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Barack Obama and Russia's Puppet Assassin

Obama's bad "puppet luck." Images edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Obama's bad “puppet luck.” Images edited by Kevin Rothrock.

First they planned to kill him onstage. Now they’ve arranged to burn him in effigy. However you slice it, US President Barack Obama is having a rough go this month in Russia’s Altai Republic, where local organizers of the Maslenitsa festival keep finding ways to murder him for children’s entertainment.

Obama’s problems started on January 30, when Aleksey Golovin, director of a local cultural center and the frontman for a folk music group, and his bandmate Evgeny Golovin announced in a radio interview (audio here) that this year’s Maslenitsa festival (set to begin on February 16) will feature an “anti-sanctions” puppet show, complete with a public execution of a Barack Obama doll.

Unintentionally or not, Golovin’s plan provoked strongly negative reactions in the Russian media, leading him to cancel the performance. In comments to Echo of Moscow radio station, Golovin said he backed down because of the resulting media frenzy.

On February 3, however, Altai’s Maslenitsa show returned to news headlines, following revelations that the festival will now include a burning of Obama in effigy. Making the story evermore ludicrous for many social media users, Altai Governor Alexander Karlin defended the plan to burn an Obama doll, telling reporters:

Всегда на Масленицу жители весело сжигали чучела зимы, и она на нас за это никогда не обижалась. Никто никогда здесь не усматривал политической подоплеки. Я бы не создавал из заявления организаторов, что они намерены сжечь чучело конкретного человека или поставить спектакль, фактора большой политики или нашей агрессивности. Это наша народная реакция. Может быть, кому-то она покажется жесткой, но на самом деле она доброжелательная.

Our people have always had fun burning winter effigies, and winter’s never taken any offense. No one has ever sensed any political subtext in this. I wouldn't make the organizer's statement—that they intend to burn an effigy of a specific person or put on a performance—into evidence of big political aims or any wider aggressiveness. This is just the people responding [to current events]. Maybe it seems hostile to some, but it’s really all quite friendly.

Russian social media users met with suspicion Karlin’s claim that a plan to burn the US President in effigy “lacks any political context.” When the Governor’s comments were first reported, many online simply retweeted summaries of his statement, highlighting its apparent absurdity, without adding additional commentary.

Writing on February 2, in the wake of the canceled Obama puppet show, Altai blogger Yury Krasilnikov expressed his anger that organizers bowed to “Russophobic” pressure to cut the Obama skit. According to Krasilnikov, Golovin’s group didn’t plan to murder Obama in its play; he would only be beaten with a stick and banished.

Evgeny Golovin's folk music group, “Canarybird.” Photo by Yury Krasilnikov, LiveJournal.

Petrushka, a stock character of Russian folk puppetry, was supposed to mete out this punishment. Krasilnikov explains that Petrushka traditionally appears in children’s parables, both as the recipient and giver of justice. In the final act of his plays, Petrushka typically appeals to the audience, asking “What should we do with him?” at which point viewers yell back “banish him!” or, in other circumstances, “let him apologize and make amends!”

With this in mind, Krasilnikov offers the following advice to those in the media whose frenzy supposedly stifled Golovin’s performance:

Я бы посоветовал тем читателям и журналистам, кто хочет спасти Обаму, прийти на представление и требовать там «понять и простить», а потом написать в своих СМИ и блогах то, что вы видели своими глазами.

I’d advise all the readers and journalists who want to save Obama to come to the show, where they can call on [Petrushka] to “understand and forgive” him. And then they can write in their newspapers and blogs about what they actually saw with their own eyes.

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