La Russophobe‘s translator has been visiting the Russian blogosphere to review its reactions to his translations published on this blog. Here is his initial report. Particuarly noteworthy is the ability of clever Russians to realize that this blog, far from hating Russians, loves them much more than the Russophiles who are trying to destroy them, led by the malignant little troll in the Kremlin; they are also clever enough to realize that belief in “russophobes” — like belief in Ded Moroz, the Easter Rabbit, and the democratic intentions of a proud KGB spy — is illusory, in an fact self-imposed flattery that Russians are important enough to be hated. Worst of all is the simply insane notion that criticism of Russians is racial. Dark-skinned people can be just as much “Russian” as the Slavs (at least in English they can).
The Chekisti Win Again… Or Maybe Not?
One Week on a RuNet Forum
On February 19, 2007 La Russophobe published a link to a list of suspected members of FSB Internet-harassment Brigades and their associates, located on a forum of the online journal Yezhednevniy Zhurnal (YeZh). Unbeknownst to LR at the time, however, just two days earlier the site administrator had terminated this forum with the following announcement:
Fea vbmenu_register(“postmenu_476075”, true);
Вес репутации: 100
Принято решение запретить юзеру zasdevushka публиковать сообщения и темы подобного характера.
Translation: “The decision has been made to prohibit user Zasdevushka from publicizing this information and topics of a similar character. This topic is closed.”
By way of background, the forum was titled, “Battle Without Rules” (Borba bez pravil), started by user “Zasdevushka”on January 10, 2007 when she posted her first “List of Chekist Provocateurs and Their Accomplices”. At the time it was started, the thread enjoyed the full support of the YeZh site administrator, who gave Zasdevushka a “half smiley” grade for her first posting. As one might expect, Zasdevushka’s “modest undertaking” immediately drew an enormous number of responses, from both supporters and opponents — the latter including some of the nicknames that were on her list. As one can see from the final posting, over a five-week period the thread accumulated 2,992 postings, and was quite active to the last day of its existence.
In short, it looked like the “Commissars of the Internet” had won again.
The Pro-Democracy Partisans Fight Back
After the closure of Chekist Provocateurs List forum, Zasdevushka and her pro-democracy cohorts continued posting on other forums, more or less as if nothing had happened. On February 22, one of them, nicknamed “Korchagin”, posted the following congratulatory message on a different YeZh forum, noting that Zasdevushka’s list had been linked to by La Russophobe:
Zasdevushka can be proud.
Her list of “Chekist Provocateurs and Their Accomplices” has attracted the interest of American Internet users. Here is what the popular American Internet site La Russophobe is saying:
The site also published an English translation of an article that had previously circulated on the RuNet, “Commissars of the Internet: The FSB at the Computer”.
The remainder of Korchagin’s post gave a condensed version of LR’s introduction to the “Commissars of the Internet” article and Zasdevushka’s list, including the note that one of the personalities on the list, “ENOT/EHOT”, has made regular, obnoxious appearances on American sites, and that another Russian-language site, had also linked to and commented on LR’s translation of the “Commissars” article.
Parrying the Foil
Over the next few days after Korchagin’s post, Zasdevushka and her fellow pro-democracy participants on the forum were attacked by several readers who claimed to be offended by the LR link. One reader, “Foil”, called her to task repeatedly for being proud to be associated with a site that called itself “La Russophobe”. Zasdevushka gave the following replies:
Quote (from “Foil”):
How could any responsible person be gladdened by a favorable evaluation of their work from someone or something with the name “Russophobe”? If you were admired by a blog named “Cannibal” would you be proud of that too?
Post (by “Vasdevushka”):
Any information in this world should be evaluated by only one criterion: whether it is true or false. In this context, it is absolutely irrelevant who gave the information and under what name (“Russophobe”, “Cannibal”, “KGB Spy” or “Communist”).
But as long as we’re on the subject, if you would like to try and understand why the reference has the name “Russophobe”, you might acquaint yourself with the explanation (I too was at first shocked by this name, so I looked it up and found it)
Foil seemed to concede Zasdevushka’s point about the name La Russophobe not necessarily being meant to betaken at face value. But he continued his attack nonetheless.
Quote (from “Foil”):
“It may be that the name ‘Russophobe’ or ‘Cannibal’ might not carry so much meaning, and in a certain sense might be taken ironically. But the point is that the reference was made to your ‘List’, and was given in a tacitly approving context. My view and the view of many other participants in this forum toward your brainchild is well-known. I think it was created on the basis of fascist principles. In this sense both the tacit approval of your work by the cited resource and your pride at this evaluation speak volumes about you and this resource.”
Post (by “Vasdevushka”):
Wonderful. Now we’re having a serious conversation. (Incidentally, it was immediately clear to me that the name of the site “Russophobe” is in fact an ironic usage and that they are in no way Russophobes. Such people don’t exist in the real world in any event, with the exception perhaps of a few really sick individuals, but these bugaboos are held up by our own more-or-less educated sick individuals (including one now-deceased mathematician) and picked up by our leaders to help them to pull the wool over our eyes – in the Soviet era they called it the “capitalist encirclement”.) I wanted you to say it, you said it, and it’s much to your credit that you did. Now further. You and a lot of other people may have had some very negative views of my list, but you couldn’t have helped but notice (unless you kept your eyes closed) that a significant number of participants had a distinctly favorable view of it as well. Hence, my take on your remarks about the “favorable” view of the site “La Russophobe” toward my list is only that it (like the view of many participants here) does not agree with your point of view, nothing more, nothing less. So allow me to continue to take pride in the positive view of my undertaking held by a large portion of readers “here” and the above-mentioned site “over there”.
P.S. – Incidentally, regarding your use of the term “fascist principles” with regard to my modest undertaking: In my view, the term “fascist principles” would incomparably better fit the practice of our ruling structures to mobilize, at taxpayers’ expense, a large number of personnel (the Web Brigade), who day and night , under the guise of being private individuals, try to beat over the head those they are ordered to beat by the authorities. Now that is a typical fascist practice.
Following the Money
After the above exchange, “Foil” went on to counter-claim, “Даже если допустить наличие бригад, оплата пиар-услуг по продвижению чего либо не может являться фашизмом ни по какому его пределению.” Essentially, Foil is here saying that there is nothing “fascist” about a Brigade receiving money for “PR services” – including, presumably (since this is what Zasdevushka was specifically talking about), posting messages on forums on behalf of government interests; pretending to be a private citizen; attacking the viewpoints and dignity of private individuals; and being paid for these “services” by the unwitting Russian taxpayer. Indeed, Foil’s outburst would seem to speak volumes about the values, mores and sense of entitlement of the Brigade and its supporters in Russian society.
Joining the Battle
Reading the YeZh forum, we can see that some things have in fact changed since the “Commissars of the Internet” article was first written in 2003. Most significantly, the pro-democracy forum participants are banding together and sticking up for each other. The day before Korchagin posted his congratulations to Zasdevushka, a brigadnik/accomplice, “RealDorum”, wrote an abusive piece in response to another mention of the Brigade, in which he asked, “Are you completely out of mind? Don’t you realize that your search for Brigades places you on the same list with searchers from the Washington Obkom?” (TN: “Obkom” is short for the Soviet “oblastniy komitet”, or regional committee/government; here, it appears to have taken on a slang meaning to refer to parts of the U.S. government that might be viewed as meddling in Russian internal affairs.) A different pro-democracy participant, Ommsi, responded immediately: “You listen up, fool, it’s by and large intelligent people who gather here. If you want to behave like a barbarian, do it in the space under the gate…”
So, which side is winning? Clearly, the pro-democracy side is losing battle after battle on the RuNet, as their threads are shut down, members are banned or censured by increasingly hostile site administrators, and the Kremlin ratchets up its spending on “PR services” (read: Brigade payrolls) ahead of the 2008 elections.
But the pro-democracy side is also forcing the Brigade and its supporters, bit by bit, to reveal their methodologies, as well as where their money is coming from, and the methods and justifications by which it is arriving. Somewhat to their credit, some of the brigadniki seem to believe they are doing nothing wrong, and even seem anxious to come in from the cold, perhaps as“PR professionals” of some sort. One can almost hear their Kremlin handlers wincing (“Doh!”) as these ingénue agents of influence try to explain themselves. But with every closed forum, every nakedly biased action by a site administrator, every abusive outburst by a Brigade member or supporter, every revelation of government “active measures” on the Internet, the Russian public cannot help but see more clearly that the Putin administration is taking them straight back to the bad old days of the Soviet Union. The Kremlin PR strategists may yet find themselves quoting Hannibal: “Another such victory and I’ll be undone completely.”
* * *
P.S. — The date on which the “Battle Without Rules” thread was closed – one day before LR published her link to the list – is a little suspicious. There were no especially sharp exchanges on the site in the days before it was closed, and no new names had been added to the list in the previous few weeks. It might also be worth noting that LR was notified of the existence of the list via her Yahoo email account one day before the thread was closed. Considering Putin’s well-known paranoid complexes, would it be paranoid on our part to suppose he and his tribe might view LR as a growing threat?