There has been a lot of pundit talk on the Russian election (or, more accurate, “election”), including my own coming up in Reason Online. For now, one of the best commentaries on the subject is this video, called “Dmitry Medvedev: How It All Began,” made by some Russian college students for a comedy festival and posted on YouTube. (It is a testament to the complexity of semi-authoritarian Russia in 2008 that this clip was also hosted on the website of the pro-government Izvestia a few days after election.)
The clip is from the 1971 Soviet comedy Kidnapping, Caucasian Style, in which Shurik, a nerdy Russian college student traveling in the Caucasus and researching folklore and local customs, is tricked into participating in the kidnapping of a young woman by being told that he’ll be taking part in a ritual and consensual bride abduction. In the clip, “Shurik” becomes Medvedev, while the movie’s three buffoonish kidnappers (1970s’ Soviet comedy’s “Three Stooges” Vitsyn, Morgunov and Nikulin) become the three “play candidates”: the fascistic nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the communist Gennady Zyuganov, and the completely unknown “democrat” Andrei Bogdanov, widely viewed as a Kremlin puppet.
Unfortunately, YouTube clips do not easily lend themselves to editing, so my attempts to add English subtitles failed. I’m posting the video with a translation underneath, with some of the lines time-stamped to make the dialog easier to follow.
0:05: Messenger: Mr. Medvedev?
“Medvedev”: Yes, good evening.
0:18: Messenger: I have some great news for you. You said you wanted to see some ancient local rituals?
0:23: “Medvedev”: Of course, of course! It’s my dream.
0:26: Messenger: We’re going to have one in March.
0:28: Messenger: And you’ll have a chance not only to see it, but to participate.
0:31: “Medvedev”: Well, I appreciate that tremendously. What’s it called, this ritual?
Messenger: A presidential election.
0:42: “Medvedev”: Election?
0:43: Messenger: Oh, not to worry. The people want this election. The government approves too. Of course we could do it the way they do in Belarus, but custom demands that the president be elected.
0:52: “Medvedev”: Elected? Wow. That is a beautiful custom all right. Well, what’s my role?
1:00: Messenger: Collect signatures…
Messenger: Get nominated as a candidate…
“Medvedev”: Nominated? That’s part of the ritual too? Brilliant! Well, well — go on!
1:10: Messenger: And then the people will elect – whom?
“Medvedev”: Putin, of course. As always.
1:14: Messenger: No, no. They’ll elect YOU. From among the other candidates.
“Medvedev”: Oh, you mean there are other candidates?
1:20: Messenger: Yes, that’s what custom requires. Speaking of which – here they are now. I’ll introduce you.
“Medvedev”: My pleasure.
1:26: Messenger: Left to right: Zhirinovsky, Zyuganov and what’s-his-name, I keep forgetting – aha, got it — Bogdanov. Get acquainted.
1:39: “Medvedev”: Hi! I’m Dmitry. – Dima. – Dima.
“Bogdanov” [squeals]: Ouch! I’m nobody! I’m nothing!
“Medvedev”: Oh, sorry. Take a seat.
1:59: Messenger: They don’t have the slightest chance of winning. But don’t worry, they know what’s going on.
2:07: “Zyuganov”: Democrats! Scum!
“Medvedev”: What did he say?
Messenger: Oh, he says it all the time. Don’t pay any attention.
2:20: “Medvedev”: Oh, I get it – he’s a little nuts. [mumbles] The damn commie.
2:25: “Zhirinovsky”: Let’s blast — America!
“Medvedev”: What did he say?
Messenger: He said that if you don’t run, he’ll become president. It’s a joke.
2:39: “Zhirinovsky”: Joke.
“Medvedev”: Ah – a joke. Very well. I agree.
Messenger: Excellent. The United Russia Party will be pleased.
2:49: “Medvedev”: By the way, who’s going to be Prime Minister?
Messenger: Putin. Vladimir Putin.
2:56: “Medvedev”: But – I thought Putin was leaving?
Messenger: He just loves to be in the driver’s seat.
3:08: “Medvedev”: Oh! I completely forgot. I’m busy in March. I’m sorry, but — I can’t do it. I just can’t.
3:22: Messenger: Mr. Medvedev. Here’s the most important thing. Putin said that he really wants you and no one else to do it.
3:34: “Medvedev”: Putin told you that himself?
Messenger: Yes, he was very insistent.
3:45: “Medvedev”: All right then. Tell Putin I agree. Good-bye.
3:54: Messenger: But keep in mind – custom requires that everything must look real. Supposedly, no one knows it’s a ritual. You rivals are going to fight back. They’ll kick and scream — maybe even bite. They’ll call fo4 monitors, they’ll shout, “I’ll complain to the U.N.!” But pay no attention. it’s all just a beautiful ancient ritual.
4:11: “Medvedev”: I understand. Don’t worry – everything is going to look real. Until the election.
Messenger: Until the election.