In Russia this week it has been hard to miss the two scandals that, at first, appear to have only one thing in common: both are centered around amateur videos published online. What they also share is, perhaps, the feeling of incredulity and disgust that the viewers are left with upon watching the videos, and, in many cases, the outrage.
One scandal involves opposition activist Ilya Yashin (LJ user yashin), political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin, and the Russian Newsweek‘s editor-in-chief Mikhail Fishman (LJ user mfishman): footage made with a hidden camera shows them allegedly attempting to bribe Moscow traffic police officers, and there is also a video of naked Fishman sitting next to a woman and sniffing white powder off a table. (For a succinct yet comprehensive English-language account of this video scandal, please see the March 23 text by author Michael Idov, published at The Daily Beast: Russia's Amazing Drugs and Hookers Scandal.)
The other scandal takes place in Irkutsk region, where high school students in the town of Shelekhov repeatedly beat up their 73-year-old female PE teacher and then posted the videos of these sparring matches on the web; the teacher reportedly had no memory of the beatings. (A short English-language Sky News item on this, with a video sampling, is here.)
Heated discussions that these two scandals have generated in the blogosphere and in other online venues are taking place on quite different orbits – which nevertheless do have one or two overlap points.
Below are some of the reactions (RUS) to a news item about the PE teacher incident, posted by users of Zavuch.info, a Russian teachers’ portal and social network:
[…] I think the school's administration had to take some urgent steps to avoid a situation like this at the school – instead of being embarrassed to “wash dirty laundry in public.” And it is scary that such a video spent a few months on the web, as a tutorial for morons.
If we don't stand up for one another, if we don't hold protest rallies, if we don't stand up for our right to defend our honor and dignity, they'll keep on pushing us around! Even drivers don't let themselves be mistreated [e.g., Vladivostok drivers’ protest in Dec. 2008]. These are the times when a being a teacher is turning into one of the most dangerous professions. […]
[…] where is it all going if a school employs a teacher who keeps being beaten but doesn't remember anything about it. I'm not saying that the age of 73 is a diagnosis, but memory loss does seem like a pathology. I'm not going to justify the students. Horrible!!!!
[…] and what if there is no other PE teacher at the school? What then? Who is going to work on this job for such [a miserly pay]? Your suggestions???? Our school hasn't had new teachers right out of college in a million years. Not a single one. They work for a year and [then leave]. And we are SOCHI, no less!!! [Sochi is a Russian city on the Black Sea coast, which, among other things, is preparing to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.]
[…] We should keep up with the progress! Nothing scary is taking place. The young followers of the [Nashi and Walking Together pro-regime youth movements] are practicing techniques of fighting against pensioners’ rallies in the future, following instructions from the [ruling United Russia party]. [In Oct. 2009, Russian riot police used – during a drill – “water cannons, shock grenades, and tear gas” to disperse “a group of senior citizens that protested social injustice and blocked a federal highway.”]
[…] We should keep this situation under CONTROL. Where are the trade unions, where are the human rights activists? (I haven't just cursed, have I?) […]
And here is a selection of posts on the Yashin/Oreshkin/Fishman affair.
Opposition activist Marina Litvinovich – LJ user abstract2001:
The day before yesterday, a user with an eloquent nickname kanal911 registered an account on YouTube – in order to post this video:
In this video, Oreshkin, Yashin and Fishman are trying to bribe [traffic police officers].
In my opinion, the footage is real, was done by [traffic police officers] themselves. The only question is – are they videotaping everyone like this or just some, those who have been “pointed out” to them? […]
It is clear that due to the public movement against the police and [traffic police] these service have now gone on the offensive. And it's clear that the easiest way to fight the “oppositionists” is to catch them giving bribes themselves.
This, my friends, is exactly why whenever I write about the lawlessness of the cops and [traffic cops], I do this with clear conscience. And I've emphasized this multiple times – I do not just criticize those who give bribes, I call on you not to give bribes and I myself do not give bribes. I'll be honest – I stopped bribing [traffic police officers] after my trip to Beslan [a town in North Ossetia where the 2004 school hostage crisis took place], when I learned that the terrorists paid a bribe to pass one of the [traffic police] checkpoints. […]
[…] A special operation has been carried out against me. It has been thoroughly planned. It was based on provocations, deceit, editing and long-term shadowing, and law enforcement officials participated in it. Who exactly and on what grounds is a separate question. It was carried out a long time ago, and now it has turned into a campaign.
Those who organized this campaign have succeeded in some things. Namely, they've poured a dirty puddle around me – and around themselves: they've dragged many decent people into a mean and petty discussion of someone else's private life. In the language of political technologies this is called the lowering of the discussion level.
This is a result, but not the one that they were counting on. The point of it was different: to force me to alter the editorial direction of the magazine that I'm in charge of. […] This is a signal to all journalists: sit quietly.
I'm responding on behalf of our team: no, we will continue working the way we did before. Topics, stories, the principles and standards of our work will remain unchanged. […]
[…] And the most disgusting thing is that Fishman has nothing to respond to this with? File a lawsuit? Against whom? A statement has to be submitted to the prosecutor's office, of course. […] No one has canceled the right to private life in this country yet. […] And THIS can happen to any human rights activist, journalist, politician, even regardless of whether it's him or not featured in this footage. This can be done to anyone who, for some reason, displeases [a top aide to the Russian president and PM Vladislav Yuriyevich Surkov], for example. You are responsible for this, Vladislav Yuriyevich, aren't you? Or, to be more precise, your Young Guardists [members of the Young Guard of United Russia, the youth wing of the ruling United Russia party]? […] Who is the next one on your list? And aren't you afraid that eventually you'll find yourself on it, too?
Political activist Aleksey Navalny – LJ user navalny:
[…] Seriously though, I think that Yashin, Fishman […] should not leave it as it is. Instead, they should start a decisive campaign against those who ordered this crap. Because it's a total mess. Next thing you know, they'll install hidden cameras inside apartments.
I think a campaign for the European and U.S. entry visa ban for Surkov [and his associates] looks rather realistic. […]
It may work out, if we approach it seriously and don't drop it halfway, as is usually done by our human rights activists and liberal politicians.
The Young Guard has denied its involvement in the scandal, however:
[…] Finally, once more, for the idiots, in big and fat letters: “THE YOUNG GUARD DID NOT ORDER OR AUTHOR THE VIDEO ABOUT FISHMAN. WE DECISIVELY CONDEMN SUCH METHODS OF POLITICAL STRUGGLE. […]
[…] I'd also like to support Fishman. A [KGB] provocation against Yashin and Oreshkin – that's normal. Yashin is a politician. Oreshkin is a grant-eater and traitor. These people are screwing my state, and the state is screwing them in return. That's a genuine and mutual hatred.
But Misha Fishman is the creator of meanings. A very good one. And to fight such opponents is possible only using the same methods that these opponents are using – i.e., with meanings. A meaning vs a meaning. A text vs a text.
But definitely not whores with cocaine vs a text and a meaning. A meaning isn't equal to cocaine, and a text isn't equal to a whore.
But an image isn't equal to a meaning and a text, either. This is why I suggest that everyone who supports Fishman (and I hope that this would be every normal journalist, author or media professional) records [his/her] own video with white powder and post it on YouTube.
LJ user ma79 is one of the Russian bloggers who has responded to LJ user mrparker‘s call and posted a video of himself and “white powder”:
I wanted to wash my hair before shooting this video, but then decided it wouldn't be authentic that way.