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The Story Behind the Tearing Down of the Russian iPhone Monument

The Russian university that hosted the monument is upset that the sculpture was dismantled under the pretense of it needing to be repaired.

by Joel Golby
Nov 7 2014, 9:10pm

The memorial in all its glory. Photo ​via

We all know how much Russia hates them gay people—why, ​VICE did an entire documentary series on it ju​st this year. But when a company in St. Petersburg announced it was planning to rip a memorial to Steve Jobs out of the ground just because current Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly disclosed his sexuality, it all seemed a bit, well... If you wanted to prove a point to Tim Cook by throwing your iPhone on the floor and crunching it with your foot, you're the only one who's really feeling that, aren't you? Tim Cook is still gay and now you can't get on Instagram.

But here's the thing: the Steve Jobs memorial wasn't being destroyed because of Tim Cook—it was actually being pulled down because if you leave a six-foot iPhone out in the bitter cold of the Russian winter it will get solidly fucked up by wind chill and need to be repaired. 

Or that was the plan, at least. The two companies that lay claim to the memorial, ITMO University (whose territory the memorial is on) and ZEFS (which sponsors the memorial and are financially responsible for its repairs) have a slight difference of opinion re: all the millions of LGBTI people on Earth—a difference of opinion that only came about in the hours between a repair crew being asked to take the memorial out of the ground and ​Tim ​Cook's​ Bloomberg​ statement. The memorial is a victim of bad timing and ZEFS's trigger-happy CEO.

"Well, three years ago, the head of this company ZEFS had an idea to have this monument," ITMO University's Natasha Ros told me. "He [Maxim Dolgopolov] was a former politician, in fact. And we gave them the territory." And lo, a memorial was born: an iPhone-a-like built to Steve Jobs's exact height, with a fully functioning touchscreen that allowed students to find out about Jobs and the impact he had on tech, all while simultaneously working as a WiFi router. Shits on any memorial you can think of, doesn't it? 

But when Natasha noticed last August that, after three years of being battered by the wind and snow of St. Petersburg, the memorial had started to lose function, she raised a repair request with ZEFS. Which... sort of did nothing for a very long time, until Thursday last week (October 30), when Tim Cook first published his statement. 

With the repair request filed months before, ZEFS saw their chance to swoop in and dismantle the monument with the university's blessing, sending them an official-looking letter saying they were going to make the repairs. Instead, they "fixed" it by dismantling it piece-by-piece and carrying it away.

:(. Photo v​ia

It didn't help, of course, that ZEFS's chief released a statement after the dismantling, saying, "In Russia, gay propaganda and other sexual perversions among minors are prohibited by law. After Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly called for sodomy, the monument was taken down to abide to the Russian federal law protecting children from information promoting denial of traditional family values." 

Exactly how Tim Cook publicly called for sodomy (Auto-installing Grindr on every iPhone in the world? Scattering lube sachets out of the window while helicoptering high above the city skyline?) is not clear, but ZEFS's statement tagged a clear message of intent to the dismantling of the memorial.

Cue a rash of Western media stories essentially saying the same thing: "Look how much Russia hates gays, guys! They hate them so much they can't even look at an iPhone in case it makes them want to throw a Kylie night in the nearest Kruzha bar!" Problem is, as Natasha said, the university—as well as any logical non-bastard in Russia—has now been tarred with the gay-hating brush by a spate of breathless news stories.

"They think that we don't want to interfere at times with our social problems," Natasha told me. "Because we know people in Europe, the UK, the USA, and the West are very tolerant. Tolerance is very important for us, as we are people of science. The man who said these words, the head of this company ZEFS, has the opposite opinion from us—and we were very surprised because it was a deception. They said they wanted to take it for repairs, but they decided to dismantle it. And we now want to find money [to] provide funding for another Steve Jobs Apple monument."

Also, the students are down a WiFi router. "Our students like this monument," Natasha said. "We feel that Steve made a lot for the world, and Apple is the leader in its field, so it's very important for us. And now it's empty. We have an empty yard."

But all is not lost: ​VKontakte, the Russian version of Facebook, are in talks with the university to sponsor a new Steve Jobs memorial if ZEFS continue to be really ZEFS-y about things. 

Of course, I doubt "university quietly reinstates iPhone memorial now they figured out how to make iOS 8 work on the fucker" will make many headlines if it finally happens, but still.

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