MOSCOW -- A St. Petersburg beauty pageant for married women has devolved into a hailstorm of racially charged bickering after a finalist made anti-Kremlin comments on social media.
As online voting began for the 2014 Mrs. St. Petersburg pageant last week, Viktoriya Maladayeva, a 25-year old native of Russia's Buryatiya Republic who has lived in Russia's second city for nine years, surged up the leader's board -- drawing ire from users of Russia's popular VKontakte social-networking site.
"A Buryat girl as Mrs. Petersburg is just funny. No one will believe this," Margo Gershkovich, a VKontakte user supporting a rival pageant finalist, wrote.
The online assault escalated after another user, Aleksandr Chernomortsev, shared a screenshot of anti-Kremlin comments Maladayeva purportedly made on her VKontakte page on September 19. In the post, Maladayeva lambasted the Kremlin for restricting media and Internet freedoms, calling President Vladimir Putin the "worst thing that has happened to Russia since the 1950s."
"Once again, we've put ourselves on a par with the Third World," Maladayeva wrote, launching an attack on "stupid people" in an apparent reference to Putin's supporters.
Maladayeva doesn't deny making the comments, which have since been removed from her VKontakte page.
She was later quoted by Russian media as saying "her words were taken out of context" to make her seem "Russophobic" and named Chernomertsev as trying to "discredit her for [her] political views, nationality."
But the post sparked a slew of comments in which Maladayeva was accused of having "problems with her brain," of "hating Russians," of "bringing shame to Petersburg," and being an "enemy of the people." There were also calls to remove her from the competition.
Aleksandr Belopotanov, a VKontakte user on the forum, wrote simply: "Shave off her hair and put her head in the toilet."
One forum user, Katya Sidorovich, accused Chernomerstev of inciting ethnic hatred and appealed to administrators to ban him from the forum.
Likewise, Yevgeny Khamaganov, a writer for the "Asia Russia Daily," spoke up to defend Maladayeva.
"I haven't in a long time read such examples of caveman Nazism and shouting because a person doesn't have 'the right' opinions," he wrote.
Maladayeva called on her supporters to ignore the slurs -- and stuck by her opposition views.
"Honestly, where have I written that I 'hate Russians' and so on? It's the sick fantasy of trolls. Friends, please ignore it. I was ready for negativity from some people, but not to this degree," she wrote on her VKontakte page.
The Mrs. St. Petersburg pageant is in its fifth year. Contestants must be married with children and at least 168 centimeters tall. The winner will be announced on November 6.
-- Tom Balmforth