In 1996, the freshly un-Sovieted Russia was holding its second presidential election ever. The reigning president, perestroika enthusiast Boris Yeltsin, was running a hard campaign against his close rival, Gennady Zyuganov of the Communist Party. It was such a close race that the government decided to make it a federal holiday to ensure that everyone eligible could exercise their right to vote.
Unfortunately for Yeltsin, the weather was turning out to be very nice, and every single Russian is a gold medal contender in the Not Giving a Fuck Olympics. He realized that an extra day off wouldn't send the city-dwelling constituents -- the vast majority of his supporters -- to the voting booths. Instead, they would just pack their stuff and piss off for a quick holiday in the countryside.
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"Eh, what's the worst that can happen? It's not like we live in an unstable country."
After all, Russians were very inexperienced in the finer nuances of democracy (even though a Communist win would mean the return of goods restrictions, poorly built space shuttles, and statues of Lenin dotting the land), and it never occurred to them to give a damn, as long as they had the day off. Yeltsin needed a way to keep his supporters in the city, where the voting booths were, and off the beaches. His solution took the form of a TV show called Tropikanka, a Brazilian telenovela that was inexplicably popular throughout Russia.
The only known time a soap opera has ever held any importance for any situation.
Yeltsin's strategy was brilliant in its simplicity: He contacted the TV station that was airing Tropikanka and convinced them to air three all-new episodes of the soap opera on election day. When the news got out, a whole lot of people suddenly rearranged their holiday plans. You see, most Russian country resorts had no televisions, and there was no way they would miss their triple fix of Brazilians pouting at each other. And since they had nothing much to do until the show came on, they might as well take the opportunity to try this "voting" thing they'd heard about.
Boris Yeltsin went on to rake in 54.4 percent of the vote and retain his presidency. To show his respect to the absurdly melodramatic TV shows that had made his re-election possible, he spent much of his career as a wacky character from one.
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Nothing will ever convince us this isn't Yeltsin's O-face.
Evan V. Symon is a Workshop moderator. When he isn't busy falsifying elections, he can be found on Facebook. Xavier Jackson can be reached at XavierJacksonCracked@gmail.com and has a Facebook page to make him feel like he's important. Micah writes more lists here and helps save the world here.
For more bizarre game-changers, check out 5 Stupid Bets That Changed the World and 6 Mistranslations That Changed the World.
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