A high-profile Russian talk show–Channel 1’s пусть говорят (Let Them Talk) with host Andrei Malakhov–dove yesterday into the (still!) ongoing Russian baby yoga controversy. Their star guest? None other than former DadWagon interviewee Lena Fokina herself, freshly escaped from the revolution in Egypt and, I have to say, still looking ridiculously fit for a 50-year-old.
I’m not sure what Lena thought this show was going to be, but Malakhov brought together a distinguished panel of writers, psychologists and cranky grandmothers, paired the panel with a somewhat irritated audience, and spent nearly the entire 45 minutes letting everyone rip into her and her unorthodox yoga. (Follow DadWagon on Facebook or at the Twitters)
This is fascinating to me, because when I was calling around–maybe all my friends in Russia are hippies?–I found a pretty deep level of tolerance and understanding for tossing babies around. Even those that didn’t support her outright at least got all defensive and attacked Americans for being fat (a conversation I never tire of having with foreigners!).
But on this show, with new videos of Lena and her acolytes at work and priceless cutaways to horrified audience members, Lena was attacked in large part for being the foreigner, for having an un-Russian style of exercise. She had her supporters, but for the last 20 minutes of the show, she is completely stonefaced, sometimes on the brink of tears or past it.
In the end, I felt sorry for her. She had that same stubbornness that came through in our interview, that sense of genuine injury and disbelief that someone would question her practice. But I do have to wonder: if the Russians turn on her, where will she go from here?
Below the video I’ve offered a few highlights, by timestamp
1:30 Lena starts things out with a somewhat muted live baby yoga demonstration–a new 6-week-old baby, not Platona! She’s smiling, confident, but the cutaways to audience members portend the shitstorm headed her way.
4:00 Malakhov asks Lena how she reacted to the “shock” of the western media (that’d be us and Gawker’s baby-yoga-sleuth Maureen O’Connor). “There’s no time to react,” says Lena dismissively. “We had training, swimming, diving, to do.”
5:20 Lena gets the biggest applause she’s gonna get the whole show. Why? She said she has five children. In a country that has been reduced to offering cash and cars for having babies, that is worth applauding.
7:30 One of the experts tells Lena, “I just don’t see what’s useful.” She shoots him the same look that I felt like she was shooting me through Skype when I made similar points. The look says: just because I’m into yoga doesn’t mean I won’t tear your head off.
10:40 An angry woman in the audience says, “The baby can’t say anything [against baby yoga]. Go ahead, try. Ask him.” Another rough look from Lena, who waves off the woman.
11:20 Another big expert walks on, and tears into Lena again. “As a doctor, as a pediatrician,” he says, “I ask, ‘Why?’ Tell me, why is this necessary?”
14:20 Malakhov shows the YouTube parody, Baby Yoga with Cats. Lena looks humiliated. I think she’s going to cry, but she doesn’t.
16:00 Irina Danilova, a pleasant friend of Fokina’s who helped me set up the original interview, brought out her older kids to show that kids do survive daily Baby Yoga. With Lena dazed on the couch, it’s Irina who does the bulk of the defending from here on out.
29:22 Lena’s not without her defenders. Another mom/ally comes on and chides the critics: “Our babies all swim. They’re never sick. We never go to the clinic,” she says. “We never give them medicine.”
32:37 Evgeny Volkov, a “member of the International Association for the Study of Cults,” has an odd critique of baby yoga. He calls it a “deception” multiple times. I don’t know Volkov, but in my 2007 Time article from Russia, I describe the peculiar role of anti-cultists, who are essentially pro-Kremlin propagandists who are trotted out from time to time to attack anything that isn’t Russian Orthodox. Like, apparently, baby yoga.
35:50 A little girl speaks up in defense of baby yoga. Lena finally loses it. Tears.
38:00 Yelling. At this point I’m rooting for Irina and Lena to hit back, just to even things out.
38:26 A new psychologist comes on, with the worst attempt at a smile I’ve ever seen, even for a Russian. More yelling. The show ends with an anemic monologue from the host, and with Lena, moist-eyed, still looking quite shocked and wounded. Sigh.