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February 13 2014

Welcome All to Russia's 2014 Olympic Hunger Games

President Putin at the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony. Anonymous image found online.

President Putin at the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony. Anonymous image found online.

As “toilet-gate” jokes[Global Voices report] and the hashtag #SochiProblems grow stale, another way to poke fun at Russia's hosting of the Winter Games has emerged: comparisons between the Olympics and the wildly popular Hunger Games franchise.

The Hunger Games story features a dictatorial leader, President Snow, who maintains control of a dystopic nation by forcing teenagers to compete in a televised tournament that must end in only one survivor. Of course, in practice, the Olympics has no similarities with the violence of this fictional death-match. For one, Olympians don't kill each other for their gold medals.

However, a combination of the word “Games” and President Putin's signature stern facial expressions (as well as his reputation as a strong authoritarian leader) has struck a chord with Internet users — enough to create numerous memes using Putin as the background for President Snow's quotations. One common meme a photo of Putin with the phrase “Welcome. Happy Hunger Games [to you.]” superimposed on the image:

“Welcome. Happy Hunger Games.” Anonymous image found online.

Other memes focus on a different aspect of the Hunger Games. There, the outfits of the characters from the ruling faction are notoriously flamboyant and appear ridiculous and frivolous to the working class of the fictional nation. One popular image currently circulating Twitter is of one of the women carrying country plaques during the opening ceremony, juxtaposed with a character from the recent Hunger Games movie who wears a somewhat similar retrofuturistic dress:

Character from the Hunger Games movie, and model carrying Argentina's plaque in the opening ceremony parade. Anonymous image found online.

Character from the Hunger Games movie (left), and model carrying Argentina's plaque in the opening ceremony parade (right). Anonymous image found online.

There is serious meaning behind the silly outfit comparisons — the Sochi Games, which are estimated to have cost over $40 billion, have been plagued by allegations of corruption [Global Voices report], horrible working conditions and lack of payment for the possibly illegal workers. The idea of an under-class looking with horror at the waste of the “Capitol” can be seen as an allegory for Russia's poor and disadvantaged watching the most expensive Games in history take place right in front of them, yet out of reach. One Twitter user wrote:

It's true. Same sh*t, the people are going hungry and poor, while the government is happy

Another user eschewed subtlety and embraced hyperbole in making his comparison:

The Hunger Games, like the Olympics, are controlled by the authorities, to entertain the slaves, and maintain an eternal president — all those who disagree are ruthlessly killed!

Not all comparison are this negative — most of bloggers take a humorous approach. One Twitter user humorously suggested that the Olympic Games would be improved if they were turned into Hunger Games for government officials:

It would be better if instead of the Olympics they stage Hunger Games … between members of parliament.

In some ways, this lighthearted approach to poking fun of the Olympics is a breath of fresh air compared to some of the harsher memes [Global Voices report] out there. At the same time, the RuNet has become a confusing hodgepodge of articles criticizing Sochi, and articles criticizing the critics, until the real point of the Olympic Games, athleticism and national pride, is almost completely buried in a pile of meta-criticism. 

February 11 2014

Russia's Patriotic Overdrive in Sochi?

Hans Woellke (left) and Julia Lipnitskaia (right) compared. Ashley Wagner's reaction-face meme responds. (Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.)

Hans Woellke (left) and Julia Lipnitskaia (right) compared. Ashley Wagner's reaction-face meme responds. (Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.)

The Soviet Union may have defeated Hitler, but modern-day Russia’s war against fascism wages on. In just the last month, Russian authorities have used their battle with “the rehabilitation of Nazism” as a pretext [ru] for attacks on three different media outlets.

In late January, Russia’s only independent TV station got into hot water, when it aired a survey asking viewers if the USSR could have saved more lives by abandoning Leningrad to the Germans. On February 7, 2014, a Russian Senator demanded [ru] that officials temporarily suspend the broadcasting of CNN, after it published a story (later deleted) calling the Brest Fortress World War II memorial in Belarus “one of the world’s ugliest monuments.”

Most recently, there is trouble at Echo of Moscow, Russia’s premier liberal radio station (and a major hub for opposition-leaning materials online), where satirist Victor Shenderovich (best known for creating a political puppet show that aired in the 1990s) published a controversial blog post [ru] about the politics of Russia hosting the Winter Olympics.

Speaking on the floor of parliament today, Vladimir Vasilyev, the deputy chairman of the Russian Duma, demanded that Echo of Moscow apologize for Shenderovich’s post. (Curiously, Vasilyev addressed only Echo of Moscow, though the text was originally published on the less-trafficked website Ezhednevnyi Zhurnal.) Echo’s chief editor, Alexey Venediktov, wasted no time refusing to apologize [ru], pointing out that Shenderovich’s piece was never broadcast over the radio and only appeared in his blog (hosted on Echo’s site). (Shenderovich has also refused to apologize [ru].)

The post in question, titled “Olympic War: Putin and the Girl on Skates,” describes how liberal oppositionists suffer from a certain “schizophrenia” during the Olympics, struggling to reconcile their love of Russia’s historical accomplishments (Tolstoy, constructivist art, and so on) with Vladimir Putin’s apparent exploitation of these feats to boost his own popularity. Most memorably, Shenderovich also likens fifteen-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia’s performance in Sochi this week to Hans Woellke’s triumph in the men’s shot put competition in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. “Something, however, prevents us from enjoying [Woellke’s] victory today,” Shenderovich adds, warning against pride in an authoritarian state’s Olympic athletes.

While many things undoubtedly do keep us from celebrating Woellke today (in the war, he served as a captain in the Waffen SS, and his murder precipitated the massacre of a village in Belarus in 1943), Shenderovich’s comparison has proved controversial for many Russians. Though the Internet-savvy might regard it as nothing more than quick service of Godwin’s law, Shenderovich’s decision to equate Russia’s newest national treasure—a charming adolescent girl, no less—with a Nazi jock couldn’t have come at a worse time.

With the Winter Games underway in Sochi now, Russia is (understandably) in patriotic overdrive. That means anyone toying with the World War II narrative—to this day, Russia’s most sacred unifying myth—better be careful. TV Rain’s survey about ditching Leningrad crossed the line. CNN’s mockery of the Brest Fortress went too far. Shenderovich seems to have committed an even greater sin by abusing young, pretty Lipnitskaia, but it’s possible that any of these offenses would have passed as minor kerfuffles, were it not for the Olympic adrenaline now filling the country’s veins.

February 08 2014

I've Got 99 Sochi Problems

One of the rings fails to open during the Olympic opening ceremony -- a minor setback in an otherwise masterful performance. YouTube screenshot.

One of the rings fails to open during the Olympic opening ceremony — a minor setback in an otherwise masterful performance. YouTube screenshot.

Last week foreign journalists descended on Sochi, and tweets and photos of unfinished construction quickly made headlines in the west and in Russia. Journalists complained about everything from rusty water to faulty door handles. A Twitter account called @SochiProblems was launched, mocking the alleged disaster of the Russian Winter Olympic games.

For example, one CNN reporter complained that only one of the rooms booked for his group was available, and posted a photo of himself in his hotel room with the curtain rod fallen down:

Many Russians were less than pleased with the negative publicity. One blogger alleged [ru] that the reporter could have done the damage himself to create a story:

[...] гражданин, скорее всего, сам отломал держатель карниза, и теперь всем демонстрирует моральное убожество режима резидента Путина.

[...] this guy likely broke the rod himself, and is now demonstrating the moral squalor of the Putin regime to everyone.

Meanwhile, a Levada Center poll [en] released on Wednesday found that 53% of Russians approved of Russia holding the Olympic Games in Sochi. However, 38% of respondents also felt that corruption was the main reason for the Games. The RuNet seems to bear out both of these feelings. Many feel that the criticism is justified and necessary, while others (like noted writer Boris Akunin [ru]) think that people should concentrate on supporting the athletes, and ignore the problems.

DemVybor's Kirill Shulika wrote [ru] on his Facebook about the importance of speaking out and criticism. Otherwise, says he:

Проблема-то тут как раз в том, что все разговоры о заговорах и желании навредить в проведении Олимпиады опасны тем, что и дальше все будет то же самое. Я имею в виду гигантские затраты и при этом ржавую воду, отсутствие душа или наличие граждан России, которым в нарушении всего отказано в посещении соревнований, несмотря на купленные билеты.

The problem is precisely that all this talk of conspiracy and desire to do harm to the Olympics is dangerous because afterwards everything will remain the same. I am referring to the huge costs accompanied by rusty water, no showers, or Russian citizens, who in violation of everything have been denied access to events, despite having purchased tickets.

Blogger and Alexey Navalny's second in command, Leonid Volkov, also felt [ru] that negative reactions to criticism were out of line:

Ничего обидного нет ни в @SochiProblems, ничего страшного нет в том, что какие-то вещи не доделаны, и какие-то косяки случаются. Страшна и позорна, невероятно постыдна только неадекватная реакция на иронию – поиск “врагов” и “заговоров”, истории про “журналистов, которые специально отрывают дверные ручки.”

There is nothing offensive in @SochiProblems, nothing horrible in that some some things aren't finished, and there are some screw-ups. What is terrible and shameful is the incredibly shameful and inadequate response to the irony – the search for “enemies” and “conspiracies,” stories about “journalists who deliberately destroy doorknobs.” 

Regardless, he will still watch the Games, said Volkov.

The Dependence of Russian Independent Television

Who is to blame for the demise of TV Rain? Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

Who is to blame for the demise of TV Rain? Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

In the last two weeks, seven satellite and cable television providers decided to stop broadcasting TV Rain, Russia’s only independent news station, cutting [ru] its national audience from just over ten million households to about two million. The catalyst for TV Rain’s troubles was a January survey the station conducted about the WWII Siege of Leningrad, which self-described Russian patriots interpreted as offensively worded. The apparent crackdown on the channel sparked a wave of anger from Russian Internet users, many of whom accused the Kremlin of forcing cable providers to abandon TV Rain.

TV Rain’s chief investor, Aleksandr Vinokurov, said at a press conference [ru] on February 4, 2014, that the station is “absolutely sure” that the companies now dropping the channel are doing so “under pressure.” Though he refused to name names, Julia Ioffe of The New Republic reported days earlier that Vladimir Putin’s deputy chief of staff, Alexey Gromov, and another high-placed figure, Sergey Chemezov, have both called cable and satellite operators several times, demanding that they “boot” the station.

While Vinokurov’s February 4 comments in part reaffirmed the widespread perception that TV Rain is currently battling political censorship, he also seems to have precipitated a backlash against the station, leading some bloggers to highlight the financial backstory that perhaps diminishes the degree of political persecution at work.

In his comments, Vinokurov offered [ru] to let cable and satellite operators broadcast TV Rain for free during the 2014 calendar year. Writing for politcom.ru, analyst Tatiana Stanovaya asked [ru] why Vinokurov is trying to address a political problem with “marketing” solutions. (In a Facebook post [ru] hours earlier, Stanovaya went so far as to call Vinokurov “naïve.”) For others online, the press conference’s focus on “marking solutions” similarly turned attention away from ‘crackdown by the bloody regime’ toward questions about the television business and TV Rain’s troubled past in that industry.

Why, after all, does Vinokurov’s offer extend only to the end of the year? What is the incentive to sign TV Rain, if operators must renegotiate new (paid) contracts in 2015? Stanislav Apetian, the blogger known as Politrash (who is notorious for ties to the Russian establishment and for attacks on opposition leader Alexey Navalny), seized on this detail, writing the next day on LiveJournal and Facebook that TV Rain’s troubles are more financial than political.

Drawing on a June 2013 report in Forbes.ru, Apetian cataloged TV Rain’s growth since April 2010, pointing out that the station’s problems with cable and satellite operators are as old as TV Rain itself. In the past, the chief dispute with operators like “Tricolor” has been who should pay whom. For the first year that the station existed, virtually no one was interested in carrying TV Rain, unless the channel agreed to pay for the privilege. Moscow’s biggest cable provider, Akado, broadcasted the station for a week in 2010 and then dropped it. Months later, the satellite company NTV+ agreed to carry TV Rain, but only after Sindeeva appealed to Natalia Timakova, a close friend who happened to be the press secretary for then-President Dmitri Medvedev.

In late 2011 and early 2012, Vinokurov, whose private fortune bankrolls TV Rain, actively sought outside investors to share the burden (and hopefully the future profits) of running the station. He courted the money of Mikhail Prokhorov and Alisher Usmanov, two of the richest men in Russia, both of whom have close ties to the Kremlin. Vinokurov couldn’t reach a deal with either of them, telling Forbes.ru that their offers to invest in TV Rain were underwhelming. The failure to tie the station to a powerful elite group like Prokhorov’s or Usmanov’s would later have great costs for TV Rain. Instead, Vinokurov and Sindeeva appear to have ‘bet on the wrong horse,’ placing their hopes in President Medvedev.

Even from the start, loyalty to Medvedev was never easy. In late March 2011, Sindeeva actually pulled the channel’s most popular show, “Poet and Citizen,” off the air, claiming that a lyric in the program directed at Medvedev was excessively critical. After a Facebook post explaining her reasons for the censorship, Sindeeva even appeared [ru] on TV Rain itself to defend the decision, on-air.

President Medvedev visits TV Rain's studio, 25 April 2011, Kremlin photo service, public domain.

President Medvedev visits TV Rain's studio. Medvedev center, Natalia Sindeeva right. 25 April 2011, Kremlin photo service, public domain.

TV Rain is often described as a product of the political thaw that occurred in Russia during Medvedev’s single term as president between 2008 and 2012. While this sentiment seems to imply that TV Rain bloomed into existence spontaneously, Apetian points out that the station failed to attract serious cable and satellite coverage until April 2011, when President Medvedev (less than a month after the “Poet and Citizen” scandal) personally visited the station’s office in downtown Moscow. Within weeks of Medvedev’s visit, Akado was broadcasting TV Rain again, even paying the station a “symbolic” 28 dollars per month for the rights. Before long, upward of 13 different operators were beaming the channel across the country—all suddenly amenable to TV Rain’s refusal to pay them any money.

Many of those cable and satellite companies are now backing away from TV Rain. Some are jumping on the bandwagon of moral outrage, faulting the station for its Leningrad Siege faux pas, and others cite business grounds. The suits running Russia’s cable and satellite operators have leapt at the chance to ditch TV Rain. That opportunity exists thanks to the mounting hostility of Russian apparatchiki and the decline of Medvedev’s political influence. But would a bit of bluster in the Duma and a few angry phone calls from a former arms-export official so easily sway an entire industry, if that industry wasn’t already itching to be rid of TV Rain?

Echo of Moscow pundit Anton Orekh asked this exact question in a blog post [ru] on February 4, arguing that cable and satellite operators can kill two birds with one stone by dropping TV Rain now, appeasing the conservatives in the Russian establishment and jettisoning a troublesome content-producer they never wanted in the first place.

In Russia, you can run a successful television station without turning a profit, if you’ve got the right political sponsors. But you better rake it in, if nobody has your back. TV Rain lost its patron before gaining the momentum necessary to stand on its own. Now the country's politicians and businessmen seem determined to watch it wither and die. That could very well happen—and soon.

February 07 2014

A Riot Within Pussy Riot?

boohoo

Since their release from jail late last year Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, members of the feminist punk collective Pussy Riot, have gone on a worldwide publicity tour, visiting countries in Asia and Europe. At the time of their release they had announced that their new goal is the fight for human rights, specifically the rights of Russian prisoners — political or otherwise. Last night, Feb 5, as part of this tour they appeared at an Amnesty International-organized concert in New York.

According to [ru] journalist Anton Krasovsky (who himself was at once point persecuted for his sexual orientation) the concert wouldn't have been possible without the help of Russian billionaire and erstwhile presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov and his sister Irina. During their segment the Pussy Riot girls spoke about human rights abuses in Russia, and educated the audience about the Bolotnaya Square case, which many view as political in nature:

We are in New York, and there are 15,000 more people who know about the #BolotnoeCase. Starting today. And yes, we believe in caring

While in New York they also met US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, who called them “brave troublemakers” in a tweet, and appeared on the Colbert Report. (The founder of the nationalist online publication Sputnik & Pogrom pointed out [ru] that they were probably the first guest Colbert interviewed through an interpreter.)

Unfortunately, all of this publicity may have ruffled a few feathers back home. The day after the concert, other, anonymous members of Pussy Riot (the reader will remember that although 3 persons were arrested, at least 5 women were involved in the punk performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior) made a statement on their LiveJournal page, pussy-riot.livejournal.com [ru]. In this statement [ru] they proclaimed that Tolokonnikova and Alekhina are no longer members of Pussy Riot, because their human-rights activism is necessarily in opposition to the violent disruption at the heart of of the Pussy Riot method:

Мы очень рады освобождению Маши и Нади. [...] К сожалению для нас, они настолько увлеклись проблемами в российских тюрьмах, что начисто забыли о стремлениях и идеалах нашей группы: феминизм, сепаратистское сопротивление, борьба против авторитаризма и культа личности [...] Правозащитная деятельность не может позволить себе критику норм и правил, лежащих в основе устройства современного патриархального общества, потому что она является институциональной частью этого общества [...]

We are very happy Masha and Nadya were released. [...] Unfortunately for us, they are so concentrated on the problem of Russian prisons, that they forgot about the goals and ideals of our group: feminism, separatist insurgence, struggle against authoritarianism and the cult of personality [...] Human rights activism can't criticize norms and rules that are at the base of the modern patriarchal society, because it is an institutionalized part of this society [...]

They also criticized the Amnesty International concert, which billed Tolokonnikova and Alekhina's involvement as the first legal performance of Pussy Riot. “Pussy Riot doesn't do legal performances” — say the anonymous members. In fact, the whole idea is inimical to the concept of punk protest. They also stressed anonymity as an integral part of the Pussy Riot image, so it is unclear if Ekaterina Samutsevich, who previously had a falling out with Tolokonnikova and Alekhina when she took a plea bargain [Global Voices report] for early release, is still part of the collective.

Is this an attempt to hijack a worldwide, popular brand? Or, perhaps, Pussy Riot is indeed larger than its two most famous members. In any case, the group behind the statement is unequivocal:

Раз уж теперь мы оказались с Надей и Машей по разные стороны баррикад, разъедините нас. Запомните, мы больше не Надя и Маша, они – больше не Pussy Riot.

Since we are now on opposite sides of the barricades with Nadya and Masha, separate us. Remember, we are no longer Nadya and Masha, they are no longer Pussy Riot.

February 06 2014

Moscow School Shooting: Firsthand Accounts and Mistaken Identities

PioneerBarrels

Tragedy struck a Moscow school Monday morning when a straight-A student brought two hunting rifles to class and killed his geography teacher, also shooting two police officers that tried to apprehend him (one of them later died). As is often the case in the modern era, some of the tragic story played out online.

One girl, who attends the same school, wrote a post [ru] on the social network VKontakte about what happened:

Сегодня в моей школе было вооруженное нападение, утроенное одним из учеников 10 класса. Убит учитель географии – Кирилов Андрей Николаевич (светлая память !!) [...] У Андрея Николаевича 5-ти летний сын. Мне бы безумно хотелось, что бы эта ПАДЛА оказался на месте сына учителя. Имя террориста – Гордеев Сергей. Предположительная причина – 4 в четверти по географии. Парень шел на золотую медаль. Теперь парень пойдет в тюрьму.

Today there was an armed attack at my school, perpetrated by one of the 10th grade students. The geography teacher has been killed – Andrey Nikolaevich Kirillov (bless him !!) [...] Andrey Nikolaevich has a 5 year old son. I really want that ASSHOLE do end up in the place of the teacher's son. The name of the terrorist is Sergey Gordeev. Suspected reason – a B in geography last quarter. The guy was aiming for a gold medal [valedictorian - A.T.]. Now the guy will go to jail.

Another girl, who apparently goes to a nearby school posted an Instagram selfie [ru] (later deleted) of students making faces at the camera, commenting: “f*ck.” Later that day an alleged first-hand account by one of Gordeev's classmates was was published [ru] by former Kremlin PR guru Gleb Pavlovsky on his Facebook page. The source is anonymous, and gives gory details of the murder:

Вдруг кто-то стучиться в дверь.[...] Появляется лицо Гордеева. [...] Андрей Николаевич не успел ничего сказать, как Серёга стрельнул ему в лицо. Андрей Николаевич сделал пару оборотов, сбил у художника с парты вещи и упал на пол, хлестая кровью. [...] Серёга говорит:”А теперь вопрос на оценку, почему он ещё не сдох? Я же его убил” Потом говорит:”всем два балла” и стреляет ещё пару раз в Андрея Николаевича.

Someone knocked on the door. [...] Gordeev's face appeared. [...] Andrey Nikolaevich didn't have time to say anything, Sergey shot him in the face. Andrey Nikolaevich turned a few times, knocked some art materials from the desk and fell to the floor, bleeding. Sergey said: “And now a question for a grade, why isn't he dead? I killed him” Then he says: “everyone gets a D” and shoots Andrey Nikolaevich a couple more times.

According to this student, Gordeev then took the class hostage and started talking to them about his life and his belief in god. When his mother called, he talked to her, calling himself a “psycho” and saying that he wanted to die. Later, Gordeev's father showed up, and after some negotiation managed to disarm him and free the students.

Legislative troll Vitaly Milonov memefied: The shooter was a 10th grader and a straight A student - we should ban the 10th grade and straight A students. Anonymous image found online.

Legislative troll Vitaly Milonov memefied: “The shooter was a 10th grader and a straight A student – we should ban the 10th grade and straight A students.” Anonymous image found online.

Later it became known that Gordeev's father is an officer in Russia's security forces, a fact that was pounced on by opposition bloggers. Alexey Navalny tweeted [ru] that this probably meant that the beat policeman didn't check Gordeev-elder's gun permits and storage safes. Other bloggers referred [ru] to the shooter as the “son of an FSB agent” or “son of a secret policeman,” and jokingly wondered [ru] if this mean the parliament would ban security officers from owning personal weapons. At the same time, yet more [ru] bloggers [ru] wondered [ru] why no one is mentioning the fact that the father is allegedly affiliated with the security apparatus. This led Sultan Suleymanov, an editor at Tjournal (a tweet aggregator), to sarcastically tweet:

Whew, good thing that the student's father turned out to be an FSB agent. Before that people didn't know what to hate him for — he wasn't a migrant, a nationalist, or gay

A case of mistaken identity caused some of that hate to be wrongly aimed at a different Sergey Gordeev, for a time. Journalist, blogger, and notorious internet troll, Maxim Kononenko (f.k.a. mrparker) found a VKontakte photo [ru] of a Sergey Gordeev which he posted on Facebook and tweeted. He caveated the photo, saying it was “preliminary.” Other twitter users, and later mainstream Russian media, picked it up [ru] without fact checking and ran it in publications (likely illegally because the individual is a minor). The Gordeev in question later posted a picture of himself holding a newspaper [ru] with his face on the front page, as a way to prove that he wasn't the guy. He wrote:

Ребят, вы извините дурачки 1) Я Сергей Гордеев это правда!!!!!! 2)Я не стрелял не кого (просто ошиблись, тоесть ТВ врет) 3)Если это был я я бы сейчас не фотался с газеткой!!!(Кстати сегодня был в “Комсомолькой правде” Там все прихуели когда меня увидели…….)

Guys, sorry but you are idiots 1) I am Sergey Gordeev, that's true!!!!! 2) I didn't shoot anyone (it's just a mistake, the TV is lying) 3) If it was me I wouldn't be taking photos with a newspaper right now!!!(By the way, I was at Komsomolskaya Pravda [newspaper] today, they all sh*t their pants when they saw me……)

Kononenko later apologized [ru] for his faux pas, reiterating, however, that he wasn't the one to publish the photo in mass media.

“I was so brutal because of computer games” says Stalin. Anonymous image found online.

Meanwhile, Russian members of parliament, eager as ever for something to blame, blamed [ru] guns, violent movies, video games, and American influence. RuNet funny man, poet and journalist Ivan Davydov tweeted in response:

The MPs are thinking small. To avoid school shootings, you shouldn't ban guns, you should ban schools  

February 02 2014

13 Olympic Memes as Sochi Games Approach

As the Sochi Winter Olympics are fast approaching (the opening ceremony is this coming Saturday), RuNet Echo takes a look back at some of the funnier jokes that the Russian online community made about the logo, the torch, and other Olympic accouterments during the years of preparation for the games.

1. The logo itself has been the butt of various memes, the most ubiquitous of which is its pairing with a “saw” mascot, as a play on the verb “to saw,” a Russian slang term for “embezzlement.” This is, of course, contextualized amid years of accusations of wasteful spending and embezzled funds during the construction process:

The friendly embezzling saw. Anonymous image distributed online.

The friendly embezzling saw. Anonymous image distributed online.

2. A more succinct joke comes at the expense of the easily parodied font:

“A f*cking shame” reads the modified Olympic logo. Anonymous image found online.

3. Another Olympic accusation of corruption — this is one on behalf of Russia's students:

“The Olympic flame burned your stipend” reads the caption of this alternative logo. Anonymous image found online.

4. A 2010 competition to design a mascot to go with the logo, organized by Russia's Olympic committee, resulted in several meme-worthy entrants. This one utilizes the ancient RuNet “Превед медвед” (“Preved medved”) meme. (This meme was at one point so widespread, it has its own KnowYourMeme entry.)

“Preved!” says the bear. Anonymous image distributed online.

5. Bears are an easy sell for Russian-hosted Olympics — ever since the lovable 1980 mascot. This entry into the 2010 contest uses the well known “Pedobear” meme:

Skiing-kuma. Anonymous image distributed online.

Skiing-kuma. Anonymous image distributed online.

6. Fans of Lovecraft had their own approach:

Ktulhu for President (of the Olympics)! Anonymous image distributed online.

Cthulhu for President (of the Olympics)! Anonymous image distributed online.

7. And fans of the classic Soviet kid's cartoon “Cheburashka,” their own (albeit similar):

Cheburashka fhtagn! Anonymous image found online.

Cheburashka fhtagn! Anonymous image found online.

8. The most popular entry (although it later turned out it was part of an astroturf campaign to raise contest popularity) was the Arctic hypno-toad nicknamed Zoich, created by cartoonist Egor Zhgun.

2014 sort of looks like ZOIЧ, a mix of English and Russian characters.

9. The mascots that were eventually selected, drew accusations of plagiarism both from Russia's last Olympics:

“Plagiarism is when you take someone else's thing and make it worse.” One of new mascots side by side with the 1980 Mishka the Bear. Anonymous image found online.

10. And from foreign Olympics:

“F*cking shameful,” reads the caption. Salt Lake Olympic mascots on the right. Anonymous image found online.

11. The Sochi Olympic torch relay, plagued as it was with the flame constantly going out [Global Voices report], also became the butt of jokes. Some pointed out its similarity to a Vodka logo:

“Russian” brand vodka looks suspiciously like the Olympic torch. Anonymous image found online.

12. Others noted the similarities between this bearded relay runner holds his torch, and the way Chechen guerrillas hold their guns:

Olympic terrorists. Anonymous image found online.

Olympic terrorists. Anonymous image found online.

13. Perhaps the harshest meme of them all, this Olympic Bingo sheet has been translated from the Russian original by RuNet Echo. Various versions of the meme are widespread on Russian imageboards and forums. All deal with some form of failure on the part of the Russian hosts. This, folks, is Russian fatalism at its most depressed:

Anonymous image translated by RuNet Echo.

Anonymous image translated by RuNet Echo.

Russians are fond of self deprecation. Hopefully the 2014 Winter games will prove them wrong.

January 29 2014

Blogger Unveils Sochi Corruption Website

The costs of the Sochi Olympics according to Alexey Navalny. Screenshot.

The costs of the Sochi Olympics according to Alexey Navalny. Screenshot.

Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny joined the Sochi anti-corruption campaign this week, launching an interactive website outlining what he calls the “true costs” of the Olympic preparations in Sochi. 

Navalny tweeted, linking to the website:

How much did the Olympics cost?  Who paid for it?  Who stole, and how much? http://t.co/FN8bZAwtdw pic.twitter.com/uCilgqiToG

With increased western scrutiny of the games, Navalny’s latest campaign was instantly covered in the New York Times, and other English-speaking media outlets shortly thereafter. Pro-Kremlin blogger Stanislav Apetyan (twitter handle @politrash) took the speed as a sign of some sort of foul play, or a collaborative effort:

An article in the New York Times goes up within 15 minutes after Navalny’s post: http://t.co/hBHYx9Pq6n It's like some kind of magic!

Photographer Ilya Varlamov shot back:

@politrash this is perfectly normal. These types of things are distributed to the media in advance, as an exclusive story. What is the problem here?

According to Apetyan [ru], the problem is that this means the story was created for foreign consumption — implying that Navalny is chasing foreign attention. Varlamov, though, claims [ru] that Navalny gave the story to pro-government Russian media as well, but they haven't published anything about it. Another twitter user criticized Navalny on merits, saying:

@varlamov @politrash the main question here is how much was spent on Olympic venues and the hosting of the Olympic games, and how much on regional infrastructure projects.

Navalny alleges that has Putin lied about the cost of the Sochi Olympic projects, when he claimed that it had cost 214 billion rubles (or roughly 6.5 billion dollars). Navalny claims that the actual figure is several times that, at $46 billion. (A previous project launched by opposition politician Boris Nemtsov found the spending had reached $51 billion.) The argument [ru] of the pro-government bloggers is that the 6.5 billion was indeed spent on the “Olympics proper” while the rest was spent creating infrastructure in Sochi — roads, utilities, and airports. All things that will be useful in one of Russia's few resort regions.

Navalny's numbers are pieced together from various public sources, as he says [ru], after much trial and tribulation. But the project did not just focus on Olympic construction projects, but also on the people he says benefited the most from the embezzlement. They include the Governor of Krasnodar Region (where Sochi is located) and his son-in-law; President Putin’s judo partner, billionaire Arkadiy Rotenberg; the oligarch Vladimir Potanin; and the CEO of state-owned Russian Railways, Vladimir Yakunin. And that, to some, is the real scandal.

Cable Providers Begin Dropping Russia's Only Independent TV Station

It's not just threats facing Russia's only independent TV station. Providers are not dropping the channel outright. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

It's no longer just threats facing Russia's only independent TV station. Providers are now dropping the channel outright. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

The prospect that Russian cable television providers might drop TV Rain, Russia’s only independent channel, became a reality today, when two major cable companies reported decisions to stop providing customers with access to the station.

In a tweet today, January 29, 2014, the telecom Akado (where the Board Director is Yuri Pripachkin—the man who launched yesterday’s crackdown on TV Rain) announced [ru] on Twitter that it is suspending TV Rain’s broadcasting license on its cable network, effective tomorrow. Another cable television provider, Dom.ru, has already cut off access to TV Rain on its network, citing [ru] the absence of a broadcasting agreement with the station. According to the cable provider, it is illegal in Russia to broadcast a channel without such an agreement. Curiously, Dom.ru’s press release says nothing about why it only now realized that it lacks a contract with TV Rain.

A third cable television provider, Tricolor TV, told [ru] Echo of Moscow’s St. Petersburg branch that will continue to carry TV Rain, but warned that it would drop the station, if it ever repeated the scandal (covered at length in a previous GV post) that sparked its current troubles.

According to reports and the telecoms’ own websites [ru], Akado and Dom.ru have somewhere between seven and nine million customers in Russia, serving upwards of 56 cities throughout the country.

Akado’s decision to announce on Twitter that it is suspending TV Rain coverage exposed the cable provider to a wave of anger from the station’s supporters.

Here are a few choice responses to Akado’s tweet:

Dishonor.

Akado, this is shameful! Give viewers the chance to decide for themselves what to watch!

Akado, you electrically operated scumbags.

C**ksuckers.

What’s it like to write a tweet with a d**k in your mouth?

It’s good when the opportunity arises for some resistance. I’m switching away from Akado for its refusal to broadcast TV Rain, and I advise you to do the same.

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