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Moscow Skyscraper Stunt Sparks Memes, Suspicion, And Confusion

  • Tom Balmforth

A worker takes a selfie as he stands with a Ukrainian flag on a Soviet-style star in Moscow on August 20.

A worker takes a selfie as he stands with a Ukrainian flag on a Soviet-style star in Moscow on August 20.

MOSCOW -- A stunt this week in which the star and spire atop one of Moscow's iconic Stalin-era skyscrapers was painted in the blue-and-yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag has sparked a wave of Internet memes and suspicion about potential copycat acts.

The Belarusian opposition website Charter97.org, for example, has cast the caper as the work of a Ukrainian Spider-man adorned in yellow and blue and swooping down from the skies toward the red star of the skyscraper.

Others have used the incident to mock Dmitry Medvedev's fondness for "selfies," suggesting that it was the Russian prime minister who was responsible for the skyscraper stunt.

And some have taken to posting images showing the Kremlin and a map of Russia colored in yellow and blue.

All this yellow-and-blue mania appears to have made Russians extra-sensitive about Ukraine's national colors.

On August 22, Oleg Ilyin, a history teacher in St. Petersburg, was stopped at a street festival marking Russian Flag Day, while wearing a blue-and-yellow cap with "Ukraine" written on it. He was approached by police officers, who told him it was a "provocation," and detained him for two hours.

The same day, Ekho Moskvy listeners heard that blue and yellow parallel lines had mysteriously appeared on the cobblestones of Red Square. Nonsense, said a Kremlin official -- they're three-month-old lines marking the route of the May 9 military parade.

And in what first appeared to be a copycat stunt, an Instagram user on August 21 noticed an electricity pylon painted yellow and blue.

But a spokesman for the United Electric Grid Company said the incident was not a copycat stunt. The pylon, he said, was meant to be painted in the company's official colors, yellow, blue, and white -- but the white was left off by mistake.

The workers responsible, however, were detained for questioning.

This prompted opposition figure Aleksei Navalny to post pictures of the Moscow electricity company soccer team dressed in their yellow-and-blue uniforms, hinting sarcastically that they should be punished.

Other Twitter users have focused on the plight of the four young Muscovites who have been accused in the skyscraper incident and charged with hooliganism, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

"It seems we have a new Pussy Riot case," tweeted Russian journalist Andrei Kozenko, referring to the renowned anti-Kremlin feminist punk-rock collective.

Likewise, journalist Leonid Ragozin invoked the Pussy Riot case on Twitter.

Ragozin also called for the case to become a cause celebre.

Meanwhile, the four people detained in the case deny their guilt, claiming they are simply urban thrill seekers who happened to be in the vicinity with climbing gear and parachutes.

Founding Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has taken to Twitter to proclaim their innocence, writing that "House arrest for walking past a [protest] action is of course a victory."

Friends of the four accused have also launched a campaign to get them exonerated.

Vladislav Dovgopol, head of a Russian Parachuting Society and a friend of the four, vouched for the two men and two women in an open letter to President Vladimir Putin posted on VKontakte on August 21.

"I am ready to vouch for each of them that they did not commit the act of vandalism attributed to them and have nothing to do with politics at all, or anything to do with the events in Ukraine in particular," Dovgopol wrote. "Base jumping and parachuting are always outside politics. It's what we do for fun. It's our choice."

Likewise, Anna Ivanova, a friend of one those arrested, also proclaimed the group's innocence on VKontakte. "The worst thing is that no one is looking for the person who actually did this, while four people sit side by side in a cell. Everyone wants blood and not justice," she wrote.

In a post on his Facebook page late on August 22, the Ukrainian urban climber Mustang Wanted claimed responsibility for the stunt.

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    Tom Balmforth

    Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics. He can be reached at balmfortht@rferl.org

     

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