Ukrainians have taken to fighting back against Russia’s fascistoid dictator, Vladimir Putin, with obscenities and humor. A Ukrainian psychiatrist I recently saw on Ukrainian TV calls such behavior psychologically healthy during periods of “extreme stress”—an understatement for the savage war Putin and his terrorists have unleashed against Ukraine. The American social scientist James C. Scott might call both obscenity and humor “weapons of the weak.” Whatever you call them, they’re spreading like wildfire across Ukraine.
The case in point is a song or, more exactly, a chant that goes like this:
La-la la-la la-la la-la
“Khuylo” is the extremely vulgar Ukrainian term for penis. Its equivalents in English are well known (and, for the sake of my more sensitive readers, will go unmentioned). The words have been translated as “Putin is a d—khead” or as “Putin is a d—k,” but I prefer “Putin is a pr—k.” “D—khead” and “d—k” connote stupidity; “pr—k” connotes nastiness. And, I suspect, most Ukrainians view Putin as a nasty piece of work.
Soccer fans apparently first sang the chant on March 30, 2014, in Kharkiv, during a match between Kharkiv Metalist and Donetsk Shakhtar. Since then, the chant—whose lyrics and melody are readily accessible to all of Putin’s detractors, regardless of their musical abilities—has gone viral. If anything is a barometer of Ukrainian attitudes toward the man and his war-mongering, this, obviously, is it. A shorthand, more modest version of the lyrics has even entered the popular discourse. If you want to express your views of Putin, all you need do is say, “la-la la-la la-la,” and everything’s quite clear. One Ukrainian wit has even incorporated the two-word text into the Russian national anthem, a move that transposes his feelings about Putin to—gasp—Mother Russia (the implicit gender bending should appeal to postmodernists).
The democratic national deputy, Oleh Lyashko, who ran for president on May 25th and received over 8 percent of the vote, actually sang the song at a mass rally in Ternopil. That incident didn’t seem to annoy the Kremlin. But when Ukraine’s acting minister of foreign affairs, Andrii Deshchytsia, stated at a June 15th anti-Russian rally in Kyiv that he agreed that “Putin is a khuylo”—contrary to media reports, Deshchytsia never sang the chant—Moscow exploded, with calls for Deshchytsia’s resignation coming from his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and the head of the Duma’s Committee on International Relations, Aleksei Pushkov.
The target of Ukrainian invective remained silent, but one can imagine that Putin—whom Hillary Clinton has called “thin-skinned”—must have been boiling mad.
Russia’s strongman obviously knows how to dish it out—remember that this is the man who called on chasing down Chechen terrorists “even in the outhouse”—but just as obviously can’t take it, especially when his hyper-masculine image is questioned.
Here’s Celestine Bohlen of the New York Times:
Asked by two French journalists on June 4 about [Hillary Clinton’s] comparison of Russia’s seizure of Crimea to Hitler’s aggression in the 1930s, Mr. Putin scoffed. “It’s better not to argue with women,” he said. “When people push boundaries too far, it’s not because they are strong but because they are weak. But maybe weakness is not the worst quality for a woman.”
Leaving aside the blatant sexism, Mr. Putin strayed into what for him is potentially dangerous territory. If pushing boundaries too far is a sign of weakness, then what to say about Mr. Putin’s own policies in Ukraine? When Russia annexes Crimea, when it gives tacit support to attacks by pro-Russian separatists on Ukrainian border posts, isn’t that—literally—about testing the frontiers of a neighboring sovereign state? Does that make it muscle-flexing by a weak man? …
Mr. Putin’s behavior with other leaders is often seen as a clue to the quality of his personal relationships with them. In theory, he and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany should have an excellent rapport; each speaks the other’s language, and the two countries have strong economic ties. And yet twice (most recently in the thick of the Ukrainian crisis), well aware of Ms. Merkel’s deep-seated fear of dogs, he let his big, black Labrador Koni into the room with her, even sniff her legs, and watched with a peculiarly passive expression.
On the occasions when he and Mr. Obama have sat together for photographers, the chill has been almost visible. Mr. Obama denies that he has a bad relationship with the Russian president, but it is clearly not a good one. For one thing, relations between the United States and Russia are strained. For another, Mr. Obama is a good six inches taller than Mr. Putin, an advantage probably not lost on someone who seems to put such stock in projecting an image of power.
This is odd behavior for a wannabe world statesman. Walking around bare-chested while holding big guns is embarrassing enough (although I don’t doubt that it goes well with the pre-Freudian ladies in Omsk), but purposely insulting strong women—whose strength, evidently, challenges his masculinity—takes the cake. Russia’s premier literary critic, Tatyana Tolstaya, recently referred to “little men with Napoleonic complexes” on Russian TV. Quite.
Putin’s “blatant sexism” may go some way to explaining his hatred of an independent Ukraine. In much Soviet propaganda, which Putin knows all too well, Ukraine was often represented as a peasant woman, while Russia was represented by a working-class man. In Putin’s world, Ukraine, like women, should stay quiet. And if they don’t? Obviously, you’re perfectly entitled to smack them around.