With Russian Netizens Like These, Who Needs Trolls?

The Russian Internet, much like the Internet at large, runs on short cycles of outrage. Bloggers get incensed over a current event, be it a murder in a provincial city (Global Voices Report) or LGBT rights (Global Voices Report), but in the span of a week switch their attention to a new thing that angers them. Although sometimes these news cycles repeat, or are recycled, it is still rare for the same event to create two different waves of outrage within the span of a month. Yet, this is essentially what happened this July when Pavel Astakhov, Russia's children's ombudsman, yet again blithely mentioned [ru] the possibility of sending Russian orphans to the North Caucasus for adoption.

Astakhov's earlier, May 30, 2013, statements to that effect (he dubbed the possibility an interesting “experiment”) weren't well received, to say the least. This time, however, Astakhov was more specific — naming Chechnya as an example of a Russian region where orphans are immediately adopted and well taken care of, and promising to chat with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov about the possibility of establishing a process for cross-regional adoption. It appears that his suggestion was particularly tone-deaf given recent ethnic violence between Russians and Chechens (Global Voices Report) in the town of Pugachev.

Pavel Astakhov gearing up for a day's work. Image remixed by author using "Pavel Atakhov" by Dmitry Rozhkov, 25 November 2011, CC 3.0 Wikimedia Commons.

Pavel Astakhov gearing up for a day's work. Image remixed by author using “Pavel Astakhov” by Dmitry Rozhkov, 25 November 2011, CC 3.0 Wikimedia Commons.

The main gist of the RuNet commentary was predictable — Russian orphans would be sold to white slavery and forced to grow up to become suicide bombers. In fact, it was curious to see how similar the arguments were, although this time RuNet nationalists were perhaps even harsher in their criticisms. LiveJournal user mouglley, for example, hearkened back [ru] to the time when Russian principalities were forced to pay tribute to the Mongolians:

Астахов предложил платить дань еще и детьми, отсылая русских сирот в Чечню, чтобы из них делали чеченцев — самих чеченцев пока еще слишком мало, чтобы установить прямой контроль над Россией.

Astakhov has offered to pay tribute with children, sending Russian orphans to Chechnya, so that they make Chechens out of them — as of now there aren't enough Chechens to establish direct control over Russia.

A different netizen tweeted [ru]:

Всё думаю, вот Астахов хочет чтобы наших сирот воспитывали в Чечне-так как убийцу в Пугачёве? Ах да, зато русские будут резать русских-так?

I keep thinking, does Astakhov want our orphans to be brought up in Chechnya — just like the murderer in Pugachev? Oh yeah, but this way Russians will be killing Russians, right?

Another wondered [ru]:

На органы, в рабство или как?

[Will they harvest them] for organs, enslave them, or what?

To round out the collection, one user of a city forum in the Siberian town of Prokopievsk was quite sure [ru] about the Manchurian Candidate angle:

Лично я уверен, что через несколько лет результаты чеченского воспитания дадут о себе знать в виде светловолосых шахидов …

Personally, I am convinced that in a few years the results of a Chechen upbringing will let themselves be known through blonde suicide bombers …

Unlike the last wave of outrage about orphan slaves, this time even ostensible liberals were incensed. Dmitry Olshansky (a liberal, cosmopolitan publicist with some nationalist tendencies) wrote [ru] in his Facebook:

Это невыносимая по своей гнусности новость. Просто невыносимая.

This news is unbearable in its odiousness. Simply unbearable.

Andrey Malgin, a liberal blogger opposed to the Kremlin, went a different route — he simply made a reference [ru] to a novella by Anatoly Pristavkin [en], which is set in post-Word War II Chechnya (after the Chechen deportation), and follows two Russian orphans, one of whom meets gruesome death by disemboweling at the hands of local Chechens. Malgin left his readers draw their own conclusions.

Of course, it turns out that Astakhov's comments were taken out of context and blown out of proportion. One blogger [ru] contacted Astakhov's press secretary, who explained that Astakhov had only mentioned Chechnya as one region among several others, including Krasnodarsky Krai, which also has good adoption statistics. But that doesn't seem to matter — this particular story no longer incites outrage on RuNet, and will be all but forgotten by the time someone else says something about orphans in the near future.

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