A Rainbow May Day in Petersburg vs. The Dead in Chechnya

Varya Mikhaylova
Facebook
May 1, 2017

I don’t know what else to on May 1 when LGBT people in Chechnya are facing flagrant genocide, so today this was how it went down. Now we have been detained and taken to the 43rd police precinct. A man who came out bearing a placard that read, “Putin, go away. Putin is evil” was detained with us. It’s forbidden to say that now, too.

Chechen Mothers Mourned Their Bloodied Children on Nevsky

On May 1, 2017, activists staged a performed on Nevsky Prospect, the city’s main boulevard, during which Chechen mothers mourned and sprinkled their children with earth. Prone on the ground, the bodies of the LGBT people were covered with rainbow and Chechen flags. The performance was meant to express solidarity with the people of the Republic of Chechnya as well as draw attention to the horrifying events occurring there now.

Since the beginning of the year in Chechnya, which is part of Russia, there have been numerous illegal detentions, torture, and executions of homosexual men, including men deemed homosexual. We know of hundred of victims, dozens of them murdered. Even as they deny the occurrence of genocide, local officials have publicly justified these atrocities by citing medieval “ethnic traditions” and “Muslim values.”

The persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya and the North Caucasus is nothing new. The region has long been plagued by rampant corruption, violence, and murder, affecting everyone who lives there. However, targeted mass killings are a new phenomenon. Both local and federal authorities are to blame for the state terror. On the one hand, they have vigorously popularized “traditional religious values.” On the other, they have proved incapable of opposing the spread of radical Islam and ensuring the enforcement of the Russian Constitution and human rights. Impunity on the ground encourages terrorism and radicalization, leading to the deaths of civilians not only in Chechnya but outside it. Consequently, terrorists  exploded a bomb in the St. Petersburg subway for the first time in the city’s history.*

“Cruelty is a severe infection that is prone to pandemic. It is not a one-off event. They started with the people of Chechnya and, although many imagined that would be the end  of it, they continued with ‘their own kind,’ as is now the ‘patriotic’ expression,” wrote Anna Politkovskaya.

The escalation of terror is a vivid example of how the violation of human rights and violence against a particular group can quickly balloon into violence against everyone.

We demand the strict observance of Russian federal laws in Chechnya and preservation of the Russian state’s secular nature. We demand that religious fanatics who are calling for violence be punished according to the law. We demand an investigation of allegations of widespread torture and executions of gays in Chechnya and severe punishment for the guilty parties, including government officials.

#MayDay #Chechnya #MayDayLGBT  #RainbowMayday #LGBT

Photographs by David Frenkel, Alexandra Polukeyeva, and Fontanka.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

* NB. I have translated and posted the above out of a sense of solidarity and friendship with the people who staged this action during today’s May Day marches on the Nevsky in Petersburg.

However, I would be remiss not to note the striking Alexei Navalny-like anti-Caucasus/anti-Muslim rhetoric in the protesters’ communique, which, of course, is not unique to the otherwise admirable anti-corruption fighter, but is a commonplace in the non-thinking of many “ethnic” Russians. As thoroughly deplorable and despicable as the persecution of gay men in Chechnya and anywhere else is (what, are gay men not persecuted in “Russia proper”?), the activists quote the slain journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya while seemingly forgetting why she was assassinated: because she wrote truthfully about what Russian federal armed forces and police were doing in Chechnya. Moscow’s successive bloody invasions of Chechnya in the 1990s and the 2000s, involving the torture and rape of non-combatants, the wholesale slaughter of civilians, and mass displacement of the local population might seem to be more appropriately qualified by the word “genocide” than what has been happening recently to the republic’s gay men, however horrifying. Not to put too fine a point on it, “Russians proper,” with the notable exception of Politkovskaya and a brave but tiny minority of others, have never been able to assign the responsibility for what happened in Chechnya where it belongs, and they have been aided and abetted by the other “world powers” (i.e., the “former” colonial and imperial powers), who were only too happy to turn a blind eye to what first Yeltsin and then Putin were up to in their own backyard, so to speak. If Chechnya is now an out-of-control autocracy run by an “Islamist” madmen, Russians have only to look in the mirror to find out who is to blame for this deplorable state of affairs.

Nor, finally, is it a given that the recent bombing in the Petersburg subway (which wasn’t even the first such bombing, in fact) was the work of “radicalized Islamists.” Of course, that is one possibility. But there are other possibilities, as any “Russian proper” who hasn’t had his or her memory erased would realize.

When the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly passed its infamous homophobic law several years ago, there was no popular outcry against the law on the part of Petersburgers, the vast majority of whom are not Muslim and thus cannot be suspected of adhering to “medieval Muslim values.” Nobody but a handful of people “rioted” in the streets, and as far as I can tell, Petersburgers still, inexplicably, regard themselves proudly as “Europeans,” although they have this disgusting “medieval” law on the books, and many of the same local Petersburg riot cops (OMON) who wearily drag them into paddy wagons and kettle them when they occasionally want to exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly were, as is well known, on active combat duty in Chechnya during the First and Second Chechen Wars and are, possibly, guilty of God knows what war crimes against the “uncivilized” Chechens, whose tiny, beautiful corner of the world has been ravaged at least three times in living memory by their Great Russian rulers. TRR

Petersburg: Snow, Rain and Sun

So far it’s been a fairly rough spring in Petersburg, ex-capital of All the Russias. When it hasn’t been snowing, it’s been sleeting or raining, and the sun has mostly been in hiding.

Recently, my friend and comrade anatrrra took advantage of a rare stretch of sunshine to snap these photographs of the world’s most beautiful city and some of its denizens, many of whom were also outside to catch a few rays before (as at the end of anatrrra’s complete album) the snow made its hasty return.

My thanks to anatrrra for permission to reproduce these photographs here. TRR

Stanislav Dorochenkov: Afterword to the Pamphlet of 1942

Afterword to the Pamphlet of 1942
A film by Stanislav Dorochenkov, 2012
28’46”
Featuring Maxim Egorov, O.A. Belobrova, Lydia Smirnova
Camera: Boris Belay
Editing: Claire Beuneux
Directed by Stanislav Dorochenkov
Re:voir Films Paris

In 2010’s stifling heat in St. Petersburg, the regime and the mafia orchestrate the destruction of the city’s heritage for the sake of the nouveaux riche’s luxury. The attempt to remember helps me. I present a little known text by someone who defended this city, Dmitry Likhachev. Several times, he saved it alone by opposing the collective decisions of the Communist Party, thus rebutting an old Russian saying that I would translate roughly as “One man cannot fight an army.”

One can.

I see the phrase “Death will more likely be afraid of us than we of it,” engraved on one of the three stelae at the Piskaryov Memorial Cemetery, placed over the endless mass graves where the millions who died during the Siege of Leningrad lie.

With my Éclair camera, I walk the city during the White Nights to rediscover the  magnificent light of transparent twilight that transforms Petersburg into “the most fantastic city in the world.” The texts of the Russian chronicles (The Hypatian Chronicle, The Laurentian Chronicle, and The Lay of Igor’s Campaign) appear before me, following a broadcast inspired by Likhachev. I become aware of the ancient words, the most accurate account of the disaster of human forgetfulness.

Source: Dérives.tv

Annotation translated, from the French, by Comrade Koganzon and the Russian Reader

Defenders of the Fatherland: “Say When You’ve Had Enough”

"Happy February 23rd!"
“Happy February 23rd!”

Leda Garina
Facebook
February 23

On February 23, female feminists spoke out—finally!—in defense of men.

The Eternal Flame, Field of Mars, Petersburg
The Eternal Flame, Field of Mars, Petersburg

“We think the very idea of ‘defenders’ is one of the pillars of oppression, whether ethnic, gender or whatever other kind. From the time they are babies, men are inculcated with the notion that they must be defenders. Actually, however, they are merely taught to behave aggressively and completely suppress their emotions. And they grow up as people prone to exercise violence and control. They become cogs used by those in power, dogs who have been taught a single command: ‘attack.’

“We believe society must change, that a more humane society is a sign of progress. Armies and armed conflicts must become things of the past, like human sacrifice and the bonfires of the Inquisition. Like the first winged chimeras, which had been built but still could not fly.”

"Say When You've Had Enough"
“Say When You’ve Had Enough”

Photos by David Frenkel. Translated by the Russian Reader

“The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov” (Panel Discussion, Berlinale 2017)

Panelists: Agnieszka Holland (Director), Askold Kurov (Director), Mike Downey (Producer), Dmitry Dinze (Lawyer of Oleg Sentsov), Natalya Kaplan (Cousin of Oleg Sentsov), Sylvia Schreiber (Translator)

Thanks to Alexei Markov for the heads-up

___________________________

oleg-sentsov
Oleg Sentsov. Courtesy of Berlin Film Festival

Berlin Film Review: ‘The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov’
Owen Gleiberman
Variety
February 11, 2017

A documentary about the Ukranian filmmaker imprisoned for his support of Crimean independence is a scrappy testament to the true nature of the Vladimir Putin regime.

It has to rank as one of Donald Trump’s most shocking statements — which is really saying something. Asked by the Fox News host Bill O’Reilly how he could respect Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom O’Reilly characterized as a “killer,” Trump replied, “There are a lot of killers. Boy, you think our country’s so innocent?” Over the last year, Trump has presented himself as a racist, a bully, a manhandler of women, a mocker of the disabled, and a loony-tunes conspiracy theorist. But whoever thought he’d come off sounding like the second coming of Noam Chomsky? The notion that the United States government routinely engages in “killer” behavior commensurate with that of what Russia does is, of course, a left-wing idea. (Just ask Oliver Stone, another Putin apologist who should know better.) But Trump put a new spin on it: Whatever the motivation (his desire to tilt the axis of global power against China? Burying those rumored water-sports videos?), he was so intent to claim that his new BFF Vladimir is, you know…not so bad that he was willing to hijack 50 years of radical academic moral relativism by reducing it to a Trump sound bite.

All of which makes me wish that Trump would sit down and watch “The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov,” a documentary that just premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. It’s a peek into how the Russian state actually operates, and though it raises more questions than it answers, it leaves you with a shuddering chill. The central figure, Oleg Sentsov, is a Ukrainian writer and filmmaker known for his 2011 movie “Gamer.” In Russia, it made him a directorial star, but during the 2014 Crimean crisis he became part of the AutoMaidan movement, devoted to keeping Ukraine — and, specifically, Crimea — independent of Russia. He delivered food and supplies to Ukrainian servicemen, but on May 11, 2014, he was arrested and charged with organizing a terrorist cell, plotting terrorist attacks, and trafficking in illegal arms. He was held indefinitely and is now serving a 34-year prison sentence in Siberia. (The movie ends with clips of that Siberian prison. Have you ever seen Siberia? It looks like … Siberia.)

We’re shown footage of Sentsov in TV interviews during his moment of indie-film fame and then, a few years later, speaking from behind bars in the courtroom (yes, there’s a jail cell in court). Tall and husky, with dark cropped hair, popping eyes, and a grin of goofy optimism, he’s the father of two teenagers, and if you were looking for someone to play him in a movie, it might be Bradley Cooper; he has that kind of rubbery resilience. A number of noted directors — Wim Wenders, Agnieszka Holland — show up to testify to his status as a filmmaker.

In “The Trial,” Sentsov embraces his role as a political prisoner, yet the movie reveals what the stakes are: When he talks to his daughter on the phone, we see the price paid by any dissident — not just the personal agony of incarceration, but the ripped bonds of family. Sentsov was subjected to torture in prison, all to produce a confession to activities that never happened. (He didn’t confess.) The reason “The Trial” is a valuable document, even though it’s not an especially good movie, goes right back to Putin. It was Sentsov’s status as an art-house celebrity that made him a target in Russia. The regime arrested many “terrorists,” but he was held up as an example to the elite, intellectual class. The message was: If we can do this to him, we can do it you. The real terrorism came from the government, a way of driving fear into those who might speak out.

Russia swims in a daily ice bath of fake news (and real-news clampdown), which is why documentaries have been some of the only vehicles for revealing Vladimir Putin’s thug tactics. Ten years ago, the barely seen film “Poisoned by Polonium: The Litvinenko File” was the first inquiry to amass serious data suggesting that what Bill O’Reilly said about Putin is true. In “The Trial,” we see extended clips of Putin addressing the Sentsov case (a member of the Russian Parliament bows and scrapes before Putin so nervously it’s like seeing an outtake from “The Godfather, Part II”), but Putin, in public, is no glowering fascist. He comes off as impeccably civilized and almost geekishly seductive. He makes you want to be his friend. That, of course, is his version of smoke and mirrors.

Directed and shot by Askold Kurov, a Russian filmmaker as brave as his subject, “The Trial” is a thrown-together movie that doesn’t have much of an arc. It’s 75 minutes long, and to be brutally honest, I would have been just as happy watching Sentsov’s story compressed into a “60 Minutes” segment. Yet whatever its flaws, a movie like this one is necessary. It speaks the truth about the Russian regime — the truth that’s buried by Putin, and now buried by our own president, who only dreams that he could do the same thing to his enemies. More than ever, global film culture needs every documentary that lets you stare into the face of oppression with eyes wide open.

Berlin Film Review: ‘The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov’
Reviewed at Cinemaxx (Berlin Film Festival), February 10, 2017. Running time: 75 min.

Production
A Ceská televise, Prag production in cooperation with the Polish Film Institute.

Crew
Producers: Max Tuula, Maria Gavrilova, Dariusz Jablonski, Izabela Wójcik, Violetta Kaminska.

Crew
Director: Askold Kurov. Oren Moverman. Camera (color, widescreen): Kurov. Editor: Michal Leszczylowski.

With
Oleg Sentsov, Vladimir Putin, Agnieszka Holland, Wim Wenders.

A Word from Our Sponsor

And now, a word from our sponsor, the common cause.

english-girls

Constructing life, however, is undoubtedly tantamount to producing culture. The life that man constructs consciously is, in fact, culture. Culture is the totality of man’s advances in transfiguring the world. Culture is the world, altered by man according to his mind’s ideals.

But culture, in this case, includes not only theoretical and symbolic endeavors, as encapsulated in science and art. A significant and essential part of culture are those modes of work that really change the world around us, not merely in thought and imagination. They include economics, production, agriculture, engineering, medicine, eugenics, practical biology, education, and so on. Indeed, an overview of all the current research and trends makes plain that culture’s contents are revealed as the things people actually to change reality using these means. Culture is not only pure science and pure art, but definitely consists in applying them to production, the mining and processing industry, labor, and technology. Hence, we can say that culture’s ultimate meaning and goal are actually to improve and transform the world through nature’s rational management.

The new culture of the future involves nothing other than identifying this universal culture, revealing it as the work of transfiguring the world.

It follows that the first task, which precedes all construction and organization, is expanding the common notion of culture and including in it the modes of human endeavor that have previously been regarded as outside its scope. In other words, what must vanish are the current disjunction between culture and life, and the consequent separation of theoretical and symbolic work, which generates expressions of knowledge and ideal patterns, from work that really, by means of action, changes our environment.

To this end, we must first clearly understand the source of this pernicious disjunction. Its roots undoubtedly lie in the ancient division of the world into the supernatural world, accessible only to the mind and imagination, and the earthly, material world where human action takes place.

Due to the limitations of his outlook and the feebleness of his power over nature, man was unable to effect a real, comprehensive transformation of the environment, and so he marked off a special field of endeavor where he found it relatively easier to enact the kingdom of his reason and his moral and aesthetic ideals. This was the realm of pure knowledge and the similar realm of pure art. Here, in a special world generated by the mind and imagination, man produced the ideas and images he wanted while passively contemplating external reality and acting on it only in his own inner world by enriching his intellect and furthering his aesthetic powers. In this segregated realm, he scored victories over unreasoning, vicious nature, but what these successes lacked was the fact they led to no changes in real life except for producing generations of especially sophisticated, accomplished people who were quite remote from the mass of humanity, who continued to languish in the grip of a life that was impoverished, meaningless, and misshapen. Thus did passive contemplation and abstract philosophizing evolve. They were joined by pure science and pure art. Scientists have engaged in pure theory, forgetting their work makes sense only insofar as it really transfigures the world, and that they, accordingly, are not a self-sufficient corporation, but merely a committee of sorts, designated by humanity for a particular goal: drafting a project for the world’s transfiguration. For their part, artists have surrendered to the symbolism of images and forgotten they only make sense insofar as they are linked to reality, and that art’s purpose is to provide people with an ideal of a better world and assist in actually converting the present into such a future. Consequently, culture has become detached from life and enclosed in the narrow confines of pure creativity, remote from reality.

The outcome of the disjunction between symbolic and theoretical endeavors and real cultural work has been equally detrimental to both. Without thought, action is meaningless; thought without movement is ineffective; while knowledge, since it is applied to nothing, degenerates into abstract intellectualizing; science that has no practical end ultimately turns into an exposition of methods that have no purpose; and art that produces only dead likenesses turns into a harmful amusement. On the other hand, lawmaking and economics, as endeavors that change the material world; medicine and eugenics, which change the nature of living beings; and education, which changes their mental nature, are likewise bereft of a particular purpose and come to serve private and individual interests instead of pursuing the task of transfiguring the world.

The outcome is humanity’s atomization into a number of warring centers. Culture is no longer produced as the common cause of human efforts, while the latter develop, each in its own field, as self-contained strivings. Hence the birth of the destructive particularism we find at the heart of cultural liberalism, which was proclaimed during the Renaissance and has evolved into modern cultural chaos. In this state, the common conscious action of people, instead of blazing a course for itself through history as a single, powerful stream, has trickled away into a thousand rivulets, which have mostly ended up as standing puddles of fetid water. Each man lives only for his selfish purposes. A number of dead ends arise, discrete lives fenced off from the rest. An idol in the guise of personal prejudice or passion is erected in each such dead end. Mutual bloody war erupts in the name of the idols, tearing humanity apart with strife. However, at the same time, people are united by irrational factors, but this unity is usually based on narrow-mindedness and passivity, and crumbles when it encounters consciousness, even in its primary selfish, individual form.

These phenomena have caused the crisis now experienced by European culture. It is clear it cannot stay in a state of modern individual atomization, and just as clear that the way to past attempts at unification, based on extinguishing consciousness, is forbidden to it due to its hypertrophied modern evolution. The only way left is to produce a culture in which consciousness would not be removed from life but would projectively manage it, moreover, manage it not in the sense of separating people from each other, but, on the contrary, in the sense of uniting them as completely as possible on the basis of a common cause.

That was an excerpt from Valerian Muravyov, “A Universal Productive Mathematics” (1923), in Boris Groys, ed., Russkii kozmism (Moscow: Ad Marginem Press,  2015), 180–184

Translated by the Russian Reader