What Matters in Russia

The Facebook post appealing for help in finding missing Bashkir activist Ilham Yanberdin

Environmental activist disappears, his belongings found in forest belt 
OVD Info
October 17, 2021

His associates have been looking for Bashkir grassroots activist Ilham Yanberdin (Ilham Vakhtovik) for a week. They published an appeal on social media, stating that Yanberdin’s relatives had not been able to contact him since October 11.

Idel.Realii reported that, on October 17, passersby found Yanberdin’s phone and personal belongings in the forest belt of the Ufa neighborhood of Inors, near the place where the activist lived. The missing person’s case has been transferred to the criminal investigation department.

The day before the disappearance, Yanberdin told his colleagues he planned to attend a protest in defense of the monument to Salavat Yulaev in Ufa on October 11, at which about ten people were detained. He never showed up for the rally.

Ilham Yanberdin is known in Bashkortostan for his active role in opposition protests. Among these were rallies in defense of the Kushtau shihan and actions by Alexei Navalny’s supporters. He was prosecuted for the protests that took place in January 2021.

In Ufa, the Interior Ministry sought to collect more than two million rubles from Yanberdin, Lilia Chanysheva and Olga Komleva for the “work” of its police officers during the January 2021 protest rallies. A similar decision was made by a court in Omsk. Daniil Chebykin and Nikita Konstantinov were judged to have been the organizers of the January 23 and 31 protests there and ordered to pay the Interior Ministry more than one and a half million rubles.

In June 2021, Yanberdin was detained at a people’s assembly held after the environmental activist Ildar Yumagulov was attacked and beaten by persons unknown on April 18 in Baymak. Yanberdin was later released from court. The case file was sent back to the police for verification due to violations in writing up the arrest sheet.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The monument to Salavat Yulaev in Ufa. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

9 Moscow Restaurants Awarded Coveted Michelin Stars
Andrea Palasciano (AFP)
Moscow Times
October 15, 2021

French gastronomic bible the Michelin Guide awarded nine Moscow restaurants with its coveted stars on Thursday, unveiling its first lineup of recommended eateries in Russia’s up-and-coming food scene.

Long derided as a gastronomic wasteland, Russia’s restaurant scene has emerged in recent years from a post-Soviet reputation for blandness, with establishments in Moscow regularly making lists of some of the world’s best.

Representatives of the Michelin guide — considered the international standard of restaurant rankings — released the first Moscow edition of their iconic red book at a ceremony at Moscow.

Sixty-nine restaurants were recommended in all.

Two restaurants — Twins Garden run by twin brothers Ivan and Sergei Berezutskiy, and chef Artem Estafev’s Artest — were given two stars.

Seven restaurants were given one star, including White Rabbit, whose chef Vladimir Mukhin featured in an episode of the Netflix documentary series “Chef’s Table.”

None were given three stars — the Holy Grail of the restaurant world.

‘Difficult time’
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said at the ceremony that the release of the guide was an important event at a tough time for the restaurant industry.

“It’s big moral support in this time of pandemic, when restaurants are having a particularly difficult time,” he said.

Sobyanin said it also showed Russia had rediscovered a food tradition that had suffered under the Soviet Union.

“Unfortunately during the Soviet period these traditions were lost,” he said.

“I am proud that Moscow’s restaurants have become a calling card for our fantastic city.”

Michelin’s international director Gwendal Poullennec told a press conference that the guide had used an international team of inspectors for its list and there was “no compromise in our methodology.”

Speaking to AFP earlier, he said Russia’s food scene had been “reinventing” itself since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.

“There is an evolution of the Russian culinary scene. It is more and more dynamic,” Poullennec said.

He said he was surprised by “the quality and abundance of produce” in Moscow restaurants, highlighting in particular the seafood, such as crab and caviar, that are “exclusive” elsewhere but in Russia are available at a “reasonable price.”

Russia became the 35th country to have a Michelin guide and Moscow is the first city of the former Soviet Union to be awarded stars.

The selection of restaurants will appear in print and also be available via an app in 25 languages, including Russian.

Crab, smetana and borscht
Michelin in December said that chefs in Moscow had set themselves apart by highlighting Russian ingredients, including king crab from the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok and smetana, the sour cream used in preparing beef stroganoff.

Moscow restaurants have increasingly turned to local ingredients after Western sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 resulted in a scarcity of many European foods.

A number of restaurants that relied on meat, cheese and fish imported from the West were forced to close, while those that strived to source their ingredients from Russian regions became more competitive.

In explaining why it chose Moscow, the guide last year pointed to the “unique flavors” of the “nation’s emblematic first courses such as borscht.”

Another leading French restaurant guide, Gault et Millau, launched its first Russian edition in 2017. In 2019, Gault & Millau was sold to Russian investors.

Twins Garden and White Rabbit have previously featured on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

Michelin also recently expanded to Beijing, Slovenia and California.

Russia Sets New ‘Anti-Records’ for Covid But ‘Somehow This isn’t Agitating Anyone’
Window on Eurasia (Paul Goble)
October 18, 2021

Staunton, Oct. 12 – Russian officials continued to report unprecedentedly high numbers of infections (28,190) and deaths (973) over the last 24 hours, with other statistics equally devastating including a surge of new cases over the last week by 16 percent for Russia as a whole and more than 30 percent in 11 regions.

Twenty-six regions have imposed QR requirements for entrance to public places, and 605 Russian schools have gone completely over to distance instruction. Many more have done so in part. More than 90 percent of Russia’s covid beds are full and 6,000 patients are on ventilators.

And the pandemic is hitting members of the Russian elite, not only in the regions but in Moscow, where 11 Duma deputies are now hospitalized with coronavirus infections, even though 70 percent of the members of the lower house of the legislature have received their shots.

But despite all this and the fact that it is being widely reported, a Rosbalt commentator says, “everything in Russia is calm: people are digging their graves without particular noise … and one has the impression that somehow this isn’t affecting anyone.”

Meanwhile, in other pandemic-related developments in Russia today,

N.B. In the original article, the links were inserted in parentheses in the body of the text. I have embedded them for ease of reading. TRR

Flattening the Curve: Why Official Russian Covid Stats Can’t Be Trusted

Covid isn’t scary anymore: how the authorities stopped reckoning with the coronavirus when it suited them
Tatiana Torocheshnikova
TV Rain
October 15, 2021

The Russian authorities are often criticized for ignoring the pandemic to the good of the political conjuncture. It was with an eye to politics, and not to the numbers for illnesses and deaths caused by covid-19, according to critics, that decisions were made to hold a referendum on amending the Constitution and lift covid restrictions in the run-up to the referendum last year. The same criticism was leveled against the Crimea annexation anniversary concert in March of this year at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, and the Euro 2020 matches and the Crimson Sails event held in Petersburg. How justified is this criticism? To answer this question, TV Rain studied the covid-19 task force’s official data on coronavirus infections and deaths, as well as Rosstat’s data on mortality from the spring of 2020 to the autumn of this year.

“A number of large shopping centers have already received a warning this week. And work on monitoring compliance with the mask mandate will be intensified and implemented even more vigorously,” Alexei Nemeryuk, head of the Moscow department of trade and services, said on Monday, September 27, a week after the elections to the State Duma. A week later, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin noted that the spread of the coronavirus caused “serious concern,” while the head of the consumer and public health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor said that the situation was “extremely tense.”

By this time, the decline in the number of new covid-19 cases, which had continued since late July, had stopped and an uptickd had begun. A similar surge in morbidity was observed in mid-June, when the more contagious delta variant began to sweep Russia. The two other waves of covid-19 epidemic occurred in the spring and autumn/winter of 2020.

How the authorities first reckoned with covid waves, then stopped
If we superimpose the most important events for the authorities in 2020 — the 75th Victory Day Parade and the vote on the Constitution — on the curve tracking incidence of the coronavirus, we can see that both events were held after the first wave of covid-19 had subsided. As this graph bears out, there was no increase in infections after these events either.

The situation was different this year. Only some of the Kremlin’s high-profile events took place in favorable epidemiological circumstances. The concert in Luzhniki, attended by Vladimir Putin, was held at a time when the increase in new cases of covid-19 was at the lowest level for this year. The same can be said about the 2021 Victory Day parade.

A new coronavirus wave kicked off in mid-June, but this did not prevent the authorities from holding UEFA Euro 2020 group stage matches, which ended on the crest of the wave of infections, in Petersburg. It would be difficult to call favorable the numbers of new infections during Petersburg’s Crimson Sails celebration for school-leavers. The cancellation of QR codes in Moscow in late July is also difficult to explain in terms of positive morbidity figures.

Coronavirus infections in Russia between March 2020 and September 2021. Key public events (and cancelled events) during this period are identified and marked in red, including the 2020 Victory Day parade in Moscow, the constitutional referendum in July 2020, the Crimson Sails celebration in Petersburg in June 2021, and parliamentary elections in September 2021. Courtesy of TV Rain

Can we trust official data on numbers of infections?
During the pandemic, demographers and epidemiologists have repeatedly drawn attention to the peculiar numbers issued by the covid-19 task force. “I always start the conversation like this: forget that there is a task force. It is pointless to discuss that today, for some reason, there were exactly one thousand fewer or more cases recorded than yesterday. Why? Because. Because the gladiolus. Because that’s the figure they thought up yesterday,” says independent demographer Alexei Raksha, one of the principal critics of the official figures. Back in July 2020, after the vote on amending the Constitution, he noted an unusual drop in the number of infections. “In late June [2020], we were told that there had been a certain decline in even symptomatic cases, and then the numbers went up again after July 1,” Raksha said.

The 2003 KVN skit by the Ural Dumplings that gave birth to the “Because the gladiolus” meme.

In his opinion, internet searches are the most accurate indicator of covid-19’s spread. “The incidence curve lags way behind. I use only Yandex searches — for example, searches for ‘sense of smell’ reflect the trends better than others,” he explains.

Trends for coronavirus-related searches on Yandex between March 2020 and September 2021. The searches tracked during this period included the following terms: “antibodies,” “second wave,” “call an ambulance,” “home food delivery,” “how to avoid infection,” “buy antiseptic,” “buy mask and respirator,” “coronavirus treatment,” “loss of smell,” “oxygen saturation monitor,” “get tested,”  “coronavirus symptoms,” “what to do at home,” and “what to do if ambulance doesn’t come.” Source: Yandex/TV Rain

Experts have named several possible factors for distortions in the official statistics. “First, the counting is done differently in different regions, and the epidemic moves across the country from month to month. And second, even within a particular region, the local covid-19 task force sometimes starts to do a better job of counting over time — maybe they import more tests, or they start cheating less,” says Dmitry Kobak, a data researcher from the University of Tübingen in Germany. According to him, it is also possible that the covid-19 task forces in some regions report “retroactively” — that is, for example, they issue the stats for July deaths in August.

“No one knows what deaths, exactly, are reported by the task force,” adds Sergey Timonin, a researcher at the International Laboratory for Population and Health at the Higher School of Economics. “I am not aware of regulatory documents that would explain this.”

Kobak draws attention to the fact that since the regions have started publishing statistics, so-called plateaus have regularly appeared in the data, that is, when the number of deaths has remained the same for several days, or even weeks. In September, similar “plateaus” — with the daily number of deaths hovering around 800 — appeared in the overall statistics for the country. “Previously, they showed up only within individual regions. This is interesting: it means that if the stats used to be fudged at the regional level and were added up afterwards, now, apparently, someone has been adjusting the figures after or while summing them up [for the whole country],” explains Kobak.

Verifying official mortality statistics
To get an objective picture of the coronavirus pandemic, experts use the excess mortality rate, which is the difference between real deaths and Rosstat’s forecast (that is, the number of deaths that we would expect if there were no pandemic), which, in turn, is calculated based on mortality data from previous years.

Calculations made by Alexei Raksha specially for TV Rain show that, by the end of 2020, there had been nearly 360 thousand excess deaths in Russia. At this time, the covid-19 task force’s death toll was about six times less — around 57 thousand deaths. By September 2021, excess mortality figures exceeded 675 thousand, but the covid-19 task force reported 180 thousand deaths for this same period. Since there have been no other major factors that could have had a strong impact on the life expectancy of Russians in the last two years, experts concede that it was the coronavirus that caused the serious increase in mortality in the country.

If the excess deaths graph is superimposed on the infections graph, as based on the task force’s data, we can see that they are roughly comparable. Raksha confirms this: the morbidity statistics for Russia as a whole “to some extent reflect reality when squinted at from three meters.” However, Raksha draws attention to the fact that excess mortality has been running chronologically ahead of the task force’s morbidity statistics. This may indicate that the latter are being heavily fudged, the demographer argues.

The trends for excess mortality (in dark blue, as reported by Rosstat), deaths caused by covid-19 (light blue) and covid-19 infections (pink), as reported by the Russian covid task force, between May 2020 and August 2021

The situation is different with the official data on mortality due to covid-19. When the covid-19 task force’s date is combined with Rosstat’s figures, the two curves radically diverge.

At the same time, the “hump” on the excess mortality graph in July 2020 stands out amid falling numbers of infections. Raksha believes that part of the increase in excess mortality that month was caused by the heatwave in the Urals. In his opinion, however, this factor could have added no more than five thousand deaths across the country. The rest of the difference, according to Raksha, is explained by the deliberate “flattening” of the task force’s official data.

Nevertheless, the covid-19 task force’s figures remain the only official data source available to Russians on a daily basis. And as follows from the graphs, above, this year the Russian authorities finally stopped using even these numbers as a guide when making decisions on holding large-scale events.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Just as I was finishing this post, Mark Teeter brought to my attention this article on the same subject (also featuring Alexei Raksha) in today’s edition of the Washington Post.

Metamorphosis

The incomparable Valery Dymshits writes:

Yesterday at dinner my son Senya said: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a foreign agent.”

“When Friday comes … identify foreign agents.” Meme courtesy of Andrei Pivovarov

Andrei Pivovarov
Facebook
October 8, 2021

⚡️The Justice Ministry has placed 9 more journalists and 3 companies on its  register of “foreign media agents,” including Bellingcat, which investigated Navalny’s poisoning, the founder of the Center for the Protection of Media Rights, a TV Rain journalist, and a BBC journalist.

The list now includes:
🔸Tatyana Voltskaya, Radio Svoboda
🔸Daniil Sotnikov, TV Rain
🔸Katerina Klepikovskaya, Sever.Realii
🔸Аndrei Zakharov, BBC
🔸Galina Arapova, director of the Center for the Protection of Media Rights
🔸Roman Perl, Current Time
🔸Elizaveta Surnacheva, Proekt
🔸Elena Solovieva, Sever.Realii
🔸Eugene Simonov, international coordinator of the Rivers Without Borders Coalition
🔹M.News World
🔹Bellingcat
🔹LLC “МЕМО”(the founding company of Caucasian Knot)

We were happy for the journalists at Novaya Gazeta, but we shouldn’t overdo it, is the message, apparently.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“Eternal summer.” 8 October 2015, Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader

Russia’s total excess death toll since the beginning of the pandemic until the end of August, the most recent available data, stands at 660,000 — one of the highest rates in the world both in absolute terms and on a per capita basis.

Bad Habits

I’m fortunate to be friends, acquaintances and colleagues with many, many Russians from the worlds of contemporary art, academia, literature and social activism (and, sometimes, all of them at once). That’s why I’ve been able to see, time and again over the last dreadful year and a half, the plain truth of the bad habits mentioned by New York Times reporter Anton Troianovski, in his dispatch from Moscow yesterday:

Russia’s most recent high-profile outbreaks involve the inner circle of President Vladimir V. Putin, who has been in isolation himself after several members of his staff tested positive. Many Russians, however, have developed a laissez-faire attitude toward the virus, questioning the need to be vaccinated and often wearing masks around their chins, if at all.

Just yesterday, in fact, I was looking at photos of an art exhibition opening in Siberia, posted on Facebook by a real-life acquaintance (and featuring a wonderful cultural historian and curator I’ve know since 1995). The opening looks like a super-spreader event to me, and it looks exactly like most other such events chronicled by many of my Russian friends during the pandemic.

Thanks to VN for these photos. I’m sure my reading of them is not the takeaway he intended, but having lost two Russian friends and several acquaintances to covid, I feel genuinely distressed about Russian society’s “laissez-faire attitude” to public health and the well-being of their fellow citizens. But since I lived in Russia for half of my adult life, its wanton cruelty and suicidal tendencies are all too familiar to me. ||| TRR

Kacia Karpickaja: A Month in a Minsk Jail

Kacia Karpickaja, courtesy of her Facebook page

Yulya Tsimafeyeva
Facebook
September 18, 2021

Belarusian actress and journalist Kacia Karpickaja spent a month in the detention center in Akrescina street. She has been recently released. Here is her story of how innocent women (about the “crimes” of her cellmates you can read in the end of the posting) are tortured just in these very minutes. I translated her story into English. If you want to share it, please, copy the English text as you could share only the Belarusian variant.

“I am breaking a month of my forced silence that I have spent at Akrescina (pre-trial detention center) with this funny photo. For the sake of additional security, this fact was not reported anywhere.

Why I was taken to the pre-trial detention center is a story for another Facebook post, and in this, I would just like to remind you that along with our political prisoners, people at Akrescina are still being tortured. 30 days there in today’s conditions was enough for me to come out with a bunch of new diseases — from pharyngotracheitis to cystitis and COVID (by the way, it was the vaccination that helped me to overcome the latter quite easily compared to my cellmates). And people spend there up to 60 days or more, depending on how many detention reports the officials would make up for them.

They are in insanitary conditions — they are never taken to the shower and are not even given toothbrushes. Sometimes you have to beg for centimeters of toilet paper.

They are not taken for walks for months (the air could only penetrate to our cell №15 from the corridor through the “feeding trough”, but all the time it was intentionally closed).

They stay there without mattresses (mouldy bread served us as a pillow, it would still be possible to sleep on the bare floor or a bunk bed, but the nights had been wildly cold for a long time – even hugging each other and holding a bottle of hot water between the legs we could not stop trembling. Our nights were full of exercises – squats, push-ups, planking – they helped us to warm up and fall asleep).

They have no dreams (at 2 and 4 am we were waken up to the roll call; there is no need to remind about a bright artificial lighting that is on day and night).

They are not given parcels from relatives (many women were taken from work or their dachas in skirts, dresses, and at night they had to lay on the cold floor until one of those who were to be released soon, took off her sweatshirts or pants or socks and passed to them. The toothbrush I inherited had been used by five people before me <…>).

They are half hungry (I had to pay more than 400 rubles (about 150 euros) for a month of detention, and for the money I had received an empty soup a liquid with a couple of potatoes and potato peels, mouldy bread and half a cup of tea or thin jelly two times a day. How these portions can refresh our men, I can’t imagine).

They are there without adequate medical care (in the cell №15 meant for two at most 20 women were kept – in the cold and stuffy air they all quickly began to get sick. All of them were attacked by coronavirus, which, like other diseases, was treated with paracetamol. Without any ability to move around the cell 3 by 4 meters in area, with poor nutrition all abruptly stopped going to the toilet. Sorry for these details, but in 30 days I was able to poo only three times).

They are kept there like guinea pigs. It even feels creepy to tell you how grown-up women and men, the detention center employees, are thrilled to watch in the peepholes and cameras how we cope with a new experiment invented by them. First, they put lice-ridden Alla Ilinishna and Marinka to our cell and waited that we should start being hysterical. But we found common ground with them, and a few days later, it were the guards who were “hysterical” and had to take so-called marginals from our cell to “roast”, because the situation was close to the epidemic of pediculosis. The staff was very worried about the state of their uniforms — they had to to toss our cell two times a day and fan us out, and it was so easy to catch at least a few insects.

Then another Marina was housed with us — she had intestinal disorders, she was all in shit, and in ulcers that flowed with blood, in the fungus. And she had a severe withdrawal syndrome. The detention-center staff were watching and expecting us to fail. But we just started washing Marinka over the hole in the floor and begged the nurse to give us antiseptic green dye to treat her wounds. We were forbidden to sit and sleep, we were insulted, but we didn’t stop joking and our laughter was heard from the cameras – all this was very annoying to the detention center staff.

I have some more things to remind, but I will describe all the tortures and crimes against Belarusians in detail in complaints to the authorities (although they will later say that these facts have not been confirmed, Azaronka (a notorious propagandist on the state TV) liked Akrescina). But for now, let me just briefly remind you what for so called delinquents in Belarus are tortured:

– For going out in a red dress with a white cape.
– For coming to support Maria Kalesnikava’s dad in the court (they wrote in the report “I wanted to release Maria Kalesnikava”).
– For bringing a flower to the place of Taraikouski’s murder.
– For messaging a news article from “extremist” telegram channels to her husband.
– For filming a demonstration in Lošitsa (district of Minsk).
– For telling a soldier “We will win”.
– For reading books by Belarusian writers on the train.
– For being not wanted by the new authorities of the Academy of Public Administration under the Aegis of the President of the Republic of Belarus.
– For chatting with Lebiadziny (district of Minsk) neighbors.
– For returning from France, where she married a Frenchman.
– For working in “Korpus” (an independent cultural venue), and when GUBAZIK came there, she “disobeyed” them (in fact, of course not).
– For being an IT-specialist who can know cyberpartisans.”

Kacia Karpickaja
Facebook
September 18, 2021

Гэтым вясёлым фота перарываю свой вымушаны месяц маўчання, які правяла на Акрэсціна. У мэтах дадатковай бяспекі факт гэты спецыяльна асабліва нідзе не афішаваўся.

Як я трапіла ў ЦІП – гісторыя на асобны пост, а ў гэтым я проста хацела б нагадаць, што разам з палітзняволенымі па крыміналцы нашых працягваюць катаваць на Акрэсціна. 30 сутак там у сённяшніх умовах мне хапіла, каб выйсці з букетам новых хвароб – ад фарынгатрахеіту да цыстыту і кароны (дарэчы, менавіта прышчэпка дапамагла перанесці апошняе досыць лёгка ў параўнанні з маімі сукамерніцамі). А людзі сядзяць там па 60 сутак і больш, у залежнасці ад таго, колькі пратаколаў ім захочуць накінуць.

Сядзяць у антысанітарыі – іх ніколі не водзяць у душ і не выдаюць нават шчотак з асаблівых рэчаў. Туалетную паперу часам прыходзілася выбіваць па сантыметры.

Сядзяць месяцамі без шпацыроў (паветра ў камеру №15 магло паступаць да нас толькі з калідора праз “кармушку”, але яе спецыяльна ўвесь час зачынялі).

Сядзяць без матрацаў (падушкай нам служыў спляснелы хлеб, а на голай падлозе ці шконцы спаць было б яшчэ магчыма, але ночы даўно дзіка халодныя – нават абдымаючы адна адну і заціскаючы паміж ног бутэльку з гарачай вадой мы не маглі супакоіць дрыжыкі. Ночы ператвараліся ў цыкл фізічных практыкаванняў – прысядаць, паадціскацца, пастаяць у планцы – неяк пагрэцца і заснуць).

Сядзяць без сноў (у два і чатыры ночы нас падымалі на пераклічкі; пра тое, што там суткамі гарыць яркае штучнае асвятленне, і нагадваць не трэба).

Сядзяць без перадач (многіх жанчын забіралі з працы ці лецішч у спадніцах, сукенках, і яны так і ляжалі начамі на халоднай падлозе, пакуль нехта з тых, хто выходзіў на волю, не здымаў з сябе байку ці трусы-шкарпэткі. Шчоткай, якая ў спадчыну дасталася мне, карысталася яшчэ чалавек пяць да гэтага, здаецца. А ў майцы хадзіла сама маці “Хлопотного дельца”).

Сядзяць на палову галодныя (за месяц харчавання я мусіла заплаціць больш 400 рублёў (каля 150 еўра), і за гэтыя грошы на абед атрымлівала пусты суп – вадкасць з парай бульбін і лупінай ад яе, спляснелы хлеб і два кубкі гарбаты ці кісель, якія запаўнялі толькі палову кубка. Як мясцовых порцый хапае нашым хлопцам, я не ўяўляю).

Сядзяць без адэкватнай медыцынскай дапамогі (у пікавы момант у двухмеснай камеры №15 утрымлівалася 20 жанчын – у холадзе і духаце ўсе хутка пачыналі хварэць. Усіх атакоўваў каранавірус, які, як і іншыя хваробы, лечыцца там з большага парацатамолам. Без магчымасці рухацца ў хаце 3 на 4 метры, з дрэнным харчаваннем усе рэзка пераставалі хадзіць у туалет. Ужо прабачце за падрабязнасці, але за 30 сутак я змагла зрабіць гэта толькі тры разы).

Сядзяць як паддоследныя. Мне нават неяк не па сабе расказваць, як дарослыя цёткі і дзядзькі з ЦІП кайфуюць, назіраючы ў вочкі і камеры за тым, як мы будзем змагацца з новым прыдуманым выпрабаваннем. Спачатку да вас падсяляюць Аллу Ільінішну і Марынку з вошамі, чакаючы, што ў вас пачнецца істэрыка. Але мы знаходзім з імі агульную мову, і праз некалькі дзён “істэрыка” здараецца ў дзяжурных, якія ўсё ж вядуць так званых маргіналаў з нашых камер на “пражарку”, бо сітуацыя блізкая да эпідэміі педыкулёзу. Супрацоўнікі вельмі перажываюць за стан сваёй формы – яны вымушаныя два разы на суткі праводзіць шмон у нашых камерах і прашчупваць нас, а так лёгка падчапіць як мінімум адзежных насякомых.

Пасля да вас падсяляюць новую Марыну – у яе расстройства кішэчніка, яна ўся ў гаўне, а яшчэ ў язвах, якія сцякаюць крывёю, у грыбку. А яшчэ ў яе жорсткі абстынентны сіндром. Супрацоўнікі ЦІП назіраюць і чакаюць, што мы сарвемся.

Але мы проста бяром і пачынам мыць Марынку над дзіркай у падлозе і выбіваем у медсупрацоўніка зялёнку, каб апрацаваць яе раны. Нам забраняюць сядзець і спаць, абражаюць, але мы працягваем жартаваць і з камер чуецца смех – усё гэта вельмі раздражняе супрацоўнікаў ЦІП.

Мне ёсць яшчэ што згадаць, але больш падрабязна я апішу ўсе катаванні і прамыя злачынствы ў дачыненні да беларусаў у скаргах у дзяржустановы (хоць яны пасля і скажуць, што дадзеныя факты не пацвердзіліся, Азаронку ж у нас падабалася). Але пакуль проста коратка нагадаю, за што ў Беларусі так здекуюцца з людзей у статусе правапарушальнікаў:

-Была на вуліцы ў чырвонай сукенцы з белай накідкай.
-Прыйшла падтрымаць тату Марыі Калеснікавай на суд (у пратаколе напісалі “хацела вызваліць Марыю Калеснікаву”).
-Прынесла кветку да месца забойства Тарайкоўскага.
-Пераслала мужу ў асабістыя навіны з “экстрэмісцкіх” тэлеграм-каналаў.
-Зняла на відэа дваравы марш у Лошыцы.
-Сказала вайскоўцу “Наша возьме”.
-Чытала ў электрычцы кніжкі беларускіх пісьменнікаў.
-Была непажаданай новаму кіраўніцтву Акадэміі кіравання.
-Перапісвалася ў чаце Лебядзінага з суседзямі.
-Вярнулася з Францыі, дзе выйшла замуж за француза.
-Працавала ў “Корпусе”, а калі туды прыехаў ГУБАЗІК, “аказала” ім непадпарадкаванне (насамрэч, вядома, не).
-Айцішніца, якая можа ведаць кіберпартызанаў.

The Fix Is In (Social Distancing)

More evidence that #TheFixIsIn in the 2021 Russian elections, this time from Novaya Gazeta via election observers from A Just Russia party: “The head of the Central Elections Commission, Ella Pamfilova, said that the three-day voting is necessary so that voters can observe social distancing. These are photos of Polling Station No. 343, in Petersburg’s Vyborg district, in the middle of a working day.”

 

The Grass Is Always Greener on Our Side of the Fence

“What do we need Europe for? We have Petersburg. And it’s a lot better.” Source: St. Petersburg Photo Diary (public Facebook page)

Russia records highest covid-19 mortality rate for third day in a row
Radio Svoboda
August 14, 2021

For the third day in a row, Russia has recorded the highest number of deaths from the novel coronavirus infection since the beginning of the pandemic. On Saturday, August 14, the authorities reported 819 deaths, according to the federal crisis management center.

A year ago, the Russian authorities declared victory over the pandemic, but due to the low level of vaccination and the spread of new strains, the number of reported infections has increased four times, and the death toll has increased six times compared to the previous summer.

On August 14, 22,144 new cases of infection by the novel coronavirus were recorded in Russia. 19,550 people recovered. The official death toll for the entire pandemic has reached almost 170,000.

Using data from Rosstat, the Russian federal statistics agency, independent demographers and statistical researchers have estimated that the real number of deaths from the pandemic is three and a half times higher,  in excess of 600,000.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Boris Koshelokhov, 1942-2021

Boris Koshelokhov in his studio at Pushkinskaya 10 in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of boriskoshelokhov.com

A Titan Among Artists: Boris Koshelokhov Has Died
Kira Dolinina
Kommersant
July 12, 2021

The artist Boris (Bob) Koshelokhov has died at Petersburg’s Mariinsky Hospital aged eighty. Despite the thousands of canvases he has produced since 1975, Koshelokhov will be mourned first of all as a charismatic leader of the Leningrad underground. His mere presence in the artistic landscape enabled others to feel that they were situated within a great tradition whose principal value was the freedom to live as you wished.

The news that Bob Koshelokhov had passed away was expected (relatives and friends had discussed and written about his serious illness on social networks), but it was no less stunning, simply because Bob could not pass away: his personal relationship with time and space had long ago settled into an unlimited flow of being. Neither the numbers of birthdays, nor figures of work produced, nor the status of a Petersburg art old-timer stuck to him. Bob could not be called a “veteran” or a “mighty old man”: nothing about him ever changed.

The man in the photos from the 1970s looked like the same man whom you would encounter until quite recently at exhibition openings and in the courtyards of the Pushkinskaya 10 Art Center: long hair, beard, leather vest, black clothes, booming voice, darting gaze. Koshelokhov had become a guru less than a year after he started doing art himself, yet no one ever tried to push him off this pedestal.

His biography seems to have been specially written to fit the canon. He was orphan who ran away from orphanages with enviable regularity until the seventh grade. He was half-educated man who worked as a heating plant stoker, then as a carpenter, then as a trucker. He married an Italian woman and briefly emigrated, but then returned from this “golden cage” to an “iron cage” (his own iron cage). He lived in communal apartments and squats, and achieved cult status. In the early 1970s, he came to Leningrad from his Southern Urals hometown of Zlatoust to study medicine. He lasted two years: his programmatic study of the history of philosophy (Kierkegaard, Jaspers, Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre and Camus) resulted in his being expelled for his fascination with “bourgeois” ideas. Devoutly believing in existentialism, spending all day long in second-hand bookstores and the legendary “Saigon” cafe, where he received the nickname the Philosopher, he arranged his life exactly in keeping with the precepts in the books he read: “Your freedom was born before you.”

His freedom was born on November 2, 1975, the day when his friend the artist Valery (Clover) Kleverov told Bob that he too was an artist. Koshelokhov himself later kidded that it was just a joke, a way to somehow repay Bob for the fact that he had turned his 27-meter-square room in a communal flat into a gallery selling paintings for a whole year. Joke or no joke, Bob took the idea to heart: an artist is someone who sees. Given a strong desire, anyone can become an artist. (Similar ideas espoused by Joseph Beuys were unknown in Russia at the time.)

Even paint was not needed: Koshelokhov’s first works were concocted from objects found in garbage dumps.

But when Koshelokhov got his hands on paint, it was clear that he really was an artist — an artist who was powerful, considerable and critically important to entire Petersburg culture.

Boris Koshelokhov, Happy New Year!, 2007. Oil on canvas, 120×190 cm. Image courtesy of boriskoshelokhov.com

Koshelokhov’s first exhibited work was “made of shit and sticks” in the true sense of the phrase. For an exhibition in memory of the deceased Leningrad abstract artist Yevgeny Rukhin, a show that had not been sanctioned by the authorities, Bob produced a “collage” consisting of a tabletop to which he had attached a hospital bedpan, a child’s potty, a coin and a brass exclamation mark. While all the other participants of the show were nabbed by the valiant police as they approached the venue, the Peter and Paul Fortress, Koshelokhov calmly made his way to the site, thus signifying that the exhibition had taken place.

Koshelokhov’s painting was made of the same stuff — he composed everything on the go. His expressionism was homegrown and self-made, unlike international expressionism and even dissimilar to what the baroquely passionate artists of the Arefiev Circle had done a little earlier on the other side of town. A spontaneous artist, Koshelokhov mixed everything with everything else, painting on carpets, plywood, upholstery from old sofas, and abandoned propaganda banners. He employed impossible combinations of colors (since they were all his personal discoveries, because even the fact that you get green when you mix blue and yellow was something he discovered for himself). And he painted, painted, and painted.

Although, in fact, he himself preferred to say that “the work should be like a boil: it pops up, comes to a head, then suddenly opens up, as if it bumped against a corner, so that the blood flows with might and main.”

Actually, only Koshelokhov himself could live up to this prescription. But he tried to teach others: the group Chronicle (Letopis), which he founded in 1977, is now famous primarily for the fact that Timur Novikov made his start there. And yet in terms of their painterly method, their devilishly rich rhythm of work (critiques were held every week; if you didn’t bring a new picture to them, you were told to take a walk), and rabid omnivorousness, Koshelokhov’s team fostered its own version of neo-expressionism at exactly the same time as the Europeans were developing theirs.

Koshelokhov’s painted oeuvre is all about philosophical categories, to the point of cosmism. And what matters is not its “complexity”  (on the contrary, the images are simple and executed backhandedly), but its quantity. Koshelokhov did not do dozens of anything: his series number hundreds, and sometimes thousands of works. His latest project, Two Highways, was produced over thirty years and consisted of three or four thousand canvases [sic] and tens of thousands of sketches, pastels and drawings. That was how he thought — in terms of numbers with many zeros after them.

One of his last solo shows was entitled 70,000 Years of Boris Koshelokhov. It was occasioned by [his seventieth birthday], but no one was interested in the numbers in his passport.

Boris Koshelokhov at an exhibition of his works. Photo courtesy of boriskoshelokhov.com

Vadim Ovchinnikov, one of the so-called New Artists who listened to him attentively, explained Koshelokhov’s place in art best of all: “We advise critics who doubt Koshelokhov’s significance to pay attention to the neon ‘Titan’ sign on the corner of the house on Nevsky and Liteiny where the artist lives.” Only a pandemic was capable of overpowering such a titan. There will be a hole in the stratosphere without him. But everyone who knew Koshelokhov is certain that he has just flown through that hole to the place where his thoughts have always dwelled.

Translated by Thomas Campbell

____________________

Two Highways (Nick Teplov & Alexander Markov, 2008). Courtesy of boriskoshelokhov.com

2097 (Vadim Ovchinnikov, Boris Kazakov, Georgy Baranov, Tatiana Ledneva, 1996). Courtesy of boriskoshelokhov.com

The Creative Path of Boris Koshelokhov (Yevgeny Kondratiev, 1984). Courtesy of boriskoshelokhov.com

____________________

Boris Koshelokhov’s Two Highways

It seems to me that every person is an artist. It’s just that some people know this, and others don’t.

— Boris Koshelokhov

Alain Badiou argues that social progress is propelled by “events”—great insights, discoveries, and revolutions in art, science, politics, and love. Although he often uses language that is evangelical to evoke the lived relationship to these events (it is no accident that one of his prototypical heroes is Saint Paul), Badiou is rather more prosaic, even purposely “mathematical,” when he describes how events come about. In a situation whose elements remain as many and self-identical as they were before the event, the poet, scientist, revolutionary or lover sees something other (more) than what the canon, scientific dogma, public opinion, and common sense tell him that he should see. After this event, the world remains the same and is changed forever. The exact proportion of sameness and difference is determined by how those who live in the wake of the event construe its afterlife. For Badiou, what matters are whether we remain faithful to the event or not, and what forms our faith (or faithlessness) takes. In fact, this is what the event is: the sense or nonsense we make of it; the way it changes how we act even when its whole significance escapes us; the social reaction and personal deadening that set in when we deny or forget the truth the event revealed to us. The event has no other meaning.

For Petersburg artist Boris “Bob” Koshelokhov (born 1942), the event was this: in 1975, his friend the painter Valery “Clover” Kleverov told Bob that he, too, was an artist. Nowadays, Koshelokhov suspects that a sense of guilt made Clover pronounce these fateful words. Koshelokhov had been helping Clover and his family improve their cramped living conditions and (later) emigrate by selling Clover’s works—on zero commission—from a makeshift gallery that doubled as Koshelokhov’s room in a communal flat. Besides not making any money off these transactions, Koshelokhov also drew the ire of his neighbors, who sent denunciations to the authorities. Wanting, apparently, to compensate his friend’s risky, selfless efforts on his behalf, Clover pronounced Koshelokhov an artist. Koshelokhov believed him.

What followed is art history—in more ways than one. Within a year of declaring himself for the truth accidentally revealed by Clover and after the latter man’s departure for America, Koshelokhov had gathered around him his own haphazard group of disciples, Chronicle. The group’s name is linked to Koshelokhov’s understanding of the artist’s task: “The artist is a chronicler; he has to record everything.” The dozen-some young artists in Chronicle—which included latter-day Petersburg art superstars Timur Novikov and Elena Figurina—gathered weekly in each other’s homes to discuss their new paintings. If they showed up for the weekly session without a freshly painted work, “Master” Koshelokhov showed them the door (even when it was the door of their own apartment).

The group provided a way for Koshelokhov to spread the gospel of art he’d been vouchsafed by Clover. It also created a refuge for Koshelokhov and his pupils from a late-Soviet art world where neither the right wing (the state-sponsored Union of Artists) nor the left wing (the so-called unofficial artists and their alternative quasi-unions) had much time for the purely artistic and personal truths Koshelokhov & Co. wanted to pursue with paint on canvas.

More important, Chronicle gave Koshelokhov the means to realize his notion of art as philosophical/existentialist practice. State Russian Museum curator Ekaterina Andreeva argues that Koshelokhov finds in painting an external outlet for the endless work of inquiry going on in his head and heart. Koshelokhov sees the artwork as the (potential) site of a dialogue between maker and looker, an intermediary in their otherwise lonely search for the meaning of self, world, and being. The result, according to Andreeva, is an “altered space” that forever changes how Koshelokhov’s interlocutors think and behave after they have entered it.

Koshelokhov’s dialogical view of art echoes within his biography. By his own account, he has spent his whole life in dialogue with others—whether the medical school classmates with whom he studied existentialist philosophy in the sixties (they were all expelled for this seditious act), the artists of Chronicle, the habitus of the famous “Saigon” cafe (where Koshelokhov earned the moniker “Philosopher”), or the inmates in the smoking room of the nearby Russian National Library (the equally famous “Publichka”). Through the books of philosophy that Koshelokhov found in this last haunt and elsewhere he has extended his dialogue with others into remoter times and kingdoms. This dialogue is re-enacted in his artistic practice, which can be imagined as an active interrogation of the artists and schools with whom Koshelokhov shares aesthetic ground: the Fauves, The Blue Rider, Dadaism and surrealism, Paul Klee, CoBrA, the Transavantguardia, the Neue Wilde, Figuration Libre.

Koshelokhov’s work likewise evokes international and Slavic traditions of outsider and naive art. In keeping with these traditions and Mikhail Larionov’s notion of everythingism (vsechestvo), and joyously bowing to straitened material circumstances, Koshelokhov has often turned the least promising debris of daily life into the stuff of art: discarded sofa frames, Styrofoam packing, bedpans, and other treasures rescued from garbage dumps. In this connection, his disciple Timur Novikov once remarked that if you come across a Koshelokhov painting from the seventies on a good canvas and high-quality frame, it’s almost surely a forgery.

Koshelokhov’s work also makes an especially clear appeal to the immediacy of children’s art. By his own admission, his five-year-old son Ilya has become his severest critic and “teacher.”

The context most germane for an understanding of Koshelokhov’s work, however, is the post-war Leningrad/Petersburg neo-fauvist/neo-expressionist school, in which Koshelokhov can be seen as the lynch pin between the immediate post-WWII generation (the circle of Alexander Arefiev) and the young bucks who created a grassroots artistic perestroika during the eighties and early nineties (Novikov, Oleg Kotelnikov, Ivan Sotnikov, Vadim Ovchinnikov, Vladislav Gutsevich and their fellow New Artists). For these younger Petersburg neo-expressionists and other local contemporaries, Koshelokhov has served as a peculiar model of steadfastness in the midst of faction and fashion. It is a testament to his significance in Petersburg’s “second” culture that his life has become the stuff of legends.

Finally and most vitally, Koshelokhov’s artistic practice is a dialogue with biological evolution and universal history. He rehearses the evolving variety and perennial sameness of animal and human life, and re-maps the migration of these life forms through geography and history. In his own words, his work and life is a cognitive and pictorial ontogenesis that repeats the phylogenesis of art history and human culture.

Paradoxically and appropriately for an artist so interested in dialogue, Koshelokhov’s path has been a remarkably lonely one. In a Russian artistic culture that favors collective identities, he has taken pains to emphasize his independence and distaste for “crowds” and “scenes” (the tusovki that prominent Russian curator Viktor Misiano identifies as the dominant form of post-Soviet artistic and cultural life). This sense of independence was his birthright: an orphan, he spent his childhood passing through and running away from a series of orphanages in the Urals. The wanderings of his youth and middle life took him to places as far-flung as Odessa and Leningrad, and jobs as unromantic as ship’s electrician and armed security guard. Most remarkably, just as his influence within Leningrad’s underground art scene was solidifying, he gave it all up and left for Italy with a young Italian aristocrat-communist. Just as surprisingly, he returned to the Soviet Union several months later, having found life in his new “golden cage” no more conducive to his pursuit of the truth revealed by the event of 1975 than life behind the bad-old Iron Curtain.

Whatever the peripeteias of Koshelokhov’s life, then, they all answer to another of the dictums he often repeats (following Sartre): “First my freedom was born, then I was born.” Koshelokhov teaches us that human life is a work of art that takes shape as its makers—we ourselves—haltingly grope backwards and forwards toward this originary insight.

Since the dawn of another great and little-understood political event, perestroika, Koshelokhov has become bolder and more single-minded in his faithfulness to the event that changed his life in the mid-seventies. This boldness has manifested itself in an increasing turn to scale and number. Ekaterina Andreeva points out that many of the great artists of the modern and postmodern periods (she cites Picasso, Warhol, and Ilya Kabakov) have also employed rapid, serialized mass production as a means of unburdening themselves of their genius. Koshelokhov had always been productive and profligate, even in the midst of harrowingly inhospitable working conditions. (His “studios” have included the machine room of an elevator and waterlogged cellars lit by a single bulb.) Many of the hundreds of paintings, sculptures, and assemblages (the so-called concepts) of his early period disappeared into the mists of oblivion and the landfills of suburban Leningrad almost as quickly as they appeared.

In the late eighties and early nineties, Koshelokhov carried out two projects that even more clearly signaled his desire to “world the world” by turning it into art: Puppets of Peace March Around the World (1989, oil on canvas, 23 meters x 6 meters) and Heilige Sunder (1992, oil on canvas, 120 meters x 3 meters). Fortunately, these gigantic pieces weren’t consigned to the rubbish bin of history. They are now in private collections in France and Moscow.

In 1992, Koshelokhov began work on his magnum opus, Two Highways, which Andreeva cites as one of the most significant art works of contemporary art. The first two stages of the project—1,200 black-and-white sketches and 6,000 (40 cm x 30 cm) pastels (five variations on each of the original sketches)—were completed in 2002. The third and final stage—a 5,000 square meter mural incorporating the findings of the previous two stages—so far exists only in the imaginations of Koshelokhov and the friends he has infected with his sober, tender, and naive re-visioning of life. He says that he is ready to produce the work anywhere in the world, given a wall that is big enough, a team of helpers, and a minimal amount of funding.

As Koshelokhov explains it, the two highways in his project’s title (in English in the original) are the earthly path and the heavenly path. “I travel in a vehicle over the earth’s surface. My peripheral vision picks out quintessential human images and artifacts from the Stone Age to modern times. My journey takes me from Europe to Africa, across the Atlantic and America to Alaska. From there I go to Japan, Asia, the islands of Oceania, and around Australia. Finally, I cross Antarctica and complete my journey in South America.” Andreeva suggests that the prototype of this imaginary trek is a solo road trip from Trieste to Palermo that Koshelokhov made in his Italian wife’s Citroen in 1978. It also has to be mentioned that for some time in the late eighties and early nineties he worked as a gypsy cab driver in Petersburg. He ferried people and things around the city at all hours of the day and night in a used Mercedes-Benz until the mafia forced him into an early retirement.

Mikhail Trofimenkov has written of Two Highways that it gives us a glimpse of how God sees the earth as He flies above it. For his part, Koshelokhov claims that, like the opposite side of a Moebius strip, the earthly path repeats (in extension) the forms and ideas that lie hidden in the empyrean. His mission is to re-awaken the viewer to the possibility of participating in the world’s co-creation by uniting thought and feeling, theory and practice, sensus et ratio (to borrow the artist’s beloved coinage). Everywhere—even in the less prepossessing quarters of Leningrad/Petersburg (Koshelokhov’s real muse)—we are reminded (by colors, shapes, faces, bodies, buildings) of the miracle of being’s unfolding. Ekaterina Andreeva argues that it was this impulse—to see the whole world and to see it all at once—that launched the postmodernist/transavantgarde project. In this sense, she speculates, it was no accident that Koshelokhov found himself in Italy just as the movement was jelling. (There, he exhibited in a special program at the Venice Biennale, “New Soviet Art: An Unofficial View.”)

Preached by Mikhail Larionov and Joseph Beuys, and then taken up by Koshelokhov and Novikov’s New Artists, the now-unfashionable avant-garde notion that everyone is an artist and everything can be turned into art (which we must distinguish from the directive to turn everything and everyone into commodity and consumer) is nothing other than the ethical imperative to remain faithful to the insight that visited Koshelokhov in the mid-seventies: that the mission of art is to reunite vision and thought, self and world. In Koshelokhov’s case, “insight” has to be understood literally. Two Highways is a journey that the artist has been making without leaving his current studio at Pushkinskaya-10. Like all genuine avant-garde projects, though, this journey won’t be complete until the human world (or, at least, one 5000 square meter corner of it) is physically and spiritually transformed. // Thomas Campbell 

Sources
· Ekaterina Andreeva. “Khudozhnik,” Novyi mir iskusstva 6 (1999): 3–5.
· Ekaterina Andreeva. Postmodernizm. Iskusstvo vtoroi poloviny XX—nachala XXI veka [Postmodernism. Art of the Late 20th and Early 21st Centuries]. Saint Petersburg: Azbuka-Klassika, 2007.
· Ekaterina Andreeva. Videotaped interview, January 2007, Saint Petersburg.
· Alain Badiou. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. Trans. Peter Hallward. London and New York: Verso, 2001.
· Thomas Campbell and Nick Teplov. Unpublished tape-recorded interview with Boris Koshelokhov, October 2006, Saint Petersburg.
· Boris Koshelokhov. Zhivopis. Exhibition catalogue. Text by Ekaterina Andreeva. Saint Petersburg: Na Obvodnom Gallery, 2002.
· Nick Teplov, editor. Bob Koshelokhov. Two Highways. Saint Petersburg, 2003.
· Mikhail Trofimenkov. “Bob pravdu vidit,” Kommersant 14 August 2002.

Source: boriskoshelokhov.com