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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Putin Ally Still Not Clear Why Photoshopped Image of Obama Craving Banana on Her Twitter Feed Was Racist

A screenshot of a Photoshopped image posted on the Twitter account of Irina Rodnina, a Russian official. A screenshot of a Photoshopped image posted on the Twitter account of Irina Rodnina, a Russian official.

One day after she apologized for a crudely Photoshopped image of President Obama posted on her Twitter feed, the Russian official who helped light the Olympic caldron to open the Sochi Games told the BBC that she had no idea why the photomontage was racist.

The official, Irina Rodnina, is a former Olympic skater who now represents President Vladimir Putin’s party in the Russian Parliament. Although she had vigorously defended her right to post the image of Mr. Obama on her personal Twitter account as a matter of free speech in September, she suddenly claimed on Monday that she had been hacked.

A wire photograph of President Barack Obama watching a basketball game with his wife Michelle in 2011.Agence France-Presse â€" Getty Images A wire photograph of President Barack Obama watching a basketball game with his wife Michelle in 2011.

The doctored image, altered to make it look like the first African-American president of the United States was gazing longingly at a banana, was made by adding the fruit to a wire photograph of Mr. Obama eating a hot dog while watching a college basketball game in Maryland on November 26, 2011. Ms. Rodnina said that it was sent to her by someone in America, where she has lived and her daughter now works, and the image was being shared on right-wing blogs early last year.

Speaking to the BBC correspondent Steve Rosenberg on Tuesday, Ms. Rodnina described the image she deleted from her Twitter feed following criticism as nothing more than a “rather unflattering,” but routine “photograph of the president and the first lady.”

“People react to things in different ways. To me, and I’m just a normal person, a banana doesn’t arouse any political or any other kind of emotions,” Ms. Rodnina said. “If someone reacts negatively to pictures of bananas, then perhaps we should stop eating lots of other kinds of food,” she added.

The reporter observed that the retired figure skater “clearly struggles to understand why the original image was offensive.” Mr. Rosenberg then mentioned that Russian soccer fans have repeatedly made loud monkey noises and tossed bananas at African and Brazilian players during games, but Ms. Rodnina insisted that the degradation of dark-skinned foreigners by comparing them to apes was completely alien to Russia.

“In Russia we never encountered such concerns in the past. Because, historically, here there were virtually no native representatives of the Negro race,” she said. “The only black people were those who came to study in our country. But bananas were imported from other countries. So we never made a connection. If a player reacts like that, that is their perception of things. It means you have this problem inside you, that makes you feel humiliated.”

The most charitable explanation of Ms. Rodnina’s comments would appear to be that she mistook the image for an unaltered photograph of Mr. Obama and that the racist connotations intended by the person who added the banana were so foreign to her that she had no idea why it would be offensive.

That leaves several questions unanswered, however. To start with, if there was nothing offensive about the image in her eyes, why does Ms. Rodnina believe someone would go to the trouble of hacking into her Twitter account to post it? And, if that was the case, why did she reply to a wave of criticism from fellow Russians by deleting the image but also writing: “Freedom of speech is freedom of speech! Answer for your own hang-ups yourselves!”

It is also the case that the problem of racism among Russian soccer fans has been the subject of national discussion in recent years, as the country prepares to host the 2018 World Cup. Last year, after the visiting Ivorian star Yaya Toure was taunted with ape noises during a match in Moscow, he suggested that African players should perhaps consider boycotting the Russian World Cup.

Two years earlier, after a fan threw a banana at the Brazilian defender Roberto Carlos during a match, but claimed there was no racist meaning to his act, a reporter for the Kremlin-owned network Russia Today patiently explained to her colleagues that taunting a person with dark skin with a banana “is known the world over as a very overt racist gesture.”

A 2011 Russia Today video report on racist taunting of a Brazilian soccer star.

Robert Mackey also remixes the news on Twitter @robertmackey.