Theater of Absurd With Bush, Putin

By Anna Badkhen

The audience can only hear "bin Laden, atrocities" and "jihad" repeated

anna badkhen.gif Thursday, Oct. 18, 2001.

MARCH 2001. Office of Press Minister Mikhail LESIN. Two American REPORTERS appear to be interviewing the minister.

ONE OF THE REPORTERS: Still, I don't understand why you banned Russian newspapers from printing interviews with Chechen leaders.

LESIN: Because it is illegal and undermines constitutional order! Chechen rebel leaders use such interviews to incite racial hatred. I'm absolutely sure that if you got an interview with Osama bin Laden, your editors wouldn't be allowed to print it, either.

BOTH REPORTERS (simultaneously): Of course they would!

LESIN: I'm sure they wouldn't. Ask them. CURTAIN.


OCTOBER 2001. Bare stage. President Vladimir PUTIN and U.S. President George W. BUSH sit on the edge of the stage. Both wear white tutus, and their hairy legs droop over the side of the stage.

BUSH: At your recommendation, I have advised all U.S. television companies to cease broadcasting any speeches made by Osama bin Laden --

PUTIN (interrupts): -- whose terrorist network trains and arms Chechen bandits --

BUSH: -- but it doesn't look like they have considered my advice. Last time I checked, CNN had a rerun of that speech bin Laden made last Sunday.

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PUTIN: You shouldn't be so soft on them, George. You should tell them to never give him any floor or else (as PUTIN speaks, his face, arms and even his legs begin to blush with anger) you'll waste their cameras in the outhouse! Chechen bandits --

BUSH (interrupts): Whoa, Vladimir, wait. I understand the importance of your campaign in Chechnya. I don't believe anymore any reports of any atrocities allegedly committed by your troops. But I'm not sure I can agree with you concerning the human right to express one's thoughts.

PUTIN (excitedly): But they aren't humans! They give the floor to barbarian murderers! You have to understand that in order to mute all dissent -- oops, I mean, in order to provide your citizens with information you rightfully believe to be correct.

BUSH: But my advisers read in newspapers that that's -- how should I put it -- illegal.

PUTIN: Oh, and of course, you should tell your advisers to stop reading newspapers.

ENTERS a group of unwashed REPORTERS in khaki vests, their multiple pockets overflowing with Kodak film wrappings, gum, pens, accreditations, passports, notebooks and tissues. The reporters engage in an animated discussion, sotto voce; the audience can only hear "bin Laden," "atrocities" and "jihad" repeated several times. The two presidents come up to the reporters and wrap each of them in blue electric tape, head to toe. ENTER men in blue overalls with airport carts, load reporters onto the carts and wheel them away. CURTAIN.


SAME time. Lesin's office. LESIN is behind his desk, talking on the phone and poking at the anchor tattoo on his hand with a sharpened pencil.

LESIN (on the phone, in broken English): I will be happy to advise you on the dealing with your own media, but you should stop the criticizing of our ways of the dealing with our own media, okay? We have the deal, yes? (Waits, listens.) Okay, then. You should start by the -- LIGHTS OUT, CURTAIN.


SAME time, bare stage. PUTIN and BUSH, still in tutus, stand on tiptoes behind a microphone. A brass band starts playing, and the two presidents begin to sing:

BUSH and PUTIN, in unison: You say bin Laden, I say Basayev, let's call the whole thing off. CURTAIN.

Anna Badkhen is a freelance correspondent based in Moscow.


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