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Russia: Bloggers Meet With Iranian Ambassador, Avoid Sensitive Topics

The meeting of Russia's top-bloggers with the Iranian Ambassador in Moscow three days after Hossein Derakhshan had been sentenced to 19.5 years of imprisonment for “anti-government propaganda” highlighted the clumsy attempts of the Iranian online diplomacy in Russia. It also showed commercialization and excessive cynicism of some of the popular Russian bloggers.

On Sept. 30, 2010, LJ users tema, nl, sergeydolya and a few others visited the Iranian embassy to meet with “Iranian bloggers”: Ambassador Seyed Mahmoud-Reza Sajjadi (aka LJ user sajjadi [RUS]) and Pavla Ripinskaya (aka pashili), author of the book “Incredible Iranians.” Sergey Dolya, a popular travel blogger and social media entrepreneur, posted this enthusiastic entry [RUS]:

Обед длился пару часов. По-русски посол господин Реза Саджджади не говорит и общался через переводчика. Вначале он рассказал нам краткую историю своей страны…

[…]

Потом мы позадавали вопросы. Похоже, что так же как и о Ливане, у нас неправильное мнение об Иране. Люди там добрые, открытые и гостеприимные. В общем, надо ехать и проверять. Господин Посол обещал помочь с визой.

В целом, встреча прошла очень позитивно. Много шутили, мороженое в конце поели. Посол подарил нам по 2 коробки фисташек (реально вкусные оказались, сладенькие) и книжку на русском языке в палец толщиной о том, как устроена политическая система Ирана. Могу одолжить почитать интересующимся.

The dinner lasted a couple hours. The Ambassador, Mr. Reza Sajjadi, doesn't speak Russian and was communicating with us through an interpreter [his blog is in Russian, however]. At first, he told us in brief the history of his country… […]

Then we asked some questions. It appears that our opinion of Iran is wrong, just like our opinion of Lebanon. People there are kind, open-minded and hospitable. In general, we have to go and check. The Ambassador has promised to help with the visa.

All in all, the meeting went very positively. We joked a lot, ate ice cream at the end. The Ambassador presented us with two boxes of pistachios (they turned out to be really tasty and sweet) and a book in Russian, a finger thick, about the political system of Iran. I can lend it to those who are interested.

Blogger Norvezhskiy Lesnoy, too, sounded as dry and insincere as a Soviet newspaper [RUS]:

В ходе беседы блоггеры обсудили перспективы развития российско-иранских отношений на современном этапе, обменялись мнениями по ряду актуальных вопросов международной повестки дня. Стороны выразили удовлетворение динамичным развитием отношений между блоггерами двух стран, подчеркнув взаимную заинтересованность в их укреплении на благо дружественных народов России и Ирана.

In the course of the conversation, the bloggers have discussed the prospects of today's Russian-Iranian relations, exchanged views on a number of relevant international affairs issues. Both sides expressed satisfaction with such a dynamic development of the relations between bloggers of the two countries, emphasizing mutual interest in strengthening them for the sake of the friendly nations of Russia and Iran.

The date of the meeting suggests that it was an Iranian attempt to fix the image of Iran in the eyes of the Russian blogosphere. None of the other bloggers who attended the meeting wrote anything about it. Later, Sergey Dolya refused to reply to any comments about human rights in Iran. Cynicism of the bloggers who agreed to attend such an “online diplomacy” event (and, even more, later wrote about it), after an Iranian blogger had received the most severe punishment in world history, outraged [RUS] Denis Loktev, a TV journalist:

Российские блогеры радуются как дети, когда их приглашают посидеть за одним столом с послом Ирана, развешивают там уши лопухами под рассказы о достоинствах иранской политической системы, уходят осчастливленные пакетиком сладеньких фисташек и принимаются рассказывать благодарным слушателям, как же они раньше ошибались насчёт Ирана и какая же это на самом деле замечательная страна: http://sergeydolya.livejournal.com/219995.html

О том, почему в Иране их коллег-блогеров бросают умирать в тюрьме за критику режима, любители халявных фисташек как-то не поинтересовались.

Какой позор.

Russian bloggers are happy as children when they get invited to sit at the same table with the Iranian Ambassador; they [listen eagerly] to stories about the advantages of the Iranian political system; they leave, happy about having received a box of sweet pistachios as a gift; and they set out to tell the grateful listeners about how they were mistaken about Iran and what a wonderful country it really is: [link to Dolya's post]

These fans of free pistachios have somehow failed to ask why in Iran their fellow-bloggers are getting thrown behind the bars to die for their criticism of the regime.

What a shame.

Another popular blogger, LJ user drugoi, also didn't know [RUS] how to interpret why bloggers with several thousand friends would attend such a meeting and ask no questions about the situation with the blogosphere in the country.

LJ user sumlenny explained [RUS]:

кстати, этот постинг Доли отлично показывает, почему все надежды на то, что блоггеры-де контролируют власть, концерны и пр. лучше СМИ – это достаточно нелепые надежды. Блоггеры – такие же нелюбопытные, манипулируемые и пр. люди, плюс к этому они не имеют даже тех небольших моральных и профессиональных тормозов, которые имеют журналисты даже в самых несвободных СМИ. Случаи успешного контроля со стороны блоггеров за властями и пр. скорее стоит отнести на случай невероятну удачных совпадений.

By the way, Dolya's post shows why all the hopes that bloggers control the authorities and corporations better than the mass media – these are pretty absurd hopes. Bloggers are the same – not curious, easily manipulated, etc. Plus, they don't even have those small moral and professional brakes that journalists have even in the most non-free mass media. Cases of successful control of the authorities by bloggers should rather be attributed to incredibly lucky coincidences.

In another discussion, blogger iratus wrote [RUS]:

Самое неприятное в этих людях, это то что у них нет никакой позиции. […]

Неужели вы правда ждали от этих людей неудобных вопросов г-ну послу? […] Им все равно рядом с каким флагом фотографироваться, лишь бы рейтинг не падал. А то в будущем перестанут на халявные мероприятия звать и билеты на самолеты и отели оплачивать.

The worst thing about these people is that they don't have any position. […]

Did you really think they would ask the Ambassador any inconvenient questions? […] They don't care next to what flag to have their picture taken, as long as their rating doesn't fall. Because if it does, then nobody will invite them to free events and pay for planes and hotels in the future.

Reflecting society, the Russian blogosphere has a hierarchy. LiveJournal, with its “friend” system and the rating based on it [RUS], represents one of the mechanisms of creating such a hierarchy in the virtual space. Probably, the hierarchy system can explain why LiveJournal became so popular among Russian bloggers.

The number of friends, as well as the number of mutual links and comments, affect the blogger's LiveJournal rating. Popularity is achieved partly naturally, partly with the help of various techniques of “fixing” the rating (for example, when a group of not-so-popular bloggers comments on the posts of more popular ones). The more comments and links, the higher the position in the “top blogger” rating. As soon as the “top blogger” gets into the Top 50, he/she starts to receive offers from PR agencies and corporations to review their products. Some PR agencies have their own networks of bloggers who promote products, services or even political messages.

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