Yanka Dyagileva, “Hell Brink”

yanka“I don’t know now whether I’ll fall or fly. / I don’t have the strength to fly away nor do I want to lie.”

Янка Дягилева
Ад-край

Отдыхай, я молчу. Я внизу, в стороне.
Я в краю, где молчат. Я на самом краю.
Где-то край, где-то рай, где-то ад, где-то нет
Там, где край, там и ад. Там, где рай, там и нет ничего
Головою в порог — дверь закрой, не смотри
С башни вниз полетишь, если ветер внутри
Если нет, будешь камнем лежать под горой
Там, где празднуют пир при Луне упыри .
Я не знаю теперь — упаду, полечу:
Улететь нету сил, а лежать не хочу
Будет ночь — закричу, отвернусь, укачусь
Разобьюсь всё равно до утра
Постучу во все двери. Пройду по местам, где вас нет
Просто так — может встречу кого по пути
Поклонюсь до земли — головою в порог в третий раз —
Раза два мне ещё до пяти. До шести ещё три —
Будет срок и в острог
Тяжело здесь лежать, были б силы уйти
Или вниз, или с краю чуть-чуть отойти
Хоть на метр — присесть-посидеть-покурить
Может дух испустить, может, перевести…
Отдыхай, не всегда ведь со мною легко
Я не та, кто я есть. Я пока далеко
Я внизу в стороне. Я на самом краю.

Июнь 1987, Омск

Source: grob-khroniki.org

Yanka Dyagileva
Hell Brink 

Relax, I’m silent. I’m down below, off to the side.
I’m in the land of the silent. I’m on the very brink.
Heaven, hell, the brink are somewhere and somewhere not.
Find the brink and you’ll find hell. Find heaven and you’ll find nothing.
Run headfirst into the threshold. Close the door, don’t look.
You’ll hurtle from the tower if there’s a wind inside.
If there’s none, you’ll like like a rock under the mountain
Where the vampires feast when the moon is out.
I don’t know now whether I’ll fall or fly.
I don’t have the strength to fly away nor do I want to lie.
When night comes, I’ll scream, I’ll turn away, I’ll leave in a hurry.
Anyway I’ll be smashed to smithereens before morning.
I’ll knock on all the doors. I’ll go everywhere you aren’t
Just for the heck of it. Maybe I’ll meet someone along the way.
I’ll bow down to the ground and go headfirst into the threshold a third time.
Two more times makes five. Three more times makes six.
There will be time in jail.
It’s hard to lie here. Would that I had the strength to leave
Or go down or back away from the brink a bit,
If only a meter, to sit down and have a sit and a smoke,
Maybe to give up the ghost, maybe to catch my breath.
Relax, it’s not always easy with me.
I’m not who I am. I’m still far away.
I’m down below, off to the side. I’m on the very brink.

June 1987, Omsk

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

 

Anna Tereshkina: At the Court Hearing

tereshkina-11

Anna Tereshkina
Facebook
June 19, 2018

*This text is not an objective reflection of the “hearing.” Rather, I see its value as therapeutic in the light of what happened today.

This was my second time at a remand extension hearing for Viktor Filinkov.

There were more people, and their voices were louder. But I still left feeling as if I had been hit with a shovel, which was no surprise.

tereshkina-2.jpg

This time round, the court bailiffs immediately herded everyone down to the first floor, but they were unable to drive anyone completely out of the courthouse.

People stood near the stairway.

Our way down the long corridor was blocked by three beefy bailiffs, who were the centerpiece of a genuine commedia dell’arte.

At first, they used a bench to block the way into the corridor. Folks sat down on the bench. Then they decided to remove the bench. One young woman, however, refused to get up, and the three muscleheads threatened to drag her forcibly from the bench. They left the bench where it was, but turned it around. I managed to squeeze through and sit down on it.

Folks were pushing from one side, as during rush hour in the subway, while on the other side an amphitheater opened up. Knights in bulletproof vests outfitted with tons of pockets stood in this amphitheater. They were nearly motionless, like the best sitters during life drawing classes at the Academy of Arts.

I tried to make a stupid joke that snuggling up against young women like that, not letting them walk down the corridor, was the only joy in their dull jobs. A tall, thin bailiff (I had sketched him at the previous hearing) kept running back and forth, trying to cuddle up to T., pushing his more broad-shouldered colleague away from her.

The broad-shouldered bailiff, who bore a resemblance to Ramzan Kadyrov, smiled reservedly when I joked, while the other bailiff (I memorized his name: Anton) went so far as to say it was not their choice to wear the bulletproof vests, but they were under orders to wear them. He kept pulling at the neck of his t-shirt, as if he wanted to tear off his entie sweaty get-up.

But my jokes and attempts to see something human about them collapsed when all of them went after reporter David Frenkel, elbowing their way through the crowd. We tried to squeeze past them, but they had the right to employ violence. I sensed the tension in their elbows. But if someone like me had tensed their elbows like that, they would have been charged with “disobeying” officers of the law. It was scary.

Amid the stuffiness of the corridor, a ball consisting of the swearing gorillas and skinny David rolled down the stairway. (It transpired later the brave young men broke David’s glasses.)

The crowd seethed with despair and resentment.

“Look at yourselves! How you behave! You are violating the right of citizens to exercise their right to . . . ,” a female court clerk in a blue dress kept repeating at us.

tereshkina-1“I have every grounds!”

The bits of bureaucratese clawed at each other. Words stumbled and snapped, turning into feckless curses.

“What grounds do you have for kicking us out?”

“I have every grounds!”

“Who the heck are you?”

“I’m the locum!”

“Whose locum? What’s your name?”

“I’ve already told you everything!”

This had all happened somewhere before, either in a story by Kafka or during my schooldays.

Ultimately, I really resent the fact I cannot draw Viktor or Yuli Boyarshinov or the lively crowd, constantly in motion, but am forced to draw the faces of the bailiffs, frozen in the stupid frenzy of their work. Violence is such a habitual part of their work they have ceased noticing it.

I would rather not have the opportunity to draw them. I would rather this hearing had not taken place. I would like to have magical powers and make it all go away. I would snap my fingers and, instead of a court bailiff, a marvelous violinist would be standing there or a waste recycling engineer who was a feminist and vegan to boot.

tereshkina-5

But, alas, the bailiffs pushed us back by another ten centimeters, and Ninja Turtles in balaclavas escorted Viktor into the courtroom. Our only magical powers were yelling and clapping as loudly as we could.

Like last time, I could not take it anymore. I left before the hearing was over. Where can I find the strength to endure this?

Drawings by Anna Tereshkina. I thank Ms. Tereshkina  for her kind permission to reproduce them here as well as publish a translation of the accompanying text.  All images © Anna Tereshkina, 2018. Translated by the Russian Reader.

***************

What can you do to support the Penza and Petersburg antifascists and anarchists tortured and imprisoned by the FSB?

  • Donate money to the Anarchist Black Cross via PayPal (abc-msk@riseup.net). Make sure to specify that your donation is earmarked for “Rupression.”
  • Spread the word about The Network Case aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case. You can find more information about the case and in-depth articles translated into English on this website (see below), rupression.com, and openDemocracyRussia.
  • Organize solidarity events where you live to raise money and publicize the plight of the tortured Penza and Petersburg antifascists. Go to the website It’s Going Down to find downloadable, printable posters and flyers. You can also read more about the case there.
  • If you have the time and means to design, produce, and sell solidarity merchandize, please write to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters and postcards to the prisoners. Letters and postcards must be written in Russian or translated into Russian. You canfind the addresses of the prisoners here.
  • Design a solidarity postcard that can be printed out and used by others to send messages of support to the prisoners. Send your ideas to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters of support to the prisoners’ loved ones via rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Translate the articles and information at rupression.com and this website into languages other than Russian and English, and publish your translations on social media and your own websites and blogs.
  • If you know someone famous, ask them to record a solidarity video, write an op-ed piece for a mainstream newspaper or write letters to the prisoners.
  • If you know someone who is a print, internet, TV or radio journalist, encourage them to write an article or broadcast a report about the case. Write to rupression@protonmail.com or the email listed on this website, and we will be happy to arrange interviews and provide additional information.
  • It is extremely important this case break into the mainstream media both in Russia and abroad. Despite their apparent brashness, the FSB and their ilk do not like publicity. The more publicity the case receives, the safer our comrades will be in remand prison from violence at the hands of prison stooges and torture at the hands of the FSB, and the more likely the Russian authorities will be to drop the case altogether or release the defendants for time served if the case ever does go to trial.
  • Why? Because the case is a complete frame-up, based on testimony obtained under torture and mental duress. When the complaints filed by the accused reach the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and are reviewed, the Russian government will be forced to pay heavy fines for its cruel mockery of justice.

***************

If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and other cases involving frame-ups, torture, and violent intimidation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and other arms of the Russian police state, read and repost the recent articles the Russian Reader has translated and published on these subjects.

 

“9 Stages of the Supreme Leader’s Decomposition” (Solidarity Fundraising Campaign Update)

varya

Varya Mikhaylova (center, with megaphone), carrying {rodina}’s 9 Stages of the Supreme Leader’s Decomposition as she marched with the Party of the Dead bloc in this year’s May Day demo in Petersburg. Photo by Elena Lukyanova. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

On Friday, June 8, 2018, a Petersburg district court sentenced local feminist and democratic activist Varya Mikhaylova to a fine of 160,000 rubles (approx. 2,180 euros) for carrying a picture at this year’s May Day demonstration, during which she was detained by police.

The court also ordered the picture in question, 9 Stages of the Supreme Leader’s Decomposition, by the Petersburg art group {rodina} (“motherland”), burned.

stages-4{rodina}, 9 Stages of the Supreme Leader’s Decomposition. A Petersburg judge has ordered this artwork torched.

How can you show your solidarity with Varya Mikhaylova? By helping her pay the hefty fine. It would be exorbitant anywhere, but it is purposely burdensome (that is, designed to discourage people from protesting by impoverishing them) in a city where the average monthly salary is around 500 euros.

How can you show your solidarity with {rodina}, whose artwork faces the fiery flames of censorship? By ordering a t-shirt, poster or postcard embossed with 9 Stages of the Supreme Leader’s Decomposition. Proceeds from the sales of these mementos will go towards paying Varya’s fine. Any money left over will be used to make more revolutionary art.

You can order a postcard for 100 rubles (approx. 1.30 euros), an A3-sized poster for 500 rubles (approx. 6.80 euros), and a t-shirt for 1,500 rubles (approx. 20.40 euros).

The cost of shipping your order anywhere in the world via Russian Post is 500 rubles.

Place your orders on {rodina}’s merch page. When you go there you will need to click on the “Message” button and chat with someone who can help you with your order.

{rodina} stalwart Darya Apahonchich modeled the t-shirt recently.

stages-3

stages-2

stages-1

I was so taken with the 9 Stages t-shirt I already ordered and took receipt of mine. Now I’ll have to wear it on the mean streets of Petrograd while also avoiding sudden arrest.

the shirt

You can also send money directly to Varya via her PayPal account (bukvace@ya.ru). The proceeds will also go towards paying her fine. // TRR

Thanks to Comrade KB for the final photograph and taking delivery of my t-shirt.

Tautology

dovlatov socks

“Dovlatov: I prefer being alonе, / but with somebody next to me.” Image courtesy of SPBsocks. This pair of socks sells for 370 rubles or approximately €5.

Petersburg fashionistas with a snobbish vibe have an additional option available to them: socks emblazoned with quotations by local writers. Socks of this sort have recently gone on sale at SPBsocks, where you will find Joseph Brodsky socks, Fyodor Dostoevsky socks, and Sergei Dovlatov socks.

One of the Dovlatov socks proclaims outright, “I prefer being alone.”

There thus won’t be any more questions to the second sock, whether it is at large under the bed or lost during the wash.

“Dovlatov is the most popular. The recent anniversary, the unveiling of the monument to him in Petersburg, and the 1980 fads have all benefited the writer. We have chosen ironic, edgy quotations. You don’t get anywhere nowadays without a little controversy. Breaking the mold increases sales,” acknowledges Svetlana Suetova, founder of SPBsocks, an online designer sock store, which also runs a showroom in the Golytsin Loft at Fontanka Embankment, 20.

Source: Delovoi Peterburg

____________________

Regardless of whether one is a writer or a reader, one’s task consists first of all in mastering a life that is one’s own, not imposed or prescribed from without, no matter how noble its appearance may be. For each of us is issued but one life, and we know full well how it all ends. It would be regrettable to squander this one chance on someone else’s appearance, someone else’s experience, on a tautology—regrettable all the more because the heralds of historical necessity, at whose urging a man may be prepared to agree to this tautology, will not go to the grave with him or give him so much as a thank-you.

[…]

The philosophy of the state, its ethics—not to mention its aesthetics—are always “yesterday.” Language and literature are always “today,” and often—particularly in the case where a political system is orthodox—they may even constitute “tomorrow.” One of literature’s merits is precisely that it helps a person to make the time of his existence more specific, to distinguish himself from the crowd of his predecessors as well as his like numbers, to avoid tautology—that is, the fate otherwise known by the honorific term “victim of history.” What makes art in general, and literature in particular, remarkable, what distinguishes them from life, is precisely that they abhor repetition. In everyday life you can tell the same joke thrice and, thrice getting a laugh, become the life of the party. In art, though, this sort of conduct is called “cliché.”

Excerpted from Joseph Brodsky, “Nobel Lecture,” December 8, 1987, trans. Barry Rubin. Source: Nobelprize.org

#free64

sentsov-free 64

The logo, above, was designed by the fabulous Petersburg activists Grigory Mikhnov-Voytenko and Natalia Sivohina, who had it printed on t-shirts.

You should do the same.

The slogan on the bottom reads, “Your freedom is our freedom.”

“64” refers to the number of Ukrainian political prisoners currently incarcerated by the Russian Federation. (Although there are claims that the Kremlin has imprisoned 69 Ukrainian political prisoners.)

Ukrainian political prisoner and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who is currently serving a 20-year sentence of trumped-up charges in a maximum-security prison camp north of the Arctic Circle, has been on an indefinite hunger strike for nearly three weeks. His only demand is that the Kremlin release all the Ukrainian political prisoners it has in captivity.

So, as some of Grigory and Natalia’s interlocutors suggested on Facebook, the hashtag could read, “#Free64_SaveSentsov.”

In any case, if you write to them via Facebook, they will be happy to send you the full-sized file of the logo for printing on t-shirts, cloth bags or any other convenient, publicly visible surface.

sentsov-sivohinaGrigory and Natalia modeling the Oleg Sentsov solidarity t-shirts they designed. Photo courtesy of their Facebook pages. All of progressive humanity should be wearing t-shirts like these to bring attention to Sentsov’s struggle against the Kremlin.

The Conscience of Petersburg, The Conscience of Ukraine

osipova-sentsov-nevsky-1 june 2018Artist Yelena Osipova, protesting on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Malaya Sadovaya in Petersburg four hours ago. Her placard reads, “2018, the 21st century. A filmmaker gets twenty years [in prison] for dissidence. Oleg Sentsov is on hunger strike. He demands the release of sixty-four Ukrainians from Russian prisons. Save him. Don’t be silent.” Photo by Yekaterina Bogach

UPDATE. Yelena Osipova was detained by police two hours later. Grigory Mikhnov-Voytenko captured the arrest on video. Thanks to Comrade Nastia for the heads-up. 

______________________

Fears grow for hunger-striking Ukrainian film director Sentsov
AFP
June 1, 2018

Fears grew on Thursday for the health of Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov who has declared a hunger strike in a Russian prison, with a politician who spoke to him via video link saying he appeared unwell and warning “this could end badly.”

The 41-year-old went on hunger strike on May 14, demanding that Moscow release all its Ukrainian political prisoners as Russia prepares to host the 2018 World Cup next month.

Sentsov, a pro-Ukrainian activist and documentary director, was detained in Crimea in 2014 after Russia annexed the peninsula. He was accused of masterminding arson attacks.

Sentsov, who denied the allegations, is serving a 20-year sentence after being convicted on terrorism charges.

Politician and media star Ksenia Sobchak said she spoke to Sentsov in a video call on Thursday and tried to persuade him to halt his hunger strike but he refused.

“I am horrified because I understand that he looks like a man who will go all the way,” she told liberal radio Echo of Moscow.

“And, honestly speaking, this frightened me,” she said, adding that her mother, Lyudmila Narusova, [a member of the Federation Council], helped organize the call to Sentsov’s prison.

“I have a feeling that this hunger strike will end badly,” she said.

“He is very pale, very thin,” she said, adding that his teeth have begun to crumble.

On Monday, Russia’s prison service said Sentsov agreed to “receive supportive therapy,” without providing further details.

The prison service said his condition was “satisfactory.”

Sentsov’s lawyer Dmitry Dinze said on Thursday he had no recent contact with his client but was going to visit him on Monday.

He said the director was stable, but confirmed Sentsov had lost two teeth.

“The climate does not agree with him,” he said, adding that there was no dentist in his prison so teeth have to be pulled out.

Top opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is serving a 30-day sentence over organising an illegal protest, called on President Vladimir Putin to release more than 60 “Ukrainian political prisoners” including Sentsov.

“His feat, and his sacrifice, and his death will put him on a par with Bobby Sands, (Anatoly) Marchenko, and other titans of humankind,” he wrote on his blog, adding Putin should want to avoid this.

Irish nationalist Sands died in prison in 1981 after 66 days on hunger strike, while Soviet dissident Anatoly Marchenko died in prison in 1986 after a three-month-long hunger strike for the release of Soviet prisoners of conscience.

Maria Kuvshinova: What Sentsov Could Die For

What Sentsov Could Die For
Maria Kuvshinova
Colta.Ru
May 25, 2018

Detailed_pictureOleg Sentsov. Photo by Sergei Pivovarov. Courtesy of RIA Novosti and Colta.Ru 

On May 14, 2018, Oleg Sentsov went on an indefinite hunger strike in a penal colony located north of the Arctic Circle. His only demand is the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. According to Memorial’s list, there are twenty-four such prisoners.

In August 2015, Sentsov was sentenced to twenty years for organizing a terrorist community and planning terrorist attacks. The second defendant in the case, Alexander Kolchenko, was sentenced to ten years in prison. Mediazona has published transcripts of the hearings in their trial. Around three hundred people have read them over the last three years. The transcripts make it plain the only evidence of the alleged terrorist organization’s existence was the testimony of Alexei Chirniy, who was not personally acquainted with Sentsov. It is police footage of Chirniy’s arrest while he was carrying a rucksack containing a fake explosive device that propagandists often pass off as police footage of Sentsov’s arrest.

Before his arrest, Sentsov was an Automaidan activist. In the spring of 2014, he organized peaceful protests against Crimea’s annexation by Russia.

“Yesterday’s ‘suicide bomber auto rally’ took place in Simferopol yesterday, but in quite abridged form,” Sentsov wrote on Facebook on March 12, 2014. “Only eight cars, six reporters with cameras, and twenty-five activists/passengers assembled at the starting point. I would have liked to have seen more. Unfortunately, most of the armchair revolutionaries who were invited were afraid to go. The traffic cops and regular police also showed up at the starting line, insisting we not leave for our own safety. We told them our protest was peaceful. We had no plans of breaking the rules, so we suggested they escort us to keep the peace for everyone’s sake.”

The second defendant, Kolchenko, admitted involvement in the arson of an office that was listed in the case file as belonging to the United Russia Party, but which in April 2014 was an office of Ukraine’s Party of Regions. The arson took place at night. It was meant to cause physical damage while avoiding injuring anyone.

The Russian authorities tried to prove both Sentsov and Kolchenko were linked with Right Sector, a charge that was unsubstantiated in Sentsov’s case and absurd in the latter case due to Kolchenko’s well-known leftist and anarchist convictions. Gennady Afanasyev, the second witness on whose testimony the charges against the two men were based, claimed he had been tortured and coerced into testifying against them.

Sentsov and Kolchenko’s show trial, like the show trials in the Bolotnaya Square Case, were supposed to show that only a handful of terrorists opposed the referendum on Crimea’s annexation and thus intimidate people who planned to resist assimilation. The Russian authorities wanted to stage a quick, one-off event to intimidate and crack down on anti-Russian forces. But two circumstances prevented the repressive apparatus from working smoothly. The first was that the defendants did not make a deal with prosecutors and refused to acknowledge the trial’s legitimacy. The second was that Automaidan activist Oleg Sentsov unexpectedly turned out to be a filmmaker, provoking a series of public reactions ranging from protests by the European Film Academy to questions about whether cultural producers would be capable of blowing up cultural landmarks. Segments of the Russian film community reacted to the situation with cold irritation. According to them, Sentsov was a Ukrainian filmmaker, not a Russian filmmaker, and he was not a major filmmaker. The owner of a computer club in Simferopol, his semi-amateur debut film, Gamer, had been screened at the festivals in Rotterdam and Khanty-Mansiysk, while release of his second picture, Rhino, had been postponed due to Euromaidan.

The Ukrainian intelligentsia have equated Sentsov with other political prisoners of the empire, such as the poet Vasyl Stus, who spent most of his life in Soviet prisons and died in Perm-36 in the autumn of 1985, a week after he had gone on yet another hunger strike. The Ukrainian authorities see Sentsov, a Crimean who was made a Russian national against his will and is thus not eligible for prisoner exchanges, as inconvenient, since he smashes the stereotype of the treacherous peninsula, a part of Ukraine bereft of righteous patriots. Sentsov’s death on the eve of the 2018 FIFA World Cup would be a vexing, extremely annoying nuisance to the Russian authorities.

Sentsov is an annoyance to nearly everyone, but he is a particular annoyance to those people who, while part of the Russian establishment, have openly defended him, although they have tried with all their might to avoid noticing what an inconvenient figure he has been. Although he was not a terrorist when he was arrested, he has become a terrorist of sorts in prison, because his trial and his hunger strike have been a slowly ticking time bomb planted under the entire four-year-long post-Crimean consensus, during which some have been on cloud nine, others have put down stakes, and still others have kept their mouths shut. Yet everyone reports on the success of their new endeavors on Facebook while ignoring wars abroad and torture on the home front. Sentsov represents a rebellion against hybrid reality and utter compromise, a world in which Google Maps tells you Crimea is Russian and Ukrainian depending on your preferences. To what count does “bloodlessly” annexed Crimea belong, if, four years later, a man is willing to die to say he does not recognize the annexation?

The success of Gamer on the film festival circuit, which made Sentsov part of the international film world, and his current address in a prison north of the Arctic Circle beg three questions. What is culture? Who produces culture? What stances do cultural producers take when they produce culture? There are several possible answers. Culture is a tool for reflection, a means for individuals and societies to achieve self-awareness and define themselves. It is not necessarily a matter of high culture. In this case, we could also be talking about pop music, fashion, and rap. (See, for example, the recent documentary film Fonko, which shows how spontaneous music making has gradually been transformed into a political force in post-colonial Africa.) On the contrary, culture can be a means of spending leisure time for people with sufficient income, short work days, and long weekends.

Obviously, the culture produced in Russia today under the patronage of Vladimir Medinsky’s Culture Ministry is not the first type of culture, with the exception of documentary theater and documentary cinema, but the founders of Theater.Doc have both recently died, while Artdocfest has finally been forced to relocate to Riga. The compromised, censored “cultural production” in which all the arts have been engaged has no way of addressing any of the questions currently facing Russia and the world, from shifts in how we view gender and the family (for which you can be charged with the misdemeanor of “promoting homosexualism”) to the relationship between the capitals and regions (for which you can charged with the felony of “calling for separatism”). Crimea is an enormous blank spot in Russian culture. Donbass and the rest of Ukraine, with which Russia still enjoyed vast and all-pervasive ties only five years ago, are blank spots. But cultural producers have to keep on making culture, and it is easier to say no one is interested in painful subjects and shoot a film about the complicated family life of a doctor with a drinking problem and a teetotalling nurse.

When we speak of the second type of culture—culture as leisure—we primarily have in mind Moscow, which is brimming over with premieres, lectures, and exhibitions, and, to a much lesser extent, Russia’s other major cities. So, in a country whose population is approaching 150 million people, there is a single international film festival staged by a local team for its hometown, Pacific Meridian in Vladivostok. All the rest are produced by Moscow’s itinerant three-ring circus on the paternalist model to the delight of enlightened regional governors. It matters not a whit that one of them ordered a brutal assault on a journalist, nor that another was in cahoots with the companies responsible for safety at the Sayano-Shushenskaya Dam, where 75 people perished in 2009. What matters is that the festival movement should go on. There is no room in this model for local cultural progress. There can be no free discussion generated by works of art when everyone is engaged in total self-censorship. After I went to Festival 86 in Slavutych, whose curators have been conceptually reassessing the post-Soviet individual and the post-Soviet space, I found it painful to think about Russian film festivals. This sort of focused conceptualization is impossible in Russia. It is of no interest to anyone.

There are two more possible answers to the question of what culture is. Culture is propaganda. Or, finally, culture is only the marquee on a commercial enterprise profiting at the taxpayer’s expense. It is not a big choice, and the kicker is that by agreeing today to be involved in churning out propaganda, milking taxpayers, supplying optional leisure time activities, producing censored works, and colonizing one’s own countrymen for the sake of money, status, and membership in a professional community, the people involved in these processes automatically stop making sense. It is naïve to think the audience has not noticed this forfeiture. It is no wonder the public has an increasingly hostile reaction to cultural producers and their work.

No one has the guts to exit this vicious circle even in protest at the slow suicide of a colleague convicted on trumped-up charges, because it would not be “practical.” The events of recent months and years, however, should have transported us beyond dread, since everyone without exception is now threatened with being sent down, the innocent and the guilty alike.

Post-Soviet infantilism is total. It affects the so-called intelligentsia no less than the so-called ordinary folk. Infantilism means being unable to empathize, being unable to put yourself in another person’s shoes, even if that person is President Putin, a man with a quite distinct sense of ethics, a man who has been studied backwards and forwards for twenty years. Apparently, the message sent to the creative communities through the arrest of Kirill Serebrennikov was not registered. If you want to be a dissident, start down the hard road of doing jail time for misdemeanor charges, facing insuperable difficulties in renting performance and exhibition spaces, becoming an outsider, and experiencing despair. If you want a big theater in downtown Moscow, play by the rules. Like your average late-Soviet philistine, Putin regarded the creative intelligentsia with respect at the outset of his presidential career. (See, for example, footage from his visit to Mosfilm Studios in 2003.) However, a few years later, he was convinced the creative intelligentsia was a rampantly conformist social group who would never move even a millimeter out of its comfort zone and would make one concession after another. A lack of self-respect always generates disrespect in counterparts.

By signing open letters while remaining inside the system and not backing their words with any actions whatsoever, the cultural figures currently protesting the arrests of colleagues are viewed by the authorities as part of the prison’s gen pop, while people who live outside Moscow see them as accomplices in looting and genocide. No one takes seriously the words of people who lack agency. Agency is acquired only by taking action, including voluntarily turning down benefits for the sake of loftier goals. The acquisition of agency is practical, because it is the only thing that compels other people to pay heed to someone’s words. I will say it again: the acquisition of agency is always practical. At very least, it generates different stances from which to negotiate.

Sentsov has made the choice between sixteen years of slow decay in a penal colony and defiant suicide in order to draw attention not to his own plight, but to the plight of other political prisoners. Regardless of his hunger strike’s outcome, he has generated a new scale for measuring human and professional dignity. It is an personal matter whether we apply the scale or not, but now it is impossible to ignore.

Thanks to Valery Dymshits for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader