Anna Tereshkina: At Viktor Filinkov’s Remand Extension Hearing

Anna Tereshkina
Facebook
March 21, 2018

I went to Viktor Filinkov’s court hearing, where his motion to have his remand in policy custody changed to house arrest was reviewed.

I arrived at the Dzerzhinsky District Courthouse by 10 a.m., already hungry although I had eaten breakfast. Outside the subway station, I bought a pasty and put it in my backpack.

It turned out there was no need to arrive fifteen minutes before the hearing was scheduled to begin, because they kept everyone stewing for over an hour before starting.

I was able to draw my girlfriends as they languished in the stuffy court building.

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Then a tall, skinny court bailiff herded everyone to the end of the hallway. Viktor was brought in, and everyone raised their arms and focused the cameras on their smartphones. There was a round of applause.

I was somehow expecting a huge ovation, but then it hit me, mournfully, that there were not very many of us, something like fifteen to twenty people, I think. Or is that a lot? Or was every other person monkeying with his or her camera?

We were not let into the courtroom immediately.

Everything seemed quite dicey, as if at any minute they might never let us out of there.

My hands were shaking, so my only drawing of Viktor did not come out very legible.

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Viktor himself looked liked a man who had not lost hope.

I noticed his shoes were tied with strange laces. Were they fashioned from plastic bags, as he had described, or did someone give him white laces for the hearing?

The judge’s voice was unexpectedly kind and polite, like the voice of a school guidance counselor.

We were kicked out of the courtroom, of course, while the court deliberated whether to hold the hearing in chambers or not.

After waiting for an hour, I took out my pasty, which had gone cold.

The lanky bailiff was tormented. He would try and drive everyone away from the passage to the courtroom, the walls, and the doors. But the people who had come to the hearing reacted to him as if he were an annoying fly. The only thing that interested them were the big wooden doors and what has happening on the other side of them.

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I sketched the bailiff, wondering whether he beat his wife and kids.

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Finally, he called another bailiff, who had bangs and wore ordinary jeans instead of the trousers issued with his uniform. He stood by the door more calmly.

Suddenly, a fresh breeze wafted through the hallway. It was workers carrying furniture. Two massive wooden benches, a wardrobe, and a whole suite of judge’s thrones adorned with crests. One of them had no seat at all, as if its makers had wanted to use it as a toilet at the dacha.

The bailiff with the bangs got distracted and stepped away from the door. One of the workers immediately dashed to our coveted Courtroom No. 9, stuck his nose in the door, and loudly asked, “Can we bring in the wardrobe?”

A clerk in a gray dress came out and said they should wait until the hearing was over.

Yes, the hearing had long been underway, but we had not even been called into the courtroom and told the court had decided to hold the hearing in chambers.

People grumbled and wrote complaints.

Nastya showed me a book, The Suffering Middle Ages, which had a chapter about how, from the twelth to fourteenth centuries, law books were lavishly illustrated with giant penises.

The tall, nervous bailiff returned and once more herded everyone to the end of the hallway.

Viktor was brought out by the guards. The applause and shouts of support were louder than the first time.

The court had again recessed for deliberation. The workers finished their unloading, and stuffiness again reigned in the hallway. Someone brought juice, biscuits, and bananas.

The bailiff with the bangs immediately popped up, saying it was forbidden to eat in the courthouse. He was probably the hungriest of us all.

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For five minutes or so, no one did, in fact, eat anything, but then we passed around the biscuits, divvied up the bananas, and poured the juice into cups. The bailiff didn not feel like reminding us again, apparently, and he said nothing.

Viktor’s defense attorney Vitaly Cherkasov came out and said we would have to wait for at least another hour. We had been sitting there for four hours as it was.

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Many people left the courthouse to have a smoke and eat lunch, so they could come back later.

I left altogether because my brain had completely melted.

I was home when I read that, at 3:46 p.m., the court had ruled Viktor be kept in police custody until June 22.

I felt a sharp pang of the suffocating absurdity that nearly everyone has accepted. But no, I hope they haven’t.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Ms. Tereshkin for her kind permission to reproduce her drawing and publish a translation of her text here. All images © Anna Tereshkina, 2018. If you have not heard about the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, you need to read the following articles and spread the word to friends, comrades, and journalists.

Victoria Lomasko: Russian Truckers Prepare for Nationwide Strike

Victoria Lomasko
Chronicle of a Troubled Time
The Khimki Truckers’ Camp Readies Itself for Nationwide Strike

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Truckers’ camp in Khimki

Sergei Vladimirov, a coordinator at the Khimki truckers’ camp: “In the early days, we pushed everybody away and were suspicious of each other. We didn’t know each other yet.”

Andrei Bazhutin, another coordinator at the camp: “In the early days, chaos prevailed, but now the guys are like soldiers. We have figured out what ‘newsworthy’ means and how to give interviews, but the demand on us has been such it is like we’ve been doing this for several years.”

Over the past two and a half months, the truckers have also learned to hold rallies, organize alliances, and produce visual propaganda.

Truckers have been coming from other cities to see the camp firsthand. Two truckers from Kursk were impressed.

“In Russia, people always look up to the big cities. We’re going to tell our people back home, ‘Boys, the whole country is rising!’”

“The days the big rigs stop running: February 20 to . . .”
“The days the big rigs stop running: February 20 to . . .”

Russian truckers will hold a nationwide strike from February 20 to March 1.

The protesting truckers are convinced that toll roads for trucks are just the tip of the iceberg. The new tariff will disrupt the cargo transportation system as it now exists, leaving it to the monopolists.

Nadya, Alexei, and Mikhail. Alexei: “Yesterday we leafleted the truck stops. Many truckers don’t know about the camp in Khimki.”
Nadya, Alexei, and Mikhail. Alexei: “Yesterday we leafleted the truck stops. Many truckers don’t know about the camp in Khimki.”

Many drivers have first heard about the truckers’ protest and the fact they could join it from the Khimki activists. They rarely use the Internet and don’t know any reliable news websites, while the protest has not covered by TV news channels.

Those who have not visited the camp believe the truckers’ protest will peter out. But how can it be expanded if the truckers are unable to appear on TV regularly? The truckers have given us an example of how not to be afraid of speaking out against lawless decisions by the authorities. Don’t they deserve our help publicizing their cause?

Activist: “We’ve been able to convince many truckers to join the strike. There is nothing to lose now: there is no point in breathing in a lungful of air before you die.” Poem on wall behind activists: “He gave a bone to Rotenberg, / And gave money to Plato: / Meaning he bent over like a doggie, / And spread his butt cheeks.”
Activist: “We’ve been able to convince many truckers to join the strike. There is nothing to lose now: there is no point in breathing in a lungful of air before you die.” Poem on wall behind activists: “He gave a bone to Rotenberg, / And gave money to Plato: / Meaning he bent over like a doggie, / And spread his butt cheeks.”

Activists from the Khimki camp have held meetings in many cities at which they shared their self-organizational know-how.

“In the regions, they want to see truckers from Khimki, because they trust us,” say the activists.

Money is needed for additional organizing trips. If you are able to support this important cause, you can find the details of the activists’ bank account here.

Nadezhda: “I have three kids at home. I spend a week at the camp and a week at home.”
Nadezhda: “I have three kids at home. I spend a week at the camp and a week at home.”

Nadezhda, who is from the Vologda Region, used to work as a manager in the housing management system, but left “because the whole business is dishonest.” She owns two trucks. She has been at the camp since day one.

“I’m grateful to Plato for helping me meet such a variety of people here,” says Nadezhda.

Rustam: “After the meeting of all Dagestan’s districts, where we elected our own representatives, the police made calls on all of them at home.”
Rustam: “After the meeting of all Dagestan’s districts, where we elected our own representatives, the police made calls on all of them at home.”

Rustam Mallamagomedov became the interim head of the Union of Dagestan Truckers. Truckers’ unions are now being formed in many Russian regions.

Sergei (Khasavyurt, Dagestan): “I did not come because life was a bed of roses. I realized things would only get worse. The police let my tiny truck through.”
Sergei (Khasavyurt, Dagestan): “I did not come because life was a bed of roses. I realized things would only get worse. The police let my tiny truck through.”

Sergei, a trucker from Dagestan, told me this story in late January. I met him again the other at the Khimki camp. He was cheerless.

“My boss is selling the truck tomorrow. It’s become unprofitable. The Internet is awash with ads for trucks for sale.”

Sergei doesn’t know how he’ll survive. The country is in the midst of an economic crisis and there are no jobs to be had.

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Visitors to the camp

The camp gets visitors every day. Some folks bring the activists hot food, while others bring them diesel for their trucks. Still other people give lectures and stage improvised concerts. Khimki residents invite the protesters to their houses to take showers and wash their clothes. The majority of those who come to meet the truckers later become regular visitors.

How do you feel about the truckers’ protest? It would be interesting to know your opinion. If you support them, then how do you show your support? If you don’t support them, then why not? What would have to change for you to support them? And what could inspire you to travel to the Khimki camp and meet the truckers?

Translated by the Russian Reader

Originally published in Russian at soglyadatay.livejournal.com

__________

See my earlier coverage of protests by Russian truckers against the new, draconian system of freight haulage tolls known as the Plato system.

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“Trucker, You’re Not Alone! Nationwide Strike, February 20-March 1, 2016.” Designed by Victoria Lomasko, the poster is a stylized map of Russia specifying the kinds of strike and protest actions planned by truckers in particular locales.

Victoria Lomasko: 18+

18+

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The subjects and viewers of my series 18+ often ask why a heterosexual female artist would draw lesbian couples. I have a few answers to that question, but the most truthful would be that what is so fascinating about lesbian clubs is not so much the distinctive sexuality there as the separate feminine environment in which the male’s role at the center of the female universe has been reduced to zero. The chance to depict the complex psychological connections between women is captivating. There are few works from this perspective in art. In public life, attraction between women is almost never manifested. By doing a number of drawings in semi-private lesbian clubs, I was looking for a new visual language. Lesbian couples have a different way of gesturing and moving than heterosexual couples.

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If I lived in another country, I probably would have limited myself to this search for a new plasticity. In Russia, though, the topic of LGBT is inextricably bound up with political and social issues. When I agreed to serve on the jury of the Side by Side Film LGBT Film Festival in 2013, I realized the extent to which the LGBT community was persecuted. It was only during the festival, however, that I found out there are different levels of secrecy within the community, in particular, that lesbians are more invisible and stigmatized than gays. Hence I deemed it important to quote the subjects of my series directly.

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“We socialize with other activists, who accept us wholly and don’t think of us as ‘poor things.’”

Simultaneously with sketching in the clubs, I have begun making portraits of lesbian families and couples, including direct quotations from them as well. The main questions I ask are what has changed for them after the law banning homosexual “propaganda”* passed and how society itself is involved in stigmatizing different social groups, including sexual minorities. 

* In 2013, Russia passed a law banning the “propaganda” or promotion of nontraditional sexual relations among minors. Any information, printed matter or cultural event involving LGBT topics must be labeled “18+.”

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18-6“When I was fifteen, my only source of information was an article about an ex-female convict, who had been arrested at the apartment of her female ‘cohabitant.’ The word was a sign to me that such relationships were possible.”

“As a young woman, I didn’t come out to my female friends. I thought being a lesbian was like being a monster. I was afraid I’d scare them off.”

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“At work, I turn my MP3 player on during lunch so I don’t have to join in the conversations.”

“When the talk at work turned to families, I always felt like I was sitting on a time bomb.”

“I avoid conversations like that. I say I don’t have the time or I go have a cigarette.”

“When I’m applying for a job, in the box marked ‘marital status’ I always write that I’m living with a woman. I want to know right away whether it’s a homophobic workplace or not.”

“The homely old domestic clucks took pity on me.”

“Is there a stigma? We wouldn’t know. We have a very narrow circle of friends made up only of those who get it.”

“Our circle of friends is made up of other lesbians and feminists.”

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“In Russia, the way the majority of people talks boils down to marginalizing others.”

“I think that being a heterosexual public feminist is even harder than being a closeted lesbian.”

“Men think lesbians are beautiful, long-haired young women who kiss each other.” 

“Butches, who model their behavior on guys, bust men’s balls less than cool, beautiful women whose sex appeal is meant for women. The realization they have no need for them bothers men a hundred times more.”

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“Until 2012, the lesbian scene was completely invisible. That was even cool in a way: girls would kiss on the street, and no one paid any mind. Now people are suspicious of everybody.”

“We don’t meet anyone in the clubs. We go there to hold hands openly.”

 “Since the homophobic law has been passed, I suspect that people on the street and in the subway are suspicious of me.”

“Before, you could be blasé, but now things are scary. We cannot believe we live in the same reality with these people. We are thinking about emigrating to Canada.”

“After the homophobic law was passed, people gave us dirty looks in the subway. But now there is a crisis, and no one could give a shit.”

“People are afraid the authorities will remove children from LGBT families. That is a really serious danger.”

“We are not going to flee Russia like rats.”

18-10

Victoria Lomasko
Translated by The Russian Reader

18+ will be exhibited as part of the project Pas de Deux during the Fumetto International Comics Festival in Lucerne, March 7–15, 2015. Ms. Lomasko will be giving a lecture at the festival on Tuesday, March 10, at 5:30 p.m. Check here for more details.

Victoria Lomasko: Socially Engaged Graphic Art in Russia

Victoria Lomasko on Socially Engaged Graphic Art
November 8, 2014
Openrussia.org

To get a more or less undistorted sense of reality in our country and transmit it to other people, you have to become a researcher yourself. Socially engaged artists have joined independent journalists, human rights activists, and sociologists in this field. I will try to briefly describe socially engaged graphic art and how it can help in shaping civil society.

It is easier to start the story by talking about my own experience. I would agree with what artist Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin said on this score: “If your work does not improve you, it is powerless to improve anyone else, and [art] has no other task than improving humanity.” For a long time I was hampered by the art scene’s insularity and especially by my own fear of venturing outside it. In 2008, I began making forays into other social milieux and drawing graphic reportages, illustrated documentary stories. I have produced stories about farm workers, village school teachers, migrants, Orthodox activists, the LGBT community, sex workers, and juvenile prison inmates, among others. I have seen that these other milieux are no less isolated from each other, generating mutual contempt, fear, and hatred.

lomasko-soc-1 From the series Black Portraits, 2010. (Left panel) Stoneworker Sergei, who used to be a militant atheist, is now an Orthodox activist: “The West wants to destroy the bold and beautiful Russian people.” (Right panel) Viktor Mizin, a political science lecturer at MGIMO, was born at the Grauerman maternity hospital in central Moscow: “Russians are shit, but I’m a seventh-generation member of the intelligentsia.”

I drew these two portraits on the same day. I meet the Orthodox activist at a prayer meeting against a proposed new redevelopment plan for Moscow, and the “member of the intelligentsia” in a bar on Bolshaya Nikitskaya. The diptych—an illustration of our extreme anomie and mutual disrespect—сame together on its own.

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Teacher: “Is ‘Moscow’ a person’s name or a place name?” First-grader Sasha: “It’s a street.”

The drawing, above, is from the graphic reportage A Village School, which takes place in a village near Tula. When I expressed my surprise that the children did not know what the capital of Russia was, I was told that Moscow was a big dump inhabited by freaks.

The situation is aggravated by the official media, which produce repulsive, clichéd images of many social groups. I was thus afraid to go a juvenile prison for the first time, expecting to see young degenerates there. In reality, black and white were intertwined, and I found it impossible to judge other people’s actions.


From the project Drawing Lessons in a Juvenile Prison, 2010—2014. (Left panel) Oleg: “There are swastikas encrypted in Raphael’s drawings.” Oleg draws a lot. He has his own views of Renaissance masterpieces. (Right panel)  Oleg is a skinhead. It all started when, aged eight, he witnessed the murder of a friend: teenagers from the Caucasus killed him to get hold of his telephone. At fourteen, Oleg organized a “fight club,” in which he was the youngest member. The fighters “staged flash mobs at Caucasian markets.” Oleg said that in his small provincial town, the population was divided into skinheads, people from the Caucasus, and suckers. He was convicted of a gang killing. He expected to be rewarded for his patriotism, not punished. Oleg had kept up his spirits at the penitentiary: he had been studying foreign languages, philosophy, and economics. He dreams of becoming a politician: “Yanukovych’s priors hadn’t stopped him from becoming president.” In the autumn, he was transferred to an adult prison.

Before meeting sex workers, the image of them I had in my head—of brazen, heavily made-up prostitutes—had also been shaped by the media. But in real life they were tired women in casual clothes. Many were single mothers who had gone into prostitution to feed their children.

lomasko-girls-6From The “Girls” of Nizhny Novgorod, 2013. “Some clients ask us to piss on them, but I’d be happy to shit on them on behalf of all women.”

When I had just started making graphic reportages, it was considered something marginal in Russia. The situation has changed in recent years: there have been more and more graphic art non-fiction stories on social topics. Here are a few examples.

lomasko-soc-5Tatyana Faskhutdinova, Unknown Stories from the Life of Lyonya Rodin, 2012. (Left panel) People often take me for an extraterrestrial. One winter, the firewood ran out and there was no fuel for the stove. My friend and I decided to rent a flat. The landlady had a fit when she saw me. Lyona: “How much is the flat?” Landlady: “Ahhh! And he talks, too!” (Right panel) In our town, no one has any use for people like me. Disabled people have no way to get around normally. Tram driver: “Hurry up and get on!”

“Lyonya Rodin is my friend. He has been disabled since birth. […] It was not so much the absurd, maddening situations that happen to him now and then, situations caused by people’s indifference and society’s unwillingness and reluctance to accept people with disabilities, that I wanted to recount, but rather his ability to make friends, to dream, to make plans and carry them out, his passion for what he does, his utter lack of bitterness at life, and his inner calm and pride, despite the harshness and even cruelty of his circumstances.”

lomasko-soc-6Yana Smetanina, The Inhabitants of Psychiatric Hospital N0. 5 in Khotkovo, 2013. TANKA KHIMKI. Tanka is 53. She endlessly mumbles to herself and unexpectedly pops up everywhere at any time asking for a smoke. When she cusses, you can make out what she’s saying. She gestures like a woman who spent ten years in prison. TOO-ROO-TOO-TOO-ROOM. But she got her education at Moscow State University. She was brutally raped for the first time when she was 7. She was raped again as an adult.

“As a child I was really afraid of ‘crazy’ people. […] When, almost three decades later, I came to meet the inhabitants of Psychiatric Hospital No. 5 in Khotkovo, you can imagine my surprise when I realized that nearly all these women had been rape victims and that was why they had lost either their minds or their strength and their will to live. […]  They had been victims of rape, including incest, early in life, assaults on the street, and beatings by their own husbands.”

lomasko-soc-7Ilmira Bolotyan (illustrations) and Natasha Milantyeva (texts), A Nun’s Life, 2013

“Natasha Milantyeva, my girlfriend’s cousin, spent over 18 years in a convent. A Russian Orthodox nun, she was forced to leave her convent because life there threatened her health and the people in charge no longer wanted to see her among their ranks. Her unique experience has been the basis of short stories and plays about convent life. Natasha has witnessed events that no journalist could either record or depict.”

These works and many others were shown at Feminist Pencil, a series of exhibitions of socially engaged graphic art curated by Nadia Plungian and me.

Graphic reportage is especially appropriate in court, since it is forbidden to take pictures and shoot video during hearings. Activist artists in different Russian cities and other parts of the former Soviet Union have taken to sketching court proceedings during political trials.

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Radik Vildanov, Bailiffs Blocking the Corridor (Bolotnaya Square Trial), 2014

Zlata Ponirovskaya and I run the web site Drawing the Court, an archive of drawings from political trials and informative texts about these cases.

There are other grassroots initiatives involving drawing. The Women’s Crisis Center in Petersburg, for example, has begun engaging female artists to document court hearings on cases of domestic and sexual violence against its clients.

In Germany, Belarusian artist Marina Naprushkina sketches court hearings in the cases of asylum seekers from different countries, archiving them on the web site Refugees’ Library. Although her project only partly involves Russia (many of the refugees are from Chechnya and Dagestan), I cannot pass up this happy synthesis of socially engaged drawing and human rights work in my overview.

“I put together notebooks at the hearings, which people then translate into different languages. Having the web site function as an informational platform for refugees themselves is our main objective. The refugees are often not ready for the hearings: they don’t know they go, and what they should expect there. The notebooks are already read in many countries around the world,” says Naprushkina.

Like court sketches, graphic art produced for rallies has to make a clear, emotional statement. Many activist artists have been involved in making placards for opposition rallies and even helping to design the look of whole columns.  For example, at a 2012 rally in support of the Bolotnaya Square defendants, the Left Front’s column marched with portraits of the political prisoners drawn by artist Nikolay Oleynikov. In 2014, Oleynikov also organized an Anti-Fascist Creative Workshop at which he helped activists collectively produce placards for the annual Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova memorial rally on January 19. Portraits graced most of the placards at the rally.

lomasko-soc-9Anti-Fascist Creative Workshop. Photo by Vasily Petrov

However, portraits of political activists belong more to the realm of political art than to graphic art focused on social issues. It would also be a stretch to include the numerous examples of graphic art that appeared at protest rallies in 2012 and 2013 in this body of work. The main subjects were criticism of Putin and support for Pussy Riot: I don’t remember seeing placards dealing with societal problems there.

The works of Petersburg artist Yelena Osipova are outstanding in this regard. Even before the upsurge of protests in 2012, Osipova had been attending rallies and solo pickets with large, hand-drawn placards that took on such topics as the demolition of historic buildings, tuberculosis, everyday racism, children involved in the drug trade, and the murders of journalists.

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Yelena Osipova, Don’t Believe in the Justice of War, March 2014. Photo by Asya Khodyreva

Osipova illuminates even the war in Ukraine from a social angle. Such posters of hers as Don’t Go to War, Sonny and Stop the War, Mothers and Wives, and her large-format colored placard Don’t Believe in the Justice of War treat war not as an abstract evil but as the personal tragedy of women who have lost sons and husbands.

City walls are another good place for socially engaged graphic art. Over the past two years, the Petersburg group Gandhi has become a notable presence in socially engaged street art. Most often, the group makes large stencils in a laconic, poster-like style, for example, its series depicting female migrants or its latest work, a fresco on the fence of the Social Adaptation Center for the Homeless in Moscow.

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Stencils made by the group Gandhi for the Solidarity Art Festival, 2014. Photo by Anton Androsov

Gandhi has made one of the few statements by Russian artists on the war in Ukraine. At the Street Art Museum in Petersburg, they produced a fresco entitled Broads Will Give Birth to New Ones, explaining it as follows: “We see and hear what is happening—a war that has not been formally declared but which is permanently conducted on the external and internal fronts. […] Our subject is a woman holding a Molotov cocktail. Glowing inside her is an infant soldier, doomed to fight for the money and power of strangers. The woman has chosen to rebel, knowing that if she fails, her child will himself, in the future, go after her with a gun.”

lomasko-soc-12Gandhi, Broads Will Give Birth to New Ones, 2014. Photo taken from the group’s Facebook page

Samizdat has always been a means of spreading leftist ideas. Graphic artists have been actively collaborating with such independent publications in Russia.

The newspaper Chto Delat has been published for many years by an eponymous group of leftist artists, philosophers, writers, researchers, and activists. Back issues of the paper are accessible on their web site.  The newspaper is filled with graphic art. These are not illustrations, however, but series of works by artists, linked to the articles by a common theme.

Lots of graphic art is printed in the anarchist newspaper Volya (Liberty).

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Anarchist newspaper Volya

The 2013 International Women’s Day issue of Volya, featuring the works of feminist artists, was especially interesting visually. Such a variety of genres—posters, stencils, comics, graphic reportage, logos, and cover art—cannot be found in the official press.

Feminist zines are gradually emerging in Russia. In 2013, the first issue of Molota ved’m (Malleus Maleficarum) was published.

In the next few days, the first issue of the queer feminist zine Naglaya rvanina (Insolent Gash) will be released.

lomasko-soc-14Spread from queer feminist zine Naglaya rvanina, 2014

I am particularly interested in how socially engaged graphic art can become a part of human rights work and educational projects. Since 2010, I have worked as a volunteer with the Center for Prison Reform, participating in art trips to juvenile prisons. My project Drawing Lessons is part of the Center’s human rights and educational program. The project includes summaries of lessons specifically designed for juvenile prisons, drawings made by the inmates during these lessons, my own sketches in the prisons, and various samizdat (calendars, postcards, and brochures).

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Calendar for the Novy Oskol Prison for Girls, 2012

I have posted most of the material from Drawing Lessons on my blog.

Another example is the Nasreddin Hodja Joke Contest, a project by Petersburg artist Olga Jitlina. Every week for several months, Jitlina organized informal meetings with migrants at teahouses, cafes, and other places.  Over cups of tea, participants analyzed the kinds of ethnic discrimination experienced by migrants in Russia and came up with succinct, witty responses that would put their offenders in their place without inciting them to violence. Artist Anna Tereshkina drew comics for the project about the modern-day Nasreddin and his fictional sister Dilfuza, who find themselves in typical conflicts in Russia. The speech balloons were left either entirely blank or only the lines of the victimizers were filled in. The migrants themselves came up with Nasreddin and Dilfuza’s rejoinders, and the wittiest lines were incorporated into the comics.

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Olga Jitlina meeting with Nasreddin Hodja Joke Contest participants at a Petersburg teahouse, 2014. Photo by Victoria Lomasko

I hope even this fragmentary overview of Russian socially engaged graphic art gives some idea of its variety, especially in comparison with the situation in the 2000s. However, due to the tightening of censorship, the range of topics on which one can speak publicly without fear of incurring fines, criminal penalties or some other form of pressure from the government has begun to shrink rapidly.

Even worse than official censorship is the internal censorship practiced by the organizers of socially engaged projects.  For example, I was asked to leave in the pitiful stories of migrants in a graphic reportage I was doing while removing everything about the perpetrators of their misadventures—Russian police officers, judges, and officials who abuse their power. Such decisions are explained by the fact that castrated socially engaged works are “better than nothing.” As a result, instead of analyzing phenomena in their entirety, they once again leave viewers and readers with distorted images.

Artists reacted to events in political and public life in 2012 and 2013 with a flood of works. Many of them were superficial and lacking in professionalism, but this was made up for by the urgency and timeliness of their topics. Now we will have to react less and reflect more. In principle, any social topic can be used to reveal Russian society’s fundamental evil: our total alienation from each other and disrespect. And for the most radical works there are still the social networks, the streets, and samizdat.

Homosexuals and Homophobes: Victoria Lomasko on the Side by Side LGBT Film Festival

Originally published (in Russian) at soglyadatay.livejournal.com

Victoria Lomasko
Side by Side: Homosexuals and Homophobes

When the organizers of the Petersburg LGBT film festival Side by Side invited me to serve on the festival jury, I agreed right away. I’m no expert on cinema, and I’m not a member of the LGBT community, but given what has been happening in Russia, the festival has become a political event, and being involved with it is a way of clearly expressing your civic stance.

As one of the organizers, Gulya Sultanova, told me, “This time, almost all the movie theaters [the festival approached] decided to support the film festival, despite the potential risks. And that’s worth a lot.”

I found it difficult to share Gulya’s optimism. I was certain that attempts would be made to disrupt the festival, and that trouble lay in store for organizers and festival goers.

A Dangerous Opening

Several minutes before the festival’s opening ceremony at the Warsaw Express shopping and entertainment complex, police got word of a bomb threat to the movie theater. While police combed the building for a bomb, festival goers hung outside in the chilly wind.

“There are homophobes on the corner. They’re really creepy.”

A gang of beefy skinheads appeared a few meters away from us. As Gulya later explained, the guys were nationalists from an organization called Soprotivlenie (Resistance). One female viewer standing next to me was visibly nervous.

“Now they’ll start throwing rocks at us, like during the rally at the Field of Mars. Now they’ll start firing at us with pneumatic guns!”

Right there among the gay activists was Dmitry Chizhevsky, a black bandage on his face. It had only been just recently that persons unknown had attacked an LGBT community center and shot Chizhevsky in the eye with a pneumatic pistol.

Side by Side organizers asked festival goers not to wander off by themselves.

We were finally ushered into the movie theater. The Dutch film Matterhorn, about a father who has kicked his gay son out of the house, opened the festival.

Police escorted Side by Side viewers from the movie theater to the subway.

Predictions by Foreign Guests

Post-screening discussion of Out in East Berlin: “I think the tough times are still ahead of you.”
3_strahi“We were afraid of pogroms, that they would try and kill homosexuals in the street.”

At the last minute, many foreign guests had been frightened to come to Russia.

Side by Side Received Five Bomb Threats during Its Ten-Day Run

Five times the police received false threats of bombs planted at Side by Side festival venues. Loft Project ETAGI art center and Jam Hall Cinema were each threatened once, the Skorokhod cultural center, twice.


“We’ve received another bomb threat, friends!”

The police and ambulance came each time, and everyone was evacuated from the buildings where the “bombs” had been “planted.” At ETAGI, for example, its staff, patrons from its cafes, bars and shops, and its hostel guests were kicked out onto the street along with LGBT activists.

The people behind the false bomb threats have not been found.

Side by Side co-organizer Manny de Guerre: “No venue will ever work with us again.”

Manny’s worries were justified. After the bomb threats, both the Zona Deistviya co-working space at ETAGI and Jam Hall Cinema terminated their agreements with Side by Side for the remaining screenings.

One day, the festival program was disrupted entirely. Not only were the screenings not held. A discussion entitled “Young People’s Freedom to Access Information on LGBT” was also canceled.

Lena Klimova: “In our city, many people don’t even know the word LGBT.”

Lena Klimova, a journalist and creator of the Internet project Children 404, was supposed to take part in the discussion. She had specially come all the way from Nizhny Tagil for the festival.

Through the Back Entrance

The screening, at Jam Hall Cinema, of Blue Is the Warmest Color (La Vie d’Adèle), which was then playing without incident at many other theaters in Petersburg, was interrupted by a bomb threat. The police led viewers out of the theater through the back entrance. At the main entrance, Petersburg legislative assembly deputy and United Russia member Vitaly Milonov demanded that police free children whom the “sodomites” were, allegedly, “forcibly holding” at the screening. Around twenty lowlifes came out to support Milonov.


“We caught several minors in the movie theater and photographed them with their IDs.”

While waiting for the theater to be checked for bombs, Side by Side viewers took refuge in a nearby cafe, but several people, including me, lingered on the street. A policeman came up to me.

“Tell your people not to stand in the street but to hide in the cafe. They could be attacked.”

“They don’t want to go into the cafe.”

“It’s dangerous. Although they look like ordinary people. Maybe they won’t be noticed, and no one will bother them.”

While what the policeman said jarred me, it didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was the absence of support for Side by Side on the part of Petersburg’s civic and leftist activists.

In the Bomb Shelter

After Jam Hall pulled out of its agreement with Side by Side, the festival moved to the Green Lantern Press Club, a small basement space. No bomb threats were made to this venue.

As festival jury member Bård Ydén remarked, “What bombs? We’re already in a bomb shelter.”

The feature films Tom at the Farm and In the Name Of and the documentary film We Were Here were shown in the “bomb shelter.”

LGBT Christians

In the Name Of is about a priest’s struggle with his homosexual desires. Andrei, a pastor at a Protestant church, took part in the post-screening discussion.

LGBT Christian: “A persecuted minority is being oppressed in the name of the church.”

“I’m offended by the idea that a person can’t be both Christian and LGBT.”

The pastor recounted how he had once invited LGBT Christians to celebrate Easter at his church, but the other parishioners had refused to eat at the same table with them.

Pastor: “The Bible unequivocally treats homosexuality as a sin.”

We Were Here

We Were Here, about the AIDs epidemic among gays in San Francisco in the 1980s, made a huge impression on me. The epidemic claimed over fifteen thousand lives during this period. The US government considered introducing a compulsory quarantine, clothes with identifying marks or special tattoos for people infected with HIV. Mass protests by the LGBT community put a stop to such plans. Gays demanded information about the new disease, development and free distribution of drugs, and government support for HIV-positive people. At the same time, the LGBT community established charitable organizations: hundreds of gay activists became volunteers, while many lesbians donated blood and worked as nurses.

One of the people featured in the film, AIDS activist Ed Wolf, came to the festival.

Ed Wolf: “I’ve ridden around Petersburg. You have many gays here. I saw them myself.”
Moderator: “So the American government wasn’t willing to solve the problem?” Ed Wolf: “An army of activists forced the government to act.”

Thanks to the civic engagement of the LGBT community and, later, the society at large, the epidemic in San Francisco was stopped relatively quickly.

Ed Wolf continues to work on HIV/AIDS issues. According to him, women are now at risk.

“It’s hard for women to force their husbands to wear a condom every time.”

Wolf also said that gays are also men and that it’s time for them to reconsider their patriarchal views of women.

Lesbiana

At Side by Side, I noticed that the LGBT community was also not free of sexism. Spotting my jury member badge, one young gay man asked which movies I would be voting for. Hearing I had chosen Blue Is the Warmest Color and Lesbiana: A Parallel Revolution, he said, “Those films are so boring. And lesbian sex is disgusting to watch.”

Most of the films shown at Side by Side were shot by male directors and dealt with gay love. Lesbiana: A Parallel Revolution was the only feature film at the festival made by women about women. The screening room was half empty: men did not come.

The audience at Lesbiana

Lesbiana combines interview with aged lesbian activists who were involved in the LGBT and feminist movements during the 1970s with documentary footage from the period. In those years there were a lot of separatist lesbian communes, where women lived and engaged in painting, sculpture, literature, music and performance.

Sharing our impressions of Lesbiana at a cafe: “I wonder whether there are ‘feminine lands’ in Russia where only lesbians live?”

Jury Deliberations

The jury at Side by Side consisted of Alexander Markov, a filmmaker; Marina Staudenmann, director of the Tour de Film international film festival agency; Bård Ydén, director of the Oslo Gay and Lesbian Film Festival; and two people far removed from the professional cinema world, Elena Kostyuchenko, a journalist and LGBT activist, and me.

 Alexander Markov (on left). Elena Kostyuchenko: “As the only LGBT activist on the jury, I’m responsible for authenticity.”

Our discussion quickly shifted from the films to Russia’s homophobic policies.

Elena Kostyuchenko: “If they start removing children from LGBT [families], our lives will change forever.” Marina Staudenmann (on right)

We were nearly unanimous in our choice of the winning feature film.

 Marina Staudenmann: “La vie d’Adèle.” Bård Ydén: “La vie d’Adèle.”
Alexander Markov: “La vie d’Adèle.”

Valentine Road, about the murder of a transgender schoolboy by his classmate, won the prize for best feature-length documentary film.

The Festival’s Closing Ceremony

Aside from the by now routine bomb threat, viewers who came to the closing ceremony had a surprise in store from the Rodina (Motherland) party. Party activists handed out “gift bags” to them.

Side by Side organizers describing what was in the “gift bags”: “The bags contained rope and bars of soap, along with a note reading, ‘From Russians with love.'”

Gus Van Sant, the festival’s most anticipated guest of honor: “The people who wanted to shut the festival down caused the LGBT community to close ranks.”

Gus Van Sant showed up at the Side by Side closing ceremonies with Sergei “Afrika” Bugaev, whom he introduced to the audience as his “good Russian friend.”

A woman in the audience asked the famed director, “What is a Putin endorser doing at an LGBT film festival?”

Van Sant chose not to answer the question.

Afterparty at the Malevich LGBT club

Sitting among gays and lesbians at the closed LBGT club, I mulled over my impressions of the events of the festival. I had felt frightened several times during the clashes with homophobes, and I was glad I was heterosexual. I would not be forced to live my entire life in a constant state of anxiety.

Towards the end of the festival, Gulya Sultanova said, “We’re just a festival, but there’s the sense we’re running a military operation.”

LGBT activists are just people. Why must they live as if they were invisible or criminals?