Choose or Lose: The Best Campaign Videos in Russian Politics

Editorial note: the following resource first appeared in Russian in Bolshoi Gorod, an independent, Moscow-based Russian-language newspaper that provides considerable coverage of political issues, social issues, and daily life in Russia and especially Moscow. It was authored in the original Russian by Olga Churakova. We highly recommend that students view the original story, available online. Below the introductory text has been translated and the videos, in the original Russian, made available. Translation was provided by Caroline Barrow with editorial Support by Molly Godwin-Jones. Videos from the 2013 mayoral race in Moscow have been added below as well.

In the campaign for mayor of Moscow, candidate Sergei Sobyanin tempts voters with new metro stations in a video, Alexei Navalny groans about illegal immigrants and “the Bolotnaya Square Affair” and Nikolai Levichev promises to provide Muscovites with affordable housing. We dipped into the YouTube archives and found the most controversial campaign videos from the 1990s and 2000s.

1995

Ivan Ribkin’s Justice Block

In the 1995 state Duma election, Ivan Ribkin’s left-center block won 1.39% of the vote, which did not surpass the 5% threshold. But, on the plus side, he did create a video with two cows philosophizing on justice.

Viktor Chernomirdin’s Our Home is Russia”

Chernomirdin made two remarkable videos: the first plays a patriotic song while showing fierce fights in the Duma (at one instance, a swastika is even shown on someone’s notebook). The second video was done by a national star, film director Nikita Mikhailov. While the slogan “We are able to work” is written on the screen, viewers see a director who is able to film, a general who is able to wage war, and a premier who is able to rule. In the second convocation of the 1996 Duma elections, the party earned 10.13% of the vote and won 45 seats.

Boris Nemstov and The Limericks

In Nizhny Novogorod’s December 1995 election, Boris Nemstov was elected governor, receiving 58.9% of the vote. This video was practically superfluous, since many were already sure Nemstov would win, but it should be noted for its bold direction and the text of the couplets (there are more than 80 verses, for this video we chose 5 of the best).

I am from Boris’ curls,
Pulling out my white hair,
To get my pension,
He went to Chernomyrdin!

He doesn’t want the career
Of president or premier!
He wants to convert our region
From Nizhny Novogord to heaven!

Yabloko and Newton

Yabloko (the name translates as “apple”) took a creative approach to the political process in the 1995 State Duma elections. In the video, a pensive Newton is sitting under a tree when an apple suddenly falls on his head: Choose, before something else falls on your head! In the end, Yabloko received 6.89% of the vote in the second convocation of the Duma elections.

1996 

Boris Yeltsin’s Presidential Campaign “Vote or Lose” 

In 1996, all the country’s creative minds joined forces to rescue Yeltsin—they needed to improve the unpopular president’s 3% rating and keep him in office for another term, at any price. By this time, the video’s viewers were very tired of him, so he wasn’t shown any more than he had to be. The video “Believe, Love, Hope” featured old family photos played with to romantic music in the background, and Yeltsin’s nostalgic story: “Well, I was a bit of a hooligan, and I loved sports.” It turned out sincere enough.

One more masterpiece by Boris Yelstin’s company was the 1996 song “Vote or Lose,” written by Sergei Minaev and perfomed by the group Malchishnik, (which means “Bachelor Party”). In the video, the group performs one of their most popular songs, “Bet on Youth,” while in the background, graffiti artists paint a portrait of Yeltsin on a building. This idea was taken from Bill Clinton’s election video “Win or Lose” from the 1992 American presidential election. In total, Yeltsin’s rating rose from 3% in the beginning to a 53% victory at the end of his campaign.

Martin Shackym and the Jammed Truck 

Shakkum understood the usefulness of trolling: in his video, Yeltsin, Zhirinovskii (of the nationalist LDPR party) and other presidential candidates are staring at a truck full of men, who are stuck in an open field (or really more of a muddy puddle). Everyone has their own opinion on how to help, when Shakum appears on the screen in a white car. In the end, Shakum finished eighth in the presidential election.

Grigory Yavlinkski’s Musical 

In the first round of the 1996 presidential elections, Yavlinksi received fourth place, earning 7.35% of the vote. It seems he jammed everything he could find into his eight-minute agitational clip: “Come on, lads, for Yavlinski one, two.” Acrobatic performances from businessmen, crazy computer graphics, simple drivers, housewives, and fashionable youth all come together “for Grigory” in this video. “Didn’t you hear?”

In 2000, Yavlinski also appeared in the campaign: in one of the videos, two prisoners in a prison yard argue that “we should’ve voted for that economist.” At that time, Yavlinski took third place, receiving 5.8% of the vote. (Note – the video was part of a series – the full series is below with the prisoners shown at :44.)

2005 

Rozgin’s Election Video “Clear Moscow of Trash” 

The current Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Dimitry Rozgin, who became leader of the Rodina party in 2005, stared in a video together with Major-General Yuri Popov, a candidate in the Moscow City Council. In the video, Rozgin and Popov demand that four Caucasian individuals clean up their watermelon rinds. A classic Russian blonde women walks past them with a baby stroller. Popov asks one of the Caucasians: “Do you understand the Russian language?” At the end, subtitles explicitly say “clear Moscow of trash.” Because of this video, the party was barred from the Duma election and the video was banned on Russian mass media. In Vladimer Pozner’s television program, Rozgin explained that the video had nothing to do with nationalism, but was more about Luzhkov, who was always his political opponent.

2007 

And again the director Nikita Mikhailov… Again he was somewhere on the set, but this time he expressed heartfelt feelings about United Russia (into which Mikhailov’s former party of choice, Our Home is Russia, was merged).

2012 

Vladimir Zhirinovski’s “Or it Will be Worse”

A little donkey and Vladimir Volfovich…the moment when you understand everything without words.

Mikhail Prokhorov and the Bride

Before the presidential election, Prokhorov plays with the theme of brides and rumors of his possible wedding: it’s cute; it looks, if not strange compared to the others, at least lively and interesting. 7.98% of voters believed him, and he ended up in third place.

2013

The following are campaign videos for mayor of Moscow from all the major candidates. What do you think, have they improved?

Sergei Sobyanin (United Russia):

Alexei Navalny:

Nikolai Levichev (Just Russia):

Sergei Mitrokhin (Yabloko):

And also Mikhail Degtyarev (LDPR):

Translation by Caroline Barrow, a graduate of Texas A&M University with a degree in International Studies and Russian. She received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship and will spend the next year teaching English in Kostanay, Kazakhstan. Additionally, she has been named SRAS’s Home and Abroad Translation Scholar for the 2013-2014 cycle.

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