“On the internet 50 percent is porn material. Why should we refer to the internet?” This was Vladimir Putin’s answer to widespread claims on Russian internet websites that the October regional elections were rigged.
But while dismissing the internet as an irrelevant source of information, Putin does take the internet seriously when it comes to quieting his critics. Alexei Dymovsky, the police officer who spoke out publicly about widespread police corruption via YouTube, was duly arrested on Friday (and facing dubious charges).
At least on the surface, Putin’s younger successor Dmitry Medvedev seems to have a more positive approach to the internet as an information platform. Over a year ago, Medvedev proudly discovered the blog as a means of communication with the Russian public. Taking stock of his blogging experience on the occasion of his video blog‘s first anniversary, Medvedev draws the following, rather trite conclusion:
“For me, the blog represents a very important means of communication, which allows me to receive important information, to better understand citizens’ mood, the reasoning behind the behaviour of a wide range of people interacting on the blog and discussing a variety of issues.”
Medvedev has now even called upon Russia’s regional governors to follow his example and become active bloggers. He even asserted that the governors’ job performance will be partly judged by their internet activities.
However, it is believed that the primary reason for calling upon governors to blog is that official mass media is losing influence in the country’s more remote regions. So, in other words, Medvedev expects his governors to promote the party line first and foremost, not plurality and open policy debates.
Ultimately, Putin and Medvedev’s different approaches to the internet and blogging reflects more of a generational divide than a difference in political philosophy. Both are keen on controlling political debate in Russia and suppressing dissent when criticism of the government threatens to get out of hand.