Tweet translation: “Covering Stalinism, I gave my students an assignment to turn in someone to the police. Only 1 of 16 students refused to do it, and one of the reports submitted was against me.”

Partly. And I’ve already discussed this both with colleagues and online. I agree that I should have formulated the assignment differently, adopting a more neutral approach. Regarding the tweet that started all this public discussion, there are two things people need to understand.

First, there’s only so much you can say with 140 characters.

Second, I do stand-up comedy, and I participate on comedy TV projects. I test my jokes on Twitter to see if they’re funny or not. This tweet [about the classroom exercise] was also conceived as a future joke. People who know me understood this, and they retweeted it as a way of saying they liked the joke. And then from there…

Very nice. Well, the joke was a success. That much should be acknowledged.

So other than the people on Twitter who know me, I see people responding to me and Alexey Navalny [an opposition politician with more than 1 million followers, who retweeted Fokin’s post]. Then there’s a whole flood of insanity, like on a biblical scale. The joke became its own antithesis.

And here’s the thing: I know the joke is a bit radical, but you have to view it all in the context of the times. If instead my students had written a petition to Ivan the Terrible, a lot fewer people would have reacted to this story. But such a reaction to an exercise involving Stalin—it’s a sign of our times.

The state of our society today is again approaching something like a civil war. Except before we fought these wars with sabers and revolvers, and now we do it with retweets and memes.

And what conclusions do you yourself draw from this whole story?

In the future, when you joke, you have to write in parentheses the word “joke.” So everyone understands perfectly. But, seriously, I need to be more careful with such experiments.

Also, people should be more mature, more responsible, and more thoughtful about their reactions. On Twitter, I had people writing me to say they had reported me to the FSB [the post-Soviet successor to the KGB]. It will be interesting to see how all this ends. Will it come to nothing, or might I get called in for a chat with the police?

This whole story will tell us how much our society has changed since the 1930s, and show us how far we’ve come.

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