The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 12, No 1 (2024)

Polarised but similar: Russian and Belarusian pro- and anti-democratic humour in the public sphere

Liisi Laineste,Anastasiya Fiadotava


Conflict divides society by bringing out opposing opinions and social, political and cultural difference. Humour becomes a way to disseminate and comment on opinions as well as to mark divisions in the public sphere. Even though humour is ambiguous in nature, its stance (Shifman 2014) is made evident through content and/or context. In cases where the content of pro- and anti-democratic humour is similar, meta-discourse decides the stance.

In this article we look at the (mainly online) humour that has emerged as a reaction to politically polarising conflicts. We use as examples the 2020 protests in Belarus and the Russian war in Ukraine. We analyse common and unusual motifs in pro- and anti-democratic humour born from these conflicts and discuss the sources used to create this humour. The results show that anti-democratic humour has fewer layers of reference and is less subtle than pro-democratic humour as the latter needs to circumvent censorship. Pro-democratic humour makes ample use of self-irony in contrast to the more rigid and offensive position taken in anti-democratic humour. Pro-democratic humour also needs to be more inclusive as it often spreads within a wider, more global audience catering for wider tastes in humour.


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