In the United States, Barack Obama celebrated his 53rd birthday yesterday. In Moscow, an anonymous group of young people climbed atop the U.S. embassy and hung a banner mocking the American President. The sign, pictured above, read, “I see nothing, I hear nothing, and I speak the truth to no one,” featuring three caricatures of Obama, likening him to the “three wise monkeys” of the Japanese proverb.
Photographs of the Obama sign amused many in Russia, where Washington's support for the new government in Kyiv has made the United States more unpopular than ever. The online conversation seems to have changed when your humble RuNet Echo editor started a debate about whether the banner was in fact a racist attack on the first African-American U.S. President. Indeed, Russian Twitter users are no strangers to jokes comparing President Obama to monkeys, such as Duma deputy Irina Rodnina's infamous retweet of a doctored photo of the Obamas looking hungrily at a banana.
Tweets about the banner being racist attracted reposts from dozens of people, including the Guardian's Shaun Walker, the Carnegie Endowment's Andrew Weiss, and even Estonian President Toomas Ilves. Dozens more, usually writing from Russia, contested the idea that the sign is racist, arguing that jokes about the “three wise monkeys” are common in political satire.