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"Like Putin!"


During the period of the greatest freedom in the early 1990s, political jokes essentially vanished in Russia. The very reason for their existence disappeared. It was no longer necessary to whisper together in the kitchen if people could go out onto the street and shout whatever they felt like. Therefore, it is possible to argue that the number of jokes about one or another leader is an indicator of the degree of freedom under them.

In this regard, it is interesting to note that political jokes under Vladimir Putin (2000 - 2008) once again gained popularity, as a coping mechanism or a primary part of the Russian consciousness. Initially, jokes focused on Putin's victory in the 2000 election. According to one:

  The Americans sought help from the chairman of the Russian Central Electoral Commission Aleksandr Veshnyakov when they could not determine a winner between US presidential candidates Bush and Gore. After conducting a thorough study, Veshnyakov declared Putin the winner.

Jokes about Putin reached a peak when he launched a crackdown on NTV television channel in 2001, which in and of itself was symptomatic. These jokes can be divided into three main groups: Putin's past (Petersburg and the KGB), Putin-style freedom and democracy, and Putin the person.

Putin's KGB background is alluded to in the following joke:

Have you heard, Putin ordered the government to stop the inflation. 
Well, not exactly, he ordered to have it held back...and jailed.
(It is a pun: Russian zadierzhat means both to hold back and to detain.)

Putin's perceived hard-line approach is the theme of this joke:

Stalin's ghost appears to Putin in a dream, and Putin asks for his help running the country. Stalin says,
"Round up and shoot all the democrats, and then paint the inside of the Kremlin blue."
"Why blue?" Putin asks.
"Ha!" says Stalin. "I knew you wouldn't ask me about the first part."

Perhaps, the most interesting category is the jokes about Putin the person. In almost every respect, he could not be more different from his Soviet and post-Soviet (Yeltsin) predecessors. His youthfulness, physical health, and energy were in stark contrast to the aging and ailing leaders, such as Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, or Yeltsin.

Putin cultivated an image of machismo and manliness, cool and collected leader. Well-known as a downhill skier and black belt in judo, he appeared on national television driving a truck, operating a train, sailing on a submarine and copiloting a fighter jet.

For this reason, if jokes about Brezhnev or Yeltsin were mainly making fun of their senility, Putin is generally the positive hero of the jokes about him. He is always in control, always on cue. He dresses well, speaks well and drinks in moderation. Russians like their leaders powerful and in control. And Putin is just this kind of leader.  

While his popularity is certainly tied to his image leading to everything from Putinka brand vodka to the girl-band pop song "Like Putin" (whose singers look for a man who is "like Putin/full of strength/like Putin/who wont drink) Putins image is, in turn, mirrored by his era, an era in which Russia is getting stronger, reasserting itself internationally, becoming more stable at home and growing economically.

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