laughing at The Great Pu


In Russia, poetry can make things happen. In February 2011—two months after the handsome young lawyer Alexei Navalny launched his game-changing anti-corruption website,—a writer, an actor and a theatre producer teamed up on a different kind of internet project, which they called Citizen Poet. Every week, Dmitri Bykov weaves a verse pastiche of a well-known poet out of some event in politics, which Mikhail Yefremov—a prodigious mimic with wickedly twinkling eyes—then delivers in fancy dress. Citizen Poet was an immediate cultural sensation. The first clip was about the farcical second show-trial of Putin’s enemy, the former Yukos oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The second was a parody of the Romantic poet Mikhail Lermontov, in which “Vova” (Vladimir Putin) talked to “Dima” (Dmitri Medvedev) about the terrifying possibility of an Arab Spring in Moscow: “We are not in Tunis, not in Cairo/ We are in Russia, like mice in cheese/ and the Arab variant is not for Russia.” In August, after Putin was filmed in diving gear, retrieving two 6th-century BC amphorae from the Black Sea bed, Yefremov, reciting a parody of a poem by Osip Mandelstam, pulled a mini amphora out of a fishtank. Was it coincidence that the Kremlin press spokesman conceded soon afterwards that Putin’s archaeological diving feat had been staged? Citizen Poet made it fashionable to laugh at Putin and Medvedev. The Moscow elite paid high prices to watch Bykov and Yefremov perform in theatres and clubs. While notching up millions of online hits as new clips appeared without fail every Monday morning, Citizen Poet toured the cities of Russia.

more from Rachel Polonsky at Prospect Magazine here.