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

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

Thanks to Alexei Markov for the heads-up

___________________________

oleg-sentsov
Oleg Sentsov. Courtesy of Berlin Film Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got It

It’s embarrassing to brag about what a good day I’ve been having when I’m supposed to be all bummed out about the Fascist Pig-Elect’s taking the oath to become the plain old Fascist Pig in the Poke, but it’s true.

I don’t quite get it, but things have been going my way all day.

For example, I lucked out while shopping this afternoon at our neighborhood Auchan hypermarket. They were having a sale on $10,000 packs of hundred dollar bills: 67 rubles 39 kopecks a pop!

I guess Auchan knows something the rest of us don’t know about what’s going to happen to the mighty US dollar when the Fascist Pig in the Poke starts implementing his “economic policies.”

So Auchan decided to unload the wads of US cash they had lying round the store while they were still worth something, even if it was only 67.39 rubles.

Good on them, as the Aussies say.

By sheer coincidence, when my true love came home from work he presented me with a new, totally recyclable wallet, made from a synthetic material called Tyvek. It weighs next to nothing, but now I’ll have somewhere to keep my nearly worthless $10,000 safe.

And it’s embossed with images of Imperial stormtroopers!

If you’ve seen the terrific new Star Wars movie, Rogue One, the best Star Wars movie in 39 years, you’ll know it’s a very timely tale about what happens when ordinary people resist an emergent fascist government: they all get killed.

Like I said, it’s been a terrific day. TRR

Wallet courtesy of newwallet.ru

____________

Sergey Khakhayev, 1938-2016

Sergey Khakhayev. Photo by Irina Flige
Sergey Khakhayev. Photo by Irina Flige

Sergey Khakhayev Has Died
Cogita.ru
December 5, 2016

Sergey Khakhayev, co-chair of St. Petersburg Memorial, died today, December 5, 2016. His funeral will take place on Friday, December 9.

Petersburg Memorial regretfully announces that Sergey Dmitryevich Khakhayev, co-chair of its board of directors, has passed away. Sergey Dmitryevich was admitted to Alexandrovsky Hospital with a massive stroke on November 13, 2016. This morning, we received word of his death. He never came out of the coma caused by the stroke. Sergey Dmitryevich was seventy-nine years old.

[…]

Sergey Khakhayev was born in Leningrad on September 24, 1938. He graduated from the city’s Technological Institute in 1960 with a degree in chemical engineering, and worked at the Krylov Shipbuilding Research Institute (Krylov State Research Center). Khakhayev was a leader of the Union of Communards, an underground Marxist group (aka the Kolokol Group, the Kolokol Magazine Group, and the Kolokolchiki) and co-authored the group’s program, “From a Dictatorship of the Bureaucracy to a Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” with Valery Ronkin. On November 26, 1965, Leningrad City Court sentenced Khakhayev to seven years in a labor camp and three years in exile. He served his sentence in Dubravlag and his exile in Ust-Abakan. Released in 1975, he was involved in the Soviet civil rights movement. Khakhayev served as co-chair of Petersburg Memorial, as well as on the Petersburg Human Rights Council and the Commission for the Restoration of Rights of Rehabilitated Victims of Political Repression in St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region.

Kolokolchiki, 1965-2015 (in Russian, with English subtitles)

The film’s co-director, Yevgenia Kulakova, wrote the following today:

“Sergey Dmitryevch Khakhayev died today. It is hard to believe he is no longer with us, because he was always in Memorial, and it seemed like he would be there forever. I cannot recall him ever missing a single event, rally, meeting or telephone call. I recently wrote about how, a couple of years ago, I went to the site of Timur Kacharava’s murder on November 13, quite late in evening. No one was left there except Sergey Dmitryevich. He stood there and stood there and would not leave. I was really struck by this. This year, Sergey Dmitryevich did not go to Bukvoyed bookstore [where Kacharava was stabbed to death by neo-Nazis in 2005]. When we got there, we learned from Irina [Flige] that he was in hospital.

“Sergey Dmitryevich was one of the Kolokolchiki. Getting to know them and working with them last year was an important event in my life. Here I’d like to quote part of our interview with Sergey Dmitryevich:

‘The fact is that when a person is still young, he has a thirst for justice. With age, the thirst goes away, but it exists in youth, at any rate, amongst a significant part of the populace. Some people could not care less from the get-go: nothing interests them except a half liter of vodka. But many people want justice, and they react badly to any setbacks and try to fight for justice, locally and more generally. Communist ideas are perennial ideas in this sense. Because this is the fundamental principle: the desire to make the world more just. When push comes to shove you use what comes to hand. Marx was what came to hand in our case.’

“The Kolokolchiki were born in 1962, when Sergey Khakhayev and Valery Ronkin, Communist Youth League members, public order volunteers, and Technology Institute graduates, wrote the pamphlet ‘From a Dictatorship of the Bureaucracy to a Dictatorship of the Proletariat.’ The pamphlet opened as follows: ‘The first thing that strikes a person entering adult life in socialist society is the enormous amount of lies and hypocrisy that have permeated our reality.’ This was followed by leaflets handed out among volunteers traveling to work in the Virgin Lands Campaign, at a rally of camping enthusiasts, and at Leningrad University. Then there were two issues of the magazine Kolokol. The third issue was never published: the manuscript was arrested along with the Kolokolchiki. Khakhayev and Ronkin got the worst of it: seven years in labor camps and three years in exile. Sergey Dmitryevich served his sentence in Mordovia, and his exile in Ust-Abakan in Krasnoyarsk Territory. He was joined in exile by Valeria Chikatuyeva, who had been released earlier. They were married, got a dog, and lived for three years in a tiny eleven-meter-square house. They and the dog moved to Luga, which was located beyond the 101st kilometer restriction zone around Leningrad. I could probably tick off on my fingers the number of times I met with them when the two of them were not together. They were always together. It was in Luga that Khakhayev and Ronkin wrote their last joint article, ‘Socialism’s Past and Future.’ Then came perestroika, and Memorial, with which Khakhayev was involved until his final days.

I see the Kolokolchiki as exemplars of camaraderie, friendship, love, and a zest for life. The way they talk about one another in interviews, the way they call each other on Skype from thousands of kilometers away, the way they miss and talk about their comrades who have already passed away. It is hardest for them right now. Hang in there, my dear friends.”

[…]

Sergey Khakhayev on a work brigade (before his arrest)
Sergey Khakhayev, 1960s
Sergey Khakhayev, 1960s
Sergey Khakhayev and his wife Valeria Chikatuyeva, Ust-Abakan, 1970s
Sergey Khakhayev and his wife Valeria Chikatuyeva, Ust-Abakan, 1970s
Valery Ronkin and Sergey Khakhayev, Leningrad, 1976
Valery Ronkin and Sergey Khakhayev, Leningrad, 1976

[…]

Translated by the Russian Reader. All photos courtesy of Cogita.ru

 

Facebook Is Fun! (Islamophobia in Russia)

Théodore Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa, 1818-1819. Oil on canvas, 491 cm x 716 cm. Louvre Museum, Paris. Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Théodore Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa, 1818-1819. Oil on canvas, 491 cm x 716 cm. Louvre Museum, Paris. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

My memories of kindergarten are fairly fuzzy by now, but I do seem to recall we did a lot of sharing. This, I think, explains why the dark satanic mill known as Facebook has become so indispensable and popular in our modern world. Like kindergarten, it’s all about sharing.

For instance, this morning I was feeling fairly glum about the ongoing slaughter in Aleppo, the apparently total indifference my Russian friends (and “friends”) feel about the role their armed forces have been playing in this massacre, and my inability to do anything about any of this, much less changing anyone’s mind.

Apparently, Facebook even has algorithms for detecting when you’re feeling blue, and like a cheery kindergarten minder in such circumstances, it gets you involved in some fun sharing to buck you up.

This was what Facebook decided to share with woebegone me this morning.

shared

“At Venice Film Festival, Sokurov Says European and Muslim Aesthetics Incompatible,” reads the headline on Newsru.com, an alarmist Russophone news website based in Israel.

When I clicked on it, the item turned out to be old news, an article, dated September 8, 2015, quoting controversial statements made at last year’s Venice Film Festival by the Petersburg auteur Alexander Sokurov, who was in Venice to debut his latest indisputable masterpiece, Francofonia.

Presenting his film Francofonia at the Venice Film Festival, Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov said the European and Muslim aesthetics were incompatible. Calling for an end to “the endless and pointless incursions,” to immigration by an alien culture, Sokurov thus polemicized with the chair of the festival jury, Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, who earlier had suggested solving Europe’s rampant immigration crisis by organizing entry for the immigrants. The Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra reported on Francofonia and Sokurov’s statements.

Presenting what the newspaper called “a brilliant allegorical tale about the Old Continent through its museum symbol, the Louvre,” Sokurov said, “History teaches us nothing. Prudence and compassion are alien to history.”

“Europe, which has attained supreme achievements in art and philosophy, keeps making one mistake after another,” said the Russian maître, as quoted by InoPressa.

“What is happening, these endless and pointless incursions [or, invasions], seem like an indescribable nightmare, a humanitarian catastrophe in the face of which ordinary people are powerless, and politicians do nothing. And no one thinks to protect our culture, which will cease to exist quite soon,” the filmmaker continued.

[…]

The Italian periodical described the action of the film as follows: a ship that must bring European culture to a safe haven sails into a storm. If it sinks, its precious cargo will be irrevocably lost to all Europeans.

“Europe finds itself on The Raft of the Medusa, as in the famous painting by Théodore Géricault, exhibited in the Louvre. Just like the frightening boats, crowded with desperate people making their way to our shores.”

The article here refers to the numerous cases of the illegal delivery [sic] by sea (sometimes ending in tremendous loss of life) of thousands of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa.

During the presentation of his film, Sokurov called for “a stop to these migrations.”

“To really help these people, it is necessary to intervene in the countries from which they are escaping and try to solve the problems there. Instead, we pile them up together here, where they have no prospects, and try and impose our TV lifestyle on them,” he argued.

“The outcome will be catastrophic for both parties,” the filmmaker warned.

Sokurov was certain that “our aesthetic and the Muslim aesthetic are incompatible.”

“With all due respect, we must maintain a distance and protect our culture from the iconoclastic fury that is destroying it,” said the filmmaker.

He reminded the audience of the total destruction of unique landmarks in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria, by militants from the terrorist group Islamic State, which is banned in the Russian Federation.

Recently, the extremists blew up three tombs of local patricians in the captured city. Earlier, they demolished the Temple of Baalshamin (2nd century BC) and the Temple of Bel, consecrated to the supreme Semitic deity [sic].

“Even the Nazis would have not dared to do what has happened in Palmyra,” said Sokurov.

I have quoted at length the day brightener Facebook chose for me, because it amply demonstrates a sad but irrefutable fact. Islamophobia is a perfectly common attitude and a perfectly respectable political “stance” in Russia, adopted and bruited loudly and publicly by well-read, highly educated members of the “liberal” Russian intelligentsia, as evinced here by one of their darlings, Alexander Sokurov.

This, in turn, explains the near-total silence of “liberal” and even “leftist” Russians on the destruction of Aleppo.

Let me put it as crudely as possible. Despite the court judgement handed down on popular blogger Anton Nosik the other day, a really large number of educated “white” Russians think Muslims are subhumans whom, if push comes to shove or your “civilizational project” has got bogged down and you cannot think of anything better to do, can be slaughtered with impunity and without blinking. In fact, it is better for one’s digestion, state of mind, and personal pursuit of high culture (per Sokurov) to put a mental wall between yourself and whatever is happening to the Muslims in your midst, or to the Muslim Crimean Tatars in Crimea, or to the Muslims in Grozny (back in the first years of Putin’s perpetual reign), or to the Muslims in Aleppo.

If you think I am exaggerating, I invite you to come to the Motherland and have heart-to-heart chats with a sampling of members of the so-called intelligentsia. In some cases (but not, happily, all cases) you will come away thinking you’ve just spent time with Trump supporters, UKIP cacklers, BNP bruisers or clowns from the KKK.

But the funny thing about Facebook is that it is not the only satanic mill on the oppressively vast World Wide Web. Nowadays, you can also ask something called Google whatever question your wicked heart can conceive—for example, how many Muslims are there in Russia?

“In Europe overall, however, Russia’s population of 14 million Muslims (10%) is the largest on the continent.”

Yikes!

Where did all those Russian Muslims come from? Did they immigrate to the Motherland from Syria and other majority Muslim countries?

No, despite the recent heavy influx of migrant workers from the Muslim Central Asian republics (once also part of Russia, in its guise as the Soviet Union), which has even more recently been waning due to the bad economy, among other factors, most of Russia’s Muslims were born and bred in the Russian Federation. Thus, to the outside world, they are “Russians,” if not to many of their fellow Russian citizens, who probably cannot get their heavily bookish heads around such funny facts as Moscow’s being the largest Muslim city in Europe.

You would think that, with so many Russian Muslims and post-Soviet Muslims sharing (there is our keyword again!) your cities, towns, and villages with you, you would not want to go out of your way to antagonize Muslims for no reason at all.

(Not because they are touchier than your average bear, but just because no one in this world enjoys being kicked around for years on end just because they’re different.)

But that is what the Russian government has been doing in Syria, and that is what significant numbers of Russia’s best and brightest have been doing for a long time now, if only rhetorically, if only at the Venice Film Festival, on Facebook or in their kitchens.

The consequences, both now and in the future, could not be more miserable, especially for the alleged “European” culture that only Russian intelligenty and European neo-Nazis seem to get so exercised about.

Thanks, Facebook, for cheering me up! I knew I could count on you. TRR

But What Does the Proletariat Have to Do with It?

I’d like to offer you an odd little musical and visual artifact from late Putinism 3.0 to while away a slightly gloomy autumn evening, just as the song and video, below, attempts to conjure away the mounting troubles of the present by returning musically to the allegedly untroubled years immediately after Stalin’s death.

boyarsky

I came upon the song and video through a post sponsored by the Facebook page “Petersburg: Only For Love,” as pictured above.

The Facebook post quotes dialogue from the end of the video, featuring the members of the Petersburg band Proletarian Tango performing Mikhail Matusovsky and Tikhon Khrenikov’s famous 1956 song “Windows of Moscow.”

“Will you go with me to Petersburg?”

“What is there to do in that Petersburg of yours? Drink?”

“Live… Create… Love…”

“Thanks to the band Proletarian Tango for reminding us that the curb capable of dividing Muscovites and Petersburg still hasn’t been laid!” the post concludes. This is a reference to one of few shibboleths that distinguish Moscow Russian from Petersburg Russian—the two cities have different words for “curb” (bordyur and porebrik, respectively).

The still image shows a band member’s hand caressing a poster featuring a photograph of Petersburg singer and actor Mikhail Boyarsky, a vocal supporter of the Putin regime.

WINDOWS OF MOSCOW (1956) 

Music: Tikhon Khrennikov
Lyrics: Mikhail Matusovsky

Up high the sky darkens again,
And windows have lit up in the dusk.
It is here that my friends live,
And with bated breath
I gaze at the windows at night.

I love to dream under the windows.
I love to read them like books.
And, holding on to the precious light,
Exciting me and enticing me,
Like people, they look at me.

As in years gone by, once again I
Am ready to stand beneath your window.
And to the light of its rays
I alway hurry faster,
As on a date with my youth.

I admire you at night.
I wish you, windows, good luck.
It has been dear to me for many years,
And there is nothing brighter than
The unquenchable light of Moscow’s windows.

Source: Viktor Kalugin, ed., Anthology of Russian Song (Moscow: Eksmo, 2005). Translated by the Russian Reader

________

This tellingly depressing passage from Wikipedia’s article about the song’s composer, Tikhon Khrennikov, restores everything to the period that Proletarian Tango’s video tries so hard to airbrush out. TRR

By the 1930s, Khrennikov was already treated as a leading official Soviet composer. Typical was his speech during a discussion in February 1936 concerning the Pravda articles “Chaos instead of Music” and “Ballet Falseness”:

The resolution of April 23, 1932, appealed to the consciousness of the Soviet artist. Soviet artists had not withstood scrutiny. After April 23, young people were inspired to study. The problem was, we had to master the skills and techniques of composition. We developed an enthusiasm for modern western composers. The names of Hindemith and Krenek came to be symbols of advanced modern artists. […] After the enthusiasm for western tendencies came an attraction to simplicity, influenced by composing for the theater, where simple, expressive music was required. We grew, our consciousness also grew, as well as the aspiration to be genuine Soviet composers, representatives of our epoch. Compositions by Hindemith satisfied us no more. Soon after that, Prokofiev arrived, declaring Soviet music to be provincial and naming Shostakovich as the most up-to-date composer. Young composers were confused: on the one hand, they wanted to create simpler music that would be easier for the masses to understand; on the other hand, they were confronted with the statements of such musical authorities as Prokofiev. Critics wrote laudatory odes to Shostakovich. […] How did young composers react to Lady Macbeth [of Mtsensk]? This opera contains several large melodic fragments which opened some creative perspectives to us. But the entr’actes and other things aroused complete hostility.”

Together with other official representatives of Soviet culture […] Khrennikov signed the statement welcoming the “sentence of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union passed on traitors against the Motherland, fascist hirelings such as Tukhachevsky, Yakir, and others.”

[…]

In 1948, Joseph Stalin appointed Khrennikov Secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers, a job he would keep until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, when the Union of Soviet Composers was disbanded.

The controversial Shostakovich memoir Testimony claims that Khrennikov was so intimidated at a meeting with Stalin that the composer soiled his pants and suffered a nervous breakdown.

For a long time it was held that, thanks to Khrennikov’s efforts, no Soviet composers were arrested or prosecuted.

In an interview with pianist Jascha Nemtsov on November 8, 2004, in Moscow, Khrennikov claimed that composer Mieczysław Weinberg, when arrested, had been discharged immediately because of Khrennikov’s protection; according to Khrennikov, the same had happened to Alexander Veprik. The facts are that Veprik spent four years in a prison camp, and Mieczysław Weinberg, who was released in June 1953, had been saved from prosecution, and probably from execution, only because of Stalin’s death. In recent years, information that had been suppressed since 1948 has been published, and documents and facts now known confirm that there were extensive prosecutions.

In 1949, Khrennikov officially attacked the young composer Alexander Lokshin, using the rhetoric of one of Stalin’s most notorious ideologists, Paul Apostolov. In his speech, Khrennikov contrasted Lokshin’s “modernist” style with Stepan Razin’s Dream by Galina Ustvolskaya, which he considered an ideal example of true national art.

Khrennikov’s speech aroused great indignation in Mikhail Gnessin, who accused him of duplicity. Not daring to criticise Lokshin in the professional milieu, Khrennikov attacked him ideologically from his position as a leading Soviet official. After this ideological campaign, Lokshin was excluded from academic circles.

Khrennikov did not prevent Prokofiev’s first wife, Lina Ivanovna, being charged as a “spy” following her arrest by the NKVD on February 20, 1948. As head of the Composers Union, Khrennikov made no attempt to have the sentence against Lina Prokofieva quashed or even to mitigate her plight in the Gulag. The Composers Union did not help Prokofiev’s sons, who were forcibly evicted from their apartment. After Lina Prokofieva returned from the Gulag, the Composers Union did nothing to improve the extremely bad living conditions of her family. It was the prominent singers Irina Arkhipova and Zurab Sotkilava who protected Prokofiev’s first family. Afterwards, the family was exposed to regular official humiliations. According to Prokofiev’s first son, Sviatoslav, the Composers Union officially refused Lina Prokofieva permission to go to Paris, after she had been personally invited by the French culture minister to the unveiling of a Prokofiev memorial plaque. Instead, Khrennikov took part in that ceremony with his whole family. The Composers Union also refused Lina Prokofieva permission to go to the opening of the Sydney Opera House. At the same time, Sviatoslav Prokofiev noted the typical rationale of the Soviet functionary: sometimes Khrennikov would help if it was not dangerous for his own position and career.

The ideological campaigns of 1948-49 against the so-called formalists in music were directly connected with the offensive against the so-called rootless cosmopolitans, which formed part of the official anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, which flourished after the Second World War in various shapes: ideological resolutions, declarations by official writers and critics, and offensive caricatures and vulgar anti-Semitic abuse in the satirical magazine Krokodil (Crocodile). Historians of official anti-Semitism in the USSR name Khrennikov among the most active fighters for the “purity of Russian culture.” In Soviet official policy both before and after Stalin’s death, a clear distinction was drawn between “good Soviet Jews” and “Nazi Zionists.” True to this party line, the leadership of the Soviet Composers Union branded composers as “Zionist aggressors” or “agents of world imperialism,” and made accusations against “ideologically vicious” and “hostile” phenomena in Soviet musical culture. The accusation of Zionism was often used as a weapon against people of different nationalities, faiths, and opinions, such as Nikolai Roslavets. The “struggle against the formalists” was pursued in other countries, too. According to György Ligeti, after Khrennikov’s official visit to Budapest in 1948, The Miraculous Mandarin by Béla Bartók was removed from the repertoire, and paintings by French impressionists and others were removed from display in museums. In 1952, Ligeti was almost forbidden to teach after he had shown the score of the proscribed Symphony of Psalms by Igor Stravinsky to his students. Ligeti was saved only because of the personal protection of Zoltán Kodály.

Khrennikov and other functionaries of the Composers Union constantly attacked the heritage of the Russian avant-garde as well as its researchers. For example, the German musicologist Detlef Gojowy (1934–2008) was persecuted because of his promotion in the West of modern Soviet music of the 1920s. Gojowy was proclaimed to be an “anti-Soviet writer.” Until 1989, he was forbidden to visit the Soviet Union, and some of the publications he sent to Soviet colleagues were intercepted by Soviet customs. At the same time, Soviet musicologists engaged in developing the Russian avant-garde tradition were officially prohibited from going abroad. Once again, Nikolai Roslavets was an example.

[…]

In his last years, Khrennikov made extremely negative statements about perestroika, its leaders, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the liquidation of corresponding organizations:

“It was a betrayal by our leaders. I consider Gorbachev and his henchmen, who deliberately organized the persecution of Soviet art, to be traitors to the party and the people […].”

In another interview given to the same newspaper Zavtra […] he described Stalin as a “genius,” an “absolutely normal person,” tolerant of criticism:

“Stalin, in my opinion, knew music better than any of us. […] As in classical Ancient Greece, so too in the Soviet Union music was of the greatest importance to the state. The spiritual influence of the greatest composers and artists in the formation of intelligent and strong-willed people, first of all through radio, was huge.”

Source: Wikipedia. The above article was lightly edited to make it more readable.

__________

By way of cleansing your palate, I’d like to sign off with a recording by the wonderful Soviet jazz singer and actor Leonid Utyosov performing “Windows of Moscow” with real feeling and dignity.

Gleb Astafiev: Trampled by the Madding Herd

Gleb Astafiev
Gleb Astafiev

Trampled by the Madding Herd
Darina Shevchenko
16-year-old Gleb Astafiev is being tortured in a psychiatric hospital because of his picket in support of Pyotr Pavlensky
Radio Svoboda
June 11, 2016

In late May, Gleb Astafiev, a 16-year-old resident of the village of Ketovo in Kurgan Region, held a solo picket in defense of artist Pyotr Pavlensky,  then on trial in Moscow for setting fire to the doors of FSB headquarters. The young man sewed his mouth shut, grabbed a placard on which he had written the inscription “Pyotr Pavlensky’s action was a replay of Varg Vikernes‘s famous gesture,” and stood next to a store in downtown Kurgan. This was a reference to Pyotr Pavlensky’s first action, Seam (July 23, 2012), in which the artist sewed his mouth shut and took to the streets of Petersburg with a placard that read, “Pussy Riot’s action was a replay of the famous action by Jesus Christ.”

Astafiev was taken to a police station, and then sent to the Kurgan Regional Neuropsychiatric Hospital.

On the day Pavlensky was released, Astafiev was able to access the Internet for the first time during the thirteen days of his incarceration at the mental hospital and contact the outside world. He told Radio Svoboda how he had wound up in the hospital and what was happening to him.

Gleb, who sent you to the psychiatric hospital?

After the police detained me when the picket was over, my mother talked for two hours with them. I think they did a number on Mom, because she came back for me accompanied by an ambulance crew, and I was hauled off to the looney bin. My mom thinks I am crazy. She is convinced that normal people don’t sew their mouths shut and take to the streets bearing placards. Mom is a simple woman, and she doesn’t understand my action was an artistic metaphor. The closed mouth is a symbol of the absence of freedom of speech in Russia. My mom watches TV too much, so her mind has been warped by propaganda. It’s very hard to explain the message of my action to her. Mother did not support my creative experiments, but after the action she got angry at me. She doesn’t even bring food to the hospital. Grandmother, on the contrary, has been treating me better since the action. Now she sympathizes with me. The relatives are not planning to spring me from the nuthouse for the time being. The doctors have not said anything to me about the subject.

You sound very calm and confident. How do you feel? Have you been forced to take meds?

They tried to vegetate me with pills, but I spit them out. The first five days I was held in the special supervision ward. They tossed me in with the worst crazies, but I was forbidden to leave the ward. I was in there with eight oldsters. Three of them rarely showed any signs of life. The other five screamed at night, beat the floor with their fists, and raved. They tried to force me to kowtow: to wash the floor and clean up. I refused. I am currently under routine supervision, but I cannot leave the wing.

Do you know that Pyotr Pavlensky has been released? Do you regret you wound up in the mental hospital because of your action in support of the artist?

Of course not. I am very glad for Pavlensky! Maybe it was thanks to the support of different people, including me, that he was released. The regime really doesn’t like people like Pavlensky, because a real actionist is a free spirit and openly declares it. I think I did my bit for free speech with my action, which was, of course, a reference to Pavlensky’s actions.

What were your feelings when you were standing there alone holding a placard, surrounded by strangers who were probably aggressive to you? Did anyone support you during the action?

I thought up and did the whole thing myself. My action was entitled F.P.P. (an abbreviation for “Free Peter Pavlensky”). Passersby reacted differently. Mainly, people were surprised. There were lots of riffraff there. One creep swore at me at the top of his lungs for twenty minutes. Some people came up to me and had their pictures taken. There was an old couple who stood next to me the whole time. Once, the old woman came up to me and said, “You’re a fool. One man does not make an army.” The old man periodically yelled loudly, “Look, people! He is holding opposition placards!” I ignored all of it.

Around thirty minutes after I started the action, two grown louts in black vests (security guards, apparently) came out of the Pushkin Shopping and Entertainment Center. One of them jumped me and tried to grab the placard. I wouldn’t give it up. A dude who was around twenty saw the scene from the window of his car. The fellow jumped out of his ride and told the guard to leave me alone. It’s a pity that many people don’t understand the difference between art and hooliganism and madness. Actionism is lovely! I really love actionism, especially Viennese actionism.

Why are you able to see the difference?

Hard to say. I’m an ordinary schoolboy from a simple family. I read a lot, especially science fiction. I think a lot about what’s going on with my own head. I want to have a vivid, interesting life, not a life like the majority’s: home, work, and television. I can’t talk anymore. I see the medical staff coming.

Gleb Astafiev standing next to the door at FSB headquarters that Pyotr Pavlensky set on fire
Gleb Astafiev standing next to the door at FSB headquarters that Pyotr Pavlensky set on fire

Gleb Astafiev’s action has sparked a fierce debate among Kurgan Region residents on social media. Some Internet users have admired the young actionist’s audacity and honesty. Others have written that Astafiev is as abnormal as Pavlensky. Astafiev has said he is uninterested in the negative feedback of philistines. He is suffering from a lack of communication most of all now. A girlfriend has been visiting Gleb at the hospital. She asked that her name not be printed, because she did not want to attract any public attention.

“That hospital is a hellish place: closed, stuffy, and miserable. Gleb is now all alone there. He is very depressed: almost no one comes to visit him. He doesn’t even have anything to read. Gleb asked me to buy him science fiction books. Gleb’s pupils are dilated: apparently, they are medicating him. I don’t know Gleb that well. Before his incarceration in the hospital, we had seen each other only five times. We met by chance at a concert by a local band. He wanted to have his picture taken with me and my ex-boyfriend. Then Gleb seemed like a cheerful, carefree, very dear and open boy, a young idealist with a dream. He and my ex-boyfriend then traveled to a Krovostok concert. A bit later, I realized that Gleb was very independent and intelligent, and had a very strong spirit for his age. Even today at the hospital he didn’t complain and didn’t ask for anything special except a couple of books and a bit of food. I know nothing about Pavlensky, but Gleb had the right to support him. I am surprised his mother sent Gleb to the hospital, but he is definitely not a whacko, as the majority thinks. The opinion of the herd is often wrong.”

Pyotr Pavlensky is not the only artist whom Astafiev has tried to support. In November of last year, the team at the news website Mediazona shot a documentary film about Astafiev. The reporters there were touched by the story of a young man who had borrowed money to travel from his village to the trial of the band Krovostok. In November 2015, Yaroslavl Regional Court considered rescinding a district court’s decision to ban the group’s songs and block its website. The trial resembled a comedy with a happy ending: the court took the side of the musicians. The members of Krovostok liked Astafiev so much that when the trial was over they took him along with them to Moscow for a big concert.

Margarita Filippova, photo and video editor, Mediazona:

“We were making a series of documentaries about the Krovostok trial. I noticed a long commentary by Gleb on Instagram. He wanted to know when the next hearing was and whether he could come to Yaroslavl to get the autographs of the guys in Krovostok. The photographs in Instagram initially made him look too eccentric. But when we saw him at the train station, we realized he was a very modest, friendly guy. That was when it occurred to me to show this absurd trial through the eyes of a touching 16-year-old boy who made the long trip from Kurgan to support his idols. Gleb is like a kid from another world, a world distant from our reality where we lazily follow insane trials on our iPhones, sighing and voicing our dissent, at best, on Twitter.

“Gleb sees the world like an artist, but at the same time he has a very rational attitude to reality. He has a good sense of the country in which he lives, and he really wants to change his life. I’m sure it will work out for him. Gleb feels responsible and concerned about other people. When I was sixteen I wasn’t worried about protesting artists, and I sure didn’t know what a court trial was.”

Zarina Kodzayeva, camera woman, Mediazona:

“Gleb is a very independent and open person. It seemed to me that Gleb didn’t have a drop of the infantilism you would expect from a teenager. He argues things sensibly and behaves like an adult. He and I chatted a lot when we were shooting the film. I found it very interesting to listen to him. Gleb writes things himself. When he speaks, you can tell he loves the Russian language. I got the sense this kid believed in the power of deeds. It really was important to him to support Krovostok and Pavlensky. One of the most important questions in documentary filmmaking is who can be a main character, the hero, and who cannot. Aside from the context, which might turn into a story, there is always an intuitive understanding that probably has to do with a person’s energy. I think Gleb is an absolute hero. And now he continues to prove it with his actions.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade AM for the heads-up. Photos courtesy of Radio Svoboda