Like most people I know, I watched the Notre Dame Cathedral fire with a sense of growing despair. There’s no need to rehearse all the reasons why this event is so horrible, but it is worth noting how personal it can feel. If you’ve traveled in Europe, you’ve probably been to Notre Dame. It’s not just historic, it’s historical: constructed over the course of three centuries, it embodies multiple architectural styles in a single building.
I also felt the sadly familiar dread that surrounds nearly any twenty-first century disaster: how is the Internet going to make this worse? And how quickly will racists find a way to exploit it?
So I was heartened when two anchors on Fox News, of all places, shut down conspiratorial fear-mongering peddled by their guests (even if this reminds us that these nut jobs never should have been invited in the first place). Maybe, just maybe, the Russian media would show similar restraint? After years of trumpeting the “decline of Europe” at the hands of liberals, gays, and immigrant rapists, could the talking heads of state television resist somehow linking this fire with their favorite folk devils?
Cue The Moscow Times, with its headline: “Notre Dame Fire Symbolizes Europe’s Decline, Commentators Say.” I was expecting Dmitri Kiselev, Arkady Mamontov, Igor Prokopenko. And maybe we’ll still hear something awful from them. It’s early days.
Instead, the Moscow Times article started with a more positive slant, despite the headline: Putin sending an offer of aid to President Macron, the Culture Ministry announcing its plans to raise funds to aid in the reconstruction, and Muscovites leaving flowers in front of the French Embassy.
But then the article turned to social media, and things got ugly.
Fair enough, you might say. It would take less than a minute to compile nasty, racist reactions to the Notre Dame fire posted by Americans on Facebook or Twitter. The Times article quotes a number of figures it identifies as prominent on Russian social media: Yelena Konchalovskaya, food editor for The Village (“Here it is, the decline of Europe…It’s physically painful to watch because this fire is deeply symbolic”); the publicist Yegor Khomogovrov, who saw the fire as payback for France’s role in Syria (“If the ‘refugees’ burned Notre Dame, that would be very instructive”) .
And then there’s Ksenia Sobchak.
If you’ve been following this blog carefully (which seems unlikely), you’d know that I have very strong and very mixed feelings about Sobchak. Her initial fame as a party girl and reality show host was far from endearing, but her subsequent career as a skilled interviewer on TV-Rain and a surprising addition to the 2012-era protest movement began the process of her rehabilitation in the eyes of Russian liberals and progressives. Then she conducted an appallingly trivializing interview with the women of Pussy Riot immediately after their release from prison as well as a weirdly tone-deaf and condescending interview with the third Pussy Riot defendant, Ekaterina Samutsevich (followed by an even more bizarre op-ed). And, of course, she ran for president in 2016 on a liberal platform that left her susceptible to the charge that she was merely lending legitimacy to a rigged electoral process.
As I said, complicated.
Now she has posted a lengthy, racist screed on Instagram (well, lengthy for Instagram):
Today, Notre Dame is no more. And, of course, they will find the real reason for the “combustion,” but I’ve actually known this reason for a long time. It’s more global than who specifically tossed the match. My beloved France has become the kind of country where people break the windows of expensive boutiques just because they’re expensive, every week labor unions, crazed by their own self-importance, go on strike, the taxes are so high that successful people simple move away, and firing someone has become almost impossible. And I’m absolutely convinced that this is all somehow karmically linked with the person who burned down this masterpiece whose very appearance symbolized shameless extravagance, a huge amount of labor (obviously more than 36 hours per week), and the triumph of the Human Will over the world. I don’t know what they’ll build in its place in a country where, statistically, every fifth person is named Mohammed, but I know for sure that masterpieces do not serve an intelligence that is unworthy of them.
With this post, Sobchak has revealed her true colors. She is not above the fray of the race-baiting, anti-European Russian media; she is its creature. Capitalizing on a specific, probably random incident in order to assert and confirm her own prejudices, she would be quite at home with Kiselev, Prokopenko, or Tucker Carlson. With her disdain for the masses who dare to argue for the rights of labor and against economic inequality, Sobchak shows that she is not the Russian Paris Hilton. She is a latter-day combination of Marie Antoinette and Nero, proffering cake to the underclass and fiddling away on social media while Paris is burning.
Ksenia Sobchak is Our Lady of Social Media Bullshit. Still, I can’t help but have a soft spot for her. Ksenia, if you’re listening, I hope you have many children, all boys. And I hope they all change their names to Mohammed.