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Photomontages of blogger Aleksei Navalny
Fake photo smear aimed at Putin rival Aleksei Navalny backfires
guardian.co.uk, Monday 9 January 2012 18.57 GMT
1. The original photograph of Aleksei Navalny, right, with the billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov (оригинал фото с Прохоровым)
2. A newspaper ran an altered photograph of Aleksei Navalny, right, showing him in a photomontage with exiled financier Boris Berezovsky rather than the billionaire politician in order to suggest the opposition is funded by shadowy foreign-based forces intent on the downfall of Vladimir Putin (криминальная жаба с Березовским из путинской газеты)
3. The clumsy attempt to smear Navalny provoked a torrent of scorn online from his supporters who produced this image of Aleksei Navalny in a photomontage with Vladimir Putin (с Путинным)
4. Commenters on Navalny's blog posted various faked pictures. Here, the blogger, is in a photomontage with an alien (с инопланетянином)
5. Aleksei Navalny in a photomontage with Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter (с лордом Волдемортом)
6. Aleksei Navalny in a photomontage with the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger (со Шварцнеггером)
7. Aleksei Navalny in a photomontage with Joseph Stalin (со Сталиным)
8. Aleksei Navalny in a photomontage with Futurama's Bender Bending Rodriguez (с роботом Бендером)
9. Aleksei Navalny in a photomontage with Napoleon Bonaparte (с Наполеоном)
10. Aleksei Navalny in a photomontage with Adolf Hitler (с Гитлером)
Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny is target of fake photo smear
Navalny says a photo of him meeting Kremlin arch-villain Boris Berezovsky originally showed another oligarch
Tom Parfitt in Moscow
guardian.co.uk, Monday 9 January 2012 18.58 GMT
Navalny with Prokhorov in the original photo, top left, with Berezovsky in the doctored image, top right, and with Putin and an alien in pictures posted on his blog. Photograph: Alexey Yushenkov
In Russia's voluminous bag of tactics for smearing political enemies, photomontage is an old trick, but it has made a comeback with the publication of a doctored image of Alexei Navalny, the 35-year-old blogger and lawyer who is the figurehead of Russia's protest movement.
A recent photograph in a Russian news-sheet that emerged this week showed a guffawing Navalny meeting Boris Berezovsky, the self-exiled tycoon who lives in London and serves as the arch-villain in Kremlin propaganda.
Picturing Navalny with Berezovsky – who was convicted of fraud in absentia in Russia in 2007 – was a perfect way to suggest the opposition is funded by shadowy foreign-based forces intent on the downfall of Vladimir Putin, the frontrunner to win presidential elections on 4 March.
"Alexei Navalny has never hidden that Boris Berezovsky gives him money for the struggle with Putin," read the picture caption, in case anyone missed the point.
It was a damaging accusation for Navalny and his allies as they prepare for protests on 4 February. But news, true or not, spreads fast these days. Navalny picked up the image from bloggers in Yekaterinburg and exposed it online as a shabby fake.
The original picture in fact showed him meeting not Berezovsky, he said, but another businessman, Mikhail Prokhorov, a billionaire who owns the New Jersey Nets basketball team and is also running for the Russian presidency. "What an intriguing profession people have," Navalny remarked. "Cutting out some oligarchs and sticking others in their place."
The exact provenance of the article is unclear, but photographs of its pages suggest it was coproduced by a regional arm of Argumenty i Fakty (Arguments and Facts), a popular federal newspaper, and the All-Russia People's Front, a coalition of Putin supporters.
Navalny made it clear he believed the montage was a deliberate piece of black PR by the prime minister's camp.
One blogger wrote on Saturday that 80,000 copies had been printed for distribution in Yekaterinburg, and were being handed out by young people. United Russia, the party led by Putin, got some of its lowest results in the city last month in nationwide elections to the state duma. The outcome of the election was nonetheless widely seen as fiddled by Putin's allies in favour of his party, causing the biggest street protests since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The clumsy attempt to smear Navalny provoked a torrent of scorn online from his supporters. Commenters on his blog posted numerous fotozhaby – literally, photo-toads, or montages – in pastiche of the sham image. One showed Navalny with Hitler, one with a smooth-looking Arnold Schwarzenegger and a third with an alien.
Photographs were often doctored during the Soviet era, especially under Stalin, whose propaganda chiefs removed Bolsheviks or others who had been shot or sent to the gulag from images with the great leader.
Post-Soviet Russian politics has its own tradition of kompromat, or compromising material designed to erode a rival's reputation. This includes real or faked documents leaked to expose suspect business deals or dodgily acquired dachas. Last month, lifenews.ru, a muck-raking website with ties to the security services, released a series of wiretaps of phone conversations of made by Boris Nemtsov, the veteran oppositionist who has spoken at recent protests. The leak was clearly designed to sow discord in the ranks of the protest movement because it mainly featured injudicious personal remarks by Nemtsov about his political allies.
Alexei Yushenkov, who took the original picture of Navalny with Prohkorov when the two met by chance at a radio station, told Russian media he intended to seek legal advice over the montage.
He said the pair were laughing in the image because Navalny had joked the photographer could only take a picture if Yushenkov made him look taller than Prokhorov, whose is 6ft 8in.
Navalny was reportedly on holiday in Mexico on Monday and not available for comment.
The New York Times, January 8, 2012
Smear in Russia Backfires, and Online Tributes Roll In
By ANDREW E. KRAMER
MOSCOW — Does Russia’s leading opposition activist cavort with space aliens? Or just with enemies of the state?
A photograph of a grinning Aleksei Navalny, the blogger turned leader of street protests in Moscow, standing beside a bulbous-headed extraterrestrial could be found on his own Web site over the weekend.
Another photograph, showing Mr. Navalny with a man wanted by the police in Russia, the exiled financier Boris A. Berezovsky, appeared in a newspaper distributed on Saturday by a pro-Kremlin group in the major provincial city of Yekaterinburg, according to residents. The caption said that Mr. Navalny “never kept secret” his ties to Mr. Berezovsky.
Mr. Navalny said it was a fake, and his assertion was supported when the original, unaltered photograph appeared on Russian Web sites. That, in turn, set off a flurry of parodies using altered photographs, including the image of the alien, all seeming to highlight the outdated nature of some Russian propaganda.
“Vladimir Putin and his team do not understand the Internet,” Mr. Navalny said in a telephone interview, referring to the prime minister.
The image appeared to keep with a long and rich tradition in Russia of using photomontage as a political instrument. Altered prints routinely appeared in Soviet magazines.
Within hours of the newspaper’s distribution at an ice sculpture festival in Yekaterinburg, 850 miles east of Moscow, the real photographer came forward in a blog post to declare that the image had been doctored. The chain of events illustrated how the Internet and crowd-sourcing are transforming Russian politics, tilting the equation in favor of activists like Mr. Navalny.
The photographer, Alexey Yushenkov, who was not involved in the later alteration, posted the original photograph and a series of shots just before and after, helping to establish their authenticity.
Taken in May in the studio of the radio station Echo of Moscow, the photographs showed Mr. Navalny standing beside not Mr. Berezovsky but another Russian businessman, Mikhail D. Prokhorov, owner of the New Jersey Nets and a candidate for president — someone not considered a discrediting associate.
Within hours, Russian bloggers had turned the tables on the faux photograph.
Online, Mr. Navalny was seen grinning beside the alien with his urn-shaped head. The caption said that Mr. Navalny “never kept secret that in his struggle with Putin he took money from aliens.”
Through the day Sunday, other photographs appeared: Mr. Navalny with Stalin (who, incidentally, was a pioneering user of political photomontage); Mr. Navalny with Mr. Putin; Mr. Navalny with a nude male bodybuilder.
Mr. Navalny, who spoke in a telephone interview from Mexico, where he is on vacation but updating his blog, said the incident might not put to rest the practice of altering photographs in politics but did show its drawbacks in the Internet age.
“Contemporary technologies, the contemporary information society, are barriers to such primitive approaches,” he said. “You publish something in a regional newspaper. Within an hour, it is on the Internet. Quickly, the real photographer is found.
“The general effect of all these actions led to more people learning that Putin and his team are just swindlers and fraudsters.”
A real-estate lawyer by profession, Mr. Navalny rose to prominence through his LiveJournal blog, which has been read by more than a million people, and through Web sites intended to get the masses involved in reporting on official corruption. He coined the epithet “the Party of Swindlers and Thieves,” in reference to Mr. Putin’s United Russia party, a phrase adopted by protesters.
Photomontage achieved its height as an ideological tool in the 1930s but remained in practice even in the late Soviet period, said Olga L. Sviblova, the director of the Multimedia Art Museum in Moscow and an authority on Soviet photomontage.
Even if the alteration is obvious, Ms. Sviblova said, a photomontage can be effective as caricature, leaving a lingering, negative image.
“Ideological propaganda works better if it is blunt,” she said. “We, unfortunately, have to acknowledge that crude political technologies do work — up to a point. And maybe we are reaching this point today in Russia.”
A version of this article appeared in print on January 9, 2012, on page A5 of the New York edition with the headline: Smear in Russia Backfires, And Online Tributes Roll In.