Last Monday, when Katya Romanovskaya left her Moscow apartment for work, she discovered that her car had a giant phallus strapped to it with a metal chain. Upon further examination, she discovered that the shaft was made out of one tree trunk, the veins elaborately, carefully carved. Two other, smaller pieces of wood were attached to either side. It was hard to remove: the thing weighed well over 200 lbs.
But Romanovskaya understood exactly why it had been put there. "Finally," she wrote under a picture of the phallus on her Facebook page, "the day has come when my work has been noticed and appreciated."
Romanovskaya, along with her co-author Arseny Bobrovsky, runs the hugely popular satirical Russian Twitter account, @KermlinRussia. The two are central characters in this week's cover story about the failure of the democratic revolution in Russia.
When I’d first interviewed the duo back in December 2010, they had refused to tell me their real names or show me their faces, not even off the record. At that point, they were just beginning to generate excitement with their Twitter account @KermlinRussia, the handle of a Stephen Colbert–like entity called the “Persident of Ruissia,” who savagely mocked the government for its many lies, thefts, and absurdities. “The Russian state doesn’t have to beat you with a stick,” they tweeted once, adopting the tone of a benevolent ruler addressing his subjects. “We can fuck you up with a carrot, too.”
The Kermlins had launched the handle in June 2010, after then-President Medvedev, who was infamous for his simpleton’s love of high-tech gadgets, traveled to the Silicon Valley offices of Twitter and set up an account, @KremlinRussia. By January, the Kermlins’ antic alternative had more than 50,000 followers, and Medvedev was forced to change his handle to @MedvedevRussia to avoid confusion. Over the next three years, the Kermlins’ fan base exploded to more than 700,000 followers. The Kermlins became celebrities among the outspoken ranks of “Internet hamsters,” the denizens of the Web ghetto who then became the core of the protests. Last spring, they finally unmasked themselves in a glamorous spread in Russian GQ.
The "Kermlins," as they've come to be known, have been providing the comic relief and political satire so sorely needed in a media landscape scorched by Putin. There is no Jon Stewart, no real comedian who can speak truth to power; it's just the Kremlins.
Which is why power strikes back. With a massive, wooden cock.
This is the kind of cockamamie (sorry) prank that reeks (sorry) of Nashi, the pro-Kremlin youth group founded after Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2005. It was the Kremlin's way to engage the youth in politics by paying and brainwashing them to be their blunt instrument of revenge. These kids, often from poor families, have strange imaginations that center almost always on the scatalogical and the sexual. (They once used one prostitute named "Mumu" to lure various male opposition figures into bed in the same bugged apartment.) They manage to pull off these kinds of pranks by having the resources of the state at their disposal.
So, for example, putting a giant penis on an opposition member's car can be kind of tricky: how do you figure out where they live and which car is theirs? And this is the part that makes it a bit menacing, too. Until the previous night, the Kermlins had been at a conference in France and the car was parked in the airport parking lot. They got in late, drove the car home, went to bed, and boom! Wooden cock. Someone was obviously scoping them.
But those thoughts would come later. Katya and Arseny spent the whole day trying to get a cop to make up a police report, though most were laughing too hard to get their act together. Same with the witnesses needed to sign the report. All day people photographed the phallus—solo, or with a friend standing next to it. Katya shot videos of a diplomatic car slowing down as it passed. Some cars actually backed up to verify that they were actually seeing this. At some point, Katya and Arseny went to have dinner with a friend who is a ritzy magazine editor who had taken them to an equally ritzy restaurant for an omakase menu. Through all 15 courses, Katya said, "all we talked about was cock."
Eventually, Katya and Arseny called for a tow truck. They weren't going to tow anything, of course; they just needed the crane. A couple of friends came to help them lug it up to their aparment and puzzled over what to do with the thing. Charity auction? Wood chipper? One man had gotten in touch with them, offering to buy the wooden cock and take it off their hands at his own expense.
"He has a collection of cocks," Arseny told me. "This will be the pearl."
Correction: Arseny points out that it is techincally his car, and that he was the one that discovered the giant phallus. I regret the error.