Russia: Vladivostok's Pre-Election Puzzle

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011/12.

On the eve of the March 4 presidential election in Russia, the level of political voltage has reached its tipping point. The Russian authorities are neither able to ignore the large-scale protests across the country, nor able to adequately respond to the people’s demands.

Everyone and everything has turned political now, and the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok has caught this pre-election fever as well.

The most recent example is the mysterious ad campaign that many of Vladivostok's netizens are discussing right now. It may turn out to be a purely commercial, non-political project, but it definitely plays on public interest and ignites the debate by using up-to-date political images.

First, large banners asking “Who? Who?” appeared on one of the city's streets (the image below comes from this article [ru] on and is reproduced here in accordance with the portal's re-publication rules [ru]):

Who? Who? by Anton Balashov

Who? Who? by Anton Balashov

This question may well refer to the presidential candidates running in the March 4 election – or it may not. The approach here is common for both commercial and political campaigns: the initial ads do not point at any specific product/candidate explicitly. (Examples of similar political ads that have appeared in Vladivostok recently are here and here: the first one states that the country was first destroyed in 1917, during the Russian revolution, and then some more in 1991, at end of the Soviet era, while what happens in 2012 remains to be seen; the second one is asking, “Chaos, again?”.)

It did not take long for the answers to appear – but, just like the initial “Who? Who?” question, they left Vladivostok's residents puzzled and confused: big banners appeared all over the city, featuring, among others, Sponge Bob [ru], Avatar's Toruk Makto [ru], Michael Jackson and Mr. Bean [ru], and the Coat-Clad Horse from a popular Russian slang rhyme.

Somewhat later, bloggers caught these ads with the same characters on, a local weather portal:

Who? Who? Answers: Sponge Bob, Horse in a Coat (rhymes in Russian), Turuk Manto (character from Avatar) screen shots taken from

Who? Who? Answers: Sponge Bob, Horse in a Coat (rhymes in Russian), Turuk Manto (character from Avatar) screen shots taken from

LJ user alexhitrov's solution to this puzzle [ru] is the one that the local online community seems to favor the most. He pointed out that the ads had a checked box with a number next to each of the characters mentioned above – and he also supplied a screenshot of a TV news program that showed a sample voting ballot for the upcoming election:

Each presidential candidate [on the sample voting ballot] is represented by one of the characters [in the mysterious ads] and, of course, there's a corresponding number on the ballot.

According to alexhitrov, Toruk Makto represents Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party; Sponge Bob is Sergey Mironov, the leader of the Just Russia party; and Vladimir Putin, #5, has to be the proverbial Horse in the Coat.

LJ user vladimir_golev wrote this [ru], referring to the cartoon character rather than the political candidate that Sponge Bob seems to represent in this context:

I'd vote for Sponge Bob. Sponge Bob is about stability, above all.

Russia will learn the name of its next head of state relatively soon. Vladivostok residents will probably also get to discover the meaning of the mysterious ad campaign, its punchline.

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011/12.

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