Staunton, September 11 – Vladimir Putin wants to impose a North Korean-type of control over the Internet, according to Russian blogger Anton Nosik; but the costs such closure will impose on the Russian economy, the ability of Russian surfers to work around his actions, and, last but not least, the linguistic diversity of the country may keep that goal beyond his reach.
In an interview published in today’s Novyye Izvestiya, Nosik says that people are wrong to think that Putin only plans to go as far as China has. Instead, the blogger argues, the Kremlin leader wants to control the Internet in the way that the North Korean regime does.
“The Chinese variant,” he says, “is much freer than that which [the Kremlin] is preparing for us.” In China, people have the access they need for almost everything because local officials want to promote the development of sites and because Beijing knows that it will not be able to attract the foreign specialists it needs if they can’t gain access to Facebook.
In Russia, however, local officials have no interest in promoting the growth and capitalization of local sites, and Moscow is counting in part on that, as it moves to impose controls that will resemble those now operating in North Korea, a totalitarian regime far more cut off from the world than is China.
Up to now, Nosik says, Moscow has sought to block this or that site, often with many mistakes and in ways that those who use the Internet regularly know how to “get around in a minute.” But now the Kremlin is moving to control access to foreign sites by imposing a monopoly on access to them via its control of the limited number of access lines.
But any victory it achieved with this program, Nosik says, is likely to be quickly undermined by the development of satellite accessible Internet. Indeed, “the stronger the [the Russian government’s] pressure will be, the more rapidly it will develop.” In Soviet times, people responded with the typewriter and samizdat.
Now, some Russians will do something similar. Those who gain access to satellite Internet will then distribute what they get from the World Wide Web within the Russian segment of the Internet, something Moscow will have far more difficulty preventing without imposing enormous economic costs on itself, Nosik suggests.
There is yet another reason why the Russian government will face a harder time than it imagines in imposing a North Korean “solution” to the Internet, although it is not one Nosik mentions in this article. That is the enormous linguistic diversity within the Russian Federation and the difficulty, even impossibility of monitoring and blocking all non-Russian sites and blogs.
An article on Finnougr.ru calls attention to the fact that there are now six blogs in the Komi language for a linguistic community of fewer than 250,000. They are becoming a source of first importance for that group, and the challenge of monitoring everything they are putting out is likely well beyond the capacity of Russian-speaking Moscow to do.
Indeed, these non-Russian-language sites may become more of a threat to Moscow than those containing the commentaries of Moscow intellectuals. According to Ono Lav, a specialist on Finno-Ugric languages, the Komi blogs not only keep the language alive but help revive and develop the national identity of that people.
“Our people,” he says, “will see that people speaking Komi not only live a real life but also write in Komi about that life.” That will change their mentality and “positively impact on national identity” by helping Komis to overcome their traditional “pessimism” about the future of their community and its “loss of roots and one another.”
Indeed, Lav says, “the active participation of our fellow citizens in the formation and support of a Komi blogosphere can have as its result the formation of a Komi language community” in which the sharing of information and ideas will lead to “the strengthening in the region of civic consciousness.”