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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Did'ya Hear The One About ...




When Viktor Chernomyrdin was prime minister, he was remembered for his malapropisms. There was his memorable cry that Russia would not be importing any Western grain from mad cows; there was his oft-quoted lament that "we wanted the best but it turned out like always."


Now Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin is carving out a similar court jester's role. Not every country can count on its prime ministers for comic relief. But then again, not every country is Russia.


Stepashin's comic career began with his nomination, when this former head of the FSB, the KGB-successor agency, kidded around by saying that legislators who had voted yes to his candidacy would not be killed. Ha ha.


Then there was the one about how ministers ought to be forbidden to bring mobile phones to Cabinet meetings because this might lead to them bringing bombs. Ha ha.


Then there was the screamingly funny decision to bring Primorye region Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko along on a trip to Seattle to drum up investment in Russia. "I love you all," Stepashin told those less-than-impressed American businesspeople. Well, love is a many-splendored thing. Maybe he even meant it - who knows.


Later that same trip, Stepashin reportedly told an old Soviet chestnut to an audience at the U.S. National Press Club: An American and a Soviet are chatting; the American points to a Zaporozhets - a car so improbable that it is the butt of much Russian humor - and asks how much that "amazing" car costs - to which the Soviet citizen replies: "Yes, but in your country, you lynch blacks!"


Kommersant newspaper reports that this joke left the press club in stunned silence. That's a shame because this might be the only funny joke Stepashin has ever told.


This is a joke and it has two punchlines: 1) The Zaporozhets is such a national embarrassment that for an American to even bring it up innocently amounts to a vicious insult, and 2) the only way the indignant Soviet can counter is to repeat Cold War Soviet propaganda about America's racial problems. See? It's funny!


Some might nevertheless be appalled that the prime minister would indulge in an off-color joke for a foreign audience.


Perhaps such people would like to have Chernomyrdin back. Then again, Chernomyrdin was on NTV last week telling a seldom-noted joke of his own. Asked about the "media wars" between Vladimir Gusinsky-controlled NTV and Boris Berezovsky-controlled ORT television, Chernomyrdin's dour assessment was, "two Jews get into a fight, and the whole country has to watch."


Maybe Stepashin's not so bad after all.