As Putin seeks to extend his power in perpetuity, Sarah Hurst reports on how a comedian is forced to flee the country for mocking the Russian President.
Stand-up comedian Alexander Dolgopolov, 25, has fled Russia after police presented a formal request for information about him to the HopHead Tap Room in St. Petersburg, where he made jokes about Vladimir Putin during a performance.
The police document referred to a YouTube video posted in April last year that now has nearly 3 million views – many probably due to the publicity from the case. The official reason for the investigation was that Dolgopolov might have violated the law on “offending the feelings of believers”.
Although Dolgopolov did open his set by ridiculing his own experiences with Christianity, talking about losing his cross and being told by his mother that he would be cursed with it by gypsies if he didn’t find it, his comments about Putin were probably the most sensitive ones.
“After the election I realised that you can divide people into two groups: those who are for Putin, and those who can read, write and draw logical conclusions,” he said.
“I notice that people get tense when I start talking about politics in my show, they’re going, Sasha, we wanted to go home after this,” Dolgopolov continued. He said that he couldn’t be like the Soviet satirists who used to convey their criticism of the government “so subtly and delicately” just by raising an eyebrow or talking about animals meeting in the forest.
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Dolgopolov then described a visit to Belarus, where he discovered that they have their own president, Alexander Lukashenko, so decided just to replace Putin in his jokes with Lukashenko. But it didn’t really work because no one knew what he was talking about when he said, “Lukashenko, stop making war on Ukraine!” Dolgopolov quipped.
Before leaving Russia Dolgopolov told Radio Svoboda: “If more people stayed and fought for freedom in Russia it would be much easier for us to live. But I don’t think it’s worth blaming people who leave.”
On the topic of religion Dolgopolov said it was unfair that believers could complain about being insulted and put someone behind bars, while he as an atheist didn’t have the same right if fundamentalists offended him.
“I joke about symbols, about what’s important to people who consider themselves Christians but actually aren’t. Because Christians are people whose lives are based on love. The lives of these people are completely based on hate. It’s the hate they hide behind these symbols that we need to fight,” he explained.
Dolgopolov reportedly went to Israel, coincidentally at the same time as Putin’s trip there to participate in a controversial Holocaust memorial event that Poland withdrew from because of a dispute with Russia over the events of World War II.
Meanwhile, in Moscow the Duma unanimously approved Putin’s proposed changes to the Russian constitution in their first reading. After abruptly replacing the prime minister and other cabinet members and rushing his plans through parliament Putin looks set to stay in power after 2024, which is no joke.