The Russian Reader

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Ilya Budraitskis: Putrefaction as the Laboratory of Life (The 2016 Elections)

Nikolai Yaroshenko, Life Is Everywhere, 1888. Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Nikolai Yaroshenko, Life Is Everywhere, 1888. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The 2016 Elections: Putrefaction as the Laboratory of Life
Ilya Budraitskis
OpenLeft
April 29, 2016

How do the upcoming Duma elections threaten the regime?

Today, it would seem that the upcoming September elections to the State Duma are a cause of growing concern only in the Kremlin. While polls continue to record a low level of public interest in the event, and the tiny number of parties allowed to run in the election wanly prepares to fulfill their usual roles, the president and his entourage are increasingly talking about possible threats.

The rationale of radicalization
At a recent meeting with activists of the Russian People’s Front, Putin noted that external enemies would preparing ever more provocations to coincide “with elections to the State Duma, and then with the presidential election. It’s a one hundred percent certainty, a safe bet, as they say.”

Regardless of their real value, the upcoming elections have been turning right before our eyes into a point of tension on which the state’s repressive apparatus has focused. Beginning with the establishment of the National Guard, the process has been mounting. Each security agency has now inaugurated its own advertising season, designed not only to remind the president and public of its existence but also to show off its unique capabilities, inaccessible to other competing agencies, for combating potential threats.

Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika has uncovered a plot by the Ukrainian nationalist group Right Sector, while in his programmatic article, Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin essentially suggested canceling the elections since holding them could prove too dangerous. He made a direct appeal to stop “playing at pseudo-democracy” and provide a “tough, appropriate, and balanced response” to the country’s enemies “in light of the upcoming elections and the possible risks presented by the stepping up of efforts by destabilizing political forces.” With the appointment of Tatyana Moskalkova, even the previously neutral office of the human rights ombudsman has, apparently, been turned into yet another bastion of the fight against conspiracies.

This nervousness is certainly due to the fact that the growing economic and social crisis has had no visible political fallout for the time being. There have been no mass spontaneous revolts or sectoral strikes, although there has been an overall uptick in isolated labor disputes.  The political realm has long ago been securely purged of any uncontrollable opposition, while the president’s personal rating has remained phenomenally high. Nothing, it would seem, portends serious grounds for political destabilization this autumn. The absence, however, of real threats itself has become a threat to the internal stability of the state apparatus.

Where does the threat lie? In recent times, it has become obvious that decision-making at all levels and whatever the occasion has been subjected to a rationale of radicalization. Its principle can be described roughly as follows: no new decision can be less radical than the previous decision. Bureaucratic loyalty is measured only by the level of severity. MPs must propose more sweeping laws against latent traitors. Law enforcement agencies must expose more and more conspiracies, while the courts must hand down rulings that are harsher than the harshest proposals made by the security officials and MPs. Permanently mounting radicalism enables officials to increase budgets, expand powers, and prove their reliability, while any manifestation of moderation or leniency can cost them their careers. This radicalization, whose causes are rooted in the political psychology of the Russian elite (which suffers from an almost animal fear of uncontrollability), has set off an extremely dangerous bureaucratic momentum. Its main problem is the inability to stop. It is not only unclear where the bottom is, but who is ultimately interested in reaching that bottom and leaving it at that.

All this generates a strange situation vis-à-vis the elections, which have generally functioned primarily as a political balancing mechanism for the Putinist system, and even now function in this way. Elections have always been a reminder—not to voters, but to the elite itself—that varying opinions within a clearly defined framework have not only been possible but have also been encouraged. This reminder has been important not out of faithfulness to an abstract principle, but as confirmation that political bodies (first of all, the presidential administration) have had the monopoly on deciding domestic policy, not a military or police junta.

Fixing the broken mechanism?
For the Kremlin, the upcoming elections are overshadowed by the political trauma of 2011, when the smoothly functioning system of managed democracy suffered a serious breakdown. The current chief political strategist Vyacheslav Volodin has more or less consistently focused on making sure the failure of five years ago is not repeated. Volodin’s mission is to fix the broken mechanism with political methods, not by force.

It is worth remembering that, for the greater part of the Putin era, parliamentary and presidential elections were parts of a single political cycle, in which the same scenario was played out. The triumphal success of the ruling United Russia party was supposed to precede and ensure the even more resounding success of Vladimir Putin. In December 2011, however, the cycle’s unity backfired against the Kremlin’s plans. The interval between elections enabled the protest movement to maintain its grassroots energy for several months.

The political rationale of Putin’s third term is now aimed not only at technically but also at conceptually disrupting this cycle. Amidst a sharp drop in confidence in the government, the Kremlin decided last summer to move parliamentary elections up from December 2017 to September 2016, and, on the contrary, postpone the presidential election from March 2017 to March 2018. The point of the maneuver is obvious. The presidential and parliamentary elections must now represent not two parts of the same script but two completely different scripts. In the first script, a limited number of parties, which make up the symphony of the Crimean consensus, will criticize the government and each other, thus competing for the sympathies of the dissatisfied populace. In the second script, the natural patriotic instinct of voters should leave no doubt as to the need to support Putin unconditionally.

The new ideological content was embodied by Volodin’s famous statement: “There is no Russia today if there is no Putin.” This personification virtually means that, as a symbolic father, Putin transcends everyday politics. You can be a liberal or a nationalist, a proponent of greater intervention in the economy or a fan of the free market. You can choose not to like the government or government officials. But the nexus Putin-Crimea-Russia is beyond any doubt. Those who fundamentally disagree with it are simply removed from the Russian political spectrum and branded “national traitors.”

In keeping with this rationale, responsibility for the sharp drop in living standards and the consequences of the neoliberal “anti-crisis” measures has been borne by ministers, MPs, and governors, by anyone except the president. Even now, when the propaganda effect of the “reunification” of Crimea has obviously begun to fade, the president’s personal rating remains high. Thus, according to the latest opinion polls, 81% of respondents trust Putin, while 41% do not trust Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and 47% do not trust his government overall.

Within the new-model Crimean consensus, United Russia will no longer play the role of the backbone it played in the noughties. Untethered from the non-partisan figure of the president, it will take on the burden of unpopularity borne by its formal leader, Dmitry Medvedev, and his government. The mixed electoral system will enable candidates from local “parties of power” in single-member districts to dissociate themselves from United Russia, presenting themselves as “non-partisan Putinists” criticizing the soulless federal authorities. Volodin’s scheme involves loosening United Russia’s grip on power and slightly increasing the value of the pseudo-opposition as represented by the Communist Party and A Just Russia.

It is worth noting that the very existence of a bureaucratic mega-party previously played a stabilizing role by dampening intra-elite conflicts. Now they will inevitably come out into the open, including in the shape of inter-party struggles. Of course, the presidential administration counts on being able to effectively ensure compliance with the clear rules of this competition, but there are no guarantees. The managed multi-party system with the “father of the nation” towering over it consummates the new architecture of the Putin regime as a personalistic regime, and becomes more and more vulnerable.

In the new reality of the crisis, Putin’s depoliticization also facilitates a more intensive “natural selection” among bureaucrats at all levels by culling those who have not mastered the art of maintaining the conservative sympathies of the populace while simultaneously implementing what amount to aggressively anti-social policies. The September campaign is supposed to go off without a hitch, culminating in a predictable outcome. Having given a human face to the Central Elections Commission, which was seriously discredited by the previous leadership, Ella Pamfilova is meant to increase this manageability and predictability. It turns out that the upcoming elections are the primary pressure test of the new, post-Bolotnaya Square design of managed democracy. The future of Vyacheslav Volodin and his team, as well as Putin’s willingness to trust them with the extremely important 2018 presidential campaign, probably depends on how smoothly they come off.

From the foregoing it is clear that the objective of reestablishing the rules of managed democracy is directly at odds with the above-mentioned rationale of radicalization, whose standard-bearers are the competing law enforcement agencies. Their individual success in the internal struggle is vouchsafed by the failure of the political scenario, which would give rise to the need for a vigorous intervention by force. After all, the National Guard’s value would be incomparably increased if it put down real riots instead of sham riots, and Bastrykin’s loyalty would all the dearer if, instead of the endless absurdity of the Bolotnaya Square Case, he would uncover real extremists. To scare someone seriously, the ghosts have to take on flesh and blood.

Life is everywhere
Marx said that putrefaction is the laboratory of life. Now we see how Putinist capitalism has embarked on a process of gradual self-destruction. The upcoming elections provide a clear picture of how this has been facilitated by two opposing rationales, the political rationale (Volodin and the presidential administration) and the law enforcement rationale. Thus, the first rationale, in order to generate the necessary momentum and expand the range of opinions, must respond to social discontent by providing United Russia’s managed opponents with greater freedom to criticize. Restoring the internal political balance will inevitably lead to the fact that topics related to the crisis and the government’s anti-social policies will become the centerpiece of the entire election campaign. On the other hand, the security forces will destabilize the situation outside parliament. Together, they will do much more to undermine an already-flawed system than the long-term, deliberate efforts of any western intelligence agency.

Of course, Russian leftists should in no way count on events following an automatic course. But it is absolutely necessary to take into account the conflicts of interest within the elite and understand their decisive influence on the shape of the upcoming elections. These elections have nothing to do with the real struggle for power or traditional parliamentarianism in any shape or form. But they are directly related to the internal decomposition of an authoritarian, anti-labor, and anti-social regime. So our policy vis-à-vis these elections should be flexible and remote from all general conclusions. That means we can and should support certain leftist candidates in single-member districts. We must use all the opportunities provided by the leftist, socialist critique of the Medvedev government’s so-called anti-crisis policies. We must be ready to go to the polls. Or we must be ready to reject them, taking to the streets when the time comes.

Ilya Budraitskis is a writer, researcher, and editor at OpenLeft. Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Yaroslav Leontiev: Open Letter to NOD

Prizewinners and mentors at the awards ceremony for the 2012 history research competition The Individual in History: Russia in the 20th Century.
Prizewinners and mentors at the awards ceremony for the 2012 history research competition for high school seniors, The Individual in History: Russia in the 20th Century.

Yaroslav V. Leontiev, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor, Moscow State University
Open Letter to the Headquarters of the National Liberation Movement (NOD)
Facebook
June 29, 2016

A year ago, a friend of mine joked on the topic of what the participants in its school program and their schoolteacher mentors would be called after the International Memorial Society was declared a “foreign agent”? Accomplices of “foreign agents” or what? He was joking, but the idiots have taken it at face value.

So, messieurs idiots, with your escapade [see article, below] you have insulted, first of all, the cherished memory of Sigurd Ottovich Schmidt, the longtime jury chair of The Individual in History: Russia in the 20th Century, a nationwide historical research competition for high school seniors. The son of a Hero of the Soviet Union, the legendary polar explorer and scientist Otto Schmidt, Sigurd Ottovich Schmidt was a Teacher and a Historian with a capital “t” and a capital “h,” a man who educated many generations of professional source studies experts, archivists, and local history specialists. Schmidt was the founder and chair of the Russian Union of Local Historians.

At the same time, you have insulted the memory of the son of another Hero of the Soviet Union, a man decorated with the Gold Hero Star for the Berlin operation, Gennady Demyanovich Kuzov. Kuzov and I handed out the awards to the young participants of a previous competition onstage together.

For many years, I, a pupil of Sigurd Ottovich Schmidt, served as an expert for the competition The Individual in History: Russia in the 20th Century. I personally pored over hundreds of submitted works, and I detected no “national treachery” or “rewriting of history” in any of them.

The competition was a ticket into big-time scholarship for Lyosha Rakov, a wonderful boy from the Ural backwoods who was a winner of the first contest. While still a high schooler, he did a serious research project on the dispossessed kulaks and exiled special settlers who built the manufacturing plants in Chelyabinsk. Nowadays, Alexey Rakov has a Ph.D. in history and is an associate professor at the Higher School of Economics.

It was at the competition that I met a magnificent educator from the town of Kashin, history teacher Tatyana Mikhailovna Golubyova, who now heads the local history society. Along with her and her pupils, I walked hundreds of kilometers during historical hiking trips to study the military campaigns against the Polish-Lithuanian invaders during the early seventeenth century.

The same competition was the occasion for several encounters with Nikolai Makarov, a village schoolteacher from Voronezh Region who had compiled a genuine encyclopedia of the local villages and towns along with his pupils. The anthology We Are All from the Same Village, written by schoolchildren from the town of Novyi Kurlak in the Anna District, has been one of the best works on the history of everyday life published by Memorial.

And how can I forget the mother of a large family from the town of Likhoslavl, capital of the Tver Karelians, who herself served as a mentor for the competition, and her children, who were winners several years in a row? Or the girl from the Old Believers trading post of Sym? On the map of our immense country there is such a town on the Yenisei River, reachable only by helicopter. She wrote what is perhaps the only documentary history of the most remote and northerly point of the Yeniseysk District of Krasnoyarsk Territory.

Today, you gave these already-grown children a slap in the face, just as you gave a slap in the face to the hundreds of other children who visited Moscow for the first time thanks to this contest, and then went on to enroll in universities and become friends for years. You have insulted the dozens of teachers from the Russian hinterland, including those who went on to become winners of the nationwide Russian Teacher of the Year contest. (Such as Tatyana Mikhailovna Golubyova, whom I have already mentioned, but she is not alone.)

It is not for you idiots to teach them and me love for the Motherland and the graves of our ancestors. I happen to have spearheaded the raising of a monument to the heroic military commander of the Time of Troubles Prince Mikhail Vasilyevich Skopin-Shuisky in the town of Kalyazin, the second and most famous such monument in the country. In many respects, I spearheaded the raising of the first monument to the heroes of the First World War in Tver Region, the unveiling of a memorial plaque on the anniversary of Sergei Yesenin’s visit to Tver, and a number of other memorials honoring the heroes of the past in Tver, Vladimir, and Yaroslavl Regions. My ancestor was awarded the highest military honor for regimental priests, a gold pectoral cross on a Saint George’s Ribbon. The heroes of the First World War were later “awarded” arrests and exile. Our common ancestor had been decorated for the capture of Paris in 1814. My grandfather was awarded the main decoration for soldiers, the Medal for Valor, and two holes in his body, made by fascist bullets and shrapnel, that never did heal over.

Lazar Lazarev, the longtime editor-in-chief of the journal Problems of Literature, and father of Irina Shcherbakov, head of educational programs at Memorial and coordinator of the School Competitions project, was the highly decorated commander of a reconnaissance company. It is not for you idiot mummers to teach us patriotism. Authentic Saint George’s Ribbons are soaked in blood, while the sham ones you wear smack of bad slapstick or, to put it in Russian, of baboonery and buffonery.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Memorial

__________

Human Rights Event Attacked in Moscow
Anastasia Bazenkova
Moscow Times
April 28, 2016

Photo courtesy of @MemorialMoscow/Twitter

Guests at an event organized by Russia’s leading human rights group Memorial have been attacked by nationalist activists, the organization’s executive director told the Moscow Times Thursday.

Participants at an award ceremony for high school history students were sprayed with disinfectant and ammonia, said executive director Yelena Zhemkova.

“Memorial was holding a very important event at Dom Kino in central Moscow, but the guests and the participants were attacked by a group of aggressive protesters who threw green disinfectant and ammonia at them as they tried to enter the building,” Zhemkova said.

The protests in front of the Dom Kino building were organized by the National Liberation Movement (NOD), local media sources reported.

Roughly twenty NOD activists congregated outside Dom Kino, holding banners reading, “We don’t need alternative history,” and shouting, “Fascists!”

Among those attacked was acclaimed Russian novelist Ludmila Ulitskaya. The writer, who headed the jury at the competition, was sprayed in the face with a green disinfectant.

A number of international guests were also present, including the German ambassador to Russia Rüdiger von Fritsch, Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported. The activists also attacked a delegate from a similar school history contest in Norway.

NOD’s youth wing coordinator, Maria Katasonova, denied the attack on Ulitskaya in an interview with Govorit Moskva radio station.

“We don’t know who sprayed Ulitskaya,” she said. “I only saw her turn around and she was already covered in green disinfectant.”

The high school competition, The Individual in History: Russia in the 20th Century, is an annual event held by Memorial. Students from around the country are encouraged to research local history by studying historical archives, interviewing witnesses, and examining newspapers and other sources.

Winning students are then invited to Moscow, where they visit a number of places and attend events organized by Memorial. The culmination of their Moscow program is the awards ceremony.

Police arriving on the scene said the protest was a one-man picket and took no action.

“Usually, even if it is a real one-man protest, the police will come and put everybody in the back of a van. This time the police did nothing, even though our college suffered an eye injury,” Zhemkova said.

Zhemkova said that although there had been protests during previous Memorial events, it was the first time counter-activists had been so aggressive.

There had been a picket in front of the Sakharov Center, where Memorial held an exhibition dealing with the First Chechen War last month, but no one had been attacked, she said.

NB. I edited this article, because no one at the Moscow Times bothered to do it before publication, thus making it practically unreadable. TRR

Russian Communism Today (Let Jesus into Your Heart)

Jesus Christ, the first Russian Communist

Putin Asked to Deploy Missiles in Cuba
TV Zvezda
April 27, 2016

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation has proposed deploying Russian missiles in Cuba, reports RIA Novosti.

Communist Party MPs Valery Rashkin and Sergei Obukhov have sent the relevant appeal to President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

The CPRF members have suggested reopening the Lourdes SIGINT Station and deploying missiles on the Island of Freedom to protect the interests of Russian and its allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

The MPs thus propose responding to a Reuters report that the US plans to deploy HIMARS rocket launchers in southeastern Turkey in May.

“First of all, we are talking about deploying Russian rocket launchers of a similar or even greater range in Cuba. Also, an asymmetrical response to Washington by way of reactivating the SIGINT station in Lourdes seems appropriate,” the MPs write in their appeal.

_________

Zyuganov Considers Christ “First Communist in History”
TASS
April 20, 2016

The head of the CPRF Central Committee called the feast of Christ’s Resurrection an “amazing, wonderful holiday” that “is in no way at odds with workers’ solidarity.”

CPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov confirmed that the Communists do not intend to forego involvement in May Day rallies despite reports that they might be cancelled in a number of Russia’s regions due to Easter.

“Official processions are cancelled, but as for public organizations, no Aksyonov [head of Crimea Sergey Aksyonov] can cancel them,” Zyuganov told TASS.

He recalled that May 1 is International Workers’ Day, a holiday that “came into being in defense of working people’s rights,” and is an official holiday in the Russian Federation.

“And no administrator can cancel this holiday,” argues the leader of the Communist Party.

“Workers have no other way to defend their rights except solidarity. They have every right to gather on May 1 and voice their opinion. We are going to be involved in these events, and our Crimean organization will also be involved,” said Zyuganov.

As for Orthodox Easter, which this year also falls on May 1, Zyuganov called the feast of Christ’s Resurrection an “amazing, wonderful holiday” that “is in no way at odds with workers’ solidarity.”

“Because Christ was the first communist in modern history. He raised his voice for orphans, for the needy, for the sick, for the wretched, for everyone who had it bad. In this sense, if he were alive, he would be marching with us,” said the head of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.

Earlier, the head of the Republic of Crimea Sergey Aksyonov* said that Crimean authorities would not be holding official May Day demonstrations and rallies due to Orthodox Easter.

“This year, May Day coincides with the Easter holiday. Many of us will be spending the night before May first in churches at Easter services, and many will be celebrating the Holy Resurrection of Christ with their families. The authorities of the Republic of Crimea are not planning May Day demonstrations and rallies this year. There will not be any official celebrations. But people may decide for themselves how they will celebrate the Holiday of Spring and Labor,” Aksyonov said in a statement released by his press office.

The media have also reported the trade unions of Surgut and Tambov have decided not to hold May Day events for the same reason. May Day rallies in Russia have usually been organized by trade union organizations, mainly the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russian (FNPR), which has nearly twenty million members.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Image courtesy of Jesus Wallpaper

 

Sergey Aksyonov has led efforts to stamp out dissent among ethnic Crimean Tatars over the annexation, saying “All activities aimed at non-recognition of Crimea’s joining to Russia and non-recognition of the leadership of the country will face prosecution under the law and we will take a very tough stance on this.”

Aksyonov says homosexuals “have no chance” in Crimea, and that “we in Crimea do not need such people.” He also promised that if gays tried to hold public gatherings, “our police and self-defense forces will react immediately and in three minutes will explain to them what kind of sexual orientation they should stick to.”

Source: Wikipedia

The Prosecutor General’s Speech

Crimean Prosecutor General Natalia Poklonskaya, arguing before the Crimean Supreme Court today, April 26, 2016, on why the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People should be declared an extremist organization and banned in the Russian Federation.

Crimean Prosecutor Natalia Poklonskaya
Crimean Prosecutor General Natalia Poklonskaya. Photo courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

“The Mejlis receives protection and support from international terrorist organizations,” she said. “It is no coincidence that such organizations, which are banned in Russia, as the Gray Wolves, who killed Russian pilot Oleg Peshkov in Syria, and Hizb ut-Tahrir have spoken out in support of the Mejlis.”

According to Poklonskaya, Mejlis leader Refat Chubarov “has not ceased [his] extremist activities even during proceedings on banning the organization, but on the contrary has continued work aimed at violating Russia’s territorial integrity, participating in the formation of the volunteer Crimean Tatar battalion Asker, whose goal is to tear Crimea away from Russia.”

“Today, may it please the court to hear, we are building a world in which every Crimean will live safely and happily, where roses will bloom and grapes grow,” said Poklonskaya. “The Mejlis is trying with all its might to prevent this. Why do we need this Mejlis?”

Finally, the prosecutor quoted from St. John of Kronstadt.

“If we gather everyone’s will into one will, we will stand our ground! If we gather everyone’s conscience into one conscience, we will stand our ground! If we gather everyone’s love for Russia into one love, we will stand our ground!”

Source: Novaya Gazeta

_________

The Mejlis was labeled an “extremist organization” and subsequently banned by the Crimean Supreme Court on April 26, 2016. According to Regional Prosecutor General Natalia Poklonskaya, it was banned because its leaders had sought to destabilize Crimea since the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia through the “promotion of aggression and hatred towards Russia, inciting ethnic nationalism and extremism in society.” Also on April 26, 2016, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, urged the court to reverse the ban since he believed “equating [the Mejlis] with extremism paves the way for the stigmatization and discrimination of a significant part of the Crimean Tatar community and sends a negative message to that community as a whole.” Exiled in mainland Ukraine, the Chairman of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov, stated the court’s decision was unjustifiable and that “the occupiers in Crimea are doing everything to crush the Crimean Tatars and force everyone to be silent.” Amnesty International stated the ban “demolishes one of the few remaining rights of a minority that Russia must protect instead of persecute.” The Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis, Nariman Dzhelal, vowed the organization would try to continue its work despite the ban, “it will continue working in Ukraine and other countries.”

Source: Wikipedia (slightly adapted for readability)

Not My Job

Film about Tajik Migrant Worker Wins Special Prize in Switzerland
Russia for All
April 26, 2016

Главный герой документального фильма Дениса Шабаева «Чужая работа» мигрант из Таджикистана Фаррух<br /> Главный герой документального фильма Дениса Шабаева «Чужая работа» мигрант из Таджикистана Фаррух
Still from Not My Job (2015), Denis Shabaev, director
Denis Shabaev’s film Not My Job has won a prize for “most innovative first film” at the international documentary film festival Visions du Réel, which just wound up in the Swiss town of Nyon. The film was shown in the Neuf Regard competition.

The documentary tells the story of a native of Tajikistan who has come to Russia not only to work but also to launch a career as an actor.

“Farrukh is a migrant worker. With his father, mother, and brothers he lives in New Moscow and takes any job that will bring even a little money. But this is not why he has traveled from his native Tajikistan, leaving behind his young wife and small children. Farrukh wants to become an actor, a famous actor,” write the filmmakers in their annotation of the film.

While Farrukh searches for roles, he plays a migrant worker mistakenly accused of murder in a film. However, a bit later, Farrukh really causes the death of another man in a traffic accident and ends up behind bars.

“The camera literally follows the footsteps of this tragic character trying to find his way between the respect of his traditionalist parents and the will to integrate into a universe where no one is expecting him. With this first film, Denis Shabaev tells a cruel parable, whose dry and elliptical form captivates us from the first shot to the last,” writes Emmanuel Chicon in his synopsis of the film on the festival’s website.

The winner of the main prize in the Neuf Regard competition was The Dazzling Light of Sunset, by Georgian filmmaker Salomé Jashi.

Visions du Réel was founded in 1969. It was the first festival to open its doors to documentary cinema from so-called Eastern Bloc countries. This year was the forty-seventh edition of the festival, and over 180 pictures were shown in competition.

Migrant workers from Central Asian countries often feature as characters in fiction and documentary films in Russia. Thus, one of the most high-profile Russian films of recent years was the feature film She, in which most of the main roles were played not just by people from Tajikistan but real migrant workers.

She tells the story of a young Tajik woman who breaks the taboo and escapes from marriage in Tajikistan to join her boyfriend in Russia. He works illegally in a landfill, where he sorts garbage with other migrant workers and lives in a shanty. The main characters of the film will initially settle there and experience all the hardships faced by migrant workers.

Still from She, Larisa Sadilova (2013)
Still from She (2013), Larisa Sadilova, director

The film is based on real events, and nearly all the characters were played by non-professional actors. The casting for the lead female role in Dushanbe took a long time, but ultimately Nilufar Faizieva was chosen for the part. Subsequently, the actress and the picture would win several awards at Russian and international film festivals.

Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Art Clusterfuck

What would a big city and its citizens want when they already have absolutely everything a twenty-first-century city and its citizens could want, including free and fair elections, grassroots democratic governance, economic parity, high incomes, affordable housing, good schools, free, high-quality health care, incorruptible officials, a clean, safe environment, state-of-the-art public transportation, hundreds of kilometers of dedicated bike lanes, ethnic harmony, just courts, and friendly police? That’s right: they would want a new “art cluster,” and they would want it to look like this:

2-soviet-4_ver_11_0007

RBI plans to invest 3.4 billion rubles [approximately 45 million euros] in two developments in [Petersburg’s] historic center. An art cluster with spaces for temporary exhibitions and art studios is planned for 2nd Sovetskaya Street, 4, while Poltavskaya, 7, will get a residential complex. The company has spent three years obtaining permits for the projects. Due to strict legislation, investors virtually have no opportunity to reconstruct residential buildings.* All they can do is develop the remaining gaps.

The developer acquired both sites in 2013. The art cluster is planned for the site of the former labs of the Northwest Scientific Hygiene Center on 2nd Sovetskaya Street. The company Vek has drawn up plans for a nine-story, 23,000-square-meter building. Halls and special spaces for temporary exhibitions are planned for the first floor. The upper floors will feature workshops and studios for sale, 244 spaces ranging in size from 22 to 129 square meters. The company says they are not meant to serve as dwellings.

RBI received a construction permit for the building in late March of this year. It has already hired a subcontractor, Allure, to dismantle the existing one- and two-story buildings on the site. According to RBI, the former labs were built after 1917 and have no historic value.

A commercial project like this is a new thing for Petersburg. But RBI argues that research shows Petersburgers are ready to purchase several types of real estate: an apartment, a country home, and a space for self-realization or a small office to boot.**

Source: Fontanka.ru, April 25, 2016. Image courtesy of Fontanka.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

* That is, demolish listed gloriously beautiful eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and early twentieth-century buildings and build crap like the “art cluster,” pictured above, in their place. Despite the supposedly “strict” legislation, local developers have been doing plenty of slash-and-burn-style development of this sort in the historic center over the past ten years, as readers of this blog will know.

** According to Petrostat, the average per capita monthly income in Petersburg in February 2014 was 34,129 rubles, when the Russian ruble was still trading at a rate of approximately 35 rubles to the dollar. Today, the ruble was trading at 66 rubles to the dollar, and there is no evidence, in the midst of a severe, prolonged economic crisis, that the average monthly incomes of Petersburgers have risen since February 2014. So who is going to buy those 244 “spaces for self-realization”? Or is some kind of economic miracle planned for the near future?