Emigrants from the FSU and the Russian-language Internet1
I begin this article with a long extract from a face to face unstructured and unedited interview which I recorded in Russian in 2000. My informant, whom I call Simona, was a 23-year- old student who had emigrated from Lugansk (Ukraine) in 1990. At the time of our meeting she lived in Acre, were she worked as a waitress. Simona is Jewish, had completed Israeli high-school and military service, and was working towards her Master's degree at one of Israel's universities . The interview was devoted to her immigrant experiences, and the question about the Internet emerged spontaneously.
Interviewer: And what about Internet tusovki [hang-outs]?
Simona: Now, I'll tell you about the life of Russian Israelis, Israelis from Russia on err, on the Internet, in the virtual world. I have been, so to speak, active there as well for about a year now. It's interesting that all these people - they know that there is also real life. They don't only live virtual lives, but, may be, it's easier to unite, sort of, and very oft… they all reject Israel altogether. They reject, er, communication with Israelis. They all know each… they are all acquainted. And there are very educated, very intelligent people there, that is, with the second degree (pause). I even saw that from the literature, from Tel Aviv University. I talked to them I even have a friend among them. We literally play "Guess the tune" [title of a popular Russian TV program], but with poetry, like I do with dad [pause], literally. He completed a course of Russian literature, yet I finished him off [Simona uses the rude "obdelala"] [laughs]. And they all know each other, and they reject Israel completely, and, incidentally, not only Israel. They reject any country, wherever they live. That is, there are plenty of Russians in Australia, in America, in Canada, in Germany. They all hang around in this chat-room, and they completely reject the countries they live in. Including… it was here that they told me about Australia.
I say, "How do your locals dress?"
He says, "In summer they wear shorts".
I say, "And in winter?"
"It's cold in winter, so they put on yet another pair of shorts". [laughs] Yeah, to this extent… Well, we treat locals exactly like they do. For all of them, a Russian is someone special. They have their own life; they organize all sorts of get-togethers. Recently, there has been, well, it's very funny, it is called a Sysopka. Because all these guys, they are system operators, Sys. Op. And they called it the Sysopka [laughs]. Doesn't it sound interesting! And I heard that there were, my friend was…
Interviewer: ???? It sounds like popka [diminutive from buttock] or something…
Simona: Yes [laughs]. My friend came, a very good friend went there. I was working that day and couldn't join in. They all stormed into a pub; there were about forty people there, and all permanent customers. Beer, and some… and they began to discuss some… These guys, they literally build their own sites on the Internet. I have found one recently, and I just loved it. It's a Russian site, and it is about KVN [KVN, standing for the "Club of Cheerful and Resourceful", a popular Soviet and post-Soviet game and TV program] in the Haifa University, about Dugovka, which will take place soon. Have you heard about Dugovka? You don't know! Oh, it's very interesting, it's terrific, and you simply must know at least that it exists! It's held twice a year on the Kinneret, on the Duga beach. And you know, one can say that it is a festival for the soul, I think it's a bards' assembly.
Interviewer: Oh, I heard about it, but I didn't know…
Simona: Well, so about 10,000 Russians gather there.
This exstract, to be analyzed later, raises several problems, which I endeavor to address in this article:
1. Who uses Russian-language Internet, why and how?
2. What is the link between the virtual and the real Russian-language community?
3. Does Russian-language Internet outside Russia reflect just linguistic minority communities in different countries or a minority diaspora community across the world?
Three main methods were used in this study: observation and participant observation of dozens Internet activities at different sites in Israel and abroad; informal unrecorded talks with the users and self-observation. Following Rheingold I can say that "I'm part of the story I'm describing, speaking as both native informant and as uncredentialed social scientist" (Reingold, 2000: XXXI). I will also address five recorded interviews with the users which were kindly given to me by my M.A. student Inna Weiskopf. The ethnography of a virtual community obviously has many peculiarities: in most cases the researcher is unacquainted personally with his/her subjects, does not know for sure their real name, age, gender, ethnicity or education as all these categories can be and indeed are sometimes fabricated or even counterfeit. A classical example of the latter is the story told by a prominent Internet researcher, Sherry Turkle:
"One day on MUD, I came across a reference to a character named Dr. Sherry, a cyberpsychologist with an office in the rambling house that constituted this MUD's virtual geography. There, I was informed, Dr. Sherry was administering questionnaires and conducting interviews about the psychology of MUD's. I suspected that the name Dr. Sherry referred to my long career as a student of the psychological impact of technology. But I didn't create this character. I was not playing her on the MUD. (…) It was a composite character created by two college students who wished to write a paper on the psychology of MUDs and who were using my name as a kind of trademark or generic descriptor for the idea of a cybershrink. On MUD's one can be many and the many can be one" (Turkle, 1995: 15-17) .
A researcher, who does not disclose himself/herself is unseen by the subjects, which produces an affect of spying. The activities can be observed not only in real time when they are taking place but also long after they are over. The Internet preserves much information, yet no one can be sure that at the next attempt to find the site which we investigated yesterday we will not receive the answer "The page cannot be retrieved". So one has to write down the date when the information was obtained and frequently to print out important pages. Otherwise we may lose them forever. The limitations and specifics of fieldwork on the Internet have been addressed in many studies (Hakken 1999; Jones 1999; Reingold 2000; Smith and Kolock 1999; Turkle 1995; Fialkova and Yelenevskaya 2001) and I will not discuss them at length here. Still, two things must be mentioned. First, anonymity and mystery are not equally sought in all the Internet activities: they are very high on the ICQ but may be close to zero in many forums, whose members are in permanent contact, as well as privately by e-mail. Secondly, the Internet provides the researcher with qualitative and quantitative data, as at many sites those currently online, the number of messages sent and/or read and so on, are registered. Being an active means of communication for dispersed FSU emigrants all over the world, Russian-language Internet is an important source in immigrants' studies together with face-to-face interviews, sociological polls, newspapers, and media analysis etc. According to the information from the Israeli portal in Russian "Souz" 400 000 Russian-speaking Israelis have access to the Internet. Daily "Souz" is visited by 20 000 Unique Users, 90% of them from Israel (http://www.souz.co.il/english.html 31 July 2004). These figures reflect the fact that Internet has become very popular among Russian-speaking Israelis and is no longer an indicator of financial well-being. Internet as well as the cable TV, which provides people with the Russian-language programs, is regarded as one of the most important facilities. It is used not only by the young, but by the older generation as well. The latter communicate with their friends and relatives all over the world, read e-books and newspapers, visit virtual museums, and follow political news. According to Feldman, Russian-speaking Israelis spend more than half their Internet time on Russian-language Internet sites. The most popular of them deal with news, amusements, Russian search portals, libraries, encyclopedias, and computers (Fel'dman 2003: 465). However, to the best of my knowledge the use of the Russian-language Internet by emigrants has so far been studied primarily as a complementary source for studies of folklore (Fialkova and Yelenevskaya, no date), sociology (Fel'dman 2003: 464-465), or language (Guseinov, 2000; Zemskaia 2001: 160-164). The time is ripe to make Internet use itself the focus of our study.
Specifics of the Russian Language on the Internet
Russian language on the Internet exists in two main scripts, Cyrillic and Latin transliteration. According to Guseinov, this transliteration is the first attack on Cyrillic since the 1920s, script change was seriously discussed in Soviet Russia (Guseinov 2000: 298). Latin transliteration was used exclusively in the early 1990s when the Internet in Russia was still very rare, and emigrant users lacked the necessary equipment. Even the keyboard with Cyrillic letters was difficult to get outside Confederation of Independent States (CIS) and users had to buy (or to make themselves) Russian letter stickers to place on the keys next to the Latin or Latin and Hebrew letters. Most users are unacquainted with transliteration rules (e.g. the US Library of Congress transliteration system), they do it by sound alone (writing as they hear). Considering that any language used on the Internet is rendered close to the spoken norms and with a great number of spelling mistakes, one can imagine the enormous variety in this Latinized Russian. Ironically one of the "fathers" of the Russian Internet is Anton Nosik, a former Russian-language Israeli journalist, who returned to Russia and became an online news service editor, consultant, and a strategist. He associates the revolution in the Russian Internet with a fact that the official release of Windows 95 promoted the Microsoft standard for Russian encoding, named CO1251, or Windows Cyrillic. As Windows 95 came into increasing use, it became possible to write Russian texts in Russian (Ulmanu 2001). By now the situation has changed radically. According to the Introweb, at the end of 2003 the number of Internet users in Russia was 13.2 % of the population or 14.6 million of people (http://introweb.ru/inews/news1734.php 31 July 2004). This means that one can have e-mail contacts not only in Moscow, but also in Samara, Ekaterinburg, and Irkutsk. Russian Internet is popular in the big Ukrainian cities, such as Kharkov, Kiev and Donetsk, and in other former Soviet republics. All the programs and keyboards with Cyrillic are sold everywhere, so many users have returned to "normal" Russian. Yet sometimes the problem persists, because, for example not all the programs decode all kinds of Cyrillic scripts (e.g. Cyrillic for Windows, Cyrillic KOI8-R, Cyrillic KOI8-U, etc.). I have such problems with two of my e-mail correspondents, one from Sankt-Petersburg and the other from New York. They decode my e-mails in Cyrillic only when they are sent with the command "reply". Otherwise they see non-readable letters, and I prefer to use the Latin script. Transliteration can be used when emigrant users connect not from their apartments but from their work places, where the necessary equipment is not installed. In any case Latin transliteration is still sometimes used not only with e-mail but on the web as well. The attitude to it varies from loyal to aggressive: in the students' forum of "Souz" it is strictly forbidden. Users are advised either to get help from an electronic Russian keyboard or to use the special button "Translator from Translit". They are notified that messages in transliteration will be eliminated (http://forum2.souz.co.il/viewtopic.php?t=34155 30 July 2004).
Russian language on the web is influenced by different languages: first of all by English and the languages of the countries where emigrants reside (in the case of Israel it is both English and Hebrew). Reflecting the speech of different social strata, it is full of various jargons (students' jargon, drug addicts' jargon, etc). English terminology is changed into Russian with deflation of style and change in metaphoric meaning. "E-mail" is replaced by "emelia" (Emelia the fool is a Russian folk hero), "buttons" are called "batony" (a type of white bread), "Screen Saver" is called "esesovets" (SS man), program problems are "gliuks" (hallucination as a result of drugs), and so on. The tendency to deflate the original terminology and to approximate it to obscene language is defined by Guseinov as eskhrofemism, a language behavior typical of Russian speakers in Soviet times as a negative reaction to the strict use of official language (Guseinov 2000: 298-305). To help the users to communicate, many slang dictionaries have been created and can be found on the web (http://cmail.info.kuzbass.net/~apollon777/slovari/komp_slovar_eng.php ; http://imereb.by.ru/games/c-slang.htm ; http://humorazm.narod.ru/slovar1.htm etc. 31 July 2004 ). At the same time a neutral terminology exists. For example, "keyboard" - "klaviatura" (neutral) - "Klava" (slang, a woman's name whose use in different expressions acquires sexual connotations, e.g. "toptat' Klavu - to trample Klava - to work on the computer). Slang is popular in many forums and chat-rooms. But like speech it has its limitations. Russian Internet provides multiple options for any type of user from semi-literate schoolchildren to businessmen and the intellectual elite.
Dialectics between Virtual and Real Community
According to Fel'dman, Russian-speaking Israelis prefer several main portals: MIGnews - http://www.mignews.co.il ; Internet newspaper "Novosti Izrailia" (News of Israel") http://www.lenta.co.il ; Portal "Souz" http://www.souz.co.il ; Izrail'skaia khronika - http://www.cursorinfo.co.il ; Internet newspaper "Novosti" - http://www.novosti.co.il ; Internet-shop "Russkoe slovo" - http://www.rus.slovo.com (Fel'dman 2003: 464-465). They provide much information - from politics to shops and from singles ads to chat forums; they create a Russian-language Israeli information space (see also http://rustreet.com/ Russkaia ulitsa v Izraile - the Russian street in Israel, 1.12.2003). If not specified, these and other portals are aimed at any Russian-speaking Israeli with no special interest in his/her subgroup identity, which may be based on a common republic of origin (e.g., Ukraine, Byelorussia, Azerbaijan, etc.) or on ethnic identity (Jewish, Russian, other). The Russian-speaking Israeli is also the addressee of a special site devoted to the Russian-language Israeli community: http://www.ispr.org/public/p25.html 1 Dec. 2003. This is run in Russian, and it focuses on the demography, problems, and achievements of the FSU emigrants in Israel, as well as on projects planned for the study of this group in future (it is maintained by Israeli Institute of Social and Political Research - ISPR, and has a distinctly sociological character).
Yet some subgroup communities maintain their own sites, e.g., Belarusskoe zemliachestvo v Izraile (Byelorussian association, or hometown affiliation, in Israel) http://www.souz.co.il/clubs/club.html?Club_ID=1 , Ukrainskoe zemliachestvo v Izraile (Ukrainian association in Israel, 1 Dec. 2003) http://forum.souz.co.il/viewforum.php?f=6&sid=611e85e62454da2fb8f43ce69c505f8a 1 Dec. 2003.
The latter site provides links to separate virtual groups, made up of emigrants from the same city: Kiev, Kharkov, Donetsk, etc. The dominant language in all of them is Russian. One site, "About the town of Lvov and its emigrants", is of special interest: http://www.lvov-emmigrant.sitecity.ru 1 Dec. 2003. It was created in 2002 by Aleksandr Lvovskii (Tolchinskii). Its aim is to unite former Lvov inhabitants regardless of nationality, profession, or country of immigration. This site has many "departments", including a photo guide to Lvov, and it has already been reviewed in the Russian-language Israeli press (Likht 2003). But what is interesting for us is the use of languages. Although Russian is its main language Ukrainian is also used: in V. Simonenko's poem "Ukrainian lion" (Ukrainskii lev) and in the humor section. While Ukrainian is understandable to the site's visitors, and may even be appreciated by them, it is evidently not their language of communication.
Similarly Byelorussian language can be sporadically found on the site of the Byelorussian association in Israel but only in subject-matter from Byelorussia: http://www.souz.co.il/clubs/club.html?Club_ID=1 1 Dec. 2003. Information was given about the tour of the Pesniary ensemble, the first concert by Byelorussian musicians in Israel: it was reported to have been very well received by the audience, who, as in Ukrainian concerts, joined in the songs. Yet neither the Ukrainian nor the Byelorussian compatriots' site contains any hint about teaching either of these languages in Israel (compare with ardent discussions about Russian: http://www.passion.ru/forum/4/46.html#2 1 Dec. 2003).
The community of Mountain Jews also maintains a site in Russian (http://www.mountain-jews.co.il/ 2 Aug. 2004). It provides information about Mountain Jews, their history, language, and religion, tells about the prominent members of the community in Israel and abroad, informs about concerts given by musician from Azerbaijan in Israel, and has an extensive collection of Caucasian music, which can be downloaded for free. In the virtual community forum there are 101 registered members who have discussed 314 topics. There is also information launching of a new Russian-language literary magazine Russkoe Ekho (Russian Echo) which took place in Ashdod on 27 May 2004; pictures of community members who participated in are displayed. Of course, the existence of special community sites does not mean that emigrants from Byelorussia, Ukraine or Mountain Jews don't enter other Russian-language portals.
A special site deals with the Russkaia obshchina v gosudarstve Izrail' (Russian Community in the State of Israel): http://www.homeru.com/ruscom.html 1 Aug. 2004. It addresses ethnic Russians who became Israeli citizens as family members of Jews, are loyal to Israel, but suffer from an alienated attitude to them. There is no doubt that its creation is a consequence of "anti-goy" hysteria in the Israeli mass media, and aims at supporting a positive self-image and gaining minority status. Officially Russkaia obshchina v gosudarstve Izrail' is a non-political and secular public organization which unites all Israelis of Russian ethnicity and those who define themselves as such. Yet on the visual level the idea of secularity is questionable: in the background of the site's homepage domes with crosses are seen. Also of great interest is the emblem of this organization: a gryphon on a field of three colors. The colors symbolize the Russian flag; the gryphon - is defined by the site builders as a spiritual symbol at once linked to Assyrian and Slavic mythology, and Christianity. It is rooted in Oriental and European cultures alike, and this fact becomes important for those Russians who settled in the Middle East. The organization is aimed to help the Russian minority to integrate in Israeli life while preserving their cultural and religious particularities. Contacts with Russian-speaking Israeli Jews are welcomed, as are contacts with Russia and the Russian diaspora all over the world. Re-emigration to Russia is perceived as one of the options, but by no means as an ultimate aim.
Russian language Israeli Internet portals show considerable involvement of the users in their activities. This is evident from the results of online mini polls on different topics (the archive of polls is also available at http://www.isra.com/voter/ ) and from the work of multiple forums. For example, 2465 respondents took part in the poll "Why do you think Israel is eliminating Hamas activists?", 3540 respondents voted in the poll "Do you perceive Islam as an aggressive religion?" (21 Apr. 2004), 3260 people answered the question "Do you believe that Israeli court is just and unbiased?"; 2861 users responded to the question: "Should we take into account Palestinians' complaints about the building of the security wall?"; 2824 users responded to the question: "Do you buy books in Russian?" (2 Aug. 2004), and so on. The situation is the same in other portals, for example in the portal "Souz", where 3835 users responded to the question: "Would you like to leave Israel?" (http://souz.co.il/vote/results.html 2 Aug. 2004). I am not sure that the number of votes and the number of users correspond as one person can vote several times. I checked this possibility myself voting two- or three times in different polls. Something else that lowers the value of these polls is our lack of any information about voters' age, social status, time in Israel and so on. Still, these figures reflect existing tendencies and can be taken into account at least as an additional source. There are 4,880 registered members in the Israeli forum, the number of topics has reached 22,495 and 597,324 messages have been sent. From my earlier visit on 14 July 2004 untill my most recent visit on 1 Aug. 2004 the number of renewed topics reached 649 and 14,113 new messages had been posted (http://www.israel-forum.org 1 Aug. 2004). In the forums of portal "Souz" there were 5654 registered members who posted 566778 messages altogether (http://forum2.souz.co.il 2.08.2004). The forums are most diverse in subject-matter, covering all the possible fields from politics and economics to animals, cars, music and sex. Activity in them varies in number of members, topics and messages, but is rather high in general (in the Political forum there were 1,786 topics and 56,076 answers; in the forum on computers there were 4,726 topics and 69,468 answers (http://www.israel-forum.org 1 Aug. 2004).
This close investigating of Russian language Israeli Internet opens the way for a practical answer to a theoretical question about the ties between virtual and real communities. Cultural anthropology evinces two conflicting positions: 1) a virtual community is an imagined one. It resembles a real community no more than a rubber Rita resembles a real human companionship (Lockard, 1997: 224-225). 2) There is no virtual community without a real one; the existence of the first points to the existence of the second (Slevin 2000: 100-117; Rheingold, 2000; Wellman and Gulia, 1999: 167-180).
The starting point of my research in this direction became a slang word sysopka or in correct transliteration sisopka used, as we saw at the beginning, by my informant Simona. Using the Russian-language search portal yandex I found 43 entries on sysopka, varying from slang dictionaries, songs and essays to information about concrete meetings, almost all of them in CIS. Simona was right - the word originated from tusovka (hang-out) + system operators. At first, tusovka was used as the hang-out of hippies for personal communication. From 1980s it came to be used as a synonym for a gathering or non-formal contact that includes eating and drinking alcohol together. Etymologically it originated from tasovat' karty (to shuffle cards in a pack) and long bore the meaning of some kind of meaningless meetings of asocial elements. But from the 1990s an additional meaning appeared: a meeting of professionals for some joint activities, sometimes for acquiring necessary contacts or prestige. (Guseinov, 2003: 549-551). So a sysopka is a tusovka of system operators or more broadly of people who usually communicate through the Internet. In an essay "Dumy o sysopke" (Thoughts about sysopka) a person with a nickname Azveriukha wrote:
"The main condition for sysopka is a long winding road which leads sysop people to the place where sysopka is to take place. The second important condition is the presence of shops with beer and snacks along this road. The third necessary condition for it is the presence of a Lenin monument in the city (if there is none it can be substituted by the cafes or the banks of streams, lakes, the shores of seas, oceans). And the last condition is the presence of bio-toilets to insure sysop people in their bio-needs. (Azveriukha, 2001, my translation).
Trying to find information about sysopka in Israel I got only one reference, albeit detailed in "Chronicles of a repatriate" posted by Vadim Smelyanskij on the 6 March 1999. This transliterated message tells about a sysopka held in Netanya on 5 December 1998.
Sysopka passed in a civilized way. As many were driving we drank only cold beer. But nobody felt any need to get drunk. We had a good time, communicated on Fido-Computer-Linuks-Windows-Mustdie topics, took pictures with many cameras and digital cameras, and decided to have a bite somewhere in a restaurant . It took us a long time to choose a restaurant. Russian ones were rejected immediately :). At last we chose "London". All the restaurants on that wonderful Saturday were out-door in the open. A boy with a garniture (microphone and head-phones) quickly came up to us and understood that it was time to move the tables together and to bring beer. Sigalov was tardy as usual, like for example that time on the square. So I had to call him a couple of times on his mobile phone in to make him move his head and to pay attention to the group of sysops from Haifa. (…) Unfortunately Seriega had to go home at 7 o'clock and we left. All the others went to Vadik to drink wine and eat cake. But it's not so bad - sysopky are held regularly here. It was my second all-Israeli [sysopka] so to speak. The next one we'll organize on Purim or even earlier. Probably it will be my turn to drive :). (Smelyanskij, 1999, my translation) .
From this long chronicle we also know that at the time of posting it the author was a fresh emigrant who still had to endorse his driving license, and he got to the sysopka with his only Russian-speaking co-worker Sergei (he calls him Seriega). People usually give each other lifts to such gatherings and many of them drive in turn as driving means abstinence from alcohol. The message included Smelyanskij's e-mail addres, his ICQ number and a nickname "Proglot". Unfortunately my attempts to communicate with him failed as he did not authorize communication through ICQ and did not answer my e-mail.
The dugovka, also mentioned by Simona, is widely represented on the web, but no later then 2000 (see e.g. Margolin, 1999). I don't know whether sysopkas were or were not part of the Dugovka, which was mainly a gathering for bard music. Yet the absence of the word "sysopka" from today's Israeli Russian-language sites does not mean that the event which it represented no longer exists. Personal and group meetings among members of various forums flourish in different parts of Israel and abroad. One of the theme groups on Israeli forum, which is called: "Otdokhni" (Take a break) is devoted to such meetings (http://www.israel-forum.org/forumdisplay.php?s=a904eeda8dd495fd087be77554953d99&forumid=29 ). Meetings are organized at cinemas (e.g., on Banana beach in Tel-Aviv), pubs (e.g. Rodeo and Pundak-ha-dov in Haifa, Dublin in Rehovot), in a restaurant in Zichron, on the beach at Lake Kinneret, and so on. As one can judge from the messages, many people are already acquainted personally and have each other's mobile phones numbers. Newcomers are also welcomed, and they are given a password: in one case they were advised to have cloves in the buttonhole and a copy of the journal Ogoniek from January in their left hand.
An interesting account of an international meeting is given by Keren Pevzner in her newspaper article about Prague, which was published in Okna, the weekly supplement of Russian-language Israeli daily "Vesti".
"If your work is somehow connected to the Internet, you cannot avoid that
infection (there is no negative context in the word "infection" and it is used only to underline the catching character of the phenomenon). I mean forums and conferences. You read carefully what is written by the others and then you suddenly feel a writers itch, register yourself on a site and begin to express your opinion on any problem, from the situation in Iraq to how to feed fish in an aquarium. (…) So I also acquired a circle of Internet acquaintances from all over the world and I used to call them my work group. It's very convenient: you enter when you like, speak on the problems you like, receive help in the form of advice and real services, for example, new programs are sent to you. And at any moment you can terminate a communication - it's enough to press the small x in the upper-right corner of the screen. Then suddenly my "work group" is about to meet in Prague and organize something like "a weekend" as is done in respectable firms (although here it is at ones own expence). How can you ignore it? So I booked tickets and a hotel (..) In our group there were people who came from Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Hungary. And Americans were supposed to come. In other words the meeting went beyond a European one and was turning into a worldwide one."(Pevzner, 2004: 34).
The article quoted above is not about the Internet, but about Prague and it lacks some information which is important for this study. We don't know whether all the people who went to the meeting were Russian-speakers or only those from Russia and Ukraine. Consequently we don't know what language they used on the net (the fact that the author is a Russian-speaker is not enough for generalization).
According to Wellman and Gulia, Internet contacts provide not only information, but emotional and sometimes financial support as well, and do not exclude personal face-to-face or telephone communication. By contrast, frequently we have electronic as well as phone contacts with those whom we know personally but cannot see as often as we would like (Wellman and Gulia 1999: 173-174, 179-180). This analysis of the Russian language Israeli sites matches those authors' results and shows that the virtual community is closely connected to the real one. Sometimes users do have face-to-face communication, do help each other practically, and do form some kind of reference group for the members of many forums. This is even more tangible in the personal e-mailing, which is very popular for communication by Russian-speaking Israelis with their relatives and friends in the CIS as well as with those who emigrated to countries other than Israel: the USA, Canada, Germany, Australia and more.
Russian-Language International Web Community
As noted, Israel is not the only country in the world with a large Russian-speaking community, and this is reflected in different web-portals:
Russian Michigan Online http://russianmichigan.com/ ; http://www.russianboston.com/ Russkii Boston (Russian Boston); Russian Link (Russians in the USA): http://www.russianlink.com ; Russian Belgium http://www.russian-belgium.be ; Russian New Zealand http://www.russiannz.co.nz/ ; Russian Toronto http://www.russiantoronto.com ; Germany in Russian http://www.germany.ru/ ; Russian street in Germany http://www.inostranez.de/ ; Swedish Palm http://www.sweden4rus.nu/ , and so on. All of them were created by the former Soviets and are united by the notion of "Russianness", which can be understood on an ethnic-religious basis or on the basis of Russian language and culture common for the former Soviet Jews, Germans, Greeks, etc. The important cohesive factor for "Russianness" in the broad sense is that all Soviets are perceived almost uniformly, at least by the lay-person, as "Russian others" in different receiving societies. This is reflected in the scholarly literature, but it has also deeply penetrated the consciousness of masses of immigrants. Here, for example, is a short poem posted to the New Zealand Russian-language Internet site by an anonymous author:
I sympathize with emigrants,
Whether fools or with good minds,
A Jew, a Yakut or a Byelorussian -
There you'll only be a Russian.
(http://www.russiannz.co.nz/dosca/6534.html 4 Aug. 2004, my translation.) 
Of course, narrow and broad definitions are reflected on the web. Thus, http://whiteworld.ruweb.info/rubriki/000119/002/01052905.htm - "The white world. A united family-veche community" is aimed at ethnic Russians. Others stress religious identity, for example, a Swedish portal of the Russian Orthodox Church (http://www.sweden.orthodoxy.ru/ 4 Aug. 2004) .
But the inclusive idea of uniting all Russian-speaking emigrants into one Russian community is not uncommon. On the portal "Russians in Belgium", whose homepage background is a picture of Vera Mukhina's well-known sculpture "A worker and a kolkhoz woman", this is clearly stated: "Welcome to Russian Belgium. It would be better to call us the site of the Russian-speaking population of Belgium as Russians are in a minority among us. If you would like to post in the forum, don't forget that Latin script is not welcome here. There are converters from Latin here and there. And you may use them gratis" (4 Aug. 2004). The same orientation to all Russian speakers is formulated in "Russian Michigan Online" (4 Aug. 2004) and in "Swedish Palm" (4 Aug. 2004). The outlook of the latter portal was clarified by Irina Makridova and Liudmila Sigel'. They wrote an interesting history of the Russian diaspora in Sweden, and advocated the idea of unity of Russian and Russian-speaking immigrants on the basis of a common culture. Although this position was not immediately accepted by the community, eventually it won over the majority. Furthermore, the community is willing to include Russian-speakers' Swedish family members (Makridova and Sigel', no date).
One may mistakenly assume that all these portals and sites are local and deal only with specific problems faced by immigrants in the given country. Although special attention is indeed paid to such issues, many obstacles exist that are common to numerous immigrant groups, and this imparts wider significance to the discussions. In addition to the local web portals there are several international portals for immigrants, based on the Russian-language itself or on ethnic aspects as well. FSU emigrants residing in different countries experience a broad relationship. As a concrete example we can take several KVN sites in different countries.
Again this recalls extract from Simona's interview at the start of this article. KVN began in the 1970s as one of the most popular Soviet TV programs enjoyed by young and old alike. Two teams, mostly of students, took part in each session and competed in real time for clever and humorous answers. Usually part of their program was prepared at home ("Greeting" and "Homework") and other parts were impromptu ("Limbering up", "Contest of team leaders"). The game became so popular that from the TV screen it moved into real life. Almost in every school, to say nothing of the universities, such teams could be found. I confess that in my school years I also took part in one of them, even as a team leader ("captain" in KVN terminology). In the 1980s KVN lost its ascendancy as a real-time show, was severely censored and died. But in the time of Perestroika it rose from the ashes, like the phoenix. However, this time it became much more oriented to preparatory work and professional performance than to the extempore witty response. Many in show business, including Jan Levenzon of the Russian-language TV channel "Israel Plus" took their first steps on the stage on the TV KNV teams. Emigrants took KVN with them to the countries where they settled. A special site of the Israeli KVN League gives information about eight Israeli teams from different cities, including "Kavboys", an abbreviation of Kavkazskie mal'chiki (Boys from the Caucases - a new name of Lod team) . The site describes their past meetings and announces those forthcoming (all in real life), maintains a forum, where Cyrillic and Latin transliterations peacefully coexist, and chat. The same site has links to teams in other countries: "American KVN League", "New York KVN Team", "KVN in Germany and Europe", "Official site of the KVN Union", "KVN for Everybody", and "KVN Diaspora", which gives information about KVN in the CIS (http://www.kbh.co.il/o_nas/ 6 Aug. 2004). Simona was off the mark in saying that Israeli KVN has nothing to do with Israeli reality. Much of the repartee is based on Hebrew-Russian world-play, problems with absorption, and politics. For example: "Binyamin Netanyahu offers a new razor "Max 3". The first blade shaves a bit off the lowest sector in the population; the second shaves a bit off the highest sector in the population; the third blade ultimately shaves the middle sector. 'Max-3' - means all the taxes at once!" (Chigirinskii 2003). Guest teams also prepare themselves for the Israeli public when they come to Israel. For example, the captain of the Russian team from Tomsk answered a question from the audience: "What does the Roadmap mean?" - "It's the very thing that Moses didn't have" (Gol'dfarb 2003). Although new linguistic and cultural realities that penetrate the Russian language of different teams (American, German, Israeli) are not universally understood, international competitions are successfully organized. Incidently, the American team found the Haifa team through the Internet (Margolin no date).
The Internet makes it possible for people to find a Russian-speaking friend or a spouse all over the world. As one example out of many I may mention "Datingnow", which was created especially for this aim (http://www.datingnow.ru/ ). I found it still not very busy, although it's use is tending to encrease. On 17 July there were 258 people on line when I checked it, on 5 Aug. there were 438, on 7 Aug. there were 565 and on 17 Nov. 904 people on line. Haifa university student Inna Weiskopf, who took part in my M.A. seminar "Folklore in the Age of Technology", in 2001 recorded five interviews with Russian speaking Israeli girls in their early twenties (three of them students, one with higher education and in one case there is no information about education and /or job), who got acquainted with males through ICQ, chats and/or odigo. One of them contacted an English-speaking American in order to have a language practice, one contacted Russia's citizen from Moscow, two - Russian-speaking Israelis (from Haifa and from Rishon-le-Zion) and the last one - a Russian-speaking American from Chicago. In four from five cases virtual dating was later transformed into a real one (except with an English speaker) . One the interview was recorded in Moscow. It's worth mentioning that although only one girl immigrated to Israel in 1996 and all the others did it earlier (1989-1991) they preferred to communicate with their virtual friends in transliterated Russian. The Cyrillic was not used because of two reasons: first, not everybody had the necessary equipment and second, one girl noted that her boyfriend typed Cyrillic too slowly. Inna also printed several ICQ sessions, one from 2000 where all the "talk" was in transliterated Russian and two sessions in 2002 where Cyrillic was used alongside with transliteration. My other informant, Dana, whom I recorded twice (in 2000 and 2001), later told me about her activities in the Russian ICQ, which I failed to record. She immigrated in 1990 from Rostov-on-Don, Russia, lives in Haifa, is a student, and is Jewish (Fialkova and Yelenevskaya, no date) . When we chose her pseudonym we wanted to make it clear that she had Hebraized her name (let's say from Dina) as she wanted to be indistinguishable from the Israelis and worked a hard to lose her Russian accent. Having reached her goal she drifted back to her Russian-speaking friends. On the ICQ she plays many roles, sometimes male to make fun of her women-friends, which is routine practice on the Internet (Danet 1998). She got in touch with one of the new Russian gurus who became popular in the post-Soviet period, and for some time was deeply involved in the spiritual activity of that virtual group. But as she said, she always ran away whenever her involvement in a sect or in religious activity might become too serious. Online she took another name and gradually got used to it. Today, all three names are in use: some people call her Dina, others - Dana, and still others let's say Alina. She enjoys the multiplicity of identities not only on the screen but in real life as well .
The existence of worldwide ties among former Soviets dispersed all over the world and the CIS raises the question of an incipient Russian diaspora (Ben-Rafael 2001; Markowitz 1995; Remennick 2002; Yelenevskaya and Fialkova 2004). With globalization and expanding migration movements the notion of "diaspora" is currently undergoing change. According to Safran, it has come to be used increasingly loosely as an inclusive term for various minorities who can trace their origins to a country or area other than that in which they reside (Safran 1999: 255). Diasporas are formed as a result of involuntary as well as voluntary migration. Although definitions of the diaspora vary widely, most scholars admit the importance of its symbolic dimensions, such as a collective memory and myth about the homeland, the idealization of the homeland, and a strong ethnic group consciousness (Cohen 1997: 180). These properties of diasporas turn them into "imagined communities", distinguished "not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined" (Anderson 1991: 6). Diasporas are nothing more than imagined communities because while emphasizing the symbolic dimensions they have no material dimensions, such as a common territory. The Internet provides its users at least with the illusion of a shared space.
The situation with the former Soviets is of special interest. They are people of different ethnicities, who left the USSR or the FSU at various times and settled all over the globe. In some countries specific groups of them are perceived as repatriates and are granted the entire range of civil rights (Jews in Israel, Germans in Germany, Greeks in Greece, Finns in Finland). Others are immigrants, whose social status depends on labor and social legislation in each of the receiving societies. The utopian idea of ethnicity being an "innate" belonging, which would facilitate the repatriates' integration into the host society, proved mistaken (Dietz 2000; Fialkova and Yelenevskaya 2001a; Jasinskaja-Lahti and Leibkind 1999; Markowitz 1995; Remennick 2002; Steinbach 2001; Shuval and Leshem 1998; Yelenevskaya and Fialkova 2000). It was based on a presumption of blood culture unity, and was not very different from the opposite idea of "innate" exclusion, which is still supported by many politicians and lay people. Nor is it quite clear whether the repatriates' feeling of ethnic bonds with the receiving society will wax stronger after immigration. Ben-Rafael tends to believe that they do in respect of the Jews from the FSU in Israel (Ben-Rafael 2001: 348). Yet this is not supported by sociological research: Fel'dman quotes Aptekman's study in which 16. 2% of the FSU immigrants in Israel declared a decline in their Jewish self-identity and 4. 5% noted its complete loss. These figures are to be compared with 15% of Fel'dman's respondents who, by their own evaluation, became Jewish nationalists, and 23-28% who felt a negative attitude to other Jewish communities (Fel'dman 2003: 95). Fel'dman sees this weakening in Jewish identity the result of the mistreatment of those who are not Jews according to Halakhah, primarily children of Jewish fathers and non Jewish mothers. Although this explanation is very important it may be only partial and has to be complemented by others. First, there may be disillusionment with Israeli power, culture, and education. Second, there could be failure to acquire equality and upward mobility in "our own country", be it Israel, Germany, Greece, or Finland, by former Soviet Jews, Germans, Greeks, or Finns, respectively. The latter factor leads to a re-evaluation of the life-experience in the FSU. Especially important is a feeling of frustration in the most active emigrant groups, in the first place the intelligentsia, who feel discrimination even when it is masked by democratic phraseology (Yelenevskaya and Fialkova 2004a; Levin 2001: 51-52); in response these groups try to retain their cultural uniqueness.
In Israel, emigration divided former Soviets according to ethnicity and status (repatriates/immigrants; Ashkenazis/Orientals, e.g., Soviet European Jews vs. Soviet Mountain and Bukharan Jews). But it united them on the basis of the Russian language and common past experience (Yelenevskaya and Fialkova 2003) . Orally and in the virtual reality of the Internet, common myths evolve and circulate, influencing the beliefs and behavior of the dispersed former Soviets and forming a transnational diaspora. Personal and community ties link former Soviets who have settled in the USA, Israel, Canada, Germany, Australia, and other countries. Such ties also exist with Russia, which has changed its attitude to emigrants from hostility, or at least indifference, to sympathy and solidarity. This change is a result of several major factors: the poor demographic situation in Russia, which goes hand in hand with unwanted illegal immigration from China and some other countries; a brain drain, which is now felt in science and industry; financial problems, which can be partially solved by inviting emigrants' businesses and funds; comparison of the help (in politics, science, and economy) given to China and Latin American countries by their diasporas, as against the unused potential of Russia's own diaspora; and last, but not least, a grasp of the loyalty and basic resemblance of emigrants to those left behind. Yeltsin initiated this new attitude on 24 May 1999 by signing a Federal Law on State Policy of the Russian Federation towards Compatriots Abroad: http://www.navi.kz/oldnavi/articles/pdnewimp021100b.shtml (also published in Komarova 2002: 209-230). According to this law, the Russian Federation is a successor of the RSFSR and of the Soviet Union, and it supports its compatriots living abroad in their political, social, economic, and cultural rights and in preserving their cultural originality. People can receive a certificate of being a "compatriot" one month after applying for it (those with Russian citizenship are recognized as compatriots automatically). The Russian Federation aims to support different emigrant organizations and cultural autonomies, and to join in their activities. It facilitates a return to the Russian Federation of those who wish. It aids compatriots economically and socially in their places of permanent residence and encourages joint projects between Russian and emigrant organizations, be they public or private. The journalist Airapetova dubbed this new attitude to emigrants the - NEP (New Economic Policy), because it has important economic implications for joint businesses (Smirnova 2002: 8). This appellation is of course reminiscent of the NEP introduced by the Bolsheviks in 1921 and terminated in the 1930s when the goal of reviving an economy ruined by revolution and civil war had been achieved. Today Russia's attitude to compatriots abroad remains favorable.
However, by the terms of the Federal Law on Citizenship of the Russian Federation, adopted by the Duma in 2002 and signed by Putin in 2003, citizenship may be granted to foreigners, as well as to returning emigrants, who settle in the Russian Federation, not immediately but only some time after their return. Generally the interim period is five years, but it may be reduced for some groups to 1-3 years, the most favorable conditions being granted to prominent scientists and cultural celebrities (http://roszakon.by.ru/zakon/zgrf1.htm) . Among those who can receive Russia's citizenship without living in Russia are former Soviets from the CIS who have no citizenship at all.
In sum, Russia's new policy on emigrants is inclusive. It goes hand in hand with new approaches in ethnology stressing cultural identity rather than phenotype or a Russian sounding family name. This is supposed to make easier for Jews, Tatars, Armenians, etc., to be "Russian" if they feel that way (Fel'dman 2003: 60-61; Komarova 2002: 27; Tishkov 2003); consequently it covers emigrants in Russia's diaspora on the same basis of cultural Russianness for which they are rejected in the host societies. Russia supports different portals encompassing emigrants: http://www.allemigrants.h1.ru/ All Russian emigrants (in the world); http://www.diaspora.ru/ Diaspora: web-portal (7 Aug. 2004); http://chss.irex.ru/db/zarub/forum.asp?id=51&start=50 - Russian abroad. The last has a good database of Russian-language sources on studies devoted to Russian and FSU emigrants. It contains many texts in online version and is a useful online library on the subject. I used it many times, but since December 2003 it has been irretrievable (my last unsuccessful attempt was made on 6 Aug. 2004) . Information about it is available on line (Bazanov, 2002). A special informational portal, "Materik" (Continent or Mainland), has been created for the post-Soviet space and it includes in the "Russian world" not only those from the CIS but from the far away as well, including Israel: http://www.materik.ru/print.php?section=analitics&id=449 (15 Mar. 2004).
As we see, the tendency to create a Russian-language emigrants' virtual community is bi-directional: it originates from the dispersed "Russians" themselves and also from Russia's policy-makers. The idea of virtual diasporas has already been formulated in the professional literature, as well as the idea that by joining online communities individuals express their commitment to the overall group. They may or may not have a common ethnic origin and a common state, but they share a common background and heritage, common sets of symbols, and a history of common struggles (Dahan and Sheffer 2001). The "Russians" are a special case. The incipient Russian diaspora encompasses not only people of diverse ethnic origin; it is also state-linked and stateless at the same time. In Dahan's and Sheffer's terminology it is definable as a "virtual nation" (2001: 87) which is well represented on the net. The Soviet Union has ceased to exist; people from the former republics have not only common ground but also serious differences, and in Russia the attitude to them in not identical. Abroad all this can be sloughed off, but it will inevitably reappear on Russian soil, where xenophobic moods are high (Fialkova and Yelenevskaya 2005).
The question "who is whose diaspora?" is sometimes difficult to answer. In Zionist ideology, for example, Jews are Israel's diaspora regardless of where they live or how attached they are to their countries of birth (the matter of this attachment is in fact ignored). Sheffer, for example, creates a nomenclature of diasporas and includes all the Jews into the group of "historical diasporas", which were created as long ago as in the Middle Ages (Sheffer 2003). Yet immediately after the appearance of Sheffer's paper in Russian translation it was severely attacked by Tishkov, who claimed that this nomenclature does not reflect the dynamics and changing group strategies. He perceives former Soviet citizens, including Jews, as a Russian (Soviet) diaspora, and he maintains that this notion is accepted by Russian-speaking Israelis as well (Tishkov 2003a: 166). To my mind, any generalization of this problem is an ideological construct, which cannot cover all tendencies observed on the Internet and in real life.
Ignoring the immigrants' attachment to their country of origin eventually leads to bitter disappointment on the part of the receiving society. The new immigrants, who are supposed to be ideologically motivated, do not want to give up everything that connects them to the "old country" - language, culture, personal ties, economic links, etc. Ignoring the immigrants' attachment to the receiving society leads the old country to the feeling that former compatriots too quickly switch to a different language (Hebrew, German, Greek etc) and different customs, and leave the Soviet past behind. Communities (virtual and real) are not monolithic but fragmented. Most people are more preoccupied with problems of their everyday survival than with theoretical issues. Yet in their struggle they use different strategies: they may Hebraize or retain their first and second names; they may use Hebrew or Russian at home; they may visit the old country or be indifferent to it; likewise the Russian-language Internet. Moreover, simply using the Russian-language Internet does not necessarily mean alienation from Israel or any other country of settlement. On the other hand they try to make these countries comfortable for themselves as all occupants do when entering a new home. On the other hand, not all those who switch to Hebrew do so because of patriotism. I observed several immigrants who changed to Hebrew even though they intended to emigrate from Israel, and in fact did so a few years later. In America and Australia they switched to English, so the practice of a language shift was for them merely social mimicry. In short, all the tendencies are present and none is all-encompassing. Even two emigrant researchers who are at the same time specialists in immigration and key informants define themselves differently in this respect.
It was not my intention to analyze or even to note all the existing Internet resources focused on FSU emigrants: that would be beyond the limits of this paper. My aim was much more modest: to show their diversity and interrelatedness. Internet sites form one of many ways of uniting dispersed former Soviets. This tendency to unite has three main springs: integration problems in the host countries including alienation from them; a feeling of common cultural roots with compatriots (FSU emigrants) in a single country as well as all over the world; and the inclusive policy of the Russian Federation. This means that the push and pull factors that triggered emigration did not cease to act with the boarder crossing. Moreover, the change of Russia's policy towards emigrants from exclusive (they are others) to inclusive (they are our people) and a reverse process in the host countries make these factors more tangible. Some scientists have already noted the slight increase in remigration to Russia from both Israel and USA (Fel'dman 2003: 95; Komarova 2002: 102, 106). I may add that accounts of such returns home are told much more frequently than before. Sociologists will undoubtedly claim that stories are not figures, and they are right, but as many immigrants will remember, stories about friends' and relatives "departure" (a euphemism for emigration) were no less important for decision-making than economic and political problems in the old country . A special club opened recently for Israelis who live in Moscow, and the invitation to is to be found in both Russian and Hebrew: http://moscow.israel.ru/ or only in Russian, which can be better called HebRuss (Russian with Hebrew words): http://moscow.israel.ru/full-r.html (15 Mar. 2004). Yet this remigration is sometimes temporary (for work purposes), and in any case it is much less visible than emigration from Israel to the USA and Canada, where the former Soviets again enter the Russian-speaking immigrant communities. The chief factor restraining a return to Russia is its economic and politic instability and the fear of dictatorship, which may arise at the end of new NEP (the situation with the former Soviet republics is even more difficult because of the anti-Russian mood and the reduced status of the Russian language).
The main pull factor is the common language, common culture, and new economic possibilities, especially in big cities.
"Russians" are not the only example of transmigrantes, who sustain simultaneous multi-stranded relations that link together their societies of origin and settlement. Other examples are also well known, for example South Asians in English-speaking countries (Singh Ghuman 2003) and Caribbean and Filipino populations in the USA (Glick-Schiller, Basch and Szanton-Blanc 1995). The fact that some are immigrants and others are repatriates does not ultimately change the situation . Manipulation with inclusive and exclusive strategies is not only Russia's privilege. On the contrary, Russia is now learning from those countries that stimulated the great emigration of former Soviets in the 1990s.
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© L. Fialkova