Scandal Involves a Knife, Munich, and Putin on Russian TV

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Millions of Russians witnessed a shocking scenario on Russian state-run television this Friday. Before a live audience, magician Alexander Char performed a trick that resulted in the words “KNIFE MUNICH PUTIN” to be written together on a whiteboard. Viewers watched as one of the show’s co-hosts scrambled to fix the situation, trying to erase Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s surname, to no avail.

The debacle raises questions about freedom of speech on Russian television. Writing for, Oleg Kozyrev comments on the event, and the public fear associated with Putin’s name.

The series that played the bit, titled, “Phenomenon,” is hosted by magician and self-proclaimed mystic Uri Geller, and ran Friday, September 5th on the state-run “Rossiya” channel.

Russia rubbed Putin
Oleg Kozyrev

Millions of Russian television viewers were glued to their screens and couldn’t believe their eyes. In a live broadcast on a state-run TV channel, on a Friday evening, they were trying to erase Putin himself in front of the whole country! His surname, written in black, was rubbed with fingers, with some kind of rag, the host ran around the studio in a panic, but the president didn’t yield. Putin simply was. And wouldn’t be rubbed off. One word – a phenomenon.

The country was exhausted in its search for new wizards. [Magician and psychic Grigory] Grabovoy was sent on assignment to distant places. [Anatoly] Kashpirovsky was forgotten. [Allan] Chumak couldn’t find any new jars to charge [with healing powers]. And hardly anybody believed the politicians.

In this far-from-simple situation, the state-run “Rossiya” television channel acted patriotically: it ordered, from abroad, the local Ostap BenderUri Geller. A person, who bends spoons from a distance and who finds out for the oil companies where there isn’t any oil (that, at least, is how he was presented to viewers).

Uri Geller took the easy money, which fell into his lap at his ripe age, by the horns, and against the background of the astonished eyes of Russia’s good-night beauty, Oksana Fedorova, got into the habit of bending spoons in front of people, and showing other wonders, which during Soviet times would be demonstrated by visiting hypnotists in any run-down community center. He wasn’t David Copperfield, of course, but could be watched, when one was tormented by insomnia, heartburn, or politics.

Since Uri Geller didn’t have enough tricks on reserve for the whole broadcast, the [channel] started diluting the magician with Russian variants of seers and their descendants. Everything was great, yet the show’s organizers, evidently, wanted to earn some money on SMS-voting. For this, they needed a live broadcast. And one shouldn’t expect anything good from a live broadcast, especially if there are viewers, that is to say, a live audience, in the studio.

Disaster came about when Alexander Char decided to show off his abilities. (The show’s website says that his great-grandmother was a witness – no, not a Jehovah’s [witness], but of the Tunguska meteorite’s fall.) The starting point of the trick was good. The plot of a detective story is hanging in a safe. Through viewer’s mouths, the Russian magician would map out how to solve his story, and learn who the killer was. Char piercingly looked at the first viewer and asked her to name the first word in the riddle. “A knife!” the girl exclaimed. The second viewer, after some mental suggestion, named “Munich.” And here the live broadcast broke down. Since, naturally, after the word “Munich,” the third viewer named the first person who came to his mind – [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin. At this moment, [the channel’s General Director] Oleg Dobrodeyev, in all likelihood, tipped over in his chair.

KNIFE MUNICH PUTIN was written in black marker on the board. Uri Geller’s co-host went gray (despite a total absence of hair to begin with) right in the shot. “No, I’m being told here, that this won’t work,” “erase it,” “live broadcast, things do happen.” One heard, in every word of the unfortunate co-host, “don’t shoot me, this is a live broadcast, please, don’t shoot me!” The show’s technicians openly reveled in the effect. Again and again, KNIFE MUNICH PUTIN appeared in the shot. Some kind of assistant ran in and started to rub Putin’s name. But Putin didn’t want to leave the live broadcast. The black marker inscribed Putin’s name permanently. What was written with the marker didn’t want, by any means, to be cut from the live broadcast.

The live transmission continued, and something had to be done. Underneath, they wrote “Vladimir,” but KNIFE MUNICH PUTIN towered like a boulder over this weak apology. It threatened resignations and dismissals. Lubyanka [prisons] and Siberia. Exile to Ekho Moskvy [radio].

Having hurriedly brought the subject to a close, the television program’s leadership fell to their knees and prayed to the heavens that the program had a zero rating, that no one of the viewers had seen this disgrace. But there was a rating. And in a couple days the accursed Internet had also raised the shame up for discussion.

Weren’t the television executives right, that live broadcasts were becoming a thing of the past? Weren’t they right in trying to show as few live people in the shot as possible? They had forgotten the instructions of their TV-ancestors. They had relaxed.

It’s an entertainment show, they thought. And here’s how it turned out –it became necessary to rub the prime-minister in front of the eyes of millions of their countrymen. Most certainly thinking to themselves – what did happen there, in Munich? And why were they rubbing Putin?

From this day forwards, I started to respect Uri Geller. Whatever you may say, but all of Russia saw, how these people caved in. From just one name. From just one name they caved in, in a way that aluminum spoons hadn’t dreamed of.

And it seems to me, that the atmosphere in the country has nothing to do with it. It’s just this kind of phenomenon.

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