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When Russians Don't Love Their Children

“If the Russians love their children too,” the musician Sting crooned in his 1985 debut solo album. When it came out almost three decades ago, that song was a peacenik attack on the Cold War doctrine of mutually assured destruction. In the last year, the wellbeing of children in Russia—whether they're struggling as orphans or surfing the web as netizens—has again found itself at the center of social debate. In just the last week, two figures commonly identified with the liberal opposition movement—celebrity Ksenia Sobchak and journalist Ekaterina Vinokurova—have attracted intense negative attention for comments that supposedly reveal their ill will toward children.

"Cat lady" foster home caretaker Natalia Sarganova chases reporter Ekaterina Vinokurova after her Twitter indiscretion. Background from YouTube screen capture of Simpsons clip. Remix by author.

“Cat lady” foster home caretaker Natalia Sarganova chases reporter Ekaterina Vinokurova after her Twitter indiscretion. Background from YouTube screen capture of Simpsons clip. Remix by author.

On March 31, 2013, an anonymous YouTube user named SorryImLoL (who joined the site back in October 2011) posted an audiotape [ru] featuring two women arguing over the phone. The clip is titled “Battle: Ksenia Sobchak versus the Little C**ksuckers,” and indeed one of the voices strongly resembles that of Ms. Sobchak, who denies the tape's authenticity. In the recorded conversation, the would-be Sobchak ringer complains to her building landlady that her neighbors’ children are delaying construction work, which creates noise into the evening. The language used is highly obscene. For instance:

Управдом: Ксения, у вас рядом на площадке прямо маленький ребенок.

К.С.: Да мне насрать на этого, блять, маленького ребенка! Пусть хоть сдохнет! Если мы будем продолжать отстаивать его интересы, я вам буду устраивать тут дискотеки, блять, начну это делать с сегодняшнего дня. Почему вы мне идете на встречу только в какие-то дни, а ему, вашему маленькому пидарасу, каждый день!

Superintendent: Ksenia, there's a small child living right next to you [in the building].

Sobchak-like voice: Yes, and I s**t on this f**king small child! Let it croak! If we're going to keep protecting its interests, I'll turn my place into a f**king disco. [To retaliate with noise of her own.] I'll start doing it beginning today. Why will you only meet with me on certain days, but you'll accommodate [the baby], your little c**ksucker, every day!

Roughly two days later, Sobchak posted a response to the tape's incriminations (oddly choosing the platform Instagram [ru]), where she claimed that the recording was an edited collection of wiretapped conversations she actually had on the phone, mixed with someone imitating her voice. She promised to complain to the authorities and apologized to her friends and fans for the privacy invasion.

Kremlin-sympathizers like Boris Yakemenko [ru] and Kristina Potupchik—along with an army of Twitter bots [ru] and Nashi-like provocateurs [ru] designed to spread news of the audiotape—were quick to rake Sobchak over the coals, not forgetting to tie her alleged indiscretions to the opposition's outrage following the infamous Dima Yakovlev law, which banned American adoptions of Russian children. Potupchik, teeth undoubtedly snarling, wrote [ru]:

Неудивительно, что сейчас Собчак решила заявить, что на ролике – не она. С ее претензиями на политическую деятельность после заявления “пусть хоть сдохнут маленькие пидарасы” можно завязывать. Хотя, интересно, у кого-то есть сомнения, она в ролике или не она?

It's hardly surprising that Sobchak has now decided to declare that it's not her in the clip. We might tie [such a denial], after announcing “let the little c**ksuckers croak,” to her political activism claims. But it's interesting: does anyone have any doubts that it is or isn't her in the tape?

Days before Sobchak's snafu, on March 29, 2013, Gazeta.ru reporter Ekaterina Vinokurova was attending a congress of the All-Russia People's Front in Rostov, when she unwisely mocked Natalia Sarganova, a foster home caretaker, in a tweet [ru]:

Выступает какая-то идиотка с 36 приемными детьми(что само по себе уродство). Рыдает перед ВВП, что у нее денег мало. Ну не усыновляла бы

Speaking now is some idiot woman with 36 adopted kids (which is already by itself a monstrosity). She's sobbing to [Putin] that she doesn't have enough money. Well don't adopt [so many kids] already!

Within five minutes, the Twitter backlash brought Vinokurova to delete the tweet. As of this moment, she has also deleted her entire Twitter account. Today, on April 2, she also published [ru] at Znak.com an emotional piece reacting to the various adverse responses. Again, Kristina Potupchik was one of the first bloggers to capitalize on the gaffe, calling [ru] on Gazeta.ru to fire Vinokurova for offenses that “respectable publications” in Western countries (“to whom members of the Russian liberal-journalist clique are so happy to nod”) would apparently find intolerable. Much to Potupchik's chagrin, Gazeta.ru's chief editor, Svetlana Loloeva, rallied [ru] to her employee's defense, pointing out that Vinokurova went on national radio the next day to apologize [ru] to Sarganova, who graciously accepted. Loloeva also argued that Gazeta.ru does not police its journalists’ “private space,” referring to Twitter.

In an April 2, 2013, Facebook post [ru], publicist Dmitri Olshansky criticized Vinokurova's online conduct, characterizing it as symptomatic of a larger “monstrous and absurd” tendency among oppositionists to contradict Putin's policy priorities, even when it leads to overtly anti-family posturing. Not everyone, however, was convinced by Olshansky's logic. In a comment that attracted 26 “likes,” Interfax staff member Nikolay Ziborov countered [ru]:

ничего не имею против приемных детей, но взять 36 человек – это очень похоже на болезнь. как с кошками.

I've got nothing against adopted kids, but taking in 36 people — it seems like some kind of disease. Like with cats.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004775286923 Марина Казанцева

    36 adopted children – it looks more like an orphanage than a foster family, with all disadvantages and drawbacks of the former. Plus, an honest and responsible person would never join the Putin’s All-Russia People’s Front, and the lady in question (Sarganova) is a member of this organization

    • agoodtreaty

      Marina, foster care (in the U.S., anyway) includes institutions, group homes, and private homes. Your comment about “honest and responsible people” is probably what Vinokurova intended to connote when she mocked Sargonova. That said, the idea that everyone in ONF is a dishonest and irresponsible person seems like a thoroughly insane one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jnewcomb1 John Newcomb

    Sobchak piece points to really huge problem in Putinist Russia – an FSB/KGB alliance with United Russia, Putin and allies to evesdrop on private conversations for political gain.

    Its happened many times to many opposition notables – private conversations recorded by spies who then turn the recordings over to Putin-friendly media like NTV, with the expectation that the recordings will be published.

    US ambassador McFaul has also complained that there was no way his arrivals at human rights activist homes could have been known by NTV ambush-journalists unless they recorded his private conversations or message.

    The more recent variant of this police-media state cooperation is the recent “team” of Russian government officials sent to NGOs to harass them with inspections – accompanied by Putin-friendly NTV journalists.

    .

  • none

    I really don’t get what the purpose of this post could possibly be other than to demonize Russia. There are responsible ways to critique the many destructive aspects of Russia’s social and political culture – none of which are on display here. Very unhelpful.

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