The four American high school students learning Russian who we met with earlier this week, joined us again on Friday. They met with Uliyana, a Russian teen-ager studying English. Here are the high points of their discussion.
Uliyana was pleased to discover that the young Americans were “so nice.” The Americans, for their part, recalled a café they stopped in on the way to our meeting. There was an American flag painted on the café wall. “We love Americans!” the proprietor told them. “And we love Russians!” the Americans replied.
The conversation got more serious when our colleague Ksenia Semenova asked, “Where do you get your news?”
Uliyana said that her generation of young Russians does not trust TV for news, but get their news from the Internet. Russian young people, Uliyana said, trust the voices on the Internet because they “are dealing with our problems every day.”
Despite their different nationalities, the young Americans felt much the same. Emma gets her news from YouTube, Instagram and news apps on her phone. Another American, Katia, gets her news from Facebook, while Ty will get his news from many online places but he does check the sources. Gabby acknowledged that she gets her news by watching social satire.
Uliyana, the Russian student, gets a lot of her news from the website Meduza.io (Meduza, by the way, translates as “jellyfish”). That, for example, is where she learned about a street demonstration in March that was not well covered by typical Russian media. And she, like our colleague Ksenia and most Russians, subscribe to the Facebook-like VK.ru, as well as watching Russian- and English language videos on YouTube.
The Russians and the Americans all agreed that, “we want honest news sources, but how do we get them?”
One interesting item that arose was the Russian use of the word “meme.” For Americans the word generally refers to a concept that spreads through the culture to the point of becoming universally known. For Russians, “memes” are satirical images that may, or may not, be political. Emma asked Uliyana, “Are memes ever banned in Russia?” Uliyana replied, “How would we know?”
Uliyana brought up the lack of coverage of feminism, and more broadly, discrimination against minorities. She recounted how her grandfather, with eight granddaughters and one grandson, declared that his grandson is the “most important.”
When the American students described a process at their college called Open Dialogue, in which a safe space is created in the classroom context, Uliyana said there is no such thing in Russia. “America needs to communicate to the rest of the world how democracy works,” she said.
And after the discussion, Uliyana said that it was great to meet real Americans. Although she is very liberal and has never much trusted TV news, she says, when brains are washed every day “you start to think, what if what they say on TV about the west and western people is true?” Now, she has decided that Americans are not bad and scary at all.