The Siege of Leningrad 75 Years Later

osipova-siege graffiti

The inspiring Petersburg artist and political activist Yelena Osipova has drawn this graffiti to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the lifting of the Siege of Leningrad during the Second World War.

The piece is dedicated to her late friend Lenina Nikitina, another wonderful artist, who lived in the building on whose walls Osipova drew her work.

Nikitina lost her entire family during the Siege, which lasted nearly 900 days, from September 8, 1941 to January 27, 1944.

nikitina-cold bathLenina Nikitina, Cold Bath. Pencil on paper. Courtesy of ArtGuide and the Museum of Nonconformist Art, St. Petersburg

As many as a million civilians are believe to have died during the Siege.

The other evening, an arts program on one of the regional German channels broadcast a segment about Daniil Granin and Ales Adamovich’s Blokadnaya kniga (Book of the Siege), which has recently been translated into German by Helmut Ettinger and Ruprecht Willnow, and published as Blockadebuch: Leningrad 1941–1944.

Blokadnya kniga was translated into English by Clare Burstal and Vladimir Kisselnikov, and published in 2007 as Leningrad under Siege: Firsthand Accounts of the Ordeal.

If you don’t have time to read Blokadnaya kniga or any of the other hundreds of books about the Siege, please watch Jessica Gorter’s stunning 2011 documentary film 900 Days. {TRR}

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The Siege of Leningrad Ended 75 Years Ago Today: Here Are Nine Films and Books about the Siege Worth Watching and Reading
Anton Dolin and Galina Yuzefovich
Meduza
January 27, 2019

[…]

Once There Was a Girl
Viktor Eismont, 1944

Eismont began shooting this unique picture while the Siege was still underway. It premiered a year to the day after the Siege was lifted. The Siege is shown through the eyes of two children, five-year-old Katenka and seven-year-old Nastenka. Natalya Zashchipina, who played Katenka, would go on to star in children’s films such as The Elephant and the Rope and First-Grader in the late 1940s, while Nina Ivanova, who played Nastenka, would star in Spring on Zarechnaya Street in 1956.

Baltic Skies
Vladimir Vengerov, 1960

The best film about wartime Leningrad and Leningrad during the Siege, when Baltic Skies premiered, it outraged Nikolai Chukovsky, whose novel inspired the film and who is credited as the screenwriter. The movies features a star-studded cast, including Pyotr Glevov, Mikhail Ulyanov, Mikhail Kozakov, and Rolan Bykov. The film’s young lovers were played by Oleg Borisov and Liudmila Gurchenko, who would later act in Alexei German’s war films. German considered Vengerov one of his teachers.

We Looked Death in the Face
Naum Birman, 1980

A picture about the founding of the Frontline Youth Ensemble. In one of his final roles, Oleg Dahl played the former choreographer. The film features poems by Olga Bergholz and music by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Blockade
Sergei Loznitsa, 2006

A documentary film consisting of footage shot by cameramen during the Siege, it features rare scenes, including the execution of Germans. Loznitsa added a soundtrack to the film, bringing viewers closer to the events.

We Read the Book of the Blockade
Alexander Sokurov, 2009

Less a film and more an impressive project by Sokurov, We Read the Book of the Blockade shows Petersburgers both famous and unknown reading aloud Daniil Granin and Ales Adamovich’s book, a compilation of eyewitness accounts of the Siege. The readers include actors Vladimir Retsepter and Leonid Mozgovoi, and Sokurov himself.

Celebration
Alexei Krasovsky, 2019

[Posted on January 2, 2019, by Alexei Krasovsky. “Attention! This film was made without state financing or grants. The filmmakers paid for its production themselves. Please do not show Celebration without listing the information about how you can donate money to us.  It is the only we can cover the costs of this film and start working on a new one. Thank you.

Sberbank Visa/Mastercard Card (in Russia): 5469 3800 7030 3101 (Aleksei Olegovich Krasovskii)

DonationAlerts (featuring viewer poll): https://www.donationalerts.com/r/alkras

PayPal: https://paypal.me/alkras (alkrasss@gmail.com)

Yandex Money: https://money.yandex.ru/to/410013518953856

Cameraman’s Yandex Money account: money.yandex.ru/to/410013518953856 (Sergei Valentinovich Astakov, cameraman-sa@yandex.ru)

Ehterium address: 0xbA2224ba22f2f4494EF01C6691824A178651d615

Don’t forget to mark your contribution as a “donation” so that we’ll have any easier time making films in the future.

Happy New Year!

Screenwriter and director: Alexei Krasovsky

Cinematographer: Sergei Astakhov

Starring: Alyona Babenko, Yan Tsapnik, Timofei Tribuntsev, Anfisa Chernykh, Pavel Tabakov, and Asya Chistyakov

Executive producer: Yuliya Krishtofovich

Art director: Yevdokia Zamakhina

Sound: Nelly Ivanovna and Anastasia Anosova

Assistant director: Zhanna Boykova

Editing: Vladimir Zimin and Alexei Krasovsky

The song ‘Field, O My Field’ was written by Iosif Kovner in 1937 and first recorded in 1941.”]

Filmmaker Alexei Krasovsky shot this controversial, intimate, tragicomic film at his own expense and uploaded it to YouTube during the New Year holidays. The picture deals with the privileged classes during the Siege and contains transparent illusions to the present. Starring Alyona Babenko, Yan Tsapnik, and Pavel Tabakov.

Polina Barskova, Zhivye kartiny [Living pictures], St. Petersburg: Ivan Limbakh, 2014 

Written by poet and academic Polina Barskova, this book is a miscellany of strange, heterogeneous, and genre-bending texts (several stories and essays on the verge of poetry, capped off with a short, semi-absurd play) that interweave the author’s own experiences as a researcher and human being with the real stories of people during the Siege.

Significant historical figures who survived the Siege (poet and literary scholar Dmitry Maximov, writer Vitaly Bianchi, playwright Yevgeny Schwartz) meet on the the pages of Living Pictures with other, unknown shades, such as the art historian Totya and the artist Moses, who made the mistake of falling for each other on the eve of the war, or six-year-old Katya, who plays a gloomy game of  bouts-rimés with her mother, composing a poem about people stricken by hunger-induced dystrophy. The famous, the nameless, Barskova’s other characters, and Barskova, some of whom did not experience the Siege themselves, ring the changes on the book’s main point, as voiced by one of the characters: the Siege was a peculiar civilization with all the qualities of other human communities. This civilization did not disappear without a trace. It has germinated anew in subsequent generations, who continue to feel its icy breath.

Sergey Yarov, Leningrad 1941–42: Morality in a City under Siege, trans. Arch Tait, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2017

1509507981

“The ethic of sympathy demands the gaze not linger on mournful scenes of human agony,” writes historian Sergey Yarov in his book, seemingly ruthlessly violating this ethic. Instead of charitably averting his gaze from the most horrific aspects of the Siege of Leningrad, Yarov peruses as keenly and closely as possible theft and deception, monstrous, incurable physical deformities and people’s aversion to them, assaults on children (it was easier to take food from them since they were weaker), indifference to the suffering and deaths of other people, willingness to endure any humiliation, the collapse of community, and cannibalism.

As he plunges into the abyss of diaries, memories, and official records, uncovering truly unimaginable things, Yarov nevertheless hits upon an impeccable tone for discussing them, managing to maintain in each episode the perfect balance between scholarly scrupulousness and supreme humaneness.

Olga Lavrentieva, Survilo, St. Petersburg: Boomkniga, 2019 

This graphic novel by the young artist Olga Lavrentieva is a laconic, black-and-white account of the life of her grandmother, Valentina Survilo. Survilo’s happy Leningrad childhood ended in 1937 with her father’s arrest. She was exiled to a village in Bashkiria, where her mother died, before making a long-awaited return to her beloved Leningrad. This was followed by the most important and terrible chapter in her biography, the Siege, which the still very young Survilo endured in a prison hospital, the only place willing to employ the daughter of an “enemy of the people.”

The relentless hunger, cold, bombings and artillery attacks, treachery of friends, and rare, miraculous instances of kindness left a deep wound in Survilo’s heart, causing her to suffer nightmares and be constantly anxious about family members during the relatively prosperous postwar years. Lavrentiev uses the rather typically tragic story of one Leningrad woman as a lens through which she and her readers can look at the history of her hometown and the entire country.

Survilo will be published in March 2019.

Thanks to Giuliano Vivaldi for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. I have replaced the trailers used in the original article with full-length videos of the films themselves. Please take note of filmmaker Alexei Krasovsky’s appeal for donations. If you watch Celebration, please consider making a donation to him and his crew via Sberbank, PayPal, Yandex Money or Etherium.

 

Facebook Is Fun! (Islamophobia in Russia)

Théodore Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa, 1818-1819. Oil on canvas, 491 cm x 716 cm. Louvre Museum, Paris. Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Théodore Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa, 1818-1819. Oil on canvas, 491 cm x 716 cm. Louvre Museum, Paris. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

My memories of kindergarten are fairly fuzzy by now, but I do seem to recall we did a lot of sharing. This, I think, explains why the dark satanic mill known as Facebook has become so indispensable and popular in our modern world. Like kindergarten, it’s all about sharing.

For instance, this morning I was feeling fairly glum about the ongoing slaughter in Aleppo, the apparently total indifference my Russian friends (and “friends”) feel about the role their armed forces have been playing in this massacre, and my inability to do anything about any of this, much less changing anyone’s mind.

Apparently, Facebook even has algorithms for detecting when you’re feeling blue, and like a cheery kindergarten minder in such circumstances, it gets you involved in some fun sharing to buck you up.

This was what Facebook decided to share with woebegone me this morning.

shared

“At Venice Film Festival, Sokurov Says European and Muslim Aesthetics Incompatible,” reads the headline on Newsru.com, an alarmist Russophone news website based in Israel.

When I clicked on it, the item turned out to be old news, an article, dated September 8, 2015, quoting controversial statements made at last year’s Venice Film Festival by the Petersburg auteur Alexander Sokurov, who was in Venice to debut his latest indisputable masterpiece, Francofonia.

Presenting his film Francofonia at the Venice Film Festival, Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov said the European and Muslim aesthetics were incompatible. Calling for an end to “the endless and pointless incursions,” to immigration by an alien culture, Sokurov thus polemicized with the chair of the festival jury, Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, who earlier had suggested solving Europe’s rampant immigration crisis by organizing entry for the immigrants. The Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra reported on Francofonia and Sokurov’s statements.

Presenting what the newspaper called “a brilliant allegorical tale about the Old Continent through its museum symbol, the Louvre,” Sokurov said, “History teaches us nothing. Prudence and compassion are alien to history.”

“Europe, which has attained supreme achievements in art and philosophy, keeps making one mistake after another,” said the Russian maître, as quoted by InoPressa.

“What is happening, these endless and pointless incursions [or, invasions], seem like an indescribable nightmare, a humanitarian catastrophe in the face of which ordinary people are powerless, and politicians do nothing. And no one thinks to protect our culture, which will cease to exist quite soon,” the filmmaker continued.

[…]

The Italian periodical described the action of the film as follows: a ship that must bring European culture to a safe haven sails into a storm. If it sinks, its precious cargo will be irrevocably lost to all Europeans.

“Europe finds itself on The Raft of the Medusa, as in the famous painting by Théodore Géricault, exhibited in the Louvre. Just like the frightening boats, crowded with desperate people making their way to our shores.”

The article here refers to the numerous cases of the illegal delivery [sic] by sea (sometimes ending in tremendous loss of life) of thousands of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa.

During the presentation of his film, Sokurov called for “a stop to these migrations.”

“To really help these people, it is necessary to intervene in the countries from which they are escaping and try to solve the problems there. Instead, we pile them up together here, where they have no prospects, and try and impose our TV lifestyle on them,” he argued.

“The outcome will be catastrophic for both parties,” the filmmaker warned.

Sokurov was certain that “our aesthetic and the Muslim aesthetic are incompatible.”

“With all due respect, we must maintain a distance and protect our culture from the iconoclastic fury that is destroying it,” said the filmmaker.

He reminded the audience of the total destruction of unique landmarks in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria, by militants from the terrorist group Islamic State, which is banned in the Russian Federation.

Recently, the extremists blew up three tombs of local patricians in the captured city. Earlier, they demolished the Temple of Baalshamin (2nd century BC) and the Temple of Bel, consecrated to the supreme Semitic deity [sic].

“Even the Nazis would have not dared to do what has happened in Palmyra,” said Sokurov.

I have quoted at length the day brightener Facebook chose for me, because it amply demonstrates a sad but irrefutable fact. Islamophobia is a perfectly common attitude and a perfectly respectable political “stance” in Russia, adopted and bruited loudly and publicly by well-read, highly educated members of the “liberal” Russian intelligentsia, as evinced here by one of their darlings, Alexander Sokurov.

This, in turn, explains the near-total silence of “liberal” and even “leftist” Russians on the destruction of Aleppo.

Let me put it as crudely as possible. Despite the court judgement handed down on popular blogger Anton Nosik the other day, a really large number of educated “white” Russians think Muslims are subhumans whom, if push comes to shove or your “civilizational project” has got bogged down and you cannot think of anything better to do, can be slaughtered with impunity and without blinking. In fact, it is better for one’s digestion, state of mind, and personal pursuit of high culture (per Sokurov) to put a mental wall between yourself and whatever is happening to the Muslims in your midst, or to the Muslim Crimean Tatars in Crimea, or to the Muslims in Grozny (back in the first years of Putin’s perpetual reign), or to the Muslims in Aleppo.

If you think I am exaggerating, I invite you to come to the Motherland and have heart-to-heart chats with a sampling of members of the so-called intelligentsia. In some cases (but not, happily, all cases) you will come away thinking you’ve just spent time with Trump supporters, UKIP cacklers, BNP bruisers or clowns from the KKK.

But the funny thing about Facebook is that it is not the only satanic mill on the oppressively vast World Wide Web. Nowadays, you can also ask something called Google whatever question your wicked heart can conceive—for example, how many Muslims are there in Russia?

“In Europe overall, however, Russia’s population of 14 million Muslims (10%) is the largest on the continent.”

Yikes!

Where did all those Russian Muslims come from? Did they immigrate to the Motherland from Syria and other majority Muslim countries?

No, despite the recent heavy influx of migrant workers from the Muslim Central Asian republics (once also part of Russia, in its guise as the Soviet Union), which has even more recently been waning due to the bad economy, among other factors, most of Russia’s Muslims were born and bred in the Russian Federation. Thus, to the outside world, they are “Russians,” if not to many of their fellow Russian citizens, who probably cannot get their heavily bookish heads around such funny facts as Moscow’s being the largest Muslim city in Europe.

You would think that, with so many Russian Muslims and post-Soviet Muslims sharing (there is our keyword again!) your cities, towns, and villages with you, you would not want to go out of your way to antagonize Muslims for no reason at all.

(Not because they are touchier than your average bear, but just because no one in this world enjoys being kicked around for years on end just because they’re different.)

But that is what the Russian government has been doing in Syria, and that is what significant numbers of Russia’s best and brightest have been doing for a long time now, if only rhetorically, if only at the Venice Film Festival, on Facebook or in their kitchens.

The consequences, both now and in the future, could not be more miserable, especially for the alleged “European” culture that only Russian intelligenty and European neo-Nazis seem to get so exercised about.

Thanks, Facebook, for cheering me up! I knew I could count on you. TRR

Alexander Sokurov on “Victory Day”

Alexander Sokurov Plants a Tree Outside Echo Petersburg Studios with Members of the Green Wave Movement (9 May 2008)

Natalia Kostitsina: And what worries you nowadays?
Alexander Sokurov: There are so many things that I don’t even want to talk about them because I don’t know where to begin and where to finish.
NK: Begin from the beginning.
AS: To begin with [I’m worried by] the very low cultural level of the population—social culture, personal culture. A very low level…The politicization of life, which at times leaves me at a loss. The “party-mindedness” of life and the tendency towards this “partyzation,” if you can call it that: [the tendency] to make all of life the concern of the party worries me in the extreme. The participation of the intelligentsia in the life of the party sometimes leaves me dumbstruck. Continue reading “Alexander Sokurov on “Victory Day””