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His Blog About Putin's Russia Is Biting, Witty, And Acerbic. The Authorities Don't Seem To Get It.

Aleksandr Gorbunov, aka StalinGulag: "I have good reason to be depressing."

MOSCOW -- Twenty-seven-year-old Aleksandr Gorbunov has no idea why journalists from the RBK news agency decided to out him as the author of one of Russia's most popular and acerbic social-media blogs.

"If you think that I am angry or hate them, that's not right," he told Current Time, the Russian-language television project headed by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. "I simply don't understand it. It seems to me that there are plenty of topics for investigative journalism in Russia that could really change lives.... I don't know what the journalists who [wrote about me] were trying to achieve."

Gorbunov is the author and personality behind the StalinGulag blog on Telegram, a witty and pointed running sociopolitical commentary with more than 1 million followers. He has 1 million more readers on Twitter.

For several years now, Gorbunov has kept his audiences up-to-date with wry commentary on the events of the day. On April 23, for instance, he noted that 23,000 students in the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok had their classes canceled for five days because of the visit of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"Can you imagine that, for instance, they would shut down Harvard University because of some chubby dictator," he wrote. "In some place the people are citizens and in others, simply cattle."

In January, in response to a news report that the head of the Information Department of the city of Tyumen used his private airplane to go mushroom hunting, StalinGulag wrote: "News under the heading 'Feel Your Insignificance.' The director of the s**t department of s**tty Tyumen flies off for mushroom hunting on his personal plane. And you pay taxes."

In 2017, opposition politician Aleksei Navalny -- no social-media slouch himself -- named StalinGulag as Russia's "leading political columnist."

When RBK published its exposé naming Gorbunov in 2018, he denied it in an effort to maintain his anonymity. But then police searched the home of his parents in his hometown of Makhachkala, Daghestan, late in the evening of April 26.

If I write, 'Look at this horrible thing that is happening,' it does not mean that I sit around all day thinking, 'Lord, what a nightmare this is.' No."
-- Aleksandr Gorbunov

"They were in bulletproof vests and carried automatic weapons," Gorbunov's mother, 65-year-old Tatyana Gorbunova, told the news website The Bell on April 29. "They didn't show us any documents. Then one of them said something like we should thank them because they came in peacefully and didn't throw us face down on the floor."

The police said they were investigating a purported terrorist threat that came from a telephone registered to Gorbunov, but the blogger is convinced the incident stemmed from his outing by RBK.

"After the incident with the police and after personal information about my relatives, my nephews, my brothers, and my parents began appearing on YouTube, I was forced to admit that I am StalinGulag," Gorbunov said. "But as soon as I did that, people began saying, 'No, it isn't you; probably someone else.'

"They accuse me of not having enough talent, saying I'm mediocre and so on. And, true enough, I never said that I am some sort of genius or that I have some particular talent.

"One of the RBK workers who played a role in outing me...wrote that they decided to out me because I'm too 'depressing,'" he continued. "Well, excuse me for being depressing.... Why can't I be depressing?

"I have good reason to be depressing," he added.

Gorbunov, who works as a financial trader, uses a wheelchair because he has spinal muscular atrophy. He uses only his right index finger to type his blog entries.

"I just write what I think," Gorbunov said. "I wrote depressingly because I am sad. So excuse me."

Aleksandr Gorbunov: "You know, it would be impossible to be in my situation without being an optimist."
Aleksandr Gorbunov: "You know, it would be impossible to be in my situation without being an optimist."

Some readers of StalinGulag have commented that the author writes like someone who has nothing left to lose. Gorbunov says this is a key reason why he connects with his audience.

"There are a lot of people in Russia who, in principle, have nothing to lose," he said. "A lot of people write to me from across the country and say: 'Listen, your thoughts always correspond with mine 100 percent.' That's because when a person works for around 15,000 rubles [$230] a month and he's coping with a microloan at an annual interest rate way over 100 percent, he's also in a situation where he has nothing to lose.

"That is why StalinGulag...reflects reality as it is. In principle, it is pitch black. In reality, it is joyless."

The attempts to intimidate him have made an impression. Given his medical condition, even a short stint in jail could be fatal. In recent months, the Russian authorities have been cracking down on dissent on social media, jailing people for liking or reposting critical or satirical material.

In March, new laws came into effect making it illegal to "offend human dignity and social morals and express clear disrespect to society, the state, and government organs of the Russian Federation" or to publish "fake news" on the Internet.

In a May 6 post, Gorbunov wrote: "I do not intend to emigrate. It wouldn't be honest to write about Russia but not live in Russia. Russia is my country. I was born here. My ancestors were born and died here. I don't understand why I should leave, particularly since I have not done anything wrong."

Despite all the obscenity-laced cynicism one finds on StalinGulag, Gorbunov insists he is an optimist.

"You know, it would be impossible to be in my situation without being an optimist," he told Current Time. "If I did not believe that everything would turn out all right for me, I would never have been able to do anything.... If I write, 'Look at this horrible thing that is happening,' it does not mean that I sit around all day thinking, 'Lord, what a nightmare this is.' No. StalinGulag is just a small part of my life, an absolutely insignificant part. I can say honestly that it does not occupy very much of my time and never has."

RFE/RL senior correspondent Robert Coalson contributed to this report