Even amid the increasing surreality of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, ultranationalist MP Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s tirade against a pregnant reporter who asked a question about Ukraine stood out.
Besides telling the woman she shouldn’t work while pregnant, instructing a male aide to rape her, and shouting, “Damned lesbian!” at another female reporter who tried to rebuke him, Zhirinovsky lashed out at the women of Ukraine’s pro-independence Maidan movement, assailing them as sex-starved harpies. “There’s going to be a film about you, The Furies of Maidan,” he railed, apparently taking the female journalists for Maidan sympathizers. “You’ve all got uterine frenzy, the women of Maidan,” he ranted. “If it weren’t for this uterine frenzy, there wouldn’t be any Maidan.”
Zhirinovsky, who has apologized for his outburst at last week’s press conference and faces likely censure by the Duma, Russia’s parliament, is known for his outrageous antics. But it turns out The Furies of Maidan is not a figment of his imagination. It is a real “investigative report” that aired last Saturday on NTV, one of Russia’s major television networks. Subtitled “Sex, Psychosis, and Politics,” the 30-minute feature makes exactly the same point as Zhirinovsky’s rant: that the displaced energy of sexually frustrated or pathological women was a driving force behind Ukraine’s Euromaidan revolution. In the dramatic words of the 45-second promo: “They like it hard. They are turned on by danger. And woe to anyone who fails to appreciate them.”
While the report could be mistaken for a clever if over-the-top parody clip, it is not. A wild mélange of paranoia, smear, sleaze, misogyny, and homophobia that makes Rush Limbaugh look politically correct, The Furies of Maidan offers a disturbing glimpse into the state of Russia’s government-run mainstream media—and into the toxic sludge of propaganda it regularly dumps on a largely uncritical public.
As it happens, one of the “furies” is an American, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who has been in the news as a strong backer of the Maidan protests that led to the ouster of former president Viktor Yanukovych. In real life, Nuland is married to historian Robert Kagan and has two children. But the NTV program makes no mention of that. NTV’s Nuland is “rumored” to be a person of “nontraditional sexual orientation”—that is, a lesbian. For proof, an “expert on sexual disorders,” Dr. Alexander Poleyev, points out that the American has a “mannish voice” and broad shoulders. Then it is revealed that even more sexual issues may be lurking in Nuland’s background: When she was in her 20s, she spent a few months working on a Soviet fishing trawler, and you know what happens when you’ve got a young woman on a ship with dozens of horny sailors.
The rather shaky logic of this would-be exposé, which simultaneously insinuates that Nuland is a mannish lesbian and a heterosexual nympho, is typical of the entire program. Take the opening segment, which deals with politician and academic Iryna Farion, a member of the far-right Svoboda party known for her obsession with the purity of the Ukrainian language. Farion has come under a lot of valid criticism, both from fellow Ukrainians and human rights groups, especially after a 2010 video that showed her haranguing 5-year-olds in a kindergarten about the evils of overly Russian-sounding nicknames. But Furies merely skims this unsexy subject, focusing instead on Farion’s alleged psychosexual issues. Footage of her meeting with a right-wing paramilitary group—in a tight red dress and high heels, no less!—is accompanied by narration explaining that “people who know Farion say she has long been prone to heavy breathing around men in uniform.” You see, 50-year-old Farion divorced her husband several years ago, reportedly after his second conviction for fraud—and, unable to find another man, has turned into a “mad fury,” perennially “unsatisfied” (nudge, nudge) with the situation in Ukraine.
Dr. Poleyev, the program’s sexpert, is brought in for some learned commentary: While male extremism is usually based on beliefs and ideas, he explains, extremism in women is “always rooted not only in convictions but in some sort of sexual pathology.” Anti-Maidan activist Ksenia Shkoda reveals that Farion hates Russians and Jews because her first lover, Fyodor, was a Russian man who left her for a Jewish woman. (Shkoda knows this, apparently, because an inside source in Svoboda heard Farion’s drunken confession at a party.) Lo and behold, NTV has tracked down “Fyodor.” He lies in a hospital bed, his face digitally blurred, reminiscing about his strange romance with “Irochka”: She was a crazy woman with crazy mood swings who would smother him with caresses one moment and violently push him away the next. “I thought even then,” says “Fyodor” dolefully, “that it was some kind of perversion.” (But didn’t the narrator just say that Farion was well-adjusted until her divorce…? Never mind.)
The segment ends with a group of young, mostly female Russian activists giggling as they pack a box of vibrators and other sexual aids to be shipped off to Farion. “It’s a gift of love,” says one of the women, chortling. After all, Farion obviously lacks a man in her life, so maybe the sex toys will help.
The next “fury,” 35-year-old journalist and Maidan activist Tatiana Chernovol, gets the nuts-and-sluts treatment. We are told she has long been an outpatient at a psychiatric clinic in Kiev, suffering from “sluggish schizophrenia,” a Soviet-era diagnosis used to lock up dissidents in mental hospitals and not recognized by any legitimate psychiatric authorities. (The “evidence” is a brief glimpse of what appears to be a Ukrainian-language medical report in which one can spot Chernovol’s last name and initials.) After speculation that Chernovol faked her kidnapping and severe beating during the Maidan protests last December, the program moves on to the “sluts” part. Grainy hidden camera footage shows a woman who we are told is a much younger Chernovol, cavorting in a sauna with a man—supposedly a businessman she had just interviewed, back when “she was trying to work in her field.” In reality, Chernovol is a highly successful journalist and a married mother of two, but you’d never know that from the segment.
But perhaps the program’s most inventive sexual smear is against Olga Bogomolets, the doctor who ran the Maidan’s emergency medical services during the protests. Bogomolets’s medical specialty, it turns out, is (gasp!) the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. One “Alexei,” identified as an activist with the “Kiev resistance movement,” explains: “We all know that every neurologist has some kind of nervous tic and every psychiatrist is a little crazy. And now, here we have venereal-disease doctors going into big-time politics.” So…that means Bogomolets is promiscuous? Maybe. Or maybe it means that she’s used to working with “the dregs of society” and likes feeling morally superior to those around her. Or something.
Broadening its horizons beyond Ukraine, the “investigation” turns to Nuland as well as Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė, a strong supporter of “the fascistic opposition” in Kiev and of tough sanctions against Russia, whose “aggressiveness” is probably related to her “personal problems.” She’s unmarried, childless, and seems to enjoy the company of women more than men. “Alexei” is back to dot the i’s and cross the t’s: “She’s a lesbian. Everyone knows that.” Also, she’s dragging Ukraine into the European Union in order to force the country to legalize homosexual propaganda, which is how “deviants” hope to destroy traditional culture. But wait, there’s an even more sinister explanation for Grybauskaitė’s anti-Russian stance. Lithuania recently had a prostitution-and-blackmail scandal in political circles (cue spicy video footage), which probably means that “Madam President” was caught in the net and recruited by the CIA.
“Psychologists say that women deprived of normal human joys are capable of the most radical actions in order to prove their worth,” says the narrator in a brief summary. “The example of Ukraine shows that furies endowed with power are willing to smash everything in their way in an attempt to restore their emotional balance and find harmony in their personal lives.”
With its ominous music, dramatic narration, ultra-reactionary pop psychology, and images that alternate between terror and titillation, The Furies of Maidan reinforces the notion that Russia is besieged by enemies who are psychotic, immoral, and perverted. Not only is post-Yanukovych Ukraine dominated by a fascist clique, it is controlled by unnatural women. “This is history according to Putin,” Moscow Times columnist Victor Davidoff told me. “Always blame sex-starved women, lesbians, and the CIA.”
It’s hard to tell to what extent the average Russian TV viewer buys such crass and blatant propaganda. But there is little doubt that, for now, it has an impact. And perhaps the scariest possibility is that the Russian leadership itself is so caught up in these fantasies for mass consumption that it’s losing touch with reality.