Heard the Russian jokes about Parmesan and condoms?
- 12 August 2015
Russia is destroying Western cheese, and considering a ban on Western condoms - and the Russian internet is reacting.
Last month President Vladimir Putin endorsed a scheme to bulldoze, bury and burn a whole range of imported Western foods, as part of the ongoing reaction against sanctions the West has imposed on Russia. Videos of the destruction, like the mountain of foreign cheese squashed into the ground in Belgorod, 400 miles (600km) south of Moscow, are now famous. The move has been criticised by religious leaders, one of whom called it "insane, stupid and vile", and a former prime minister who thought the food should have been given to the millions of Russians living below the poverty line.
Enter the Russian internet.
On YouTube, a song is picking up hits. Called Death of a Parmesan, its lyrics imagine the fate of a shipment of foreign food approaching the Russian border, before being ambushed by guards. An elderly parmesan leads the other cheeses (camembert and mozzarella) and a Spanish ham into a final battle, only to lose, and eventually be incinerated.
"He was tortured with a grater, but didn't say a word. (Cheese is silent by nature)," goes the song.
Of course, it's a satire, based on a sarcastic poem by Russian poet Andrey Orlov, performed and uploaded by Georgian singer Zaza Zaalishvili. "It's a masterpiece! Thanks a lot," wrote one Russian on Youtube. "Instead of distributing expensive cheese among orphanages free of charge - they're shoving food into the ground," said another.
Not everybody is a fan of the video, however, and there are a smattering of comments defending the government. Putin's decree will "pave the way for Russian farmers and manufacturers... Russian products are the best!" read one example.
Further restrictions on importing Western goods may be on the way, too. Last week Russia's online community reacted to a proposal to ban several medical products - including condoms. The country's former chief sanitary doctor said the move would make people "more disciplined, more strict and discriminating in choosing partners, and maybe will do a favour to our society in respect to solving demographic problems."
The news led to both outrage and humour online - with many questioning the quality of Russian prophylactics that would have to be used instead. "If you see smoke and smell burning rubber, don't rush to call the fire department. It's probably the smell of your neighbours using Russian contraceptives," wrote one.
Is this kind of satire only trending among Russia's liberal opposition - who have a strong presence online - or does it reflect a wider sentiment? Supporters of Alexei Navalny, a prominent critic of Vladimir Putin, are certainly sharing the "Death of a Parmesan" song widely. Prominent opposition blogger Rustem Adagamov posted a link to the video on Twitter.
But the audience has also gone beyond the usual liberal circles. It's been reported by Ekho Moskvy, a radio station owned by the energy giant Gazprom, and other news websites in both Russia and Ukraine. Meanwhile, more than 250,000 people have signed a petition against the destruction of food - a high number in Russia where online activism is less common than in the West. "So many people are starving while fresh products are being burnt!" wrote one signatory.
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