On February 23, female feminists spoke out—finally!—in defense of men.
“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.”
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
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.
A Ceská televise, Prag production in cooperation with the Polish Film Institute.
Producers: Max Tuula, Maria Gavrilova, Dariusz Jablonski, Izabela Wójcik, Violetta Kaminska.
Director: Askold Kurov. Oren Moverman. Camera (color, widescreen): Kurov. Editor: Michal Leszczylowski.
Oleg Sentsov, Vladimir Putin, Agnieszka Holland, Wim Wenders.
And now, a word from our sponsor, the common cause.
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
“Echoing the Moscow satirical installations is E.I. Liskovich’s composition Dying Capitalism, erected on the Obvodny Canal in perfect harmony with the surrounding landscape. It features the huge plywood figure of a capitalist, half submerged in the water of the canal and calling for help.”
Thinker and revolutionary, founder of Russian social democracy, and major theorist of the Russian labor movement, Georgi Plekhanov (1856–1918) occupies a prominent place in Russia’s political history. Occasioned by the 160th anniversary of his birth, the exhibition focuses on the political biography of this talented propagandist and popularizer of Marxism, showing how his views evolved as the Russian revolutionary movement (1870–1917) progressed from the Populists to the Marxists. Avoiding both apologetics for an “outstanding Russian Marxist thinker” and Soviet-era accusations of Menshevism and opportunism, the exhibition shows the socio-economic and political conditions that shaped the revolutionary’s worldview.
In 1876, Plekhanov was an organizer of the clandestine organization Land and Liberty, taking part in rallies and strikes, and penning proclamations. During the first political demonstration in Russia, which took place outside Kazan Cathedral in Petersburg on December 6, 1876, Plekhanov delivered a diatribe against the autocracy. He rejected terrorism as a means of struggle, and when Land and Will split in 1879, he headed the underground Populist organization Black Repartition. Fleeing from police persecution, Plekhanov went into exile abroad, spending a total of thirty-seven years in Switzerland, Italy, France, and other European countries.
In 1883 in Geneva, Plekhanov founded Emancipation of Labor, the first Russian Marxist group, which published the works of Marx and Engels and popularized Marxism. Plekhanov became a prominent Marxist theorist and a leader of the international socialist movement, participating in the congresses of the Second International, and producing numerous works of journalism, philosophy, and literary criticism. In 1900, Plekhanov and Lenin launched the underground newspaper Iskra. Plekhanov was also involved in founding the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, but after the party split into Bolshevik and Menshevik factions in 1903, he was at odds with Lenin.
The exhibition deals at great length with Plekhanov and Lenin’s relationship, which evolved from cooperation to confrontation. Plekhanov emerged as a political antagonist of Bolshevism and a critic of Lenin and the October Revolution. (He dubbed Lenin’s “April Theses” “nonsense.”) The exhibition has also captured the fierce polemics about Marxism that Plekhanov conducted with the Populists Nikolay Mikhaylovsky and Lev Tikhomirov, the revisionist Eduard Bernstain, the Legal Marxist Pyotr Struve, and Yekaterina Kuskova, ideologist of the so-called Economists.
The exhibition features documents, photographs, and works of Georgi Plekhanov, as well as numerous exhibits on the history of the Russian revolutionary movement, including Land and Liberty’s first leaflets from the 1870s. Paintings and drawings illustrate the events to which Plekhanov responded.
Plekhanov’s death mask and a documentary film about his funeral (provided by the Russian State Documentary Film and Photo Archive) witness the end of his life. On June 9, 1918, Plekhanov’s coffin was escorted by students, clerks, teachers, journalists, lawyers, and workers—by no fewer than ten thousand Petrograders who refused to obey the instructions of Bolshevik leaders. People of different political views and convictions marched should to shoulder in the funeral procession, including Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, Constitutional Democrats and ardent monarchists. Only the official Bolshevik authorities demonstratively refused to be involved in the funeral. One of the greatest men of his time was thus laid to rest.
On Friday, Vladimir Putin met with artists and cultural figures at a joint session of the Council for Culture and Art and the Council for the Russian Language in St. Petersburg. He added in his response to entreaties for filmmaker Oleg Sentsov’s freedom that Sentsov, one of the subjects of The Voice Project’s “Imprisoned for Art” campaign, was “convicted not for art, but for taking other functions, as investigative and court bodies say, and particularly in fact he devoted his life to terrorist activity,” that “no one convicted him for his views or his position.”
He went on to say, “We should rely on that we live in a state governed by the rule of law and such issues should be of course decided by the court system,” but that “officials who interpret works of arts may take action” because “we don’t want what happened in Paris [at Charlie Hebdo] to be repeated here.” He speculated that “maybe the artists didn’t intend to offend anybody, but they did,” and that “we must bear that in mind, and not allow that, not split the society.”
President Vladimir Putin
23, Ilyinka Street,
Moscow, 103132, Russia
Dear President Putin:
Authoritarians around the globe almost always use the same playbook—the same tactics to stifle dissent, the same type excuses to imprison those who speak out against them, even the same words. It is not original and it is quite predictable when you see enough of it, as we do in our work.
A common play is that outspoken dissidents, especially known figures such as artists, are arrested on spurious charges and imprisoned following show trials. The tactic is to make an example of the individual dissident in order to stifle dissent more widely, and it is most easily efficacious when applied to those already in the public eye, well known for their art or activism or leadership in another field. Notoriety of the target, though, is not a sine qua non, as the act of persecution and the proceedings of prosecution can themselves be heavily publicized, especially with the aid of a compliant state controlled media. The pretense for prosecution is often laughable, but the absurdity as well sends a message: that the authoritarian and the authoritarian system are not bound by rule of law, but rather rule through systemic power, and that one’s safety and well-being within the society depend on compliance, conformity and loyalty to the ruling power.
We see these tactics employed the world over and throughout history, and often now in Russia under your leadership. Pussy Riot were imprisoned not for singing a song that called you and your cronies “shit”, but rather for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”; Maria Baronova was arrested not for yelling at Bolotnaya Square, but for “inciting mass riots”; Sergei Magnitsky was arrested, tortured and killed not for exposing the pervasive corruption of a kleptocracy, but for “colluding with a tax evader.” And Journalist Kieron Bryan of the “Arctic 30” evidently ran afoul of your piracy laws? No, of course not, and likewise, as Heather McGill at Amnesty International has noted, the “fatally flawed” trial of filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, a figure well known because of his art, “was designed to send a message. It played into Russia’s propaganda war against Ukraine and was redolent of Stalinist-era show trials of dissidents.”
As Ms. McGill alludes to, you are far from the first to use this tactic on dissidents. Arseny Roginsky was arrested for forgery, Gunārs Astra for spying, Andrei Amalrik for pornography, Nikolay Gumilyov for conspiracy, Ephraim Kholmyansky for possession of ammunition, and Alexander Lavut for possession of a book. The tactic is not new and it is not region specific. Mussolini had Gramsci arrested in Italy not for his writings, but for supposed involvement in an assassination plot. Muhammadu Buhari imprisoned Fela Kuti in Nigeria not for being a singer of truths, but for being a smuggler of currency. As the biblical saying goes, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Oleg Sentsov’s views and activism made him a target; the notoriety from his art made him a good one.
In regard to your comments that you have not the power to free Oleg, you are right, in ways you don’t understand. You so graciously let Pussy Riot out just two months before the completion of their two-year term, but Nadya’s right here and says, “You can shove your amnesty up your ass.” Similarly, Oleg does not want us to beg for your clemency, but would rather we parade your glib hypocrisy. You misunderstand us if you think we ask for his freedom through your benevolence, rather, we demand it from your discreditation. That is what we mean by #FreeOlegSentsov.
In regard to your comment that freedom of expression requires the responsibility not to offend, you pretend to not understand that freedom requires the ability to do so. We hear this from your kind all the time, it is an old song to a bad tune—the authoritarian pretending to be a champion of freedom that is not freedom.
Your doublespeak attempts to engender doublethink. You are not the first and you are not alone in this either. You have your political technologists, your state media, and your embarrassing troll factories, the US has its think tanks, corporate media and its own embarrassing trolls, sometimes disguised as clowny demagogues who spray tan on ephemeral ideologies and syllogistic hyperbole of various offensive hues. Orwell predicted that the very concept of objective truth would fade from the world, and your kind seem hard at work to make it so, but many of us believe that in the end the truth does out because it is existentially, ontologically superior to lies. You’ve heard this before, but it doesn’t sink in. You think that imprisoning artists silences them, but each speaks more loudly because of it, loud enough for the world to hear. You think repression and brutality invoke fear, but they inspire courage and embolden action. Russia has one of the greatest traditions of dissidents of any nation on earth, you and your predecessors did that. These lessons your kind seldom learns.
As for those of us here in the States, we’ll likely have our own taste of authoritarianism before long, but we are not afraid. We have many warriors here. They are standing right now in the snow, unbroken, on the Great Plains of North Dakota. And luckily, we have learned the lessons from those like you, so we’ll act accordingly. In the meantime, we’ll abide by, and learn from the words of Oleg himself:
There is no need to pull us out of here at all costs. This wouldn’t bring victory any closer. Yet using us as a weapon against the enemy will. You must know: we are not your weak point. If we’re supposed to become the nails in the coffin of a tyrant, I’d like to become one of those nails. Just know that this particular one will not bend.
Hunter Mora Heaney
The Voice Project
My thanks to Mr. Heaney for his kind permission to republish this letter here. TRR