"Look how cute this is!"

'Homunculus Loxodontus', a statue that belongs to the LUMC, is a viral meme in Russia. He captures the Russian national character, apparently.

Marit de Roij

A sculpture from Leiden University Medical Centre has enthralled the Russian Internet.

The statue seems to be a cross between a sea elephant and a person sitting patiently, hands folded, on a bench. Last December, the hospital bought the sculpture from its young creator, sculptress Margriet van Breevoort. Later, in late January, a Russian member of staff at LUMC uploaded a picture of it to Pikabu, the Russian version of Reddit. "Look how cute this is!" Russia immediately fell in love with endearing helplessness of the creature. Officially, the statue’s name is Homunculus Loxodontus, but it was quickly christened Zhdun: "The Waiter", an uneasy sounding corruption of the verb "zhdat", which means "to wait". And a meme was born.

Zhdun soon appeared everywhere on the Russian-speaking Internet: waiting for the bridge that is to connect Crimea with the Russian mainland, waiting with Russian ministers for the sanctions to be lifted. Leader of the opposition, Navalny, photoshopped Zhdun in the judge’s chair during the nth case in which he must stand trial.

Zhdun seems to capture the Russian national character perfectly. In Russia, where individuals have no hope of taking on the bureaucracy, endless waits take up a significant part of daily life. The Russians, like Zhdun, just put up with it. One of the most popular pictures shows the creature sitting next to eighties rock legend Viktor Tsoi famous for his hit We’re waiting for changes.

Zhdun is still waiting.

The lack of free media is forcing Russians to turn to the Internet to express their dissatisfaction. Social problems cannot be addressed by a legitimate parliament, an independent justice system or protests, so Internet satire is the only weapon they have against the authorities and self-deprecating humour is an important part of that. That’s why Internet hypes in Russia are of a different nature to our favourite pictures. In the West, pictures of cats or recognisable social situations are popular while in Russian, memes focus on mocking their own bad situation. The extremely rapid rise of the hopeless creature Zhdun fits in perfectly with that tradition.

Zhdun has not only been spotted in waiting rooms, at building sites and in restaurants – he has been integrated into Russian art. His innocent, resigned attitude seems almost to belong naturally to classic portrayals of nobles and popular uprisings. He fits in completely, glancing around politely without being capable of doing anything about his situation. The powerless Russian man-in-the-street is a phenomenon from far beyond the last two decades. "We’ve noticed that many visitors go up to the sculpture; they take selfies and children like to sit next to it", Sharon Rijkaart, LUMC’s spokeswoman told Mare. "People want to stroke it. It’s so nice to see that this piece of art attracts so many happy responses, but it, of course, mainly intended for our young patients." Zhdun will be moved to the children’s hospital soon but, until then, it will be on display in the hall of LUMC.

And on the Internet, of course.

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