I had great fun observing the fallout over Depardieu’s “defection” to Russia. The reason for the apostrophes is of course because it had nothing to do with it. It was Depardieu trolling Hollande and the French “Socialists”, and Putin trolling Westerners and his own homegrown “democratic journalists.” (Or maybe not? In any case, I for one have a difficult time comprehending why anyone would care so much.) This trolling was both entertaining and successful, because it elicited so, so much beautiful rage and loathing from all our favorite quarters.
The Western press
Predictable enough, coverage of this on the right-wing sites like the Wall Street Journal was schizophrenic. After all the writers and readers have to decide on who they hate more: Socialist France or Putin’s Russia? Of course the faux-left/neoliberal press like Le Monde and The Guardian had no such problems. They went stark raving apoplectic:
Gérard Depardieu isn’t enough to change Russia’s image by our good friend Andrew Ryvkin: “The actor may be taking Russian citizenship, but convincing citizens life is better than in the west is a difficult PR exercise” – I hardly think that was ever the point.
Gérard Depardieu joins very small club of adoptive Russian citizens, by Howard Amos: “Few foreigners seek Russian citizenship and even fewer are granted it, with the tide generally going in the opposite direction.” Ah, the (completely discredited) Sixth Wave of Emigration trope. What makes this especially funny is that 300k-400k Brits leave Britain every year, whereas the equivalent figure for Russia (with more than 2x the population) is slightly above 100,000 this year.
But best of all was the Guardian’s caption competition to the above photo. Here are some of the Guardian picks:
Après moi le beluga…?
Gerard announces the closure of several Parisian Boulangeries.
The hilarity of this is that the Guardian is a major mouthpiece for “fat acceptance”; indeed, it is not atypical for its contributors to write inanities like this: “While obese is a medical term, fat is the language of the bully. It’s not a word doctors should use.”
While I certainly have no problem with making fun of fat apologists and their enablers, but what’s hilarious is that the Guardian CiF is notoriously censorious and would have surely deleted those comments had they been directed at anyone the Guardian likes for violating its “community standards.”
“Anything goes,” eh? Okay, here’s an admittedly-asinine question for everyone: how is the Medvedev-back-to-Putin transition being addressed by Russia’s makers of political matryoshki? Are they doing Putin on the outside, then Medvedev, then Putin again and then Yeltsin, Gorbachev etc.; or are they being untrue to history by doing Putin-Medvedev-Yeltsin-Gorbachev…, or are they just cutting to the chase and omitting Medvedev all together? Personally, I can’t believe how they’ve managed to screw-up one of Russia’s premier products in the international-tchotchke industry!
That is actually a very intriguing question. I suppose there’s a reason Matryoshka dolls weren’t invented in Italy!
In my nearly 20 years experience as a Russian living in the West, I have found that almost all my fellows can be reduced to five basic types: 1) The White Russian; 2) The Sovok Jew; 3) The Egghead Emigre; 4) Natasha Gold-Digger; 5) Putin’s Expat.
My background and qualifications to write on this topic? My dad is an academic who moved to the UK with his family in 1994, i.e. an Egghead Emigre. Later on, I moved to California. Much of the Russian community in the Bay Area (though not Sacramento!) are in fact Russian Jews, who are culturally distinct from Russians, albeit the boundaries are blurred and there’s lots of intermingling though Russian cultural events. Topping off the cake, I have some White Russian ancestors, and am familiar with many of them as well as more recent expats via my hobby of Russia punditry.
I hope this guide will entertain American and Russian (and Jewish) readers interested in what happens when their cultures interact and fuse, as well as those very Russian Americans who will doubtless see traces of themselves in at least one of the five main archetypes.
Arrived in: 1917-1920′s, 1945
Social origins: Clerks, Tsarist officials, aristocrats, White Army officers, philosophers.
Culturally related to: Earlier Orthodox Slavic migrants from the Russian Empire who came from 1880-1914, though White Russians proper are more sophisticated than them as they tended to be high class whereas former were peasants.
Political sympathies (US): Moderate conservatism
Political sympathies (Russia): Putin, Prokhorov
No, I’m not talking about Jeff Lebowski’s favorite cocktail. The White Russians (or “White emigres”) are the officers, officials, and intellectuals who fled their country after the Russian Revolution. Prominent examples included Zworykin (TV), Sikorsky (helicopters), and Nabokov (writer). They did not necessarily come to the US straight away: Many came via the great European cities, like Berlin, or Paris, where in the 1920′s, old White Army officers sat around dinghy bars, drowning their sorrows in drink and spending what remained of their money on cockroach racing. Some took more roundabout ways. One girl I know originated from Russian exiles in Harbin, Manchuria (mother’s side) and Brazil (father’s side) who met up and stayed in the US.
h/t Red Hot Russia.
One of the most interesting new bloggers on the Russia watching scene is Augis Barkov and his Red Hot Russia. Much like chinaSMACK for China, he searches out trending stories on Runet and translates them – with comments from netizens – for a wider English-speaking audience. Some of his topics I found interesting included Chechen fashion, “Naked Party of Love”, and Russian dating profiles (from the 1900′s!). Augis recently wrote this exclusive article for Da Russophile on the Russian opposition’s use of sex, scandal, and slapstick to highlight various social and political issues.
There is no such thing as bad publicity. This paradigm works fairly well in advertising consumption products from chewing gum to works of art. But will it succeed in advertising political ideas? Can they be promoted by means of sex and scandals?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but some activists of Russian opposition seem to believe in Succès de scandale. Let me describe the most infamous examples of such acts and leave to readers the judgment whether they were performed by artists or hooligans, liberals or liberasts.
First name which springs to mind in relation to social and political protests expressed in scandalous form is the art-group “Voina” [“War”].
They are best known for the pornographic act which took place in Moscow Museum of Biology in 2008. Few days before the presidential elections in Russia (won by Dmitry Medvedev) a group of 12 activists conducted an orgy in one of the rooms of museum. Five couples simultaneously engaged in sexual intercourse while two other members were holding placard with the writing “Fuck for the Heir Puppy Bear!”.
[Note: Puppy Bear (in Russian “медвежонок”) has the same root as Medvedev’s surname (“Медведев”)]
“Despite it being a sad and fearful prospect, in my opinion a totalitarian reversion for a certain period of time is possible. But the danger lies not in the law enforcement agencies, the power organs, and not even the Army, but in our own mentalities – our people’s, our population’s, in ourselves. It all seems to us – and I admit it, at times it seems that way to me as well – that if we restore order with a firm hand then our lives will become better, more comfortable, and more secure. In fact, this sense of comfort will pass by quickly, because that same firm hand will soon start to strangle us. We will feel it on ourselves and on our families. It is only under a democratic system that officers from the law enforcement agencies – whether they are the KGB, MVD, NKVD, or go by some other name – know that tomorrow could see a replacement of the political leadership in their country, region, or city, and that they would have to answer this question: “Did you comply with the laws of your country? How did you treat the citizens under your power?” – Vladimir Putin, 1996.
“When Russia has no Tsar, there appears a Time of Troubles. When the supreme power weakens, civil war flares up. You understand, the precise name – Tsar, President, General Secretary, Chairman of the Supreme Council – has no relevance whatsoever. There has to be a strong power, a strong executive. If there is no strong power – there will be no united Russia, but constant wheeling-dealings, violence and reprisals.” - Boris Nemtsov, 1997.
A few weeks back Navalny brought my attention to this lovely song extolling Putin’s achievements by Tolibjon Kurbankhanov, a Tajik singer from Dushanbe.
Navalny exhorts his minions to spread this clip far and wide. The writing between the lines is obvious. His reasons aren’t nice and altruistic, but utterly insidious, playing on xenophobia towards Central Asians. The idea being that hearing a Tajik singing in support of Putin will hurt his standing among “true” Russians. ”Liberal fascism” may be met with bemused grins in the US, being the rhetoric of unhinged demagogues like Jonah Goldberg, but in Russia the term accurately describes the emerging alliance between liberal podpindosniki and ethnic nationalists, as best embodied by Navalny.
That said, I’m spreading this clip nonetheless. Not because I support Navalny, nor even because I support Putin, but because I support the idea of Russia as a multi-national federation. And because it really is a very nice song.
Imagine a respected American financial newspaper such as the WSJ writes an article investigating elections fraud in favor of the Democrats. To illustrate the rightness of their point, they include a photo of a ballot for the Republicans that – they allege – wasn’t tallied by the dodgy Solyndra machines rolled out for use in California in 2012. The ballot has “Obama, Go Fuck Yourself!” written out in big red letters. The captions below read: “Correctly filled out ballot, ruled spoiled.” A few days later, the newspaper’s owner fires a high-ranking editor and a CEO at the paper, noting that the publication of that photo “bordered on petty hooliganism.” The paper then apologizes to its readers and advertising partners. The Russian business paper Vedomosti titles its account of this episode “Washington Editor Fired Over Election Coverage”, while Russia Today does a documentary on the retreat of press freedoms in America without even bothering to mention the source of the controversy. You’d think this was a case of severe journalistic bias and incompetence in Russia, no?
I’m glad you do, because this is basically the saga of Kommersant Vlast’s publication of its investigation on falsifications in the Russian legislative elections. It has not been removed from the Internet, to the contrary you can still read it on their site and comment on it. It is an extensive work, titled “United Stuffers” (a play on United Russia) featuring a collection of twelve articles. The only part of it that was subject to “censorship” – and the reason given by its tycoon owner Alisher Usmanov for the dismissal of the editor who approved it – is the photograph below:
Letter to the Editor: Reply to “Given Free Publicity On NTV, Khodorkovsky Only Incriminates Himself Further” (06/11/2011).
In a recent blog post, you touted a report about Mikhail Khodorkovsky on state-owned Russian TV channel NTV. Your post, which implied the Russian Kremlin is being open about its prosecution of Khodorkovsky, was grossly misleading.
You failed to notice that this reporting came only after Khodorkovsky’s conviction. You also failed to notice that public ignorance about the trial itself increased dramatically from 2005, clearly showing that the Kremlin hid the entire proceeding from the public when it counted.
By contrast, you grossly mischaracterize Western reporting of the recent EHCR verdict relating to Khodorkovsky. Contrary to your false claim, a vast number of Western outlets touted the court’s refusal to find Khodorkovsky’s conviction political.