THIS MESSAGE (CONTENT) HAS BEEN CREATED AND (OR) DISSEMINATED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA OUTLET FUNCTIONING AS A FOREIGN AGENT AND (OR) A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY FUNCTIONING AS A FOREIGN AGENT.
a booklet by Darya Apahonchich
I add THIS thirty-one-word message, given to me by the Russian Justice Ministry, to all my social media posts, because now I am not a person, but a “media foreign agent,” which is something like a biased foreign newspaper, radio station or TV channel.
Over the last six months, I have been able to decipher this MESSAGE and the status of “foreign agent,” with which dozens of human rights organizations, media outlets and just plain people (journalists and activists) have to live. Translated from Justice Ministry-speak, it means: “Shut up.”
What is it like? It’s like being force-fed porridge. Only it’s not porridge, but words. And it’s not Mom feeding you, but the Justice Ministry. And you are not you, but (CONTENT) for experiments in state violence.
It’s not just literal garbage. It’s a toxic label that makes it difficult to work, paralyzing you. It’s enough to push everything that HAS BEEN CREATED behind a long verbal fence and distance me and my work from my audience.
I became a foreign agent on the afternoon of December 28, as I was sitting at home with two children after having covid, dazed from the isolation. My son was “hatching” dinosaur larvae. The larvae were beans, and they were hatched mainly in my sock. So, with a sock full of beans, I gave dozens of interviews. In the last six months, there have been more interviews, more beans, AND more agents. I don’t even know what the moral of this story is.
At some point I even wrote a fairy tale for the Justice Ministry. It was quite boring, so I abandoned it. But one of the jokes in it was funny. I asked the Justice Ministry, “How do you know, Justice Ministry, whether you’re dealing with a woman (OR) a newspaper?”
Then I went into a long comparison of women and newspapers. I explained where you could find the imprints and headlines in newspapers and women, where you could find their darkest recesses and traces of proofreading. Newspapers were most often regarded as things to be consumed, I wrote, and alas, so were women. Although it did happen that women were considered individuals, this view was not yet widely DISSEMINATED.
Look, Justice Ministry, this is a front-page story about Yulia Tsvetkova. You can call her BY A FOREIGN word, or you can use a Russian word, but you know, Justice Ministry, it doesn’t make a woman a newspaper.
I counted how many words I still have to illustrate — I don’t think I can come up with that many jokes. But I can’t afford to give up: it would be a shame not to take the piss out of the Russian Federation. Consider this booklet of mine a form of therapy, a remedy for the Russian authorities. I have often been asked why there are so few foreign agents. And why did they pick me? I think this is due to the fact that the state is still lazy. It takes a lot of effort to engage in large-scale crackdowns, but in this case you take five people and have a little fun with them. You expend the energy you would in a local warlet, but the effect is the same as in a MASSive war. Basically, I’m a figure of a little fun. (While I was writing this text, more foreign MEDIA agents were added to the list.)
I have to say that I haven’t conceived a passion for journalism over the last six months. I wonder how it’s possible to be a mass media OUTLET without an education in journalism and journalistic ambitions. The only things I’ve ever talked about on a massive scale are grammatical cases and feminitives.
The idea of “foreign agents” smacks of crass objectification. The authorities see everything — people, non-governmental organizations, media, activists — as rebellious things, as broken robotic slaves. And what do you do with a machine that is malFUNCTIONING? Reduced to a function, but opposed to it, a thing like this is tagged AS A fuck-up and failure that can now be scrapped.
Once every three months I fill out a report for the Justice Ministry. They ask me in the interests of which FOREIGN state did I do what I did? You know, Justice Ministry, everything I do, I do in the hope that one day there will be no states and borders, that there will be only free people and free lands.
It’s a pity that I can’t be labeled a pan-national no-government AGENT. It would suit me better.
I’ve been swimming in the sea of the Russian language my whole life. AND even though I sometimes thought about leaving, I could never imagine that I’d be able to leave Russia in a matter of two days. But the cops who came with guys from the Emergency Situations Ministry to cut out my door open with an angle grinder and search my flat taught me to be decisive. By the way, hello, you guys! Burn in hell!
I walked around the house, which had been turned into a big lump of things by the search, wondering whether to take this (OR) that. I took almost nothing.
I left the country, taking the children, several books, Russian grammar and fear with me. With this kind of baggage, I’m considered A RUSSIAN national in Foreignlandia, which makes complete sense.
Living in a world where you have only your flesh and bones, but the state claims to see you as a LEGAL entity, is like being on a virtual reality ride. Only everyone has the special glasses, and you don’t.
Hey, newspaper woman, what’s wrong with your face? Are you an ENTITY?
When meeting new people, I take the most time explaining this whole absurd story. It’s a big chunk of time, but I still append these thirty-one words to every post and send reports to the Justice Ministry. Why do I do this? I think it’s my umbilical cord. My country won’t say goodbye to an agent fulfilling the demands of the authorities, and Agent Apahonchich still has a FUNCTIONING hope of returning home.
What matters now is not to ASsume the functions of the state by engaging in self-censorship and thus fueling state paranoia, to remember that waves of rhetoric are the loudest and fastest. They will subside, and we will go on living.
So I’m sitting on the shore of A FOREIGN language, learning it as if I were combing a field of grass, but I remember that my soul also looks uncombed to the foreign eye. I’m growing my garden and taking care of the dinosaur larvae—my harvest is good!
Thanks for walking this way with me. Take care of your own gardens and seas. Warm greetings from your female agentka, whom the sexist Justice Ministry takes for a male AGENT.
Originally published by Darya Apahonchich on her Facebook page on 30 July 2021. Translated, from the Russian, and with the author’s permission, by Thomas H. Campbell