Russian Internet Easily Distracted by Beavers

It's no big secret that your average Internet user has the attention span of a kitten (perhaps online fascination with cats is due to subconscious recognition of intrinsic similarity). RuNet is no exception to this rule. In fact, its relatively small size makes the pouncing from story to story even easier to observe.

Take, for example, the ongoing scandal [GV] plaguing top blogger Rustem Adagamov (drugoi). When it broke on December 29, 2012, with his ex-wife accusing him of child sexual abuse, Russian-speaking Twitter was filled with theories on whether the accusations had any basis, and whether the Kremlin was behind the whole thing. That is, until Margarita Simonyan, journalist and editor-in-chief of Russia Today, tweeted the following [ru]:

Первый раз в жизни буду готовить бобра. Опросила знатоков. В итоге, сварю бобриную голову с луком, морковью и лаврушкой для бульона…остальное мясо замариную на ночь в чесноке, можжевеловых ягодах и черном пёрце, завтра обжарю и потому буду тушить в бульоне до мягкости.

Today, for the first time in my life I will cook a beaver. I've consulted experts. As a result, I will boil the beaver's head with onions, carrots, and bay leaves for stock…the rest of the meat I will marinate over night in garlic, juniper berries, and black peppers, and tomorrow I will sear it and stew it in the stock until it's tender.

It is impossible to tell what initially fascinated the hundreds of people who reacted to this tweet (“beaver” does not have the same slang connotations in Russian that it does in English). But, react they did, starting with the user @avwvel, who elevated the discussion [ru] right away, writing:



Perhaps @avwvel was referring to the fact that some sub-species of the ordinary Eurasian beaver are considered endangered [ru]. However, most other users were content to take a humorous view:

Бобёр – новый символ протеста! Повяжи бобра на куртку!

The beaver is the new protest symbol! Tie a beaver to your jacket!

tweeted [ru] Olga Shantser, drawing an analogy to white ribbons of the protest movement. Oleg Kozyrev asked [ru] users to retweet if their New Year's dinner would be beaver free, while Ksenya Sobchak was firm [ru] in her belief that the beaver would be reborn as a human, even if it ends up a United Russia member. (This last bit makes it clear that the story wasn't really about the beaver, but rather about the perceived extravagance of a Kremlin partisan's lifestyle.)

For that day, at least, people stopped talking about Adagamov, and some Twitter users took note [ru]:

бобер Симонян грудью закрыл в твите тему АДагамов-педофил.Слава павшему герою!(бобру)

Simonyan's beaver jumped on the grenade of the Adagamov-pedophile twitter theme. Honor the fallen hero!(beaver)

Publicist and TV personality Egor Holmogorov, himself at one point a victim of online pedophilia accusations [ru], concurred [ru]:

“Милость к падшим призывал…”. Никто не сделал сегодня для блоггера Адагамова больше, чем Маргарита Симоньян.

“Mercy for the fallen…”. Today no one has done more for the blogger Adagamov than Margarita Simonyan.

Adagamov is now back in the news [ru], but the story's original momentum was diverted by the beaver-bomb.

A similar scenario, but on a much broader scale, played out when Gerard Depardieu recently announced [GV] that he will be getting Russian citizenship, and was later presented with a Russian passport at a garish ceremony in Sochi. Suddenly, Russia coverage by international media changed from Russian orphans denied adoption in the United States [GV], to the silly antics of an aging French comedian. Internally, Depardieu also became the but of jokes and memes. In fact, it was such fortuitous happenstance, that some have questioned whether it was a shrewd move by one of the western public relations agencies employed by the Kremlin. Oleg Kashin asked directly [ru]:

А про Депардье и Бордо – это не Кетчум ли часом? Их же почерк плюс-минус.

The whole Depardieu and [Brigitte] Bardot thing – could it be Ketchum? It's their handwriting, more or less.

Kashin was referring to American based Ketchum Inc., a global public relations firm that has just renewed its contract [ru] with the Russian government. Since 2006 Ketchum, along with subcontractors like UK based Portland Communications, has been working to improve Russia's image abroad. According to ProPublica, Ketchum has received around 40 million USD from the Russian government and Gazprom over the past several years. Although its hard to believe that a public relations agency, no matter how adroit, would have been able to get Depardieu to, say, ask for Russian citizenship, it's not beyond the scope of possibility that such an agency had something to do with the ubiquity of the story's coverage. If that's the case, Russian bloggers did a fair bit of work for Ketchum, all on their own.

In any event, while the Depardieu story was a source a quite a few laughs on RuNet, it has distracted the already faltering base of support [GV] of the Russian opposition. Unfortunately, this distraction will likely backfire, hurting the turnout of the rally which is due to take place today, January 13.

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