Serbian Ballerinas Dance with Machine Guns: The Cosmic Vision of Refbatch
by Jackie Wang
the future is absent. the present is also. the past is disputing every second. that woman female object stopped to exist in 1999, you can see shadow only. the fighter of removed is representing to you its fight. which soon will not be needed as we all will burn. i said i drown in information, like a swimmer, who is exhausting to fight with waves in the lake or ocean-at time when a man drowned on telaviv beach-soon I will not have any dress and any tooth, and you will have to take my talk as it is-without any attributes
--Refbatch, corrected text from video descriptions
Night approaches in an unidentified patch of woods in Russia. A woman in a red tank top and gaudy eye makeup stands in the forest pointing a camera at herself as she violently lurches her head around while ranting in a hoarse, inaudible voice. The sound of her screams reverberates against the trees, creating an echo that is a haunting accompaniment to the dark blue palette of the video footage. The content of her tirade would be impenetrable if it weren’t for the enigmatic titles and typo-laden descriptions accompanying the tens of thousands of videos she has posted on the internet. In this particular video, she writes of being stalked and attacked by conspirators who persecute her for having captured footage of their illicit activities. Intermittently, she jerks the camera away from herself, as if she is trying to draw our attention to something in the distance, perhaps an attacker. But there is nothing there, nothing but bare trees and a sky that indicates the rapid onset of darkness.
Who is this woman? To me, she is known as Refbatch. Refbatch is the internet username of Anna Matskevich, a middle-aged paranoid schizophrenic Russian woman who compulsively posts videos on YouTube. But Refbatch is much more than an internet personality: she is the creator of one of the most ambitious and beautiful visual and textual documents ever produced. In about 2 years, she has uploaded more than 10,200 videos on YouTube, often accompanied by sloppily-written English text. The videos make up a surreal and obsessive document of one madwoman's life in Russia: ranting at strangers in the streets, getting into fights, wearing skimpy clothing while dancing in snowy forests, punching the air in beautiful fields and parks, compulsively relaying conspiratorial and paranoid accounts of news stories, getting harassed by policemen, standing in lakes and rivers while doing slow and hypnotic arm movements, going up and down escalators through tunnel-like structures, and other everyday activities like using the computer.
But for Refbatch, “the everyday” is imbued with cosmic significance and tied to a meticulously orchestrated plot to suppress her “vision.” At the end of a lengthy diatribe that accompanies one of her videos, she writes, “i recorded now all thsi theem instead of rerst. sleep, food again. l am ill very stromng i have hogb level of frost -beete feet ... hsuabnd elimiantes me.” She is drained and worn down from sleep-deprivation and hunger; her feet are frost-bitten and she is derided by her husband, but she writes and records videos out of a compulsion to reveal the truth to the world. In a lucid moment of self-insight she reflects on her “vision” and “abnormal endurance” when she writes: “mistifying about my vision cases and anomal enduranec not habitul for a woman while i have in reality weak health.” She persists despite her poor health, despite the vast plot by scientologists, the Kremlin (central Russian Government), Islamists, YouTube, the police, the FSB (Russian secret service) and others sent to suppress her secret knowledge and block her attempts to publicize the incriminating evidence she has gathered through her videos. Refbatch writes manically about the coincidences between news stories and her life; everything from plane crashes to earthquakes to the death of Kennedy seems profoundly connected to subtle incidences in her life. She writes:
EVEN NOW,THROUGH SLEEPING I SHPOULD TYPE THIS- UNDERTSANDING THAT OUR POIOSNS WE WILL NOT AWAKE TOMORROW IF I WILL NTO SHOUT THAT I NOTIVED THE ARTICLE -OPENED BY chance,
-and undertsand its sence.
life become too hard bec of their this hunt.
half of vidoe snot sent-
I began this article by attempting to answer the question—who is Refbatch?—with the limited and fragmentary portrait I have constructed through her texts and videos. But there is an insurmountable divide between her and me, an unbridgeable temporal distance between the moment the video is captured and the moment the digitized data is rendered and made public. To me, Refbatch is only the spectral impression of an existence whose meaning I will never fully comprehend. I do not know Anna Matskevich. I only know Refbatch: the digitized object, the messenger, the blurry face of a woman whose image hangs draped over what I think must be a solid being. With great anticipation, I try to rip the sheets off the looming figure but find nothing underneath. She can’t be located; is always already gone.
Refbatch eludes me; my understanding of her is partial. Where does she get money to live? Who is the man that occasionally appears in the videos and holds the camera? The tidbits of information that I do know about her life are often not offered directly, but revealed only because they are implicated in her conspiracy in some way. While I gather that there is likely a man in her life that shares her delusions, I only gather this because she posted a letter with one of her videos that said:
from: Maxim Belov
Today Anna Matskevich tried to upload in "YouTube" her video
"Al-Qaeda controls my communication means" - internet connection did'nt work.
Because of this video record is not uploaded yet it could be dangerous for Anna.(…)
It’s likely that Maxim Belov is Refbatch’s husband. From the message we can gather that it’s possible that the two are engaged in a folie à deux. The phrase, meaning “delusion for two,” was first integrated into my lexicon when I heard the story of the Papin sisters, who were two French maids that killed their employers and then had sex with each other. Even though Refbatch’s husband shares many of her “visions” and can be seen in videos imitating her movements, Refbatch frequently refers to him with ambivalence and suspicion. She asks herself, “but what is th erole of my husabnd - why he evry time take participation in this resonance and in destruction of me till end.” She often speculates that he has been drugged and made to turn against her, to participate in the conspiratorial suppression of her insight through violence and abuse. Rebatch also writes about being poisoned and drugged (“as always hided ,sprayed by drugs,and threatned in the forest”). The poisons are said to erase their “self-undertsanding,joy of life,and so-opportunityt creat andjust to syrvive.” Refbatch often refers to the poison or the effect of the poison as “outmind,” a term used when one loses the mental capability to decipher the unstated meanings found in one’s surroundings, like the ability to understand the messages encoded in news stories.
The paradoxical nature of Refbatch’s monumental document is that it’s totally nonsubjective, even though it is an obsessive record of her life. Her videos and texts do not document her interiority. She denies the ego. Her existence seems to completely revolve around relations and exterior events. In a way, Refbatch is possessed. The media, history, and information colonize her entire being. She often writes of herself as if she is an object, a hollow vehicle defined solely by the singular purpose of transmitting the truth. She has stated that she—a woman female object—has not existed since 1999, making her a residual shadow that remains only to broadcast her struggle. The fighter of removed is representing to you its fight. Refbatch is a ghost. Like a ghost, she lingers in an intermediary zone between life and death because she has unfinished business. Her phantasmic presence is nebulous, shadowy, lacking any solid grounding. She is only half here. In some sense, she is pure message. Since she lacks the presence of being, her temporality is destabilized. Time crumbles because the intrusion of the past scrambles the forward linear trajectory. She writes that the future and the present are absent, and declares that the past is “disputing every second.”
Refbatch turns herself further into an object when she speaks of herself in the second person.
you did thsi?
you dance bear foot?
ypou did nto sleep and di not eat-
you tookj absue poisones scandla pof hsuabnd befor ework and insteda of sprot triasngina?
you posses vision/
you can move non stop- a out rest poiisitive smotion and money payed. you/
iof not then taker your long fuck to your pocketand hold it ther until you will not posses such features as me-
In this syntactically complex passage, Refbatch uses second person throughout much of the text, but in the end, she performs a sort of textual splitting of the self by introducing the first person pronoun “me” while keeping the “you” intact. She accommodates both the “you” and “me” in the phrase, you will not posses such features as me. But both “you” and “me” appear to refer to herself. She teeters back and forth between positions. You/ or me/; the slashes of which may also indicate this split in perspective. It’s as if she were controlled by an outsider, as if she were speaking from both the interior and the exterior, looking at herself while she looks at herself, an object apprehending an object. Linear time, the subjective position, and logical sentence structures are all overturned by Refbatch.
I often find myself unconsciously thinking of Refbatch before falling asleep and it is during this time—when my the logic undergirding my thoughts comes undone—that I feel like I can intuitively understand Refbatch most. Every image and line strikes me as wrenchingly tragic. Once before going to sleep I asked my partner, “Why does she do it? Is it the unrelenting need to expose the truth to the world?” My partner said that that was likely her motivation, but I pressed it farther: “But then why does she post all those videos of herself dancing in fields and forests? How are those related to the global conspiracy?” She replied, “Because it’s a form of expression that she feels is also persecuted.”
It makes sense. For Refbatch, bodily movement itself is a form of testimony. She imagines that even the tai-chi-like movements she performs—which she often refers to as morning exercise, ballet, snow sport, training, and dance—are suppressed by the conspirators. She writes, “my dances on snow as freedom of speech are forbidden.” She relates an incident that she refers to as “attacked ballet” to a news story possibly having to do with the suppression of Buddhist practices in Malaysia. Around the time Michael Jackson died, Refbatch posted videos titled “we dance-Michael!” and “michael found thw way how to be young and to dance in any age-those who do not want to dance-eliminated him fro—.” In another video, she writes about how Serbian ballerinas dancing with machine guns were pushed out of their space: “serbian balerinas made thero class somewher on the ban of adriatic sea at very hot-but now there are ruins only there-for serbs dancers.”
i am outmind to understand what tempo i am enforced to live
My obsession with Refbatch is getting unhealthy. As I become more invested, I lose my ability to write about her with distance. While neurotically trying to unearth more information, I make a startling discovery. Refatch has a second YouTube video channel under the name Refbatch1, bringing her total video count to more than 11,623. Next, I find a Refbatch account on Yahoo Video, but this one only has 5 videos and appears to be a desperate attempt to continue broadcasting her video after being “censored” by YouTube. I am trying to piece everything together, to make sense of it. It’s not gibberish. The more I sift through the videos and text of the 11,623 posts, I realize the incredible coherence of Refbatch’s logic. I wonder, what’s Buddhism in Malaysia got to do with her life? But then I remember that Islam is the dominant religion there, and that Refbatch has a paranoid suspicion that Muslims are poisoning her and blocking her videos. I find a Myspace account belonging to Refbatch. There are videos posted there as well. She is listed as 46 years old. Then I find 4 videos all containing the same series of letters written by “Maxim Belov”—her husband—while she was detained in a psychiatric “prison.” This is one of my greatest finds yet, a rare glimpse of “factual” details relating to Refbatch’s life. He writes:
… Anna Matskevich was detained and sent to 13-th psychiatrical clinik of Moscow for political expression against totalitarism in Russia…. I called at 9.00 a.m. to the receiption of the clinik.… She said that today Anna Matskevich will be psychiatrically checked and tommorow only I will get result about her future. When I said I want to take her home soon as it is possible - she refused,refering to their timetable. When I asked if any medicins were used against my wife - Mrs.L.V.Mischenko insistably suggested that I should call tommorow….By the way, there is some information that staff of this clinik sadistically jeer at people like fascist butchers in Hitler time.
…By low if a person has somebody of his relatives, who are against the psychiatrical test of him - the test can't be done. I am against from the test of my wife.…If Russian Federation just announce open repression against her by such messuares - I apply for political refuge from her name and myself. Rights and freedoms,incl.expressions are persecuted in the country.…It is clear : that when state wants to remove a dissident - there are'nt obstacles for this.
The letter continues with an incendiary rant about Muslim conspirators living in their backyard. If Maxim did write the letter, it’s the most concrete evidence that their delusion is shared. The letters are dated Jan. 3 and 4, 2010. YouTube won’t let me scroll that far back through her videos, so I use a trick on the Google video search engine to see if she posted any videos during those days. Disappointment: it appears that she posted as usual during the days she was supposedly in the hospital. Was the whole thing a farce? But I believe that she went to a mental hospital, and I am sure Maxim must have written the letters. I can tell because his writing is clearer and contains less typos. I noticed that he types “didn’t” as “did’nt,” but what if it’s her fabricating the letters? Is it possible that both of these non-native English speakers like to use the word jeer? I decide to try to look up the psychiatrist mentioned in the letters—Mrs. Larisa Mishchenko. I find out that Larisa Mishchenko is a character from an X-Men comic. I read a summary on the website Mutatis Mutandis:
A journalist by the name of Larisa fights with her editor over his unwillingness to allow her to work on a story about corruption in the military. The editor points to photographs on the wall of previous editors who published controversial stories and died because of it. Larisa doesn’t relent, insisting on writing the story and having it published and the editor gives in…. [At] the apartment of Larisa Mishchenko, Larisa looks out the window to see a FSB agent standing watch over her residence….
The FSB is basically the Russian secret service. I know this because I looked it up after encountering in several times in Refbatch’s text. The story of the comic book character Larisa Mishchenko is uncannily similar to Refbatch’s story. But is it just a bizarre coincidence? Is Larisa Mishchenko actually the name of the psychiatrist who oversaw Refbatch? Does this psychiatrist even exist? Did Refbatch even go to the mental hospital? Should I call the phone number of the supposed Russian doctor listed in “Maxim’s” letter? I no longer know what is real and I look for sources outside of Rebatch’s discourse for grounding, but emerge even more confounded. While watching Refbatch’s video, my sense that her claims are fictitious deteriorates under my increasingly intensified feeling that—in some sense—everything is real.
Like Refbatch, I drown in information. The stream of input is unending, especially since it’s not unusual for Refbatch to post around 20 videos/text commentaries a day. In my search, everything is connected and pregnant with meaning, like the oversaturation of meaning in Refbatch’s world. An unsettling parallel is formed between my engagement with Refbatch, and Refbatch’s engagement with the world. I wonder if I am getting drawn into her way of being. My mind reels. What is the meaning of the phrase “blind send” that repeatedly appears in Refbatch’s videos? What is the meaning of the term “eblo?” I try to look it up. It might be an offensive word for “face” or a slang word for “penis” in Russian. I look up the word “alkl” and after coming up relatively fruitless, I realize that—given the closeness of the letters “k” and “l” on the keyboard—it’s likely a typo of the word “all.” I try to search her real name. A profile on a site called “My Opera” shows up. Listed occupation: Dissident. I scroll through more search results and find her name listed in dance competition results. Is it a different Anna Matskevich? “What do you think?” I ask my partner. She said that it actually crossed her mind that Refbatch was once a professional dancer. It makes sense to me too: she’s obsessed with dancing and is unusually athletic. Couldn’t this be her?
The internet crashes. That’s why I am able to write this instead of restlessly sifting through information. But I still have pages and pages of text copied into word documents and hundreds of video stills to mull over. At every turn I notice a new pattern. The task of writing about Refbatch is totally absorbing. I began this piece with the intention of writing a short blurb on one schizophrenic woman’s peculiar videos, but the undertaking has spiraled out of control, consuming me and my life completely. Through Refbatch, I try to find the meaning of it all. I haven’t left my house all day. The more I go through her material, the less I feel like this woman is crazy, and the more I recognize her lucidity, the profound and mind-blowing truths contained within her messages.
Covered and Shut Up
we are bea out from scandals form only open eyes-
representin melodies of ..beethoven,ect.under grad noise;
so next day
tehre is no interest and wsh just to get up from bed,
as melodies by beethoven are outbombing by abusement
of grad rockets to your side form everywhere.
I am trying to understand what motivates me to pour all this time and energy into trying to understand Refbatch. Why am I writing this? I know that—for one—there is an urgency to preserve the monumental work that Refbatch has created, and is still creating. Since this sprawling document exists on the corporate-owned website YouTube, it is extremely vulnerable. YouTube often deletes the channels of users that post an excessive number of videos, and their terms of service explicitly state, “YouTube reserves the right to decide whether Content violates these Terms of Service for reasons other than copyright infringement… YouTube may at any time, without prior notice and in its sole discretion, remove such Content and/or terminate a user's account for submitting such material in violation of these Terms of Service.” I hope that people will work toward archiving and backing up Refbatch’s videos and texts so that they are not lost forever if an administrator hastily decides to delete her channel.
There is another underlying motivation propelling this piece. It is the desire to expand our notion of reality, and to create space for the existence of parallel realities. Even though on some level I may think that the “facts” of Refbatch’s claims are “not true,” I find it problematic to dismiss her reality. Reality is multiple. Refbatch’s reality may be just as subjectively true as yours or mine. We depend completely upon the creation of internally coherent logics to validate and extend our reality, but it can’t be measured against an objective or transcendent point of reference. There is no way to access the true reality—it doesn’t exist. People may watch Refbatch and think, who is this lunatic woman? They may dismiss what she has to say while remaining intrigued by her wild and insane behavior. When I try to show her videos to people, she is often either dismissed as psychotic or exoticized for the same reasons. But when people engage her work this way, they fail to actually listen. They don’t meaningfully consider her messages. As I delved deeper and deeper into Refbatch’s world, I realized that she has created a mad language and vocabulary to articulate what I would consider a reasonable response to delegitimization, oppression, trivialization, and invalidation for being a woman, for having “cosmic visions,” for existing under governments, religious institutions, and other apparatuses of control. Rebatch is an anti-authoritarian. She has noted that would rather die than relinquish her right “to create,to think,to love,to fly into space.” She persists despite feeling weakened, attacked, and demoralized, noting that she makes more than men could while being considered weaker than they are. Even though Refbatch may develop wild fantasies to accompany her feeling of persecution, there is nothing irrational about her feeling of marginalization. In a strange way, her testimony reveals the true face of the world, a world that can be cruel and unkind to madwomen that are endowed with too much vision.
psychiatry women show who attacked pope-
when i will die i will follow the information anyway - but they want and everybody only wants: i must be as missing
covered and shut up
stop to shut me up by psychiatry
i do not need permission to see.
they do not allow to me to be so as i am.