Very few people in the world know it, but the most progressive Russian rock band of all time were Leningrad-Petersburg’s Virtuosi of the Universe (Virtuozy vselennoi).
This recording (“Beauty Queen”) was produced by Sergei “Shaggy” Vasilyev at his studio on Nevsky Prospect in 1990. It features the late, unforgettable Vladimir Sorokin on vocals, Mr. Vasilyev himself on guitar, Andrei “Slim” Vasilyev of DDT, the late Ovchinnikov brothers (Vadim and Alexander), and Igor Rjatov, among others.
Virtuosi of the Universe, “Beauty Queen” (1990)
The film that accompanies the song was shot by the incomparably brilliant filmmaker Yevgeny Kondratiev, long resident in Berlin, and edited by the lovely sound wizard Georgy Baranov, who fortunately has not gone anywhere and is very much alive and well.
Thanks to our friend Ksenia Astafiyeva for the heads-up and so much else.
Ms. Astafiyeva dedicated her original post of the song to our friend Yuri “Compass” Krasev, who died on January 28. An actor, artist, and showman, Mr. Krasev played a key role in musician, composer and band leader Sergei Kuryokhin’s legendary Pop Mechanics performances and in the parallel cinema and necrorealist film movements, especially the films of the late Yevgeny Yufit, as well as in nearly everything else that happened in the endlessly various, continuously unfolding and intermingling of art and life known collectively as the New Artists (Novye khudozhniki), whose aftershocks continue to define the Petersburg art scene well into the nineteen-nineties.
In the mid nineties, Mr. Krasev and I once gave a performance at Gallery 103, in the old artists’ squat аt Pushkinskaya 10 in downtown Petersburg. The performance featured me, dressed in a old Soviet men’s dress suit I found in the flat on Italianskaya where I was living. Mr. Krasev helped me picked out my outfit.
During the performance itself, Mr. Krasev picked me up off the ground and literally held me above his head for several minutes while reciting a poem or text of some kind. He was such a strong man that at no time did I fear he would drop me, and indeed he did not drop me, gently lowering me to the ground when he had finished his recitation.
Mr. Krasev will be sorely missed by his many friends and acquaintances. Without absolutely unique artists, musicians, and eccentrics like him, Mr. Yufit, Mr. Sorokin, the Messieurs Ovchinnikov, and many others, Petersburg has turned into a place that seems alien to those of us who still remember what a joyous, free, and truly creative city it was not so long ago, a city that belonged to people who dared to imagine it as the center of universe and a place where literally everyone was or should be a virtuoso. TRR
Four and half years ago, we got the hell out of the city and settled in the country. Three circumstances happily combined to facilitate this: the issue of an apartment, which had been suffocating us; metal fatigue, so to speak; and the lack of the need to go to the office.
By this time I was grazing on the abundant meadows of freelancing, earning money as I had never earned by translating from German, writing articles for the German media, and working as a fixer for German reporters. After the tedium of an office human rights job, I had the sense I had finally yielded to sin, and my fall was as predictable as it was sweet.
Since then, the four of us have become five, the kids play in a two-story house, and I have my own study, where I pen valuable eternities, like Solzhenitsyn in Vermont. And then I go outside and deal with eternal values, like the roof, the sewer, firewood, sawdust, and so on.
I’ve long been able to earn a living without leaving the house, and increasingly I have no idea why I should go to the city. More and more often, my trips to the city are limited to the airport.
Time and distance have a salutary effect on mind and nerves. I have a nervous mind, and the big city and its hysterical intensity were claiming both my mind and my nerves. Life in the country is wonderful for its emptiness. It is your personal responsibility to fill the emptiness.
So, despite outward deprivations, my year has been peaceful and successful thanks to new ideas and the new wonderful people who have appeared in our midst recently, most of them in virtual space. In 2018, I would like to devirtualize my relationships with most of you. As for old friends, I would just like to see you.
With the beautiful Natasha Panova, without whom none of this would have happened.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of panoramio.com
Earlier today, I was shopping at my local Auchan hypermarket when I happened upon this “2018 Gift Calendar,” featuring Russia’s well-known President for Life and foremost sovereign democrat in twelve inspiring poses.
At 37.09 rubles apiece (around 54 euro cents), the calendars are a steal. Some of my friends and relatives may balk and even barf when they unwrap their presents on Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and New Year’s this year, but decades from now they will thank me for having given them a collector’s item that is sure to quintuple in value, at least, as its subject’s fourth term in office extends to a fifth, segues into a sixth, drags on into a seventh, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum.
Sure, the cashier looked at me a little funny when this and another personality pinup calendar I had found in the store were rolling down the belt towards her scanner, but she was probably just a tad envious. TRR
If you’re led around by the nose You’ll never get to see how the garden grows. And if you go for the shovel and the hoe You can’t stop and smell the roses. Eighteen things at once, You spread yourself so thin. You could not find a basket To put all your eggs in. Well, Mike, he rowed the boat ashore, The emperor got some brand new clothes, But when you walk and chew the gum You gotta lose a little of something. Jack of all trades and a master of none, How can a person get anything done? You can fool yourself, you can fool anyone. Jack, jack, jack, jack, jack, jack, jack, jack, Jack of all trades . . .
—Volcano Suns, “Jak,” from the 1985 LP The Bright Orange Years
This past spring, I posted a translation of an article, originally published on the news and commentary website Grani.ru (which has long been banned in Russia) about the plight of Boris Yakovlev, a singer-songwriter from the town of Dno, in Pskov Region, whom the FSB had charged with “extremism,” allegedly, for the “seditious” content of his songs. Yakovlev has now left the country and applied for political asylum in Finland, where Grani.ru caught up with him.
My personal, unsurprising prediction is that the number of “extremists” will quadruple, if not worse, in the coming year. TRR
The Herald of Revolution from Dno Station Grani.ru
October 11, 2017
On October 10, Pskov City Court ordered the arrest of the dangerous [sic] extremist Boris Yakovlev at the request of the FSB. By that time, the 44-year-old Dno resident had ignored an written undertaking to report to court on his own recognizance and applied for asylum in Finland. Criminal charges had been filed against him for anti-Putin songs posted on YouTube and the Russian social network VK. The crime Yakolev has been charged with (calls for extremism on the internet) carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison.
The forensic examination in the case was performed by Andrei Pominov, a lecturer at Bashkir State University. He discovered in the lyrics to Yaklovev’s songs “psychological and linguistic means aimed at inducing an unspecified group of persons to carry out extremist actions aimed at forcibly changing the existing state system or seizing power.”
Translated by the Russian Reader
In Helsinki, Boris Yakovlev explains that revolution in Russia is inevitable given the country’s deteriorating economic, political, and social conditions.
This is my 1600th entry since I started translating and writing articles about modern Russian politics, society, economics, art and culture, history, social movements, grassroots endeavors, and everyday life on this website nearly ten years ago.
My first post, dated October 23, 2007, was a translation of an excerpt from Viktor Mazin and Pavel Pepperstein’s fantastic 2005 book The Interpretation of Dreams. Provocative and surprising as ever, Mr. Pepperstein argued that
[o]nly the interim between Soviet socialism and capitalism was ecological. It was a time of crisis: the factories stood idle, and the air became cleaner. It is a pity, but those days (the nineties) came to an end, and now (under cover of patriotic speeches) our country is becoming a colony of international capitalism. They try and persuade us this is success, but it is not true. We should (my dreams tell me, and I believe them) put our beautiful country to a different use, for example, by turning it into a colossal nature and culture reserve. (After all, our country, like Brazil, produces the most valuable thing on Earth: oxygen.) We should close the borders to foreigners (but let anyone leave as they like), carry out a program of deindustrialization, and limit the birth rate.
Shortly thereafter, I was offered the job of editing another website, Chtodelat News, where I volunteered for nearly five years, publishing 740 posts and slowly figuring out what I wanted to say with this hybrid of translation, editorializing, and media collage, and how I could say it.
After the long stint at Chtodelat News, I revived the Russian Reader, trying to make it as pluralistic, polyphonic and, occasionally, as paradoxical as I could, while also fulfilling the brief I have tried to keep to the fore from the very beginning: covering stories about Russia which no other Anglophone media would bother with (although they thus miss tiny but vital chunks of the big picture) and giving my readers access to Russian voices they would not otherwise hear.
I had meant to celebrate my 1500th post on this beat, but that make-believe anniversary came and went without my noticing it. It was all for the best, however, since now nearly ten years have passed since I set out on this unpredictable journey.
Like the very first post on this blog, my 1600th post is a glimpse into Russia’s possible futures, as imagined by Grey Dolphin (aka Vladimir Gel’man), his fellow scribbler Grim Reminder (yours truly), Russian rappers GROT, and my friends at the Moscow Times. TRR
Russia: It Can’t Be Improved So Destroy It, or It Can’t Be Destroyed So Improve It? Grey Dolphin
September 27, 2017
The discussions about Russia’s prospects, currently underway among the conscious segment of Russian society, despite their public nature, in many respects resemble similar debates about the Soviet Union’s destiny, held in the kitchens of members of the intelligentsia and among politicized émigrés during the so-called stagnation. Relatively speaking, it was a debate between two parties. One party, the moderate optimists, grounded their expectations on hopes the country’s leadership would change course for one reason or another (or would itself change), and there would be a chance to change the Soviet Union for the better. (There were different opinions about what “better” meant and how to achieve it.) The other party, which included both moderate and radical pessimists, argued it was no longer possible or fundamentally impossible to improve the Soviet Union, and changes should be directed towards its total elimination. Time seemed to be on the side of the optimists, whose chances at success appeared realistic at perestroika’s outset, but in fact it was working inexorably on behalf of the pessimists. By the time the optimists seemingly got their chance, opportunities to improve the Soviet Union had largely been frittered away. History does not tolerate the subjunctive mood, and we do not know what turn events could have taken had perestroika been launched ten or fifteen years earlier. Those ten or fifteen years, however, passed only in conversations around kitchen tables, while the country’s leaders strove to prevent any change whatsoever. When the changes kicked off, the energies of both parties—the supporters of improving the Soviet Union, and the supporters of destroying the Soviet Union—had not exactly been exhaused in vain, but they had not been used very effectively.
Despite all the political and economic differences between the early 1970s and the late 2010s, the current conjuncture in Russia is not so remote from what it was then in the Soviet Union. Moderate optimists have proposed seemingly reasonable projects for improvements to the authorities and the public, but they themselves do not believe they can be realized “in this lifetime.” The moderate pessimists, if they had believed earlier in the possibility of improvement, have lost faith, while the radical pessimists never believed in improvements as a matter of principle. The optimists are waiting to see whether they will get the chance to improve at least something (and if so, when), while the pessimists are ready at a moment’s notice to exclaim, “Lord, let it burn!” For better or worse, however, so far there are no obvious “arsonists” in the vicinity who could and would want to demolish the current Russian political and economic order nor have any appeared on the distant horizon. Once again, as during the stagnation, time inexorably works on behalf of the pessimists. Sooner or later, yet another former optimist or, on the contrary, a person not involved in these debates will say something like, “Today’s Russia cannot be improved. It can only be destroyed.” (Essentially, this was what happened in the Soviet Union towards the end of perestroika. Of course, there were a different set of causes and other mechanisms in play then. What I have in mind is the rationale of transformation itself.) If and when the number of people supporting the verdict “destroy” reaches a critical mass, then the first of the questions posed in my post’s title will irreversibly be answered in the affirmative, occluding the second question altogether. The more news about events in Russia transpires every day, the more inevitable this outcome seems.
Translated by the Russian Reader
If God wants to punish a man, He strips him of his reason.
I often think the whole country has been punished.
As in a fantasy story, I can see a light glowing over people’s heads.
This is not a sign of holiness.
It is a sign of moral decay,
Decay of beliefs, principles, and ideas.
The nostrils are already used to the rotting smell,
And there are cadaver spots on the faces of children and adults.
Self-destruction at the mental level,
The nation jumps into the abyss with a cry of “Keep off me!”
We will soon go extinct like the mammoths.
Young mothers with Jaguars and Parliaments.
People will have coming to them the trouble they stir up
Everyone will be punished according to their whims.
Will purify gold from impurities.
Those who believe in the truth will stand their ground.
Will purify gold from impurities.
Those who believe in the truth will stand their ground.
An ancient serpent lashes the sky with a crimson tongue,
Its breath ripples over the television networks.
Through TV screens it animates the golem and generates ghosts.
In the skulls of those who ate their souls
And vomited them out indifferently with counterfeit vodka
In the snow in winter or summer in the dust.
Two abused dudes filmed it on a mobile.
Look online, search for the tags “degenerates,” “masturbate,”
“Suck,” “come,” “sex with babies.”
I’m waiting for the last fire, but you better run.
Nothing can be fixed here now. Lord, let it burn!
Will purify gold from impurities.
Those who believe in the truth will stand their ground.
Russia could ban Facebook next year if it fails to comply with a 2015 law requiring companies to store Russian citizens’ personal data on local servers, the state media censor said on Tuesday.
The U.S. social network would follow in the footsteps of LinkedIn, the social platform for professionals that was banned in Russia last year after a September 2015 law requiring companies to store Russian users’ personal data on localized servers.
The head of Russia’s state media watchdog Roskomnadzor warned that “there are no exceptions” to compliance with the data storage law seen by some observers as unenforceable.
“We will either ensure that the law is implemented, or the company will cease to work in Russia,” Roskomnadzor chief Alexander Zharov was cited as saying by the Interfax news agency.
He said the watchdog is aware of Facebook’s popularity, with an estimated 14.4 million monthly and 6 million daily users in Russia as of last year.
“On the other hand, we understand that this is not a unique service. There are other social networks.”
Twitter, Zharov said, has agreed to transfer by mid-2018 its Russian users’ data to Russian servers.
“We have no plans to investigate Facebook in that regard until the end of 2017,” he added. “We will think about it in 2018. Maybe we will investigate.”
There are no technical or legal justifications for banning Facebook in 2018, only political considerations. The principal political consideration would be the need to find ways of “celebrating” Putin’s auto-reinstallation as president for “another six-year term” (i.e., for life).
As a tyrant who brooks no opposition to his illegimate rule, Putin would have to celebrate his hollow victory by instituting a series of crackdowns against his foes, as he did after formally returning to the presidency in 2012.
One of these crackdowns could involve banning Facebook in Russia, as is strongly suggested by the article I have quoted, above.
But that would be the least of everyone’s worries once Putin essentially crowned himself tsar as a gift to himself for his stunningly bad performance as the country’s leader for eighteen years.
Since his entire reign has orbited not around solving the country’s problems, but around imbricating himself and his clique of “former” KGB officers into every corporate and institutional nook and cranny in Russia (and beyond) while stealing everything he can get his hands on and rewarding his satraps with the booty “for a job well done,” he has not had much time to solve any real problems.
Anyone who does not explicitly support Putin—and by definition only members of his clique really support him, in the sense that members of a mafia clan are loyal to their boss—is de facto opposed to him.
This might be especially true during the upcoming election, because, I would imagine, the majority of Russian voters are, at very least, quite weary of Putin and his oppositionless electoral “victories” by now and would be inclined to stay home on election day, even if they are not willing to march in the streets. (That might require too much effort.)
But a low turnout would still be a slap in the face to a man whose whole schtick the last eighteen years or so has been his alleged “wild” popularity, a schtick supported by the mainstream Russian press, corrupt Russian pollsters, foreign media covering Russia, and “Russia experts,” most of whom have no other gauge for measuring or probing “Russian public opinion,” so they rely on rigged, astronomically high popularity ratings.
If something around ten percent of voters in the two capitals (Moscow and Petersburg) and the non-ethnic regions showed up on polling day, the myth of Putin’s popularity would be dealt a near-fatal blow.
Putin would take his humiliation out on his treacherous non-constituency by unleashing a panoply of crackdowns, adopting a whole new raft of repressive laws at lightning speed, as happened in the wake of his 2012 re-election, and, perhaps, arresting a prominent figure from the opposition, such as Alexei Navalny, sending him down for hard time. Or worse.
Author photos courtesy of cetacea.ru and the Russian Reader
It turns out Chris Hedges has a regular program on RT. On his program on the Kremlin’s propaganda channnel, he interviewed Noam Chomsky. The interview was dubbed into Russian and posted on YouTube on August 11.
How dumb do you have to be to work for RT? How dumb do you have to be to let RT interview you at length?
Do either of these formerly respectable people realize they are shilling for the Kremlin and stoking the infernal imagination of an utter creep like Starikov?
What in God’s name is going on in this world?
Red-brown alliance indeed.
Meanwhile, the geriatric perennial musical rebels known as The Rolling Stones have done an advertisment for VTB24, a wholly owned subsidiary of VTB Bank, whose main shareholder is the Russian Government.
The ad’s copy reads, “Mastercard. Priceless cities. Win a trip to a concert by the legendary Rolling Stones. VTB24.”
The list of VTB Bank’s other shareholders makes for fun reading:
The main shareholder of VTB is the Russian Government, which owns 60.9% of the lender through its Federal Agency for State Property Management. The remaining shares are split between holders of its Global Depository Receipts and minority shareholders, both individuals and companies.
In February 2011, the Government floated an additional 10% minus two shares of VTB Bank. The private investors, who paid a total of 95.7 billion rubles ($3.1 billion) for the assets, included the investment funds Generali, TPG Capital, China Investment Corp, a sovereign wealth fund responsible for managing China’s foreign exchange reserves, and companies affiliated with businessman Suleiman Kerimov.
In May 2013 VTB completed a secondary public offering (SPO), issuing 2.5 trillion new additional shares by public subscription. All the shares have been placed on Moscow’s primary stock exchange. The government has not participated in the SPO so its stake in the bank decreased to 60.9% after the subscription has been closed. The bank has raised 102.5 billion rubles worth of additional capital. Three sovereign wealth funds Norway’s Norges Bank Investment Management, Qatar Holding LLC and the State Oil Fund of the Republic of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ) and commercial bank China Construction Bank became the largest investors during the SPO after purchasing more than half of the additional share issue.
In October 2015, VTB chair and president Andrey Kostin went on CNBC to talk Syria, geopolitics, and the need to lift sanctions against Russia as quickly as possible.
It’s no wonder that Kostin was concerned about these issues, because VTB have been accused of acting as banker for the Assad regime. Curiously, WikiLeaks is alleged to have removed evidence of the relationship between VTB and the Assad regime from a 2012 trove of hacked emails.
Even worse, VTB have been on the US and EU sanctions list, imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, since September 2014. As a wholly owned subsidary of VTB, VTB24 should be subject to the same sanctions, as explained in a press release issued by the US Department of the Treasury on December 22, 2015, namely,
“Today, OFAC also identified a number of subsidiaries of VTB Bank, Sberbank, and Rostec as being owned 50 percent or more by their respective parent entities. The two banks and one defense company were previously sanctioned pursuant to E.O. 13662 in September 2014. The subsidiaries identified today were already subject to the same financing restrictions as their respective parent entities per OFAC’s Revised Guidance on Entities Owned by Persons Whose Property and Interests in Property Are Blocked (“50 percent rule guidance”), which can be found here. These identifications will help the public more effectively comply with the sanctions on VTB Bank, Sberbank, and Rostec.”
According to a May 22, 2014, article in the Guardian, The Rolling Stones are music’s “biggest business.” Where is this business registered?* Is it exempt from the sanctions imposed by the US and the EU on VTB Bank and its wholly owned subsidiary, VTB24?
I ask these questions to the wind, the Holy Spirit, and the inhabitants of other, distant galaxies, because I very much doubt that any of these niceties would bother the morally unimpeachable preacher Chris Hedges, the world’s greatest anti-imperialist Noam Chomsky, and those fun-loving seventy-year-old lads from London, just as long as they get paid on time and paid a lot.
Frankly, I doubt that this bothers you very much, dear readers, although in a nutshell it says a lot about how our fallen world actually works. TRR
* UPDATE. The Rolling Stones apparently pay their taxes in the Netherlands, which is not only an EU country in good standing, but a country that lost many of its nationals when the Russian army decided to blow Flight MH17 out of the sky over Donbass on July 17, 2014, one of the actions that triggered western sanctions against Russian companies and individuals connected to the regime in the first place.
But The Rolling Stones have bigger fish to fry.
What two of the other three Rolling Stones apparently learned, including Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts, was that Mr. Richards’s near-death experience meant that it was time to think about their heirs. For that, the aging rockers turned to a reclusive Dutch accountant, Johannes Favie, whose company, Promogroup, has helped them minimize their tax bills for more than 30 years. (The fourth Rolling Stone, Ron Wood, handles his finances apart from Promogroup.)
And so, last August, according to details disclosed in documents maintained by the Handelsregister, the trade registry of the Netherlands, Promogroup helped the three performers set up a pair of private Dutch foundations that will allow them to transfer assets tax-free to heirs when they die. Other Dutch shelters that Promogroup has arranged for the three have already paid off handsomely; over the last 20 years, according to Dutch documents, the three musicians have paid just $7.2 million in taxes on earnings of $450 million that they have channeled through Amsterdam — a tax rate of about 1.5 percent, well below the British rate of 40 percent. (Lynnley Browning, “The Netherlands, the New Tax Shelter Hot Spot,” New York Times, February 4, 2007)
It’s hard to believable that a little over three years have passed since Russia downed Flight MH17 and what, all is forgiven and forgotten? Now the exemplary Dutch taxpapers Keith, Mick, and Charlie can promote a Russian bank that, I repeat, is still on the US-EU sanctions list, put in place after Russia’s violent actions against a neighboring sovereign country that threatened it in no way whatsoever? And how did the passengers on Flight MH17, over half of them Dutch nationals, threaten Russia?
P.S. In case you thought I was dreaming or had somehow photoshopped the Stones/VTB24 advert, it popped up again on my Facebook news feed this morning (September 9) as a “suggested post,” albeit with more details, namely:
The copy reads:
Win a trip to the Rolling Stones concert in Paris! https://goo.gl/JBP379 Pay for purchases with the World Mastercard Black Edition card from VTB24 before September 15 and, perhaps, it will be you who makes it to the concert by the legendary rock musicians. The winner of the promotion will receive two tickets for special places in the group’s own box and the right to skip the queue, a meeting with members of The Rolling Stones, a keepsake photo, and a gift from the group.
The link leads to a page on VTB24’s own website, promoting its World Mastercard Black Edition Privilege Card and providing a few more details about the promotion, including the fact that you are eligible to win only if you spend 50,000 rubles [approx. 725 euros according to exchange rates on September 9, 2017] or more in purchases using the card between August 1 and September 15.
According to the Rambler news website, the average monthly salary in Moscow during the second quarter of 2017 was 49,900 rubles.
On April 21, 2017, popular Petersburg news website Fontanka.ru, citing Rosstat as its source, published a brief item stating the average monthly salary in Petersburg in February 2017 was 51,024 rubles [sic].
I won’t bother citing average monthly salaries in Russia’s eighty-one other regions. They would be higher only in the handful of regions where oil and gas is produced, and much lower in most regions that do not produce oil and gas. Most people in those regions live in what would be regarded as abject poverty in the west.
So, even in the so-called two capitals of Moscow and Petersburg, the actually nonexistent average inhabitant would have to blow an entire month’s wages buying things with a card she probably cannot afford to have in the first place in order to have a slim chance to win the promotion and see The Rolling Stones in Paris.
This still begs the question of whether The Rolling Stones, a highly profitable company that, at least until 2007 (see above), paid its bare minimum of taxes in the Netherlands, can do business with a Russian bank on the US-EU sanctions list.
Fyodor Chistyakov: Russia Is the Freest Country—You Can Adopt a Constitution and Then Throw It Out Musician Fyodor Chistyakov has left Russia because of his religious beliefs, but promises to come back. True, only on tours. The newly minted New Yorker told Fontanka.Office what happened.
Nikolai Nelyubin Fontanka.ru
July 31, 2017
Have you really emigrated to the US?
It’s not quite like that. Circumstances are such in Russia at the moment that make it difficult for me to live there. But that doesn’t mean I’m planning to cut all the ropes and drown everything there. In the fall, for example, Nol [Chistyakov’s band] is planning to play concerts we promised to play long ago, and they should come off unless there is an act of God. We’re playing November 18 in Moscow, and November 23 in Petersburg. Otherwise, I will be spending more time in a different place.
Have you requested political asylum?
I’m not going to discuss that. I’ll just say things are in order on that front. I have an employment contract.
Did the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia influence your decision to stay in the US?
That decision turned all members of the organization, including me, into outlaws. How can I live in a country where I’m an outlaw? The answer is simple: there’s no way I can. Hence everything that has happened.
Did you or your friends get any signals or threats after the Jehovah’s Witnesses were outlawed?
Yes, we did. For example, the authorities came to a friend’s house, confiscated all his computers, and searched the place, because he is a Jehovah’s Witness. I think this is a nightmare. I have a music recording studio at home. I can’t allow the state to dig around in computer files looking for signs of “extremism.” At the end of the day, it’s simply humiliating. It’s not a matter of danger, but of your state of mind: you’re always waiting for something to happen. I do long-term musical projects. It takes six months to record and release an album. But with things like this I can’t promise anything. What if I’m arrested tomorrow, say. Then I won’t be able to fulfill my obligations.
Fyodor Chistyakov, Live interview via Skype on Fontanka.Office, July 31, 2017
But earlier you did not publicly identify yourself with the organization or did you? What are you afraid of, if you’re not promoting anything? A Danish citizen has been arrested and jailed in the city of Oryol. When you look into the matter, you discover law enforcement has not even formulated the charges, but the man sits in jail. This is lawlessness. There are no laws or norms, no Constitution that protects human rights. As long as no one has taken an interest in you, you are free to party, so to speak, but if something controversial comes up, you won’t be able to prove anything. You’ll be ruined.
Yes, but now that you’ve openly said why you left, how are you going to give concerts in Russia? How can you avoid the risks you’ve mentioned?
According to my beliefs, every week I have scheduled events for worshiping God. This is what the Russian authorities consider “extremism.” If, for example, I come to Russia to give concerts, that is a specific goal. I come and go. But if I live in Russia, I would have to do all this somewhere on the sly.
Meaning the corpus delicti is the religious ritual, which you will not be performing in the Russian Federation?
How have your friends in Russian and colleagues in the US taken the news of your move?
There are different opinions. There are people who support me, and people who openly mock me. Opinions are quite polarized.
What about the musicians in your band?
I think we’ll continue working together. There will be collaborations.
Can you explain the rationale behind the banning of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia? Why was it done?
The most terrible thing is there is no rationale. It’s inexplicable. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have lots of enemies. But I don’t understand why the Russian authorities had to adopt this ruling. There is talk of property they plan to confiscate. But this amounts to kopecks on the scale of the Russian state. The Witnesses were persecuted in Nazi Germany. But in the US, you ride the subway and read an ad that says if you encounter racial or religious discrimination, you can contact so-and-so.
But if someone promised you that everything here in Russia would be cool, would you come back?
That’s the thing. That’s the essence of life in Russia: there is no law. Someone says one thing today, and tomorrow he forgets it. Or he is replaced altogether. And who cares about me?
I’ll put it more simply. What must change for you to return?
I haven’t disappeared. I plan to visit. I plan to make music, only remotely.
What if the ban in Russia were overturned?
Hard to say. Right now the circumstances in Russia are quite alarming, and not only for the Witnesses. What’s alarming is that all the foundations have fallen and crumbled. Until a certain order emerges, it will be dangerous to live in Russia.
I recently read that a lawyer was unable to get a response from the court on a case. They failed to respond to his requests. He published an open letter in a newspaper, in which he described how the case had been handled by the judicial authorities. The courts should try and figure out the truth, but there is no objectivity in Russian courts. Russia is the freest country. You can adopt laws and then not enforce them. You can adopt a Constitution and then throw it out. Anything is possible. But that makes things a bit tricky if you want to have rights.
You will be told it’s like that everywhere in the world, but on a different scale.
I wouldn’t argue with that. But as long it doesn’t affect anyone personally, you can philosophize. But when the problems kick off, you just have to make a decision that will solve the problems. This is completely different.
What do think about how things in general are shaping up on the planet? You felt alarm in Russia. Is there no alarm in the US?
Things in Russia are quite disturbing. The main cause are the media. When you open a news website and read the headlines, the headlines are enough to flip your wig. Completely. But here [looks out window] life is calm. There is nothing like that here, in fact. You can avoid thinking about it if you don’t want to, if you don’t open your browser. In Russia, this is hard to pull off. You walk outside and immediately read something printed on banners. Here, on the contrary, you get the sense that politics is god knows where. The police are also god knows where. They are somewhere round the corner, but you don’t see them. I’m talking about New York. It’s calmer. As for real threats, the situation is unpleasant. It resembles the Cold War again. You could say it’s already underway. We’ve gone full circle. Everything is happening all over again, and I’m quite tired of it all, in fact. Generally, I have hope, of course, but I won’t talk about, because it is now considered forbidden in the Russian Federation. For the time being, there is little of this hope in the Russian Federation.
Okay, what are your future musical plans. “Time to Live,” the first track from the resurrected Nol, has been released. Is an album the obvious next step? Will it be nostalgic, like your previous LP, Fyodor Chistyakov: Nol + 30? Or will it be something different?
Yes, aside from the fall concerts in Russia, we have the idea to record a Nol LP. I’ll start working on it in the very near future. In any case, it will be a new album with new songs. The new song “Time to Live” I recorded with Alexei “Nichols” Nikolayev [a member of the classic Nol line-up]. It was just the two of us who recorded the track. I really liked it. It turned out quite well. I would like to keep working and record the whole album in this vein.
Will you be recording in the States or Petersburg?
It’s going to be an intercontinental project.
Better intercontinental Nol albums than intercontinental missiles, eh?
Will the new Nol album be as militant as your last songs, from the LP No Fools, and the new singles “Went Mental” and “Time to Live”? Or will it be more lyrical? How much material do you have and what is it about?
I wouldn’t say the material is ready. Some songs are more or less ready, while others are still only sketches. But, ultimately, I think the material will be good. It won’t leave you bored.
Thanks, Fyodor, for this “intercontinental” conversation.
It’s just like from a space station.
The voting in our official group broke down as follows. 84.8% of users said they understood people who leave Russia. (“Yes, it’s everybody’s right.”) Only seven percent agreed with the statement, “No, who then will be left?” An interesting outcome?
Quite interesting, and quite encouraging that are so many people who respect the rights of others, at least, on Fontanka. Office.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Uvarova for the heads-up
Fyodor Chistyakov and Nol (Zero), “Time to Live” (2017)
No article about Fyodor Chistyakov and Nol would be complete without this oldie but goodie from a much better time, whatever the wiseguys says about it now. It was a free country then. Just listen to the lyrics. Back then the song was in constant rotation on just about every radio station, at least in Chistyakov’s hometown of Petersburg. TRR