Muntadar al-Zaidi my hero

If only that shoe had hit Bush. It wouldn’t have compensated for the hundreds of thousands of people

I am in love with the guy who threw his shoes at George W Bush.

He is my hero. I love you Muntadar al-Zaidi and I hope that you are not punished for your brave and wonderful shoe based act. This is a protest. Shooting someone or blowing someone up is not way to go about making a point. By killing someone you only prove yourself as bad as them. But to fling a clog….

It’s funny, it’s insulting and it makes the recipient of the flying espadrille look like a cock.
I think it’s even better than passive resistance. Sitting around and letting soldiers hit you in the face with a rifle butt is a pretty good way of showing you’re in the right. But if, after that, you chuck a sandal at their head…. Well it’s the cherry on the cake!

What I love about the Bush clip, aside from the fact that there is a shoe being thrown at his smug oleaginous face, is the fact that Muntandar gets time to throw a second shoe at the President of the United States.

He clearly hasn’t prepared himself to do that, or he’d have both shoes in his hand. But after Bush dodges the bullet, al-Zaidi actually leans down, takes off his other shoe and throws that too. What are the secret service up to? They all must have vowed to take a shoe for the President and the minute the first one left the journalist’s hand they should have been leaping in front of him in slow motion shouting “Noooooo!” and buffeting the trainer away with their chest. But they don’t do that. Not even for the second one.

Watch the clip again and look out for the guys at the back dashing into the room comically much too late to do anything about anything. They were probably sitting out the back having a sandwich and a fag and then hear a kerfuffle and by the time they’ve stubbed out their cigarettes and wiped the cake crumbs off their faces the whole incident is pretty much over. But they run in anyway, looking like they’re trying to do their job, but knowing that if anyone has used a gun or a knife that Bush is already dead. Let’s face it a man had time to take off both his shoes and bung them at the President before they were even in the room.

As it turned out Bush didn’t need anyone else. He’s pretty wily for an old fella and he gets right out of the way of the first shot and unfortunately shot two is slightly rushed and goes a bit too high. If only its sole had slapped him on his nose. It would only have stung him. Maybe caused a bit of blood to come out. It wouldn’t have compensated for the hundreds of thousands of people who have died in Iraq, but it would have been a good start. Leaving a man bewildered and stunned and with a stinging nose is much better than hurting him. That is satire.

And wouldn’t it be great if the rest of the world registered its disapproval in the same way? If everywhere he went for the rest of his life, Bush had to deal with a constant shower of shoes, coming at him from all directions. Just to let him know that what he’s done in the last eight years has made the world a worse place. His goons can’t ensure that everyone is bare foot, unless only Sandie Shaw and Zola Budd are allowed in the vicinity.

Shoes raining down on him for every minute of the day, banging against his windows when he was trying to sleep, smacking against his windscreen as he drove into town. Then maybe he’d get the message.

Make shoes, not war.

Then throw the shoes at the people who make war.

Happy Christmas.

Richard Herring began writing and performing comedy when he was 14. His career since Oxford has included a successful partnership with Stewart Lee and his hit one-man show Talking Cock
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Putin's vote-winning trick? He makes power personal

Representatives in the Russian parliament, the Duma, have long been unpopular. Yet President Putin is immune to voter's discontent.

A week before Russia’s parliamentary elections, the central square in Ekaterinburg – the fourth-largest city in Russia, a thousand miles east of Moscow – was packed with people, huddling close on a wet September night. They faced a stage decorated with a poster imploring the crowd to vote for “ours”, meaning United Russia, Vladimir Putin’s political party.

Yet it wasn’t politics for which thousands of people had braved the rain – it was music. During the perestroika and glasnost years of post-Soviet openness, Ekaterinburg was the cradle of the Russian rock scene. The home-grown bands Nautilus Pompilius, Chaif and Agata Kristi sang about freedom and change. Thus, this free concert to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the legendary Sverdlovsk Rock Club was bound to draw a crowd, and United Russia latched on to that.

A message from Dmitry Medvedev, the United Russia leader, praising local rock bands for their bravery “in those days when freedom was in deficit”, was read to the assembled fans. If freedom was a powerful word thirty years ago it has little impact on Russians today. Turnout in the election on 18 September was less than 50 per cent (and only 41.5 per cent in the Ekaterinburg region), a sign of the general political apathy. Before they went to the polls, it was hard to find anyone who was enthusiastic about voting.

“Why should I bother with voting? The result is clear: United Russia will, as always, win,” says Vyacheslav Bakhtin, who owns a small construction company in Ekaterinburg. He added: “Elections are the last thing on my mind. My business has been suffering for the last two years. We couldn’t even afford to go on a family vacation this summer.”

The Russian economy is struggling because of low oil prices, trade embargoes and geopolitical concerns. There have been public spending cuts, and the free float of the rouble led to currency devaluation and high inflation (7 per cent in August). Unemployment is rising and the base interest rate is 10.5 per cent.

There are many reasons for Russians to want a change in government, yet it appears that people do not see the link between their daily struggles and Putin’s policies.

Anna Mikhailova has recently returned from a tour of the Golden Ring of Russia (a circuit of medieval cities to the north-east of Moscow), where there is a stark contrast between the restored onion-domed churches and the crumbling villages.

“People live in poverty in crammed kummunalki [Soviet-style communal flats with several families sharing one kitchen and bathroom],” she tells me. “But they still talk about Putin the Saviour, standing up for Mother Russia.”

Apart from United Russia, 13 parties were judged eligible to stand, but the range of choice was an illusion. Olga, who requested anonymity for her own safety, explained. “We have one party – United Russia – a few pseudo-opposition parties, the Communists, the LDPR and Fair Russia who support Putin’s cause, and a bunch of nobodies that people don’t care about.”

Indeed, Gennady Zyuganov, who has led the Communist Party since 1993, campaigned under the slogan “Ten Stalinist punches against capitalism”. But although he criticised Medvedev, he didn’t touch Putin. The populist leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), Vladimir Zhirinovsky, another political dinosaur, actively endorses Putin’s foreign policy.

If there is discontent among voters, Putin is immune to it. On the eve of the elections, United Russia’s popularity slid to just 30 per cent of total respondents in one poll, though it scored 50 per cent among those who said they were definitely going to vote. Medvedev’s own approval rating fell to 48 per cent. His message to the elderly that state pensions wouldn’t increase, and his advice to teachers to get jobs in the private sector if they weren’t happy with their state salaries, might have had something to do with it. Yet Putin’s popularity remained consistently high, at 82 per cent, according to independent pollsters the Levada Centre.

Alexey Volkov, a 40-year-old business manager, says he voted for the Communists. “I voted against United Russia, the apparatchiks stifling the president,” he explains. “Putin, on the other hand, is the best ruler since Alexander III [Russia’s emperor at the end of the 19th century].”

Representatives in the Russian parliament, the Duma, have long been unpopular and considered ineffective by the Russian people. Over the past 16 years, presidential power has expanded hugely. Since Russia adopted its new constitution in 1993, successive presidents have introduced legislation to stretch the office’s authority. In his first term as president, Putin acquired 219 new rights and duties, and as his successor Medvedev enjoyed an additional 114 responsibilities. These range from educational appointments to federal government decisions.

As predicted, United Russia topped the ballot with 54 per cent of the vote. Putin’s party claimed 343 of the 450 seats (up from 238 in 2011). The same four parties will form the Duma. The Yabloko and PARNAS parties, seen by voters as a token gesture of protest against the Kremlin, gained negligible support, with 2 per cent and 0.7 per cent, respectively.

It is ultimately Putin’s victory. In the eyes of the majority, he has restored Russia’s strength abroad, revived the defence industry and army, and reinvigorated the country with patriotism. The latter was accomplished via manipulation of the media, which has reinstated the West as the enemy and focused attention on foreign affairs at the expense of the social and economic agenda at home.

Still, with the low turnout, only 26 per cent of eligible Russians voted for Putin’s party. Though that was enough to tighten the president’s grip on the Duma, nationwide the elections paint a picture of a dejected Russia just beginning to feel discontent with the status quo. It is not yet enough to unseat Putin, but as the old Russian saying goes: a drop of water can cut through stone.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times