Moscow Days: Writing is on the wall and it's no joke

The culprit must have worked at night, as there is a police station next door. "Yeltsin," someone has written in large white letters on a fence in our local park, "We, the people, hate you. You are a coward, thief, hood, blackmailer, and liar."

Friends who have lived here in Moscow for years tell me that there was very little graffiti under Soviet Communism before perestroika beyond the odd scrawl here and there supporting the local football team. On the rare occasions they could get hold of it, Russians had better things to do with their paint.

There was also the matter of deterrents: anyone caught scribbling a political diatribe on the walls could expect a long stretch behind the bars of a mental asylum or in a labour camp. A venomous assault like the one in our park would probably have led to a life sentence, or - under Stalin - a bullet in the skull.

Now graffiti have arrived. Moscow still has a long way to go before it is engulfed by technicolor babble that covers the inner-city gangland areas of the United States, where public anger over graffiti vandals is such that when a young so-called "tagger" was shot dead by a member of the public several years ago, the killer was widely lionised.

But it is growing. In the last few weeks, the area around our apartment has been daubed by a team of mystery writers keen to remind us of the merits of "Rave", "Nirvana" and "Ultra-Hooligan". In a rare critique of a music-doting rival, someone has written: Tolka Idioti Slooshchayoot Rap - "Only Idiots Listen to Rap".

Political comment remains surprisingly rare. Given its level of social and economic strife, you would expect the streets of Russia to resemble the Falls Road in Belfast. But most slogans, half in English and half in Russian, seem to be nothing more than the bleatings of bored adolescents.

They do, however, have the merit of clarity. The Cyrillic script is particularly suited to the art of vandalism and protest. Its boxy capital letters, with their odd spikes, convey urgency. And while many of us in the computer- dependent West write so little by hand that we can barely manage a readable shopping list, Russians remain excellent penmen. The attack on Yeltsin in the park is noticeably neat, despite the writer's fury.

It is no more than one would expect. Much of the country still regards the typewriter - let alone, a RAM-packed desktop - as a rare possession. Much of this bureaucratic nation's massive output of paperwork is completed in longhand.

Clearly written Russian graffiti may be, but funny it is not. Most seems to be confined to bald and humourless statements of the "Tanya loves Boris" school. Even the latest rash of political slogans to adorn the streets is colourless. The words "Russia + Belarus Union" have appeared in part of the city in the last few weeks, evidently the work of a nostalgic Soviet hand, applauding current plans to reintegrate Moscow and Minsk. But you rarely see the subversive humour that is occasionally etched on the walls of Britain.

Perhaps this is because most Russian jokes are too longwinded, for there is no shortage of material. The Western view that Russians can't tell a punchline from a parking ticket is wrong. Russian jokes - known as anekdoti - are as dry and black as their champagne is pale and sickly sweet.

But they have a certain wry, absurdist, and self-deprecating appeal. "What's the difference between Communism and Capitalism?" runs one old chestnut. Answer: "Capitalism is the exploitation of men by men, and Communism is the reverse."

For years, Mikhail Gorbachev provided the butt of the nation's jests. He was seen as a bumbler, henpecked by an avaricious wife. Before him, there was the doddery figure of Brezhnev who was widely ridiculed, despite censorship. But Boris Yeltsin has proved harder to caricature, being an unamusing mixture of reformer and an autocrat.

So the wags have turned to the class of new Russians and the Mafia, who have become enormously wealthy during the transition to the free market, but are usually caricatured as cultureless dimwits. A popular one runs thus: "It's 6pm, and two hired killers are waiting for their victim at the entrance to his home. He always returns home on time, but tonight he is late. One assassin looks at his watch and says: 'What's going on? Something terrible must have happened, I'm really worried about him.'" Funny? No, Yes? Maybe not. But there's a grain of humour there that has yet to find its way on to the walls around my home.

Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web Application Support Manager

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

Year 5 Teacher

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 5 Primary Teacher...

** Cover Supervisor Ugently Required In Sefton Area **

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunity for Secondary...

Music Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments