Putin goes too far

Russian President Vladimir Putin jokes about sexual assault accusations against Israeli President Moshe Katsav. Is the punch line lost in translation?

Published October 20, 2006 7:01PM (EDT)

Russian President Vladimir Putin tried his hand at comedy following a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday. Referring to recent accusations of sexual assault and rape against Israeli President Moshe Katsav, Putin told Olmert, "Say hello to your president. He really surprised us." Then the microphones were turned off, but according to Russia's Kommersant, Putin continued, "He turned out to be quite a powerful man. He raped 10 women. I never expected it from him. He surprised all of us. We all envy him." According to other accounts, he also said, "We did not know he could deal with 10 women." Then Olmert and Putin went on to discuss discord in the Middle East, among other important world issues, for more than two hours.

The Kremlin went into immediate damage control: "In no way can [Putin's remark] be considered as an approval of raping women or an appreciation of such a potential action," a spokesperson told the Associated Press. "Sometimes translation from Russian into English does not reflect the essence of a joke. This was such a case." Could it be that Putin was sarcastically complimenting Katsav as a means of deriding him? That he wasn't offering an approving backslap, but instead some kind of barb against Katsav's manhood  or something? We'd love to believe Putin's joke wasn't as it seems, but the Kremlin spokesperson didn't offer any clear explanation of what exactly the point of the joke was, if it wasn't to offer a locker room high-five.

And it doesn't matter, really. It's possible for a joke to be lost in translation. But jokes about rape -- particularly coming from world leaders -- just aren't funny. Perhaps most disheartening is that Putin's riff reportedly garnered laughs from fellow diplomats. Should we feel terrified or angry? It's a tossup.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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