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Analysis & Opinion
26.03.08 The New “Caucasian Captive”
Comment by Georgy Bovt

Lately the Russian mass media – both traditional and Internet – has more and more frequently broached the subject of “regulating the Internet” -- whether it is possible, and if so, by what means. And, most importantly, how far the authorities are willing go in their attempts to isolate themselves from the outside world for the sake of their own political peace. Fortunately for them, there are examples of such regulation in the practice of very different countries around the world. In Iran, for example, in addition to constant strict censorship (political as well as aesthetic, moral and religious), the authorities made a large-scale attempt to temporarily block the Internet as a whole, during the recent parliamentary election. In Cuba, the only “mere mortals” that have access (and limited access at that) to the Internet are doctors. In China, the art of regulating the Internet has reached such “heights” that the authorities have learned not only to constantly monitor the “suspicious” and the “shady,” but also to efficiently react to the changing political and international situation. Thus, during the recent upheaval in Tibet the authorities were rather effective in blocking the inflow of all kinds of unwanted information. As soon as it turned out that the popular YouTube website can serve as a source of revolt, the authorities blocked access to it throughout China’s territory.

So far, all talk of regulating the Internet in Russia concentrates on morals, as well as on the need to somehow limit “extremism.” But while “immorality” is associated mostly with pedophilia, “extremism” might take on diverse definitions, since according to the recently passed legislation any harsh statements toward representatives of authorities of all levels can be considered “extremism.” The first criminal case of this type was taken to court not so long ago – a case against a blogger from Syktyvkar who addressed obscenities to police officers and urged for them to be burned at the stake. His appeal was taken literally, particularly as sedition and “promoting violence.”

A little while ago “Internet theorists” discussed whether it will be possible for Internet blogs and other “small” resources to become news sources for traditional mass media. Today, this has already happened in Russia. The Russian Internet is actively creating its own informational reality, one that not only lives its own life, different from the official one, but also periodically throws insolent challenges at the official reality.

The official Russian mass media discuss new cleansing campaigns against the “werewolf officers,” and the authorities become preoccupied with raising the prestige of law enforcement. The Russian Internet replies by distributing a collection of photographs from the everyday life of simple Russian police officers, taken with a hidden camera; the impressions made by these images are able to outweigh the propagandist tension of all the most zealous speeches, made at the topmost levels. And the Internet collection makes it obvious that at the common, “philistine” level, the image of an average Russian police officer is basically “unsalvageable.”

Thus the Russian blogosphere is becoming bolder; it is starting to form its own alternative informational picture, different from the official one. That is, it is becoming politically dangerous. Especially since today, the Russian Internet includes more than 20 million active users, and almost 3.5 million blogs (up by 2.6 million from last year). More than 75 percent of all Russian-language journals are maintained by five web hosting services:,,, and Physically, the largest number of online diaries is on LiveInternet, but it is also the host of the smallest number of regularly updated journals – not more than 20 percent. The most “alive” hosting service is LiveJournal. According to some estimations, about 40 percent of its blogs are very active. It should also be considered the one to boast most socially significant and political topics. This is probably what the company SUP had in mind when it purchased the rights for servicing the Cyrillic sector of LiveJournal: it is the only blog hosting service today that can brag to have men as the majority of its users (almost 60 percent), with the average user’s age being 25 (which is the most attractive age group for advertisers). LiveJournal hosts a few of the most popular Internet communities.
At that, every day more than 7000 new blogs and about 210 000 new posts appear in the Russian Internet.

The Russian Internet, or its unofficial portion, to be exact, called “the blogosphere”, actively celebrated Dmitry Medvedev’s presidential campaign and election victory. Thus, the only episode from the televised election debates that became popular among bloggers was the one of Vladimir Zhirinovsky nearly beating up candidate Andrei Bogdanov’s representative. If it wasn’t for this brawl, most Russian bloggers would have probably never found out about the fact that the debates ever took place.

Medvedev’s victory was celebrated with a number of friendly and not so friendly jokes and cartoons. The most popular item was probably a video created from the renowned Soviet movie “The Caucasian Captive”: the authors recorded new sound for the restaurant episode, where an experienced and cynical Caucasian man talks the na?ve, young Shurik, who just came from Moscow for his summer vacation, into participating in the “bride kidnapping custom,” supposedly as part of studying Caucasian ethnography, but actually to marry her off to a local Communist party boss. So, in the newly recorded version of the episode, the na?ve Shurik is turned into Dima, and the characters are talking about a “make-belief” presidential election. It seems like this video was spread to nearly all the Russian Internet users in just 24 hours. By the way, the topic of Medvedev’s “lack of independence” from Putin is one of the most popular topics in the Russian blogosphere.

It is not surprising that the idea of starting to regulate the Russian Internet is practically hanging in the Russian political atmosphere. It is not only a matter of intentional intimidation of the Internet community by demonstrative criminal cases against individual bloggers charged with “extremism” (to make sure others don’t do the same ting), but also of direct regulation. For example, there was recently a law draft that suggested licensing for all blogs with more than 1000 visits per day (thus making the blogs equal to regular mass media). Due to the technical mistakes made in the draft, it was turned down; however, the regulation idea itself is still alive and well. The logic of development of the authorities’ attitude toward mass media leads to dealing with the Internet at least according to the “Chinese model,” unless this development will not be suddenly turned around under the new Russian president. So far I, personally, am skeptical about the prospects of such a “warming.” If only because Dmitry Medvedev, unlike Vladimir Putin, has always paid a lot of attention to the Internet and has never underestimated it.
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