Monday, July 25, 2016

‘All You Do Online Can and Will Be Used Against You’ – Russian Denunciations in the Age of Putin

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 25 – Even though denunciations have not yet received a legal or even generally agreed upon definition, they have become a dominant fact of life in Putin’s Russia because now it is possible to give “a clear answer” to an updated version of Yury Dovlatov’s infamous question, “who will write 40 million denunciations?”

            The answer, Irina Lukyanova says in an article in “Novaya gazeta,” consists of Russians who because of the messages of the authorities about what are “thought crimes” and the ease of reading posts on  the Internet are now flooding the authorities with denunciations of one kind of another (

            In order to trigger an explosion of denunciations, she says, the powers that be simply had to “create the corresponding conditions: to adopt laws criminalizing thought crimes, to frighten citizens about living in a ring of enemies … to direct their attention to ‘a fifth column’ and to give signals that ‘you are being heard and measures are being taken.”

            That environment has been created, and Russians have responded with enthusiasm, Lukyanov says. The are now “specialists on letters to officials containing demands to  ban books, concerts, puppets, street actions, exhibits and theatrical performances,” in show to ban anything that in the view of the authors could harm the nation.

            She gives two recent examples: a demand by the Urals Parents Committee to ban various books and social networks and to cancel an Elton John concert, and calls by Novosibirsk activists to ban Tannhauser and other performances the Popular Assembly as it styles itself objects to.

            Their denunciations are typical of what is becoming a pattern: First, they complain about some public action they don’t approve of; second, they cite this or that law that it supposedly violates, and a speech by Putin that makes that clear; and third, they “compare their opponents to whatever the main political enemies of the moment.”

            In all cases, however, the goal is the same: to shift a real conflict over this or that question “into the political realm,” so that the powers that be will feel compelled to act. Often those filing denunciations hope to add to their influence by complaining that lower level officials have failed to do just that.

            To make their denunciations credible, their authors have to provide “evidence,” and today, Lukyanova says, the easiest and best way for them to do so is to look at social networks online. Indeed, “to troll thorugh Facebook in the search for compromising materials is simply good tone” in Russia today.

            Sometimes, those searching for this fasten on the content of articles their targets have posted, other times they consider what they have reposted or liked, and at still others, they have fastened on who is on their list of friends or contacts.  And in the latest evolution of this: these searchers now complain about what those they don’t like haven’t done.

            If people post something about Ukraine, the question these people now ask is why haven’t they focused on something else, perhaps famine in Africa or the war in Syria. With that, the possibilities for using anything in social networks as a denunciation expand exponentially – and that is what is happening.

            Thus, the current wave of denunciations, fed by new federal laws on thought crimes and easy accessibility of social networks, seems set to surpass anything that occurred in Stalin’s time, a development that likely will further undermine any possibility of social cohesion and leave Russian society more anomic than it has ever been.

No comments:

Post a Comment