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Russia: the Scuffles of the Moscow Literati

Online conflicts between Russia’s bloggers, journalists, and political activists are common. Now that everything people say is meticulously recorded by one social network or other, it is easy to find cause for offence. These virtual conflicts usually stay virtual, even though the insults can get quite vicious. There are, of course, occasional threats of physical violence loosely equivalent to “if I could only get my hands on you.” These are usually ignored as posturing, and rightly so.

For example, when a Twitter spat between blogger Maksim Kononenko and Pussy Riot lawyer Mark Feygin devolved into mutual accusations of homosexuality, Feygin ended the conversation saying [ru]:

Ну,что же. В сети я с тобой прекращаю общаться. А вот вне ее надеюсь встретиться. Попробуй повторить это мне в лицо.

Well then. I’m going to stop talking to you on the internet. But outside of it I hope to meet you. Try telling me this to my face.

As far as anyone knows, nothing violent followed, and probably won’t. It’s not as if Feygin is the first person to threaten Kononenko, a well known troll. Back in 2006 journalist Alexander Ryklin made a similar threat [ru]:

Я просто набью вам морду. Как только где-нибудь встречу, так сразу и набью.

I’ll just deck you in the face. As soon as I meet you somewhere, I’ll deck you right away.

Once again, there was no actual fight.

Mikhail Idov at GQ Man of the Year 2012. Youtube Screenshot. October 27, 2012

Nevertheless, there are exceptions. Just recently, an online altercation between Mikhail Idov, the new editor-in-chief of GQ Russia, and Eduard Dorozhkin, an editor at Tatler Russia, ended in physical violence. According to Dorozhkin [ru], he was standing with friends near the entrance to the Bolshoi Theater, when Idov came up, asked him to “step outside,” and when Dorozhkin refused, slapped him in the face and left. Dorozhkin, who has had several concussions in the past, was not amused.

Idov explained his actions in a friends-only Facebook post (re-posted here [ru]):

Пощечина – идиотский способ решения проблем. Но безнаказанный антисемит у тебя под боком – в разы более идиотская проблема.

A slap is an idiotic way of solving problems. But an unpunished anti-Semite at your side is a proportionately more idiotic problem.

Eduard Dorozhkin's Facebook page. Screenshot. October 27, 2012

Idov claims that Dorozhkin has been systematically insulting him and GQ, and is an anti-Semite. It appears that this particular slap came in response to Dorozhkin’s Facebook post from October 9 [ru]. In the post Dorozhkin complains about New York, says that the weather is awful and as a result:

Неудивительно, что некоторые еврейские литераторы так и стремятся в Россию “на ловлю счастья и чинов”, как писал один русский поэт, – и все метят в главные редакторы русскоязычных изданий, так им неймется в социальном жилье а Брайтон Бич.

No wonder, that certain Jewish men-of-letters want to go to Russia “to find happiness and rank,” as one Russian poet wrote; and all of them aim to be the editors-in-chief of Russian publications, they are that uncomfortable in public housing on Brighton Beach.

Although no names are named, this was likely a veiled jab at Idov, who until last year was a Russian immigrant living in New York, and is of Jewish descent.

It’s hard to tell for sure whether Dorozhkin’s intent with the hyperbolic statement was anti-Semitic, or whether he was driven by a personal dislike of Idov. A society pages journalist, Bozhena Rynska, seems to think the latter is to blame, as well as Dorozhkin’s general style of conversation [ru]:

Я не думаю, что Дорожкин антисемит. Просто грязный рот. Типичное пидовское злословие, которое, кстати, в светской беседе очень мило.

I don’t think Dorozhkin is an anti-Semite. He just has a dirty mouth. It was typical gay backbiting, which, can, by the way, be cute during small talk.

Rynska’s opinion is suspect, since she herself seems to stereotype Dorozhkin, who is homosexual, as a “sassy queen.”

Even if Dorozhkin’s statement was anti-Semitic, it raises the question of appropriate response. If Idov felt offended or slandered he should have taken Dorozhkin to court, or written an editorial and let the court of public opinion decide. One user on Friendfeed commented [ru] on his seemingly disproportional, yet ultimately ineffective actions:

дать пощёчину педерасту из журнала про знаменитостей в рамках борьбы с антисемитизмом в россии, my ass! в следующий раз когда спартак коням проиграет, отвешу леща консьержке, пожалуй

to slap a pederast from a celebrity magazine as a way of fighting the good fight against anti-Semitism in Russia, my ass! next time when Spartak loses to CSK [Moscow soccer teams.-A.T.], maybe I’ll punch the concierge.

As seen from above comments, Russian homophobia holds its own with anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, journalist Oleg Kashin reacted [ru] to Idov with a sad-face:

@tsuvorova Заразился нравами, блин((

@tsuvorova [He’s] gotten infected with our habits, damn((

Kashin knows what he’s talking about. In 2008 he himself was a victim of assault, when the popular writer Eduard Bagirov attacked him [ru] at a restaurant where Kashin was having dinner with a friend, as a response to an online insult. In a situation similar to Dorozhkin’s, Bagirov first offered Kashin to “step outside,” then, when Kashin refused, punched him in the face. Just recently the self-same Bagirov and another writer, Sergey Minaev, beat up [ru] GQ contributor Andrey Ryvkin over Twitter comments (Bagirov later said that it was “only a slap”).

There are other examples; in fact, altogether too many. Wikireality, a wiki project cataloging the RuNet, even has an article entitled “Blogger Fights [ru].” Among these it lists the “tomato terrorist” Andrey Morozov, who famously used tomatoes to move internet disagreements to the physical plane (Global Voices did a profile of Morozov last May). Ilya Yashin, currently a member of the Coordinating Council of the opposition, also made the list for his fight with nationalist publicist Egor Holmogorov.

Regardless of his motives, Idov’s recent actions have contributed to an unfortunate trend. But his touchiness is perhaps understandable — he does have big shoes to fill. GQ Russia’s former editor, Nikolai Uskov, held the job for nine years and is somewhat of a legend on RuNet; a divisive figure, often mocked for his refined tastes. Currently the editor of the Snob project, he once wrote a list of “simple things” he enjoys. The list famously included [ru]:

Джем из кумквата на бруске ржаного вестфальского хлеба за завтраком

Kumquat jam on a slab of Westphalian rye bread at breakfast

and

Мощная струя любимого Comme des Garcons 71 на чистое тело

A powerful jet of my favorite Comme des Garcons 71 after a bath

Uskov's list did not include vigilantism. Idov might do better to emulate his predecessor and keep online conflicts virtual.

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