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Russia: Putin's 'Potter' Elf Look-Alike Creates A Stir
By Kathleen Knox

What's short, green, and stars in the latest Harry Potter film about the schoolboy wizard? The answer is Dobby, a computer-generated elf. The virtual actor has inspired a wave of public commentary for his uncanny resemblance to Russian President Vladimir Putin. As RFE/RL reports, not everyone is taking the similarity lightly. 

Prague, 27 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- To hear Dobby, a 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.

Dobby: "Harry Potter! Such an honor it is!"

Harry Potter: "Who are you?"

Dobby: "Dobby, the house elf. Harry Potter must not go back to Hogwarts' [school] this year!"

But take a look at Dobby and you might get a better idea. With his long nose, buggy eyes, and somewhat dour expression, Dobby the computer-generated house elf bears a startling resemblance to none other than Vladimir Putin, president of Russia. 

The similarity, of course, only goes so far. Unlike Dobby, Putin is not green. 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 uncanny look-alikes. The BBC's Russian Service even polled its website readers on whether they also saw the similarity. A whopping 77 percent -- admittedly, this correspondent was included in the voting -- answered "yes." 

The topic has also prompted much discussion in Internet chat rooms. "Poor Dobby! Being compared to a politician," said one message on a Harry Potter fan site. 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 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 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." 

(Pictures are available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/russian/life/newsid_2678000/2678641.stm or http://www.cgnews.ru/production/hp2/index.html) 

(RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report.)
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