While Russia has lived under President Vladimir Putin’s rule for over two decades and his cult of personality seems solidly entrenched, ordinary Russians continue to respond with trademark dark humour and a keen sense of irony. One video, which has captivated the RuNet, is a perfect example.
In early February 2019, Russian blogger Bashir Dokhov hung a huge portrait of Putin in the elevator of a Moscow apartment block. He then installed a camera to record the reactions of stunned residents.
For those who speak Russian, here is the original and full-length video, uploaded to the GrannyBlog YouTube channel on February 5. The video had over two million views at the time of this article's publication:
For those who need English, here is an abridged and subtitled version:
A Russian prankster glued a massive portrait of President Vladimir Putin to the inside of a residential elevator. He then placed a camera in the elevator to record people’s reactions. pic.twitter.com/dahMN83SvX
— The Moscow Times (@MoscowTimes) February 10, 2020
The comments under the YouTube video are overwhelmingly supportive of the blogger's idea and his obvious criticism of Putin. One netizen writes:
Гениально!!! Лучший социологический опрос из всех, которые я знаю! И, похоже, самый честный!
Genius work!!! The best sociological survey from all those I know! And, it seems, the most honest!
Dokhov said in an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 10 February that he didn't specially select responses which are particularly critical of Putin, but said that there were many who simply didn't respond, “or just didn't say anything but took a selfie.” Women laugh and children stare. Many men stand with their back to the president, mutter obscenities to themselves, related to the Russian language's wealth of profane language called mat’, which is widely used but legally banned in Russia from public performances. A memorable reaction comes from a middle-aged woman who points at Putin's eyes and says “I know what's going on; there are cameras here. We're being watched!”
Since the video shot to public attention, rumours also surfaced on Twitter that Dokhov had been arrested for “disrespecting the authorities.” In an interview for the BBC's Russian service on 10 February, the blogger confirmed that these rumours were false. Nevertheless, the ease with which they were accepted is itself an interesting insight into public attitudes towards the country's controversial law against such “disrespect.”
In the same interview, Dokhov was asked everybody's burning question: how did he come up with his bizarre idea? His response was as follows:
Мне много этот вопрос задают, но на самом деле очень сложно ответить, как приходят какие-то такие идеи, они довольно спонтанные. У меня вопрос к себе был, как сделать такой социологический опрос, который исключит этот фактор, когда к тебе подходят и такие: Левада-центр, Говорите! Естественно, у людей сразу есть некоторый блок. И мне было интересно, как сделать так, чтобы реакция была искренняя.
Лифт я добавил, потому что хотел довести это до абсурда. Потому что если бы это просто было в каком-то холле, то люди бы думали: ну, да, ну, живем в такой стране. А лифт – это уже прям абсурд-абсурд. Потому что он [портрет] огромный, он практически на весь лифт, и это уже доведено до какого-то фарса. Люди уже такие: ну, серьезно? Примерно такой ход мысли.
I'm often asked that question, but it's actually very hard to answer how some ideas arrive. They're quite spontaneous. I asked myself the question as to how I would make a sociological survey which would exclude the scenario in which people approach you and say “Levada Centre! Speak!” [a prominent Russian polling organisation — ed.] Naturally, many people immediately suffer from a block. And I was interested in making it so that their reactions were genuine.
I added the elevator because I wanted to escalate things to absurdity. Because if it had simply been in some hallway, people would have thought “well, sure, that's the kind of country we live in.” But an elevator really is completely absurd. Because it's such an immense [portrait], it practically occupies the entire elevator, it's just become some complete farce. People already go: “what, for real?” It was roughly that train of thought.
— Bashir Dokhov in conversation with BBC Russian, February 10, 2020