Friday, August 31, 2012
Half a month ago, after weeks of tensions caused by the adoption of the controversial Language Law and in the midst of an intense pre-election mudslinging period, Ukrainians were finally rewarded with the much-needed comic relief - which they promptly transformed into an online political protest movement of sorts, whose messages were funny and silly, but also irreverent and straightforward: a true vox populi - as well as a decent reference source - on the current political situation and voters' attitudes in Ukraine.
On August 12, Ukrainian users of Facebook and other social media started sharing photos of a humorous political ad that had appeared on one of the billboards in the industrial town of Dniprodzerzhynsk. Soon afterwards came an online avalanche of the ad's spin-offs (see image collections here, here and here [en, uk, ru]).
The Cat Ad (the image is available for free download and sharing at dndz.com.ua)
The ad, which unnerved the local authorities quite a bit, featured a smiling elderly woman, a cute cat, and this text (written in what is known as Surzhyk in Ukraine):
I learned that my grandson voted for [the ruling Party of Regions], so I re-wrote my will to give my house to the cat.
From reports on the Dneprodzerzhinsk Online news portal, which broke the story [ru], and other media outlets, it soon emerged that the man who had placed the Cat Ad was Maksim Golosnoy [ru, uk], a 30-year-old former head of the village council of Yelizavetovka in Dnipropetrovsk region. Golosnoy is running for parliament in the Oct. 28 elections, but there is also a criminal investigation launched against him over allegations of theft of public funds [ru]. The police put him on the wanted list on July 27, but on his website [ru, uk], Golosnoy claimed that he had not been subpoenaed and thus was not hiding - until very recently, that is, when he realized that he might be detained. He considers the charges against him politically motivated.
Golosnoy was a member of the Party of Regions from 2004 to 2011. This year, he was approached by Vitaly Klitschko's UDAR Party representatives as a potential candidate, but eventually decided to run through self-nomination and not on any of the party lists. During his talk with UDAR [ru], he described his political self this way:
Yes - I'm not a Jew, yes - I'm not a millionaire, yes - I come from the common folk, yes - I want to change life for the better!
The story of the ad's elderly woman and the cat turned out to be almost as twisted as Golosnoy's story, although there is no politics in it whatsoever.
The elderly woman's photo was taken [ru] by Lyudmila Dmitrieva [ru] in 2010, in Russia's Kenozero region, near the border of Arkhangelsk Oblast and Karelia. Komsomolskaya Pravda later identified her as Anna Ivanovna Tretyakova, born in 1928 (a brief video interview with her is here [ru]). Anna Ivanovna is catless and has no ties to Ukraine.
The cat featured on the ad turned out to be American: Komsomolskaya Pravda found [ru] its owner and the photo's author, Michael Pettigrew, a U.S.-based photographer. The cat's name is Qtip, and it is 10 years old. In the original image, available via Shutterstock.com, it appears together with Skippy the dog, a fellow "pet super model".
Golosnoy's political background and ambitions, Anna Ivanovna's identity, or the cat's whereabouts all seem to be of little significance, however, now that the Cat Ad has got a life of its own, with numerous photoshopped adaptations targetting Ukraine's upper-echelon politicians being shared and discussed online.
"Under our leadership, even cats have acquired apartments," reads one of the remakes [ru], mocking the ruling party's pre-election tendency to take credit for the mostly imaginary "improvements" in the quality of life of ordinary Ukrainians.
"Affordable Housing Program is gaining momentum," reads another one [ru].
"Bequeath the country to me," purrs [uk, ru] from his doctored campaign ad the bewhiskered Viktor Medvedchuk, who used to head Leonid Kuchma's presidential administration and is now hoping to re-enter the political scene in October.
"I learned that the [old woman] voted for the Communists, so I sent her off to the vet clinic," declares [uk] the cat from yet another one of the remakes of the original ad.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov gets his share of parody thanks to his son, Oleksiy Azarov, who is running for parliament in the Oct. 28 elections, despite reports alleging that he resided [uk, de] and earned nearly 1 million Euros [ru] in Austria.
"I learned that my son is planning to become an MP - so I recommended that he put the cat on the ballot as well," says the Cat Ad's Anna Ivanovna with PM Azarov's face (in a language that's neither Ukrainian, nor Russian, but is rather close to the tongue spoken by PM Azarov when he's trying to speak Ukrainian, which he does not know well).
President Viktor Yanukovych features prominently in the Cat Ad takeoffs.
One uses a screenshot from Heart of a Dog, a popular 1988 Soviet film based on Mikhail Bulgakov's novel: "I hate cats," thinks Poligraph Poligraphovich Sharikov, the famous cat-hating Heart of a Dog character, the actor's face replaced with that of Yanukovych, the original Cat Ad right next to him.
For years, Yanukovych has been an inexhaustible source of inspiration for political parody fans. In 2004, during his failed attempt to get elected as the President of Ukraine, he became known as the "Proffesor" due to a spelling mistake [uk] that he had made on his official bio form. Back then, he was also being mocked for his overly dramatic reaction [ru, video] to an egg thrown at him by a protester in the city of Ivano-Frankivsk. Some of his most memorable gaffes include the 2007 re-naming [ru, video] of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova into "Anna Akhmetova," a namesake of his political ally, billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, and the 2010 mention [ru, video] of the Russian writer Anton Chekhov as "the wonderful, famous poet," Ukrainian and Russian. Also in 2010, Yanukovych was hit by a wreath [en, video] at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Kyiv, an incident that produced this parody [ru, video], among others.
This month, the Cat has taken credit for the Wreath Attack on Ukraine's President - in this photo collage by Andriy Balan (@Andriy7MU).
The Cat Ad spin-off epidemic coincided with the end of the Pussy Riot trial in Russia.
"I learned that pussy means 'cat' - so I've knitted a [balaclava] for my cat," says Anna Ivanovna in one of the remakes, her cat clad in a Pussy Riot-style pink ski mask, which is quickly becoming a symbol of protest in Russia.
A mock "wanted" poster announced [ru] a hunt for "the particularly dangerous gang ‘Babussy Cat’” ('babusya' is a tender way of calling one's grandmother, in Ukrainian and Russian).
Policy analyst Dmytro Potekhin summed it all up [en] on his Facebook page:
Pussy Cat Riot in Ukraine.