Have you heard of the “bald-hairy” joke in Russian political discourse?

“Bald-hairy” is a common joke in Russian political discourse, referring to the empirical rule of the state leaders’ succession defined as a change of a bald or balding leader to a hairy one and vice versa. This consistent pattern can be traced back to as early as 1825, when Nicholas I succeeded his late brother Alexander as the Russian Emperor. Nicholas I’s son Alexander II formed the first “bald–hairy” pair of the sequence with his father.

In modern Russia the pattern is a frequent subject for jokes and cartoons. It is often used in political journalism:

“Bald, hairy, bald, hairy, bald, hairy—that’s how we elect our leaders,” my St Petersburg friend quips when I ask if she voted in the presidential elections. “Think about it: Lenin was bald, Stalin was hairy; Krushchev was bald, Brezhnev was hairy; Gorbachev was bald, Yeltsin was hairy—and Putin is practically bald. Medvedev had to win.”

You can see a full sequence of “bald-hairy” Russian leaders here.

Now, Vladimir Putin has been in power – as president, then prime minister and then president again – for almost 22 years, longer than any leader except Stalin. It is to be profoundly hoped that his disastrous war against Ukraine will encourage a coup against him. For the tradition to be honoured, his successor should have a good head of hair.


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