Yulia Tsvetkova: Blues and Pinks

“He Threatened to Kill Us for Perverting Children”
A Feminist Staged a Children’s Play. She Has Been Accused of Extremism and Interrogated by Police
Larisa Zhukova
Lenta.ru
March 15, 2019

The police department in Komsomolsk-on-Amur has been investigating the work of feminist Yulia Tsvetkova, producer of the activist comedy theater Merak. The ostensible cause of the investigation is her production of a children’s play about gender stereotypes, Blues and Pinks, which the people who denounced Tsvetkova to the police regarded as promotion of homosexual relations among minors. The suspicions of the authorities have also been piqued by the anti-militarist dance productions Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition and Prague Spring, and the VK community page Komsomolka. Lenta.ru recorded Tsvetkova’s account of why regional activists have grown accustomed to threats of real violence and how the local extremism prevention center (Center “E”) inspects children’s dances and drawings.

“Are You Against the Soviet Union?”
Everyone who has known us for a long time agrees that something completely insane has been happening. We have pupils who have been working with us for almost sixteen years, starting with my mom’s early development workshop.

Our theater is me, the actors, and my mom, our manager. We are a tiny theater company in a really small city and the only young people’s theater of its kind. We are not a classic theater company, but a horizontal (egalitarian) and activist theater. We highlight societal problems and look for ways of solving them. We established the theater a year ago. We decided to call it Merak, with the stress on the first syllable. In Serbian, mérak means a buzz, a high, life’s little pleasures.

The actors are twenty-one children aged six and up. They write poems, contribute to the scripts, build scenery, and choreograph the dance numbers. As director, I supply the overall outline, but then I leave the creativity to them. How do you feel in this scene? I ask them. What should it be like? How should the dialogue sound? What words would  you use to say that? How would you dance it? Some find it odd I deal with children as equals, but I believe it has to be this way. We use improvisation, forum theater, gags, and free dance.

Everything was fine until February, until we decided to stage four danced-based plays, which we had been rehearsing for six months. Two plays are staged one day, while the other two plays are staged the next day. We came up with the idea of calling them a festival by way of combining them. It would have been the first activist art festival in the region. A week before the first performance we got a phone call from city hall. The next day, the Youth Center, a venue we had already confirmed, told us they were booked up on the dates we needed, and there were no openings for the next six months.

The telephone conversation with city hall lasted over an our. City officials went over our poster point by point. Why was our play called Blues and Pinks? We wrote, “We can do it again”: were we against the Soviet Union or something? We were asked what we meant by the word “individual.” Obviously, there was something about what we were doing they didn’t like. We also suddenly got the cold shoulder at other venues.

pic_08ab34d1a9a5f76eb7ff4c96411bec73Detail of a poster for The Color of Saffron Festival of Activist Art. The inscription reads “We can do it again. We can ban it!” 

After the news that the festival had been shut down was published, city hall called us and said we had misunderstood them. Actually, they supported our undertaking. They invited us to a meeting at which they made it understood that if we denied the news reports, they would help us find a venue. Since I don’t like having my arm twisted, and I didn’t think I had done anything wrong by talking about the connection between their first phone call and the sudden refusals to give us a venue, I was not about to refute any of the reports. That was when they interrogated the kids.

“The Kids Are Feared like Terrible Dissidents”
To be honest, I thought we would be called on the carpet for our anti-militarist production Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition. It is a translation of a song by Serj Tankian, lead singer of System of a Down. He often voices his opposition to war and the arms industry. The big dance number in the play is set to his song. It’s an urgent problem for us, because all the boys who attend our workshop, which has been functioning for over twenty years, try to smuggle in toy pistols at first. But we have a ban on weapons, even toy weapons. Why? We are trying to make sense of things. During the big dance number, one dancer acquires a “pistol.” Then another gets one, too, as a means of defense. A third dance gets hold of a machine gun, and the atmosphere heats up. It is satirical and exaggerated, of course, but it is a quite dramatic play as well.

pic_dc844038f81c1c5c70e0d764a49c0a98

Merak Theater’s poster for its four-play, two-day festival, The Color of Saffron. Originally scheduled for March 16 and 17, it was to have featured (in descending order) Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition, Spring [sic], Untouchables, and Blues and Pinks

But when we came up with the play, the shooting at the college in Kerch occurred. The kids were scared: the shooting affected them greatly. We talked a lot about what they thought about the incident and how it could have been avoided. No one at school discussed the incident with the children at all, although it should be said adults generally avoid discussing really important things with teenagers. The kids came up with the play’s finale on their own: it showed how the situation could have been avoided.

Prague Spring is a production based on Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. We pay homage to Vaslav Nijinsky’s original choreography and Maurice Béjart’s 1955 choreography, using music by John Cage. Coincidentally, I got the idea during the fiftieth anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet troops: the two “springs” came together in my mind around the subject of human rights and resisting oppression. It’s a simple, obvious subject, but when you grow up in a small city like Komsomolsk, it can seem quite remote and forbidden. But this is just what I read into it, inner thoughts not meant for viewers. The kids simply dance spring. That’s it. Six-year-olds hop up and down and run around in circles, making up half of it as they go along.

Our fifteen-minute play Untouchables focuses on bullying at school and kindergarten. A lot of what the kids told us themselves about their own experiences went into the play. The more we talk things through, the easier it is for them to deal with them.

pic_eda40eabbbb3ba6a6ff95708693a0148Photo from the Merak Activist Comedy Theater’s page on VK 

Blues and Pinks is a play that illustrates stereotypes about girls and boys. According to the script, we run through the list of clichés: girls like pink, boys like blue; boys are messy, girls clean up after them; boy are defenders and warriors and shouldn’t cry, while girls are future mothers who dream only of getting married; girls and boys can never understand each other. This is presented on stage as a lighthearted dance. We try and show the notion that if a boy pulls your pigtail, it means he likes you is a step away from the idea that if a man beats a woman he must love her.

We continue by suggesting a solution. One of the boys dances, releasing his pent-up feelings as it were. The other boys follow his example, realizing that, whether they dance or not, it does not make any more or less guys. The girls share their dreams. One of them wants to be a businesswoman, while another wants to be a director. They recite the names of great women: the first woman to climb Everest, the first woman to win an Oscar, and so on.

Sophisticated audiences in the western half of Russia would probably find it quite naive, but in our city it is timely and relevant. For example, the other day, a local radio presenter, Tatyana Zhemerenetskaya, announced she planned to run for mayor. She was fired: her bosses were outraged by her excessively “unfeminine ambitions.” Women are supposed to stay home and make soup. In the final scene of our play, the kids say they are individuals. They have dreams and passions.

The funny thing is I didn’t even think about the connotation of the play’s title, which the police caught. One of our pupils came up with it. I have hung out with female LGBT activists, and none of them ever call themselves “blues” or “pinks.” They are just colors to me. Honestly, if I had had doubts, I would not have bothered using the words in the title.

Our actors are between six and seventeen, but the authorities fear us as if we were terrible dissidents. Miraculously, we found a woman interested in contemporary young people’s theater who was not afraid to provide us with a venue. We intend to hold the festival there as planned, on March 16 and 17. But we have nowhere to seat viewers: we cannot find people who will give us chairs. One person said yes, but later he was scared off, apparently.

“She Drew the Rainbow of Her Own Free Will”
The policewoman who came to my office could not say out loud the reason for the investigation. The complaint read that we were promoting homosexuality among minors. She showed me the complaint and blushed.

During my interrogation, I was told I was at the local department for extremism and terrorism prevention (Center “E”). Three complaints had been filed against me: for promoting homosexual relations among minors, for inciting hatred towards men, and for “extremism,” I think.

The interrogation lasted nearly four hours.

First, the officers gave me screenshots of various posts and photos from my personal social media page and the community page Dandelion Field, where I write about really simple things like contraception, HIV, and condoms, things that, unfortunately, not all teenagers know about. There was also stuff from Komsomolka, which deals with feminism. By the way, there I don’t write at all about men: it’s a community page about women.

One of the screenshots showed a workshop from last year at which a girl had drawn a picture, and there was a rainbow in her picture. I was forced to write two paragraphs explains that my underage female pupil had drawn the rainbow of her own free will. No one had pressured and coerced her to draw it.

Next, we got hung up on the phrase “gender stereotypes.” The police officer thought gender had something to do with transgenders. I explained to him what gender stereotypes were, what I meant by the term, and gave examples of stereotypes, as if I were sitting for an exam at school.

Then I was shown a screenshot of a post in which I had negatively assessed the “gay propaganda law,” and I had described the persecution of the lesbians in Chechnya and the “corrective” rapes to which they had been subjected.

The detective asked whether I engaged in propaganda. He asked was sex education was, and who needed it and why. He asked what feminism was. He asked what intersectional feminism was. Ultimately, I had to describe to him how I imagined traditional family values, what I thought about families. I wrote that I wasn’t against traditional family values like love, acceptance, and warmth. This ridiculous testimony took up four pages.

This was followed by the persecution of our children and personal attacks on them. There is no other way of putting it.

“The Police Have Come for You. Let’s Go”
The police officers running the investigation are clueless about the questions they have been asking, and this incompetence has only exacerbated the circumstances.

On March 10, they came for one of boys and one of our girls. It is not clear why they were chosen. There are seventeen teenagers in our theater, and they attend different schools. The police did not pick on our oldest and youngest pupils.

The 15-year-old girl was summoned after school from her house and grilled for two hours by five adults: two police officers and three female school employees. They put the screws on her and descended into semi-insults. They quizzed her about LGBT. Did she know what it meant? they asked. How had she found out? Was I promoting homosexuality? Did I encourage girls to sleep with girls, and boys with boys? The subjects they discussed were such that they would have earned an 18+ rating, but the interrogation took place without the girl’s parents present.

pic_7bc908930662b55a0cdbabb1976b5037Photo from the Merak Activist Comedy Theater’s page on VK 

The 13-year-old boy was kept after school. He was summoned to the headmaster’s office. “The police have come for you. Let’s go,” he was told. No one had the presence of mind to call his parents. The police officers showed him the likes I had awarded a post I no longer remembered, but they were showing this to a child! The absurdity was off the charts. They asked the boy and the girl about each other. Maybe they had picked the through the list of  numbers in their telephones.

When, the next day, they came for another of our boys, we warned him to call his parents immediately. He called his dad, who works as a beat cop, so he was not grilled for two hours, but twenty minutes, and the conversation was more polite and less biased.

Everyone is scared. Naturally, it is frightening when you’re interrogated for two hours. For now, no one wants to quit the theater, because everyone is aware of my work. They know I am opposed to violence, and I treat boys and girls equally. But, first of all, the subject itself scares the kids, because they are still kids and not tuned into all these issues. Second, they feel the pressure: they are afraid to say something wrong and inadvertently throw me under the bus.

Their parents and I have now been trying to understand the legal grounds of why we have been persecuted. We have been poring over the laws.

“Rewind to Fifty Years Ago”
Until recently, everyone really loved our theater and told us how cool we were. We did two productions wholly in English about the history of the English language, which were unprecedented in our city. At the Drama Theater, we did a dance performance about the problems of teenagers entitled Evolution. It was about how society puts pressure on carefree kids, but ultimately their friends help them and their problems are solved. This was all performed to poems written by one of the girls involved in the production. The show was a benefit for disabled children and the local organization Lighthouse of Hope. Not a bad track record for a single year!

Children grow up, and the problems they face get more complicated. First of all, they deal with domestic violence. I have had whole black months when it was one story after another, and I cried because I felt so helpless. It’s really scary: dad’s beating mom, dad’s beating me, dad’s beating my brother. Gender stereotypes are also something our kids deal with up close and personal. My fifteen-year-old female pupils are already pestered now with questions of when they are getting married and having kids, and why they should bother with careers. Homophobia is also a force. I know there are LGBT teenagers out there, and I cannot imagine how hard it is for them to cope alone. The streets in Komsomolsk are a really dangerous place, just as in most typical provincial towns, I would guess.

Komsomolsk is one half a factory town, and one half a gangster town. When you hear about us, rewind to fifty years ago. It is not the twenty-first century here, but the twentieth century. I think what really spooked the police was that I had been talking about activism and feminism. These words scare people.

Our local feminist community consists of two volunteers and me. I have an audience of a thousand some subscribers on our community page, but between two and twenty people in Komsomolsk itself. That is the number of people who come to our events. Unfortunately, that is our audience for the time being. It is a infantile scale.

But there have always been plenty of haters. When I decided to do a lecture on abuse, there were threats: we will come and show you what real violence is like, I was warned. Instead, a group of women showed up who sabotaged the lecture by insisting victims had only themselves to blame or something of the sort.

Even our women’s tea party was disrupted. We wanted to make it women-only, without men, so we could talk about our problems. Men wrote to us that they would come and show us what feminism was. There were so many threats that even the young women themselves got scared, along with the venue where we had scheduled the tea party. They asked us not to come.

I have stopped responding to death threats. Now, as we have been chatting, I have received three messages from a young man. The only word in the messages you can print is the word “you.” Yesterday, a man wrote on the community page of our theater workshop threatening to kill us for “perverting children.” This the general background.

After I was interrogated for four hours by the police about feminism and sex education, I felt I had a claim to the hashtag #FeminismIsNotExtremism. Six months ago, I would insert in posts in connection with the case of Lyubov Kalugina, when I was not even remotely in harm’s way. It is one thing to read about persecuted activists, but it is another thing to become one of them. People keep asking why I do it. What is the point?  My run-in with the police makes me think hard about the kind of country we live in. But I can name at least twenty-one people for whom what I do is not pointless. I can name even more people, actually.

pic_55145f4a6ff0238f1689b54bfaa9dccbPhoto from the Merak Activist Comedy Theater’s page on VK 

What scares me most is the kids think they did something wrong. I ask them, You believe in what we do? Yes, they reply. Do you see anything bad about it? No, they answer. But the whole situation puts them under psychological pressure. It is a really terrible precedent, because the kids have been rapped on the knuckles as it were. They really work their butts off staging our plays. They invest a tremendous amount of energy in them. They are sincerely looking for ways to change the world for the better. These kids are really delicate and sensitive, and they are close to each other as group. They volunteer their time, they visit orphanages, they support other social projects. They are totally maxed out: they try and get straight A’s at school, and they are involved in academic competitions. In the midst of all their activities, they manage to come to four-hour-long, physically draining rehearsals.

But then adults tell them activism is bad, activism is evil, without even fully understand what activism is. And when these adults show up a week before our festival and tell us to get lost, both the kids and I are stressed out. They are really worried.

I have not slept or eaten for three days. I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I have been summoned again to the extremism prevention department. The phone is tapped, and calls with my lawyer are cut off. But I dream of opening a women’s crisis center in our city and an alternative independent school where the children would be not be bullied and hounded, and continuing to move the theater forward. In late spring, we are doing a production based on Svetlana Alexievich’s book Last Witnesses, about children during the Second World War, and in the summer we are staging a new English-language production.

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader.

UPDATE. DVHab.ru reports that, despite the fact the local authorities ostensibly canceled Merak Theater’s Color of Saffron Festival, the festival went ahead way anyway at “closed” venues. DVHab.ru included a full video of Merak’s performance of Blues and Pinks in its article. I have reproduced it below.

Alexander Podrabinek: We Are Different

podrabinek-ssylkaAlexander Podrabinek in exile in Yakutia in 1979. Courtesy of Institute of Modern Russia

We Are Different
Alexander Podrabinek
Grani.ru
March 8, 2019

Nor are we in this together. I did not want to draw a dividing line between people and put them in different camps, but I have no choice: there are tough times on the way. If we are not lucky, things could go back to the way they were. You all will go back to your kitchens. Your tongues will be firmly in your cheeks again, and the jokes made by stage and TV performers will be cautious and carefully calibrated to register the authorized quantity of discontent. We will go back to our labor camps and prisons, our psychiatric hospitals and places of forced exile, to our intransigence and contempt for violence. By “we” I do not mean only those of us who have already spent time in those places. There will be new generations of stubborn, improvident, free-spirited Russians. We were different back then, and we are just as different now. Once upon a time, Solzhenitsyn quite accurately identified you as “smatterers.”*

You always knew what was permitted and what was forbidden. You had the Soviet individual’s sixth sense for knowing where the line ran. Few of you ever crossed the line, and the few who did left ordinary life behind forever, some going to the west, while others were sent east. When communism collapsed and freedom dawned, you immediately felt brave. You spoke loudly, angrily, and righteously. It was a sight to see. We were glad our ranks had swelled. We were glad we were stronger and could change our country.

The fresh breeze of change has subsided, however, and the familiar smell of Soviet rot is in the air. Censorship, political prisoners, extrajudicial killings, and wars of aggression have reemerged. Where are you now, masters of reincarnation? What side are you on? How many of you are still on our side? You now go regularly to the Kremlin to receive decorations, medals, state prizes, and honorary titles. You heed the demands of censorship and edit out anything that could cause Roskomnadzor to blow a fuse. You have a keenly honed sense of what can be said and what cannot be said, of what plays can be staged, movies made, and concerts held, and which it would be better not stage, make, and hold. You serve on a variety of presidential and ministerial councils. Pretending to be in opposition, you seek permission for your protests from the authorities, but as soon as the Kremlin calls, you rush there to explain yourselves and prove your personal indispensability.

As before, you sing the same old song about the value of small deeds, because you are afraid to be free. You were also afraid back then, when we were imprisoned. You carried the regime’s water in silence or grumbled under the watchful eye of art critics in plain clothes. You pretended to be fearless freethinkers and the movers and shakers behind imaginary reforms. On the stage, you cracked witty jokes approved by the censors. You published your censored stories and novels in the thick literary magazines. Commissioned by the State Committee for Cinema (Goskino), you made cheeky movies whose cheekiness was carefully calibrated. But you never crossed the line lest you lose your place on the gravy train.

You might wonder whom I am addressing. Who is the target of my reproaches and accusations? That is an easy question. Take an honest look at your past and your present. What did you do under socialism? What did you after it collapsed? Who made you bend your back in the old days? How straight do you stand up nowadays?

To be honest, the recent scandal involving humorist Mikhail Zhvanetsky compelled me to write this. Public outrage over the latest instance of a celebrity pandering to the Russian powers that be was countered by a chorus of defenders of spinal flexibility. How dare you? they asked. Who are you compared to him? He joked his whole life while you were silent. He is a genius, but you are nobodies. One defender dubbed the storm of criticism a “stink,” while another advised Zhvanetsky not to pay any mind to the “scum.” Yet another defender reminded everyone that Zhvanetsky was permitted to do what lesser people were forbidden.

It is amazing. Do you really regard yourselves as a magnificent, exceptional cultural elite? During the hardest times, you skillfully kowtowed to the Soviet regime. You were caricatured reflections of evil. You were witty, resourceful, and even gifted, but you were the regime’s shadow. You looked good amid a scorched desert where everyone was forbidden to do anything, but where you were allowed certain indulgences by royal decree. Is this what makes you so perpetually proud? Does it forgive you your past and future sins?

You are good at forgiving and vindicating yourselves. It is the meaning of your lives and the key to your survival. You have forgiven yourself for your cowardice during Soviet times, because the times were dangerous. You forgive yourself for selling out nowadays, because it is good for your wallet. You will always find a way to vindicate yourself. Proud, unperturbed, a noble air about you, you will walk the streets again.

Good luck at your old jobs!

* “The Smatterers” was the unhappy English coinage for the title and subject of Solzhenitsyn’s 1974 essay “Obrazovanshchina,” as published in the bilingual anthology From Under the Rubble.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Pskov Rallies in Solidarity with Reporter Svetlana Prokopieva

prokopievaSvetlana Prokopieva. Courtesy of Article 19

“People Haven’t Found Another Way to Voice Their Opinions and Make Themselves Heard” 
moloko plus
February 16, 2019

In early February, the home of journalist Svetlana Prokopieva was searched by the security forces, who suspect her of “vindicating terrorism.” If charged and convicted, she could face seven years in prison. In November 2018, Prokopieva shared her thoughts about the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk live on the radio station Echo of Moscow in Pskov. In December, Roskomnadzor, the Russian media watchdog, claimed the journalist’s statement could be interpreted as “vindication of terrorism.”

What do the people in Prokopieva’s hometown of Pskov think? We spoke with people who attended a rally there in support of her on February 10 and wrote down what they told us.

Nikita, 24, woodworker
I came to this rally to support someone whom the authorities are attempting to punish unjustly simply because she analyzed certain things on her radio program. And for that her home was surrounded by a SWAT team.

First, it’s a shame this is happening in Pskov. I’d always had the sense Pskov was a democratic city, a city of free speech. But things have a changed a bit, apparently.

I don’t think Russia has passed the point of no return yet, but, judging by such cases, it is trying to get there whatever the cost.

Rallies like this also give a boost to the people who attend them. You get the sense you’re not alone, that there are quite a few other people who think like you. Maybe this will also help Svetlana.

Maria, 40, homemaker
I came to this rally to support Svetlana, who back in the day wrote about us and really helped us. She got the attention of our region’s governor, who was then Andrei Turchak, because it was really hard to get to him. But Svetlana helped us with that.

The authorities just took our property. Rosimushchestvo [the Federal Agency for State Property Management] used photocopies of documents to register our house in their name, and so we lost everything. Then our daughter Serafima was born. The doctors diagnosed her with Down Syndrome. We were immediately faced with a whole slew of trials. But Svetlana wrote about us from the very beginning of this business. She found our family when we were still building the house. It was then we had given a gift to the city by restoring a fourteenth-century wall. My husband was given an award for that. They gave him an award, but then they confiscated our house.

Around the same time, there was the “Direct Line” TV program with Vladimir Putin. I think Svetlana is the sort of person who should be on the president’s team, who should work with governors and officials.

Svetlana did an investigative report and helped us. Turchak himself took charge of the matter of our house and an inspection team (sent by President Putin, I think) came to have a look. I would like our rulers to have incorruptible and honest people like Svetlana Prokopieva on their teams.

We don’t want revolutions. We just want there to be good people close to our president and our governors. Now we have a new governor. [Instead of persecuting Prokopieva], they should make her part of his team, and then everything would be terrific in our city.

Guslyana, 40, works in agriculture and handicrafts
I have read the newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya for fifteen years. It’s an excellent newspaper, one of the few independent newspapers in Pskov Region and Russia.

So, I think it’s quite important to defend a reporter from the newspaper, just like any independent reporter who tells the truth.

I think [the charges against Prokopieva] are fabricated and far-fetched. Lots of people say similar things publicly and privately. The lack of opportunities for peaceful protest cause certain people to become radicals, terrorists, and so on. I don’t consider what Prokopieva said a call for terrorism or vindication of terrorism.

It’s just getting at the root of the problem.

I would argue that when the authorities persecute journalists they are just trying to crack down on the independent press and intimidate activists and freethinkers.

God forbid the case should end with Prokopieva’s actual imprisonment. Whether it does or doesn’t happen primarily depends on us.

I would like to quote another of my favorite op-ed writers and journalists [sic], Yekaterina Schulman. She says the only effective thing is public scrutiny and grassroots protest. When they don’t work, nothing else will work at all.

Natalya, 65, pensioner, village councilwoman
I came to this rally because I had to come. That’s all there is to it. There was no way I would not come.

I think it’s a disgrace when a person is punished for her honesty and integrity.

When I heard about the case on Echo of Moscow radio station, the word “lawlessness” [bespredel] came to mind, since this is state-sponsored lawlessness.

I listened to the program on the radio and I wanted to find the article on the internet, but couldn’t find it. I recall, though, that what Svetlana had said was quoted verbatim on the radio program, as far as I understood. There was nothing criminal about it. Moreover, I agreed with her.

I believe we should value, respect, and help such people, not run them into the ground by filing criminal charges like that against them. If it weren’t for such people, the government would simply rot due to a lack of criticism. Maybe the government doesn’t want to be criticized, of course, but if wants to progress and see its mistakes, it has to have people like this. And help them.

Anya, 38, businesswoman
We came to Svetlana’s rally carrying placards about free speech. This illustration of a pencil clenched in a fest was used at the peace march in Paris in 2015 after the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked. I was part of that demo in France four years ago, and now I am here. Of course, there are fewer of us in Pskov, but Pskov is not Paris.

All of us are in the media and on the social networks. We all voice our opinions. None of us is immune to this terror directed against us, actually. We want the right to speak our minds.

Svetlana, 38, content manager
I know Svetlana personally: my previous job had to do with the mass media. Personally, I want to live in a free country where I have the right to speak out, where I can voice my thoughts freely. It’s due to all these things that I’m here.

I read the article for which they are trying to bring Svetlana up on criminal charges. I didn’t find any vindication of terrorism in it. She was simply making an argument. She said nothing radical and made no calls for terrorism.

She merely discussed the situation and why it happened.

First, one of the speakers [at the rally] was right. I don’t consider it a terrorist attack. The individual could find no other way to voice his opinion so it would be heard. After all, he left a note, a message on a Telegram chat channel that he was opposed to the FSB’s use of torture.

How could he make himself heard? It turns out he couldn’t.

Pavel, 21, vigilante, guarding the rally
The people’s militia here in Pskov sent me to the rally to maintain order.

I gather [the authorities] are prosecuting a journalist for a critical article. I didn’t read the article, but I don’t think anyone has abolished freedom of speech [in Russia]. It’s another matter altogether that it falls under our country’s laws.

From the ethical point of view, however, she did nothing wrong, of course.

I believe that peaceful rallies like this one, only publicity and dissemination of information, can help individuals avoid criminal prosecution in Russia.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Siege of Leningrad 75 Years Later

osipova-siege graffiti

The inspiring Petersburg artist and political activist Yelena Osipova has drawn this graffiti to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the lifting of the Siege of Leningrad during the Second World War.

The piece is dedicated to her late friend Lenina Nikitina, another wonderful artist, who lived in the building on whose walls Osipova drew her work.

Nikitina lost her entire family during the Siege, which lasted nearly 900 days, from September 8, 1941 to January 27, 1944.

nikitina-cold bathLenina Nikitina, Cold Bath. Pencil on paper. Courtesy of ArtGuide and the Museum of Nonconformist Art, St. Petersburg

As many as a million civilians are believe to have died during the Siege.

The other evening, an arts program on one of the regional German channels broadcast a segment about Daniil Granin and Ales Adamovich’s Blokadnaya kniga (Book of the Siege), which has recently been translated into German by Helmut Ettinger and Ruprecht Willnow, and published as Blockadebuch: Leningrad 1941–1944.

Blokadnya kniga was translated into English by Clare Burstal and Vladimir Kisselnikov, and published in 2007 as Leningrad under Siege: Firsthand Accounts of the Ordeal.

If you don’t have time to read Blokadnaya kniga or any of the other hundreds of books about the Siege, please watch Jessica Gorter’s stunning 2011 documentary film 900 Days. {TRR}

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The Siege of Leningrad Ended 75 Years Ago Today: Here Are Nine Films and Books about the Siege Worth Watching and Reading
Anton Dolin and Galina Yuzefovich
Meduza
January 27, 2019

[…]

Once There Was a Girl
Viktor Eismont, 1944

Eismont began shooting this unique picture while the Siege was still underway. It premiered a year to the day after the Siege was lifted. The Siege is shown through the eyes of two children, five-year-old Katenka and seven-year-old Nastenka. Natalya Zashchipina, who played Katenka, would go on to star in children’s films such as The Elephant and the Rope and First-Grader in the late 1940s, while Nina Ivanova, who played Nastenka, would star in Spring on Zarechnaya Street in 1956.

Baltic Skies
Vladimir Vengerov, 1960

The best film about wartime Leningrad and Leningrad during the Siege, when Baltic Skies premiered, it outraged Nikolai Chukovsky, whose novel inspired the film and who is credited as the screenwriter. The movies features a star-studded cast, including Pyotr Glevov, Mikhail Ulyanov, Mikhail Kozakov, and Rolan Bykov. The film’s young lovers were played by Oleg Borisov and Liudmila Gurchenko, who would later act in Alexei German’s war films. German considered Vengerov one of his teachers.

We Looked Death in the Face
Naum Birman, 1980

A picture about the founding of the Frontline Youth Ensemble. In one of his final roles, Oleg Dahl played the former choreographer. The film features poems by Olga Bergholz and music by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Blockade
Sergei Loznitsa, 2006

A documentary film consisting of footage shot by cameramen during the Siege, it features rare scenes, including the execution of Germans. Loznitsa added a soundtrack to the film, bringing viewers closer to the events.

We Read the Book of the Blockade
Alexander Sokurov, 2009

Less a film and more an impressive project by Sokurov, We Read the Book of the Blockade shows Petersburgers both famous and unknown reading aloud Daniil Granin and Ales Adamovich’s book, a compilation of eyewitness accounts of the Siege. The readers include actors Vladimir Retsepter and Leonid Mozgovoi, and Sokurov himself.

Celebration
Alexei Krasovsky, 2019

[Posted on January 2, 2019, by Alexei Krasovsky. “Attention! This film was made without state financing or grants. The filmmakers paid for its production themselves. Please do not show Celebration without listing the information about how you can donate money to us.  It is the only we can cover the costs of this film and start working on a new one. Thank you.

Sberbank Visa/Mastercard Card (in Russia): 5469 3800 7030 3101 (Aleksei Olegovich Krasovskii)

DonationAlerts (featuring viewer poll): https://www.donationalerts.com/r/alkras

PayPal: https://paypal.me/alkras (alkrasss@gmail.com)

Yandex Money: https://money.yandex.ru/to/410013518953856

Cameraman’s Yandex Money account: money.yandex.ru/to/410013518953856 (Sergei Valentinovich Astakov, cameraman-sa@yandex.ru)

Ehterium address: 0xbA2224ba22f2f4494EF01C6691824A178651d615

Don’t forget to mark your contribution as a “donation” so that we’ll have any easier time making films in the future.

Happy New Year!

Screenwriter and director: Alexei Krasovsky

Cinematographer: Sergei Astakhov

Starring: Alyona Babenko, Yan Tsapnik, Timofei Tribuntsev, Anfisa Chernykh, Pavel Tabakov, and Asya Chistyakov

Executive producer: Yuliya Krishtofovich

Art director: Yevdokia Zamakhina

Sound: Nelly Ivanovna and Anastasia Anosova

Assistant director: Zhanna Boykova

Editing: Vladimir Zimin and Alexei Krasovsky

The song ‘Field, O My Field’ was written by Iosif Kovner in 1937 and first recorded in 1941.”]

Filmmaker Alexei Krasovsky shot this controversial, intimate, tragicomic film at his own expense and uploaded it to YouTube during the New Year holidays. The picture deals with the privileged classes during the Siege and contains transparent illusions to the present. Starring Alyona Babenko, Yan Tsapnik, and Pavel Tabakov.

Polina Barskova, Zhivye kartiny [Living pictures], St. Petersburg: Ivan Limbakh, 2014 

Written by poet and academic Polina Barskova, this book is a miscellany of strange, heterogeneous, and genre-bending texts (several stories and essays on the verge of poetry, capped off with a short, semi-absurd play) that interweave the author’s own experiences as a researcher and human being with the real stories of people during the Siege.

Significant historical figures who survived the Siege (poet and literary scholar Dmitry Maximov, writer Vitaly Bianchi, playwright Yevgeny Schwartz) meet on the the pages of Living Pictures with other, unknown shades, such as the art historian Totya and the artist Moses, who made the mistake of falling for each other on the eve of the war, or six-year-old Katya, who plays a gloomy game of  bouts-rimés with her mother, composing a poem about people stricken by hunger-induced dystrophy. The famous, the nameless, Barskova’s other characters, and Barskova, some of whom did not experience the Siege themselves, ring the changes on the book’s main point, as voiced by one of the characters: the Siege was a peculiar civilization with all the qualities of other human communities. This civilization did not disappear without a trace. It has germinated anew in subsequent generations, who continue to feel its icy breath.

Sergey Yarov, Leningrad 1941–42: Morality in a City under Siege, trans. Arch Tait, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2017

1509507981

“The ethic of sympathy demands the gaze not linger on mournful scenes of human agony,” writes historian Sergey Yarov in his book, seemingly ruthlessly violating this ethic. Instead of charitably averting his gaze from the most horrific aspects of the Siege of Leningrad, Yarov peruses as keenly and closely as possible theft and deception, monstrous, incurable physical deformities and people’s aversion to them, assaults on children (it was easier to take food from them since they were weaker), indifference to the suffering and deaths of other people, willingness to endure any humiliation, the collapse of community, and cannibalism.

As he plunges into the abyss of diaries, memories, and official records, uncovering truly unimaginable things, Yarov nevertheless hits upon an impeccable tone for discussing them, managing to maintain in each episode the perfect balance between scholarly scrupulousness and supreme humaneness.

Olga Lavrentieva, Survilo, St. Petersburg: Boomkniga, 2019 

This graphic novel by the young artist Olga Lavrentieva is a laconic, black-and-white account of the life of her grandmother, Valentina Survilo. Survilo’s happy Leningrad childhood ended in 1937 with her father’s arrest. She was exiled to a village in Bashkiria, where her mother died, before making a long-awaited return to her beloved Leningrad. This was followed by the most important and terrible chapter in her biography, the Siege, which the still very young Survilo endured in a prison hospital, the only place willing to employ the daughter of an “enemy of the people.”

The relentless hunger, cold, bombings and artillery attacks, treachery of friends, and rare, miraculous instances of kindness left a deep wound in Survilo’s heart, causing her to suffer nightmares and be constantly anxious about family members during the relatively prosperous postwar years. Lavrentiev uses the rather typically tragic story of one Leningrad woman as a lens through which she and her readers can look at the history of her hometown and the entire country.

Survilo will be published in March 2019.

Thanks to Giuliano Vivaldi for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. I have replaced the trailers used in the original article with full-length videos of the films themselves. Please take note of filmmaker Alexei Krasovsky’s appeal for donations. If you watch Celebration, please consider making a donation to him and his crew via Sberbank, PayPal, Yandex Money or Etherium.

 

Titan Beetles

titan beetle

“The titan beetle (Titanus giganteus) is a neotropical longhorn beetle, the sole species in the genus Titanus, and one of the largest known beetles. […] The short, curved and sharp mandibles are known to snap pencils in half and cut into human flesh. […] The adults defend themselves by hissing in warning and biting, and have sharp spines, as well as strong jaws.” Source: Wikipedia. Photo courtesy of Fluencia

Russian Government Approves Bills to Punish Fake News and “Flagrant Disrespect for the State” on the Internet
Mediazona
January 24, 2019

The Russian government has approved a bill criminalizing “flagrant disrespect for the state on the internet,” as well as stipulating fines for disseminating fake news, reports Interfax, which quotes Pavel Krasheninnikov, chair of the State Duma’s state building and legislation committee.

According to Krasheninnikov, the government’s commentary on the two law bills, which his committee had been waiting for, arrived tonight. Both reviews were positive.

Yesterday, the Prosecutor General’s Office sent the Duma a positive comment on the law bills, although previously it had refused to approve them.

In December 2018, MPs from the United Russia party tabled a law bill that would amend Article 20.1 of the Administrative Offenses Code (petty misconduct) by criminalizing the dissemination on the internet of information that “expresses in indecent form” a flagrant disrespect for society, the state, state symbols, and state bodies.

The law bill stipulates punishing violators with fines of up to 5,000 rubles or fifteen days in jail.

In addition, the bill’s drafters propose fines between 30,000 rubles and a million rubles for publishing false information.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Relentless Repression in Russia: Why Londoners Are Demonstrating on January 19

Relentless repression in Russia: why we will demonstrate on Saturday 19 January
People and Nature
14 January 2019

On Saturday, January 19, we will demonstrate in London in solidarity with Russian antifascists. Eleven of them, who have been arrested, tortured, and accused of fabricated “terrorism” charges, are awaiting trial. Many others have faced a relentless campaign of persecution by officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the police, as summarized in the following article.

Please join us on Saturday to support the Russian antifascists and strengthen international solidarity against fascism, xenophobia, and state terror. Please repost and share this article.

Details of our London event here.

2018 summary

By Misha Shubin, 31 December 2018 (Original Russian text here)

I’ve also decided to sum up the year. Not my own year, but rather to remember what happened to anarchists and leftists in Russia in 2018. This post will be long, and many of you know  or heard something about the events I recount here.

But I think it is very important not to forget all this. [Note. Links from the original article to Russian-language sources are included. Links to English translations or relevant articles in English added where available. Translator.]

The Network Case

Eleven anarchists and antifascists have been arrested. They are accused of setting up a terrorist group and planning terrorist attacks. According to the Federal Security Service (FSB), they wanted to organise an armed uprising in Russia.

Almost all the evidence has been gathered on pain of torture. The detainees were beaten up. Some of them were tortured using shocks from a stationary electric dynamo, others with tasers. At least one of the accused, Dmitry Pchelintsev, was hung upside down.

The accused are Yegor Zorin, Ilya Shakursky, Vasily Kuksov, Dmitry Pchelintsev, Arman Sagynbayev, Andrei Chernov, Viktor Filinkov, Igor Shishkin, Yuli Boyarshinov, Mikhail Kulkov, and Maksim Ivankin.

What to read:

“How the FSB is manufacturing a terrorist case against antifascists in Russia”

What else you need to know about this case:

“A witness in the ‘network’ case, Ilya Kapustin, was tortured with a hand-held electric shocker.” Subsequently, he left for Finland, where he has applied for political asylum.

Viktoria Frolova, Ilya Shakursky’s girlfriend, was detained on Russia’s border with Ukraine. (Link in Russian.) Shakursky was threatened that “it would be bad” for his girlfriend if he did not make a confession.

The case of anarchist Yevgeny Karakashev

In early February 2018, anarchist Yevgeny Karakashev was arrested in Crimea [the peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014]. They brought him to the police station with a bag over his head. There were fresh bruises on his temples and his knees. On the basis of

two videos that he had uploaded to various chat forums, he was accused of making public calls for terrorist activity.

What to read:

“A rifle stock to the heart, a fist to the gut: how left-wing activists are persecuted in Crimea”

(And more in Russian.) [And a report of Karakashev’s subsequent court appearance is here.]

What else you need to know about this case:

The main prosecution witness is a former comrade of Karakashev’s.

In the autumn, 16 people from various Russian regions were summoned to the Russian Investigative Committee for interrogations. Many of them have expressed left-wing views. Some of them did not even know Karakashev.

Torture of anarchists in Chelyabinsk

Anarchists in Chelyabinsk staged an event on the night of 14–15 February in solidarity with the Network Case defendants. They displayed a banner outside the FSB headquarters and threw a flare over a fence. The banner read, “The FSB is the chief terrorist.”

Three days later, five people were arrested: Dmitry Semenov, Dmitry Tsibukovsky, Anastasia Safonova, Maksim Anfalov, and their friend Maksim. Tsibukovsky and Anfalov were beaten up and tortured with electric shockers.

Over the summer, the criminal case against theChelyabinsk anarchists was dropped.

What to read:

“The main thing at that moment, in that situation, was to come out alive”

What else you need to know about this case:

In November, a new criminal case was opened against anarchists Tsibukovsky, Safonova, Grigory Potanin, Mikhail Perkov, and Dmitry Dubovoi. This time, they were charged with vandalism during their protest of the government’s pension reform.

The broken window in United Russia’s office and torture of Svyatoslav Rechkalov

On 31 January, persons unknown broke a window at the office of United Russia [the largest party in the Russian parliament, which supports President Putin] and threw a smoke bomb. A criminal investigation into vandalism was launched. Sixteen days later, Yelena Gorban and Aleksei Kobaidze were arrested. After questioning, they were released on their own recognizance.

On 14 March, searches were conducted of the homes of anarchists from the People’s Self-

Defence organisation in connection with the case. Subsequently, Svyatoslav Rechkalov and Andrei were detained; the latter, most likely, was released.

Rechkalov was driven around the city for several hours, blindfolded. Then security services officers beat him and tortured him with electric shocks. They warned that, if he did not make the necessary confession, he would end up a defendant in the Network Case. After being tortured, Rechkalov was released. He emigrated to France.

What to read:

“The horror continues”, and “They put a bag on my head, cuffed my hands behind my back and tortured me with a taser”.

What else you need to know about this case:

In November, Rechkalov started getting threats from the FSB. (Link in Russian.)

Torture of Left Bloc activist Maksim Shulgin

In late April, Left Bloc activist Maksim Shulgin was detained in Tomsk. On the way to his interrogation, security service officers beat him up in their vehicle and held his face against a heater. To protect his face from burns, Shulgin put his arms against the heater

and received first- and second-degree burns. Shulgin was accused of inciting hatred towards the police after posting songs on VK [a Russian social network similar to Facebook].

Shulgin filed a complaint about his having been tortured. In late December, he was again detained. This time, law enforcers tried to choke him to force him to withdraw the accusations he had made against FSB officers.

What to read:

Arrest in April. “Is Maxim Shulgin An Extremist?” and “Tomsk resident tortured for posting songs about police on VK.”

Torture in December. (Link in Russian.)

What else you need to know about this case:

Another nine Left Bloc activists were detained with Shulgin. They were forced to make confessions under threat of torture. (Link in Russian.)

Explosion in Arkhangelsk, interrogation of anarchists and leftist activists, and torture of Vyacheslav Lukichev

On 31 October there was an explosion at the FSB headquarters in Arkhangelsk, set off by Mikhail Zhlobitsky [who died at the scene]. As a result, all over Russia the police detained and brought anarchists, left-wingers, and those who hold alternative political views in for so-called discussions. (Link in Russian.)

In early November, anarchist Vyacheslav Lukichev was arrested in Kaliningrad. He was accused of vindicating the explosion set off by Zhlobitsky. It was later established that after Lukichev’s arrest he was beaten by six people. He was questioned for 36 hours.

What to read:

“Vyacheslav Lukichev: interrogated for 36 hours and beaten”

What else you need to know about this case:

After the explosion, a 14-year old who, allegedly, had contact with Zhlobitsky was detained in Moscow on suspicion of planning bombings. (Link in Russian.)

What else happened this year?

■ In March, the police checked the documents of participants in a football tournament organised by antifascists. (Link in Russian.)

■ In July, police and FSB officers went to the Pryamukhino Readings [an event held annually to discuss the ideas and legacy of Mikhail Bakunin, at his birthplace in Tver Region]. The conference theme was “Revolution and Culture”. The security service officers checked participants’ passports, and then detained Artem Markin, an anarchist from Belarus. He was detained for three days for allegedly using psychotropic substances. See: “A Funny Thing Happened in Pryamukhino”.

■ In August, officers from Centre “E” [Center for Combating Extremism] turned up at the Icebreaker [Ledokol] punk festival. They arrested two people, tried to persuade them to turn informer, and asked about the People’s Self-Defence group. (Link in Russian.)

■ In October, anarchist Ilya Romanov was sentenced to five-and-a-half years on charges of incitement to terrorism. He allegedly published on Facebook a video recording of jihadists and an occult ritual featuring a puppet named Vladimir. All the indications are that the criminal case was a frame-up. See: “Meet Russian anarchist Ilya Romanov. He’s spent nearly twenty years in prison”.

■ In late December, the anarchist Aleksandr Kolchenko [from Crimea, who since 2015 has been serving a ten-year sentence in Russia on trumped-up charges] was transferred, on a formal pretext, to a punitive isolation cell, where he saw in the new year. (Link in Russian.)

Moloko plus siloviki

[Moloko is Russian for “milk”. Siloviki is a widely used term for the heads and officers of Russia’s numerous, overlapping security services, including the FSB, Centre “E”, the Russian National Guard, and the Russian Investigative Committee.]

In mid June, there was a gathering in Krasnodar of members of the collective that publishes the countercultural almanac moloko plus. Sofiko Arifdzhanova and Pavel Nikulin had planned to present the latest issue of the almanac, on the topic of revolution. On the day before the event, the police arrested Sofiko and a volunteer [who helped with printing], Anastasia Kkhukhurenko. The police would not release them and demanded a meeting with Pavel. They then forced Sofiko and Anastasia to sign an undertaking not to organise unauthorised mass gatherings and warned them about the punishments for extremist activity before releasing them

The next day, persons unknown attacked Sofiko and Pavel with pepper spray. A few hours later, at the presentation, the police arrived and confiscated almanac’s print run.

In September, there was another presentation, in Petersburg, and FSB officers turned up. In this case, everything turned out relatively peacefully. They just got up and left.

After another two weeks, there was a presentation here in Nizhny Novgorod. A few minutes after it began, officers from Centre “E” burst in, with armed back-up. Sofiko, Pavel, and I were arrested and taken to the police station. Ninety copies of the almanac were confiscated, along with some gas cylinders [sic]. Pavel was detained for two days on charges of insubordination to a police officer. The issue of moloko plus is now being checked for any indications of extremism. There is a big text about our adventures in Russian here.

I am sure I have forgotten something and so not included it. Generally speaking, that was the sort of year we had.

More on defending Russian political prisoners:

 The Rupression site

 “Convoyed”, on The Russian Reader

Thanks to People and Nature for their generous permission to republish this important article and solidarity appeal here. I have lightly edited the original text to make it hew more closely to this website’s imaginary style guide. {TRR}

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

DSCN1726Goodbye to all that. Exchange rates for the US dollar and the euro, as displayed electronically on the door of Zauber Bank, Ligovsky Prospect, September 19, 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

Putin Signs Law Banning Outdoor Currency Exchange Rate Electronic Display Boards
Delovoi Peterburg
December 18, 2018

President Putin has signed a law banning outdoor foreign currency exchange rate electronic display boards. The document was published on the Legal Information Website on Tuesday, December 18.

The document amends the law on foreign currency regulation. The Russian Central Bank now has the right to regulate how commercial banks post information about foreign currency exchange rates.

In Febrary 2018, the Central Bank proposed banning foreign currency exchange rate electronic display boards outside the premises of banks. The regulator explained the idea was prompted by the need to combat illegal exchange offices.

“As practice shows, information about foreign currency exchange rates is most often displayed outdoors by so-called illegal currency exchange points, which are camouflaged as limited service branches of authorized banks,” the Central Bank’s press service explained.

In December, a law bill that would grant the regulator the right to establish requirements for display of such information was adopted by the State Duma and approved by the Federation Council.

The Central Bank’s draft instructions explain that information about foreign currecy exchange rates can be placed only within the premises of an authorized bank and in such a way that the information is visible only inside the facility itself.

Translated by the Russian Reader