A teenage dance troupe's twerking performance has caused a furor in Russia after a video of the performance went viral — and caught the eye of law enforcement.
Officials in the provincial city of Orenburg, near the Kazakh border, are conducting two separate criminal investigations over the video, which was covered heavily in Russian media and gathered over 4 million views after it was posted Monday. The local provincial government ordered the dance studio that the girls attend close until the investigations are over.
The video begins with someone dressed as Vinni-Pukh (the beloved Soviet adaptation of Winnie-the-Pooh) in search of honey.
Suddenly, music from the classic cartoon gives way to an ominous build of dance music as girls dressed as bees join the bear.
Within hours, Russian investigators were on the case.
Officials from Russia's Investigative Committee told the Interfax news agency on Tuesday that they were looking into charges of negligence and "perverted deeds" against the dance studio, the venue, and unnamed public officials. The latter charges are usually brought against people suspected of performing sexual acts on minors and can carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, depending on the age of the victim. Russia's age of sexual consent is 16.
The committee is ostensibly Russia's answer to the FBI, but frequently wades into public scandals or politically charged cases that clearly fall outside its remit. On Tuesday, a court in the city of Vladimir sentenced Georgy Alburov, an anti-Putin activist, to 240 hours of community service for removing a comically amateurish patriotic painting from a fence and giving it to his boss, opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Twelve investigators from the agency's elite department worked on the case.
Later Tuesday, Russia's general prosecutor's office, a rival agency, announced that it was conducting its own investigation. "In order to avoid possible negative consequences for the children's psyche, the provincial prosecutor's office stressed the need for investigators to do everything possible to defend children from spreading information that denigrates their dignity and honor," the agency said in a statement. The governor's office held a cabinet meeting with the dance studio's director and the girls' parents, the tabloid TV channel LifeNews reported. Local officials say they intend to investigate every single private children's dance studio in the city.
Pavel Astakhov, Russia's children's rights ombudsman, released a statement calling the dance "vulgar" and "offensive."
"If Winnie-the-Pooh and the bees are on stage, then the creator of this routine must be Snout the Pig," Astakhov tweeted, using the name for Piglet in the Soviet cartoon.
Some of the more than 22,000 people who wrote angry comments under the video were upset by the by the girls' orange-and-black–striped uniforms, which resemble the ubiquitous colors of the St. George's ribbon that symbolizes Russia's victory in World War II. Others were worried that Russia's youth had been perverted by the vile sexual temptations of the West. "Our future depends on the morals and decency of our girls! I am in shock!" wrote user Irina Kupriyanova.
The video inspired its share of memes. This one pointed out that a World War II–themed bodybuilding contest in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk had passed days earlier without incident.
There was a suggestion Vinni-Pukh had been looking for the wrong kind of honey in the wrong place.
Viktoria Yakovenko, the director of the dance studio, told the Moskovsky Komsomolets tabloid that the girls all had their parents' permission to participate. Yakovenko said that she didn't know who uploaded the video and suggested that unnamed enemies were conducting an orchestrated campaign against her.
Yakovenko said she was surprised that the video caused such a stir. "Just go on the internet, you'll find much more explicit dances there, believe me," she said.
Max Seddon is a correspondent for BuzzFeed World based in Berlin. He has reported from Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and across the ex-Soviet Union and Europe. His secure PGP fingerprint is 6642 80FB 4059 E3F7 BEBE 94A5 242A E424 92E0 7B71
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