Perestroika II Begins Online?

Обращение президента - Дмитрий Медведев_ Россия, вперед! - Газета.Ru
By Karina Alexanyan

On the morning of Sept 10, Dmitri Medvedev published an astonishing article entitled “Forward, Russia!” describing his vision for Russia’s future.

Open Democracy’s Dmitri Travin provides an interesting analysis of the article, comparing it with some of Gorbachev’s first steps under Perestroika.

What is significant about the article – in addition to it’s content of course – is that it did not premier in the morning papers. And there was no mention of it on television before it went “live”. Rather, Medvedev chose to address Russia’s citizens via the online newspaper “Gazeta.ru”.

In addition to being known as a venue for criticism of the Kremlin and commentary by opposition members., Gazeta.ru is a “webnative” publication, meaning that it has no print version and doesn’t exist outside the internet.

As a result, at least initially, the RuNet served as the exclusive forum for the entire discussion of the article. The article’s appearance was eventually announced on the “democratic” radio station “Ekho Moskvy” and word spread from there. By noon, the article was available on the Kremlin’s site as well.

The trajectory of this article provides an excellent opportunity to measure the spread of information (especially information this important) from the Russian internet to the mainstream.

In addition, given that the internet remains an elite medium in Russia, and that an overwhelming majority of Russian’s get their news from television, Medvedev’s choice of Gazeta.ru implies that his intended audience, at least initially, was a select and narrow group – the young & educated urban elite.

Reports on the effect of Medvedev’s announcement are mixed, and, predictably, vary by the source. In his Open Democracy piece, Travin states that the article caused a “sensation” on the internet. In contrast, The Heritage Foundation’s Yevgeny Volk suggests the article received a lukewarm response:

Tellingly though, Medvedev’s target audience, Russia’s young internet readership, had a lukewarm response to their President’s insights. His comments failed to make the spotlight in numerous blogs, being overshadowed by society gossip and sporting events. It looks like Russians are accustomed to hearing Kremlin insiders speak the right words but make no effort to overcome hardships and rectify mistakes.

RussiaProfile also focuses on the reaction online, stating that:

…judging not by the mass media, but by the discussion on LiveJournal, the article was equally poorly received both by our homegrown loyalists, who immediately forgot about loyalty and cruelly criticized the text that came from their favorite supreme authority, and by the regime’s traditional opponents, who mocked the call for the willing and the dissenters to jointly pull Russia out of the present semi-quagmire. 

Nevertheless, the article – and its repercussions – remain a hot topic. A week later, a Yandex search for the Russian terms “Medvedev” and “Forward Russia” still comes up with over 3 million results.

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