Russian Orthodox fascist and homophobic terrorist Vitaly Milonov is Al Jazeera’s go-to commentator on Russian current affairs. Photo by Sergei Fadeichev. Courtesy of TASS and the Moscow Times
This is how the “progressive” media works.
I accidentally woke up at five o’clock this morning to discover Al Jazeera’s program The Stream wanted me to be on their panel discussing the Moscow elections and protests at 10 p.m. Moscow time this evening.
The only problem was that, aside from a young researcher at Columbia who seemed okay, the other two panelists Al Jazeera had invited were Vitaly Milonov and Maria Baronova.
I spent most of the morning and part of the afternoon persuading the producer who contacted me that inviting Milonov on their program was like inviting David Duke or Alex Jones.
Would she like to see them on her program? I asked her.
No, of course not, she said.
The problem was that she had no idea whom to invite nor did the young researcher from Columbia. (Which is kind of amazing, too, since the subject of her research is protests and civil society in Russia, but I won’t go there.)
The producer asked whether I could suggest people whom she could invite on the panel.
When I sent the producer the video, I asked, since several hours had passed by then, who would be on the panel, finally.
Had she managed to invite any of the people I had suggested?
Almost five hours have gone by with no reply from the producer.
Only forty minutes ago did I look at the show’s page and discovered that everything I said and wrote to the producer had been utterly pointless, to wit:
[…] Putin has been in power for 20 years and is due to step down as president in 2024. Many younger demonstrators have never experienced Russia under a different leader, and they and others are pushing to take their country in a more democratic direction. This backdrop helps explain why officials are working hard to contain Moscow’s protests. But whether what’s happening in the capital will spread to the rest of Russia remains up for debate.
In this episode we ask, will protests change anything in Russia? Join the conversation.
On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:
Vitaly Milonov @Villemilonov Member of the Federal Assembly of Russia
Maria Baronova Journalist at RT rt.com
Yana Gorokhovskaia @gorokhovskaia Researcher at Columbia University
In the midst of all that has been happening in Moscow, one of the world’s most respected news organizations has decided their viewers need to hear from a world-famous militant Russian Orthodox fascist homophobe and a certifiably crazy woman who went from working for Open Russia one day to working for Russia Today the next.
This is a complete travesty.
Oddly, the producer said that Gorokhovskaia, too, had “reservations” about appearing on the same panel with Milonov and Baronova.
Anti-Gay Russian Lawmaker Disrupts Opening of LGBT Film Festival Moscow Times
Oct. 25, 2018
State Duma deputy and notorious anti-gay crusader Vitaly Milonov reportedly attempted to shut down Russia’s only LGBT film festival on its opening night Wednesday.
Milonov, a lawmaker from the ruling United Russia party, has earned a reputation for his inflammatory anti-LGBT rhetoric and is best known for spearheading Russia’s ban on “gay propaganda.”
The St. Petersburg-based Fontanka news website reported that the deputy, accompanied by six men, physically blocked the entrance to the Side by Side film festival on Wednesday evening.
In footage posted online, the lawmaker is heard accusing festival-goers trying to get into the venue of participating in an unsanctioned demonstration.
“Dear citizens, you know yourselves that you are perverts; you need to disperse,” he is heard saying.
“We are Russian people who are on our home soil. And you’re not. Your motherland is Sodom and Gomorrah,” he adds.
According to the festival’s organizers, Milonov claimed that a hostage crisis had unfolded inside the cinema and called the police.
Prompted by Milonov’s call, police officers reportedly evacuated the building. According to Fontanka, around 400 filmgoers who bought tickets were unable to attend the screenings planned for Wednesday.
“The first day of Side by Side was interrupted in an outrageous manner and eventually disrupted by State Duma deputy Vitaly Milonov,” the festival organizers were cited as saying.
Milonov denied that he had alarmed the police about a possible hostage crisis, saying that he came to the event because he believed it may have been “violating Russian law.”
The festival organizers rejected Milonov’s claims that they had broken Russia’s “gay propaganda” law — which bans promoting LGBT values among minors — as minors were not allowed to attend the festival.
Side by Side, Russia’s only annual LGBT film festival — now in its 11th year — has in the past been threatened by government officials and nationalist activists.
The organizers said that the festival would continue as planned this week, despite what they described as Milonov’s “illegal actions.”
Sociologist Alexander Bikbov: “I’m Inspired by Small University Trade Unions”
Lena Chesnokova Inde
June 27, 2016
Where fee-based higher education came from, why universities are jockeying for places in the ratings, and what a lecturer should do if she disagrees with her university’s administration
Part of last weekend’s Summer Book Festival was the fourth edition of the lecture series “Theories of Contemporaneity,” a joint project between Inde and the Smena Contemporary Culture Center (Kazan). One of the speakers was Alexander Bikbov, Ph.D., deputy director of the Center for Contemporary Philosophy and Social Sciences at the Philosophy Faculty of Moscow State University, and an editor of the journal Logos. Among Bikbov’s interests are the theory and practice of neoliberal reforms in the fields of education and culture. Inde spoke with Bikbov about the circumstances in which today’s Russian tertiary institutions find themselves, and what “effective management” and the pursuit of profitability could lead to over time.
A term used by scholars since the late twentieth century to describe government policies that reduce social spending (on education, culture, health care, and pensions and benefits) and promote universal competition and the free market. However, the rules of the market are set, supposedly, by the state. In theory, such policies should cull inefficient businesses (which, for neoliberal reformers, comprise everything from factories to tertiary institutions, hospitals, and theaters), provide people with a higher quality of services, and make them richer and freer. In reality, neoliberal reforms often exacerbate income equality and lower the overall cultural horizons of a large part of the populace. Neoliberalism, then, is a state of affairs in which liberal values, such as democracy, individual liberty, and freedom of speech and conscience, are subjugated to the principal value: the free market.
In the last five to ten years, great changes have taken place in Russian higher education. Large universities have absorbed smaller ones, and a system for auditing the efficiency and performance of teaching staff has been put in place. When did these neoliberal reforms kick off, and what stages have there been?
State-controlled reforms began after 2003, when the Russian Ministry of Education signed the pan-European Bologna Declaration. From 2003 to 2005, certain universities served as flagships for the reforms by introducing a division between the bachelor’s and the master’s degrees, and ratings to measure student progress and the success of teaching staff. But the new model was adopted nationwide between 2008 and 2012. In 2009, the Unified State Examination (EGE) was made mandatory for school leavers, and nearly all universities abolished their own entrance exams. In 2010, Federal Law No. 83 came into force, which brought all the country’s tertiary institutions under the new economic model.
But if we speak on the whole about the permeation of Russian higher education by the neoliberal rationale, the process got underway much earlier. In 1991−1992, when state financing of tertiary institutions was abruptly slashed, some universities simply had no way to pay the electricity bills. University administrators were forced into crisis management mode, making sure their universities did not go bust as economic units while simultaneously becoming the full-fledged “proprietors” of these institutions. In the early 1990s, it was totally natural for a university lecturer to be working two or three jobs. It was then that the model for the labor relations that the state is now institutionalizing top down were predetermined: relatively unencumbered hiring and redundancy procedures, hourly pay, and precarious forms of employment with no social benefits.
The intermediate stage between the spontaneous reforms and state-driven commercialization happened in the late 1990s and mid 2000s, when universities established a system of fee-based instruction. By the mid 2000s, so-called commercial students accounted for about half of all students. Now the laws have been amended so this percentage can increase further.
What have been the most significant changes over the past ten years?
The most significant change is the new procedure for financing universities. Universities no longer receive core funding from the state and have begun to get vigorously involved in the fight for project and grant monies. Naturally, this leads to an uneven distribution of resources: economically stronger and weaker universities have begun to emerge. The “weak” universities are forced into subordination to the “strong” universities, despite the fact that higher education institutions deemed economically ineffective may be stronger in intellectual terms.
A very important date on the timeline of reforms is late 2008, when the government abolished the unified wage rate scale. This was a real revolution that instantaneously rocked the entire state sector, including medical care, culture, and secondary and higher education. The original version of the unified scale was adopted way back in 1936. It had evolved over the entire Soviet period and had continued to exist in the post-Soviet period. The Soviet system assumed an individual who worked at his or her job for a long time was a priori competent to perform that job. The older the lecturer, the more serious was his or her academic title, the higher was his or her pay grade, and the more he or she earned.
The new mode of compensation was introduced very quickly, literally in a couple of months. People were summoned one by one to the boss’s office and confronted with a choice: either they signed a new contract or they went looking for a new job. People who had previously been considered valuable employees lost all their privileges. According to the new rules, they are on a par with inexperienced employees and must annually certify their competence. I am not saying the old system was flawless. Obviously, it did not always guarantee the competence of teaching staff and a high quality of education. It had to be changed. But it is just as obvious that the new reforms are excessively radical. One extreme system has been replaced by another, without any steps in between.
In parallel with the new system of wages, a system of Key Performance Indicators, including publication citation indices, student attendance, and so on have been introduced. The duration of contracts has been reduced. The experiments are still underway, but permanent contracts no longer exist at most universities. Rigid market-based relations have now come to higher education.
Does the pan-European Bologna Process assume that changes follow the same scenario everywhere, or does each country go its own way?
There is definitely no common way. In France, for example, the transition to the new labor relations was smoother: lecturers who already had permanent contracts when the reforms were adopted kept them. In Italy, however, junior lecturers can work for years without being paid, because they are listed as trainees. The Russian approach is radical, and I am guessing that, as time goes by, it will experience more and more serious glitches. Permanent confirmation of competencies makes winners of those who are better at playing the game, for example, who are better at writing reports in bureaucratic newspeak or filling out applications for salary bonuses. This does not always mean the person has a profound knowledge of his or her subject or is a skilled teacher. In addition, lecturers have been subjected to a new set of conflicting rules. On the one hand, the recommended number of instructional hours has been raised from 750 to 900 hours a year. On the other hand, lecturers need to demonstrate high citation indices annually. But when is a lecturer supposed to do her own research when she spends more and more work time on classes, on preparing for them and checking homework assignments?
Are there any universities left in Russia that have either bucked the trend completely or follow the new rules only in part?
Yes, but things are not simple in those places, either. One of the flagships of the reforms, the Higher School of Economics, has full professorships. Full professors are the most protected category of employees. They sign permanent contracts with the university, and collegial methods of decision-making operate within their community. They elect each other, and they solve many problems without interference from the administration. Yet this special regime in which full professors exist is made possible by discriminating against the rest of the teaching staff. Less protected than the full professors, they are involved in the struggle for classroom hours. Their benefits and bonuses are cut, and the administration may suddenly refuse to renew their contracts.
Why have all these changes taken root so quickly in Russian universities? It’s hard to believe no one has protested.
One would imagine that if it is an international reform aimed at uniformity, its aftermath would be similar in all the participating countries. But it turns out that a fairly successful resistance has been mounted against it in France, while in Germany tuition fees were abolished. In Russia, however, the commercial model indeed became dominant quickly and triumphantly. The short answer to the question of why this happened is that collegial organizations and social bonds among teachers have been traditionally weak in Russia. This was a legacy of the Soviet period, and it was exacerbated by the “crisis management” of the 1990s. Such organizations exist in Western European universities. For example, there was a months-long university strike in France in 2009 in which over two thirds of the country’s universities were involved. Decisions to close universities were approved by vote at general assemblies. There were street demos, and medical workers, postal workers, and other state-sector workers who were going through similar circumstances supported the university lecturers. At the same time, unofficial classes, organized by students themselves, continued on the campuses of certain universities. They invited intellectuals and lecturers they found interesting. The students insisted the strike should not be a period of inactivity. Unfortunately, the strike did not lead to a complete halt of the reforms, but protesters did cushion some of the commercial pressures.
With the raising of neoliberalism to the rank of state doctrine, independent quasi trade unions have also popped up at Russian universities. They are not like the trade unions that existed formally in the Soviet years and arranged trips to health spas. Instead, they are capable of saying a collective no to state-driven lawlessness. They interact with rectors, putting pressure on them and trying to ensure that university administrations negotiate more acceptable conditions with the state as embodied by the Ministry of Education.
Where are these quasi trade unions operating in Russia? Have they achieved any results?
In the late 2000s, an independent organization known as the MSU Pressure Group (Initsiativnaia gruppa MGU) emerged at Moscow State University. Initially, its members fought for the right to free entry to the dormitories and the abolition of silly prohibitions concerning the use of lecture halls. Basically, they tried to solve very practical issues. The more often the activists got what they had set out to achiever, the stronger they felt. Nowadays, the Pressure Group is part of University Solidarity, a independent nationwide trade union. All over the country, members of University Solidarity have been defending the rights of lecturers to legal employment contracts. At the Russian State Universities for the Humanities, for example, members have been fighting to abolish the practice of dismissing lecturers for the summer so the administration does not have to give them holiday pay.
Do such organizations exist in the regions?
They do, but they are not as active as in the capitals. Early experience of involvement is vital to civic and professional activism. The conditions for this have to exist. If a university administrations cracks down too harshly on students who make demands, the desire to defend rights and engage in vigorous protest is lost at the time in people’s lives when they are university students or postgraduates. For now independent trade unions have thus been emerging in cities with a traditionally strong culture of activism. I know for sure that, aside from Moscow and Saint Petersburg, such organizations exist in Yekaterinburg and Voronezh.
Given the circumstances, what tactics should lecturers and students choose? What is more effective: joining the new trade unions, starting a rebellion or switching to another line of work?
I am inspired by the small university trade unions, despite the fact they often admit to achieving limited results themselves. But any effective union is a voluntary association of professionals, and the more lecturers and students who are involved in it, the more it is capable of achieving. True, it is not all that simple. We can blame lecturers as much as we like for sluggishness and timidity, but 900 instructional hours a year and the need to think constantly about additional sources of income simply do not encourage many people to make the time to actively pursue their rights or, often, even just contemplate this possibility.
Do the reforms we have been talking about always entail a change of university leadership? In Kazan, for example, the scholar who had been elected to the post of rector was replaced by an appointed manager.
The federal universities tend to have a geopolitical function, and they are structured according to the same rationale that defines relations between Moscow and the regions. The government regards the old universities as platforms for professional and political loyalty where exceedingly abrupt shake-ups can produce uncontrolled change. If a university has a direct line to the ministry or the presidential administration, the changes are likely to be milder. Otherwise, the university faces an abrupt change in management. I gather that regional universities often find themselves in these circumstances.
Can we regard this round of reforms as completed, or are there more shocks on the way?
I have already mentioned the foundations for the situation we are now experiencing were laid in the early 1990s. Back then, Yeltsin’s reformers wanted to shift tertiary institutions to full self-financing, meaning one hundred percent commercial self-sufficiency. This bar has not yet been achieved, although in this instance Russian universities have considerably outstripped their European counterparts: at least half of their costs are covered by extra-budgetary resources. (This figure ranges from ten to twenty-five percent at different European universities.) I doubt the radical dream of full commercial self-sufficiency will ever be realized, because that would be tantamount to a total collapse of the higher education system.
The current leadership sees the universities as economic enterprises that should be cost-effective. This is not specific to Russia: England and Germany continue vigorously slashing “loss-making” departments and programs in philosophy, philology, and Slavic studies. There are also regions in Russia where such things are happening. Another consequence of this take on the problem is the constant desire on the part of university administrators to drastically reduce labor costs. Experiments with forms of employment will thus continue. So-called performance contracts have already been introduced: a lecturer’s salary and continued employment now depend on whether he performs a precise list of official obligations. In addition to giving lectures, the list includes getting published in highly ranked academic journals (there should be no fewer than a certain number of such publications per year), obtaining external financing, performing an extracurricular workload, and other factors that used to be more a matter of valor than obligation for educators.
In the early 2010s, some universities discussed introducing a system under which all lecturers would be casualized and hired under temporary contracts for ongoing projects, for example, for a semester-long or yearlong academic module. It is only at the idea stage for the time being, but it suggests that movement in this direction will continue.
What could be the long-term consequences of these reforms?
A shift to increasingly short-term and precarious contracts with lecturers will produce increased social insecurity. Further reduction of all “unprofitable” spending will increase inequality in academia. In addition, the gap in the quality of education will grown between individual universities and departments.
It is important to understand that a university’s intellectual level is inseparable from the social and financial standing of its teaching staff and the patterns of their employment. An individual who constantly changes the subjects she teaches, regularly experiences periods of unemployment, and is forced all the time to worry about maintaining at least a minimum income, ceases to see high-quality, creative teaching as a priority.
Universities have sought to increase the ratio of students to lecturers, class sizes have been growing, seminar hours have been reduced, and advanced optional courses are often not counted as part of the instructional load. The outcome is that a meaningful dialogue between students and lecturers has been rendered almost impossible. They find themselves in the positions of suppliers and consumers of standardized services, which are delivered along with increased formal monitoring of discipline on the part of both groups.
The draft federal budget for 2016 has again shown that spending on education is slated for cuts. This means the burden on family budgets will grow, and tertiary institutions are going the way of primary and secondary schools, where money for repairs, computers, and other necessities are collected from pupils’ parents. Such levies can be direct, but they can take the shape of rising tuition fees. In any case, the focus of the reforms is slashing the number of full-ride scholarships.
I have already talked about the closure and merger of unprofitable humanities departments. The trend has been deepening. Often, even if a department is kept open, its program is commercialized. A good number of liberal arts teachers even now can allow themselves to work only because they have other sources of income in addition to their university salaries. It is the same with students. The choice of a humanities specialization is often determined by the availability of free time and the absence of the need to start contributing to the family budget immediately. In ten years or so, philosophy and philology will probably become bourgeois disciplines, not in the Soviet sense of the word bourgeois, but in the sense that only wealthy people will be able to study them.
Tertiary institutions have already begun competing with each other for students and financing. The same rationale will probably penetrate even deeper. Departments and programs will begin competing amongst themselves for pieces of the university budget, and universities will open resource centers that will rent space to their own schools and departments for academic conferences.
Are the neoliberal reforms reversible at the national level? Are there forces within the system capable of slowing down the process?
I believe the only potentially effective force are lecturers themselves, united to defend their professional interests, the quality of their work, and the quality of education. That is why independent university unions are so important now.
There is also an alternative within the system, but it is a variety of neoliberalism. This is neomercantilism. The state’s rationale in this case is not extracting as much profit as possible from students, but keeping young people in the area, tethering their consumption to the local market, and protecting borders. Because the major federal universities, which were established in a dozen or so cities around the country, are basically a geopolitical project.
But then you might want to create a better environment for teachers and students?
Right. And here we approach the neoliberal model’s most important and intrinsic internal contradiction. The demands of reformers contain conflicting codes right from the get-go. For example, one neoliberal slogan is the absolute flexibility of skills and expertise that individuals build up over an entire lifetime. But this is contrary to reducing the time to the degree. In the Russian recension, the approach of neoliberal officials goes like this: we have too many people getting a higher education, but nobody to put to work in the real sector of the economy. Yet the assumption is that people employed in the real sector should be sufficiently competent. And there are more than one or two such fatal contradictions.
You ask why the reformers are so persistent in ploughing ahead with the changes. Don’t these contradictions bother them? But the fact of the matter is the neoliberal model is not a well-shaped ideology, but a technique for governing. It is almost impossible to imagine it as a consummate, consistent set of rules that could be checked for internal consistency. So that is why it is impossible to fully implement it in practice. But this is a challenge and incentive for commercially minded officials, who see the educational field as unnecessarily complicated, confusing, weak, dependent, and unproductive. I think reformers will keep trying to tame it for a long time to come.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade VT for the heads-up
Kristina Leko, an artist and teacher at the Berlin Institute of Art, opened the discussion. The organizers had invited her to comment on the forum and the exhibition of Russian “critical art.”
She wondered how much the objets d’art for Marat Guelman’s Perm project (documented at the forum) had cost, whether the money had come from the city’s budget, and if it had, whether the citizens for whose sake this monumental street art had allegedly been made had agreed with this. Leko noted that she had found it unpleasant to listen to the presentation of the project, during which it was stated that the residents of Perm were “insufficiently educated to understand art.” She also said that after carefully viewing the video documentation for MediaImpact, she could not understand where the audience for this sociopolitical art was. Did Russian “critical” artists even want to communicate with the general public? Leko asked whether it was possible to make “critical art” now without taking Russia’s aggression in Ukraine into account, and whether one could be a “critical artist” while ignoring gender and racial discrimination.
Her talk was suddenly interrupted by artist Alexander Brener, who burst into the circle of panelists and yelled, “All of this is shit! We must talk about what matters most!” Brener was not a forum participant. He had come every day to listen to the speakers and several times had expressed his dissatisfaction, but in much more acceptable form.
Brener had interrupted Leko’s talk and continued to shout about shit, but the panelists interpreted his stunt variously. One group sided with Brener, calling him a great Russian artist. This was a performance, a compliment to the forum’s organizer. The talk had been boring: let Brener have his say, they said. The moderator, sociologist Alexander Bikbov, demanded that Leko be allowed to finish her talk. He was backed up by cultural studies scholar Olga Reznikova, who told Brener that there had been many boring and offensive presentations over the past three days and asked him why he had not felt the urge to shout down a high-profile male who had been talking “shit.” The only Ukrainian participant in the forum, Vasily Cherepanin, director of the Visual Culture Research Center in Kyiv and editor of the Ukrainian edition of the journal Krytyka Polityczna, said he felt sorry for us, since we were accustomed to rudeness and could not tell the difference between it and art. As a manager of an institution, he himself kicks out such “performance artists,” no questions asked.
While this was happening, Leko’s hands were shaking. The German audience was shocked. One of the German participants asked perplexedly, “Why is there no solidarity among Russian artists?”
I am certain that the majority of men in Russia who identify themselves as “leftists” are incapable of uniting with women on an equal footing and dealing with our professional work appropriately, without loutishness. Personally, I have no desire to identify with those “leftists” or liberals who try talking down to me or do the same thing with other women. I had had enough of that at the Feminist Pencil show at MediaImpact.
I said that sexism was one of the causes that prevented people from uniting.
Hearing the word sexism, some of the Russian participants began laughing and making faces. They then pointedly left the room altogether when the topic of gender was picked up by Olga Reznikova, Heinrich Böll Foundation coordinator Nuria Fatykhova, and the German audience.
Vasily Cherepanin raised the next topic. He spoke about the war in Ukraine, stressing it was a war of aggression on Russia’s part. At the same time, many Russian socially and politically engaged artists have preferred to remain apolitical on this matter and not make anti-war statements. One of the Germans asked why the Russians were trying to depoliticize the discussion of sexism and the war in Ukraine. After this question, another third of the Russians dashed from the room, while the artist Brener, who had been sitting quietly in the corner, again broke into the circle of panelists, screaming at Cherepanin, “Fuck off!”
Moderator Alexander Bikbov summarized the discussion by noting that too few “critical” artists had stayed for its final part. As soon as the conversation had turned to the things that mattered most—politics within the art scene and the war in Ukraine—many were not prepared to discuss them.
But then at the farewell dinner, the participants who had left the discussion early continued giggling among themselves about gender and feminism.
Russia vs. Russia: From Censorship to Self-Censorship New Russian laws—from a ban on swearing to protections for the feelings of religious believers—have made life difficult for artists. But the main obstacle to freedom of creativity has become self-censorship.
Yekaterina Kryzhanovskaya | Berlin
April 13, 2015 Deutsche Welle
Victoria Lomasko, Prisoners of May 6, from the Drawing Trials project
For several years, Victoria Lomasko has been doing socially engaged graphic art, producing graphic reportages from court hearings and political rallies, and drawing the real stories of juvenile prisoners, migrant workers, rural teachers, and Orthodox activists. But the Russian woman can now longer speak openly about what concerns her through her drawings: now her black-and-white “comics” could be subject to the articles of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.
“My work Cannibal State, in support of political prisoners, today could be regarded as insulting state symbols. Liberate Russia from Putin clearly rocks the boat; it’s a call for rebellion, for revolution, and this is ‘extremism.’ A work from the Pussy Riot trial, Free the Prisoners! Shame on the Russian Orthodox Church!, featuring Patriarch Kirill, no doubt insults the feelings of believers,” the artist recounts.
Could she now, as she did earlier, freely post her political posters in social networks or show them at exhibitions?
“Hardly. But just two years ago several of them were even published in magazines,” notes Lomasko.
At the forum Russia vs. Russia: Cultural Conflicts, held April 10–12 in Berlin, Lomasko was not the only one bewildered about the prospects of protest art.
“In Russia nowadays you cannot do anything,” states Artyom Loskutov, an artist and organizer of the annual May Day Monstration marches in Novosibirsk.
In 2014, the Monstrators took to the streets of Novosibirsk holding a banner that read, “Hell is ours.” When the Russian media were excitedly talking about the virtues of federalizing Ukraine, Loskutov and his allies announced they would be holding a March for the Federalization of Siberia.
“If people in Russia hear every day that separatism in Ukraine turns out to be a good thing, that cannot slip through the cracks. We have simply hastened the next stage, when separatism will be seen as good for our country as well,” Loskutov emphasizes.
Russian federal media watchdog Roskomnadzor responded by sending fourteen letters to various media, including Ukrainian publications and even the BBC, demanding that they delete even mentions of this protest.
According to many forum participants, however, censorship was not the worst that was happening to them today.
“The worst thing that infiltrates our heads is self-censorship. It is impossible to know about the new laws and not to think about the consequences if you make a work about something that really concerns you,” argues Lomasko.
A congress of ultra-rightist nationalists was held in March in Petersburg, completely legally. And yet the media could not publish photographs of congress participants in clothes featuring swastikas because they would be fined for extremism.
“I really want to speak out on this subject. But if I were to draw something, I could be accused of spreading fascist ideas. And if I put it on the Web, everyone who reposts the picture automatically becomes my accomplice,” explains Lomasko.
Consequently, she said, there have been almost no artworks openly criticizing the annexation of Crimea or the war in Ukraine. Doubts about the legitimacy of Moscow’s actions are now also subject to the Criminal Code. A rare exception is the graffiti piece Broads Will Give Birth to New Ones, in which a pregnant woman holding a Molotov cocktail is depicted with an infant soldier in her belly. But it was produced anonymously by members of the Petersburg group Gandhi.
On the other hand, you can express your joy over the actions of Russian politicians without the sanction of officials. Thus, on the eve of the referendum in Crimea, a monumental graffiti proclaiming “Crimea and Russia: Together Forever” suddenly appeared on the wall of a house in Moscow’s Taganka Square where an officially authorized map of the Tagansky District was supposed have been painted.
“The contractor himself decided that the Crimean agenda was more topical and interesting, and he willfully painted what he did, not the map he had been commissioned to paint,” explains Anna Nistratova, an independent curator, researcher, and artist.
Later, such monumental propaganda began to appear all over the country, both as commissioned by the authorities, and at the behest of the population, including activist artists, many of whom also believe, according to Lomasko, “Crimea is ours, Donbass is ours, and Ukraine basically doesn’t exist.”
“In matters of propaganda, orders from the top are not obligatory. Our citizens themselves are capable to taking the initiative,” notes Nistratova.
“Memory” (P = Pamiat’), one of a series of “graffiti” murals produced by the pro-Kremlin youth group Set (“Network”) to celebrate Vladimir Putin’s birthday in October 2014. The five murals, which appeared in different cities, each featured a different letter from the president’s surname; each letter was associated, children’s primer-style, with a different “patriotic” virtue (e.g., such as “memory” of the war). This mural was painted on an apartment block on Petersburg’s Obvodny Canal. Photograph by The Russian Reader
Nistratov points out that there are very few artists involved in political art in Russia. Besides, neither exhibitions nor the very best artworks nor inscriptions on the streets have any effect on society, in her opinion.
“The artist in Russia today is a strange, marginal subject. His status as an intellectual, as a moral exemplar, which existed earlier, has been completely forfeited,” says Nistratova.
Confusion is, perhaps, the feeling that is prevalent throughout the talks given by the participants of the forum Russia vs. Russia: Cultural Conflicts. By and large, the activist artists have no clear strategies for operating under new conditions.
“The only thing that seems to me worthwhile is maintaining one’s own little environment, a bubble inside the shit. Because if this nightmare ever ends, we have to make sure we are not faced with a scorched, absolutely bare field, bereft of political and social art, activism, and civic consciousness,” argues Lomasko.
This is a real courtyard in my neighborhood, near a playground. Parents stroll around the yard with their children, discussing the news from “fascist” Ukraine.
Do I have the right to draw and show you this landscape featuring a swastika, a landscape that is fairly typical in Russia? During the recent trial of the Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists (BORN), their lawyer argued that the anti-fascists are just another street gang like the fascists. So why not label any denunciation of fascism “propaganda” of fascism itself?
Nationalists freely held an international congress in Petersburg in March. The only people the police arrested were the anti-fascists who protested the congress. Nationalists can walk around sporting neo-fascist symbols, but the authorities will prosecute publications that dare to publish photos of them. Juvenile prisons are filled with skinheads, but nationalist ideas are fomented on television.
Attn: Center “E”. I am opposed to fascism.
This yard is not in Ukraine. There are many swastikas in Russia, too. But if Russian citizens try to expose fascism, they can be charged with “extremism.” Inscription on wall: “Russ [sic] is ours!”