Alexei Titkov posted this on his Facebook feed and, with his kind permission, I translated into English and edited it a bit. I repost it because it reminded me of some of the conversations I had in Russia last autumn when mobilization was at its height:
An almost invisible hero of last week:
head of the city of Nevinnomyssk (Stavropol Region) Mikhail Minenkov
Minenkov is a Lieutenant colonel (in the reserve), former paratrooper, sambist, chairman of the regional rugby federation. He went out to the square in front of the city administration – handing out stickers “SvoikhNeBrosaem Z” [We don’t leave a man Behind Z] and St. George ribbons.
Here we have direct quotes from Minenkov’s Telegram channel:
“Good evening! Good weather. People are already walking around without jackets.
So I brought stickers with me – a whole pack of St. George ribbons. I ask why there are so few St. George ribbons on cars – among friends, comrades, acquaintances. And everyone is afraid.
This is really embarrassing guys. The boys need to be supported. May 9 is coming soon, symbols must be supported. I urge everyone, printers, to print these stickers and hang them up without fear that they will scratch your car. To wear this St. George ribbon, to support our boys, to remember our grandfathers, this is very important.
And hello to all the chickenshits who are afraid of a scratch on their car.”
Alexei: Our editors are already being asked: what does this say about the mood in Russian society, its trends.
Answer: practically nothing. Only what we observe.
Wearing Z-symbols to ordinary people in everyday situations is most often inconvenient, or something. Even if ideologically “for” – they do not express it by external signs. And the matter is, most likely, not only of cars, which they don’t want touched.
For comparison here’s a story that I myself observed in recent months. Nearest Moscow region. On the way to the bus stop, every time I noticed the same balcony of the same five-story building. Balcony like any other: glazed. Last spring it began to look ceremonial: behind the glass is the Russian tricolor, on the glass is the letter “Z” glued together from stripes.
Nothing bad happened to the balcony: no cracks from thrown stones, no lumps of dirt. But in the summer, for some reason, the letter “Z” was gone, only the flag remained. By autumn, the flag was also removed, now it’s just a balcony like a balcony. Like all neighbors.
I do not think that the inhabitants of that apartment have changed dramatically or, as they say, “seen the light.” At least, we don’t hear “Chervona Kalina” being sung. But something made them remove it. Quietly, imperceptibly.
It would be good if someone studied such cases. The smallest of small.
Everything is made up of them.
Alexei ends his post there. But if you go to the Telegram channel, which, it turns out is a super patriotic channel, you find an equally telling comment under his video.
Natalya: “Excoose me [sic] maybe it’s off-topic, but maybe not. Who has heard that the Governor has decreed that blocks of flats must have toilets installed in their basements? In connection with the situation?”
The most liked comment under the feed is an anonymous attack on the mayor’s use of WWII symbols.
Maybe the point of my repost is that there’s a right way and a wrong way of doing social media research. The right way being not to hurry to draw conclusions and not to see online speech as ‘reality’, but to merely triangulate that speech online with what can be observed offline. And even then, be careful about biases. Given the amount of patriotic Z channels with lots of “likes” one could conclude the war is popular. Given the amount of downvotes and poo-emojis in response to such patriotic posting, one might conclude the opposite.
Importantly, Jeremy, people censor even their poo-emojis and ARE AFRAID to post even them. People in Russia are also afraid to make a scratch on those cars with Z, because there is surveillance everywhere. This is important thing to keep in mind – even on-the-ground observations cannot tell the whole ‘objective’ picture. Again, I am convinced that we underestimate the effect of repressions rather than overestimate them