The Russian embassy in Switzerland has threatened the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung with legal action for publishing an image of President Vladimir Putin with a clown nose and rainbow streaks across his face.The embassy’s press service condemned the Zurich-based newspaper for publishing the image in an article earlier this month about the role of memes and viral images in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The article (reproduced here by the New York Post) is headlined “Between Superheroes and Villains: The Power of Memes in the Ukraine War” and shows the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a Captain America-like suit with Ukrainian colours and symbols, brandishing a large shield. Putin is shown alongside in a clown nose, daubed in colourful face paint. The photo was previously circulated on Twitter under the hashtag #PutinWarCriminal.
A letter published on the website of the Russian embassy in Switzerland, addressed to the Zurich newspaper’s editor-in-chief Eric Gujer, says: “We are extremely outraged by the publication of an offensive cartoon depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin."
The letter adds: "We believe that freedom of speech is in no way compatible with the freedom to spread insults and fakes.” Recordings of Zelensky’s “extremely controversial performances… with an off-scale level of vulgarity” can be found online also, say the Russian officials.
The letter continues: “As for the personality of the President of Russia, he is, as you know, a deeply religious Orthodox person and advocates the preservation of traditional Christian values in Russian society (and he is clearly not a fan of the LGBT community)… Obviously, not everyone in the West likes this, where the ideas of the LGBT community are actively and forcibly promoted from the school bench. The expression ‘war criminal’ is also an unsubstantiated direct insult.”
The letter ends with a reference to Switzerland's defamation laws and said the officials “reserve the right... to apply to the Swiss law enforcement agencies” regarding the Putin clown image. Neue Zürcher Zeitung and the Russian embassy in Switzerland did not respond to a request for comment.