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How old were you when you realized the Russian people’s disastrous situation? A Neo-Nazi's worried lawyer hits a national nerve

Meduza

Let’s begin with a warning: social media is a lousy place to gauge the way Russians feel about themselves. If Max Reed’s recent article for New York Magazine (“How Much of the Internet Is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually”) didn’t nudge you into an existential crisis as an Internet user, it’s at least reason enough to second guess the clicks, views, and impressions we use to measure value online. Cyberspace is awash in bots, farms, fakes, phonies, and can you believe that my December 28 tweet asking “At what age did you realize the Russian people’s disastrous situation?” amassed 67,233 impressions? That includes 1,148 total engagements and 111 replies, folks! Which is perhaps as close as we’ll ever come to unraveling the Russian soul. Scientifically.

What does that mean in layman’s terms? We now have a clear breakdown of when Russians learn about their own national crisis. At the risk of being overly technical, here is a random summary of responses to my question on Twitter:

  • “In 862.”
  • “At the age of 15, when I moved to Sweden.” (Tweeted from an account with the flags of Sweden and the EU in the displayed name.)
  • “At six.” (When his mother was too poor to buy him a bicycle.)
  • “In ‘93, when mom started drying bread crumbs, instead of borscht, for the year ahead.” (This doesn’t tell us the woman’s age. Not everyone understood the question.)
  • “At seven.”
  • “At 27.”
  • “At eight, living in Angarsk, in the Irkutsk region, when I saw a 15-to-20-minute news report from Disneyland.”
  • “At 24. It was ‘93, and there was a man standing in the street, handing out the soup ladles he’d received instead of his wages, and he couldn’t sell them.”
  • “At 10, when I found an old Soviet atlas and Crimea was still ours.”
  • “At 15, in 2014.”
  • “When I was 12 or 13.”
  • “In 1992.” (Again: some people weren’t paying attention to the question.)
  • “Right now.”
  • “When they told me that the Russian language I learned is now useless, and forget everything connected to the USSR, sonny, and go learn English.” (This Twitter user’s handle is “The Irishman”!)
  • “It happens in school, with [Nikolay] Nekrasov, [Alexander] Herzen, [Nikolay] Chernyshevsky,” said columnist Maxim Trudolyubov, ever the philosopher.
  • “Being a Jew, I was informed on literally my first day in kindergarten,” wrote sports journalist Slava Malamud.

Not everyone appreciated my snotty American suggestion that the Russian people face disaster. “I’m 47 and I still haven’t realized it,” fired back columnist Maxim Kononenko. “I realize the greatness of the Russian people after such questions from an American,” answered someone else.

But let’s finish with some better-late-than-never transparency: I didn’t come up with the idea that Russians are teetering on the brink. Careful Meduza readers might notice that the words “realizing the Russian people’s disastrous situation” appears in our new investigative report about white supremacists’ ongoing efforts to establish a nationalist brotherhood in Russia’s prison system. The phrase itself — russkii narod (“Russian people”) — has a decidedly ethnic flavor in Russian. My tweet actually parrots Matvey Tszen, the defense attorney for the Neo-Nazi Maxim Martsinkevich (better known as “Tesak,” or “Cleaver”). Tszen recently complained to Meduza that Russian nationalists are thrown behind bars almost as soon as they “realize the Russian people’s disastrous situation,” without spending enough time on the streets to build the credibility needed for influence in prison.

Russia's white supremacists, locked up before they can blossom into prominent reactionaries, aren't as alone as they seem to think, however. 67,233 impressions can't be wrong.

Kevin Rothrock

Photo on front page: Pixabay