Central Asia

Harry Potter and the Putin imputation
By Kathleen Knox

PRAGUE - To hear Dobby, the friendly, computer-animated elf who stars in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets , Warner Brothers' latest film about the schoolboy wizard, you might not get a sense of the controversy the character is currently stirring.

But take a look at Dobby and you might get a better idea. With his long nose, buggy eyes and somewhat dour expression, the computer-generated house elf bears a startling resemblance to Vladimir Putin, president of Russia.

The similarity, of course, only goes so far. Unlike Dobby, Putin's skin is not colored. Nor does he have disproportionately large ears. But news of the Dobby-Putin resemblance has nonetheless attracted a lot of public attention. Russian, German, and Italian media have all carried reports on the look-alikes. The BBC's Russian Service even polled its website readers on whether they also saw the similarity. A whopping 77 percent answered "yes".

The topic has also prompted much discussion in Internet chat rooms. "Poor Dobby! Being compared to a politician," said one message. Another visitor to a Russian chat site said he, for one, couldn't see what everyone was talking about. "You guys need to drink less," he wrote. "Or is it me who isn't drinking enough?"

Only Warner Brothers, it seems, had nothing to say. Their publicity department declined to comment.

But if some reports are to be believed, not everyone is amused. The Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy reported that a group of Russian lawyers is preparing to take legal action against the film's producers. The lawyers apparently claim that the artists who created Dobby intentionally based him on Putin. And that, naturally, shouldn't be allowed.

If news of the suit proves true, it wouldn't be the first time concerned Russian citizens have taken the image of their president to heart. In 1995, the Prosecutor-General's Office began an investigation into the satirical puppet show Kukly for allegedly insulting then president Boris Yeltsin. The case was later dropped.

Will Dobby have his day in court? The validity of a pending case is difficult to judge. The Ekho Moskvy report failed to name any of the lawyers alleged to be involved, and no one seems to know who they might be.

Viktor Digishev, public-communications head of the Russian Lawyers' Guild, spoke to RFE/RL's Russian Service. "As regards [to] these rumors, I don't rule out that maybe some lawyer or group of lawyers [is] using this kind of, I would say 'black PR' in order to boost their reputations. Similar suits have taken place. It's very difficult for courts to rule on them; lots of experts have to be called in. It's doubtful if it has a chance. It seems to me it would be a long, drawn-out process. Probably people are doing this specifically to attract attention. That's the only explanation I can have for this action," Digishev said.

Perhaps now that the Dobby-Putin scandal has attracted so much attention, the lawyers will come forward. Or perhaps we should expect a countercomplaint. As one Harry Potter fan put it, "Maybe Dobby should be the one suing."

Copyright (c) 2002, RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC 20036.
Jan 29, 2003


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