Academic freedom in the Putinist dictatorship is the freedom to criticize the enemy:
MARCH 17, 2020 | The media center at the Alexandrinsky Theater’s New Stage (Fontanka Embankment, 49A, St. Petersburg) will host the first event in a series of conversations between the outstanding scholars of our time, on the occasion of the European University in St. Petersburg’s 25th birthday. A conversation between historical sociologist and NYU Abu Dhabi professor Georgi Derlugian and Russian international affairs journalist, political scientist, and editor-in-chief of the magazine Russia in Global Politics Fyodor Lukyanov will open the series of encounter. The topic of their discussion is “TRUMP AND HIS DOCTRINE: HOW THE US PRESIDENT TREATS THE WORLD ORDER WITH SHOCK THERAPY.”
The freedom to imagine that a dictatorship is actually a hipster’s paradise:
MARCH 14, 2023 | The Open Living Room at the Lermontov Library (Liteiny Prospect., 17–19) will host a lecture by Yevgenia Kuziner, a graduate student at the HSE Center for Youth Studies, “POINT OF ATTRACTION: HOW, BY WHOM AND FOR WHOM ARE CREATIVE SPACES CREATED IN THE CITY?” | Starts at 6:30 p.m. | Registration required | Detailed information at https://otkrytaya-gostinaya.timepad.ru/event/2331631/
And the freedom to pretend that real sociology is possible in dictatorships:
APRIL 13, 2023 is the deadline to apply to the 19th Russian-Chinese Sociological Conference, “CONTEMPORARY CITIES AND SOCIAL GOVERNANCE IN RUSSIA AND CHINA,” which will take place April 21–22, 2023. The conference will be held in an online format and hosted by St. Petersburg State University, Russia. The languages of the conference are Russian, Chinese and English. Detailed information at https://soc.spbu.ru/images/nauka/inffo-letter_21-22.04.2023_3.pdf
Source: Excerpts from the emailed newsletter of the Center for Independent Sociological Research (CISR) in St. Petersburg, recently revamped as “The MILIEU” [sic], March 2020 and March 2023. Translated by the Russian Reader
The Forty-First is a completely original production.
It is chockablock with irony and actorly improvisation.
There will be loads of laughter, convulsive choking back of tears, fond embraces, and love gushing down the throat during this play. As it wafts into the theater’s low flies, the powerful actorly energy is instantly transmitted to the audience.
This is a restoration of Vlad Furman’s legendary production The Forty-First, based on the novel [sic] of the same name by Boris Lavrenyov.
The love story of the Red Army sniper Maria Basova (aka Maryutka), picking off “enemies” one by one (the thirty-first, the thirty-second… the forty-first!), and the White Army officer Govorukha-Otrok (who was to be her forty-first victim, but survives) is known to audiences from Grigory Chukhrai’s eponymous film version, starring Izolda Izvitskaya and Oleg Strizhenov.
Vlad Furman staged The Forty-First at the Mironov Theater in 2000. It was one of the best theatrical productions in Petersburg, and its director and performers were nominated for Petersburg’s highest theatrical honor, the Golden Spotlight.
Boris Lavrenyov’s story is incredibly timely today.
Love is severely tested by the Civil War and differences in political views.
A new generation of actors takes to the stage in this new production of The Forty-First.
Twenty years later, the production features very young artists who have been working with Vlad Furman for several years in stagings of The Merchant of Venice and Medea. The older generation of artists at the Andrei Mironov Theater joins them in this production.
Source: Bileter.ru. Still from the play The Forty-First courtesy of the Andrei Mironov Theater (St. Petersburg). Translated by the Russian Reader
In March 1942, Pierre Matisse, an art dealer and son of the artist Henri Matisse, opened the show Artists in Exile at his gallery in New York’s Fuller Building. It featured one work each by fourteen artists who had fled the rising tide of fascism and totalitarianism in Europe. Max Ernst, Marc Chagall, Fernand Léger, André Breton , Piet Mondrian, Jacques Lipschitz, Ossip Zadkine, and the other men (not a single woman was shown at exhibition) came from different countries and strata of society and represented different modernist trends in art: Dadaism, Surrealism, Cubism, and De Stijl. Since the late 1930s, these trends had been vilified and condemned, and in many cases their works had been destroyed by the Nazis as so-called degenerate art.
Many of these artists were aided by art dealers and patrons such as Pierre Matisse, and collectors such as Peggy Guggenheim. Museums also played a vital role in helping artists and their immediate families. The first director of the Museum of Modern Art Alfred Barr and his wife, the art historian Margaret Scolari Barr, worked with the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC). The artistic community, founded as it was on humanist principles and nonviolence, generally did what it should have done: it sought to render mutual aid and fight evil.
[These two opening paragraphs seem to have been plagiarized, in translation, from this article, originally published on the website of the WWII National Museum in New Orleans, to which I have already linked above — TRR.]
Eighty-one years later, the director of the seemingly progressive Multimedia Art Museum, Olga Sviblova, appeared at the Knowledge Society Awards in the Kremlin — along with Yana Churikova, Fyodor Bondarchuk, and Polina Gagarina. Immediately after the war started, a year ago, the Garage Museum issued a high-profile essentially anti-war statement and halted all exhibitions. It could have served as an example and an impetus for other institutions to stop the widespread normalization of the war, but this has not happened. A year later, we find that museum’s statement has itself disappeared* from all official sources.
*UPD: We were mistaken. The announcement on the suspension of exhibitions remains on the museum’s website, but doesn’t appear on the main page anymore. The museum also currently shows archive-based artists projects.
Alas, we can safely say that the art community in Russia passively supports the war, living it up in the public space at venues somehow associated with contemporary art. Why is this happening? Shouldn’t the artistic community be grounded in humanist principles and nonviolence? How did it happen that (with rare exceptions) the Russian art scene, which survives mainly on government money but aspires to be part of the global community, has been silent in the midst of war? Juliet Sarkisyan, an art critic who blogs at the Telegram channel Juliet has a gun, answers these questions.
Since the war’s outbreak members of the culture community have been leaving Russia because they do not agree with the state’s current repressive and imperialist policies. They do not see any prospects here at home: they do not want to merge with the masses and have anything to do with the official agenda. They generally leave for the opportunity to speak freely and make art. But some do not see the point in producing the latter at all (at least while the war is going on), since this can free up resources and time for helping Ukrainians, as well as showing solidarity through their silence.
A narrow stratum of the artistic community underwent a reorientation — instead of the usual artistic practices, they have preferred to engage in activism, and art criticism became homogeneous. Some continue to do it anonymously in Russia, while others have been forced to leave the Russian Federation for this reason (and many others). In any case, for reasons of security, I cannot give anyone’s surnames and first names as examples. The other part of the artistic community — apparently, the prevailing one — continues to engage in the production of art, come hell or high water, within Russia’s current system. Putin recently issued a decree on the “Fundamentals of State Cultural Policy,” which is designed to reaffirm traditional values and introduce censorship for cultural events. I would like to take the liberty to criticize cultural workers (opposed to the war) who blindly continue their artistic endeavor inside Russia, while also taking into account all the difficulties and, as it were, the impossibility of choice they face. But first we need to figure out who cultural figures are and what their mission is.
What exactly is this “artistic community” face to face with this war? Are they intellectuals or an intelligentsia? In the modern use of the terms “intelligentsia” and “intellectuals,” there are two markedly pronounced trends. The first is typified by the synonymous use of terms, implying, in fact, the merging of the concepts. The second trend involves preserving and consistently distinguishing both the terminology and the concepts themselves.
Michel Foucault identifies intellectuals “in the political, not the sociological sense of the word, in other words the person who utilizes his knowledge, his competence and his relation to truth in the field of political struggles.” [This passage is not in quotation marks in the original article, although it is a direct quotation.] In the first part of the book Intellectuals and Power [a three-volume 2002 Russian-language compendium of his articles and interviews] Foucault writes: “What we call today ‘the intellectual’ […] was, I think, an offspring of the jurist, or at any rate of the man who invoked the universality of a just law, if necessary against the legal professions themselves (Voltaire, in France, is the prototype of such intellectuals). […] [T]he intellectual has a three-fold specificity: that of his class position (whether as petty-bourgeois in the service of capitalism or ‘organic’ intellectual of the proletariat); that of his conditions of life and work, linked to his condition as an intellectual (his field of research, his place in a laboratory, the political and economic demands to which he submits or against which he rebels, in the university, the hospital, etc.); lastly, the specificity of the politics of truth in our societies” [Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977, ed. Colin Gordon (1980), pp. 128–132].
Antonio Gramsci also spoke about the organic intellectuals mentioned by Foucault. The Italian [sic] believed that there was not one, but many different types of intellectuals. Intellectual activity does not necessarily imply devotion to the ideas of socialism. Most intellectuals, Gramsci noted, were reluctant to change or saw themselves not as conservatives or liberators, but rather as technical thinkers. Gramsci offers a convenient series of distinctions among organic intellectuals, traditional intellectuals, and intellectuals of the new type.
Organic intellectuals form a completely different type of social stratum. Their activity consists “in active participation in practical life, as constructor, organiser, ‘permanent persuader’ and not just a simple orator” (Gramsci, 1971: 10) [sic: Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. and trans. Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (1971), p. 10]. “Organic intellectuals” [quotation marks — sic] not only have special knowledge, but also become legislators of meanings: they have a special understanding of what is happening and are actively involved in politics.
No matter how intellectuals are defined — as bearers of culture or as critically thinking people — it is obvious that in the twentieth century there were significant changes in the organization and nature of intellectual life. The most widespread meaning of the word “intellectual” is even narrower and includes a political dimension. Real intellectuals are those who go beyond their immediate area of expertise to intervene in public policy issues, usually in a spirit of disagreement with the authorities. This concept was first popularized by the archetypal intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre.
And Jürgen Habermas, a major theorist of the Frankfurt School of social philosophy, who has paid serious attention to the theory and practice of politics, was convinced by his own experience of the effectiveness of such an approach to political life. He has argued that “philosophers, along with writers, historians and other experts, should act in the public sphere as intellectuals and least of all as interpreters and elucidators of any one doctrine.” [This is a quotation from an 1989 interview of Habermas by Yuri Senokosov, as published, in Russian translation, in Jürgen Habermas, Democracy, Reason, Morality: Moscow Lectures and Interviews (Moscow: Academia: 1995), pp. 109–110. Judging by the peculiarly specific way it is introduced here by Ms. Sarkisyan, the wording was discovered by her in Elena Iosifovna Kukushkina, “The Intelligentsia in the Political Life of Society,” Vestnik Moskovskogo Universiteta, Series 12: Political Science, 4 (2012): 21, where the passage in question is incorrectly indicated as being on page `113 of the book — TRR.] In 1953, he took on Martin Heidegger in the wake of the latter’s newly discovered Nazi sympathies in a review of Heidegger’s book Introduction to Metaphysics. In the late fifties and early eighties, Habermas was involved in pan-European anti-nuclear movements, and in the sixties he was one of the leading theorists of the student movement in Germany, although in 1967 he actually broke with the radical core of this movement when he warned about the possibility of “leftist fascism.” In 1977 he protested against the restriction of civil liberties posed by domestic anti-terrorist legislation, and in 1985–1987 he was involved in the so-called historians’ debate on the nature and extent of Germany’s guilt in the war, condemning what he considered historical revisionism of Germany’s Nazi past. He also warned about the dangers of German nationalism in connection with the unification of Germany in 1989–1990.
Intellectuals from different countries — the scientists, writers, artists and humanists of the twentieth century — amassed a wealth of experience in solving problems on a global scale. In the period between the two world wars, they led anti-fascist movements and fought to prevent interethnic conflicts and liberate countries from colonial dependence. By initiating and being actively involved in these campaigns, the world cultural elite demonstrated the intelligentsia’s truly inexhaustible possibilities of the intelligentsia as a force capable of having a tangible impact on political processes at different levels. [This paragraph has been copied almost verbatim from page 22 of Elena Kukushkina’s scholarly article, as cited above — TRR.]
The cultural and artistic community — whether it consists of intellectuals or not — has the weight, influence, and social capital to make the fight against the current regime effective. As for their responsibility, they are capable of exposing the lies of governments and analyzing their actions in terms of causes, motives, and often hidden intentions. Privilege confers opportunity, and opportunity imposes responsibility. For me, the urgent question today is what responsibility should Russian society, in particular the intelligentsia (of which the artistic community is a part), bear when it comes to horrors of the full-scale war in Ukraine. And of course, this question (about the responsibility borne by people of the aggressor nation for the war it has launched) is not new at all.
The philosopher Noam Chomsky, for example, criticized the American government and the Vietnam War in the book [sic] The Responsibility of Intellectuals. Privilege, he argues, entails the responsibility to tell the truth and expose lies. But our intellectual culture supports this ideal only nominally. Yes, it is forbidden in Russia to publicly voice an opinion that differs from the government’s rhetoric. Otherwise, one risks criminal prosecution, which can even lead to imprisonment. What other options are left if a basic human need — freedom of speech — is taken away from us? Are there niches in which we can preserve our humanity while also avoiding tentacles of the state? It seems that during a war it is difficult to engage in aesthetics. It takes us down the path to escapism and the opportunity to close our eyes to everything that is happening around you us. In peacetime, there are trends that establish a certain regime for artists.
But since the beginning of the war, Russian public cultural activity has not undergone any structural changes or even hints of them. New galleries and cultural centers have been opening (e.g., the Zotov Center, Nakovalnya Gallery, and Seréne Gallery), and the old ones continue to operate as if nothing has happened.
Only a few such venues have curtailed their public programs (and not all of them due to political convictions): Typography Contemporary Art Center, Kerka Gallery, the space It’s Not Herе, the Sphere Foundation (the former Smirnov and Sorokin Foundation), Fragment Gallery, and the Garage Museum. Where does normalization come from? The government has been sparing no efort to hide the war crimes that it commits every day, not only with the help of propaganda, but also through attempts to preserve the normal life that existed before the war. Tomorrow will be the same as today. This illusion of normality also occurs in everyday life. The cultural realm has also played a considerable role in generating it. All the existing cultural institutions and people involved to one degree or another in the production of public life are this totalitarian regime’s witting or unwitting opportunists.
The Russian intelligentsia, as represented by the artistic community (if it can be called that at all), is against the war in Ukraine. But even if it verbally opposes war crimes and imperialism, it supports the existing state of things in its actions, thus contradicting itself. Collaboration with institutions (especially those directly dependent on the Russian federal culture ministry, whose head in an interview called for killing Ukrainians) and the absence of discussion about rethinking the cultural field within the country suggest that the cultural community refuses to react at all to the events taking place this minute in Ukraine. It refuses to accept any responsibility for what is happening.
Fairs, exhibitions, public educational outreach, and the production of uncritical art only perpetuate the status quo and play along with the official agenda. To understand what I am talking about, look at the list of exhibitors at the Cosmoscow Art Fair in September 2022. The fair, to which Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov was invited, imposed strict censorship on its participants.
This familiar pre-war environment is exactly what the government wants to see. We have seemingly begun to forget that we live in a totalitarian state, and everything we produce on its territory is part of it and monitored thanks to the presence of a single comprehensive ideology. What kind of art production can we talk about when there is strict censorship of all legal channels of information? Censorship is usually exercised in the name of so-called national security interests or as part of larger-scale campaigns to protect morality. (In our case, this is the policy to preserve and strengthen “traditional Russian spiritual and moral values.”)
Regimes try to monopolize artistic production either by co-opting artists to the point that they become mouthpieces and servants of the state, or by restricting the access of independent artists to places for displaying and implementing artistic expression. What kind of independent public art can we talk about? The usual strategies of artistic activity no longer work. It’s time to admit it.
We have begun to forget that no uncritical culture is possible at a time when the mass killings of civilians, violence, and torture are taking place daily, and the integrity of a sovereign neighboring state is being destroyed. What kind of art production in the Russian Federation is there to talk about when you are a member of the aggressor nation? Even if you adhere to an anti-war stance, how can art in state-controlled institutional venues be perceived from the outside as anything other than serving this regime?
Russian culture should be held accountable for the war in Ukraine. But people often downplay the importance of culture in political and public life, regarding it as a separate part of the personal realm rather than as a fusion of the forms of social interaction. We need to recognize that the current regime did not suddenly emerge on February 24, 2022. It had to be built up and supported for many years to officially establish itself once and for all and launch a full-scale war in Ukraine. All these years we ignored this build-up, living in a world of illusions. Unfortunately, this illusion is still maintained. In many ways, it is created by part of the cultural and artistic communities.
Many people who have remained in Russia might not agree with me. How can artists earn money without resorting to public utterance and without cooperating with institutions? How can galleries stop working? After all, this is their source of income (although it often does not bring in money, but vice versa). How can we just come to a standstill and not produce anything?
But does everyone really continue to work because of economic dependence, and not out of social necessity — that is, because they belong to a scene where there is a fear of losing the context that gives a person meaning? It boils down either to staying, accepting the state of things, and leading your normal life (as far as it is possible to do that at all now) or giving up on it and leaving. Of course, this dichotomy is not the only one: there are many other ways of living this war. None of us, including me, has answers to these questions. The question, rather, is whether we are aware of what kind of force and political dimension our position can have and what responsibility we should have to Ukraine. Time will pass and the question will arise: how did the Russian intellectual community behave during the war? Silence is also an answer, however.
Source: Juliet Sarkisyan, “Why has the Russian art scene been silent about the war?” The Village, 7 March 2023. Translated by the Russian Reader
In April, the project for restoring the Arch of Triumph, the most famous structure of the Syrian city of Palmyra, should be ready and presented to the public, according to our sources involved with restoring the ancient city.
The Petersburg organizations involved in the project have been doing their design work remotely. They considered it safer because, according to the restorers, not all the terrorists in Syria have been “pacified” yet.
The restoration is coordinated by the Institute of the History of Material Culture (IIMC RAS), which signed an agreement on the restoring the arch with the Syrian Department of Antiquities in March of last year. The details of the agreement are unknown. In November of last year, the archaeological excavations were completed. The project also involves the State Hermitage Museum and the architectural firms of Maxim Atayants and Studio 44. Atayants, as a connoisseur of antiquity, is more responsible for the “theoretical” part, that is, for the choice of approach. Five specialists from Studio 44, including Nikita Yavein, the head of the firm, are involved, and they are working on technical issues. According to sources, other firms are also involved — for example, the restoration company Agio.
The Arch of Triumph itself was built during the reign of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (193–211 CE) and, apparently, glorifies his victories. It underwent restoration involving reinforced concrete elements in the 1930s. The arch was partially destroyed in 2015, during the Syrian civil war. The central span and one of the pylons collapsed.
More alive than Buddha
Until recently, it had not been decided exactly how to restore the arch — to its state at the time when terrorists attempted to blow it up (which means reproducing the version produced by the restorers in the 1930s), or in some other way. The Venice Charter on the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites stipulates that monuments should be preserved in the form in which they have come down to our time. According to established practice, reconstruction by means of anastylosis, as the most sparing method, is permitted for ancient ruins. In this approach, the surviving stones are put back in place. But experts do not want to limit themselves only to anastylosis in the case of Palmyra.
First, it would look uninteresting: the edifice would not make the proper impression, and it is probably not worth the effort. Second, much of the stone in the lower part of the arch has been lost or compromised and would still have to be reinforced or recreated. According to the IIMC RAS, about 40% of the structure remains standing. Another 30% of the stone blocks are not in their place, but they can be used in the restoration. The remaining sections are partly or completely destroyed. That is, there is slightly less genuine material than is usually required for a restoration (i.e., 80-90% of authentic stone). UNESCO has long refused to restore the statues of Buddha blown up by the Taliban in Afghanistan (they have not yet been restored) precisely on the grounds that a significant part of the stone was lost.
Meanwhile, the project for the arch must also be vetted by UNESCO since Palmyra is a World Heritage Site. Moreover, not everything is cut and dried when it comes to UNESCO, as shown, for example, by the rather critical report issued by its monitoring mission that visited Russia in 2019.
Two arguments have been drawn up to justify the design decisions to high-level international institutions. First, that the recreation would be reversible. That is, sometime in the future the arch could be disassembled again if so desired and the new inclusions (such as the “crowns” on the stone blocks) removed, and it would look more or less as it looked before it was blown up. The second argument is that the arch is a symbol of both Palmyra and all of Syria. And in the case of symbols, recreation seems to be permitted.
The issue turns out to be largely legal. Perhaps that is why Alexei Mikhailov, the deputy chair of the city’s Landmarks Use and Preservation Committee (KGIOP), known, in particular, for his work designed historical preservation zones in central Petersburg, has been appointed to the team of restorers. In a comment to the TV channel Saint Petersburg, Mikhailov drew an analogy with Notre Dame Cathedral. Located in Paris, like UNESCO’s headquarters, the cathedral is currently undergoing reconstruction after a fire in 2019.
“We are now drawing the parallel that the arch of Palmyra is as much of a symbol as Notre Dame is for Paris. And it is a reconstruction that is underway there. This is very important and must be conveyed to our international colleagues. It will determine which form of restoration will be employed,” Mikhailov said.
Our sources say that negotiations were held with Petersburg restorers about restoring other sites in Palmyra and Syria. Apparently, they intensified after the devastating earthquake that hit Syria about a month ago. (According to the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), aftershocks from that quake continue to occur.) Last week, Vedomosti reported, citing a diplomatic source, that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is scheduled to visit Russia. As one of that newspaper’s sources suggests, he may ask for Moscow’s help in recovery work.
Scholars without borders
Petersburg experts agree that it is necessary to maintain world heritage. They disagree only about whether such aid is a burden or not.
“I don’t think it’s a lot of money compared to other government spending,” Alexander Kitsula, vice president of the St. Petersburg Union of Architects, told DP. At the same time, he noted that, with all due respect to the history of Petersburg, the antiquities of Palmyra “are incomparably more important than the excavations at Okhta Point.”
In turn, Igor Pasechnik, head of Spetsrestavratsiya Scientific Research and Design Institute, LLC, the possibilities for financing are not unlimited.
“It is wrong to let world culture be lost in any case, and if our country has reserves that can be sent there, it is probably the right thing to do. But, of course, our country also has huge holes in this area,” he believes. The expert emphasizes that Russia’s antiquities are no less in need of attention than foreign ones.
“My personal opinion is that we still have tons of work to do here at home. And this is far from a first-degree problem for the Russian Federation in general. But if someone has decided that it has to be done, then it has to be done,” Pasechnik added.
Alexei Kovalyov, a researcher at the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, sees no problems in the fact that our scholars are also at work in Palmyra.
“St. Petersburg has been one of the world’s major centers for archaeology. Our expeditions are working in the South Caucasus and Central Asia, and our expedition in Iraq has just been resumed. Such projects are part of our international policy: they are usually funded per intergovernmental agreements. In the case of Palmyra, this means the Syrian side,” Kovalev explained. He also added that there are many specialists in ancient monuments working in Petersburg who know the peculiarities of the architecture of the period to which Palmyra belongs.
Source: Vadim Kuzmitsky, “Project for restoring Arch of Triumph in Palymra to be presented in April,” Delovoi Peterburg, 13 March 2023. Translated by the Russian Reader