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'Make the politicians work': Russian anti-bureaucrat ad wins 4 Cannes Lions

'Make the politicians work': Russian anti-bureaucrat ad wins 4 Cannes Lions
A street campaign exposing the unwillingness of Russian officials to fix city roads has won four awards at the annual Cannes Lions festival. But the woman behind the advert says the idea cost her her job, and potentially, her freedom.

Executed by Voskhod advertising agency, Make Politicians Work has become the first Russian campaign to be awarded statuettes in four different categories at the creative industries’ equivalent of the Oscars.

“We kept writing about the state of the roads in our hometown, but no one paid any attention. So we decided to approach the task from an innovative angle – and it’s worked!” said Aksana Panova, former editor in chief and part-owner of the local Urals news website ura.ru, which came up with the idea.

One night a year ago, a team of graffiti artists found several large potholes on the main streets of Yekaterinburg and drew caricatures of the region’s main officials – including the regional governor, the city mayor, and the vice mayor – around them on the pavement, with the openings serving as gaping mouths. Underneath, they listed a quote from each official, promising to fix the roads.

Photo from ravoshod.ru

The guerrilla campaign made most of the country’s national newspapers the following day.

That same afternoon, teams of workmen were dispatched to the graffiti. But instead of fixing the potholes, road workers simply painted over the images. This was captured by hidden cameras installed by the organizers, and the artists quickly returned, stencilling the message “Painting it is not fixing it”.

Only then did the repairmen return and pave over the cracks in the roads.

Ura.ru started out as a small online news agency in Yekaterinburg, but has become famous nationwide for crusading journalism against powerful local officials and businessmen.

But since the road stunt, the editorial team has had to leave the website.

Ura.ru, which had earned the wrath of Governor Evgeniy Kuyvashev not only for this campaign, but for publicizing his close links to a group of influential businessmen, has found itself in legal trouble.

Kuyvashev and his double. (Photo from ravoshod.ru, RIA Novosti / Aleksey Nikolskyi/ravoshod.ru)

Late last year, Panova was charged with four counts of embezzlement, extortion and abuse of position. She is accused of withdrawing nearly $400,000 from a company account and “spending the money on personal needs” (she says she used the funds to pay salaries to the staff). She is also alleged to have demanded pay-offs from local businessmen in exchange for not publishing negative articles about their companies.

Panova herself was fired by the majority owners of ura.ru, an Austrian company, and has left the news site to set up another resource, with all but one of her editorial staff following her out of the door.

She has repeatedly accused Kuyvashev of being behind the “trumped-up” charges, and has enlisted help from several prominent human rights experts, who have spoken in her defense.

If the trial, which begins at the end of the month, finds Aksana Panova guilty, she could face up to 15 years behind bars.

Aksana Panova. (RIA Novosti / Pavel Lisitsyn)