Understanding today’s Russia through 5 Instagram stars
Instagram is a big deal in Russian society today. Celebrities, fashion bloggers and public personalities are turning the photo-sharing app into a phenomenon related to local culture, lifestyle, and social issues.
In 2013 the account of a young man (@shams2517) made local news, as he’s used the social network to share pictures of his life during military service in Siberia – a practice that is quite popular among Russian youngsters.
And more recently The Daily Mail reported that people in Crimea have been taking “selfies” with Russian soldiers; once again, Instagram is making big news in Russia:
“People in Crimea have been captured taking selfies with Russian masked gunmen as Ukraine is on the brink of war. In one photograph captioned ‘sweetest guys’ a woman stands alongside a soldier armed with a gun. In another a mother smiles intently for the camera with her two children while posing next to an armed guard. The pictures have appeared on the photograph sharing network Instagram.”
What’s behind all this? What made Instagram become such a big thing in Russia?
Social media all over the world are used and interpreted in different ways: if in the Middle East the trend is using Instagram for e-commerce, in Russia it’s also changing the way popular and powerful people are approaching to mass communication, and somehow having an impact on the local social and political debate.
Let’s see how, and who’s driving this trend.
- Account: @xenia_sobchak
- Instagram followers: 607,000
- Occupation: Journalist
She was born in 1981; daughter of former Saint Petersburg major Anatoly Sobchak, she’s a prominent personality in high-end Russian society. She was a fashion designer and TV host for several reality show. Sobchak was basically considered the “Paris Hilton of Russia”, until recent years, when she became politically involved, taking active part in the campaign against Putin re-election. She then hosted of political TV shows on MTV and independent TV Dozhd, and she’s among the most influent members of the Russian opposition elite.
Her Instagram account is among the most followed in Russia, and it depicts a glamorous, international, artsy and fashion-oriented lifestyle – which to some sounds as slightly contradictory if related to her political commitment, making her an even more interesting example of the power of social media in defining a public persona.
- Account: @damedvedev
- Instagram followers: 327,000
- Occupation: Prime Minister of Russia
With over 2 million followers on Twitter and over 300k on Instagram, Dmitry Medvedev is among the most tech-savvy politicians in the world. His Instagram profile is extremely well curated, portraying a man in love with his country – its flag, its industry, its countryside. Including pictures with other prominent political personalities – such as Putin – and a video to with with Russians Happy New Year.
The touch and the style of the picture are a quite peculiar example of political communication – or propaganda – in the 2.0 era.
A great read on the issue has been posted on The Calvert Journal. It’s an article about the role of Instagram in the new trend of “aestheticisation of politics” in Russia. As stated on The Calvert Journal:
“The role of Instagram in Russian politics can perhaps be ascribed to the historical importance of the visual in Russian culture. In the traditions of Russian art the images did not just inspire contemplation in the audience, but called on them to participate in making the world better. Soviet culture perpetuated and modified this impulse: artistic images were heavily codified and politicised in order that they might to serve the interests of the ruling party.”
- Account: @youryani
- Instagram followers: 294,000
- Occupation: Actress/Model
Russian supermodel Yana Yatskovskaya (born in 1991) is using Instragram for business purposes. Her personal branding activities include a mix between sexy pictures and everyday-life moments.
Instagram is by far Yana’s main communication channel; she’s also present on Twitter and Facebook, and counts almost 45,000 followers on Vkontakte. Her stunning beauty of course helps in reaching huge numbers, although she’s quite active in interacting with her Russian fan base – like in this mini-contest aiming at wishing the best to Olympic Russian athletes:
- Account: @kadyrov_95
- Instagram followers: 276,000
- Occupation: Head of the Chechen Republic
Son of former Chechen President, killed in 2004, Ramzan Kadyrov is the Chechen leader. He’s prominent muslim political figure, with a controversial past and a medal as Hero of Russia, awarded by Putin in person.
Also, he’s an Instagram fanatic: over 2,500 pictures has been shared on his personal channel, where he expresses through images his passion for sports (boxe in particular), love for his family, love for nature and animals, and his numerous trips – including the one to Mecca.
Kadyrov also shares on Instagram hundreds of pictures of political meetings, thus bringing the political conversation and debate on the Instagram platform – along with his official Facebook and Twitter handles, both counting around 50 thousand followers, and his quite popular blog on LiveJournal.
Nika Belotserkovskaya (Belonika)
- Account: @belonika
- Instagram followers: 173,600
- Occupation: Food blogger
She’s known as Belonika, and a big exponent of the Russian web-stars scene, after her outbreak as food blogger a few years ago. She’a good friend with Ksenia Sobchak and fashion icon and Youtube star Elena Krygina, and an avid Instagram user:
Funny, classy and down to earth, Belonika is among the most active Web personalities in the Russian scenario: she’s been travelling across France and Italy to film a series of food-trip based movies; she launched an her own iPhone app to share her recipes, and also created and her own brand of – pretty expensive – olive oil.
Here she is, in a Tuscany hotel:
Belonika also has a mascot, called the “drunk toad”, which is quite present on her Instagram profile, and has an its own hashtag – #жабопьянь.