Russia satirists use YouTube to challenge Kremlin
By Stephen EnnisBBC Monitoring
Media control has been one of the key factors that have allowed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to dominate Russia’s political landscape since he was first elected president in 2000.
As the country prepares for parliamentary and presidential elections, though, there are signs that the Kremlin is facing a fresh media challenge in the form of an increasingly politicised audience on YouTube.
Over the past few weeks, a number of Russian politics-themed clips on YouTube have achieved over one million views.
The videos are in a variety of genres – political polemic, satire and song – but they have one thing in common: a critical or irreverent attitude to the country’s leadership – Mr Putin, President Dmitry Medvedev and their party, United Russia.
Earlier this year, anti-corruption campaigner and blogger Aleksey Navalnyy launched a web campaign against United Russia under the banner “Party of Crooks and Thieves”.
One of the latest instalments in this campaign is a clip on his YouTube channel entitled: “Let’s remind the crooks and thieves of their 2002 manifesto”. The video lists what it says are United Russia’s failures and broken pledges, and concludes: “They have not just lied, they have brought the country to such a state that these and other promises seem to be mockeries”. It also urges viewers to vote for any party but United Russia in December’s parliamentary election.
The video was posted on YouTube on 7 October. By 28 October, it been viewed more than a million times.
YouTube is not only giving a powerful voice to the opposition, it is also helping to revive subversive art forms.
TV political satire has been virtually extinct in Russia since the puppet show Kukly (along the lines of the now-defunct UK satirical programme Spitting Image) disappeared from the screens shortly after Mr Putin came to power.
Now, though, this kind of satire is making a comeback on the internet. Not all the satire is anti-government, but it is generally irreverent towards authority.
One of its brightest exponents on YouTube is Dmitry Ivanov, who uses the online nicknameKamikadze_d.
Ivanov’s fast-talking stand-up routines on the Russian political scene have been growing in popularity for several months now.
The first of them to break the one-million-view mark was a lampoon of a TV debate between leading politicians that was posted on 9 September.
Ivanov quickly repeated the feat with a routine called “Putin’s terrible secret”, in which he suggests that hidden clones of the prime minister are taking over Russia.
For those who like their satire a bit darker, there is Mr Freeman, a spooky black-and-white cartoon character whose nightmarish visions of the modern world have won him a cult following among Russian internet users.
On 11 October Mr Freeman abandoned satire and posted an “open letter” to President Medvedev, urging him to stop Mr Putin from becoming president again. By the end of the month it, too, had got over a million views.
The clip says Mr Putin’s first stint as president “plunged Russia into a medieval gloom” and that the only way to prevent a repeat of this is for Mr Medvedev to sack him from the post of prime minister.
YouTube has also helped revive Russian protest music, which, like satire, has been virtually banned from popular mainstream media outlets.
In 2010, hip-hop artist Ivan Alekseyev, aka Noize MC, got over a million views with a song about his imprisonment for singing anti-police lyrics at a concert in Volgograd.Share