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POLITICSRSS

© Photo The Moscow News / Yulia Ponomareva

A hamster shrugged

by Yulia Ponomareva at 22/02/2012 21:33

According to some pro-Kremlin sources, the U.S. Department of State is financing the opposition protest movement in Russia – but if that’s actually the case, it’s art lovers in the capital that may find themselves saying “God bless America.”

Creativity, as opposed to violence, has spilled onto Russian streets as the result of political protests conducted by a group of people previously derided as useless “hamsters on the Internet” – and creative posters with slogans demanding fair elections have been recognized as works of art. Some of these posters now hang in an exhibition at Moscow’s Artplay gallery.

Displayed in a large hall, which was a factory production facility during Soviet times, the exhibition features dozens of masterpieces – such as a picture of Kenny from “South Park” yelling, “Bastards! They stole my vote!”, a picture of Vladimir Putin’s head in a glass jar congratulating the populace on New Year’s Eve 3000, and a poster with a succinct slogan calling for setting the galley slave free in a reference to a famous quote by Putin, who once compared himself with a slave toiling at a galley.

Kenny from ‘South Park’

© Photo / The Moscow News / Yulia Ponomareva

Kenny from ‘South Park’

“This winter people talked to the government in the language of mass protests and posters,” the exhibition curator, Mikhail Ratgauz, stated in a press release ahead of the exhibition’s opening.

Ratgauz argues that wit has become a campaign tool and an effective means to express oneself in a crowd. “Designing posters for the rallies at Bolotnaya [Square] and Sakharov [Avenue], people understood that they were competing,” Ratgauz wrote. “So they did their best to come up with the pieces they wanted to be noticed by other protesters and those against whom they were protesting.”

“Wit ruled, not aggression,” Ratgauz noted. “Unlike aggression, wit can’t be multiplied. A crowd can’t be witty.”

Last month Novaya Gazeta held a contest for the best poster slogan. The winning entry reads: “We are not opposition, we are your employers. We are not protesting, we are firing you.”

Among other notable entries was “Hamster shrugged,” referring to Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” about the passive revolt of freethinkers, “Hillary, I’m still waiting for my money!” and many others.

Protesters went creative in all cities across the country. In Stavropol, one of the posters read: “What a people! Turning up their noses even at a tsar!”

In Voronezh, protesters carried a banner with President Medvedev’s photo and an inscription reading: “Not many are good at badminton.” They referred to one of the president’ televised appearances, in which he was seen playing badminton and speaking of the great role of badminton in society.

The efforts of the spin doctors of the five candidates in Russia’s current presidential race have been unable to at least remotely match the seemingly effortless touch of the protesters, who have spawned dozens of catchy slogans.

As is often the case in Russian election campaigns, you have to try hard to match candidates’ slogans to candidates themselves.

“A decent future for a great country!” would fit in with any candidate’s campaign but by pure chance has happened to be the fruit of the Putin team’s endeavors.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov is running under the Communist-style “Power and property to people!” motto.

The LDPR team came up with a creepy “Zhirinovsky – or things will get worse” for their leader.

The Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov appeals to voters arguing that their vote will change the country.

And billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov’s billboards read “New president – new country,” which again, could apply to all the rest of the candidates, except for probably Vladimir Putin.

Marat Gelman, a former spin doctor who currently runs his own art business, told The Moscow News that for those who have been in the business of politics for quite awhile, billboards and posters can only play a mobilizing role to remind their electorate to go to precincts on March 4.

“[Slogans] could be of greater importance for new people, like Prokhorov,” Gelman said. “If he wants to accent the revision of the political system, his slogan clearly works.”

‘Free the galley slave!’ was a reference to a famous Putin quote

© Photo / The Moscow News / Yulia Ponomareva

‘Free the galley slave!’ was a reference to a famous Putin quote

Even though appeals to vote against a certain candidate may sound strong, Gelman notes that specifically discouraging people from voting for Putin won’t do the other candidates much good in the first round. “In the first round, when there is a wide choice of candidates, people vote for whoever they like,” he said. “It’s in the second round that people vote against the candidate they like least.”

For the time being, the candidates’ advertising campaigns make the news not for their creativity – but due to various scandals.

On Monday, Prokhorov’s campaign office reported that the candidate’s billboards were being taken down in Russian cities. In Moscow alone, at least 34 billboards were removed.

In Russian regions, large companies’ billboards happen to mimic the design of Vladimir Putin’s campaign. In the Sverdlovsk region, for example, the Ural Mining and Metallurgical Company billboards carry the Russian tricolor and the “For Russia’s stability and prosperity!” slogan.

And the banners for Evraz, another major metallurgical company, are made in the ballot style with “For stability!” and “For a strong Russia!” boxes ticked – in another apparent reference to Putin’s campaign.

Read other articles of the print issue "The Moscow News #13"
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