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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Spends a Day Suffering Fools Lightly




When DJ Groove checked his pager early Wednesday morning he couldn't believe his luck. It was a message from President Boris Yeltsin's administration asking him to call as soon as possible. Groove dialed the number and was put straight through to the president.


"Ah, yes, DJ Groove," came the deep, halting voice at the other end. "I understand you wrote a tune for Mikhail Gorbachev some years ago to give him a younger image. I was wondering whether you might do the same for me."


The joke on Radio Maximum's breakfast show was just one of a multitude played around the world on April Fools' Day. As astonished Iraqis read a front-page report that U.S. President Bill Clinton had lifted sanctions and Vietnam heard that Diego Maradonna had been hired to coach their national soccer team, Russians were regaled with photographs of the country's bigwigs romping with girls in bikinis.


The daily Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper printed a phony letter from a maintenance worker at the Kremlin, who felt it was time to come clean about the dubious morals of the nomenclatura. "Exclusive" snaps showedultranation alist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Yabloko boss Grigory Yavlinsky, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and acting Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko relaxing with vodka, cigars and near-naked women. "And they are planning to make the Kremlin palace into a banya and a set of tennis courts," wrote the anonymous correspondent.


The liberal Yabloko faction got in its own laugh Wednesday by introducing a new line of waterproof suits for State Duma deputies. The plastic clothing was a clear dig at Zhirinovsky, who caused a scene in parliament's lower house by throwing water at other deputies. Yabloko said the special suits would allow lawmakers to keep their reputations from being dampened.


The newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets wheeled out its usual shots of curious carrots and other saucy root vegetables, while Noviye Izvestia led with a sepia photograph of Lenin reading a copy of the newspaper.


Interfax reported that chief Moscow architect Zurab Tsereteli had received an order for a giant statue of Luzhkov, sitting astride a rearing horse to symbolize the "riotous conduct of monetarism." Suggestions for where to place the monolith had flooded the architect's office, Interfax said, but the hot favorite was opposite Tsereteli's widely detested statue of Peter the Great.


Nevertheless, not everybody was horsing around. "Practical jokes?" said Oleg Mikhailov, at the press office of the Federal Tax Police. "If only. Everyone is so serious in this office. We could do with a little lightening up."


Over at the Health Ministry, things weren't looking much better. "They spread thick apricot jam on someone's chair before he came into work this morning," said Yury Noarov from the ministry's press office. "But it turned out to be my chair, so I wasn't particularly amused."


And at the Fund for Lenin's Mausoleum, the president hadn't even realized it was April 1. "Is it really?" said Alexei Abramov. "I had completely forgotten."


Meanwhile, newspapers world-wide reported all sorts of strange goings-on. The German branch of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals group announced that German Chancellor Helmut Kohl had become a vegetarian. In a bid to win the support of younger voters, "the stuffed pig lover has finally made the break," ran the report, which was picked up by several German newspapers.


In Australia, early morning radio listeners were surprised to hear that Sports Minister Andrew Thomson predicted gold for Australia at the 2000 Olympic Games in the new sport of tuna tossing. And Sydney Lord Mayor Frank Sartor announced that specially-trained kangaroos would patrol the city center to entertain overseas visitors to the games.


The Financial Times in London was left with egg on its face when it printed a statement from drinks giant Guinness. Taking a spoof press release seriously, the newspaper ran a story claiming that Guinness would become the official beer sponsor for the Greenwich Observatory in the lead-up to the millennium. The paper said Greenwich Mean Time would be renamed Guinness Mean Time until the end of 1999, and the Accurist speaking clock would be amended to feature "pint drips" instead of "pips" to count seconds.


In Dakar, hundreds of Senegalese besieged the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday after a newspaper reported that the embassy was holding an immigration visa lottery to mark Clinton's visit.


Le Soleil, a government newspaper, said visas would be issued to the first 50 names drawn from would-be immigrants who presented themselves armed with valid passports and identity photos. Each of the lucky winners would receive an air ticket and $3,000 in spending money.


The top story in South Africa's Star newspaper claimed that President Nelson Mandela had bought neighboring Mozambique for just under $10 billion. Mandela revealed his purchase to a stunned United Nations, the paper reported, but had not yet decided what the combined country should be called. Some claimed he favored Gracia, a reference to Mandela's close relat ionship with Mozambique's former first lady Graca Machel.


But one of the biggest April Fools' gags of all time has to be the front-page article of French newspaper Le Figaro some years back. In keeping with public opinion, the paper announced it was going environmentally friendly. Readers learned that the daily would henceforth be printed on edible paper. That morning thousands fell for the spoof as they literally tried to digest the day's news.