Riding the Moscow Subway with the Ceausescus

ceausescus“Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu. Nicolae Ceausescu looked after his health. The family of the Romanian Communist Party’s general secretary was especially proud of their bathrooms, equipped with gold faucets, shower, and sinks, their swimming pool and day spa, their home movie theater, and their greenhouse with exotic plants. Peacocks roamed the premises…” Photo courtesy of Tatiana Tanja Yarikova

Tatiana Tanja Yarikova
Facebook
January 16, 2020

Many trains in the Moscow subway are decked out thematically. There is, for example, an Oleg Tabakov train with pictures of him in every car, photos of him in various roles in the theater and cinema, and so on. And there are many other oddly themed trains. No one pays them any mind anymore. Yesterday, however, I found myself on the “Health” train on the Ring Line for the first time. There were pictures on the walls of pumped-up athletes and champions, and of Brezhnev and Khrushchev for some reason. And, believe it or not, of CEAUSESCU! Who comes up with this stuff? Who gets paid money for this nonsense?! Maybe they can stop prettifying Moscow?

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

“My Statement Has Been Recorded Accurately” (Berlin, February 1-3, 2020)

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“My Statement Has Been Recorded Accurately”/”Meiner Aussage getreu protokolliert”

An Exhibition in Solidarity with Political Prisoners in Russia
Living Gallery Berlin, February 1-3, 2020

Exhibition opening and roundtable, 5 p.m., February 1, 2020, with simultaneous translation from Russian to German, exhibition closing and auction, 7 p.m., February 3, 2020

Living Gallery Berlin presents a group show of works by Russian anarchists and antifascists, as well as artists in solidarity with them.

The Network Case is a high-profile political trial in Russia. Ten activists from Penza and Petersburg have been in police custody for over two years, accused of involvement in a “terrorist community” known as the Network. They were subjected to torture with electrical shocks, beatings, and psychological and physical coercion to force them to confess. Their trials are coming to a close, but most of have denied their guilt and demanded an investigation of their allegations of torture. The defendants face sentences ranging from six years to eighteen years in prison.

The exhibition was created in Petersburg by the team behind Rupression.com, which has been publicizing the Network Case in solidarity with the young activists, who were brutally arrested and have been accused of absurd crimes. The artwork they have produced in police custody is part of their fight for freedom and dignity. The exhibition gives them a chance to speak.

The exhibition also features works by contemporary artists from Russia, Ukraine, France, Chile, and Sweden. They meditate on state-sponsored violence, torture, crackdowns, imprisonment, and absurd accusations.

The exhibition has already been shown five times in Russia: three times at various venues in Petersburg, and one time each in Moscow and Penza. The Berlin showing will be the first time the exhibition has been presented abroad.

The opening on February 1, 2020, will feature a guided tour of the show and a round table on political prisoners in Russia today, moderated by Olga Romanova, head of Russia Behind Bars. Former Russian political prisoners, as well as political exiles who faced persecution in Russia in connection with the Network Case, have been invited to attend.

The exhibition closes February 3. The closing will feature a charity auction at which you can buy works presented in the show and thus help the defendants in the Network Case, whose families constantly need money for legal and humanitarian aid to the prisoners. Poet Alexander Delfinov will serve as the auctioneer.

During all three days of the exhibition, there will be tours of the show in English and German, as needed. Exhibition goers will be able to write letters and postcards with words of support to the political prisoners, as well as buying merch from Rupression.com’s campaign. Proceeds from the sale will also be used to support the political prisoners in the Network Case.

The exhibition is organized with support from Memorial Deutschland and Dekabristen e.V.

Living Gallery Berlin
Kollwitzstraße 53
10405 Berlin

The gallery is opening from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Thanks to Jenya Kulakova for the heads-up. A few minor factual errors in the original announcement have been corrected. Exhibition view (above) courtesy of the organizers. Translated by the Russian Reader

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If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and other recent 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 share the articles I have posted on these subjects.

Feminists vs. Police in Petersburg

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Police Show Up at Eve’s Ribs Feminist Festival in Petersburg
Mediazona
November 10, 2019

Police have shown up at the Eve’s Ribs Feminist Festival in Petersburg, human rights defender Varya Mikhaylova has informed Mediazona.

Mikhaylova reported that a uniformed male officer and a female plainclothes officer were in the festival space, and a police cruiser was parked next to the entrance. The male officer had asked festival organizer Leda Garina to show them the rental agreement and had inquired about the festival’s repertoire.

Mikhaylova added that the police visit had been triggered by a complaint filed by anti-gay activist Timur Bulatov.

“A performance of the play ’10 Scenes of Sexual Violence’ is scheduled for today,” Mikhaylova said. “[The police officers] want to stay and watch.”

garina policeEve’s Ribs Festival organizer Leda Garina and a police officer. This photo was posted yesterday on the festival’s VK page

Police Promise to Show Up Every Day of Feminist Festival Eve’s Ribs
Fontanka.ru
November 11, 2019

Police officers have visited the Skorokhod theater space, where the Eve’s Ribs international feminist art festival has been taking place. Festival co-founder Leda Garina told Fontanka.ru about the incident on November 11.

“The police officers told us they would monitoring the presence of minors at the festival,” Garina said. “They’re going to inspect the bar at the Skorokhod. And if we summon human rights defenders, the police will call in the guys in the masks, who will line us up against the wall, and then find a way to shut us down.”

As Garina noted, police had already been at the festival the previous day in response to a complaint by activist [sic] Timur Bulatov and had demanded Garina show them the lease agreement for the festival space.

“The police summoned the site’s managers, issued them an order to check the documents of visitors, and warned that they would come to the festival every day,” said Garina. “We’re afraid of provocations and really will be checking everyone’s IDs at the door. This is quite sad, however, because children face sexual abuse and lack of financial support from their fathers much earlier than the age of eighteen, but we cannot talk to them about it.”

Eve’s Ribs, an international festival of feminist theater, cinema, and performance art, runs from November 10 to November 17 in Petersburg. The main venues are the Skorokhod and the space run by the organizers, the social and artistic project Eve’s Ribs.

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up. First photo courtesy of The World. Translated by the Russian Reader

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After decades in the shadows, Russia’s feminists grab their spotlight
Indra Ekmanis
The World
June 5, 2019

Russian feminists paraded a 13-foot-tall model vagina down the streets of St. Petersburg on May 1, 2018, without getting arrested. It was a big win.

“[Police] arrested only those who they have orders to arrest,” says Leda Garina, director of the Eve’s Ribs, a social, artistic, documentary and communication project devoted to the subject of gender discrimination. “But there were no vagina orders, so they didn’t know how to react.”

The giant vagina didn’t spark police action in 2018, but participants were not so lucky in 2019. Six Eve’s Ribs activists were detained.

In a country where the concept of feminism remains at best socially neutral and at worst a “mortal sin,” activists fighting for gender equality under the banner of feminism have to take success where they can get it. And it’s often fleeting.

“This year, one of the girls wore a vagina costume, and they made her take it off so right there in the middle of the May 1 parade, so she was walking basically naked in the middle of the parade and she was just showing everyone the finger,” says Garina, 37.

Activists like Garina and other women at Eve’s Ribs are working to unite people interested in feminism by bringing them together in a physical space. To that end, they opened Cafe Simona — a women-only workspace by day and event space by night.

“The idea was that here you can feel at ease, because in public spaces in Russia, men always bother you,” Garina says. “Men will always come up and ask, ‘What are you writing, what are you eating, what does it say on your shirt?’ It’s terrible.”

There’s a generational shift happening when it comes to feminism in Russia. Millennials and Gen Zers are online — many read English and have been exposed to the fundamental reasoning behind the concept of men and women being born equal. And after decades of repression under the Soviet Union, feminist activism is reemerging in today’s Russia.

“Officially, after the [1917 Russian] Revolution, all women’s rights were achieved, so therefore according to the Soviet system, feminism as a movement had no need to exist,” Garina says.

But the ideal of gender equality as espoused in Marxist doctrine was far from reality. Though equality was touted in principle after the Communist revolution and women’s education and literacy rates rose, in practice, it looked quite different. Female participation in the labor force was not free of gender gaps and didn’t translate into equality in domestic duties. Despite some strides (the Soviet space program had a woman cosmonaut decades before the US did), women were still largely expected to take on work in the home, care for children, and stand in long lines for food in addition to their “equal work” outside the home.

As the USSR was crumbling, feminism began to resurface as a more active movement. But when the Soviet Union did collapse in 1991, women faced new challenges.

“The next problem that women encountered was capitalism. Suddenly there was this new pressure where women became objectified,” Garina says. “This was not the case during the Soviet Union. This meant that women needed to look like super sexualized models in addition to doing all the housework.”

In the post-Soviet years, the main achievements of feminist activists has been “gradual conscious-raising,” pointing to issues that had rarely been in the public discourse previously, such as domestic violence, sexual harassment and discrimination against women and sexual minorities.

But these gains have sustained major blows. In 2017, the Russian State Duma, or lower house of parliament, eased penalties for perpetrators of domestic violence.

“The 2017 amendments symbolized a green light for domestic violence by reducing penalties for perpetrators, made it harder for women to seek prosecution of their abusers, and weakened protections for victims,” according to Human Rights Watch.

Studies suggest that at least one in five women face domestic violence, largely from partner abuse. The vast majority of such incidents go unreported — only about 3% make it to court. The 2017 law — sometimes dubbed the “slapping law” — allows first-time offenders against a partner or a child to be subject to a fine, rather than a criminal charge. It was also supported by the Russian Orthodox Church, which touts “traditional family values.”

The church has been vocally opposed to feminist groups. The band Pussy Riot was famously detained for a rebellious performance in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, then found guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” — directly linked, by the judge, to feminism.

Garina of Eve’s Ribs has been arrested more than once for her feminist work. But she says it won’t deter her.

“My personal goal, as a creative person and as a director, is spread the word about feminism,” she says. “Therefore it needs to be funny, controversial, sexualized, but we can’t just complain. We can always complain about domestic abuse and sexual abuse, but I think that if we don’t show that we can be aggressive, none of our complaints will be heard.”

Another prominent feminist activist, Zalina Marshenkulova, 30, has taken to social media to talk directly to people. Marshenkulova runs “Woman Power” — a channel on Telegram, a popular messaging app in Russia.

Her goal is to explain feminism to a mainstream Russian audience, but Marshenkulova is also known for a Russian Reebok ad campaign that sparked outrage with this slogan on Instagram:

“Don’t sit around hooked on male approval — sit on a man’s face.”

Reebok deleted the campaign, but later put the images back up, except for the controversial one.

Internet users shared screen grabs of the deleted ad.

“I think this ad was good for the Russian audience because if this ad were to run in this light, vanilla, Western style, which I don’t like — something like, ‘be strong, women are great’ — you know, the stuff you see in European ads, this doesn’t work at all here,” Marshenkulova says. “Basically whining and saying ‘let’s respect women’ — this doesn’t work here. This is not Europe, it’s not America.”

Still, Marshenkulova’s frank attitude toward Russian feminism has won her a lot of fans online — including men.

“Yes, I have very many male supporters,” she says. “They understand what I want and they understand the patriarchy kills men too, not only women.”

Marshenkulova, who grew up in a small town in Russia’s far north, says she was raised to “be modest, be quiet,” but it didn’t suit her personality.

“Since I was a kid, I’ve always been rowdy,” she says. “I have a strong personality, you can’t shut me up, you can’t tell me my place. My place is wherever I want it to be, so I try to pass this idea along to other women.”

As in politics, going against the status quo in Russia means taking on some risk. “Opinion makers in this country are always in danger,” Marshenkulova says. But change is happening — slowly.

“I think that one of the big victories for feminism happened just in the past two years,” she says. “Now feminists sometimes appear on television, and not too long ago we were completely invisible. It’s a big accomplishment for us that some channels started talking about feminism in a neutral tone as opposed to highly negative tone. In the past, it was all negative.”

Marshenkulova and Garina take different approaches to feminist activities in Russia, but they agree most activists are largely working toward the same goal.

“Some of them are radical and separatist — they want to work with women exclusively. Others are more liberal,” Garina says. “I believe that all of these movements are important and are moving in one direction because they all influence society. I am willing to work with everyone, women, men, animals, plants, as long as we actually cause some change.”

Max Stropov: The Cop’s Sacred Body

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Max Stropov
Facebook
September 3, 2019

The trials in the so-called Moscow case, in which protesters have been charged with violence against “law enforcement officers” and sentenced to hard time in prison for touching policemen or Russian National Guardsmen, are yet another vivid illustration that violence is not even remotely the issue. The case more resembles lèse-majesté, “doing wrong to majesty,” a modern form of the crime of offending the dignity of sacred authority.

One of the most immediate and common incarnations of this power in the Russian Federation is the Cop’s Body, which has been endowed with more and more mana and has become increasingly taboo. Since the center of power is a void, the ring surrounding the center, the annulus, the sphincter—which, in fact, is the Cop’s Body—has increasingly gained weight. (The numbers of policemen and other “law enforcement officers” in the Russian Federation have been multiplying.)

The Cop’s Body is impersonal, non-individual, and plural. When they are cracking down on demonstrations, law enforcement’s so-called foot soldiers behave like a herd of animals or a swarm of insects. Their faces are concealed. As Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov has argued, they are not citizens.

“In the line of duty,” when “enforcing the law,” their body is transformed into the law’s body. We could also argue, on the contrary, that the law itself is abstract. It means nothing. It acquires reality and efficacy only in the Cop’s Body, which also has no direct connection with the identities of the policeman who constitute it.

Attempts to out and name otherwise anonymous riot cops encounter such resistance not because the cops could get killed, but because they violate the sacredness of their Body.

As for the “physical” and “emotional” trauma they suffer, allegedly, when protesters throw paper cups at them, this trauma is purely symbolic since non-individual, plural, and impersonal power also suffers.

Generally, then, the Cop’s Body does not suffer nor, probably, does it ever die.

Such is the theology of the police. This summer, it would even seem Russian cops have surpassed Russian priests in their sacredness.

Thanks to Max Stropov for his permission to translate and publish this text. Image courtesy of Max Stropov. Translated by the Russian Reader

OMON, HOMO, MONO (Fundraiser for Petersburg Aid to Detainees Group)

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Rodina nedorogo
Facebook
August 12, 2019

We are donating part of the money raised from the sale of items from our “Police” series to the St. Petersburg Aid to Detainees Group.

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It is their volunteers who try and get you out of jail, find you legal counsel, and deliver you care packages of food, water, and other essentials if you have been detained at a protest rally or other public political event in Russia’s cultural capital.

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You can order all these items from us. We can print our logos on t-shirts and sweatshirts. A t-shirt costs 1,500 rubles [approx. 20.50 euros], a sweatshirt, 2,300 rubles [approx 31.50 euros].

#omon #homo #rodinanedorogo

NB. Rodina nedorogo can mail their fabulous t-shirts and sweatshirts abroad. According to them, postage usually costs around 50 rubles or eight euros.  Please click on the link to their Facebook page, above, to see more of their OMON-inspired logos. And remember: it’s for a really good cause. Photos courtesy of Rodina nedorogo. Translated by the Russian Reader

The After Party, or, The Electoral Iguana

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Artplay to Hold “Posh Gubernatorial Election After Party”
Sergei Feofanov
The Village
August 30, 2019

Artplay Design Center in Petersburg (Red Guard Square, 3) will hold Election Night 2019 in the wee hours of September 9, the event’s organizers have informed us. They have dubbed the event a “posh invitation-only after-party” to celebrate the city’s gubernatorial election [on September 8].

Political operatives, politicians, and celebrities [selebriti] will take part in the event. Guests will be treated to projection mapping [sic] and musical sets by Markschneider Kunst and Junkyard Storytellaz, as well as an immersive show [immersivnoe shou] involving actors “made up to look like the eye-catching residents of a communal apartment.” In addition, organizers plan to release an “electoral iguana,” which will crawl to one of four bowels representing the candidates.

Last year, Election Night was held in Moscow, and this autumn the main event will also take place in the capital, including video links with the regions. Organizers include the Russian Public Chamber, National Public Monitoring, the Russian Public Relations Association (RASO), RASO’s Political Strategists Committee, and the Russian Political Consultants Association.

Znak.com reporter Ksenia Klochkova, who writes on the Telegram channel Rotunda, told us that spin doctors working for the campaign of [acting governor and gubernatorial candidate] Alexander Beglov have their headquarters at Artplay. Activist and public figure Krasmir Vranski said that “all normal people” would be up all night contesting the elections.

The organizers claim there will be no campaigning and support for any candidate at the event. Artplay simply met certain criteria as a venue, they explained.

Earlier, the band SBPCh [“The Largest Prime Number”] canceled a concert in the infamous, political scandal-plagued municipal district of Ekateringof. The band’s musicians did not want to play at a politically charged event.

Thanks to Julia Galkina for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Newsweek. Translated by the Russian Reader

Yevgeniy Fiks, “Moscow: Gay Cruising Sites of the Soviet Capital, 1920s–1980s”

Exhibit Opening. Moscow: Gay Cruising Sites of the Soviet Capital, 1920s–1980s
Wednesday, September 4, 2019, 6:00 pm
Harriman Institute Atrium (12th floor, 420 W 118th St., New York), Harriman Institute, Columbia University

Please join the Harriman Institute for the opening reception of the exhibit Moscow: Gay Cruising Sites of the Soviet Capital, 1920s -1980s featuring a series of works photographed in 2008 by artist Yevgeniy Fiks.

The exhibit runs September 3–October 18, 2019. Exhibit hours are Monday–Friday, 9:30 am–5:00 pm, excluding university holidays.

The exhibit documents gay cruising sites in Soviet Moscow, from the early 1920s to the USSR’s dissolution in the early 1990s. Photographed in 2008 in a simple but haunting documentary style, these sites of the bygone queer underground present a hidden and forgotten Moscow, with a particular focus on revolutionary communist and Soviet state sites appropriated by queer Muscovites.

This opening reception will feature a performative reading by actor Chris Dunlop of the 1934 letter to Joseph Stalin by the British Communist and Moscow resident Harry Whyte, in which he attempts to defend homosexuality from a Marxist-Leninist perspective in the face of the campaign of mass arrests that swept Moscow and Leningrad gay circles from 1933 to 1934. After reading the letter, Stalin wrote “idiot and degenerate” in the margins. The letter, which remained unanswered, was kept in the closed Soviet archives until 1990 and translated into English by Thomas Campbell for publication in Fiks’s Moscow (Ugly Duckling Presse).

Yevgeniy Fiks was born in Moscow in 1972 and has been living and working in New York since 1994. He has produced many projects on the subject of the post-Soviet dialogue in the west. His work has been shown internationally and has been included in the Biennale of Sydney (2008), Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2011), and Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art (2015).

Text and images courtesy of the Harriman Institute