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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Annals of Collaboration: Neo-Soviet Russians Sell Their Souls

The Moscow Times reports on the revolting efforts by the Kremlin to seize total control over the last bastion of freedom in Russia, the Internet, and the even more revolting lemming-like acquiescence of all layers of Russian society in the appalling crackdown:

With a dashing head shot of President Vladimir Putin set against the Russian flag, appears to differ little from the fawning pro-Putin propaganda favored by the political establishment. But the man behind the web site is in fact a counterculture icon and obscenity pioneer on the Russian Internet who has launched dozens of web sites, including the legendary is the latest project of Konstantin Rykov, a 28-year-old media entrepreneur running on the Nizhny Novgorod ticket of pro-Kremlin party United Russia. Launched last week as part of the nationwide For Putin movement, the site gives Russians the chance to urge Putin to stay on after his second term finishes next year. As of Tuesday, the site claimed that more than 35,000 visitors had expressed their support for Putin, including several other iconoclastic personalities of the RuNet, arguably the country's most vibrant venue for political discussion. The web site is registered to Alexei Zharich, an employee of the company Political Technologies, which is headed up by Rykov. Upon entering into a web browser, users are redirected to Rykov has created or masterminded more than 50 web sites, according to the International Union of Internet Personalities, a group set up by managers and owners of popular RuNet projects. Many of the sites were notable for their unabashed use of obscenities generally considered taboo in Russian prose, including, where any half-literate vocational school student could post graphic accounts of how he seduced his teacher or teenage neighbor.

"Konstantin was the first to post obscenities on the Russian Internet, but he was a teenager then, and it would be idiotic to condemn him for this now," said writer and RuNet personality Eduard Bagirov, who has endorsed Bagirov's novel "Gastarbaiter," published by Rykov's Populyarnaya Literatura, became a national bestseller this year. One of the most notorious RuNet icons to sign up at is Dmitry Sokolovsky, who runs the bombastic web site, renowned for its brazen sexism, racism and single guiding principle: homophobia. Sokolovsky said in a telephone interview that he joined the project because Rykov is "an old friend. I like everything he does."

While Sokolovsky's site has built its reputation on contempt for the establishment, he said he would like Putin to stay on for a third term despite limits set by the Constitution. "His personality impresses me despite some of the regime's drawbacks," he said. It's not surprising that counterculture figures are throwing their support behind Putin, said Kirill Razlogov, an analyst with the Institute of Culturology. "The public image of Putin is that of a strong hand, with elements of machismo and black humor that traditionally appeal to the counterculture circles," Razlogov said.

Analysts say the Kremlin and United Russia are clearly behind the For Putin movement, which is being portrayed in state-controlled media as a grassroots initiative. The movement is expected to hold its founding congress on Thursday in Tver. Lawyer Pavel Astakhov, one of the leaders of For Putin, has denied any Kremlin involvement with the group. But citing several unidentified sources in regional administrations, reported Tuesday that the movement was being orchestrated by governors on orders from the presidential administration. Prominent web entrepreneur Anton Nosik said Rykov was being paid for the project but declined to name the patron.

Rallying behind a leader with no conceivable alternative "is for simple-minded people or for those who are paid well for the effort," Nosik said. "Rykov is not simple-minded. It is his task to mobilize the simple-minded." A written request for comment sent to Rykov's office went unanswered Tuesday. But in an interview broadcast on Channel One television Sunday, he praised Putin's leadership. "We are lucky to have Putin, because for the first time a man has come to power who we are not ashamed of," Rykov said.

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