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Russian Facebook of Horrors: It's a Conspiracy!

Last weekend the RuNet was abuzz with the sordid story of aspiring chef and unlucky restaurateur, Alexey Kabanov, who has allegedly strangled his wife, Irina Cherska, and dismembered her corpse in an attempt to escape the law. Scarcely a week later, Irina's murder has been eclipsed by two other deaths — an assassination [ru] of Russia's most influential crime lord and the suicide [ru] of a Russian political refugee in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, in the days immediately following Kabanov's arrest, Russian netizens experienced a rare period of introspection, liberally sprinkled with conspiracy theories.

Kabanov is shown participating in an “investigative experiment” with members of the police, explaining how he committed the murder. YouTube screenshot. January 20, 2013

RuNet Echo has previously alluded [ru] to the fact that Kabanov and Cherska were active blogosphere participants integrated into a social network of opposition members. Some of these friends and acquaintances spoke out online after the news of Irina's death, shedding light on the Kabanov family. Mitya Gutrin, a former colleague of both Alexey and Irina, wrote a blog post [ru] which described their financial difficulties and Kabanov's habit of borrowing large sums of money from Irina's friends to fund his failed attempts at opening up cafes. The money was rarely returned, and Kabanov generally appears to have been quite the grifter. Gutrin wrote:

Я всегда считал, что между жуликом и убийцей основательная пропасть. Теперь я знаю, что она не так велика, как мне казалось, а может ее и нет вовсе [...]

I always thought that a hefty chasm lies between a swindler and a murderer. Now I know that it isn't as large as I thought, and maybe it doesn't exist at all [...]

Such characterizations of Kabanov's moral character will likely be brought up by the prosecution, if and when this case goes to trial. Ekaterina Gajski, a friend of Irina's, agreed with Gutrin, alleging, in addition [ru], that Kabanov had a history of physically abusing Irina:

Сначала он просрал ее квартиру, потом их бизнес (дважды точно), потом поссорил ее со всеми из-за долгов – он хамил кредиторам, ее друзьям, которые им ссудили денег на бизнес. Еще он явно ее бил, я в этом уверена, хотя сама Ира всегда отрицала и защищала его…

First he pissed away her apartment, then their business (twice at least), then made her quarrel with everyone over the loans – he was rude to the creditors, her friends who loaned them money for the business. Also, he clearly beat hear, I am sure of this, even though Ira always denied it and defended him…

Such revelations about seemingly model representatives of Russia's “creative class” (a term first coined by sociologist Richard Florida, and later adopted by Kremlin ideologist Vladislav Surkov to describe young professionals that make up the core of the anti-government protests), have naturally resulted in some soul searching on the part of its members.

Self described eurosocialist blogger Pavel Pryanikov reacted by coining the term “creacl” [ru], a portmanteau of “creative class.” (The word seems to have taken off, with over 6,000 hits on Yandex already.) Priyanikov posted an article, heavy on sociology, in which he outlined the reasons for the coming tragedy of the creacls as exemplified by the Kabanov family:

1)бесперспективность существования приезжих в Москве 2)свёртывание объёма интеллектуальных работ 3)отсутствие социала для креаклов-аутсайдеров.

1)lack of perspectives for new arrivals to Moscow 2)a reduction in the volume of “intellectual” jobs 3)lack of social welfare for underdog-creacls

He was referring to the fact that Kabanov and Cherska, like many other transplants, lacked Moscow registration and were renting an apartment. Higher School of Economics lecturer Kirill Martynov was on the same page in a harsh post [ru] entitled “The End of the Creative Class”:

[...] оказалось, что внутри уютного доброго Фейсбука, населенного любящими мужьями, на самом деле прячутся монстры. [...] Что вместо высоких идеалов свободы равенства и братства нас ждут [...] безденежье, [...] сплетни подруг, алкоголизм и простые маленькие чувства [...] И вот ты стоишь на площади с плакатом “Путин должен уйти”, а сам отключил телефон, чтобы кредиторы не могли дозвониться, думаешь про бутылку с виски, думаешь, где бы еще занять денег, а наутро изобьешь жену.

[...] it turned out that inside the cozy, nice Facebook, peopled with doting husbands, there be monsters. [...] That instead of lofty ideals of equality and fraternity we are faced with [...] empty pockets, [...] gossiping friends, alcoholism and ordinary, small feelings [...] And so you stand on the square with a poster “Putin must go”, but you've turned off your phone so that creditors can't reach you, you are thinking about the bottle of whiskey, where else to borrow money, and in the morning you'll beat your wife.

While some turned to sociology, for other members of the “doomed” creative class the soul searching resulted in cognitive dissonance, which soon morphed into paranoia. Kabanov's arrest and subsequent confession left these people unconvinced. The sentiments are exemplified in the following comment [ru] left on one of Kabanov's Facebook posts:

А что, если чувака просто подставили? Согласитесь, в это легче поверить, учитывая его оппозиционную деятельность, чем в то, что он убил жену, расчленил её, начал поиски, но просто держал тело в багажнике…

What if the dude just got set up? Wouldn't you agree, bearing in mind his involvement in the opposition, that this is easier to believe than the fact that he killed his wife, dismembered her, started looking for her, but kept her body in the trunk…

The car Kabanov used to dispose of the body. YouTube screenshot. January 20, 2013

Indeed, for some it's easier to believe that Kabanov, a rank-and-file opposition marcher, was targeted by the Kremlin, which killed his wife, dismembered her, and put her in his trunk to set him up, than to believe he could have done that himself. Elina Hoffman, a psychic, thought [ru] it wasn't a government conspiracy, but rather a local one:

По моим ощущениям,его [труп] туда положили милиционеры для повышения раскрываемости.

My feeling is that it [the body] was placed there by the police, to improve their crime stats.

While blogger brill_poroshina demonstrated [ru] that belief doesn't have to be rational:

Ну не верю я в эту историю. Не верю, не знаю, почему конкретно [my italics, A.T.], но в целом история выглядит очень нарочитой и, главное, труп вытащили аккурат накануне марша 13-го.

I just don't believe in this story. I don't believe, and I don't know why exactly, [my italics, A.T.] but in general the story looks very fake, and, the most importantly, the body was found right before the march on the 13th.

Others made the same connection to the coming March Against Scoundrels [ru], insinuating that the government could be trying to discredit the opposition. Echo Moskvy blogger Andrei Cherepanov thought [ru] that the police could have “persuaded” Kabanov's confession. He was also sure that the state run media would use the tragedy to associate Kabanov with the movement. LifeJournal user bartang [ru] noted the similarities between Kabanov's story and accusations of child abuse against the opposition blogger Rustem Adagamov (drugoi):

Не верю, короче, что это он. Слишком вовремя, перед маршем протеста, нашли тело. [...] Я предполагал, что протест будут ломать, но такого даже представить не мог. История с другим – разминка.

In short, I don't believe it's him. The body was found before the protest march, it's too timely. [...] I did think that they would try to break the protest, but I couldn't have imagined this. The story with drugoi was a warm-up.

In other words, “No one is safe!” [ru]

Although it is true that state media and pro-Kremlin bloggers have been exploiting Kabanov's political views to ridicule the opposition, the idea that Kabanov was framed for his wife's murder for that reason is fantastical. Outspoken government critic and nationalist blogger Egor Prosvirnin has tied such theories [ru] with the inability of the protest movement to question its own leaders:

[...] белоленточных фейсбук-граждан можно ебать в глазницы, а они в ответ будут лишь улыбаться и говорить, что все это клевета с целью опорочить хорошего человека. Если даже разделка трупа жены неспособна подорвать веру фейсбук-общественности в своего товарища, то что уж говорить о менее ярких случаях [...]

[...] you can skullf*ck the white-ribbon facebookers, and in return they'll just smile and say that its all slander, done to discredit a nice person. When even the dismemberment of a wife's corpse is incapable of shaking the faith of the facebook community in its comrade, then why even talk about less striking cases [...]

As the political situation in Russia becomes more embittered, such accusations, recriminations, and conspiracy theories from both sides are likely to become the norm — especially in the impressionable environment of the RuNet.

Part I: Russian Facebook of Horrors: The Murder Trail

Part II: Russian Facebook of Horrors: From Tragedy to Humor

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