(Moscow, 24 Dec., 2011) Today we went to Andrei Sakharov Avenue to participate in the rally for fair and just elections. About 100000 people came to the rally. It was the biggest political manifestation since the demonstrations of the early 1990s. We saw people of all walks of life and political preferences: from those who lament the fall of the Russian Empire and Communist Soviet Union to the supporters of Western style political and economic reforms.
In addition to familiar political logos, such as the hammer and sickle, anarchist black flag, and Yabloko party’s apple, we saw a new symbol of fair elections: the popular animation hero, Cheburashka. Why did this character join the political struggle? Russian people wanted a mascot whom everyone loves, who unites people rather than divides them because of their political allegiances. Those who showed up at Sakharov Avenue share a common goal: to challenge the cleptocratic leadership cheating the electoral process. Cheburashka unites people fighting for their rights.
For Russians Cheburashka is the character from the fairy tales of their childhood. Everyone grew up watching Roman Kachanov’s cartoons based on Eduard Uspensky’s books about Cheburashka–a little furry creature who is found in the box of imported oranges and finds acceptance and community despite the fact that Cheburashka’s identity and origins are unclear. In the paranoid atmosphere of the late Soviet culture this was an extremely topical theme.
Like E.T.’s identity, Cheburashka’s identity is about otherness, which the mainstream culture learns to accept. The last Soviet generation learned to love Cheburashka. She (or he, or neither one) has been everyone’s favorite hero for the past forty years. Moreover, since Cheburashka’s appearance on TV screens in the 1970s, she has been asserting her right for individual agency and it is only logical that in 2011 Cheburashka became a mascot of Russians’ struggle for their civil rights.