Victoria Lomasko: We Won

lomasko-we won (stencil)Victoria Lomasko, We Won, 2015. Pen and ink on A4 colored paper

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We Won

Victory Day 2015 was celebrated in Russian with great fanfare. Nearly all the veterans and witnesses of the war are dead, and now people who had nothing to do with it can privatize “the Victory”.

People from all the Soviet republics fought on the frontlines or worked in the rear on behalf of the soldiers at the front, but now the victory has become the victory of ethnic Russians alone. Atheists fought for their communist homeland, but now they are dubbed “agents of Russian Orthodox civilization,” and Patriarch Kirill says a “divine miracle” played the decisive role in the victory. Soviet soldiers bore red flags emblazoned with hammers and sickles as they scrapped their way toward victory over fascism, but now Soviet symbols have been replaced by orange-and-black striped ribbons that originated in the tsarist era.

To be eligible to celebrate “the Victory” you have tie to St. George’s Ribbons to your clothing, your backpacks, your rearview mirrors, and your car antennae, adorn yourself with crucifixes, oppose Ukrainian independence, and be a flagrant homophobe.

This has been the route to public renown taken by the Night Wolves bike gang leader nicknamed The Surgeon, a Putin favorite who organized the To Berlin! “patriotic” motorcycle rally, and had the full support of Russian state media in this dubious and potentially offensive endeavor.

To find yourself labeled an “enemy” and a “Nazi,” however, it suffices to point openly to the way history has been distorted and to remind people that war is primarily an act of mass slaughter. This was the route taken by the Oleg Basov and Pyotr Voys, the artist and the curator who organized an exhibition entitled We Won, which police and the FSB shut down on May 8, a day after it had opened for a private viewing, and one day before Victory Day, May 9.

The art community did not discuss what happened, because what happened was too frightening for them to discuss.

Victoria Lomasko

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Here is a translation of the statement the organizers of We Won posted on the exhibition’s Facebook page on May 7, 2015.

The country is celebrating a great victory.

The St. George’s Ribbon, portraits of Stalin, the red flag, and the word fascist are vigorously being replicated again nowadays, becoming a part of everyday life.

But we should clarify the situation. The St. George’s Ribbon is orange and black. It was awarded for military valor, and during the Second World War itself it was a decoration awarded in Vlasov’s Army, which fought on the side of the German Wehrmacht.

As a symbol of victory in the Great Patriotic War [the Soviet name for the Second World War], it was suggested by RIA Novosti news agency in 2006, and the government supported this proposal. The St. George’s Ribbon is now tied to backpacks, dogs, and Mercedes-Benz cars. It has become something commonplace, as if the rank of general or medals for heroism were handed out to everyone.

When heroism becomes a cult, and its symbols are reproduced en masse, its meaning is emasculated. The St. George’s Ribbon is today an identifying mark of the pro-Putin regime fans of Russian TV Channel One.

We won! Let’s take a look back at what this meant.

When counting the numbers of the dead, the margin of error amounts to millions of people.

The beheading of the Red Army’s command on the eve of the war, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that divided Poland between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and the shameful Winter War, which undermined the army’s authority, were only a prelude.

The illusion that the Soviet Union had unlimited human resources led to terrifying losses: seven Soviet soldiers for every German soldier.

In the postwar years, the military-industrial complex accounted for two thirds of the Soviet Union’s GDP.

These years also witnessed total poverty and devastation, a deformed civil society, an epidemic of fatherless children, concealment of the disabled from the general public, widespread reprisals against war veterans who had been in Europe during the war, and Stalinism’s postwar apogee. The list could go on.

The victory was seen as a justification of the Stalinist terror. Declaring ourselves victors blocks our chances to humanize and evolve our society today as well.

Cultural trauma and post-traumatic amnesia distort our identities. This is expressed in the brain drain of talented people to other countries, widespread alcoholism and drug addiction, and the monstrous lives led by the elderly and the disabled.

We won, and today the outcome of this discourse is a restoration of totalitarianism with an admixture of Orthodox fundamentalism.

Our exhibition does not question the heroism of the people, that is, the men and women who stood in muddy trenches and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

But we question the chimera of the great imperial past, which today is manufactured as the one and only indisputable core of Russian identity.

The Second World War was a monstrous bloodletting by the nations of Europe. A day of mourning is not an occasion for congratulation.

Source: Facebook 

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Summer of Friendship Campaign Continues in Petersburg

Summer of Friendship Campaign Continues in Petersburg
David Frenkel
Special to The Russian Reader
June 29, 2015

The Vesna (“Spring”) Movement has continued its Summer of Friendship campaign for peace between Russia and Ukraine.

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Summer of Friendship postcard

Yesterday, Sunday, June 28, Vesna activists handed out blank postcards on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Malaya Sadovaya Street asking people to write kind messages to Ukrainians.

The organizers claimed that members of the public dropped over two hundred “freedom postcards” into a special mailbox during the event. Our correspondent estimated that the number of postcards submitted was closer to one hundred.

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“Russian Post”

“All the letters will be sent shortly to the addressees. Our colleagues in Kyiv and other cities will help us deliver them. We want to remind both Russians and Ukrainians that we are a fraternal people and must remain this way. We have many things in common: history, culture, family connections—everything but politicians. And we must overcome hatred together!” Vesna’s press secretary Anton Gorbatsevich explained in a letter to our correspondent.

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Similar actions took place in Krasnodar and Tomsk, and another such event has been planned for Voronezh in a few days.

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All photographs by and courtesy of David Frenkel

Free Journalist Sergei Ilchenko!

Sergei Ilchenko is a professional journalist who has reported for a number of Moldovan, Ukrainian and Russian media. He is currently being persecuted for his professional work by the secret services of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR), commonly known as Transdniester or Transnistria.

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Sergei Ilchenko

Ilchenko was arrested by the PMR KGB on March 18, 2015, following his involvement in an opposition rally in Tiraspol, the PRM capital, and his refusal to delete the report and video footage he made at the rally.

The PMR Investigative Committee has brought criminal charges against Ilchenko under Article 276, Part 2 of the PMR Criminal Code (“Public Incitement to Extremist Activities”). If convicted, Ilchenko could face a term of up to five years in prison.

Ilchenko’s colleagues believe that in order to arrest and charge Ilchenko with incitement to overthrow the state the KGB resorted to a provocation by posting fabricated texts under Ilchenko’s name on various Internet forums and social media. Ilchenko denies having written these texts. Moreover, a day before his arrest he informed a number of his colleagues that his Facebook and Skype accounts had been hacked and the passwords changed, and that he had lost all control over the social media groups he was moderating.

Sergei Ilchenko is a left-wing political activist. He has been involved in the work of various trade union forums and has reported for the international trade union solidarity platform LabourStart.

What Can We Do to Help Sergei Ilchenko?

  1. Human rights organizations, journalists unions, and journalist communities in various countries should make statements of support of Sergei Ilchenko, denouncing Internet provocations as a means of persecuting dissidents.
  2. Write a letter to PMR President Yevgeny Shevchuk, demanding Sergei Ilchenko’s immediate release. Letters should be sent to the following address:

г.Тирасполь 3300, Горького, 53, Администрация Президента

Tiraspol 3300, Gorky Str., 53, Presidential Administration

You can also submit a letter to President Shevchuk on the presidential administration’s website. (Warning: all instructions are in Russian.)

http://president.gospmr.ru/ru/letter

  1. Contact your country’s ministry of foreign affairs, calling on it to put pressure on the PRM authorities to release Sergei Ilchenko immediately.
  2. NGOs and journalist organizations should send their representatives to Tiraspol to act as independent observers at Sergei Ilchenko’s trial and ensure it is covered objectively and fairly. 

More Details on Sergei Ilchenko’s Case

In English

“Journalist jailed on extremism charges in Moldova’s Transdniester region,” Committee to Protect Journalists, March 26, 2015

“[Moldovan] Government seeks release of journalist arrested in Tiraspol,” IPN, March 28, 2015

“Journalist Sergei Ilchenko jailed on extremism charges in Moldova’s Transdniester region,” Council of Europe, April 2, 2015

In Russian

Sergei Ilchenko’s LiveJournal blog (including letters from prison, photographs, and reports on the case)

“Odessa journalists demand PMR cease its persecution of Sergei Ilchenko,” Comments.ua, March 20, 2015

“Roman Konoplev on the Ilchenko case: Rogozin will sing praises, Moldova will provide cover,” Regnum, March 23, 2015

“The Republic of Moldova demands journalist Sergei Ilchenko’s release,” Teleradio Moldova, March 28, 2015

“’Free’ Transnistria: the setup and arrest of opposition journalist Sergei Ilchenko,” April 6, 2015, politcom.org.ua

“An appeal from political prisoner Sergei Ilchenko,” Antikor.com.ua, April 14, 2015

“Dill Tomatovich’s notes from a Transdniestrian prison,” [a letter by Sergei Ilchenko from Tiraspol Remand Prison No. 3], Ava.md, April 15, 2015

“Ukrainian journalists join demand for Sergei Ilchenko’s release,” Novyi Region 2, June 11, 2015.

 

Lenin, God of Water

Eight People Detained at Water Battle in Petersburg
June 7, 2015
Yodnews.ru

On June 6, Petersburg police detained eight people on suspicion of theft of personal belongings during the now-traditional mass “Water Battle,” reported online publication Fontanka.ru.

According to the publication, beat police, after chasing them around the yards of residential buildings, took eight young men, the oldest of whom was twenty, to a police station. They are suspected of large-scale theft at a public event. At present, six of the victims have filed reports of theft.frenkel-water god

“Water Battle” on Moscow Square in Petersburg, June 6, 2015. Photograph courtesy of David Frenkel

The flashmob lasted for four hours. Several hundred young people armed with buckets, water pistols, bottles, and basins met at the fountains on Moscow Square to celebrate the onset of summer.

Many came in costumes and masks, and the absent-minded risked being caught and dumped into a fountain. Those drying themselves on the sidelines performed circle dances and engaged in “free hugging.” The weather came through for the Petersburgers.

Blue Turns to Red

Here are my early summer evening snapshots of yet another catastrophic urban anti-development in the ex-Capital of All the Russias, this time on Korolenko Street in the Central District.

These snapshots were taken on an old Nokia 3110 that has long suffered from a ghostly “pillar of flame”-like blemish on the lens. The blemish lends shots an extra creepiness when they are taken at the wrong time of day. Sometimes, it is just what the doctor ordered.

After all, rancid, pretentious crap like LSR’s hideous Russky Dom (Russian House) anti-development on Korolenko, designed by local architectural bureau Evgeny Gerasimov and Partners, does not deserve high-quality photography.

It deserves grassroots resistance, but there has never been enough of that, especially lately, under Putin 3.0, and especially when “projects” like this have been battering the old city and the Soviet new estates hotter and heavier than the beleaguered and outnumbered historic preservationists and other local residents and activists have the time or the forces to handle. (For those who read Russian, here is one local press account of attempts by preservationists to resist the demolition of this block in the UNESCO-protected historic center. This mostly verbal skirmish took place almost exactly three years ago.)

rh-red fenceRed construction site fences are a rarity in Petersburg. Such fences are almost ubiquitously blue.

rh-blue turns to red

In fact, this particular fence apparently began life blue, like most of its other local brethren. But then it was painted red.

rh-paradny“From the creators of Paradny Kvartal,” reads the caption, a backhanded endorsement if there ever was one.

rh-russky domWhatever the ethnically tinted title of the project, Russky Dom, could mean amidst all the ideological, political, economic, social, and physical wreckage of its own site, and its place and time, is beyond me. Except, maybe, that it visually represents the aspirations of the Russian ruling class, their servitors, and their aesthetically stunted fans among the masses. (Whom, I assure you, are far fewer than the eighty-six or eighty-four percent cited by dubious polling organizations and reproduced ad infinitum by Russian and western media alike, who then go further by conjuring up a fake alternate reality to explain these fake ratings.)

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The specs include a variable number of storeys (from five to nine), flats from 60 to 250 square meters in size, an underground parking lot for 519 cars, and commercial spaces, as well as “closed yards and a large promenade zone [sic].”

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The caption reads, “Unusual flats: panoramic views from terraces on the upper floors; flats with turrets and second levels.”

The description of the project on Gerasimov’s website, aside from the usual boilerplate (e.g., the development is meant to blend into the built environment while also striking a bold pose), reveals, unsurprisingly, that it was inspired by Russian Revival style architecture of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

If this is not an admission of aggressive ideological and aesthetic bankruptcy, I don’t know what is. In this sense, however, Russky Dom tries to blend in not with its built environment but, rather, with the country’s hyper-reactionary zeitgeist.

Duma deputy Irina Yarovaya declared today that Russia’s education system is too “tailored to the study of foreign languages,” according to a report by United Russia, the country’s ruling political party.

www.egp.spb

“How can we expect to preserve our traditions under these circumstances?” Yarovaya asked worriedly, criticizing the Education Ministry’s plan to make a second foreign language compulsory in the school curriculum and require students to pass a standardized exam in at least one foreign language.

www.egp.spb-1The newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets published an even more radical quotation from Yarovaya’s statement: “While studying in our schools, students spend 866 hours of instruction on the Russian language and 939 hours on foreign languages. Now the Education Ministry wants to introduce a compulsory standardized exam in a foreign language and mandate the study of a second foreign language. My fellow citizens, what kind of country are we raising here?”

www.egp.spb-2Yarovaya also said the state’s current educational standards focus on “students’ personal success,” which she claims is “foreign to the Russian frame of reference,” instead of developing traditional values. Additionally, she expressed concern about the variety of school textbooks used throughout the country to teach the same subject.

rh-russa boy with toy machine gun

This kid was polite, making a point of getting out of the way when I was snapping pictures, but he was wearing a jacket emblazoned with the word “Russia” and toting a toy AK-47.

Whom or what was he planning to go to war against, Yarovaya and her “traditional values,” which are actually designed to keep the current kleptocratic regime in power in perpetuity and keep people like the little kid poor and disempowered, or “foreign frames of reference”?

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I (or, rather, my Nokia) tried to peer through a hole someone or something had punched through the red fence to get a sense of how the Russky Dom was shaping up.

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But when I got to the corner of the block, I discovered the construction site’s main gate was wide open, probably because the workday was wrapping up.

rh-work proceeds apace

Work was proceeding apace on the Russian reactionary elite’s dream home.

As well it should have been, because, according to the site’s “passport” (everyone and everything has a passport in Russia, including built and unbuilt buildings), construction is scheduled to be completed in July 2017, a mere two years from now.

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So if you are thinking about getting in on the ground floor of this Russian neo-Revivalist reactionary real estate action, the time to call is now.

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It was not that the Leningrad City Executive Committee and Main Internal Affairs Directorate (i.e., police) motor pool garages that previously occupied the lot were things of great beauty (and until they were threatened with demolition, three years ago, seemingly nobody knew that what was left of the barracks of the First Artillery Brigade Life Guards may or may not have also been taking up otherwise expensive land there), but they served some purpose other than driving up real estate values and giving rich people a venue to offload their extra cash, kids, lovers or themselves while on vacation from Goa or London.

They were also part of the city’s real history, for better or worse.

autohozyastvo

The other day, a friend of mine showed me, on the invaluable but somewhat incomprehensible Regional Geographic Information System, how many “projects” real estate developers had stashed away among the nearly incomprehensible and numerous filings and permit requests they make with the city’s relevant committees.

If all these projects are implemented, Petersburg will be unrecognizable in ten years or fifteen years or so, a bright and shiny Russian Revivalist and “neoconstructivist” no man’s land with lots of elite housing, business centers, entertainment and shopping complexes, and superhighways.

But there will not be much of anything else, because Petersburg’s inner-city light and heavy industries were long ago condemned, under the guise of “developing and preserving” the historic center, to banishment to the far suburbs or even farther, to the outer darkness of the Leningrad Region. The orders were signed by Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, in 1994, and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, in 1996, respectively.

The funny thing is that the new powers that be revived this approach a few years ago. As current Governor Georgy Poltavchenko has said recently, “The formula goes like this: ‘Preservation through Development, Development through Preservation.’

Or as a comrade and I have written elsewhere, Petersburg is a “World Heritage Site under permanent reconstruction.”

wikimapia-russky dom scorched earth

All shabby snapshots and main text by the Russian Reader. Additional images and quoted text courtesy of Evgeny Gerasimov and Partners, Meduza, Kanoner, and Wikimapia.

Alexander Markov: A Soundtrack to Soviet Africa

Alexander Markov
Soviet Filmmakers in Africa from the 1960s to the 1980s

In 1960, seventeen African countries gained their independence. For the two superpowers, competing for influence in the Cold War, these “new” countries were obvious opportunities for deploying their own power. Under Khrushchev’s Thaw, Soviet foreign policy increasingly focused on Africa and the Arab world, which became priorities for proactive Soviet diplomacy.

The 1960s thus witnessed the heyday of African studies in the Soviet Union. A number of Soviet filmmakers were dispatched to the continent to produce newsreels and documentary films whose mission was to record the “friendships” between the Soviet socialist specialists at the helm of scientific progress and the African socialist hopefuls who had just broken free from the yoke of colonialism.

The films were given titles such as Hello, Africa!, We Are with You, Africa!, and Good Luck to You, Africa!, to convey that desire for friendship unambiguously, and to contrast starkly with films produced on the other side of the Iron Curtain, such as the notorious Italian documentary about the “dark continent,” Farewell Africa (Addio Africa, 1966), which speculated that civil wars and bloody conflict would set the continent ablaze after the European colonialists exited it.

Despite the fact that Soviet film production was centralized in Moscow and Leningrad, studios in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Belorussia, Georgia, and Uzbekistan also produced documentaries about Africa. The best filmmakers were involved in their production, and Saving Bruce Lee focuses on four of them: Yuri Aldokhin, Mikhail Litvyakov, Vladlen Troshkin, and Rimtautas Šilinis, who made films about Mali, Congo, and Tanzania between 1960 and 1980.

There was also an interest among Soviet filmmakers in documenting wars of independence and armed conflicts (Ethiopia, Libya, Algeria, Congo, Egypt, Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Angola, and Namibia), but such films were produced differently. Only cameramen were dispatched to film on location, and most of them were veteran WWII cinematographers.

Nearly half of the Soviet documentary and newsreel films about Africa recorded official visits by Party leaders, government officials, and heads of states. The other half presented partly imaginary Soviet constructions of African reality.

On the one hand, the filmmakers were under the spell of a revolutionary romanticism. In factories, schools, and universities, in streets and in squares, Soviet citizens had marched and rallied in support of the aspirations of their African comrades for liberation from colonial rule and the right to self-determination. On the other hand, Khrushchev’s Thaw itself contained a promise for better times for Soviet citizens themselves that echoed the hopefulness of the newly sovereign African countries. The imaginary construction of socialist Africa was fashioned according to Soviet paradigms, with soldiers and youth on the march, collective farms, and one-party rule.

The documentaries produced during the Thaw are peculiar, because while they toe the ideological line, they are nonetheless imbued with the loosening of inhibitions that permeated Soviet society at the time. So while an ideologically motivated eye will only see what it wants to see, in these films, the cinematographer’s lens betrays a tangibly genuine curiosity about the “otherness” of African reality that would be impossible to counterfeit.

In contrast with the footage of official parades and collective farms, the films also capture ordinary people going about their everyday lives. The camera conveys the contradictory emotions and mindset of the people standing behind them, in which simple, unfiltered affection and enthusiasm blend with the cinematic idioms of the era.

Ordinary Africans were shown at the helm of a historical transformation, thus embodying the journey toward the “radiant future.” This was another echo with the spirit of the Thaw that, paradoxically, made Soviets more congenial to Africans. It was a seemingly naïve illusion in retrospect, but it was emblematic of the period.

The dramatic structure of these Soviet documentaries about Africa produced in the 1960s and 1970s is perhaps where the ideological conditioning is most palpable. Almost all fit into a particular generic scheme or pattern, because they were commissioned by a state that valued ideology more than the art of documentary cinema.

The footage was edited to fit a script, drafted in the studio back in Moscow or Leningrad, and narrated in a voiceover. Soviet composers were also commissioned to provide the musical scores. In other words, the soundtracks rarely featured sound from the locations where they were filmed, and the voices of everyday Africans were almost entirely absent. Instead, the Soviet narrative carefully guided the viewer’s experience of the moving images.

In this exhibition, the soundtracks have been severed from the images, and the cinematic footage has been freed from its bondage to the master narrative. I would thus like to propose a critical rethinking of the era and the language of Soviet political film.

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These are Petersburg filmmaker Alexander Markov’s notes to his contribution to Saving Bruce Lee: African and Arab Cinema in the Era of Soviet Cultural Diplomacy (A Prologue), an exhibition curated by Koyo Kouoh and Rasha Salti, in collaboration with Alexander Markov and Phillippe Rekacewicz. The exhibition is on view at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow from June 12 to August 23, 2015.

Alexander Markov’s documentary film Our Africa will be released in 2015 or 2016.

Gorky Central Park of Culture and Leisure

Greg Yudin
June 16, 2015
Facebook

As many of you already know, the management of Gorky Park has banned political scientist Irina Soboleva’s lecture, “Should We Expect Any More Mass Protests in Russia?” which was to be held as part of a series of public lectures in our Master’s in Political Philosophy program at the Shaninka (Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences).

We tried to negotiate, but the talks were very strange. First, we have reason to believe the decision was not made by the directors of the park. Second, we immediately said we would not engage in political campaigning; our purpose was to share knowledge with people. But they are so scared there they demand we not use the words “politics” and “democracy.”

This does not suit us, of course. We are engaged in political thought and researching political life, and are going to pursue this work in the future. If Gorky Park is going to decide for its visitors what they should and should not learn, we are not going to help them. We will not permit our ideas to be censored.

As for Irina Soboleva’s lecture, first we thought of holding it at the Shaninka. But as interest in the lecture is quite great, the Shaninka is now concerned about finding a place that would accommodate everyone. So the lecture has been postponed to Friday. Once we find a venue, then we will immediately inform you.

Please forward this message.

640px-RIAN_archive_510373_Pond_in_Gorky_ParkGorky Central Park of Culture and Leisure, 1982

Gorky Park refuses to hold a lecture about the possibility of protests in Russia
June 15, 2015
BBC Russian Service

Gorky Park management has refused to allow a lecture by political scientist Irina Soboleva, “Should We Expect Any More Mass Protests in Russia?” to be held on its premises.

“After further exploring the content of the planned lecture, the decision was made that the park is not the place for holding lectures with a political subtext,” Marina Lee, the park’s PR director told the BBC Russian Service. “It is clear the lecture’s title is fairly blatant and provocative. But a park is not a place for provocations.”

According to Lee, the decision was made by park management.

“And in future, lectures with a political bias, with a political emphasis, will not be held in the park,” she added.

According to the lecturer, Irina Soboleva, her lecture was educational, not political.

“[The notification that the lecture had been banned] was made three days before the lecture was to be held, and we have had to change the time and the venue of the lecture very quickly,” Soboleva told the BBC Russian Service.

“I should stress the lecture is part of the series ‘Open Environment,’ which has been held at Gorky Park. The Shaninka [Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences] has already held several lectures as part of the project, and as far as I understand, no such problems had arisen with any of them. This is my first lecture in which issues of political science, rather than sociology, are addressed. Apparently, that is why this problem arose,” said the political scientist.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons