Stories from Quick Reads and RuNet Echo
Bloggers in Ukraine are turning to the Internet to publish the locations of troops in the country’s southeast, where the army is in the midst of a massive “counter-terrorist” operation against militants who have seized control of parts of major cities. A group called “Military Maps” on the Russian social network Vkontakte has created an application that allows any user to mark the location of soldiers and military hardware on maps of Ukraine. The service appears to be the work of separatist sympathizers hoping to provide rebel combatants with tactical intelligence.
Друзья! Не забываем! pic.twitter.com/bht8Thd8sA
— ЄВРОМАЙДАН (@euromaidan) April 17, 2014
“Friends! We won't forget!” [Image reads, “Attention: Ukraine's Ministry of Defense asks Internet-users to remain silent about the movements of Ukrainian army troops.”]
The accuracy and timeliness of “Military Maps” is questionable, but some Ukrainian bloggers are taking the threat seriously, spreading a message from the country’s defense ministry warning against discussing online the army’s movements. As early as mid-March this year, the Ukrainian government has cautioned citizens against revealing such information on the Internet. In mid-April, the mega-popular Twitter account “euromaidan” disseminated the same message again (see above), collecting nearly 900 retweets and favorites. Now, as Odessa slips into apparent anarchy and Kiev’s soldiers battle their way into cities throughout the southeast, bloggers are again calling on people to avoid posting about troop movements.
Russia's most famous blogger (or as he describes himself: “corruption fighter, son, husband, father”) has been forced to move away from LiveJournal, the popular blogging platform that launched him to fame in the first place. As a result of government mandated censorship [Global Voices report], and notwithstanding attempts to counteract such censorship [Global Voices report], Alexey Navalny's team has started a new standalone blog, navalny.com [ru]. Because Navalny is still under house arrest, the blog is technically run by his wife. According to the first post [ru], this blog is an attempt to create a clean slate with Russia's Internet regulators, who claim that Navalny's old blog contains calls for unlawful rallies. At this point, Navalny's LiveJournal account [ru] has stopped updating with original content — it simply links to new posts on navalny.com.
Artyom Loskutov, creator of the popular counter-culture art movement “Monstration” [see Global Voices report], made waves on RuNet by signing a letter in support of Dmitry Kiselyov, a journalist who many consider to be Putin's chief propagandist. Loskutov was one of several dozen Russian journalists who signed the letter [ru], which asks pointed questions about recent EU sanctions imposed against Kiselyov, and whether such sanctions constitute an attack on free speech.
Loskutov works for TV Rain, an opposition TV station currently facing financial difficulties because of censorship, and so seems like an odd candidate to voice support for Kiselyov. Popular photo-blogger Rustem Adagamov even tweeted [ru] that he wants to cancel his subscription to TV Rain and get his money back because of Loskutov's position. Loskutov defended himself in a Facebook post [ru], saying that his signature was not in support of Kiselyov, but rather in support of the principle of free speech and the rights of journalists. Many of his readers argued that free speech should not apply to “propagandists” like Kiselyov, launching personal attacks against Loskutov and continuing a long tradition of Russian liberal intelligentsia seeking out fifth columnists in their own ranks.
Over the past several hours rumors [uk] have spread [ru] through [ru] the Russian Internet claiming that Alexander Muzychko, second-in-command to Ukraine's ultra-nationalist “Right Sector” leader Dmytro Yarosh, was gunned down near the Western Ukrainian city of Rivno. Muzychko had earlier posted a YouTube video [ru] claiming he had information that he was going to be eliminated by Ukrainian security forces. If his death, yet unconfirmed, is true, it will be unclear who to blame — too many people have reasons to take him out of the picture. A Chechen blogger, Zulikhan Magomadova [ru], writing in Russian, blamed the Kremlin for the assassination, with the motive of fomenting civil war in Ukraine. Muzychko fought along side Chechen separatists during the first Chechen war. Magomadova ended with “Sleep well, our dear brother-in-arms. We will avenge you.”
In addition to Grani.ru, EJ.ru, Kasparov.ru, and Alexey Navalny's LiveJournal blog [Global Voices report], today some ISPs also blocked the website of the liberal radio station Echo Moskvy (Moscow's Echo). According to antizapret.info, the website was blocked at the behest of the Attorney General's office because it contains a mirror of Alexey Navalny's blog at www.echo.msk.ru/blog/navalny. Echo Moskvy Deputy Editor-in-Chief Vladimir Varfolomeev tweeted that at least one ISP is working on resolving the problem:
Пресс-секретарь Акадо сообщил, что идёт работа по возвращению доступа к сайту Эха, но по-прежнему будет закрыта страница Навального на нём.
— Владимир Варфоломеев (@Varfolomeev) March 13, 2014
Akado's [ISP -ed.] press secretary told me that they are working on returning access to Echo, but Navalny's page there will still be blocked.
Some bloggers are also reporting [ru] problems accessing their LiveJournal blogs, likely because of the same issue of over-zealous blocking.
A group of artists in Kiev has opened a new exhibit that many Russians are calling dangerously xenophobic. Yesterday, April 24, 2014, the “Ukrainian Cultural Front” presented four interactive installations intended to criticize Russia for its opposition to the EuroMaidan movement and its interventions in southeastern Ukraine. The most controversial exhibit (titled “Beware of Russians!”) featured three homely-looking men trapped behind a fence, dressed as stereotypical Russians. (One man wore a tracksuit, another donned military camouflage, and a third sat on a flattened cardboard box, playing the balalaika and begging for spare change.) Posted on different sides of the fence were signs like those one finds at a zoo, reading “Beware of Occupiers!” and “Please Do Not Feed!”
The art exhibit was in such obvious bad taste, many Russians seem to believe, that several of the RuNet's most vocal patriotic bloggers simply reposted photos from the installation, not even bothering to specify their objections. Of course, many others found it necessary to articulate the dangers of Russophobia. Publicist Dmitry Olshansky, whose Facebook texts are among the Russian blogosphere's most vociferously pro-intervention, wrote threateningly that the “motor” of today's conflict between Russia and Ukraine rests entirely on “Ukraine's certainty that Russians will never respond to anything.”
The Russian government is drafting a new project that would redefine the “principles of state cultural policy.” In a concept paper shared with the press this week, a working group led by Sergei Ivanov, Putin's chief of staff, declared Russia's need to preserve its unique “state-civilization” and moral foundation in the face of globalization. Russia must “open up to the world” without “dissolving in it,” the paper argues.
The Ministry of Culture's plans could have a profound impact on Russia's regulation of the Internet, if future legislation adopts the language that now appears in the working group's recommendations, which likens “information quality controls” to environmental protection:
Сегодня в киберпространстве все, кто имеет доступ к компьютер и Интернету, что-то создают и распространяют вне зависимости от образования, кругозора, жизненного опыта, знания предмета, психического здоровья и их истинных намерений. В результате информационное пространство загрязнено, и воздействие на нас этих загрязнений пока еще плохо осознается, но их уже можно сравнивать с загрязнением воздуха, которым мы дышим и воды, которую мы пьем.
Today in cyberspace, everyone who has access to a computer and the Internet is creating and distributing something, regardless of their education, worldview, life experience, expertise, mental health, or true intentions. As a result, the information space is polluted. It is still early and we cannot say what impact this has on us, but we can already compare this to pollution of the air we breathe and the water we drink.
Equating “Internet pollution” with carbon emissions and water contamination would vastly expand the state's ability to regulate online activity. Lawmakers discussed the working paper in the Duma today, but no one addressed its potential application to Internet policy. Before the plan emerges as legislation, state officials have several wrinkles to iron out—particularly those concerning funding.
On March 25, 2014 designer and one of the most popular RuNet bloggers, Tema Lebedev, announced on his blog that his design studio, ArtLevedev created the logo for the “2014, a Year of Culture” project, commissioned by the Russian government:
Shortly after, one of his readers posted a comment [ru] to his blog, with the logo jokingly photoshoped to look like a swastika:
This image was in picked up by Ukrainian Twitter user Katya Avramchuk, who posted it saying that this was the actual logo designed by Lebedev's studio:
Студия Артемия Лебедева (Эркен Кагаров) разработала логотип Года культуры в России pic.twitter.com/yJLKRFn6zE
— The Avramchuk Post (@avramchuk_katya) March 25, 2014
Artemiy Lebedev's studio (Erken Kagarov) designed the logo for Russia's year of culture.
From here, the Tweet was re-posted [ru] by popular Russian-language Ukrainian Twitter @euromaidan, which tweeted it without attribution. This post has been re-tweeted 389 times. No trace of the original (funny or not) joke remains, just another entry into a name-calling “Who is the bigger Nazi” contest between Russians and Ukrainians.
Russia’s only independent television station, TV Rain, is on its last leg. Following what appears to have been an orchestrated campaign to rob the channel of its cable and satellite distributors, advertisers have run for the hills and the station is being evicted from its Moscow studio at Red October later this year. There’s even a rumor that Lifenews.ru—a Kremlin-friendly outfit that often miraculously reports news before it’s happened—will take over TV Rain’s office space.
As funds dwindle, staff are reduced, and time runs out, many have been asking what TV Rain can do to avoid ruin. We now know what the station will try to do to save itself: a weeklong telethon. “Tomorrow there might not be a TV Rain,” reads the telethon's manifest, “and this week will decide everything.” The station says it will seek viewer funding to continue operating, following the model of public television, which Dmitri Medvedev famously promoted (without great success).
Beginning tomorrow, March 24, 2014, TV Rain will display onscreen a crawling fundraising total. The ticker will convert the money collected into the amount of time the donations can keep TV Rain operating.
Может быть, хватит всего на один день. А может быть, на неделю. Но кто знает — может быть, и на месяцы — всё зависит от вас.
Maybe there will only be enough for another day. Maybe for a week. But who knows—maybe it will be enough for several months. Everything depends on you.
Pavel Durov, Russian entrepreneur and the brains behind the social networking site VKontakte.ru, recently wrote on his page there, that more and more young people are deciding to emigrate from Russia over the past eight months. Durov quipped [ru], “In typical fashion, I've decided to go against the trend — and want to outline seven reasons to stay put in Russia.”
Here are Durov's seven reasons:
1) Low Taxes — Russia has a flat income tax of 13%, something that Europeans can only dream of.
2) Talented People — Russians often show off their talents by becoming champions in many fields, from computer programming to figure skating.
3) Breathtaking Scenery — Russia is a leader in terms of the volume and diversity of natural resources on its territory.
4) Beautiful People — As someone who has spent several years outside of Russia, Durov says that he can confirm that the percentage of beautiful girls in Russia is significantly higher than in most other countries.
5) Freedom of Expression — Taking a creative approach to pushing the envelope is Russia's national characteristic.
6) Potential for Economic Development — Many like to underscore Russia's lack of development. However, thanks to the lack of development, this leaves the possibility to create new possibilities, which developed countries lack.
7) A Rich Cultural History — Russia gave the world dozens of writers, architects, composers, artists, and scientists.
It remains to be seen if these positive aspects of Russian life are enough to outweigh the negative, and convince potential emigrants that they have more of a chance at home.