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The blogger vs. the Chechen ruler The Internet waits with bated breath to see if a Ramzan Kadyrov parody prompts another forced public apology

Meduza
Danila Poperechny portraying Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov
Danila Poperechny portraying Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov
Danila Poperechny / YouTube

On January 14, video-blogger Danila Poperechny shared a short clip titled “Chief Assistant,” where he parodies news from late December that Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov had accepted a role as “chief of good behavior” for Grandfather Frost (the Russian version of Santa Claus). Many of the blogger’s followers immediately worried that Poperechny would soon be forced to apologize for the stunt, given Kadyrov’s notoriously thin skin when it comes to satire. Dzhambulat Umarov, a minister in the Chechen government, later called Poperechny a “dumb jackass,” but Grozny has yet to demand an apology from the blogger. Poperechny, meanwhile, says he won't be apologizing to anyone.

So what is this video?

On January 14, Danila Poperechny shared the Kadyrov parody with his 1.3 million subscribers on YouTube. In the clip, titled “Chief Assistant,” he portrays Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. The video begins with a warning about its humorous content, cautioning viewers that it’s not intended to offend anyone’s feelings or incite any hatred.”

In the video, the Kadyrov character arrives at Grandfather Frost’s home and announces that he would like to “become business partners.” Kadyrov then clarifies that he “gave his first gift at the age of 16” — an unsubtle reference to a 2006 report by Yulia Latynina that the Chechen leader once said he was just a teen when he “killed his first Russian” (Kadyrov denies Latynina’s claims).

The rest of the skit is modeled on a typical gangster shakedown from Russia in the 1990s, where Poperechny’s Kadyrov offers “protection” to Grandfather Frost, who says he doesn’t need any partners or assistants. Kadyrov persists, however, insisting that he be named “chief of good behavior,” in exchange for which he promises to guard against “hooligans.” In the end, when Grandfather Frost agrees to Kadyrov’s terms, the Chechen leader also asks to receive regular “gift bags” packed with guns and cash.

As a token of his gratitude, Poperechny’s Kadyrov promises to build a Black Star Burger restaurant outside Grandfather Frost’s home, referring to the fast food chain owned by the rapper Timati, who is real-life close friends with Kadyrov. (In September 2017, a Black Star Burger opened in Grozny.)

Hearing this promise, Snegurochka (Grandfather Frost’s granddaughter) says, “Fuck, anything but Timati,” as she takes Kadyrov’s pistol and point it at her own head. Off camera, the audience then hears a gunshot.

Reactions to the video

In three days, “Chief Assistant” has drawn more than 1.4 million views and roughly 12,000 comments, more than a thousand of which speculate that Poperechny will be forced to apologize for his unflattering Kadyrov parody. Some even suggested that Poperechny could face reprisal attacks, writing things like: “He was a decent blogger. It’s too bad this will be his last video.”

It’s true that individuals are frequently forced to apologize publicly to Ramzan Kadyrov. Since 2015, the Chechen state television network Grozny has even taken to broadcasting these apologies as a kind of regular news segment, where people make excuses for having bad-mouthed the local government and ask forgiveness from the authorities for even minor public criticisms.

In 2016, the public-apology phenomenon broke the bounds of Chechnya, first reaching Krasnoyarsk city councilman Konstantin Senchenko, who was forced to ask for Kadyrov’s forgiveness after he called him “a national disgrace,” following the Chechen leader’s disparaging remarks about Russia’s anti-Putin opposition. Later that year, in November, the rapper Vyacheslav Mashnov (known as “Gnoinyi” and “Slava KPSS”) apologized for mocking a bridge in St. Petersburg named after Ramzan Kadyrov’s late father, Akhmad. More recently, in late 2017, Comedy Club general director Andrey Levin apologized to the Ingush people for a skit that featured an Ingush woman working as an escort.

In November 2016, the comedian Mikhail Galustyan impersonated Ramzan Kadyrov on national television at a comedy festival attended by Vladimir Putin. After initial concerns that Kadyrov might react angrily to the parody, the Chechen leader revealed that he'd actually helped Galustyan prepare for the role, sharing videos on social media showing him carrying around the comedian at his home, laughing at how small he is.

Speaking to the radio station Govorit Moskva, Dzhambulat Umarov, a minister in the Chechen government, called Poperechny’s performance “terrible” and “unprofessionally slapped together.” Umarov said the parody lacked “the slightest art” or satire.

“Either he’s a brainless clown who thought he was doing something very witty and ended up with a load in his pants, or he’s a dumb jackass whose deliberate, sad attempts at self-expression were meant to add him to the ranks of those who have supposedly been forced to apologize to you-know-whom,” Umarov said, adding that he doubts Ramzan Kadyrov will even notice Poperechny’s parody.

The blogger's response

Danila Poperechny says “Chief Assistant” is a work of satire intended to “advance the freedom of speech in an area where for some reason everyone is afraid even to make a peep.”

“You can’t imagine how annoying it’s been for me that such a toothless parody of Kadyrov has provoked so much panic among people,” Poperechny wrote on his Telegram channel.

Addressing Minister Umarov’s comments, Poperechny wrote: “Can you believe it? He didn’t see any artistic or satirical value in the video. Of course, Dzhambulat, you won’t see it from your ministerial post in the Chechen government, sitting there and comparing me to a jackass. But it becomes clearer the farther you get from your seat.”

Text by Sasha Sulim, translation by Kevin Rothrock