A Schism Over Ukraine in Russian-owned LiveJournal

LiveJournal mascot Frank the Goat is somehow ... different.

LiveJournal mascot Frank the Goat is somehow … different.

Igor Bigdan (ibigdan [ru]), one of the most popular RuNet bloggers, announced [ru] yesterday that he would be leaving his position as Director of LiveJournal Ukraine starting April. He said that the decision was driven mainly by his negative coverage of Russian foreign policy during the Crimean crisis.

Bigdan, who is normally an entertainment blogger and freely admits [ru] that 90% of his content is “copy-pasted” from other online sources, has recently spoken out against the annexation of Crimea. This has apparently caused tension between him and corporate management. He wrote [ru]:

И меня и руководство холдинга очень напрягает ситуация “сотрудник российской компании постоянно критикует Россию за аннексию Крыма”. Нет, речь не о цензуре – мне, как топ-блоггеру, никогда не указывали, о чём писать можно, а о чём нельзя. Однако я не только блоггер, но ещё и сотрудник большого российского холдинга […] неосторожные публичные заявления его сотрудников могут нанести холдингу вред. […] я не могу заниматься самоцензурой или самоустраниться от политических тем в своём блоге. Поэтому я предпочитаю остаться свободным блоггером.

Both I and the holding company management are bothered by a situation in which “an employee of a Russian firm constantly criticizes Russia for annexing Crimea.” No, this isn't about censorship — as a top blogger I was never told what I could or couldn't write about. But I'm not only a blogger, but an employee of a large Russian holding company […] reckless public statements by employees can harm the company. […] I can not self-censor or stop writing about political topics in my blog. This is why I choose to remain an independent blogger.

Although he blogs in Russian, Bigdan is a Ukrainian citizen, while LiveJournal has been controlled by a private Russian-owned company SUP Media (currently Rambler-Afisha-SUP) since its 2007 purchase from Six Apart Inc. Although Bigdan went to great lengths to say he is not quitting because of censorship, it is clear from his statement that there was pressure for self-censorship from the higher-ups which made blogging the way he normally does uncomfortable. Fear of such editorial pressure is what caused the entire editorial staff of Lenta.ru to quit last month, when their editor-in-chief was replaced by the owner. Coincidentally, the owner of Lenta.ru and LiveJournal is one and the same — Russian oligarch Alexander Mamut.

Bigdan stated that he would likely not be replaced by anyone as Director of LiveJournal Ukraine. The position, which he held since 2012, was responsible for “developing the service, increasing blogger popularity, local expertise and the entire commercial sector of the Ukrainian segment.”

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