The Belarusian “Intercepted Spy Call” Hoax is Making Dictator Lukashenko an Even Bigger Joke: WATCH IN ENGLISH

Following the events in Belarus over August and now into September 2020 has been a shocking and awe-inspiring experience. “Shocking” because of the deadly, unlawful protester suppression measures taken by Belarus’ first and only President Alexander Lukashenko when the overwhelming majority of the nation took issue with him hijacking the presidency for the sixth term in a row. “Awe-inspiring” because the Belarusian people are continuously showing the world new levels of fearlessness, resilience, unity and peacefulness in the face of draconian silencing and violent repressions.

Though it’s been nothing but indignation-provoking bad news from Belarus, the latest propaganda stunt by the besieged dictator and his cabinet is so transparently a hoax that it had me belly-LOL-ing at my screen as if it were a comedy sketch.

I am referring to the minute-long “spy conversation” audio released to the Belarusian public, purporting to expose European conspiring against Russia by falsifying information about Alexei Navalny’s poisoning case.

On Septermber 4th, 2020, one day after Lukashenko brought up this “intercepted call” in a televised conversation, the Belarusian state-owned ONT TV Channel ran a story “debunking” Navalny’s poisoning and offering the audio recording as proof of intelligence tampering. The muffled audio is originally carried out in heavily-accented English, drowned out by Russian dubbing. We get to listen in on a dialogue between a “Nik” in Berlin, Germany and a “Mike” in Warsaw, Poland – alluding to their plan of feeding the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office false intelligence about the Alexei Navalny’s poisoning case – as a means of sticking it to Putin.

The context: on August 20th, the prominent Russian presidential hopeful and longtime Putin opposition activist Alexei Navalny succumbed to a sudden painful illness and lost consciousness on a Moscow-bound airplane after having been served tea at the Omsk airport. In a lucky turn that quite possibly saved his life, Navalny’ aircraft was rerouted to the city of Tomsk instead of the nation’s capital. There, he was rushed to a hospital, though it quickly became obvious that the medical staff was instructed to keep everyone in the dark about the politician’s condition.

Somehow, after several days of international attention, concern and outrage, Navalny was released from the Tomsk hospital and allowed to be flown to the Charité university hospital in Berlin, Germany. He remains there to this day, in a coma, though his condition is reportedly stabilizing (hang in there, Alexei!!!) After a thorough examination of the patient, the German medics concluded and announced that Navalny was, indeed, poisoned, and that the substance he ingested through the tea was the chemical agent “novichok” infamous for being used on Kremlin critics.

(Trivia bonus: “Novichok” translates from Russian as a diminutive term for someone who is a newcomer. The developers named it so because it was a brand new, extra-aggressive type of a military-grade poisonous substance and playfully calling it a “newbie” was the best they came up with…)

So, where does Belarus’ president-not-elect Lukashenko come in with all of this?

The vampiric autocrat is, no doubt, feeling salty these days, considering that the majority of his nation rejected him in no uncertain terms and with impressive mockery. And on his birthday too! After all he’s done for his country and those ingrates! From the way he has been acting, Lukashenko has clearly crossed over into the phase of his delusion of grandeur where “he doth protest too much” about how “chill” he is about his public image as a dull-witted tyrant.

And so, the sly old ferret known as “Europe’s Last Dictator” must have figured that he can suck up to Russia and do a little PR for himself in one sitting: by contriving an “intercepted” audio that, he would have us believe, shows a German and a Polish agent conspiring to convince the German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Navalny was poisoned – whereas, as Lukashenko wants us to believe, Navalny was not poisoned at all. Not even a teensy-weensy bit. He must be in a coma from a hangover or something.

For the sake of bringing this gem to a larger audience, I have translated the audio into English, so that English speakers can join in rejoicing in this little exchange between Nik and Mike. Caveat: the original conversation is happening in English with heavy German and Slavic accents – but it’s impossible to hear under the Russian dubbing, so I’ve translated it back into English from the Russian transcript. TA-DA:

You really don’t have to be an expert propaganda analyst to see through the arrogant and lazy “script-writing” effort here. In the short minute exchange, the characters manage to quite conspicuously state their intention to interfere with both, Russia and Belarus leadership, while brashly praising Lukashenko along the way for being “a tough nut to crack”.

The blockbuster-action-flick writing is so transparent that it feels like the whole Russian-speaking internet is having a genuinely wholesome laugh about it with almost child-like glee. Russian Twitter is aflutter with memes, puns and scores of alternative versions of the Berlin-Warsaw exchange with analogously absurd “natural” dialogue and “incidental” compliments to Lukashenko.

The modern world is full of tantrum-y dictators and we have gotten used to their formulaic, bombastic and baiting rhetoric of insults and lies being the “new normal” of political, public and media discourse. But then, along comes this little morsel of instant unintentional pop culture! Against the backdrop of insidious misinformation crafted by professional saboteurs bombarding us on the daily, this little Nik & Mike skit is just adorable. It’s not confusing. We don’t feel duped. We are amused, refreshed and almost thankful for this flash of pure fiction in the midst of a reality full of Machiavellian corruption and treason and crushed vocal chords and busted skulls…

So, thank you for the comedy, Belarusian Secret Service, I salute your choice of copywriter. It was either a first-year drama student, one of the actual thug-bureaucrats within the military “organs” or, as I like to imagine it, Mr. Alexander Lukashenko himself – improvising a gripping back-and-forth between secret agents. I can see it now:

Lukashenko: So, one of the spies is German and the other one is Polish, right? OK, so the German will be… ughh… Nik! And the Polish will be… ugghh… Mike!

Underling: Nik? And Mike? Sir??

Lukashenko: Yes, those are classic German and Polish names.

Underling: Are they, though, Sir?

Lukashenko: Why, what’s the problem? We can make the Polish spy Mik, if you want. Yeah, we’ll call them Nik and Mik! Eh??

Underling: Oh… Sir… Mike was great, Mike was perfect! Nik and Mike it is!

Lukashenko: I told you, moron! Alright, so what will make them sound like real people? I know. When Nik says the most sabotaging part of the script, he will start with: “Listen, Mike, there’s a war going on, all measures are good…” German agents are very persuasive. They talk like this.

Underling: Do they, though, Sir?

Lukashenko: You know what? Away to the firing squad with you. [underling is instantly hooded, kicked in a kidney and dragged away]. Wise guy. Now, back to Mike’s response to Nik… What does Mike say? WHAT DOES MIKE SAY?? I know! He says: “I agree.” Oh, man, this is gold!


Russian Elections 2018 Viral Video Analysis: Putin Is Never Named But All Other Candidates Are Clearly “the Wrong One”

My previous post was about a recent controversial Russian election video that went viral and caused quite a stir within the Russian-speaking Internet. The satirical clip implores every citizen to vote, by threatening an alternative future, in which symbols of Western liberalism and Soviet conservatism are collided into the “worst case scenario” that will surely happen if Russians abstain from voting and let the wrong candidate take the presidency. Here is the video again:

After a more thorough re-watching of the video and reading up on the election candidates, the symbols of the “doomed future” are beginning to make more sense to me.

The verdict: it is a pro-Putin video after all. How can I tell?

For one, all I have to do is read comments under my own YouTube posting of this video: whether people love it or hate it, they assume it’s pro-Putin — which is consistent with the trend I’ve seen around the internet. And Putin supporters and sympathizers definitely claim this propaganda video as their own. Well, them plus every kind of international troll, to be more accurate. Just a moment ago I received another notification from YouTube: “Uncle Adolf commented: ‘I’ve watched this 6 times today and counting. It’s just too good!'” Now, I would likely succumb to soul-crushing cognitive dissonance, if it turned out that YouTube member “Uncle Adolf” uses anything other than a photo of Hitler or a swastika as his avatar, but — *whew* — of course it’s a photo of Hitler with a swastika on his arm…

Another giveaway is that the video’s main cast includes well-known faces. To use the classical joke formula — in [Soviet] Russia, the role plays the actor. Translation: if you want to have a job as an entertainer, be pro-establishment. Mainstream actors would not have likely agreed to participate in this video if it had been put out by the incumbent dictator’s opposition — it’s too risky to their careers and reputations.

But mainly, I believe that this video is meant to endorse Putin because all other candidates are, one way or another, referenced in the worst case scenario presented in the video. Basically, in addition to Vladimir Putin, who is amusingly categorized as an “independent” candidate, you have seven electoral candidates that represent several other positions — namely: communist, liberal and, well, the inane political stylings of Vladimir Zhirinovskiy — the batshit bonkers leader of the ultranationalistic LDPR party who belongs in an ideological league of his own.

And so, here is the break-down of the video clip imagery:

The “imbecilic” school uniform of the son, so eerily reminiscent of Soviet-era “young pioneer” uniform — that’s the sign and consequence of electing one of the Communist candidates: Pavel Grudinin or Maxim Suraykin. There is also the bathroom scene where the protagonist tries to hide from all the people in his house and hears the PA announcement that toilet visits are limited. This, too, is an intentional flashback to the infamous socialist “communal apartments”, with multiple families crammed into the same living quarters, forced to share the kitchen and the bathroom with dozens of apartment-mates with no hope of privacy (and no end of drunken conflicts.) It was, indeed, a nightmare and it makes sense that it would be used as a scare tactic to prevent senior citizens from letting their USSR nostalgia guide their vote.

The arrogant “foster gay” obscenely eating a banana in the lead character’s kitchen — that’s your “horrifying” future if you cast your ballot for the liberals — presumably represented by Ksenia Sobchak (but really — it’s aimed at the phantom of the one candidate that would likely be fighting for the LGBTQ rights of the nation, but who was barred from the elections: Alexei Navalny). The dark-skinned soldier inserted elsewhere in the video is another subtle implication that the USA and western Europe are advancing on Russia with their ridiculous ideas of “diversity”. Better vote for the “right” candidate before you, too, are forced into tolerating humans that don’t look or live like you, pal.

One of the things that shocks the video’s protagonist during his “worst case scenario of not voting” dream is his son’s request for a huge amount of money to pay for private security at school. I take this as a stab at the entrepreneurs among the candidates: sure, Russia is a thriving capitalist paradise, but you don’t want it to get out of control — tsk-tsk, hint-hint, nudge-nudge, Boris Titov, candidate representing the Growth Party…

Finally, the cartoonishly absurd General who alternates between dabbing and enforcing the military draft until the age of 60 — that’s what you get if you vote for Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Which is oddly on point. The threat seems extra exaggerated, until you read up on this gentleman’s plans to “improve” the Motherland in the twenty first century — such as reconstituting the Soviet Union, circa 1985. It is the only part of this obnoxious video I have to agree with: this belligerent fossil Zhirinovsky is off his everloving rocker! (I mean, they all are, but this guy… ufffff…)

In fact, allow me to leave you with an election video maestro Zhirinovsky put out himself back in 2012 (he runs in every election) — to give you an idea of the messages he sends. I have translated and subtitled the video into English — but the visuals are pretty powerful on their own…

(warning — cruelty to animals)

Happy voting, everybody.

P.S. For more information, check out the full list and descriptions of Russian Elections 2018 candidates and their platforms.