Aliyah

aliyah

Canadian professional wrestler Aliyah. Photo courtesy of WWE

It’s really unpleasant to discover that, for no apparent reason and unbeknownst to you, you have been unfriended long ago by someone you really did think of as a friend,

The funny thing is that, two years ago, I translated a dozen or so pages of essays and other documents this particular friend needed for their Fulbright application. I did all of this work literally overnight, with almost no advanced warning.

The friend didn’t think to offer me any money or anything else for my work, but when they did, in fact, get the Fulbright, they suddenly popped up again to ask for free English lessons.

Since I haven’t heard word one from them since then, I assume they and their family stayed in the States.

What happened to the film I had been helping them make for several years is for me to wonder alone about, too.

This is a lesson I should have learned the hard way when A.S. and I held what proved to be a truly savage and unpleasant “solidarity evening” for our old friend the artist B. in 2008 after he was deported from Brexitland, where he had applied, quite sincerely and on impeccable legal grounds, for asylum as a gay man whose life was threatened in his home country.

All three of us were roundly denouced by the rather odd audience in attendance at the erstwhile artists squat Pushkinskaya 10 (now a municipally subsidized arts center) for advocating the international human rights approach to asylum seeking.

The thing to do, we were told in no uncertain terms, was to trick your way into the promised land of your choice by hook or by crook, not to openly apply for asylum and get mixed up with the allegedly politically dodgy types (i.e., anarchists and other No Borders activists) who support asylum seekers in other countries.

Meanwhile, my wife’s cousin M., who up until a few months ago showed no interest in their late grandfather and his Jewishness, has suddenly decided to make Aliyah. The only problem is that his cousin, my wife, is the only living member of the family who knows anything about their grandfather, his Jewishness, and Jewishness in general, and who has kept anything she could pertaining to her grandfather’s life, because she loved him, and because she finds her fascinating multi-ethnic family’s history fascinating.

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that politics in Israel has been badly skewed  to the hard right by the huge influx of “Russian Jews” who emotionally, religiously, philosophically, and technically speaking had about as much business making Aliyah as I, a third-generation Scandinavian American, would have.

Naturally, since they have no real business being there or, rather, since they know they fudged their way into the country, they are even more resentful of the Palestinians, the natives brutally shunted aside to make room for their illegitimate millions.

This has been borne out by Likud’s strangehold on power in alliance with Avgidor Lieberman and the other radical right politicians heavily supported by immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

The only way out of this impasse is to declare Zionism a “triumphant failure” that did the job it set out to do when circumstances for Jews in the world were desperate. Now that they are much less desperate, Zionism, like “communism” in its own time, can phase itself out, giving way to a single Israeli-Palestinian state where everyone would learn Arabic and Hebrew at school, and to which anyone in the world would be eligible to immigrate if they chose to do it.

Of course, it would be a big mess, but it would also be a lot of fun to the current US tax payer-subsidized disgrace in Israel-Palestine.

But what to do about the alleged right of Russians to immigrate anywhere they choose by any means necessary when, in their majority, they themselves refuse to acknowledge the same rights for non-Russians? Spend enough time in these parts and you will realize that really large numbers of Russians do think quite sincerely and distressingly that Muslim, Asian, and African riffraff should not be allowed to live in their precious spiritual homelands of North America, Western Europe, and Israel, and certainly not in their beloved-and-hated Motherland itself.

I have no cheeky pie-in-the-sky solution to this racist silliness. I do know, though, that it had something to do (minus the racism) with why I lost a real friend. {TRR}

Mikola Dziadok: When You Are Scared, It Is Better to Remain Silent

vera zasulich street, 46-permVera Zasulich Street, 46, in Perm, hardly seems a fitting monument to the fearless Russian revolutionary, but the street is, apparently, the only Vera Zasulich Street in Russia. Photo courtesy of perm.vsedomarossii.ru

Mikola Dziadok
Facebook
November 3, 2018

When You Are Scared, It Is Better to Remain Silent

Ever since the events in Arkhangelsk, I have been waiting for the decent Russian media to publish a sensible portrait-cum-analysis of the new would-be member of the People’s Will, Mikhail Zhlobitsky, who blew himself up at the local FSB office. My wait is over. Novaya Gazeta has published an article about him. It is a vile, shameful article, which I might have expected from anyone else, but not from Novaya Gazeta. Every quotation you can pull from the article, not to mention the conclusion, is a specimen of feeblemindeness compounded by fear.

“Unfortunately, now many people could come to regard [Zhlobitsky] as an icon, a martyr, a hero.”

That “unfortunately” tipped me off to the fact that nothing good lay ahead.

“Perovskaya and Zasulich: their forgotten names still grace street signs marking alleys.* Strictly speaking, nearly every municipality [in Russia] is thus guilty of excusing terrorism. Their ‘heroic deeds’ have never been duly judged. So, they have returned: a second-year student at a vocational college assembles a bomb at home in the evenings from available materials.”

Thanks to Sophia Perovskaya, Vera Zasulich, and people like them, people whom Novaya Gazeta‘s reporter [Tatyana Britskaya] considers reprehensible, Russia overthrew the tsarist autocracy, a realm in which the reporter’s great-grandfathers were whipped for not doffing their hats in the presence of their masters and were dispatched as cannon fodder to distant lands for the Empire’s glory. That was only a small fraction of the woes visited upon the heads of the common folk. The reporter, however, is still sad that streets are named after these heroines and heroes, and she brackets their heroic deeds in quotation marks.

“However, the three Arkhangelsk Chekists [sic] wounded by shrapnel were unlikely to be directly involved in the torture about which Mikhail Zh. wrote [in his farewell message on Telegram].”

This is really a masterpiece. According to the reporter, only a tiny group of FSB officers, a group that exists only in her head, has been involved in torture. All other FSB officers wear white gloves, compose poems, dance at balls, and have preventive discussions with schoolchildren, urging them not to become “extremists.” They also catch drug barons and ISIS fighters, interrogating them solely by looking at them sternly. Apparently, the reporter has forgotten about “repeat interrogations using an electrical memory aid” and the complaints by cops (!) accused of corruption that they were tortured by FSB officers.  The reporter must think that Zhlobitsky should have first approached [the three FSB officers he wounded] and asked them, “Do you torture people by any chance? No? Well, okay, then, I’ll go blow up somebody else.”

“Apparently, we never were able to assess or correct mistakes, and now history is taking us back for another go-round. This is facilitated quite readily by the fact that adults notice unhappy, confused children only when the latter perish while activating homemade infernal machines.”

What mistakes is she talking about? She is not condemning the butchers of the NKVD or the enslavement of entire nations, first by Imperial Russia, then by the Soviet empire. No, the “mistakes” were the members of the nobility who were among the organizers of the People’s Will and the members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, people who died martyrs’ deaths to liberate their own people from bondage.

Because reading it only provokes disgust, there is not pointing in parsing this libel any further. I would only note that the reporter is Novaya Gazeta‘s [Arctic Circle] correspondent, meaning she is a local reporter. This, apparently, is the reason for her condescending, judgmental tone and her attempt to turn a hero into a “confused child.” If you write too bluntly, you have unexploded FSB officers to deal with, as well as their colleagues and relatives. But she has keep working and get comments from the security service when she needs them. So, she will continuing putting a good face on a bad game, denouncing “violence of any kind.” My ass.

It is true what they say: scratch a Russian liberal and, deep down, you will find a statist and conservative. You want to live in a just society, but you think it can be achieved by pickets and petitions. You want the regime to respect you, but you condemn people who force it to respect them. You want freedom, but you are afraid to take it. You condemn the bravest people, thus projecting an image of victims, not fighters. In today’s stinking Russia, ninety-nine percent of you will end up hightailing it abroad. But not everyone has the opportunity, you know?

So, if you are scared, it is better to remain silent than to yap encouragingly at the butchers, who, for a change, suffered for their crimes.

I would like to emphasize I do not consider individual insurgency an acceptable or proper means of political militancy, nor would I advise anyone to engage in it. I believe everyone has the right to live, even a fucking FSB officer. But not everyone can adhere to the same beliefs I do while living amidst a terrorist dictatorship. I understand such people perfectly well, too.

* Translator’s Note. While there are a couple of dozen Sophia Perovskaya Streets extant in post-Soviet Russia, there seems to be only one Vera Zasulich Street—in Perm.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Special thanks to Mikola Dziadok for his kind permission to translate and publish his comments on this website.

Lilia Shevtsova: Gutting Russia

1535459018_stena-1The Wall, one of the Russian National Guard’s new toys for crushing popular unrest. Photo courtesy of Voennoe obozrenie

Lilia Shevtsova
Facebook
September 27, 2018

Gutting the State
“They are crazy!” we wail as we gaze at the regime’s latest stunts.

“What stupidity!” the commentators exclaim in horror as they compile the Kremlin’s list of shame: raising the retirement age; a high-ranking silovik threatening to kill Navalny in a duel; the fiasco of the so-called Salisbury tourists; vote rigging in the Maritime Territory; the Russian fighter plane shot down by the Syrians with our own rocket; the hole in our spaceship, patched up with epoxy; threats to ban use of the US dollar in Russia; more lies about Malaysian Airlines Flight 17; and Navalny’s latest arrest.

The regime’s attempts to rectify its blunders only exacerbate the circumstances, turning them into farces. Did annulling the election in Vladivostok restore people’s faith in elections? Were the elections in Vladimir Region and Khabarovsk Territory not turned into farces when the winners did their level best not to win? And what about the televised interview with the Salisbury tourists? What should we make of attempts to blame Israel for downing the Russian warplane, and the Americans for punching a hole in the Soyuz capsule? The latest act of shooting ourselves in the foot was supplying the Syrians with a S-300 surface-to-air missile system, which is a threat to Israel and, of course, the US. (The Israelis will most certainly respond.)

If we regard all these topsy-turvy achievements as the outcomes of stupidity, the hope emerges that we can fix the stupidity by purging the ranks of officialdom, which is exactly what the Kremlin, in fact, sunk its teeth into today. Actually, what we regard as failure and stupidity have long become the new normal. What we see are the outcomes of a monopoly on political power, which has turned its own replication into an end in itself, and of a negative selection of members of the political elite based on the loyalty principle. In short, a duelist in charge of the Russian National Guard, and poisoners disguised as tourists are the new Russian normal. They are logical and inevitable consequences.

The wailing about a crisis at the top is, therefore, groundless. Russia skipped over the crisis stage. A crisis is a natural turn of events that compels society to look for new solutions and new people to implement them. When this does not happen, society and its superstructures rot. This stinky viscous goo is our current location. Decay prevents collapse: what is rotting cannot collapse. But decay also prevents our country from finding the strength to change.

The ruling class can seemingly take it easy, for the system somehow hobbles along. There are no large-scale protests, and the protests that do occur can either be ignored or quashed, especially since the National Guard has special new crowd-control armored vehicles at its disposal like the Shield, the Storm, the Wall, and so on.

In reality, things have taken a serious turn for Russia. By seeking to ensure its endlessness, the regime has been destroying the Russian state. That is a whole other ballgame. We have reached the point at which the ruling class has been rocking the pillars of statehood, destroying its own guarantee of survival in the bargain.

By outsourcing violence to volunteer oprichniki, the regime has deprived the state of one of its vital attributes: a monopoly on violence. By making Russia a global scarecrow, the regime has undermined the country’s international status and the external habitat in which it dwells. By rejecting strategic planning in favor of tactical maneuvers, the regime has stripped the country of the capacity for progress. By making the Russian state a tool of clan domination, the regime has destabilized the country, since society has been forced to defend its own interests by protesting on the streets.

Finally, by destroying institutions and making the rules of the game relative (there is more than one way to “get things done: in Russia), the regime has plunged the country into a state of lawlessness. When lawlessness ensues, no one is safe from it.

Do the guys in the Kremlin not realize how things will end? Apparently, they do understand, but they are incapable of stopping.

The autocracy survived in 1991 by scrapping the Soviet state. The autocracy has now been trying to survive by turning the post-Soviet Russian state into a lip-synched song about superpowerdom.

Lilia Shevtsova is a well-known Russian political scientist. Translated by the Russian Reader

It Was a Joke

rostovpapaRussians do not swallow the regime’s propaganda hook, line and sinker, argues Ivan Mikirtumov, but use it to guide their public behavior. Photo by the Russian Reader

Why the Russian President Made Fun of Russian Propaganda
Ivan Mikirtumov
Vedomosti
October 22, 2018

Speaking at the Valdai Discussion Club on October 18, Vladimir Putin told his audience the punchline of what would later emerge as a “funny” joke about nuclear war.

“As martyrs, we will go to heaven, and they will simply croak, because they won’t even have time to repent,” said Putin.

Judging by the overall reaction, the joke has been a success.

The genre of the humorous anecdote, including the political anecdote, was typical of the Soviet period, that is, of a communist dictatorship in the midst of the Cold War. Unlike texts and drawings, anecdotes were an oral genre and, therefore, were relatively harmless to disseminate. The technical difficulties of proving someone had told a joke made it a less than reliable tool for snitching on other people. This sometimes had to do with the content. If you wanted to inform on someone who had told you a joke about Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, the KGB, the Politburo, etc., then likely as not you would have had to quote in writing what you had heard or, at any rate, admit you knew the joke. Under certain circumstances, however, this knowledge could be used against you.

In post-Stalinist times, people were rarely punished for telling jokes. Jokes were widespread in Soviet culture, achieving exceptional heights of wit and observation. Jokes could be used to track public opinion, since they reflected society’s critical self-consciousness. Jokes were a form of feedback, but by virtue of its unique incompetence the Soviet regime ignored them, too.

Everything dangerous, hostile, evil, harmful, stupid, and meaningless is made into a figure of fun when it fails and falls through. People do not laugh at things that are huge and horrible until they are rendered pitiful, proven weak, and shown to be a sham. Stalin gave people little occasion to laugh, because he rarely failed, but the leaders of the late-Soviet period and the entire Soviet system were perfect targets for jokes and other species of ridicule. It is said Brezhnev was smart enough to laugh at jokes about himself, but it was not something he did publicly.

Putin told his audience the punchline of a joke whose opening line we can imagine as an oral exam question at the General Staff Academy, a question asked by the examiner in a room adorned with framed photographs of the commander-in-chief and the Russian Orthodox patriarch.

“Tell me, how will the outcome of a nuclear war differ for Russians and people in western countries?

Why is it that Putin’s answer to this imaginary question might seem funny? What was he ridiculing?

Mentioning heaven, martyrdom, and repentance in a military context in Russia, a country in which cynicism has reigned supreme, is tantamount to a direct attack on official religiosity, as instilled by the regime, a religiosity that has become dreadfully tiresome to everyone. The notion Russians will go to heaven wholesale, whether they believe in God or not, whether they are religious believers of any denomination at all, and whether they are vicious or virtuous, is tantamount to a scathing parody of religious beliefs.

Nuclear war is the business of the military. It thus transpires souls are saved and people canonized as martyrs at the behest of the Russian army’s top brass. With Putin in charge of it, heaven promises to be something like an army barracks, so the entire satire on martyrdom and salvation was performed as a “humorous shtick” of the sort favored by Russia’s siloviki.

What do generals have to say about the soul’s salvation? They say what they are supposed to say, as they gaze at the patriarch’s framed photograph on the wall.

Recently, General Zolotov and the two heroic Russian tourists who took a trip to Salisbury this past March found themselves in the limelight nearly at the same time. We can easily imagine these men holding forth on heaven, martyrdom, and repentance. Putin’s joke was clearly a sendup of the symbiosis between state-imposed religiosity and militarism, a crucial concept in current Russian agitprop.

It is short step from a joke like this to jokes about Orthodox secret policemen, monarchist communists, sovereign democracy, the Kiev “junta,” the US State Department’s vials and cookies, and ritual murders, performed by Jews, of course, on Orthodox babies (and the tsar’s entire family in the bargain), and so on. During the years of Putin’s rule, a whole Mont Blanc of drivel has sprung up, and whole hosts of freaks have come out of the woodwork. It is simply amazing there are still so few jokes about Putin and Putinism in circulation, but now, I imagine, things will kick off, since the main character in these jokes has taken the bull by the horns.

This does not mean, of course, that, by artfully telling his joke, Putin meant to take the piss out of himself and his regime. We are dealing here with the long-familiar militarist bravado summed up by the saying “Broads will give birth to new soldiers,” with the teenage frivolity typical of the siloviki, a frivolity they enjoy acting out.

“We’ll wipe the floor with them,” as they would say.

If, however, Putin was publicly ridiculing the concept behind current state propaganda, we are confronted with a bad joke, a bad joke told to the selfsame ordinary Russians who are targets of the propaganda so ridiculed, while the guy who made the cute joke is the same guy who presides over production of this propaganda and benefits from it.

The rules of the genre have been violated, for now it is the audience, the public that has been ridiculed. Clearly, Russia’s ruling elite despises the people it attempts to manipulate, and the propagandists sometimes laugh themselves silly backstage after they have concocted a particularly nimble con.

I don’t think Russians are gulled by the Kremlin’s propaganda. Rather, they register the messages transmitted to them by the regime as signals telling them what to say and do in certain circumstances. This lovely consensus is destroyed when the concept underpinning the propaganda has been publicly turned into a laughingstock, because people who have been pretending in recent years that they take it seriously find themselves in an awkward situation. They have lost face, having themselves been made ludicrous.

How, then, do they answer the question as to why they played along with the regime in its efforts to gull them? The only plausible explanation for this behavior is shameful thoughtlessness, fear, and impotence, things to which no one wants to admit.

Ivan Mikirtumov is a visiting lecturer at the European University in St. Petersburg. Translated by the Russian Reader

Anti-Central Asian Migrant Worker Dragnet in Tula

uzbek cuisineRussian riot police (OMON) prepare to enter a business identified as “Uzbek Cuisine” in the Central Market area in Tula during yesterday’s “total spot checks.” Photo courtesy of Moskovsky Komsomolets in Tula

Unprecedented Document Checks in Tula: Migrant Workers Lined Up in Columns Many Meters Long
MK v Tule (Moskovsky Komsomolets in Tula)
October 20, 2018

Беспрецедентные проверки в Туле: мигрантов выстроили в многометровые колонны

The total checks of migrant workers in Tula have moved beyond the Central Market. According to Moskovsky Komsomolet in Tula‘s correspondent, law enforcers from the Tula Regional Office of the Interior Ministry, the riot police (OMON), the Rapid Deployment Special Force (SOBR), and the Russian National Guard have inspected the streets adjacent to the market.

In particular, visitors from the Asian republics [sic] were also checked on Pirogov and Kaminsky Streets. Law enforcers looked to see whether people had documents [sic], residence registration stamps, and work permits.

Approximately two hundred migrants workers were formed into a long column that grew longer by the minute. Checks for violations of immigration laws proceeded apace.

The total spot checks for illegals [sic] in Tula started at 10 a.m. on October 20, when law enforcers descended on the Khlebnaya Square area en masse. The entire market was cordoned off.

All photos courtesy of Moskovsky Komsomolets in Tula. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sergey Abashin and Valentina Chupik for the heads-up.

Migrant workers, most but not all of them hailing from the former Soviet Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, have been perfect scapegoats for the Putinist police state, which from day one (nearly twenty years ago) has increased its hold on public opinion through an endless series of semi-official campaigns against nefarious aliens and “national traitors.”

So-called law enforcement officers have long ago turned shaking down migrant workers—something literally every resident of every major city in Russia has seen with their own eyes thousands of times in recent years, but which they have “disappeared” along with most of society’s supposedly intractable problems—into a land office business, that is, a source of easy, quick cash.

In any case, as likely as not, most of the men shown in the photographs, above, probably had all the papers they needed to live and work legally in Russia, including residence registration papers and work permits. Unless they have temporary or permanent residence permits, they would have to renew these papers every three months in a process that is every bit as wasteful, time consuming, and humiliating as yesterday’s dragnet in Tula.

To add to their woes, the top brass of Russia’s dizzying of ever-proliferating, interwing, and competing law enforcement agencies and secret services regularly trot out cooked-up stats showing, allegedly, that migrant workers commit either an outsized proportion of all crimes in Russia or the majority of crimes. Human rights advocates can easily punch holes in these barefaced attempts to generate moral panics while simultaneously proving the police state’s continued indispensability, but these counterarguments rarely if ever get the audience enjoyed by Moskovsky Komsolomets, a mass-circulation national tabloid, based in Moscow, that for many years now has published local supplements in Russia’s numerous, far-flung regions.

Owned until 1991 by the Soviet Communist Youth League (Komsomol), Moskovsky Komsolets abandoned whatever socialist and international principles it had long ago, opting for sensationalism and high circulations. According to the BBC, the newspaper had an average issue readership of 1,215,000 in 2008, making it Russia’s second most read newspaper, after Argumenty i Fakty. Given its heavy internet and social media presence, those readership figures have certainly only gone up in the intervening years.

MK, as it usually styles itself nowadays, perhaps to make us forget about its humble socialist origins, was also identified in 2004 by the Sova Center and the Moscow Helsinki Group as the leading purveyor of hate speech amongst Russia’s national print media outlets. Certainly, yesterday’s “photo essay” in MK in Tula was an attempt to whip up a moral panic while boosting readership.

The newspaper, however, is not primarily responsible for the fact that Russian officialdom and to a certain extent, Russian society at large demonizes, terrorizes, and racially profiles the cheap, supposedly expendable immigrant workforce that keeps the perennially flailing Russian economy afloat.

If you want to learn more about the bigger picture when it comes to migrant workers in Russia, a story egregiously underreported by the international press and reported mostly in the sensationalist, racist manner, displayed above, by the Russian press, I would recommend the following articles, published on this website in the past year, plus Professor Sergey Abashin’s now-classic essay “Migrants and Movements in Central Asia,” published here three years ago. {TRR}

 

Svetlana Alexievich’s Dead Ends

DSCN2329Repeated endlessly by the Russophone liberal intelligentsia over the past three decades, claims that Russians are genetically programmed Stalinists and thus inevitably suspectible to Putin’s nonexistent charms and his neo-authoritarianism are false and pernicious cognitive dead ends that have done untold amounts of damage to the country’s grassroots democratic movements. Photo by the Russian Reader

With all due respect to the writer Svetlana Alexievich and her imaginary addressee, the late Anna Politkovskaya, Ms. Alexievich’s letter to Politkovskaya, published two days ago in the Washington Post, is the kind of reckless Russian liberal intelligentsia nonsense that saps people of the will to resist in the first place.

It also happens to be wildly wrong in the sweeping claims it makes, both objectively and subjectively.

“Now it is Putin who talks to them; he’s learned from our mistakes. But it’s not about Putin alone; he’s just saying what the people want to hear. I would say that there’s a little bit of Putin in every Russian. I’m talking about the collective Putin: We thought that it was the Soviet power that was the problem, but it was all about the people.

“The Soviet way of thinking lives on in our minds and our genes. How quickly has the Stalinist machine set to work again. With what skill and enthusiasm everyone is once again denouncing each other, catching spies, beating people up for being different . . . Stalin has risen! Throughout Russia they are building monuments to Stalin, putting up Stalin’s portraits, opening museums in Stalin’s memory.”

Really? Throughout Russia? I would imagine these portraits, monuments, and museums (?) number in the dozens, if that many.

Meanwhile, I have it on impeccable authority that Last Address and the hundreds of ordinary extraordinary Petersburgers who have joined them have erected nearly three hundred plaques commemorating the victims of Stalin’s Great Terror over the last few years.

In fact, there are are three such plaques at the entrance to my building. I see people stopping, looking at them, reading them, and taking snapshots of them all the time.

It is an insult to everyone who has been involved in Last Address and the other myriad acts of resistance great and small over the last twenty years, including, of course, Politkovskaya herself, to claim “there’s a little bit of Putin in every Russian.”

In fact, there are millions of Russians who do not have even a teensy bit of Putin in them, whatever that would mean. If you don’t believe me, take a few or several or ten dozen dips into this website and its predecessor over their eleven-year, nearly two thousand-post run.

You will not see and hear what Russia is “really like,” but experience a few or several or ten dozen ways in which Russia is definitely NOT “Putin’s Russia.” You will read and hear the words and the stories of rank-and-file Russians who, remarkably if you believe Ms. Alexievich’s boilerplate, music to certain western ears, are nothing like Putin at all.

When will any of the wiseguys who dictate our opinions about everything from “Putin’s Russia” to the latest Star Wars movies tell us about those other Russians and other Russias? {TRR}

Lidya Blinova: The Learned Pussycat

LIDYA BLINOVA (1948–1996)
The Learned Pussycat

Prologue
The wind whipped the atmosphere.
Clouds coursed without fear.
The moon in its seething frills
Ascended over the hills.
The earth poured towards it:
Villages, fields, and hamlets.
A dark forest nodded from vast plains
To heaven’s chatelaine.
And everything sublunar under the moon
Rose higher and aloft:
The waves and the land,
A cat on a roof and its thoughts,
And, deep below the waves, the sand.

After buzzing out the day like combs,
The ancient city slumbered: the moon’s
Mead trickled towards the mountain’s foot.
Parades, promenades, and fêtes
Raged here a century ago,
But now the ruins slept in rows.

The overgrown gardens were bothered
Only by the water’s patter.
The stream’s angelic tone
Resounded where the water’s flow
Was dammed by fallen leaves.
What emptiness and peace!

But what did we see?
In a window a candle was burning,
And the candle revealed
A pussycat purring.

A tizzy swept over the old garden.
Doors were slammed, footsteps cascaded.
And, quite as black as a roach,
Into the light’s triangle crept a coach.

1.
The learned pussycat, dismayed and aggrieved,
Leapt into the carriage, shouting “To the sea!”
A dog dolefully howled in the park.
A sinister coachman emerged from the dark,
An amulet glinting and melting under his cape.
The moon went pale, giving chase.
Raving, the steeds thundered, frothing at the mouth.
The uneven pursuit made the moon catch its breath.
Over rooftops, twixt chimneys, through poplar fleece,
It rushed to the place beyond the fields
Where the sea stood like a living wall.

And the pussycat in the coach?
She was crazed, she was ill.
What thought could she give to the coachman?
What matter to her was the moon’s will?

For every piece of iron in the womblike contraption
The patter of hooves smashed into fractions.
The pussycat imagined that, through flint and dirt,
Alongside her, Achilles roared, and the turtle crept.

Oh, the running in place, the maundering
Of things moving motionlessly toward their mark!

2.
Oh, the trellised mirrors of old aporias!
And the sea came ever closer, the cherished sea!
Every jolt and pothole on the highway
Sent the pussycat higher into the sky,
As if yeast were stirred into things at creation
By someone quite batty about expansion.

3.
Madness’s abyss beckoned to the pussycat.
Panting, the moon whispered, “Drat!
All we needed was for the pussycat to flip!”
It was so angry it slipped,
And, suddenly, it dropped into the coach
Out of the empyrean like ice hurtling off a roof.

The straps and traces were lost in a blink,
The horses speeding off down the stony brink.
The driver melted into thin air,
And his passengers missed dying by a hair,
As his chariot fell to pieces.
The pussycat and the moon sat on the beach.

4.
It is a pity their important chat
Has come down to us in bits and scraps.
“There is a gazillion . . .
Issues of logic.”
“But there is a gamut.”
“Then what is it?
Philosophizing like Hamlet?
No, Buridan . . .”
“I’ve been harping on that for ages.
We’re again walking on bodies . . .”
“The unthinkable . . .” “ . . . cat sausage
turned into the coveted puss in booties.”
“Uniqueness seduces you.”
“And what is your métier?”
“Everyone needs a milieu:
Water is my cup of tea.”

5.
Then the breeze blew in our direction,
Making audible their conversation.

“Listen, I’ve seen your face before.
I remember: it was on the roof next door.
You often peered through the dusty lunette
Into chambers I no longer rent.

“With a gaze now joyful, now sad, you kept watch
Over all the ups and downs in the masterwork
That consumed me then from paws to ears.
But it seems as if years,
No, as if centuries have passed since that time,
And suddenly I peer so closely into your eyes.
Oh, what happened? Where we were rushing?
We are mixed up in a terrible muddle!”

“Take courage, take courage, you have friends,
And I dare to rank myself among them.
Let it be known that for a long time
A gilded palace to you has been assigned.
The best pencils have been carefully whetted,
Shelves stacked with books, and lantern lighted.
And out the window what expanses you shall see.”

The pussycat cried, “Where is it? Who did this for me?”

Then the moon, which burned like copper,
Ebbed and faded with a mutter.
It waned so fast, in a thrice,
Its shape resembled a melon slice.
Masts and rigging went up in a jig.
What was left of the thing—
A barely visible ashy oblong—
Burrowed into storm clouds and was gone.
Everyone was forced to feign
It was the face of the moon.

6.
The moon summoned a wave to its side.
The wave lifted the moon up high.
And so between heaven and earth
The little ship hung in mid-air,
As on a tinted postal card.
Grabbing her things from the strand,
The pussycat boarded the bark,
Whispering “Adieu” to the sixth part.

7.
Wisps of phosphoric foam sputtered.
Selene’s new horns glittered,
And with his burning saucers Argus scowled
At the enraptured striped pussycat’s tail.
The first opera’s chimera was born in the pussycat.
There was applause in the stalls, noises in the pit.
The storm clouds rose, opening an entrance
In which the sea sighed like an audience.
Her body filled with an invisible force,
The universe subsided, and the pussycat held forth.
Song’s primordial magical vigor
Reawakened in the fish their ardor.
The starry sky got goosebumps,
And the bowels of the earth rumbled.
…………………………………………..…………………..
…………………………………………..…………………..

8.
By morning, the sea tour was over.
The elements were entrusted with new roles.
The one who came for the cat in the darkness
Had to go looking for the overheated horses.

9.
The tide rolled out, and towards the sea
The grass bent sadly in the estuary.
In the fog, the sandbanks and islands
Altered their outlines.

And then a prickly eyelid opened a bit
Over a gloomy ridge of distant foothills.
Here man and stone conspired ever harder,
Establishing their power over the water.
Battlements and bends were sharper than the shore,
And the sand gave way to the granite.
Farther down, the fog hardened into boulders.
Like crystals, the light they beamed cut.

The golden bark hastened to take
Сover in a tangle of dark channels.
And the passenger? She dreamt of taking
A bath and setting foot on dry land.

10.
……………………………………………………………..
……………………………………………………………..
………………………………………….…………………..
……………………………………………………………..

……………………………………………………………..
……………………………………………………………..
……………………………………………………………..
……………………………………………………………..
……………………………………………………………..
……………………………………………………………..
……………………………………………………………..
…………………………………….………………….. But

The incident was settled with sanity
By the guard, who saluted the cat,
And the porter, who grabbed her tote,
sac de voyage, and the case with her vanity.

The heavy door cut off, like a tail,
The mutters and shouts of the crowd,
The stone bridge, ready to fail,
And the sinister hugger-mugger of the town.

She climbed a steep cascade,
Then walked down the hall to her rooms.
If you such a voyage had made
You’d be glad of an old cozy home.

The End

Courtesy of the estate of Lidya Blinova and Focus Kazakhstan, National Museum of Kazakhstan. Translated by the Russian Reader

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“The Learned Pussycat” and other works by Lidya Blinova will be featured in Focus Kazakhstan: Bread and Roses, an exhibition of four generations of Kazakh women artists organized by MOMENTUM in partnership with the National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan that will run from September 25 to October 20, 2018, at Studio 1 in the Kunstquartier Bethanien in Berlin.

The show comprises work in a wide-range of media by twenty artists created from 1945 to the present. Emerging Kazakh women artists are prefaced in the show by a group of eminent forerunners who have remained more or less invisible within the history of Soviet, Kazakh, and world art. Against the tumult of Stalinist repression and its aftermath, the work of these women has forged a bridge between traditional Kazakh arts, crafts and ways of living, the Soviet avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s, socialist realism, and a completely new approach to art making that emerged in the early the 1980s. The works that these great-grandmothers, grandmothers, mothers, and daughters of contemporary Kazakh art have produced reflect the melting pot of ideas and influences between east and west arising from Kazakhstan’s history of tumultuous political and social change. Bread and Rosestakes place in parallel with the Focus Kazakhstan Artist Residency Exhibition at the MOMENTUM Gallery, also in the Kunstquartier Bethanien.

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Lidya Blinova’s parents both worked as architects, her grandfather was a priest and mystic. She graduated from the Architecture and Construction Institute in Alma-Ata, and her subsequent work encompassed architecture, art, poetry, sculpture, jewelry, book design, acting, and cinema. By inclination she was a radical. She jointly developed ideas with her husband, Rustam Khalfin, who described her as his “alter ego,” and whom she first met in 1962, at the age of fourteen, in the graphic art studio at Alma-Ata’s Palace of Pioneers. Khalfin’s idea of the pulota, a keyhole into a fragmented world of space, time, and image, originated with Blinova. Formed by the simple gesture of folding a fist and looking through the hole in its middle, it created what she described as the “ultimate plastic object,” replete, at the same time, with fullness and emptiness.

Blinova first began to make wooden sculpture in the studio of Isaak Itkind, a primitivist and friend of Marc Chagall who had been imprisoned in Kazakhstan. and also worked for film director Sergei Bodrov on The Stunned Apostle, for which Pavel Zaltsman, a close associate of Pavel Filonov who had also been interned in Kazakhstan, was production designer. For Bodrov’s second film The Unprofessionals (1985), Blinova worked as costume designer. A polymath, she also made puppet shows for children and experimented on small sculptural forms for jewelry.

During the 1970s, she both organized and was a participant in the private apartment art exhibitions in Alma-Ata that showed autonomous works by pupils of Vladimir Sterligov. Almost the whole group, including Khalfin, had been previously educated as architects. In 1995, she designed a series of catalogues on contemporary Kazakh artists for the Soros Foundation in Almaty and presented her installation Poem for a Cat at the Kokserek Gallery, which also published the eponymous book. In 2011, her work was posthumously represented in the exhibition Between the Past and the Future: Minus 20. The Archeology of Relevance, at the Kasteyev Art Museum in Almaty.

Source: MOMENTUM