BBC3’s Reggie Yates’ Extreme Russia is a must watch.
The three-part documentary series examines what life is like for Russia’s young people, 24 years after the break up of the Soviet Union, exploring the views being hardwired into the population’s collective psyche. With its bold, fly-on-the-wall approach to what shouldn’t be an alien subject matter, the series signals the soon-to-be-online-channel’s commitment to providing cutting-edge broadcasting for the Vice-generation.
Having established himself as presenter of entertainment shows including Smile, Radio 1’s Chart Show, Release the Hounds and The Voice UK, Reggie has grown up with his audience, and with his move into serious documentary he is proving himself one of the most versatile presenters in the industry. Effortlessly shifting from glitter to grit, he throws himself into his contributors’ activities with a Theroux-esque courage and sensitivity.
The first episode of Extreme Russia, ‘Far Right & Proud’, focuses on the pro-Russian, anti-immigration patriotism sweeping the nation, featuring a visit to a propaganda factory’s HQ, a fashion shoot, a nationalist pro-white march, a knife club training session and meetings with Dmitry Demushkin, leader of the Slavic Union.
These visits exhibit a sweeping cross-section of pro-Russia activities, pushing the viewer from intrigue, to puzzlement, to horror. The British viewer might be amused by the office walls plastered with photographs of Putin snuggling dolphins and kittens (“it’s actually animals that love him… they can feel he is a kind and strong person”), but the racist chanting of the marching mobs is shocking.
Many of the interviews showcase opinions which seem horrifyingly backward. For example, in conversation with a 24-year old member of knife club, Reggie is warned about the dangers of mixed race relationships; “If some sort of mixing happens, you’ll get God knows what… in the next generation freaks could be born.”
Reggie, himself a black Brit with a white grandfather, later wrote of his experiences online:
“To see so many young people en masse vomiting ignorance in a time when there really is no excuse to not culturally self educate via the amazing tool that is the internet left me sullen.”
Throughout the documentary, the sinister currents carrying extreme Russian nationalism are exposed as pervasive and dangerous, brainwashing young people with violent prejudice against anything that might threaten the ‘purity’ of the Russian race. A discerning viewer must question the one-sidedness of the portrayal, but the show at least punctures the media-mist veiling Russia’s political climate, giving us a glimpse into a vast country that is restless, divided and terrified.