putin takes Medvedev to a restaurant and orders a steak. ”What about the vegetable?” the waiter asks. Putin looks at Medvedev and says, ”The vegetable will have steak, too.”

The Sunday Cultural Supplement: Dark Humor Returns in Neo-Soviet Russia

Paul Goble reports:

A rising tide of black humor spreading from Russian websites to that country’s mass media, a wave that is frightening many parents and politicians there, underscores that all is not well with Russian society, according to a leading Moscow specialist on the media. In an article posted online last week, Marine Voskanyan, chief editor of the information technology site CRN/RE, argues that this growth of cynical and nihilistic humor suggests that for most Russians, “none of the ideological alternatives on offer in politics, culture, or social life [is] convincing or morally justified.” Instead, she continues, the rise of black humor in Russia today suggests just as its earlier rise in other countries at times past that for an increasing number of people there, “everything around them appears to be completely false” and unworthy of their support.

And while black humor has always existed in every society, its dramatic rise in the Russian Federation now and in some other countries as well represents an understandable if not entirely happy “reaction to the absurdity and cruelty of the contemporary world in which much that used to be unacceptable is now seen as normal.” By making fun of this, she continues, individuals and groups win “a kind of victory over the absurdity of existence, however illusory such a triumph may be.” But when such humor dominates the situation, it should set off alarm bells because “the destruction of any social system or ideology begins when people start to laugh at it.” The power of such laughter, of course, is well know to public relations specialists and political tacticians. If you can make people to laugh at your opponent, she notes, “you have seriously weakened his position.” But when people are engaging in black humor about the system as a whole, that can be more serious, she continues. In such cases, black humor become more often than not a means of compensating for the lack of freedom, the lack of choices, and the inability of having an impact on life that many people feel especially in times of stress. And the more people feel that way, she says, the more likely they are to tell this kind of joke. In order to bolster her argument, Voskanyan draws attention to what makes black humor to work as well as to new research carried out in Moscow concerning how Russians have employed such jokes in reaction to terrorist attacks and disasters both natural and man-made.

According to the Moscow media specialist, black humor generally works only if there is a certain temporal or territorial distance from the events that are its nominal subject. Thus, in the 1970s, jokes about fascist concentration camps were relatively common in the USSR, because for many, the war had become something distant. But now, no one she knows tells such jokes because, she says, unfortunately in the cities of today’s Russia, “the chance of falling victim to skinhead Nazis wearing SS regalia is not equal to zero.” Consequently, telling jokes there about Nazi concentration camps could in fact prove dangerous. If black humor requires a certain distance to work, it may also help people distance themselves from the tragic and dangerous such as plane crashes, terrorist acts or wars, Voskanyan says, or alternatively to help them cope with any situation over which they have no control. Thus, during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, many Russians told black jokes about the consequences of that conflict. One that Voskanyan cites, goes as follows: “Oh, Watson!” Sherlock Holmes says. “I see you’ve just come from Afghanistan.” “Yes,” Watson answers, “but how did you guess?” “Elementary, Watson! You’re in a casket.”
Voskanyan is not alone in focusing on this phenomenon.

A group of scholars at Moscow State University recently published research on the kind of jokes and anecdotes that have appeared on the .ru Net in the wake of terrorist attacks and natural disasters. In the week following the September 11th attacks on the United States, the investigators found, the number of ordinary anecdotes fell dramatically, but black humor jokes began to appear already that evening. Within 48 hours, their number peaked and then rapidly fell off, with traditional jokes returning. The Moscow State specialists concluded, in Voskanyan’s words, that “terrorist acts frighten people strongly but not for long, whereas for jokes about air catastrophes, potentially the audience is always ready, new tragedies only ‘enliven’ its fears and reaction to them.” Given that some people will always turn to black humor, protests against “the absurdist cruelty” of such jokes while perhaps understandable are in and of themselves “to a certain degree absurd,” Voskanyan suggests. But when such jokes overwhelm other kinds of humor, then there is real reason to worry. And she points to another problem as well. The rise of black humor in Russia threatens to push that country into precisely the same trap that Heinrich Boll has suggested his fellow Germans have long been in, one in which people tell jokes less to make fun of the great than “to deny greatness in anyone.”

The Sunday Funnies: Time Magazine Special Edition

“The way I understand it, the Russians are sort of a combination of evil and incompetence… sort of like the Post Office with tanks.” — Emo Philips

Our South African Cartoon Master offers a Time magazine special edition:

Images of Peter Pan

Peter Pan, U.S.A.-style

Peter Pan, Russia-style

The Sunday Mystery

In the Russian Truth is Stranger than Fiction Department, the Moscow Times reports:

Moscow region prosecutors have asked the police to reinvestigate the death of a cat whose owners say he was catnapped and killed by rabbit-breeding neighbors at their dacha, near the town of Ruza. An official with the Moscow Region Prosecutor’s Office, who refused to give her name, said the request had been made after animal rights organization Vita had asked them to look into the death of the animal, named Motya. “We took our cat to the dacha, and our neighbors, who are very strange people, killed him,” said the cat’s owner, Yulia Ilyukhina, 29. She said the neighbors suspected the cat of attacking their rabbits. Ilyukhina said Motya was lying in the sun on Aug. 5 when the neighbors — Viktor Martynenko, his daughter Tatyana Klychnikova and her husband, Alexander Klychnikov — raced up in their Lada and snatched the cat. “He was sitting in the sun, dreaming. He was very friendly — you could just walk up and pet him,” Ilyukhina said. “They grabbed the cat and drove away. They were driving very fast.” She said the neighbors had also accused the cat of keeping their child awake. Ilyukhina said Martynenko had threatened to kill Motya with a stick. “If the rabbit is bigger than the cat, how could he attack it,” said Ilyukhina, who added that Motya was less than 2 years old. She said the cat had been kept locked indoors after the neighbors complained. Ilyukhina said the neighbors later returned and dumped the dead cat where it had been laying. When she went to the police, they failed to interview a number of people who had been witnesses and refused to take any further action, Ilyukhina said. Ruza police refused to comment when contacted by telephone. Attempts to reach Martynenko were unsuccessful. An autopsy performed on the cat after the police failed to take any action revealed that Motya died from five to 10 minutes after being hit with a blunt object, Ilyukhina said. Vita president Irina Novozhilovo said very few cases dealing with cruelty to animals actually made it to court. “It depends on people’s enthusiasm,” she said, adding that cases only make it to the court after people continue to complain when the police turn them down. In a high-profile case that did make it to court, the owner of an American Staffordshire terrier was sentenced last year to one year of community service after he set the dog loose on a on a group of stray puppies. His dog killed two of the puppies and the man killed another two himself.

Talk About Being Hard up for Heroes!

If this isn’t a sign of the neo-Soviet apocalypse then we don’t know what is: Vladimir Putin casts about for a hero to pin a medal on, and the best he can come up with is . . . wait for it . . . a sheep saver! The Moscow Times reports:

President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday bestowed the country’s highest honor on a shepherd who saved 500 sheep from armed marauders and wildfires. Babu-Dorzho Mikhailov became the first shepherd ever to receive the Hero of Russia medal, which Putin presented to him in the Kremlin’s ornate Yekaterininsky Hall, outshining dozens of artists, doctors and scientists who received lesser state honors. Mikhailov thanked Putin for the award and his attention to agriculture workers. “I am happy,” the 54-year-old Siberian told reporters after the ceremony. Apparently tongue-tied in front of television cameras, the modest, quiet Mikhailov let an Agriculture Ministry official do the talking. In October, Mikhailov saved 500 sheep — worth 4 million rubles ($160,000) — by fending off an armed attack by thieves trying to steal them for mutton, said Feliks Pavlusenko, an aide to Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev. In April, the shepherd rescued his flock from a fire that scorched the steppes in the Chita region, Pavlusenko said. Mikhailov rounded up the sheep, “sat on a tractor and plowed soil around so that the blaze wouldn’t spread,” Pavlusenko said, adding that the “combination of the two heroic deeds” led to the award. “Among shepherds, he is the first” to receive the Hero of Russia, said Pavlusenko, adding that Mikhailov had worked as a herder for 32 years. While Mikhailov is the only shepherd to receive the award, he is not the only one to be recognized in recent years for his service to the county. In 2002, Putin presented Georgian shepherd Levan Telidze with the medal of courage for warning Russian border guards about the plans of an armed gang to cross the border into Chechnya. Georgian special services, however, doubted that he had passed any information to Russian border guards and questioned the very fact of the shepherd’s existence. Izvestia said at the time that Telidze was under protection of the Federal Security Service and that he would likely be given a new identity and a home in Russia.

Pathetic. Breath-takingly, mind-bogglingly pathetic. Russia, in a nutshell.