The Game Hit the Dam

Alexander Morozov, a Russian political analyst, discusses the current developments in the Russian opposition’s camp.

One month ago, a well-known politician Grigory Yavlinsky (leader of Yabloko Party) declared that in the absence of real parliamentary elections the “old party” would not do, and under the present circumstances a “party of a new type was needed.” Social networks laughed at the veteran. However, when you come to think of it, we are seeing a rather unexpected picture. In the context of “depoliticization” and a complete ban on independent political activity the entire spectrum of social activism is faced with a question: What form of “political representation” is even possible under the present circumstances? Hence, Open Russia’s weird and — on the face of it — even crazy project to engage its activists in some kind of a QUEST, or in other words, convincing them to use the “years of darkness and stagnation” to play outpost, that is a simulated political game.

Navalny has ventured an even larger-scale “game.” He made a seemingly ludicrous announcement that although he had not been allowed to run for president he would still be running a “sort of” all-Russian campaign. “How is that even possible?!” everyone cried. To which Navalvy replied: “It does not matter whether one is allowed to run or not.” And young people suddenly began lining up in front of newly-established campaign offices to sign up as volunteers. One month later Navalny proposed to hold an open air discussion of a successful film project Don’t Call Him Dimon. When Moscow authorities banned the discussion, Navalvy said that an “open-air film club” did not require any authorization or approval, and thus “all movie enthusiasts were welcome to participate.” As a result, young people raised by “rebel youtube videos” just up and went into the streets. Two school kids climbed up a light poll by the Pushkin monument. When police officers looked up at them, they smiled and shouted: “We have no money but we are hanging in there!”

In other words, the recent events have clearly demonstrated that a game — not an open protest — has turned out to be a direct alternative to the political stagnation and repressions. This is a transition into a different — alternate — dimension. This seems to be some kind of a “joke.” However, the recent events in a different sphere suggest that the Kremlin should seriously consider the situation.

Three years ago, members of the military reenactment movement, enthusiasts seeking to recreate historical battles, fans of alternate history literature, collectors of ammunition of past centuries and numerous enthusiasts of other game forms of recreational activities that had never before generated any political interest, were suddenly seen as a vast pool for patriotic mobilization.  Girkin’s entire ride from Crimea to Donbass seemed half-staged but it has resulted in irreversible political consequences. The powerful flow of all these reenactors, authors and fans of books about “portal travelers” (there is even an established term for this “pretend” time travel) and experts in online polemics (in essence, Internet trolls also assume role-playing identities) rushed through a narrow crack opened by the Kremlin bringing down the whole dam.  

Navalny has obviously hit the same nerve if only at the opposite end of the political continuum.  While reenactors were yet again pressing forward to storm an imaginary Berlin, Navalny — with the help of a series of rebel YouTube videos and through the demonstration of “fantastic” (in their scale) palaces and wealth of top Russian officials — has created a new crack through which a new huge wave of people who had until recently been strongly attached to the online game playing, has begun pouring in, The Kremlin will now try to convince itself and the rest of us that these were “school kids” or, in other words, that all this was “childish.” In reality, however, this is as childish as organizing a coup in Montenegro. Game environment possesses an overpowering capacity to spread like a virus and to move above the traditional descriptions of reality. Navalny was splattered with a green antiseptic liquid. In a creative environment, such a negative incident that seems quite prosaic when it happens to Kasyanov, can very easily be turned into a positive one.  Although wearing white ribbons on lapels is a serious grown-up display of one’s position, it also spread like a virus at the time. Victory signs made with two fingers painted with green antiseptic that can be seen in a video posted by Vedomosti are a much less pretentious, more ironical, pretend virus.

In other words, Navalny’s anticorruption movement as it was presented on March 26 is a sort of “pretend patriotic movement” but turned inward — not outward toward Ukraine and the West.  If the Kremlin does not draw the right conclusions — and it seems that it is already incapable of making any conclusions at all — it will be confronted by millions of teens and twenty-something who will tear it to pieces using game skills that the Kremlin itself simply does not have since the Kremlin is inhabited by a “Nikita Mikhalkov” who observes with sadness and surprise that instead of his edifying movies this new generation watches videos by YouTube bloggers that, like Navalny’s, garner more views in the first seven days after the video is posted online than Mikhalkov and Bondarchuk’s movies during the same period.   For this audience, “palaces of fathers” and the latifundia of filmmaker Mikhalkov himself have a completely different meaning than the owners of these palaces think.

This article first appeared at the InLiberty site.

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