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}

Last Address: Vladimir Nagly

DSCN1867Here lived Vladimir Naumovich Nagly, theater director. Born 1903. Arrested 21 October 1938. Died 6 October 1940 in a prison camp in Kolyma. Exonerated in 1956.” Last Address memorial plaque at 38 Kolomenskaya Street in Petersburg’s Central District. Photo by the Russian Reader

Last Address
26 February 2016

House No. 38 on Kolomenskaya Street in St. Petersburg was erected in 1880 during the heyday of historicism in architecture. The building’s architect, Alexander Ivanov, was inspired by the French and Italian Renaissance.

The Tver Charitable Society was housed in the building in the early twentieth century. It provided social support and financial assistance to needy people from Tver who lived in St. Petersburg.

Vladimir Naumovich Nagly lived in the building in the 1930s.

Vladimir Nagly was born in 1903 in Petersburg to the family of a watchmaker. He was a supporter of the October Revolution, joining the the Red Army in 1919, and the Bolshevik Party in 1921. However, he devoted all of his short life to the theater.

In his indictment, dated 26 July 1939, Vladimir Nagly, former director of the Theater of Comedy and Satire (1930–1933), former director of the First Five-Year Plan Park of Culture and Rest (summer 1931), former director of the Central Park of Culture and Rest (summer 1932), former director of the Philarmonic (1932), former deputy director of the Pushkin Academic Drama Theater (1933–1936), former deputy director of Lenfilm Studios (1936–1938) and, at the time of his arrest on 20 October 1938, director of the Theater of Drama and Comedy (now the Theater on Liteiny), was identified as a “guerillla” in a group that was, allegedly, planning to murder Andrei Zhdanov, who at the time was First Secretary of the Leningrad Regional Party Committee and the Municipal Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks).

“It was agreed to invite ZHDANOV to view the pictures during the October Days. This time SMIRNOV [director of Lenfilm] had positioned the guerillas in advance: NAGLY was in a narrow corridor that lead from Smirnov’s office to the screening room. […] The plan was that, after the shooting, the lights would be shut off, panic would ensue in the dark, and [the conspirators] would escape.”

The main point in the indictments ends with praise for the NKVD officers who prevented the “terrorist attack.”

“Turning off the lights after the shooting was envisaged [in all the alleged plans to murder Zhdanov]. On this occasion, however, NKVD officers set up heightened surveillance […] and NAGLY was asked to withdraw from the positions they had taken up. When ZHDANOV arrived at the factory [i.e., Lenfilm] for the film screening, he went through the main entrance. NKVD officers had been positioned from there to the screening room. So, in this case [the conspirators] were unable to commit the heinous deed.”

Vladimir Nagly, who was thirty-six years old, was sentenced to eight years in the camps for involvement in a “right-wing counterrevolutionary Trotskyist-Zinovievist organization.” Although he suffered from a stomach ulcer and had undergone a ten-month-long investigation, prison doctors concluded he was fit for manual labor and the long, gruelling transport to the camps. In his memoirs, Georgy Zzhonov, who would go on to become a famous actor of screen and stage, accidentally recognized Nagly during his own transport to the camps in Kolyma. He described Nagly as “unhealthy.”

Nagly’s death certificate, dated 6 October 1940, and drawn up by officials at the Sevvostlag, listed the cause of death: “He froze to death on the way [to the camp]. There are no other indications.”

The regime admitted the case was a complete frame-up only in 1956, when Nagly was posthumously exonerated.

Vladimir Nagly’s son Mikhail (1926–2012), who was himself a well-known theater director, recalled that, before his father was arrested, the actors Nikolay Cherkasov, Vasili Merkuryev, Yuri Lavrov, and Yekaterina Karchagina-Alexandrovskaya were frequent guests in their spacious flat, and that his father had taken him to a see a rehearsal by the world-famous avant-garde theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold. The family avoided talking about Vladimir Nagly’s plight, and his relatives only recently learned the circumstances of his criminal case and his death.

A plaque in memory of Vladimir Nagly was mounted on the building at 38 Kolomenskaya Street on 28 February 2016.

Thanks to Jenya Kulakova of Last Address for the information about Vladimir Nagly. Translated by the Russian Reader

 

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

___________________________________

“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.

Poster_Version 3_web

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

There Is a Party in Warsaw Tonight

anti aircraft warning

All the retrospective, self-aggrandizing, virtual handwringing I have been seeing on Russophone social media in recent days, occasioned by the fiftieth anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, seems obscene on the part of people who have had nothing whatsoever to say, good or bad, about Russia’s signally destructive role in shoring up Assad’s brutal dictatorship in Syria.

What’s the difference between 1968 and now?

The difference is that the Czechs and Slovaks were “white” “Christian” Slavs, while Syria is, unfortunately, populated by people that Russians, many of whom hilariously regard “political correctness” as the greatest threat to civilization, would tend to think of as “blacks,” which is a term of real racist abuse in Russian.

Worse yet, most of those “blacks” are Muslims.

Syrians are thus sub-humans and, as such, were put in their place by a superior “white” nation.

Maybe very few Russians actually have bothered to think this through explicitly, but there is almost no evidence the vicious Russian bombing of opposition-held towns in Syria has bothered much of anyone in Russia at all, so the rest of us are free to impute any and all motives whatsoever to their actions and inaction. And remember, on this sad anniversary, that at the time only something less than a dozen brave Russians opposed the invasion of Czechoslovakia publicly. {TRR}

 

Photo by the Russian Reader

Zampolit

default-1n9iGeneral Andrei Kartopolov has never worked in political indoctrination. Photo by Alexander Nikolayev. Courtesy of Interpress/TASS and Vedomosti

Defense Ministry Establishes Main Military Political Department 
Alexei Nikolsky
Vedomosti
July 30, 2018

As established by a decree signed by President Putin and published on Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry has added an eleventh deputy minister, head of the Main Military Political Department of the Armed Forces. A decree signed the same day appointed as department head Lieutenant General Andrei Kartopolov, who had previously commanded the Western Military District. On Sunday, Kartopolov, who commanded Russian forces in Syria in 2016, attended the naval review in Petersburg with the president, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, and naval commander-in-chief Admiral Vladimir Korolyov.

Kartapolov graduated in 1985 from the Moscow Higher Multi-Service Command College, and his entire subsequent career as officer has been bound up with the ground forces. In 2014–2015, he was head of the Main Operations Department, the most important unit in the General Staff.

The new department subsumes the Main Department for Morale (GURLS), headed by Colonel Mikhail Baryshev, said a source at the Defense Ministry.  It is a successor to the Main Political Department of the Soviet Army (GlavPUR), which traced its origins to the Red Army’s Political Directorate, founded in 1918. However, unlike the Soviet Army’s political indoctrination units and given that the Russian Armed Forces were depoliticized after the Soviet Union’s collapse (the law “On the Status of Servicemen” forbids them from involvement in political organizations), the GURLS handled troop morale and psychological support, patriotic education, cultural and leisure activities, and the needs of religious servicemen, according to the Defense Ministry’s website. The department oversees the military’s psychology and sociologists, while there are deputy personnel commanders, customarily known as zampolity [the Soviet-era term for “morale officers” or “deputy commanders for political indoctrination”] in most battalions, divisions, and units.

According to two sources in the Defense Ministry, aside from the work done by the GURLS, the new deputy minister will oversee the Yunarmiya (“Youth Army”) youth movement and other grassroots organizations. This part of the job has been transferred to the new deputy minister’s brief from that of Deputy Minister Nikolai Pankov, who in the early 2000s headed the Main Department for Personnel and Educational Work, which subsequently was reformed as the GURLS. However, at this stage the new department will not incorporate the Defense Ministry’s Department for Information and Mass Communications, the army’s mass media outlets, its historians, its cultural organizations, and other units that were once part of the GlavPUR. The statute of the new department has not yet been drafted, said another source at the Defense Ministry. According to a third source close to the Defense Ministry, establishment of the Main Military Political Department was partly inspired by celebrations of the centenary of the Red Army’s Political Directorate. However, reconstructing a similar department under current conditions is out of the question, although the word “political” in the new department’s name might offend many people, he admitted.

According to Viktor Bondarev, chair of the Federation Council’s defense committee, there is currently no unit engaged in political indoctrination among servicemen.

“We also need to develop a systematic approach to questions of morale, ideology, and patriotic education. Our western enemies have been doing a lot to discredit the image of Russia and the Russian army. We must mount a fitting defense against such attempts, generate a healthy counterweight,” explained the Federation Council member.

Since the greater number of rank-and-file soldiers and sergeants are contract servicemen [rather than conscripts], their education and motivation to serve must be overseen by trained deputy commanders, and therefore creation of the new department is justified, argues Viktor Murakhovsky, editor of the magazine Arsenal of the Fatherland. Unlike the Soviet era, however, they should not be equally subordinated to their commander and their political indoctrination officer, nor should political parties be allowed access to the army, argues Murakhovsky.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Darya Apahonchich: No Exit?

you must die“You must die.” ∴ “Wicked Russia.” Downtown Petersburg, May 6, 2018

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
June 15, 2018

My father died two years ago; my mom, a year and a half ago. Both of them were fifty-nine. They worked their whole lives, my mom a little longer. She taught physical therapy and physical education. Dad was a military man and volcanologist. He went into business after perestroika.

I don’t want to generalize, but they had very different, very complicated lives. They did not communicate with each other for the last twenty years. But they had one thing in common: they did not think in terms of the future. They did not look forward to anything. They did not dream of traveling. They did not plan to move house or look for better housing. They did not want new friends. They did not pursue hobbies. They never got the hang of computers. (Although Dad used them, he did not like them at all.)

One another annoying but important thing was that they drank a lot. When they were on binges, they would turn into people who could not care less whether there was a future or not. In the aftermath of their binges, they would experience an agonizing sense of guilt.

I find it horribly painful to write this, but it is not only my family’s story. It is the story of many families in Russia.

When we cannot choose our own reality, we do not think in terms of the future. Along with poverty and helplessness, we learn the important lesson that we cannot change anything, and all that awaits us is death.

I have always asked myself whether anything would have been different if my parents had more money and opportunities. When it comes to alcoholism, I don’t know. Maybe nothing would have changed. As far as despair was concerned, maybe they would have made a difference.

The new retirement age in Russia will be sixty-three for women, and sixty-five for men. The government has been instituting this reform hastily, while people are watching the World Cup.

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Ms. Apahonchich for her kind permission to translate and publish her piece on this website.