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Dark Jokes Lighten Gloom Over Russia's Ailing Economy

  • Tom Balmforth

Like the author of this stock cartoon showing the dramatic decline of the ruble, many Russians have responded with humor to their country's devastating economic crisis.

Like the author of this stock cartoon showing the dramatic decline of the ruble, many Russians have responded with humor to their country's devastating economic crisis.

MOSCOW -- What's the difference between the ruble, the dollar, and the pound? With a dollar, you can buy a pound of dried rubles.

Jokes like these have become par for the course as the recession-hit Russian economy limps into 2016 showing no signs of recovery and the national currency plunges to record lows.

The economy has been in a state of crisis since late 2014, and with slumping oil prices offering no rays of hope, Russians are turning to a more reliable national resource to help them get by: their dark sense of humor.

There has been no shortage of memes from the likes of the Lentach satirical VK community on Twitter: "The Central Bank expects the price of oil to return to $75. Life teaches people nothing." (Below a picture with the caption:) "Your face when you've finished waiting for oil to get to 75."

On January 12, the Lentach group posted a picture with the caption: "The price of WTI oil has fallen to below $30 to the barrel for the first time in 12 years:"

As news reports warned of an incoming snowstorm bearing down on the Russian capital, the Fake_MIDRF Twitter account -- a satirical play on the Russian Foreign Ministry abbreviation -- joked: "In Moscow, there will be a fall of snow, the stock market, and the ruble."

The Fake_MIDRF Twitter user also mocked President Vladimir Putin's claim to having brought "stability" to the country: "In the years of Putin stability, the ruble has stably depreciated in value and gotten four times weaker."

As oil plotted its downward spiral toward $30 a barrel, the World_Oil_Price Twitter handle following the falling price of Brent teased its Russian readership:
"Well my kittens, I told you that my target soon is $25."

The World_Oil_Price Twitter handle also tweeted at the handle covering the ruble (@RussianRUB), saying: "Take no offense, but it seems to me that a humanitarian catastrophe is threatening your country. You've got nothing left."

The next day, on January 13, the RussianRUB account declared: "I'm selling this account. I think you probably understand why. My contact details are on my profile":

Twitter user Ruslan posted a cartoon of what appears to be a sinking "vatnik," a traditional cotton-padded coat whose name has been widely used as a pejorative for staunch Russian supporters of Vladimir Putin, in particular during the conflict with Ukraine: "Our proud Titanic doesn't surrender to the enemy."

Meanwhile, Twitter user Shulz noted how pro-Kremlin forces on social networks appear to be paying more attention to foreign crises than the one unfolding at home: "Russia's national-traitors are most worried about the ruble, while the patriots care most about migrants in Cologne."

Another tweeted joke went: "This water in Russia costs 3,180 for a barrel (159 liters). This barrel of Russian oil (159 liters) costs 2,360 rubles. Let's sell water!"

Several "anecdote" websites have compiled whole lists of jokes about the woes of the ruble and the economy. They include jokes like:

* Signs of the Russian economy's recession have disappeared. So have signs of a Russian economy.

* Vladimir Vladimirovich has hit a record high level this year with a rating of 72.8... rubles to the dollar.

* In a reference to the long Orthodox Christmas and New Year's holidays, another asks: We haven't been working for 10 days and the ruble is falling regardless -- maybe it isn't worth working at all?

* President Dmitry Medvedev says the Russian economy has stabilized. So are we going to remain in this mess?

Twitter user Shulz developed this theme: "Stability in the country is when the hand of the prime minister doesn't shake when he's taking a selfie":

In October, Twitter user MFOInFinance posted a photograph from Back To The Future with the caption: "Doc, why are we flying into the past?"
"We're going to change the ruble for the dollar."

Last month, Guru_invest posted a cartoon on the "Economic situation in Russia" with the caption: "Doc, why do I keep on falling?"

Jokes also bitterly mock Russian authorities' repeatedly mistaken attempts to "feel out the bottom" of the recession, or second-guess how deep this crisis will go. In particular, the jokes have maligned Finance Minister Anton Siluanov.

On November 3, opposition politician Vladimir Milov wrote on Twitter: "There are three things you can go on watching: fire, water, and how Minister Siluanov goes about searching for the bottom."

Last month, Twitter user Kirill Eikhfus wrote: "Siluanov is searching for a new bottom. Clowning around."

On January 13, Alex Doppelkorn wrote on Twitter: Siluanov has again lost the bottom and now doesn't rule out a repeat of the 1998 default."

Not everyone is joking around, of course. Former Kremlin spin doctor and veteran political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky on January 13 posted an article by the RBC business holding titled: We Are Entering The Phase Of Fear For The Ruble. Pavlovsky added: "Psychologically, the forecast is correct: There is no panic because we live in this and are used to it."

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