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Dirty Jokes: Internet Awash With Memes Mocking Russia's Detergent Ban

  • Anna Shamanska

It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.

Just when the torrent of Internet posts skewering Russia's destruction of illegal food imports was running dry, Moscow served up an irresistible new target for the Twitterati: a campaign to cleanse supermarket shelves of prominent Western brands of detergent and dishwashing liquid.

On August 25, Russia's consumer protection agency ordered the removal of several foreign brands of cleaning products, citing health concerns for what is widely seen as retaliation for Western sanctions over Moscow's interference in Ukraine.

Social media users quickly turned on the taps and trained a stream of sarcasm on the offending ban.

Several used shopping excursions as a touching-off point, documenting searches for cleansers that have been ubiquitous since Russia embraced capitalism but are all of a sudden disappearing from stores.

"Must be a good cleaning agent if it's swept off the shelves," one Twitter user wrote above a photo of a half-empty supermarket shelf in Moscow.

Some people apparently snapped selfies showing them holding soon-to-be-banned cleaning supplies -- a nod to Soviet-era shortages that led to hoarding and frenzied quests for scarce products.

Well-known blogger Rustem Adagamov posted one such photo on his Twitter feed with the hashtag "more hell."

Those who didn't manage to stock up with foreign detergents will have to go back to more arduous ways of doing the dishes and the laundry, if Twitter posts are any judge.

One user called a washboard, a bucket and a huge bar of hard soap "a laundry set for a patriot of the Russian World."

In fact, Russian channel Dozhd TV conducted a quick experiment. Two hosts dirtied two identical pieces of cloth with jam and washed them in separate buckets -- one with an unnamed foreign detergent, the other with Russian-made hard soap. Both pieces of cloth came out perfectly clean. "Import substitution," the latest buzzword in Russia, "has won," declared Dozhd host Lika Kremer.

A darker take appeared to connect the new rules with Russia's high suicide rate.

"Nothing can be more patriotic than a national rope, national soap, and a national stool," the Twitter post said.

In the wake of widespread Russian media coverage of food-smuggling stories, the Twittersphere also came up with headlines adjusting that trend to the crackdown on cleaning products.

"The police found two grams of Persil on a citizen of Ivanovo. In court, the perpetrator tried unsuccessfully to prove it was just cocaine," a post on an account that satirizes pro-Kremlin outlet LifeNews said.

There were other memes referring to the similarities between washing powder and cocaine, including one showing Al Pacino's Scarface character sitting in a stupor behind piles of a white substance -- and a box of Persil PhotoShopped into the foreground.

Some of the jokes might be lost on anyone who does not read Russian, but others would also resonate in the West.

One Twitter post showed Mister Proper -- the Russian version of Mr. Clean, the bald, earring-wearing mascot of the eponymous brand from U.S-based Procter & Gamble -- being wrestled to the floor by helmeted Russian riot police.

Another Twitter user imagined the following scenario in Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, lampooning both the food ban and Russian authorities' purported propensity for seeking bribes: "At customs in Sheremetyevo a Persil detector dog lets a passenger know with its eyes that a problem can be solved with a kilogram of jamon [ham]."

Some social media users suggested that Russians, after all, might not be terribly affected by the ban of foreign cleaning agents.

"Those who are used to eating from shovels do not need any detergents," a Facebook user wrote, pulling out a photo taken earlier this year in the southern city of Stavropol, where people were served traditional pancakes on shovel-blades during a celebration of Maslenitsa -- Russia's Mardi Gras.

And one post on Twitter looked at the bright side with a modern-day take on an old Russian saying.

"It's a good omen if you see a woman with an empty bucket," the tweet read. "It means buckets and women haven't been banned yet."

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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