Weekly 1 July 2020

Audi drops Sobchak over racism allegations

Russian TV presenter and former presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak was dropped as a brand ambassador by German carmaker Audi on Wednesday over social media posts she made about the Black Lives Matter protests. The decision was reminiscent of how Pepsi cut ties with TV journalist Regina Todorenko last month when she defended domestic violence. The only difference is that Todorenko apologised and made a large donation to charity, whereas Sobchak is suing the journalists who reported her words. 

  • Sobchak has repeatedly commented on the BLM protests. In one Instagram post, she argued (Rus) that Naomi Campbell, Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama show black people in the U.S. are not disadvantaged, and that those who are unsuccessful will “always find ways of justifying their own laziness and stupidity”. Several days later, she posted (Rus) a black square overlaid with a fragment of a 1990s Russian rock song called ‘They killed a negro’. After Sobchak deleted this post, it emerged (Rus) that it had apparently been part of a dare for a YouTube show.

  • The posts came to Audi’s attention when the German version of Business Insider published an article (Ger) describing Sobchak’s antics as ‘another racist scandal for Volkswagen group: brand ambassador in Russia called black people stupid and lazy’. Audi swiftly announced it was ending its 8-year partnership with Sobchak. The value of the contract in question has not been disclosed. 

  • In response, Sobchak said her words were twisted and that she will sue Business Insider for libel. In an Instagram post apparently meant to clarify her position, she said she believes that “people are NOT divided into white or black, Caucasian and Asian. But people can be divided into smart and stupid.” 
  • Sobchak’s outspokenness on this issue is not unique, and many liberals who oppose the Putin regime have criticized BLM. Satirist Viktor Shenderovich said (Rus) there was no systemic racism in the U.S., while economist Viktor Inozemtsev complained (Rus) media coverage of BLM ignored George Floyd’s previous criminal convictions.   
  • While some approved of Sobchak’s posts, many of the TV star’s Russian followers were angered. They reminded Sobchak that someone as privileged as her is not best placed to talk about systemic discrimination. And, by Russian standards, Sobchak is about as privileged as they come. Her father was the first mayor of St. Petersburg and Putin’s political mentor, while her mother is still a senator in the Russian parliament. 

Why the world should care 

Russian influencers are only just beginning to understand that they can lose large amounts of money for violating the ethics of the Western brands they represent. However, Sobchak’s views are not entirely unrepresentative. Even in progressive circles, there are serious differences of opinion when it comes to issues like sexual harassment and the BLM movement.