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Moscow's Birthday Card to Barack Obama. Is This Racist?

Categories: Eastern & Central Europe, Russia, U.S.A., Citizen Media, Ethnicity & Race, Freedom of Speech, Humor, International Relations, RuNet Echo
"A banner unveiled across the exterior of the U.S. embassy in Moscow," RuptlyTV, YouTube screen capture. [1]

“A banner unveiled across the exterior of the U.S. embassy in Moscow,” RuptlyTV, YouTube screen capture.

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 [2] 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 [3]” of the Japanese proverb. 

Photographs of the Obama sign amused [4] 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 [5] about whether the banner was in fact a racist attack [6] 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 [7] 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 [8], the Carnegie Endowment's Andrew Weiss [9], and even Estonian President Toomas Ilves [10]. Dozens more, usually writing from Russia, contested the idea that the sign is racist, arguing that jokes about the “three wise monkeys” are common [11] in political satire.