Solidarity? (The Case of the Penza and Petersburg Antifascists)

fil_0Viktor Filinkov, Petersburg antifascist, torture victim and political prisoner

Solidarity? No, They Haven’t Heard about It
The Security Services Are Using the Case of the Antifascists to Test Society: If We Keep Silent, the Torture and Arrests Will Continue
Yan Shenkman
Novaya Gazeta
March 22, 2018

On Election Day, March 18, which was simultaneously Paris Commune Day and Political Prisoner Day, Theater.Doc in Moscow staged a performance entitled Torture 2018, a reading of the interrogation transcripts and diaries from the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case.

The case has disappeared amid the flood of political and election campaign news, so I should briefly summarize it.

In October 2017, a group of young antifascists was detained by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in Penza. They were accused of organizing a terrorist community code-named The Network. They were allegedly tortured. Nearly all of them confessed to the charges, telling the FSB what the FSB wanted them to say.

Recently, for the first time in history, FSB officers admitted they used electric shockers when interrogating Petersburg antifascist Viktor Filinkov. In their telling, however, it was not torture, but a necessity: the detainee allegedly tried to escape.

The arrestees are kindred souls of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, murdered by neo-Nazis in downtown Moscow in January 2009. A march to honor their memory has been held on the Boulevard Ring every year since then.

Less than ten years have passed since their deaths and we are confronted by a relapse, an attack on antifascists by the Russian state.

The harsh language of the interrogation protocol is more expressive than any op-ed column. Dmitry Pchenlintsev was tortured day after day: he was hung upside down and different parts of his body were shocked with electrical current. Vasily Kuksov was badly beaten: his face was a bloody pulp, his clothes torn and blood stained. Doctors in Petersburg discovered a fracture to the lower wall of Igor Shiskin’s eye socket, as well as multiple abrasions and bruises. They noted numerous injuries, including burns from an electric shocker. FSB officers took Ilya Kapustin to the woods, tortured him with an electric shocker, and threatened to break his legs.

We heard similar reports from Chechnya and Donbass, but this is the first time something like this has occurred in the middle of Russia and on such a scale.

The young arrestees in Penza, none of whom is over thirty (the oldest is twenty-nine) played airsoft, listened to independent music, and read anarchist books, like thousands of other young people. Now, given the will, any of them can be arrested on terrorism charges.

Alexei Polikhovich, who spent three years in prison as part of the Bolotnaya Square case, and produced the performance at Theater.Doc, did not have to make up anything, no monologues or dialogues. What has happened in reality is not something you would make up.

“I was panicking,” leftist activist and former political prisoner Alexei Sutuga says, reading Viktor Filinkov’s statement aloud. “I said I didn’t understand anything, and that is when they shocked me the first time. It was unbearably painful. I screamed and my body went straight as a board. The man in the mask ordered me to shut up and stop twitching. He alternated shocks to my leg with shocks to my handcuffs. Sometimes, he shocked me in the back or the nape of the neck. It felt as if I was being slapped upside the head. When I screamed, they would clamp my mouth shut or threaten to gag me. I didn’t want to be gagged, so I tried not to scream, which wasn’t always possible.”

“It’s probably the worst thing happening now in Russia,” Polikhovich told me after the performance. “But we have no means of putting pressure on them. Complaints filed against the FSB are redirected to the FSB, meaning they are supposed to keep tabs on themselves. Naturally, they are not about to do this. The only thing that can save the guys is public pressure.”

“But for several months there were no attempts to pressure the FSB. Why?” I asked.

“Location is vital in this case,” replied Polikhovich. “There are tried and tested support methods in Petersburg and Moscow. There are independent journalists and human rights activists. There is nothing of the sort in Penza. The environment also makes a difference. The Bolotnaya Square case, in which many leftists were sent to prison, meant something to the entire liberal democratic opposition. It was a story the average Moscow reporter could understand.”

“In this case, however,” Polikhovich continued, “the accused have been charged with very serious crimes. They are not liberals. They are not Moscow activists. We have to break through the prejudice towards them.”

While Moscow was silent, brushing the case aside by mentioning it in a few lines of column inches, the case, which originated in Penza, had spread to Petersburg, then to Chelyabinsk, and finally, in March, to the capital itself. Several people were detained after a protest action in support of the Penza antifascists. (OVD Info reports that nine people were detained.)

“They put a bag over my head. Then they shocked me, constantly increasing the intensity and duration of the electric charge, and demanding I make a confession,” Moscow anarchist Svyatoslav Rechkalov, released on his own recognizance, told Novaya Gazeta.

The protests against the FSB’s use of torture in this case have mainly followed ideological lines: anarchists and antifascists have been doing the protesting. Solidarity protests have been held in Copenhagen, Toronto, Berlin, and New York. Finnish anarchists and antifascists held a demo outside the Russian embassy in Helsinki. In Stockholm, the way from the subway to the Russian embassy was hung with Filinkov’s diary and posters bearing the hashtag #stopFSBtorture.

A concert in support of the arrested antifascists was held at a small bar in Petersburg. The organizers were able to collect 42,500 rubles in donations. By way of comparison, a year ago, at a similar concert in support of Ildar Dadin, who was tortured in a Karelian penal colony, organizers collected 29,000 rubles in donations. But there no incidents at that event, while there was an incident at the Petersburg concert. Ultra-rightwing thugs burst into the bar and started a brawl.

In Moscow, the riot police or the security services would have telephoned the club’s owner and insisted he cancel the event, as happened with the anti-war Deserter Fest. In Petersburg, however, the rightists showed up.

“The situation has come to resemble the mid-noughties,” said Maxim Dinkevich, editor of the music website Sadwave, “when every other punk rock show was attacked.”

Pickets in support of the antifascists have been held both in Moscow and Petersburg, and there will probably be more pickets to come. But this story has not yet made a big splash. The public is more interested in discussing the falling out between Sobchak and Navalny, while anarchists draw a blank.

This case is not about anarchism or antifascism, however. It is about the fact that tomorrow they could come for you for any reason. Electric shockers do not discriminate.

The regime has been testing us, probing the limits of what is possible and what is not. If we keep silent now, if we do not stand up for each other, it will mean they can continue in the same vein. It is clear already that the case of the antifascists will expand. The arrests will stop being local, becoming large scale. We have no methods for pressuring law enforcement agencies that torture people, no authorities that could slap them on the wrists. The only methods we have are maximum publicity and public pressure. They are the only ways to deter the security service from making more arrests and keeping up the torture.

There is a group page on Facebook entitled Project No. 117, named for the article in the Russian Criminal Code that outlaws the use of torture. It is a clearinghouse for news about the Penza case and other anti-antifascist cases. It also features six videtaped messages in support of the arrested men, as recorded by the well-known Russian cultural figures Dmitry Bykov, Andrei Makarevich, Dmitry Shagin, Kirill Medvedev, Artyom Loskutov, and Artemy Troitsky.

I would like to believe that, in the very near future, there will be six thousand such messages, not six. Otherwise, we will be crushed one by one.

Dmitry Bykov (writer)

“Absolutely Gulag-like scenes of strangulation, beating, and abduction. Stories like this have become frighteningly more frequent. The return to the practice of torture is a relapse into the roughest, darkest period of Russian history.”

Andrei Makarevich (musician)

“If the authorities are trying to pass young antifascists off as terrorists, it begs the question of who the authorities are themselves. Have you lost your minds, guys?”

Dmitry Shagin (artist)

“I experience this as torture myself. By torturing these young men, they are torturing all of us.”

Kirill Medvedev (poet, political activist, musician)

“The Russian authorities have been posing as the most antifascist regime in the world for several years now, and yet they are cracking down on antifascists. Is this not hypocrisy?”

Artyom Loskutov (artist, political activist)

“If you arrested me and tortured me with an electric shocker, I would confession to terrorism, satansim, and anything whatsoever. And if the FSB officers were tortured, they would also confess to anything. Antifascism is not a crime, nor is anarchism a crime. But torture is a crime, a very serious crime indeed.”

Artemy Troitsky (writer, music critic and promoter)

“Torture is a sure sign the case doesn’t hold water. If they have evidence, they wouldn’t torture the suspects.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Autonomous Action. Videos courtesy of Project No. 117 and Novaya Gazeta. If you have not heard about the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, you can read the following articles and spread the word to friends, comrades, and journalists.

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Mari Davtyan: The Personal Is Political

"I would hug you, but I'm just a text." "It's enough." Central Petersburg, July 8, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader
“I would hug you, but I’m just a text.” “That’s enough.” Central Petersburg, July 8, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

Mari Davtyan
Facebook
July 10, 2016

As expected, the reaction to the online flash mob #янебоюсьсказать #янебоюсьсказати [#IAmNotAfraidToSpeak] has got underway. It has been the classic reaction of a society in which there is an unspoken agreement to hush up violence. But now this approach has suddenly failed.

You can tell one, two, three or ten women they have only themselves to blame or they are all lying, but when thousands of women talk about it, it is much more difficult to hush up the problem. Especially when it is not only “crazy” feminists talking about the problem but ordinary, average women. So other gambits have come into play, for example, “Don’t talk or you will feel bad and ashamed later.” In fact, this painfully familiar gambit in circumstances of sexual violence is something women constantly hear individually.

But why should women feel ashamed? And who should be ashamed after acts of violence? The victim or the assailant? The point of the flash mob is that it is not shameful to suffer violence. It is shameful to rape, abuse, and commit violence. So that argument has been a nonstarter, and women have kept on writing.

Another fine example of illogic and lack of common sense is the argument that everyone who has been writing as part of the flash mob hates men. But let us take a look at what has happened. Thousands of women have written about the violence of men, which means that thousands of men have let themselves be violent toward women in one way or another. Who hates whom in this case? Such “logic” would suggest a completely opposite conclusion.

Then there is the favorite argument in all disputes recently: that Ukrainians and Americans are stirring things up to undermine Russia’s moral foundations. However, I haven’t figured out what to do with the fact that it has been not only Ukrainians and Americans attacking those foundations. The flash mob has spread to almost every part of the former Soviet Union.

Of course, it will not do to deny the obvious any longer. But why is there such a urge to do so? Because once you have said A, you have to say B. If you recognize the problem, you have to recognize all these stories have quite specific “heroes” who let themselves commit violence, meaning we have to turn from victims to assailants and take a hard look at them finally. We will see they are not only “sick” maniacs but often as not are average men. That means many of them will have to take a look at themselves and admit what they have done.

But there is no great urge to admit what they have done, of course.  After all, life before was comfy. There were no dressing-downs and punishments for doing such things, but now suddenly they have to admit that what they did and probably have forgotten long ago is actually a crime. It is always hard to to reject the “privilege” to do as you like.

This means we have to recognize that male socialization encourages violence, justifies violence, and normalizes violence.

So, no matter how unpleasant it is to many people, we will have to have a serious talk about solving the problem legally and politically. (This is an answer to question of what the whole point was.)

But the first step has been taken, and women have successfully defended their right to speak, while a good number of decent men have already taken the second step.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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I Am Not Afraid to Speak: Russian Online Flash Mob Condemns Sexual Violence
Katie Davies and Maria Evdokimova
The Moscow Times
July 8, 2016

Thousands of women in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus have taken to social media to share their experiences of sexual violence in an online flash mob.

Women and girls began posting their stories under the hashtags #янебоюсьсказати and #янебоюсьсказать (“I am not afraid to speak”), following the example of Ukrainian social activist Anastasia Melnichenko.

“I want us— women—to speak today,” Melnichenko wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday detailing her experiences of harassment.

“We do not have to make excuses. We are not to blame. Blame always lies with the rapist.”

For many of the women taking part, it was the first time they had spoken about their ordeals.

“I’m so happy that women are starting to talk about this,” wrote one Facebook user, Anna.

“#IAmNotAfraidToSpeak that one day I went with my dad to visit some friends at their dacha, a decent and beautiful family. The father of my dad’s friend lived there and a few families would gather there to spend the summer weekends together.

“There were three children there—myself, and two other girls, one of whom was his granddaughter—aged around five to six years old. I woke up early in the morning, and that same grandfather was lying next to me, drunk, with his hand in my underwear. I ran from the room and hid. I’ve said nothing to my parents.”

Many of those taking part hope to change perceptions of sexual violence, with many arguing that society still finds the victim at fault. A number of prominent Russian women have also joined the flash mob to tell their stories, including Galina Timchenko, founder of the Meduza news website; singers Victoria Deineko and Anita Tsoi; actress Evelina Bledans; and journalist and business woman Alyona Vladimirskaya.

“Everyone who says, ‘Women bring it on themselves by wearing a short skirt,’ listen to my story,” Vladimirskaya wrote on her Facebook page Thursday.

“I was seven months pregnant. It was summer. A sunny day. I went to the shop by my house; I wasn’t feeling well. I was sick, and I looked it.

“When I came to the entrance of my building, there was a young man behind me. I didn’t think that I needed to be afraid of young men in such a state. He pushed me to the wall, took out a large kitchen knife, pointed it at my stomach and told me to undress.

“I was terrified that he would hurt my unborn child and I took off my blouse. He began to masturbate over my stomach then demanded that I turn around and bend over. I began to vomit. He did not care.

“A neighbor saved me. He came down the stairs and saw this and shouted. It was enough to make the rapist run.”

Others draw attention to abuse taking place within the family. Research by American charity RAINN has found that in cases of sexual violence, 72 percent of adults, and 93 percent of children know the perpetrator.

“I was six years old when my cousin asked me if I’d like to ride on his bike with him,” one Facebook user, Olya, wrote. “I couldn’t ride a bike without training wheels, of course I agreed. We rode to a wooded area, where he took off his shirt, lay on top of me and began masturbating. Then we rode home, and he acted as if nothing had happened.

“I was ten years old when another cousin, probably around 20, made sure there were no other adults in sight, took out his genitals and waved them in front of my face. I ran away from him.

“Both cousins were from a decent, stable family. They did not become criminals or murderers, they live quietly with their wives and raise their children.

“Violence isn’t in the papers or on the television, it is happening to the neighbors we meet on the staircase, our classmates, our close friends, sisters, the girls we sit next to on the metro.

“Everyday violence is the norm in the lives of all women.”

A number of men also hoped to break boundaries by sharing their stories on the issue.

“It was in the beautiful city of Saratov, and I was 12 years old. I was waiting for a trolleybus home, when a man in a gray jacket approached me,” one Facebook user, Andrei, wrote. He said, ‘Help me carry this stuff and I’ll pay you.’ It was hard to say no to an adult.

“We went under the bridge, passed two fences surrounding some shacks. We went another 30 meters. No one was around. The man stopped and unzipped his fly, and asked me to put it in my mouth. What happened next was instinctive—I hit the man with my both hands and ran away. I could not bring myself to leave the house for three days after that.”

Others offered a different perspective.

“When I was 15, I used to hide in the bushes near ponds and masturbate while girls changed their clothes,” a man called Nikolai admitted. “I also tried to get under womens’ skirts in crowded metro trains. I did not recognize it as a bad thing. I can no longer find those girls and ask their forgiveness, so I ask you. Please talk to your children [about this problem], help those in need.”

The flash mob has drawn widespread support from across the Russian Internet, with many hoping to start a larger discussion on the problem of sexual violence in society as a whole.

“This is an unprecedented and momentous event,” Maria Mokhova, a director at the Syostry, or Sisters, crisis center told the Moscow Times. “It is a big step forward for society as a whole to finally get rid of the taboo of talking about sexual abuse.

“I want to thank every one of these strong, beautiful women for their contribution. The flash mob turns all eyes on the problem that must be discussed. Society must support and protect its children and ensure their security.”

Katya Kermlin joined a kickstarter business to create a wearable panic button—formed in the shape of a ring—after she was attacked 16 years ago. She applauded the fact that more men and women were speaking out.

“This is stunning and goes beyond just statistics: every fifth woman … every third case of violence … 45 percent of people experienced harassment. Every time is the first time. Even if it happens several times in your life,” she said.

“Thousands of episodes of sexual abuse. Hundreds of flashbacks involving strangers, co-workers, boyfriends, relatives, family friends, bosses, tutors, doctors. And the mistrust, denial, understatement: you must have misinterpreted it, sweetie; he didn’t mean it; it was just a joke.”

“All this darkness turns out to be much closer than we believe,” said Russian artist Artyom Loskutov to the Afisha Daily website, one of many men sharing his shock with the hashtag. “I really did not expect that so many people I know—women and girls—have been victims of violence and harassment, many from a very young age. It is hard to imagine how anyone can live in silence with this kind of trauma.”

Not all reactions to the flash mob have been positive, and the flash mob continues to attract a backlash on social media and from some commentators.

Talking to the state-owned Vechernyaya Moskva newspaper, psychologist Olga Makhovskaya claimed that the flash mob was caused by desire for “cheap popularity and attention.”

“In this case, they [the flash mob’s participants] need psychologist’s assistance,” Makhovskaya said.

Sociologist Natalya Zorkaya from the Levada Center pollster said that Russian legislation’s vague definition of abuse left men “unable to see the line where their actions start to violate the law.”

“Victims of abuse should speak up and share with others to help them finally leave behind the fear they live with,” Zorkaya said.

UPDATE. Anastasiya Melnychenko, “In Russia and Ukraine, women are still being blamed for being raped, The Guardian, July 12, 2016

Russia vs. Russia: Political Art and Censorship

Victoria Lomasko
April 14, 2015
Facebook

During the last discussion at the Russland vs. Russland. Kulturkonflikte forum, the event’s title finally paid off.

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.

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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

lomasko-courtVictoria 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.

From censorship…

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.

…to self-censorship

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.

Monumental propaganda

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.

0,,18377432_401,00Victoria Lomasko

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.

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IMG_5964“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

__________

Lost status

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.

fashizm_colourThis 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!”