Contemporary Art Killed My Dog

On a number of issues and events you have opposed Putin’s policies, and now you are at the Moscow Biennale [of Contemporary Art] at the VDNKh, a venue where the order of things is supposed to be questioned [sic]. Do you believe that here, in the current political situation, there can be a place for real criticism that is both anti-Putinist and anti-capitalist?

Yanis Varoufakis, anti-anti-Putinist
Yanis Varoufakis, anti-anti-Putinist

[Yanis Varoufakis:] Absolutely. But let me clarify something. I am not an anti-Putinist.  Anti-Putinism is too strong a word. I am very critical of Putin, but his demonization in the West is something I also resist. We should be smarter and think about what it means to be critical. I am extremely critical of what Putin did in Chechnya, and I have not forgiven him for it. But on the other hand, Putin was absolutely right about what happened in Georgia, and the West was absolutely wrong. I think that the West’s position on Crimea has also been inconsistent. Russia was surrounded [sic] by NATO when Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and other countries were included in the alliance. And for Russia it was an insult, as well as something close to violating the agreement between Reagan and Gorbachev [sic]. And Putin has been right about this, too. So I have never supported the policy of demonizing Putin. And I am afraid that Russians will have to suffer the awful consequences of this process, consequences which they do not deserve.

So I believe that spaces like this give us hope for the existence of another, rational, critical approach that does not take one side or the other and allows people from the West and Russia to get together and develop a more sophisticated optics for seeing the world and politics, for being critical without demonizing.

—Excerpted from Sergei Guskov, “Yanis Varoufakis: ‘Being critical without demonizing,’” Colta.Ru, October 2, 2015. Translated, from the Russian, by the Russian Reader

__________

There are only a few things I would add to Mr. Varoufakis’s remarks, above. First, he presumably made them in English, not Russian. Since he is an extremely persuasive speaker and conversationalist, it is quite possible some nuances in what he said at the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art were flattened or distorted when translated from English (?) into Russian, and these distortions have only been amplified further in my back translation.

But I doubt this is the case. The point of his remarks seems quite plain, so they are either a fabrication on the part of Colta.Ru or what Mr. Varoufakis more or less said in the event, minus the “static” of two consecutive translations.

If this is what he said, then Mr. Varoufakis is only another in a long line of Western leftist thinkers and activists who, seemingly, have found something “anti-hegemonic” or “anti-imperialist” or “productively” anti-American or, God forbid, “anti-capitalist” about Putin’s policies and actions, or have found it possible to hobnob with or shill for Putinists, on the Putinist dime, in the name of some kind of “criticality” or “third position” above the current fray, or just because they were bored and wanted an all-expenses-paid junket to Moscow or Petersburg or Rhodes.

A smarter person than me (and an actual Russian leftist activist to boot) has pointed out that Putin is nothing remotely like an anti-imperialist or anti-capitalist. On the contrary, my smart friend has argued, folks in the west should make an effort to find out about grassroots social and political activism and activists in today’s Russia and look for ways to make common cause with them. Or, at least, not stab them in the back by supporting Putin explicitly or implicitly.

Because Russia, like “the West,” is not a monolith. And that is the second way in which Mr. Varoufakis went wrong in his remarks in Moscow. “The West” is not a single entity, even among its political, intellectual, and media elites. It is not an organism singularly hellbent on “demonizing” Putin, whatever that means. It requires no effort at all to compile a very long league table of Putin’s wholehearted or partial supporters in “the West,” from Stephen Cohen to Donald Trump, from Silvio Berlusconi to Mary Dejevsky, from Nick Griffin to any number of leftist and centrist politicians in Europe. For reasons I haven’t been able to explain, that table has been growing fatter as Putin’s actions have become more aggressive and “demonic,” both at home and abroad.

Neither is Russian society nor the fabled (and utterly imaginary) “Russian people” monolithic, but over the past fifteen years the Russian state apparatus, the Russian mainstream media (especially television), and Russian mainstream political parties have become a monolith, one of whose primary goals, especially in the last two or three years, has been to demonize “the West” and the domestic opposition any way it can, no holds barred.

You would have to have been in the middle of this properly demonic media hysteria, moral panic, and “cold civil war” to appreciate just how thoroughgoing and thoroughly frightening it has been, and since I have been following Mr. Varoufakis’s own adventures over the past year or so, I can imagine he simply has no clue about what has really been happening in Russia since the blocks came off completely post Maidan, because he was very busy with more important matters.

One job this blog has taken on has been to provide little snapshots of that awfulness while also, more importantly, giving non-Russian speakers a chance to hear Russian voices other than Putin’s, however unimpressive or inaudible they might seem to big shots like Putin and Mr. Varoufakis.

Finally, I would like to address the question of why Mr. Varoufakis imagines, apparently, that big hoedowns like the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art are such perfect places for elaborating a “sophisticated optics for seeing the world and politics, for being critical without demonizing.”

Just a year ago, my hometown of Petrograd hosted Manifesta 10, another such prominent venue for “criticality.” In the midst of an occupation and invasion of a neighboring country by the host country, the host country and host city’s continuing legal demonization of LGBT, and a local election campaign, for the city’s governorship and district councils, that involved making sure the non-elected incumbent in the gubernatorial race would face no real opposition in his bid to legitimize his satrapy and, on election day, threatening independent election observers with murder, the Manifestashi did absolutely nothing that would really ruffle anyone’s feathers, least of all their sponsors from city hall and the State Hermitage Museum, and they barely reacted to the maelstrom of neo-imperialist hysteria and officially authorized criminality raging around them. Basically, they partied like it was 1999, while providing their fellow citizens with the welcome illusion that the shipwreck wrought by fifteen years of Putinism in politics, the economy, civil society, culture, education, medicine, science, industry and, most painfully, people’s minds could be conjured away or endured and understood a little better by taking a sip of contemporary art’s renowned and heady “criticality” and pretending Petersburg was Helsinki or Barcelona, if only for a summer.

10497395_10152669630307289_178016388250142251_o

What has got better on Russia’s broken social, political, and art scenes since last autumn to make it even more desirable to engage in “criticality” at a biennale in one of Russia’s capitals, this time with the Russian Federal Ministry of Culture footing the bill?

Latterly, a cynical lunatic named Dmitry Enteo has smashed up a bunch of sculptures by the late Soviet sculptor Vadim Sidur and gotten off almost scot-free for his crimes. On the other hand, the list of political prisoners in Russia has continued to grow, and it now includes Crimean activists Oleg Sentsov and Alexander Kolchenko, sentenced to hard time in prison for no particular reason.

And then there is Alexei Gaskarov, who, if he lived in a more democratic country, would be running a party like Syriza or Podemos (minus the “criticality” and verbal cuddling up to other people’s dictators), but instead looks to be facing another two and half years in a penal colony, again, for no particular reason other than his own staunch opposition to Putin’s regime.

In the current dreadful “conjuncture,” a good day is a day that goes by without news of yet another anti-Putinist activist being arrested, an art exhibition’s being trashed by “Orthodox activists” or otherwise shut down because it might offend the sensibilities of someone’s grandmother, or a new law’s speeding down the State Duma assembly line so as to tighten up the screws on dissent and “treason” yet again.

In fact, I had a bit of such good news earlier today, when I learned that Andrei Marchenko, a Khabarovsk blogger whose case I have been following, was only fined 100,000 rubles (approx. 1,350 euros) instead of being sent down for two years to a work-release prison, as the prosecutor had demanded, for the horrible crime of writing one untoward sentence about Putin’s Ukrainian misadventure on his Facebook page in 2014.

Where does Mr. Varoufakis fit into this picture? Probably nowhere, which is probably where he should have stayed instead of playing to Moscow’s art and hipster crowd, always happy to let itself off the hook when it comes to taking responsibility for the ongoing disaster, and to the invisible figure up in the emperor’s box, especially at an opera with the almost deliberately ham-fisted and parodical title of Acting in a Center in a City in the Heart of the Island of Eurasia.

Thanks to Comrade AW for the heads-up. Images courtesy of BBC News and the Manifesta Biennial Facebook page

It Was God’s Will

Dmitry Enteo
August 28, 2014
vk.com

We invite everyone to a unique lecture and roundtable discussion on the relationship of God and the President of the Russian Federation on Sunday, September 7, [2014], at 5 p.m.

You will find out whether our President Vladimir Putin will become a god by grace, i..e, whether he will have all the same as the Creator of the Universe except for communion in His incomprehensible essence? Will Vladimir Putin’s mind take endless pleasure in the perfect knowledge granted him by God? Will he think the great thoughts of the Mind who created the Universe? Will his feelings be filled with infinite joy in God-seeing, and his love increase infinitely over the power of the Holy Spirit? Will Vladimir Vladimirovich’s will be united with God’s will and achieve firmness in goodness? Will Russia’s national leader endlessly come to know infinitely perfect God, penetrating into the depths of the Godhead? Is Vladimir Putin a god by nature or can he become one only by grace? Can we worship Vladimir Vladimirovich as a god on earth? What is the secret of the personal relationship between Vladimir Putin and the Transcendent Creator of worlds? Does Vladimir Putin teach us truly about God? You will learn the answers to these and many other questions by attending our lecture, which will be led by Dmitry Enteo, founder of the God’s Will grassroots movement and an expert in the field of metaphysical Putinism. After the conversation there will be a roundtable discussion on the topic of Vladimir Putin’s role in strengthening the Russian Federation’s spiritual bonds in which everyone will be able to voice their opinions. After the event, everyone can take a picture with the lecturer and get souvenirs.

Free entry for the first 300 people. Photography and videotaping permitted.

Venue: International Fund for Slavic Literature and Culture, Chernigov Lane, 9/13, Building 2, Second floor, Moscow; Tretyakovskaya subway station

Everyone who is interested is welcome! Tel.: +7 (985) 174 6937

vYtGtrvxh_E

_________

Russian Orthodox Activists Who Vandalized Manezh Face Criminal Charges
Anna Dolgov
September 15, 2015
The Moscow Times

Investigators have opened a criminal case against a group of radical Orthodox activists who attacked Moscow’s Manezh exhibition center last month.

The suspected attackers from the ultraconservative group “God’s Will” could face criminal prosecution for the “destruction or damage of cultural property,” Interior Ministry spokesman Andrei Galiakberov was cited as saying Monday by state-run RIA Novosti news agency. The charge carries punishments ranging from a large fine to three years in prison.

The leader of “God’s Will,” Dmitry “Enteo” Tsorionov, said on his VKontakte social network page Monday that his group is now under criminal investigation.

Two of the attackers had previously been sentenced to 1,000 ruble ($14) fines on a “petty hooliganism” charge in connection with the raid, and other members of the group were to go to trial on the same charge.

Tsorionov said at the time that the verdict was too harsh and that the group planned to appeal, accusing the organizers of the exhibition of committing a crime by insulting religious feelings and inciting hatred, Interfax reported earlier.

The leader said Monday on his VKontakte page that the appeal had been turned down.

During the attack on the Manezh exhibition center on Aug. 14, Orthodox activists damaged four works by the highly acclaimed late sculptor Vadim Sidur and a work by the artist Megasoma Mars titled “Beheading of St. John the Baptist,” according to a Manezh spokeswoman.

The Interior Ministry spokesman on Monday cited “independent experts” as estimating the total damage of the vandalism attack at around 196,000 rubles ($2,895), RIA Novosti reported.

Earlier, art experts from the state-run Grabar Research and Restoration Center estimated the cost of restoring the damaged artworks at more than 1 million rubles, according to Manezh spokeswoman Yelena Karneyeva, state-run TASS news agency reported.

The Manezh will seek compensation for the full amount of damages based on the Grabar center estimate, Karneyeva told the Interfax news agency Monday.

Lecture announcement translated by The Russian Reader. The featured image was part of the original announcement on VKontakte. Thanks to Comrade NT for the heads-up. The Russian Reader previously reported on Enteo’s September 2014 lecture on Putin’s possible divinity in a post entitled “This Is Your Brain on Russia.”

Eduard Gladkov: “What Sidur Feared Has Happened”

Eduard Gladkov
August 15, 2015
Facebook

So what Sidur feared has happened twenty-nine years after his death. Russian Orthodox vandals have come and desecrated his art. I met Sidur in 1964, and our friendship and collaboration continued until his death. His sculptures were usually made from clay and were fragile. If you remember the conditions in which writers and artists lived then—Khrushchev’s visit to the thirtieth anniversary exhibition of the Moscow Branch of the Union of Artists, the government’s meetings with the creative intelligentsia, the persecution of Pasternak, and so on—it is no wonder that Sidur feared they would come to his studio and destroy everything. So he gradually began to recast the sculptures in more durable material, metal. He had no access to the sculpture plant, and no money for the job, either, so he only managed to have dealings with random casters, and afterwards he would work long and hard to correct the deficiencies of the castings. His primary assistant in this work was his wife, Julia Nelskaya, a high school French teacher. A God-given educator, children doted on her. But she was forced to quit her job at the school and focus all her efforts on helping her husband. Vadim had been seriously wounded in the war, then he had a heart attack at the age of thirty-seven. I saw how hard it was for him physically.

eduard gladkov-vadim sidur & yulia nelskayaJulia Nelskaya and Vadim Sidur

All of us, his friends, tried to be useful to him for the sake of his magnificent art. The authorities did not think much of him: they gave him no commissions, expelled him from the Party, and deprived him of the opportunity to make money doing book illustrations. But they did not kick him out of his studio, and they did not touch his pieces. Sidur did not have a single solo show in the Soviet Union. It has only been in our time that a museum has been created and a major show of his work has been staged at the Manege, along with that of other worthy artists.

Sidur was sent to the front when he was nineteen years old. He was on the front lines for eleven months as commander of a machine-gun platoon before he was nearly mortally wounded. This wound tormented him for the rest of his life: he suffered several heart attacks and died from it in the prime of his life. But he produced five hundred sculptures and thousands of drawings. And now a sated, well-groomed lad from the God’s [Will] group, which I had never heard of, showed up and set about destroying [Sidur’s works].

eduard gladkov-manege expo viewExhibition view of The Sculptures We Do Not See, Moscow Manege, August 14, 2015

I won’t go into the ideology. This is just bullying and should not be ignored. I am certain that the Manege will succeed in defending its rights, and the guilty will be punished. But there is also such a thing as emotional distress. Not only have the feelings of believers been offended (if that is what they think) but also the feelings of non-believers, among whom I count myself. The feelings of all Sidur’s friends, both in our country and the world, have been offended. The feelings of the exhibition’s visitors were offended, and their day was ruined. Let us think about what our reaction to all this should be from a legal point of view. We live in a secular state, and our right to a dignified life in our homeland should certainly be no less than that of “Russian Orthodox activists.”

Eduard Gladkov is a well-known photographer and co-founder (with Yuri Rybchinksy) of The Museum of Photographic Collections.

Photos by Eduard Gladkov. Translated by The Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade DR for the heads-up.

This Is Your Brain on Russia

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
“I had always thought better of you.” Graffiti on Vasilyevsky Island, Petersburg, July 24, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

More people need to listen to Peter Pomerantsev:

The new Russia doesn’t just deal in the petty disinformation, forgeries, lies, leaks, and cyber-sabotage usually associated with information warfare. It reinvents reality, creating mass hallucinations that then translate into political action. Take Novorossiya, the name Vladimir Putin has given to the huge wedge of southeastern Ukraine he might, or might not, consider annexing. The term is plucked from tsarist history, when it represented a different geographical space. Nobody who lives in that part of the world today ever thought of themselves as living in Novorossiya and bearing allegiance to it—at least until several months ago. Now, Novorossiya is being imagined into being: Russian media are showing maps of its ‘geography,’ while Kremlin-backed politicians are writing its ‘history’ into school textbooks. There’s a flag and even a news agency (in English and Russian). There are several Twitterfeeds. It’s like something out of a Borges story—except for the very real casualties of the war conducted in its name.

[…]

“If previous authoritarian regimes were three parts violence and one part propaganda,” argues Igor Yakovenko, a professor of journalism at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, “this one is virtually all propaganda and relatively little violence. Putin only needs to make a few arrests—and then amplify the message through his total control of television.”

[…]

Ultimately, many people in Russia and around the world understand that Russian political parties are hollow and Russian news outlets are churning out fantasies. But insisting on the lie, the Kremlin intimidates others by showing that it is in control of defining ‘reality.’ This is why it’s so important for Moscow to do away with truth. If nothing is true, then anything is possible. We are left with the sense that we don’t know what Putin will do next—that he’s unpredictable and thus dangerous. We’re rendered stunned, spun, and flummoxed by the Kremlin’s weaponization of absurdity and unreality.

Peter Pomerantsev, “Russia and the Menace of Unreality: How Vladimir Putin is Revolutionizing Information Warfare,” The Atlantic, September 9, 2014

__________

Here is a tiny illustration of how reality really is up for grabs in the Kremlin’s increasingly hot “cold civil war” against Russian society and, now, the rest of the world:

As I stand in the courtyard of a Moscow arts and craft center, a dark-haired, 20-something woman turns to me and asks: “Is this the venue for the ‘Is Vladimir Putin God?’ lecture?”

She smiles nervously, seemingly worried that I’ll think she’s crazy.

She’s not. The title of the lecture is actually “Will Putin Become God by Divine Grace?” but I decide not to correct her. Instead, I nod and show her the way to one of the oddest events in the Russian capital this year.

The lecture took place on Sunday and was first advertised by well-known radical Russian Orthodox activist Dmitry Enteo on VK, the Russian version of Facebook. In the post, Enteo promised to reveal the answers to the following questions:

“Is it possible to bow down to Vladimir Putin as God on earth?

“Will Vladimir Putin’s will fuse with the will of God?”

“Will Vladimir Putin receive endless pleasure through the completeness of the knowledge gifted to him by God?”

Not surprisingly, the lecture stirred up controversy online, as some Internet users accused Enteo of blasphemy, while others suggested he’d lost his mind.

“Let’s get this straight, Dmitry,” one VK user wrote. “Do you believe Putin will sit at the right-hand side of God’s throne when he dies?”

“Possibly,” replied Enteo.

The lecture kicks off with a hip-hop track by an African rap duo now based in Russia. The title: “I Go Hard Like Vladimir Putin.” When the song ends, Enteo fiddles with his laptop until Putin’s face appears on the screen behind him.

The Orthodox activist then addresses the audience of roughly 80 or so Muscovites, an apparent mixture of curious hipsters and true believers. (There’s also a middle-aged man in a suit that a fellow journalist immediately suspects of being an agent of the FSB, Russia’s principal security agency.)

“I’ll keep it brief, in the style of the subject of today’s lecture,” Enteo says.

At times his voice is barely audible, but when he quotes Putin, he makes sure to speak louder.

The hipsters behind me erupt in ironic applause. Enteo presses a button on his laptop, and the photo of Putin is replaced by swirling psychedelic images and low-volume break-beats. He proceeds to read a poem by Vladislav Surkov, the mysterious Kremlin ideologue. The overall effect is an atmosphere reminiscent of a secret cult meeting held at a nightclub.

Enteo then takes us through the history of Putin’s apparent transformation from hard-nosed KGB officer to Orthodox Christian believer. “Putin realized that his goal in life was God, and the Almighty entered into the body of Vladimir Putin,” Enteo says. “Then Vladimir Putin began to do good deeds, like break up opposition meetings.”

At one point, the activist curiously declares: “We disappoint Vladimir Putin. While he tearfully prays for us at night, we smoke hashish.”

The lecture lasts about an hour, before Enteo builds on a final riff in which he determines that, yes, Putin will transform into a godlike being, and like all good Orthodox believers, eventually grow a beard.

After a brief Q&A, the crowd files out. “That was creepy,” says one attendee.

Others seem puzzled by the whole affair.

“It’s a response, in many ways an ironic one, to Putin’s de facto domination of everything from the economy to the media,” says Anna Arutunyan, author of The Putin Mystique, who attended the lecture.

“Most of it, of course, is just Enteo publicizing himself, but some of it is also taking what we see around us to its grotesque logical conclusion.”

Russians have a long history of venerating their leaders, from the reverence of the czars to the terrifying cult of personality that developed around Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. While Enteo didn’t directly say that Putin was God, he felt comfortable posing the question, which shows just how powerful the Russian president has become.

Not everyone, of course, sees the hand of God in Putin’s politics. In Ukraine, where a Kremlin-backed separatist movement is slowly tearing the ex-Soviet state apart, the country’s spiritual leader, Patriarch Filaret, recently suggested the Russian leader was possessed by the devil.

“Like Judas, Satan has entered into him,” Filaret declared, as he accused Putin of turning the two Slavic countries against each other. “Like the first brother-killer, Cain, he has fallen under a demonic influence.”

Regardless of which side you take in the “Putin: God or Satan?” debate, it’s a remarkable development in the life of this former, low-ranking KGB operative. From serving the officially atheist Soviet state in Cold War-era East Germany to being compared to God and the devil, it’s been a long, strange road for Vladimir Putin. And it’s not over yet.

—Marc Bennet, “Do Some Russians Think Vladimir Putin Is God?” Vocativ, September 8, 2014

__________

Dmitry Enteo, a Russian Orthodox activist known for his controversial and sometimes violent public stunts, will hold a lecture and roundtable Sunday in Moscow about President Vladimir Putin and his connection to God.

“You will understand the secret of secrets, after which your life will never be the same. You will receive direct answers to questions that face Russia today,” reads an advertisement for the event posted on the VKontakte social networking website.

One of the questions due to be addressed in the lecture is whether Putin will become God “by grace.”

As of Tuesday evening, 1,429 people had signed up for the event, according to the website.

Enteo is head of the God’s Will movement, which has earned notoriety for its public campaigns targeting what it sees as blasphemy against the Russian Orthodox Church.

In November, Enteo and a female accomplice disrupted a performance of a contemporary play based on Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband” at the prestigious Chekhov Moscow Art Theater. In an outburst that many audience members believed was part of the performance, they shouted that the play “mocks our faith” and admonished the audience for not protesting.

Enteo’s group has also previously assaulted LGBT activists and Pussy Riot supporters. They have never been charged by law enforcement agencies.

—”Radical Russian Activist to Lecture on Whether Vladimir Putin Will Become God,” The Moscow Times, September 2, 2014

Queer Art Threat

Sodom Sabbath-3968

QueerFest, a Russian queer pride event, opened today [September 18, 2014] in St. Petersburg with a bang. Over 160 people made it, despite the last minute change of venues, attacks by provocateurs, and insults by the usual guest—Vitaly Milonov.

Yesterday, the organizers learned of planned actions to foil the event by infamous homophobic activists, some of them, such as Enteo and the crew, coming especially for the festival from Moscow.

The police and the Petersburg human rights ombudsman were alerted.

Today started with a call from the main venue, receiving threats. An hour and a half before the festival was scheduled to open, the owner of the building (the same building that hosts the Manifesta 10 biennale headquarters) informed us through his representative that our contract was annulled. The reason given was “compromised integrity of the arch over the entrance into the building, which may result in its collapse.” Needless to say, this public threat did not impede all other events in the building to proceed as planned.

Volunteers of the festival moved the exhibition and equipment to a new venue in under one hour.

The ceremony was a success. While QueerFest’s security barricaded the door from Vitaly Milonov and his friends, who proceeded to insult and push guests, representatives of human rights organizations and European and the US diplomatic missions in St. Petersburg spoke of the importance of respect for human rights and non-violence.

About twenty hooligans sprayed guests with a green substance and some sort of stinky gas. At one point, two foreign guests were being pulled into the venue by security while being pulled out by their feet by the perpetrators.

The police, who comported themselves professionally, took numerous statements from the victims, while the Petersburg ombudsman urged more people to document violations.

Unfortunately, the second venue also ceded to pressures, and most events are now homeless. But the organizers remain optimistic.

“We feel exhausted and exhilarated. Thanks to the work of 40 volunteers, partners, and random kindness by strangers and by passersby, our event was a success. People—their rights—but also their light and kindness, is what our festival is all about. And there are more of them around us every day. That is why we will prevail,” says Polina Andrianova, one of the festival organizers.

The organizers thank all partners, friends, volunteers, colleagues, and participants for today’s support.

source: QueerFest

The press release above has been edited slightly for republication on this blog. Photo by Sergey Chernov. Reprinted here with his kind permission.