One more actor has turned politician. The experience of Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger has been successfully repeated in Russia by a famous comic who has abandoned the stage for the governor's chair.
On Sunday, Mikhail Yevdokimov, an actor and an inveterate participant in television humour shows, won the gubernatorial elections in the Altai Territory of Russia (south of West Siberia) in the second round. By receiving 49.53% of the vote, he beat former governor Alexander Surikov (46.29%).
Yevdokimov is not a guest performer in the Altai - he was born there and worked as a grinder at the Altai Motor Works. But he had always loved parodying variety stars at the amateur theatre much more than grinding. His talent was soon noticed and in 1983 he was given a job at the Moscow Philharmonic, a state organisation that acts as the producer of guest performances of Russian artists, from classical musicians to circus troupes. Thus began the glorious road of an ordinary Russian bloke.
The scenic role of Yevdokimov is an outwardly simple, naive man who tries to survive amidst the crumbling traditional realities of Russia's rural life and who demonstrates in the process a great wit and irony, frequently addressed at himself. In fact, he is the modern embodiment of the Russian fairy-tale characters, Ivan the Fool and Yemelya, thrown into the post-Soviet era.
Yevdokimov's election campaign was surprisingly modest. He did not play on his popularity but spoke of his experience as an economic manager (he has an economic education and a business in the Altai). His main slogan was not very literate but emotional: "My heart is torn to shreds over the future of my home region, the Altai." This did not save him from the biting criticism of his artistic colleagues. The pop stars Iosif Kobzon and Nadezhda Babkina and famous actress Lidia Fedoseyeva-Shukshina ridiculed his gubernatorial ambitions. Don't try to do what you are not fit for, they lectured Yevdokimov.
But Yevdokimov had the last laugh. According to local political scientists, his adversary, Alexander Surikov, made the mistake of devising an excessively aggressive campaign. Sensing, after the first round, that his chair was shaking under him, the former governor lost all sense of proportion and resorted to dirty election tricks.
The leaflets issued by his election staff accused Yevdokimov of alcoholism and incompetence. It was not as such a totally foolish move because it fit the artist's stage image ideally. Surikov also tried to intimidate the electorate with the "onslaught of Moscow oligarchs," saying that this would cost thousands of residents their job and the territory would be turned into a heap of chemical and radioactive waste.
But the people did not believe him. The actor from Moscow stirred the hope in them that their rich territory that withheld its generosity from its inhabitants would get rid of the dictatorship of bureaucrats.
Yevdokimov's victory reflects the new social mood that is growing in Russia. The people, most of whom fell victim to rapacious privatisation of the early 1990s, are dreaming of replacing the bureaucrats who deceived them with politicians who will develop normal human relations with them and work in the interests of the poor.
One can come to this conclusion listening to people's reactions to Yevdokimov's victory. "A true talent is versatile. Workers of the arts, go into politics!" an ordinary Muscovite said live on radio.
Russians recall the talented artists' mission of cleansing the earth of evil. Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Balzac and Thackerey used to say that their works were designed to rock the evil foundations and bring closer, if only one tiny step at a time, the triumph of social justice.
In his famous sketch, Yevdokimov as "the red-faced man" is going from the sauna to his home, experiencing all kinds of problems on the way. On Sunday, that man was thrown from the sauna into the governor's seat. And the people of the Altai Territory hope he will lead them to a better life.