Mike Naumenko, “Summer (A Song for Tsoi)”

 


Mike Naumenko, “Summer (A Song for Tsoi)” (1982)

Summer!
I’m sizzled like a burger.
I got time, but no money,
But I don’t care.

Summer!
I bought myself a paper.
I got a paper, but no beer.
And I’m going to look for one.

Summer!
There’s a jam session today at the Lensovet.
There will be this, and there will be that.
Should I go there?

Summer!
All the rowdies wear brass knuckles,
They must have a vendetta.
However, this is rubbish. Yes, yes, yes!

Summer!
There is no escape from mosquitoes,
And in the stores there is no DEET.
We hold donors in high esteem.

Summer!
It will be the death of me.
Quick, my carriage, my carriage!
However, kvass will also do.

Summer!
My pants are worn shiny like a coin.
A cigarette is smoking in my mouth.
I’m going for a swim in the pond.

Summer!
Recently I heard somewhere
That a comet was coming
And that then we would all die, all die.

Source of original lyrics in Russian. “Summer” was released on the album Mike: LV (1982),  which you can enjoy in its entirety for free on Spotify. The video, above, features photographs by the great Petersburg underground photographer Boris Smelov. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

fullsizeoutput_17a4

Someone Else’s War

75

What’s wrong with this sentence?

“The 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s World War II triumph is usually marked with jubilant crowds and a parade showing off the full force of Russia’s military might.”

Nothing’s wrong with that sentence. I’d like to blame the Putin regime, which has cynically colonized and misappropriated the “triumph” and tragedy of hundreds of millions of people in the former Soviet Union for its own dubious ends, for confusing the foreign press about the various meanings of Victory Day for the 144,499,999 Russians not named Vladimir V. Putin, but a recent painful conversation with a relative about the war persuaded me once again that western society mostly wants to be confused and ignorant about it, too.

I am not sure what the caption writer at the Washington Post meant by “jubilant crowds.” I lived almost half my life in Russia and saw no such crowds anywhere on Victory Day. What I did see a lot of was people for whom the war continues to mean something that it almost never meant for the parts of the world that emerged from the war triumphant, ascendant, and more prosperous than when they entered it, and were thus able to shrug off “horrors” most of their inhabitants never witnessed.

It is still very much a matter of debate in Russia, however, what it means to remember a war that ended seventy-years ago, that is, before most people in Russia were born, including its president, and how it should be remembered. In the Soviet Union, no family was untouched by the war, so everyone has a “war story” of some kind, if only the stories told to them by parents and grandparents.

This past weekend, one of my favorite purveyors of humanistic, grassroots journalism, Takie Dela, asked its employees (most of whom are in their twenties and thirties) to share some of these family stories of the war and its aftermath, along with photographs from their family archives. The first such story, “Someone Else’s Wife,” which I have translated, below, was told by Alyona Khoperskova.

************

Someone Else’s Wife

The war had started six months earlier, and the death notices were delivered almost simultaneously to Nastya, my great-grandmother, and her girlfriends. The young women, almost girls by today’s standards, clung to each other and howled.

Nastya had two daughters, Alya and Lilya, the oldest of whom had not yet turned three years old. The oldest—Alya, Alenka (short for Albina)—is my grandmother.

Great-Grandmother Nastya at 18, before the war and marriage. Photo from family archive. Courtesy of Takie Dela

Grandmother Albina was two years old when her own father left for the front. She has only one memory of him. Her father had come home tired, washed his hands, and took her on his lap. At first she was embarrassed and scared, but then she grew bolder and reached into his soup plate with her little hands to fish out the fried onions that she adored.

“And he was terribly squeamish!” her mother would later tell my grandmother. “I was frozen, but he was laughing and kissing your hands. How he loved you! It was just something how he doted on you, Alya.”

It was written in that death notice that Nikolai Gorbunov had “died a hero’s death.” He had always put himself in harm’s way. He had always wanted to be first, doing everything conscientiously and thoroughly. Like my grandmother, he was a towhead in childhood, but he had black hair as an adult. My grandmother would learn all this later, after she grew up.

Throughout her childhood she considered another man her father.

Then there were only widows and children left in their large, four-family house. They began living like a single family, and that was how they lasted until the victory in May 1945.

“We four girlfriends,” recalls Grandmother, “had been sitting on the bench from morning like chicks, dressed only in our swimming trunks, looking to see whether Dad would come by. It was raining, but we still sat there, not wanting to leave.”

The soldiers walked by in groups, and only one lagged behind.

“I saw him, jumped off and ran to him, shouting, ‘Dad, Dad!’ I don’t know why— I just saw him and flew. He picked me up, hugged me, and carried me. I still remember how his heart was pounding.”

Grandpa (right) with a war buddy. They each believed the other had been killed and were reunited only fourteen years after the war. Photo from family archive. Courtesy of Takie Dela

My grandmother no longer remembers how her mother reacted when a strange man brought her child to her in his arms. And, of course, she doesn’t know how Nastya felt asshe carried her daughter away screaming and crying, “But it’s Papa. Papa has returned.” She only remembers that the soldier came to that bench every day afterwards to talk, treat her to candy, and read to her aloud.

Vasily was his name, and he stayed in Siberia: his entire family in Ukraine had been murdered by the fascists. He worked at the military garrison with Nastya and must have noticed her: she was strikingly beautiful, as I remember from the photos that my grandmother showed me as a child.

“He liked her very much, but he thought that he was not worthy of her,” my grandmother says. “Everyone knew that she was a widow, that officers of higher rank were ready to marry her. But since we children were attached to him, what could she do?”

All her childhood, my grandmother believed that Vasily was, in fact, her beloved father, who had recognized her on that dusty road. The fact that he was not her real father, she learned only at school. When a schoolteacher was giving her a dressing down, she wounded her by saying, “You are a stranger to him!”

“I don’t even know if I was as happy with my own father as I was with him,” my grandmother says slowly and quietly when I ask her to tell me about Vasily. “He doted on Lily and me: all year long he wore a simple soldier’s uniform, but we girls were dressed, shod, and did well at school. When my mother would chew us out, he always stood up for us: ‘But Nastya, they are just children! When they grow up, they will understand everything.’ He was an extraordinarily soulful man. A man who gave us a second life.”

I’ve heard this story of how my grandmother brought home the soldier who became her father and the best grandfather in the world for my dad hundreds of times since I was a child. But I never thought about what I’m asking now: “Did your mother love him?”

Great-Grandmother Nastya with her eldest daughter Albina. Photo from family archive. Courtesy of Takie Dela

My grandmother is silent for a long time, and I can hear over the phone how she gasps before answering.

“Mom would joke, ‘If Albina chose Vasily, what could we do?’ To be honest, I think Mom just accepted it. Because of how much he loved us children and took care of us. I think we were very lucky.”

This was in Reshoty, a small village in Krasnoyarsk Territory. All my childhood, my grandmother told me there was a military garrison here. She often recalled the chess set and the wardrobe given her to her mother by the prisoners, who, according to my grandmother, were wonderful, intelligent people and scientists. Now Wikipedia tells me that there was an NKVD prison camp in Reshoty, where “political” prisoners were sent, among others.

Translated by the Russian Reader

International Women’s Day in St. Petersburg: Defying the Ban

88325787_2658545944242554_2755934399055790080_oFeminist activists queuing to picket at International Woman’s Day protest on the corner of Malaya Sadovaya and Nevsky in Petersburg. Photo by AnFem

AN-FEM
Facebook
March 8, 2020

The Banned Eighth of March, Petersburg

Once upon a time, the danger and risk in men’s lives were considered the basis of their alleged superiority over women. Only those who walked the razor’s edge looked danger and even death in the face and were thus spiritually elevated.

87848158_2658538717576610_6222493887676547072_o“My body is my business.” Picketer at International Women’s Day protest in Petersburg. Photo by AnFem

When today, International Women’s Day, the Petersburg authorities have used the pretext of events that did not even take place, including the Shoulder to Lean On Festival, to prohibit women from publicly speaking out about the issues that matter to them in any way, all that remained for them was step onto their own razor’s edge and take to the streets, risking their own safety and freedom, and thus one more time (if someone has not heard the argument) assert that archaic segregation is unacceptable.

87825064_2658538424243306_3785326012800172032_o

Because, under these circumstances, each step is a small victory. Among other things, it is a victory over oneself and one’s own fear. Each step is a reclaimed meter of urban space that should belong to people, but does not belong to them. It is a small step towards freedom, a step toward oneself — through the political, through the raucous intrusion into the chronotope of a spring day somewhere in the middle of an ugly regime. A small step into our common holiday. No one is free until everyone is free.

Photo reportage by AnFem

87905423_2658546174242531_2565779528093794304_o“On March 8, I think about women political prisoners, not spring.” Picketer at International Women’s Day protest in Petersburg. Photo by AnFem

Female Activists Hold Flash Mob Dance on the Field of Mars to Protest Violence Against Women; Pickets Held on Nevsky Prospect
Bumaga
March 8, 2020

MBKh Media reports that a feminist protest rally has taken place on the Field of Mars during which female activists played drums and performed chants protesting violence against women.

89773349_2658536790910136_7501581396633190400_o

The rally featured a dance flash mob. The girls [sic] chanted such lines, in particular, as “The patriarchy is a judge / that judges me for being born. / And my punishment is / violence day after day.” As MBKh Media reports, the Petersburg women borrowed the idea from Chilean feminists.

88336060_2658532417577240_2627163952307503104_oFeminist activists performing a flash mob dance and chant on the Field of Mars in Petersburg. Photo by AnFem

In addition, a series of pickets took place on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Malaya Sadovaya, reports the web publication Sever.Realii. The picketers protested domestic violence and the law against “promotion” of homosexual relations, and in support of female political prisoners. Protest organizers had originally planned a rally [on Lenin Square], but city authorities refused to sanction it.

Thanks to AnFem for the photos and the first text. Translated by the Russian Reader

Reading the Signs (Team 29)

fullsizeoutput_1b8b

Hi, this is Natasha Kurchenkova.

This week, everyone was wondering what the text of the new Russian constitution meant and, most importantly, how it would ultimately help one particular person remain in power. And here I had thought we were busy trying to divine such things all the time! When methods for making decisions are almost totally opaque, the art of reading the various signs and signals sent from the top is elevated into a cult. Some pundits show off their familiarity with sacred knowledge, while others hone their interpretive skills on national TV. What makes the process particularly crazy is that there is often no logic whatsoever in the way the system acts.

It is even harder for those whom the system has taken hostage—for example, Konstantin Kotov, sentenced to four years in prison for four peaceful (“unsanctioned”) protests. He was arrested on August 12 of last year. The criminal investigation of his case took a whole three days, while the trial took another two days, and after that Kotov was sent to prison. But this week the Second Court of Appeal overturned the Moscow City Court’s refusal to commute Kotov’s sentence and ordered a new trial in the case. What the hell does it all mean?

Team 29 lawyer Yevgeny Smirnov, a member of Kotov’s defense team, argues it is a good sign, despite the fact that the court could have immediately closed the criminal case, although it declined to do so.

“The court clearly indicated that Kotov would be released, given that the Moscow City Court had reduced his sentence to a year and the fact that, in a month and a half, under the revised rules for time served in custody, he will have been imprisoned for a year,” Smirnov wrote. “All of Konstantin’s defense lawyers insist on his complete innocence and will seek to have the criminal case quashed and their client exonerated. In view of the rulings made by the Russian Constitutional Court, the European Court of Human Rights, and simple common sense, such a decision is the only possible outcome.”

We have also been picking up signals from the penal colonies, where we have been trying to locate one inmate. Almost nothing is known about his case, and the individual in question simply vanished a few years ago. It turns out that the official replies we have been receiving in response to a completely straightforward question also have to be interpreted. Just get a load of this:

“In accordance with Article 7 of Federal Law No. 152 on personal data, enacted 27 July 2006, persons who have received access to personal data are obliged not to disclose or distribute personal data to third parties without the consent of the person in question, unless otherwise stipulated by federal law. Given that the convicted man is not being held at [this penal colony], and it is not possible to obtain his consent, the information you have requested cannot be disclosed.”

How do you not go crazy when the state speaks to you in this language?

For the time being, trying to decipher the system’s signals is, alas, perhaps the most constructive way of communicating with it.

If you need a sign, this is it.

—Natasha and Team 29

* When I contacted Team 29 today, asking them for more details about the case in question, they replied that they would publish something about it after they had located the inmate in question. \\ TRR

Source: Team 29 weekly email newsletter, dated 7 March 2020. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

Zaharia Cușnir, Rural Moldovan Photographer

zaharia-cusnir-zacu-2520

Found in an Abandoned House in Northern Moldova, Zaharia Cușnir’s Photographs Have Been Published Online
Locals
January 5, 2020

The official presentation of the online archive of works by the amateur photographer Zaharia Cușnir  (1912–1993), who took pictures of northern Moldovan villagers in the 1950s and the 1960s, took place on January 3, 2020.

zaharia-cusnir-zacu-2456

Three and a half years ago, while working on his graduation project, Academy of Arts student Victor Gălușcă found around twenty old photographic negatives amid trash in an abandoned house in the village of Roșietici, 122 kilometers north of Chișinău. He showed his find to his teacher, Nicolae Pojoga. Even this small number of shots was enough to convince Pojoga of their artistic and ethnographic value. A week later, Gălușcă returned to Roșietici hoping to find at least a few more shots by the unknown rural photographer. In a house whose windows and doors were missing, he found a dozen more, and when he climbed into the attic, a real treasure awaited him: a suitcase containing thousands of negatives. Thus began the project of restoring the photo archive of amateur photographer Zaharia Cușnir, who recorded the faces and everyday lives of villagers in the 1950s and 1960s.

zaharia-cusnir-zacu-2450

Cușnir was the youngest of the sixteen children of Iacov and Anna Cuşnir, who lived in the village of  Climăuți (now known as Roșietici Nou) on the Răut River. Zaharia went to the village school in Rogojeni before graduating from a pedagogical lyceum in Iași. He worked for a short time as a geography teacher before the war. We know that he spent time in prison after the war, and later he went from being an individual farmer to working on a collective farm. His work record book contains such entries as “plastered,” “hauled clay,” “laid concrete,” and “carried stones,” but there is no mention of his being employed as a photographer. Photography was Cuşnir’s hobby and labor of love.

zaharia-cusnir-zacu-2541

Cuşnir began taking pictures around 1955. His wife Daria and four children reproached him for photographing everyone, including beggars, who they though should not be in the frame since they could not serve as an example to others. Until 1970, he shot scenes of village life, leaving us nearly 4,000 medium-sized (6 x 6 cm) photographic negatives. Since they were found three and half years ago, the negatives have been thoroughly restored and archived, as well as painstakingly scanned under the direction of the well-known documentary photographer Ramin Mazur. There have been several shows of Cuşnir’s work in Moldova, Romania, and Germany, and Cartier Editions published a book containing 204 photographs by Cuşnir in 2017.

zaharia-cusnir-zacu-2495

Since Cuşnir died in 1993, his house has been abandoned. His daughter lives next door in the same village, and all the negatives were obtained with her permission. Work on the negatives was supported by a project grant from the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Fellowship.

High-resolution scans of Cuşnir’s photographs can be found at zaharia.md.

Thanks to Alexander Markov for the heads-up. Images courtesy of Locals. Translated by the Russian Reader