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Analysis & Opinion
18.06.08 Unnoticed Hatred
Comment by Georgy Bovt

Judging by the news reports on the national television networks, the current informational space in Russia is rather boring. Some time ago, the country was pleasantly surprised by a series of sports achievements – in hockey, in soccer (Zenit won the UEFA cup) and in the less popular handball. These victories gave the news reports a certain new impulse of utterly sincere optimism and joy for “our guys.” Some people discussed and rejoiced over Dima Bilan’s victory in the Eurovision Song Contest. A little later, though, the joy ran out with the beginning of the European Soccer Championship: the Russian national team’s performance in the championship began with a failure.

But then another piece of headline news appeared in Moscow – mysterious car arsons. By the way, this fact immediately reminded us that the national television channels’ news judgment does not always coincide with the priorities that reign in the swiftly developing Russian blogosphere. Actually, they are beginning to contradict each other more often. Today, the “official” picture of the day has little in common with the same picture painted by the Russian Internet (including personal blogs). In the “official” framework, the midnight car arsons in Moscow are just some ordinary event, with its nature unclear and its socially significant consequences not very interesting. For the unofficial picture, this is one of the main events. There are some serious verbal or, rather, written cyber battles around it.

The most remarkable fact is that the Russian blogosphere presents the “class struggle” as one of the main reasons and motives for the arsons, while the “official” news version of the events is mostly built around some “crazy pyromaniac.” That is, from the official point of view, nothing terrible is going on – it’s just that some madman is setting cars on fire, and it’s too bad that the police have such a hard time catching him.

The bloggers, however, noticed a very important tendency in the car arsons: according to the majority of the discussion participants, this is a tool that one category of people chooses to use to fight another category. For example, this could be the pedestrians displeased with all backyards, children’s playgrounds, lawns and sidewalks filled with haphazardly parked cars, battling car owners. Or it could simply be a demonstration of “social hatred” for all owners of expensive, foreign-made cars, as representatives of the “bourgeois” class. A poem by an Internet user under the nickname of Yemelin immediately became extremely popular on the Russian Internet; in it, the author basically praised the arsonists of the Bentleys and Maybachs.

It will only be fair to note here that the pathos about the Bentley cars is not really appropriate: first of all, no cases of Bentley or Maybach arsons have yet been registered; secondly, such cars are not usually parked in the backyard of a tall apartment building – they are parked in very different, securely guarded places. And thirdly, the arsonists were not really picky about the car brands and set on fire everything, including cheap and old Zhigulis. Something else is remarkable, though: public opinion is clinging to the “class struggle” version as the main one. This is the most popular and widely-discussed theory.

But doesn’t this demonstrate that the contemporary Russian society (including the most educated and financially secure part of it – that is, the part that regularly uses the Internet) has great confrontation and hatred potential, including a strong dislike of its own compatriots? It seems to me that the official propagandists have no idea of the true potential of such “confrontationism,” that lives (or smolders) in the Russian society. Existing in the conditions of a “politically stable” world that they have created for themselves, they are not even prepared to confront such unexpected events – the sudden wave of car arsons – as a certain social phenomenon. They are willing to interpret this only as acts of hooliganism carried out by some lunatic.

It is also noteworthy that the gloating by certain individuals over people whose cars have already been burned is in no way “balanced” out on the other side by, for example, the solidarity of car owners as proprietors who would be willing to unite to protect their property. No such unification to protect private property is taking place, with the few exceptions of night watch groups that have been formed. In the best case, each person is worried only about his or her own car, and will be happy if the neighbor’s car gets burned while their own remains intact.

In only a few days, the person (or persons) who had set cars on fire in Moscow had imitators in various other locations. Car arsons have been registered in Perm, St. Petersburg and Vologda. This was followed by an appeal from the law-enforcement authorities to “not blow up the excitement” around the arsons. The authorities, in their usual manner, are ready to blame all of these events on the mass media – it is their fault, because they “provoke” arsonists to burn more cars by showing images of cars already burned. At the same time, nobody is asking a very simple question: if the arsonists are ready to burn somebody else’s private property just because they saw the corresponding “image” on television, isn’t it a sign that our society is in a very unhealthy state, or at least a number of its social groups are? As far as the mass media’s actions in covering certain events, if we follow the same habit of blaming everything on them, we could also charge the mass media with the organization of the recent strikes on the Moscow region’s railroads: after all, not long before this happened, all the national television channels showed detailed coverage of the strikes of railroad workers in Germany, Belgium and France.

After the afore-mentioned appeals from the police, the national television networks actually did stop reporting on car arsons in the country. Instead, they started regularly showing “optimistic” images: having no trust in the police, the frightened car owners finally started organizing neighborhood watch groups in the backyards, to prevent the burning of cars that are parked there. But the theme of hatred in connection with the arsons did not disappear from Russian cyberspace. This hatred still smolders, unnoticed by official propaganda. Where, and in connection with what new unexpected events, will it splash out next?
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