‘Russian oil chief Maganov dies in ‘fall from hospital window” says the BBC headline. If one was writing a political thriller, the critics would dismiss the line as silly, as absurd, as carrying the plot into the realms of implausibility.
Russia has become a place where satire is no longer funny because it has become reality. The satirical television programmes of the 1980s would have best been able to capture the mood of the current kleptocracy. Perhaps a Spitting Image dummy could be revived, one that contrives mysterious ends for dissenting voices.
The mysterious death of Revil Maganov is resonant of Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist. In Act Two Scene One of the play, the Maniac (presenting himself as an investigating judge), interviews police officers about the mysterious leap of a railwayman from a fourth floor window of a police station.
MANIAC: …and let’s concentrate on the nitty-gritty: the anarchist’s jump.
SPORTS JACKET: I agree.
MANIAC: So, our anarchist, seized by this ‘raptus’ (in a minute we’ll have to see if we can find a more plausible reason for this) … suddenly gets up, takes a short run, and… wait a minute – which of you gave him a leg-up?
SPORTS JACKET: What do you mean, a ‘leg-up’?
MANIAC: I mean, which of you stood next to the window with his fingers interlocked like so – to give him a good foothold – and then… Whee! Heave-ho, and out he goes!
SPORTS JACKET: Surely, your Honour, you’re not implying that we…?
MANIAC: No, please, don’t get me wrong… I was only wondering… after all, it is rather a high jump, with not much of a run-up, and without a little helping hand… I wouldn’t want anyone to be able to suggest…
SPORTS JACKET: There’s nothing to suggest, your Honour, I assure you – he did it all by himself…!
MANIAC: Did our friend perhaps have bouncy rubber heels?
SPORTS JACKET: No he did not…
MANIAC: Alright, so what do we have? On the one hand we have a man who stands about five foot feet tall, all on his own, with no help, and with no ladder handy… On the other, half a dozen police officers, only a couple of yards away, and one standing right next to the window, who were unable to stop him in time…
SPORTS JACKET: But it was all so sudden…
CONSTABLE: And you have no idea what a slippery customer he was… I only just managed to grab him by one foot.
MANIAC: Ha! You see, you see, my technique of provocation works! You grabbed him by one foot!
CONSTABLE: Yes, but his shoe came off in my hand, and down he went anyway.
MANIAC: Never mind. The important thing is that his shoe came off in your hand. That shoe proves irrefutably that you were trying to save him!
SPORTS JACKET: Irrefutably and incontrovertibly!
SUPERINTENDENT: [To the CONSTABLE) Well done!
CONSTABLE: Thank you, Super…
MANIAC: Just a minute,… something doesn’t quite fit here. [He shows the POLICE OFFICERS a sheet of paper] Did our suicidal friend have three shoes?
SUPERINTENDENT: Three shoes?
MANIAC: That’s what I said. One ended up in the hands of this officer here… We have his statement to that effect, a couple of days after the event… [He shows them the sheet of paper] Look, here.
SPORTS JACKET: Correct, your Honour… He was interviewed by a journalist from Corriere della Sera.
MANIAC: But in this Appendix here, we’re assured that as the anarchist lay dying on the pavement below, he still had both his shoes on his feet. This was witnessed by various bystanders, including a journalist from L’Unita and various other press people who happened to be passing.
SPORTS JACKET: Well, I can’t imagine how that happened…
MANIAC: Neither can I! Unless this officer was very quick about it, and went rushing down to the second floor, stuck his head out of the window as the anarchist was coming past, put his shoe back on mid-flight, and then shot back up to the fourth floor just in time for the body to hit bottom.
SUPERINTENDENT: There, you see, you see, you’re making fun of us again!
MANIAC: You’re right… I couldn’t resist it… I’m sorry. So, three shoes… Would you happen to remember if he was a tri-ped?
MANIAC: Our suicidal railwayman… If it turns out he had three feet, that would explain why he had three shoes.
SUPERINTENDENT: [Tetchily] No, he was not a tri-ped!
Political farce has become political reality in Moscow.