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Unfiled November 3, 2006
 
The Last SUPper of Russian blogs?
By Kirill Pankratov Browse author
 
 

ACTON, MA One thing that never stops amazing me is how clueless the Western media can be when it comes to Russian affairs. Reading some accounts in the American or European mainstream media, I can only wonder: "Where did those idiots get that?" The latest example of this wtf? garbage comes from an article in the International Herald Tribune by a certain Evgeny Morozov, entitled "Russia's Last Refuge: The Blogosphere": http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/10/25/opinion/edmorozov.php It's a familiar litany, of course: Putin's dictatorship destroys the last vestiges of media freedom in Russia. Now it is reaching its tentacles into the sacred blogosphere. The successors of the KGB are going to take the Russian sector of the LiveJournal (LJ)the most popular blogging service for the Russian chattering classesunder its control. Poor Russians! They simply don't get that "democracy" and "freedom" thing.

Indeed, in the last few weeks the whole Russian internet community was abuzz. The management of the LJ's Cyrillic sector was outsourced to a previously unknown Russian company called Sup.com, connected to a shady oligarch, Alexander Mamut. It aroused wild speculations and outcries from every corner. But it had very little to do with "Putin's brutal dictatorship," as suggested in Morozov's misleading article (he turns out to be a Belarus emigre, largely unknown to the Russian LJ community).

The Exile was one of the first English-language publications that documented the phenomenal rise of Russian "ZheZhe" (the Cyrillic abbreviation of the LiveJournal) among the Russian political and media elite in the double feature of the issue 217: http://www.exile.ru/2005-July-01. It featured two articles: "Blog Wars" by Anna Arutunyan and "Censor This!" by myself. They described the LJ phenomenon in general and the controversy of censorship of Russian users by the "Abuse Team" of the Six-Apart company, which owns the LiveJournal service. That became known as the "First Blog War." The crisis passed fairly quickly, perhaps scaring a few users to migrate to other blogging platforms, and the appearance of the "backup" ZheZhe http://lj.rossia.org , created by the same Michail Verbitsky whose postings of the "Kill Nato Soldier!" campaign started the first "blog war."

Now comes the second one. In fact if you type "second blog war" in Google, you'll get quite a few hits about the story, such as this one: http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/2006/10/21/russia-the-second-blog-war/ Since July 2005, LJ only grew in importance in Russia's political discourse. It became widely used in practically every local electoral campaign, every political movement and faction, especially youth-oriented, as well to spread intrigues, "kompromat wars" and so on. When, during the G8 summit in St-Petersburg last July, Bush met a selected bunch of "young Russians leaders for tomorrow," he asked them something about the media freedom and the Internet. Masha Gaidar (the daughter of the first post-Soviet Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar) immediately blurted out in response: "LiveJournal, of course". Her account (in Russian) can be seen here: http://m-gaidar.livejournal.com/17485.html

LiveJournal is a popular but not the most important blogging community in the US, far eclipsed by MySpace. Its core audience is teenagers, communicating with friends and classmates. But in Russia it is huge. The uniqueness of the Russian LJ can be clearly seen on the LiveJournal global "map" at http://www.ljmap.net site, where the overall membership is visualized as a multitude of nodes with links to each other. The whole thing looks somewhat like a map of Central America, with most parts consisting of dense, fuzzy jungles of Guatemala, Honduras and such, with a few lacunas and "lakes." There is only one conspicuous, highly structured spot in the bottom-right corner, roughly in the place of the Panama Canalthis is the "Russian" LJ, with the largest "stars" and densest clusters.


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