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‘Mocking Putin is tantamount to extremism’ Students at a grade school in Vologda are reported to the police after posting memes about teachers and Russia's president

Meduza
Meduza

Sixth graders created an online group where they shared memes and made fun of classmates, teachers, and the principal

The “CARtON_83 Studio” Vkontakte community is the creation of sixth graders at the Vologda Multi-Disciplinary Lyceum, a school for gifted children from across Russia, according to the institution’s website. “Carton 83” got its start in March 2018 as a closed group, but the students later opened it up to the public, and membership peaked at about 80 people.

According to one ninth-grade student at the school, who asked Meduza not to reveal his name, people in the group shared jokes about teachers and other students. “The goal wasn’t to offend anyone,” he says. “We had a disclaimer: ‘This group is just for fun and nothing more. We do not encourage insults.’” An eighth grader, who also asked Meduza not to name him, says the group was harmless. “People posted stuff about teachers that definitely wasn’t offensive,” he told Meduza. “For example, about the math teacher who’s always on her phone during class, also looking at memes. Or the PE teacher, who swears. Or there was this meme about the principal: ‘What do vampires fear? Garlic. What do mosquitoes fear? OFF! What do I fear?’ And then there’d be a photo of the principal.”

The school’s administration found out about the group’s existence when a member reposted a meme about a seventh grader who’s known for playing on his phone during class. The school took immediate action.

The principal's office summoned the students’ parents and said “warnings are over,” arguing that mocking President Putin is tantamount to extremism

On December 3, the principal's office summoned the father of one of Carton 83’s creators. At the meeting, he met the mother of the student who’d written more posts than anyone in the group. “When we got there, principal Andrey Platonov, the vice principal, and several teachers were there waiting for us,” says one student, who asked not to be named. “They started shaking sheets of A4 paper at us. They’d printed out the memes. And then they said someone from the district attorney’s office had come to the school last academic year and warned students that extremism is prohibited. And now, as they put it, ‘warnings are over.’” The student says the vice principal also pointed out that the group had posted “something about Putin,” and making fun of the president is tantamount to extremism.

A ninth grader at the school told Meduza that no one in the group posted anything offensive about Vladimir Putin. “We wouldn’t joke about the state,” he says. “We understand what’s allowed and what isn’t.” The student says his teachers probably detected “extremism” in a photograph where classmates were pictured making faces in front of a portrait of Putin in the school’s foyer. The student says Carton 83 members also joked about the deputy principal, and now he’s making this personal. “A lot of kids dislike him,” the student says.

The school’s administration threatened students with “administrative supervision,” and the principal says he filed a police report

An eleventh grader at the school told Meduza that one of the vice principals went around on December 3 to the seventh- and eighth-grade classes (where most of the group’s members were), and said, “Anyone who doesn’t leave the group will be summoned to the principal.” Three days later, Carton 83’s membership had fallen from 80 to 28, and almost all its content was deleted.

An eighth grader told Meduza that another vice principal stopped by before class. “She said the city no longer has schools where teachers will work with students until late at night [on extracurriculars]. But we’re still doing it.” He says the school’s computer science teacher then came to his class and explained how nothing on the Internet ever disappears, saying that you can even find things that were [supposedly] deleted 20 years ago. After this, the homeroom teacher gave a legal science lesson, threatening the students that Roskomnadzor (Russia’s federal censor) would come to the school, and warned that “administrative records are no joke.”

Representatives for Roskomnadzor’s regional office in Vologda told Meduza that they know nothing about Carton 83, but they also suggested a “statement” might be made in the future.

The school’s principal, Andrey Platonov, told Meduza: “The group had offensive memes directed at teachers, using photographs taken in secret during class, in violation of school policy. A police report has been filed. The police are dealing with it. As for the allegations of extremism and anti-state activity — that’s conjecture by the parents.”

The father of one of Carton 83’s creators says the school has scheduled a parent conference on December 7. “The other parents and I figure we’ll hear all about how making memes is prohibited,” he told Meduza.

Story by Polina Eremenko

Irina Kravtsova contributed to this report. Translation by Kevin Rothrock.