Semi-nude female city administration staff, a zoo filled with mechanical animals, and Germans (“They don’t take bribes”) employed en masse as functionaries are just some of the surprises in store for residents of the Moscow satellite city of Khimki if heavy metal legend Sergei Troitsky, better known as Spider, succeeds in his bid to become their mayor.
“We’ve spent most of our campaign money on PR and booze and didn’t have any money left to buy the girls many clothes,” Spider, 46, says as he stands smoking outside Khimki city administration headquarters, where he and four scantily-clad female campaign staff have just delivered hundreds of compulsory signatures in support of his controversial election campaign.
“We spent all night in the forest getting the signatures,” giggles one of his staff members as news crews follow them out of the city’s election commission. “It was pretty frightening, especially as we were dressed like this.”
But Spider is not laughing.
“I am here to build a bright future for the people of Khimki,” he says. “And for Russia.”
The October 14 mayoral elections in Khimki, a city of some 200,000 people just to the north of Moscow, are expected to be among the most hotly contested in recent years, with the future of nearby woodland slated for destruction to make way for a Moscow-St. Petersburg motorway at stake.
Russia’s anti-Putin opposition is also hoping the polls will provide a vital and potentially inspiring electoral triumph after a nine-month-long campaign of street protests against the former KGB officer’s rule.
But while it’s tempting to see Spider’s participation as a Yippie-style act of absurd political theatre, things are not all they appear to be.
The unexpected decision by Spider to enter the race has seen allegations from anti-Putin candidate Yevgenia Chirikova that the shock rocker is part of a cynical Kremlin project to detract attention from her bid and her uncompromising opposition to the billion-dollar highway project. Spider has said the forest should be cut down because it is “dirty.”
“Well, you know,” Spider responds in curiously nasal tones when grilled on the accusation, “people in high-up government positions, including in the Kremlin administration, were all young once and used to come to our concerts. And when we meet up to get drunk, of course, we discuss, issues like, for example, how best to develop Russia.”
It’s a startling image, but Spider merely nods when asked to confirm that Kremlin administration staff seek his opinion on policy issues. “Among other things,” he shrugs, taking another puff on his cigarette.
Satan and Flying Saucers
Spider is a genuine rock veteran, the sole remaining member of thrash/heavy metal legends Korroziya Metalla, whose first album, 1988’s The Order of Satan, was released on the group’s own label after its no-holds barred content proved too hot to handle for even perestroika-era record companies.
Korroziya’s outlandish concerts also gained the band nationwide notoriety throughout the 1990s, with a Hitler impersonator, Satanist imagery and writhing naked women sharing the stage with the group’s ever-shifting line-up.
National television has come to Khimki to see Spider register for the polls and a news conference sees the bizarre sight of a man whose some dozen studio albums boast titles like “Sadism,” “Cannibal” and “Computer-Hitler” quizzed on issues such as his plans to “develop small business.”
Since announcing his bid, Spider has given around a dozen interviews to Russian media, but perhaps the most memorable was to the hip, opposition-minded online TV channel Dozhd (Rain).
Littering his answers with “For example,” the throwaway phrase that has become almost as much a part of his image as loud guitars and garish album art, Spider mocked the political tactics of the anti-Kremlin movement, outmaneuvering the presenter and her unashamedly patronizing approach.
“[Protest leader Boris] Nemtsov would be better off saying at rallies ‘Look, we have this really cool scientist who’s got some designs for a flying saucer that flies over water, for example, and if we get into power everyone can get one for a small sum’, for example,” he said, without even a hint of a smirk.
“But as it is,” he added, sighing, “they are completely uninteresting.”
Although few seem to be taking his candidacy seriously, Spider has been involved in one form or another with politics in Russia for almost two decades. He was nominated by firebrand politician and writer Eduard Limonov’s now defunct Right Radical Party as a candidate for mayoral elections in Moscow in 1993, but the polls were scrapped amid the violent suppression of a parliamentary rebellion by then President Boris Yeltsin.
“Korroziya Metalla were at the height of their fame back then,” Spider says. “I would have won easily and turned Moscow into the coolest city ever!”
Although the group’s early recordings were generally apolitical, the 1990s and 2000s saw Spider’s political views turn decidedly nationalist and he managed to unite skinheads and football hooligans around his pro-Orthodox Church and anti-immigration platform. He and his supporters were briefly detained by police on a number of occasions at rallies.
Despite, or perhaps, thanks to this sudden shift to the right, Spider achieved an unlikely electoral triumph in 1998, when he came first in snap State Duma polls in the fiercely-working class Moscow suburb of Lyubertsy. But the results were annulled after the turnout failed to reach the required 25 percent and Spider was unable to take up his seat in Russia’s lower house of parliament.
While there may be few comparable figures in the West, Spider is part of Russia’s post-Soviet tradition of political eccentrics, which has seen a psychic, an alleged mafia-connected singer and the founder of a catastrophic financial pyramid win parliamentary seats at one time or another.
Other political oddities include Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party – the fourth biggest in parliament – who has in the past proposed supplying free vodka to everyone, introducing polygamy to solve Russia’s demographic crisis and reclaiming Alaska from the United States.
Savior, not Spoiler!
While Spider admits that he is on good terms with Kremlin officials such as Vladislav Surkov, the former Kremlin spin doctor and a reported lyricist for Russian rock band Agatha Christie, he reacts with what seems like genuine anger when pressed on eco-activist and rival candidate Chirikova’s claim that the sole purpose of his candidacy is to ruin her chances.
“She says I’m a spoiler,” he shouts, “and, yes, maybe I am for the opposition. Because the U.S. State Department will come after her after she loses at the polls and ask ‘Where’s the money?’ And she’ll have to say, ‘The spoiler,’ you know? We’ve wasted all the cash.’”
And Spider pours scorn on what he says is the “naivety” of the United States, echoing President Vladimir Putin’s allegations that Washington is funding the unprecedented opposition to his rule.
“It’s a classic scam. They say to the U.S. administration ‘Come on give us some cash and we’ll create an Orange Revolution’ and everything will be f**cking great,” he rages, making reference to the so-called color uprisings that rocked former Soviet republics in the 2000s. “And they get the cash and put on these stupid performances, which the Americans just lap up.”
“And look,” he goes on, “I didn’t see [liberal Moscow-based radio station] Ekho Mosky sobbing too much when me or my followers were behind bars in the 1990s, for example. No one defended us then, for example. Now it’s their problem.”
“I may be a spoiler for Chirikova, but for the people of Khimki I am the savior!”
Spider also outlines his plans to turn Khimki into a huge gambling zone - “Russia’s Las Vegas” – despite a recently introduced law banning casinos in all but four remote zones.
“Native Americans are allowed to run casinos in the United States, right?” he says. “So the Russian people should be allowed to as well. Russians are also dying out.”
He also gives another airing to perhaps his most newsworthy proposal.
“I’ll solve the problem of corruption by getting Germans to work as city officials,” he says. “They don’t take bribes and, hey, the airport’s not far away.”
And with that, he makes his way to his car, news crews still trailing behind him.
Spider has made it his practice to request two bottles of sweet Ukrainian wine from media outlets wishing to speak to him, and a member of his campaign staff has clearly been tasked with noting who has and who has not been paying up.
“Is that RIA Novosti?” she asks, when called a few days later and asked to clarify a moment from Spider’s colorful biography. “You didn’t bring the wine to the news conference, did you? Well, goodbye then. We have nothing left to say to you.”