Welcome to Estonia

Welcome to Narva (Estonia)! This campaign billboard from the EKRE party (Conservative People’s Party of Estonia) claims (in Russian, not Estonian) that the party will “defend children from LGBT propaganda in kindergartens and schools.”

As the person who posted this on social media explains (in Estonian), among other things the billboard violates the country’s language laws, which dictate that all such ads include text in Estonian that is displayed just as prominently.

Nearly twenty-five percent of the Estonian population is “Russian” — that is, Russophones who moved to the country when it was occupied by the Soviet Union and their descendants. For good or for ill, many of these “accidental” colonizers never bothered to learn Estonian, and the language divide persists there to this day, exploited by nationalists on both sides of the border.

Although I believe that if you deliberately avoid learning the majority language in the country where you live, insisting on your right to speak only the language of the former colonial/occupying power, you are making a very pointed political statement. When it gets entangled with homophobia, etc., that statement becomes altogether obnoxious. Especially when it’s made on behalf of Estonian fascists.

Thanks to the ever-vigilant Raiko Aasa for the heads-up. ||| TRR

[EKRE] has also been labelled “far-right” by Kari Käsper, the Executive Director of Estonian Human Rights Centre, and in foreign media by BBC News and the Christian Science Monitor. According to Fox News Channel, EKRE is a far-right party, “considered by some to have Fascist-Neo-Nazi sympathies similar to many other flourishing nationalist parties in the Baltics and Eastern Europe.” The Simon Wiesenthal Center has called EKRE youth organization’s annual torchlight procession an “extreme right march.”

Death to F—-ts

“Death to faggots.” Photo courtesy of Baza via Mediazona

Performers at show in honor of Yaroslavl patriotic club’s 20th anniversary smash stage prop with the inscription “Death to faggots” using sledgehammer 
Mediazona
August 31, 2021

During a performance by the military patriotic club Paratrooper in Yaroslavl, the regional news website 76.ru has reported, the performers used a sledgehammer to smash a stage-prop brick inscribed with the phrase “Death to faggots.”

According to the website, a performance in honor of the club’s 20th anniversary was held at the Dobrynin Palace of Culture in Yaroslavl on August 29. The performers took their comrade, placed a prop shaped like a white brick, inscribed with the phrase “Death to faggots,” on him and smashed it with a sledgehammer.

Andrei Palachev, the head of Paratrooper, explained to 76.ru that the club members had been joking.

“The kids just decided to make a joke and drew this inscription at the last moment. Faggots have no business being in Russia at all. […] And why should [the performers] be punished? They just don’t like fudge packers, and I don’t like them either. The family should be traditional: a boy and a girl, and not all this faggotry,” Palachev said.

Igor Derbin, the palace of culture’s director, stressed that this part of the performance had not been vetted with him.

“We are outraged. Initially, the event was supposed to be pleasant and joyful. We weren’t expecting their stunt. It was not planned in advance or agreed upon, because they knew that we would not allow it. By doing what they did, they canceled all the good impressions made by the event,” he added.

Taras Sidorin, the head of the Yaroslavl branch of the veterans organization Defender, said that he had filed a complaint with the police about the incident. “We consider such outburst incitement to murder. […] There were small children in the audience. This behavior is simply unacceptable,” he said.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Yuma, Mila, Barcelona (The VkusVill Refugees)

Yuma’s Instagram “postcard” from Barcelona: “We are safe, we are resting. We cannot hide our happiness at being a family. Many THANKS to those who supported us, to those who dared to make themselves visible and express their support to us, and to those who supported us in person! Thanks to you, we have not given up! It was a difficult ordeal for all of us, we are all in rough psychological shape. But the sea, the sun and kindness are healing [us]) And we are still with you) and are ready to communicate. We are ready to tell you how it happened, what happened, and why) #wearenotamistake #vkusvill #familyequality

“We were left without work and without a home”: The young women from the deleted VkusVill ad have left Russia

ACCORDING TO ROSKOMNADZOR, UTOPIA IS A PROJECT OF THE NASILIU.NET [“NO TO VIOLENCE”] CENTER WHICH, ACCORDING TO THE JUSTICE MINISTRY, PERFORMS THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT

Why is this not the case?

Women featured in an ad for the VkusVill supermarket chain, which was removed due to homophobic threats, have left Russia for Spain. Yuma, the head of the family, has written about this on Instagram.

“We are safe, we are resting. We cannot hide our happiness at being a family. […] It was a difficult ordeal for all of us, we are all in rough psychological shape. But the sea, the sun and kindness are healing [us],” she wrote.

Yuma’s daughter Mila has asked [her Instagram] followers for help in finding a job. She writes that she can only work remotely, and receive a salary in euros. “Unfortunately, due to this difficult situation with VkusVill, we were left without work and without a home. […] Now my family and I really need to get settled in Barcelona, we are having a difficult time and we need friends, and maybe your friends’ friends or their friends will help us start a new life in Barcelona,” the post says.

Mila’s Instagram appeal for help finding a job

In late June, the supermarket chain VkusVill published photos of families who are their customers and their favorite products on its website and social networks. Among the photos was a family consisting of a mother, two daughters, and the wife of one of them. After the photos were published on Instagram, users divided into two camps: some called for a boycott of the store and threatened the company and the women with violence, while others supported the campaign.

Four days later, VkusVill deleted the photos, and an apology appeared in their place: “This page contained an article that has hurt the feelings of a large number of our customers, employees, partners and suppliers. We regret that this happened, and we consider this publication our mistake, which manifested the unprofessionalism of individual employees.” The apology was signed by Andrey Krivenko, the chain’s founder, and eleven top managers.

VkusVill’s Instagram apology, along with their image of a “proper” Russian family

The removal of the ad caused an even more violent reaction — users most often called it a “disgrace” and “support for homophobia.” Utopia published different opinions on the incident.

Source: Utopia, 3 August 2021. Thanks to Maria Mila for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Recipes for Domestic Bliss

VkusVill removes ad featuring queer family, apologizing to customers and suppliers for “hurt feelings”
Takie Dela
July 4, 2021

The retail chain VkusVill has apologized for an advertisement featuring a queer family. The company’s press release notes that the deleted piece “hurt the feelings of a large number of our customers, employees, partners and suppliers.” In the release, which was signed by company’s founder and its regional managers, the advertisement was dubbed a “mistake that manifested the unprofessionalism of individual employees.”

On June 30, VkusVill published on its website the story of a family consisting of a mother and two daughters [sic], one of whom is engaged to a young woman [sic]. In addition, the “Consumer School” section contained stories from other customers of the store: a woman who lives with a dog, a couple without children, a large family, and a single mother. They talked about themselves and their favorite VkusVill products.

After the advertisement was published, VkusVill and the queer heroines of the article began to receive threats.

Roman Polyakov, the manager of the store’s content factory, told Takie Dela that the store’s employees regularly touch on hot-button topics, including the problems of refugees, people with autism, and people with Down syndrome, and the topic of garbage recycling. He told Takie Dela that VkusVill valued examining issues from different sides.

He added that “it would be untrue” to say that there are no such families among VkusVill’s clients, so he had decided to include [the queer family] in the feature.

According to Polyakov, employees of the content factory consulted with lawyers on how to correctly submit information about LGBT people from the legal point of view, and also discussed with smm specialists and hotline employees how to react to customer dissatisfaction.

Translated by the Russian Reader

_________

A screenshot of the page containing VkusVill’s abject apology to violent Russian homophobes for their queer-positive ad. The page is entitled “Recipes for Domestic Bliss.”

This page contained an article that has hurt the feelings of a large number of our customers, employees, partners and suppliers.

We regret that this happened, and we consider this publication our mistake, which manifested the unprofessionalism of individual employees.

Our company’s goal is to enable our customers to receive fresh and delicious products every day, not to publish articles that reflect political or social views. In no way did we want to become a source of discord and hatred.

We sincerely apologize to all our customers, employees, partners and suppliers.

Respectfully,

Andrey Krivenko, Founder
Valera Razgulyaev, Information Manager
Alyona Nesiforova, Unified Concept Manager
Yevgeny Kurvyakov, Development Manager
Yevgeny Rimsky, Quality and Procurement Manager
Tatyana Berestova, Regional Manager
Lyubov Frolova, Regional Manager
Renata Yurash, Regional Manager
Svetlana Lopatina, Regional Manager
Larisa Romanovskaya, E-Commerce Manager
Kirill Shcherbakov, Micromarket Department Director
Maxim Fedorov, Order Manager

Source: VkusVill website. Translated by the Russian Reader

_________

VkusVill’s ad spotlights a “matriarch,” her partner and two daughters who practice ethical veganism, support fair trade and provide shelter to LGBT people in need. Image: VkusVill Natural Products/Facebook/Moscow Times

Russian Food Retailer Defies ‘Gay Propaganda’ Law With LGBT Family-Featuring Ad
Moscow Times
July 2, 2021

Russian organic food retailer VkusVill has featured an LGBT family in its new promotional material this week, defying the country’s law against “gay propaganda toward minors.”

As part of a series of health-conscious families, VkusVill spotlights a “matriarch” Yuma, her partner Zhenya and two daughters Mila and Alina, who practice ethical veganism, support fair trade and provide shelter to LGBT people struggling to find acceptance in their own families.

“We believe not featuring the families of our real customers would be hypocritical,” VkusVill said, warning readers to “weigh all the pros and cons” before continuing further.

The popular retail chain marked its June 30 promotional piece with an “18+” label to comply with the anti-LGBT propaganda law.

“Family is blood ties or a stamp in a passport. Let’s rethink this. In the 21st century, it’s primarily people who love us, those who will always shield us, people with whom we go through life together,” the promotion says.

Law enforcement authorities, who usually file misdemeanor charges against violators — the most recent of which were the authors of a Dolce & Gabbana Instagram ad showing kissing same-sex couples — have not yet commented on VkusVill’s publication.

Notorious anti-gay St. Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov took to social media to condemn the “pagan” ad.

Other social media users — which the MBKh Media news website reported swarmed VkusVill’s social media after a notorious anti-LGBT hate group reposted the article — posted threats against the chain.

Western countries and human rights activists have criticized Russia’s 2013 “gay propaganda” law as well as 2020 constitutional changes that contain a clause defining marriage as between a man and a woman only.

_________

yumalevel
Perhaps the most important thing to our family is care and acceptance. And we also fiercely protect each other and all support each other as much as possible. And we also try to help others. And today @vkusvill_ru posted a piece featuring us, and I’m amazed at how much support I saw there!!! “Others” are not so different at all))) it turns out that we are all our kind!!!

I love you! Kind, caring, accepting, gutsy, brave, making the world a world)
💞 💞 💞 💞 💞 💞 💞

Source: Instagram/Moscow Times. Translated by the Russian Reader

In the Year 2035

“Will You Choose This Russia?”: Federal News Agency Releases Pro-Constitutional Amendments Ad in Which Male Couple Adopt Child as Sad Music Plays 
Bumaga
June 2, 2020

The Petersburg-based news website Federal News Agency, affiliated with Yevgeny Prigozhin and the so-called troll factory, has posted a pro-constitutional amendments ad on social media that shows two gay men adopting a child, thus reminding viewers that one of the proposed amendments to the Russian Constitution would enshrine the concept of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

[. . .]

The action of the Federal News Agency video takes place in the year 2035. In the ad, a boy is collected from an orphanage by an adoptive father who is preparing to introduce him to his adoptive mother. “Mom” turns out to be another man, who is a recognizable caricature of a homosexual. As sad music plays, the boy gets upset, and a female employee of the orphanage spits on the ground and walks away. The video ends with the couple kissing and the phrase, “Will you choose this Russia? Decide the future of the country—vote for the amendments to the Constitution.”

The video has been heavily criticized on social networks for homophobia and its unrealistic portrayal of homosexuals. Many viewers did not understand the connection between the events in the video and the Constitution.

[. . .]

The video was created by the Patriot Media Group, which includes Federal News Agency and other media outlets associated with the troll factory. Patriot’s board of trustees is headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, “Putin’s chef.”

Nikolai Stolyarchuk, the head of Patriot Media Group, said that the video was not aimed against the LGBT community, but defended “the institution of the family as a union of a man and a woman.” According to Stolyarchuk, homosexual couples should not adopt children. He added that this was only the first video in a large series of ads. The campaign, according to Stolyarchuk, was funded exclusively by Patriot, not by the Russian state.

The actor who played the role of “Mom”, told Coda that he was neutral towards homosexuals and did not think that the video would generate such a strong public response. He said that although he had never voted before, on July 1 he would vote against the amendments to the Constitution because he had been detained by police and fined for violating self-isolation rules.

photo_2020-06-02_15-14-34Actor Alexander Filimonenko plays “Mom” in the homophobic campaign ad. Photo courtesy of social media and Coda

The vote on the amendments to the Constitution has been scheduled for July 1, despite the ongoing coronavirus epidemic in Russia.

In Petersburg, activists demonstrating against the proposed constitutional amendments have been detained by police on several occasions. On March 15, activists laid carnations outside the doors of the Constitutional Court on Senate Square. They called their protest action a “funeral event.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

Popular Gay Blogger Attacked and Beaten in Moscow

gay blogger
Andrei Petrov. Photo courtesy of @andrewpetrov1 and Lenta.ru

Popular Gay Blogger Assaulted in Moscow
Lenta.ru
March 1, 2020

Andrei Petrov, an openly gay popular blogger, has been attacked and beaten in Moscow, according to Telegram channel 112.

At the time of the attack, the blogger was with another influencer, Dmitry Gorodetsky.

According to 112, Petrov has been diagnosed with a head injury. Petrov and Gorodetsky are both currently in hospital, where they are being examined by medics.

In February, a 21-year-old local resident, a stylist who goes by the pseudonym Gliese Nana, was beaten and stabbed three times in the neck in the Moscow suburb of Zheleznodorozhny because of his appearance. The young man wears earrings and has blue and purple hair.

In January, Petrov interviewed blogger Vova Goryainov, also known by the nickname Volodya XXL. Their conversation centered on the fact that, in a recent video, Goryainov had expressed a desire to shoot homosexuals.

Thanks to Misha Tumasov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Andrei Petrov interviews blogger Volodya XXL on his YouTube program Pushka (Cannon). Posted on January 12, 2020, the program has been viewed over six and a half million times

Blogger Who Wanted to Shoot Gays Visits Gay and Explains What He Meant
Lenta.ru
January 13, 2020

The openly gay blogger Andrei Petrov has interviewed blogger Vova Goryainov aka Volodya XXL. Their conversation centered on a recent video in which Goryainov said he wanted to shoot homosexuals. The interview is available on YouTube.

Goryainov made the remark when asked by a subscriber about his attitude to gays.

“If I had the opportunity […] I would shoot all those stinking people. I don’t understand why they’re alive at all,” he said.

In his interview with Petrov, the blogger said that it was not the first time he had voiced such an opinion to his subscribers.

Volodya XXL explained that his negative attitude to homosexuals was due to his upbringing.

“I’m not a guy from the capital who is taught that gays are good. I’m a regular guy from Kursk,” he said, adding that he was raised by friends and the streets.

He also noted that if Petrov came to Kursk, he would not be able to go outside at all.

Goryainov stressed that he had not called for gays to be shot, but had only voiced his opinion. He admitted that it was unpleasant for him to sit next to Petrov, and expressed regret that Petrov had been born. Goryainov explained that, in his opinion, guys should be masculine.

The blogger linked the campaign of harassment [sic] against him to the desire of other influencers to attract attention.

“I think all of it was planned. They planned to hype themselves at my expense,” he said.

Goryainov has 300,000 subscribers on Instagram and 700,000 subscribers on TikTok. He also releases his own songs.

Translated by the Russian Reader

♦♦♦♦♦

Putin submits plans for constitutional ban on same-sex marriage
Draft amendment submitted among raft of conservative constitutional proposals
Andrew Roth
The Guardian
March 2, 2020

Vladimir Putin has submitted a draft amendment to Russia’s constitution that would enshrine marriage as between a man and a woman in a conservative update to the country’s founding document.

The measure was reportedly part of a 24-page document submitted by the president that would also name Russia as the successor to the Soviet Union; explicitly mention Russians’ “faith in God”; and ensure the “defence of historical truth” regarding the Soviet role in the second world war.

The amendments would also proscribe the cession of Russian territory to foreign powers, deepening the conflict over the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea.

The draft submissions have not yet been made public but were described to journalists in a series of briefings by high-ranking members of the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament.

“For me, the most important proposal would fix the status of marriage as a union between a man and a woman,” Pyotr Tolstoy, a vice-speaker in the Duma, told reporters on Monday in remarks carried by Russian state news agencies. “And I am happy that this amendment has appeared under the signature of the head of state.”

Russia is planning to amend its constitution for the first time since 1993. The move, announced by Putin in January, was initially seen as a way for him to hold on to power after 2024, when as things stand he will no longer be able to serve as president because of term limits. After a parliamentary vote, Russia will hold a nationwide referendum in mid-April, when the conservative amendments may help boost turnout.

Putin’s direct support for the amendments makes it likely they will go through. He has taken an increasingly conservative turn in his fourth term as president, and has enjoyed support from both patriotic groups and the Russian Orthodox church.

But plans for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage have come together quickly, appearing to crystallise during a speech to politicians last month. “As far as ‘Parent No 1’ and ‘Parent No 2’ goes, I’ve already spoken publicly about this and I’ll repeat it again: as long as I’m president this will not happen. There will be Dad and Mum,” Putin said, according to Reuters.

Al Jazeera’s Love Affair with Militant Russian Orthodox Fascist Homophobe Vitaly Milonov

milonovRussian Orthodox fascist and homophobic terrorist Vitaly Milonov is Al Jazeera’s go-to commentator on Russian current affairs. Photo by Sergei Fadeichev. Courtesy of TASS and the Moscow Times

This is how the “progressive” media works.

I accidentally woke up at five o’clock this morning to discover Al Jazeera’s program The Stream wanted me to be on their panel discussing the Moscow elections and protests at 10 p.m. Moscow time this evening.

The only problem was that, aside from a young researcher at Columbia who seemed okay, the other two panelists Al Jazeera had invited were Vitaly Milonov and Maria Baronova.

I spent most of the morning and part of the afternoon persuading the producer who contacted me that inviting Milonov on their program was like inviting David Duke or Alex Jones.

Would she like to see them on her program? I asked her.

No, of course not, she said.

The problem was that she had no idea whom to invite nor did the young researcher from Columbia. (Which is kind of amazing, too, since the subject of her research is protests and civil society in Russia, but I won’t go there.)

The producer asked whether I could suggest people whom she could invite on the panel.

I could and I did. I sent her a long list that included Leonid Volkov, Grigorii Golosov, Alexander Bikbov, Greg Yudin, Elena Mukhametshina, Maxim Trudolyubov, and Ilya Matveev, along with their social media or email addresses.

Any of them, I explained, would make a great panelist, not because I necessarily agreed with them about everything, but because they knew the subject inside and out.

After that, the producer asked me to record a short “video commentary,” which as she explained, would be used in the show.

I choose to speak, briefly, about the Article 212 Case defendants, some of whom were sentenced to harsh prison terms today and yesterday, while some of them had all charges against them dropped and were set free.

When I sent the producer the video, I asked, since several hours had passed by then, who would be on the panel, finally.

Had she managed to invite any of the people I had suggested?

Almost five hours have gone by with no reply from the producer.

Only forty minutes ago did I look at the show’s page and discover that everything I said and wrote to the producer had been utterly pointless, to wit:

[…] Putin has been in power for 20 years and is due to step down as president in 2024. Many younger demonstrators have never experienced Russia under a different leader, and they and others are pushing to take their country in a more democratic direction. This backdrop helps explain why officials are working hard to contain Moscow’s protests. But whether what’s happening in the capital will spread to the rest of Russia remains up for debate.

In this episode we ask, will protests change anything in Russia? Join the conversation.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:

Vitaly Milonov @Villemilonov
Member of the Federal Assembly of Russia

Maria Baronova
Journalist at RT
rt.com

Yana Gorokhovskaia @gorokhovskaia
Researcher at Columbia University

In the midst of all that has been happening in Moscow, one of the world’s most respected news organizations has decided their viewers need to hear from a world-famous militant Russian Orthodox fascist homophobe and a certifiably crazy woman who went from working for Open Russia one day to working for Russia Today the next.

This is a complete travesty.

Oddly, the producer said that Gorokhovskaia, too, had “reservations” about appearing on the same panel with Milonov and Baronova.

She should have had them. // TRR

P.S. As I have also discovered, this was Milonov’s second appearance on the program.

___________________________________________

Anti-Gay Russian Lawmaker Disrupts Opening of LGBT Film Festival
Moscow Times
Oct. 25, 2018

State Duma deputy and notorious anti-gay crusader Vitaly Milonov reportedly attempted to shut down Russia’s only LGBT film festival on its opening night Wednesday.

Milonov, a lawmaker from the ruling United Russia party, has earned a reputation for his inflammatory anti-LGBT rhetoric and is best known for spearheading Russia’s ban on “gay propaganda.”

The St. Petersburg-based Fontanka news website reported that the deputy, accompanied by six men, physically blocked the entrance to the Side by Side film festival on Wednesday evening.

In footage posted online, the lawmaker is heard accusing festival-goers trying to get into the venue of participating in an unsanctioned demonstration.

“Dear citizens, you know yourselves that you are perverts; you need to disperse,” he is heard saying.

“We are Russian people who are on our home soil. And you’re not. Your motherland is Sodom and Gomorrah,” he adds.

According to the festival’s organizers, Milonov claimed that a hostage crisis had unfolded inside the cinema and called the police.

Prompted by Milonov’s call, police officers reportedly evacuated the building. According to Fontanka, around 400 filmgoers who bought tickets were unable to attend the screenings planned for Wednesday.

“The first day of Side by Side was interrupted in an outrageous manner and eventually disrupted by State Duma deputy Vitaly Milonov,” the festival organizers were cited as saying.

Milonov denied that he had alarmed the police about a possible hostage crisis, saying that he came to the event because he believed it may have been “violating Russian law.”

The festival organizers rejected Milonov’s claims that they had broken Russia’s “gay propaganda” law — which bans promoting LGBT values among minors — as minors were not allowed to attend the festival.

Side by Side, Russia’s only annual LGBT film festival — now in its 11th year — has in the past been threatened by government officials and nationalist activists.

The organizers said that the festival would continue as planned this week, despite what they described as Milonov’s “illegal actions.”

Yevgeniy Fiks, “Moscow: Gay Cruising Sites of the Soviet Capital, 1920s–1980s”

Exhibit Opening. Moscow: Gay Cruising Sites of the Soviet Capital, 1920s–1980s
Wednesday, September 4, 2019, 6:00 pm
Harriman Institute Atrium (12th floor, 420 W 118th St., New York), Harriman Institute, Columbia University

Please join the Harriman Institute for the opening reception of the exhibit Moscow: Gay Cruising Sites of the Soviet Capital, 1920s -1980s featuring a series of works photographed in 2008 by artist Yevgeniy Fiks.

The exhibit runs September 3–October 18, 2019. Exhibit hours are Monday–Friday, 9:30 am–5:00 pm, excluding university holidays.

The exhibit documents gay cruising sites in Soviet Moscow, from the early 1920s to the USSR’s dissolution in the early 1990s. Photographed in 2008 in a simple but haunting documentary style, these sites of the bygone queer underground present a hidden and forgotten Moscow, with a particular focus on revolutionary communist and Soviet state sites appropriated by queer Muscovites.

This opening reception will feature a performative reading by actor Chris Dunlop of the 1934 letter to Joseph Stalin by the British Communist and Moscow resident Harry Whyte, in which he attempts to defend homosexuality from a Marxist-Leninist perspective in the face of the campaign of mass arrests that swept Moscow and Leningrad gay circles from 1933 to 1934. After reading the letter, Stalin wrote “idiot and degenerate” in the margins. The letter, which remained unanswered, was kept in the closed Soviet archives until 1990 and translated into English by Thomas Campbell for publication in Fiks’s Moscow (Ugly Duckling Presse).

Yevgeniy Fiks was born in Moscow in 1972 and has been living and working in New York since 1994. He has produced many projects on the subject of the post-Soviet dialogue in the west. His work has been shown internationally and has been included in the Biennale of Sydney (2008), Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2011), and Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art (2015).

Text and images courtesy of the Harriman Institute

mister deviant

Mister Deviant, Comrade Degenerate: Selected Works by Yevgeniy Fiks
June 15, 2019–July 31, 2019
Voorhees Gallery (Entrance)

Within the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, political, sexual, and artistic nonconformists were conflated and viewed as dangerous internal enemies that terrified the insecure and paranoid governments and societies. The political deviant, the sexual outlaw, and the uncensored artist became the shared “others” for the Cold War-era Soviets and Americans, a problematic political legacy that still resonates today.

This exhibition offers a lesson in history for twenty-first-century societies and confronts the instrumentalization of homophobia, anti-liberalism, and anti-modernism as tools of propaganda and ideology in both the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War—providing a learning tool through which we can critically examine contemporary developments in world politics and societies. It explores the Cold War era’s persecution of various nonconformist groups on both sides of the ideological divide, including political dissidents, queers, and avant-garde artists, who remain targets of contemporary witch hunts all over the world.

Ranging from dry factuality to humor and farce, the exhibition begins with a series of prints and photographs titled “Homosexuality is Stalin’s Atom Bomb to Destroy America,” highlighting the interlocking histories of the “Red” and “Lavender” scares during the McCarthy era in the United States, when anti-Soviet and anti-gay sentiments were fused together in the Cold War witch hunt rhetoric. Pundits and government officials went as far as envisioning a sinister conspiracy: the Soviet Union is promoting homosexuality as a tool to destroy America. At the same time, the federal government purged homosexuals that it employed, calling them “security risks”—vulnerable of being blackmailed by Soviet agents into working for them. Ironically, in the Soviet Union, the ideological enemy of the United States, homosexuality was officially criminalized after 1934—with a prison sentence of up to five years—and stigmatized and tabooed as an anti-Soviet “capitalist degeneracy” that comes from the foreign and “decadent West.”

Born in Moscow in 1972, Fiks moved to New York in 1994. Since then, his multifaceted practice has bridged both worlds, exploring themes of memory, repression, and the legacy of the political Left in Russian society and the United States. Fiks’s engagement across time periods resonates strongly with the Zimmerli’s commitment to contemporary issues in art and its rich collection of Russian art from the Soviet period, as found in the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union.

Organized by Thomas Sokolowski, Director of the Zimmerli Art Museum

Where Did You Go? (Day 44)

44th day“The forty-fourth day of Sentsov’s hunger strike.” Post on filmmaker Askold Kurov’s Facebook page

Ukrainian political prisoner and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov has completed the forty-third day of his hunger strike. His only demand is that Russian authorities release the other Russian political prisoners they have imprisoned during their illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Unfortunately, I have the growing sense that even the most progressive Russians, whatever that means, are so impressed by the nonstop international football party that has been unleashed on the streets of their major cities that they are less and less able to focus on what matters in the near term (the government’s plan to raise the retirement age, the pending retrial of Yuri Dmitriev, the mind-bending Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, Sentsov’s hunger strike, six more years of pitch-black Putinist reaction). They behave and talk like people who have richly earned a celebration.

In the grand scheme of things, none of us deserve a celebration. We are sinners in the hands of an angry God, and we deserve to be crushed.

Viewing our fallen world more realistically, however, we probably do need to give ourselves a break, no matter how dire the circumstances, every once in a while, but only after we have done our work, especially the collective grassroots work that keeps our societies from slipping over the edge into the abyss of lawlessness, reaction, and fascism.

With few exceptions, Russia’s hyper-educated populace, however, checked out of hands-on politics long ago. They are literally the most holiday-prone bunch I have ever encountered in the world. Nearly everyone I know is endlessly on vacation, on the road, not at home, checked out, off the radar in internal exile, you name it.

This was my roundabout way of saying the truly heroic Mr. Sentsov’s chances do not look good. // TRR

* * * * * * * * * *

Many of my western leftist friends have been having a field day with the White Pride House’s disgusting treatment of immigrant families and children from Latin America, as they should be.

But when it comes to the Kremlin’s disgusting treatment of nearly everyone under its own black hole sun, from Oleg Sentsov and the alleged Penza-Petersburg “terrorists” to Yuri Dmitriev and Oyub Titiev, mum has been word among western leftists.

This is not to mention the Kremlin’s escapades in Syria and Ukraine, the wretched treatment of migrant workers from Central Asia in Russia itself, or the fact Russia is basically off limits to the refugees and asylum seekers whom, in some cases, it has helped to generate, as in Syria.

Meanwhile, Russia has been witness a slow but noticeable exodus of its own asylum seekers and more quiet exiles, including dozens if not hundreds of political activists, and thousands of LGBT people, now that the country has been officially and virulently homophobic for several years.

None of this gets even so much as a look-in from most of my western leftist friends, who, at best, are happy to have me rattle on about these things ad nauseam, but probably think I have been lying or exaggerating these past ten years.

In any case, nothing the Kremlin ever does figures in either their political activism or political thinking (except in complaints about “anti-Russian hysteria” in their local mass media). They are loath to show solidarity with grassroots Russian activists, even Russians in serious trouble like the young antifascists implicated in the total frame-up known as The Network Case.

No, the wroth of western leftists is always and only reserved for the Great Satan, the cause of all evil in the world, the country that invented imperialism, racism, capitalism, nepotism, and daltonism, the United States of America.

Why they should be so implicitly sympathetic to the hyper-reactionary, neo-imperialist, homophobic, anti-working class, rampantly state capitalist, kleptocratic, illiberal, anti-intellectual, wildly corrupt nationalist and racist regime in Russia is beyond my powers to comprehend.

But their silence speaks louder than their words, as does their pointed failure, when it comes to people I know personally, to engage meaningfully with all the things I have written and translated over the last ten years.

This is especially palpable now the World Cup is underway. Even politically engaged liberals among my acquaintances have obviously given the Russian regime a free pass for the month.

Actually, they have been giving it a free pass since 1999, but I won’t mention discuss this long, ugly story now.

What I meant to say was that Ukrainian filmmaker and political prisoner Oleg Sentsov is dying, and the western left pointedly has nothing to say about why he is in “jail” (as the Moscow Times quaintly puts it, although he is actually incarcerated in a maximum security penal colony north of the Arctic Circle) and why he was sent there for twenty years.

It is pathetic. It is also part of the reason why “the masses” generally trust the western left about as far as they can throw it. Because just like Donald Trump and Theresa May, there are species of despotism, tyranny, and even genocide the western left really quite fancies or, at least, can countenance in the name of “anti-imperialism.”

To put it bluntly, I am afraid the western left would rather Oleg Sentsov and his ilk just crawled under a rock and died. They only muddy what should be a crystal-clear view of “geopolitics.” // TRR