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

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I Have No Idea What I’m Talking About, But I’m Famous, So It Doesn’t Matter

vadim f. lurie-10 august-fuck offOne of the many young people in Russia who, according to Anne Applebaum, are leading the latest tiny, Moscow-centered pro-democracy movement there. The slogan on his t-shirt reads, “Fuck off.” Photo by Vadim F. Lurie, who captured this image during the “authorized” fair elections march in Moscow on August 10, 2019.

What was I just saying about leaky arguments on behalf of Russia’s courageous but incredibly tiny fair elections movement?

I always had famous Anne Applebaum pegged as a real Russophobe, not a fake one like me, someone who has constantly run afoul of the liberal and leftist Russia discourse police and been crossed off their Christmas card lists many times over. But it turns out Applebaum is such a “Russophile” she is ready to turn reality on its head by comparing the truly grassroots, popular, massive well-organized pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong with the minuscule ragtag non-movement in Russia.

In Russia, where propaganda also attacks the West and derides democracy as chaotic and anarchic, protesters have focused very directly on the most fundamental of democratic institutions: they are demanding the right, simply, to vote for independent candidates in local elections. Just as in Hong Kong, Russian protests are being led by younger people [sic], none of whom can remember any other leader except Vladimir Putin: “I am 20 years old, and in my entire life there has not been a single day of freedom,” one of them told reporters, according to Meduza, an independent website that covers Russia. They, too, are well organized, using up-to-the-minute apps to keep in touch with one other, deploying a phalanx of lawyers and a carefully planned social media campaign [sic]. Like the young Hong Kongers, young Russians aren’t just dedicated; they are organized, thoughtful and well prepared [sic].

There are some obvious explanations for this East-West paradox. Clearly, the inhabitants of stable democracies find it hard to appreciate what they have: “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” isn’t just a song lyric; it’s an expression of something fundamental about the human brain. Like wealth or health, political freedom may simply be something that people don’t value if they’ve always had it [sic].

But it may also be that the young protesters of Russia and China are simply ahead of us. We’ve gotten used to the idea that political influence flows from West to East, but are we so sure that is still true? A generation of Eastern dissidents has thought harder than we [sic] have about how to self-organize, about how to operate in a world run by secretive, kleptocratic elites who go out of their way to create distraction and apathy. Remember that they, too, are fighting regimes that seem in hock to moneyed interests and wrestling to cope with the pace of technological change. It may be that we in the West simply haven’t thought about what tactics ordinary people need [sic] to deploy to compete in a world where money is offshore, power is invisible and apathy is widespread. It may be that we need to learn from people who have.
—Anne Applebaum, “Hong Kong and Russia Protesters Fight for Democracy. The West Should Listen and Learn,” Washington Post, 16 August 2019

For the sake of rapping the sock puppet known as “the west” on the knuckles, Applebaum conveniently forgets to compare the numbers of people involved in demos and other protest actions in a city of seven million people, on one hand, and the world’s largest country, on the other.

She claims “the west,” where, she alleges, everyone has suddenly given up on democracy, can learn something from “the east.” How is that someone who has written so eloquently about the Soviet Gulag has no clue that the people spearheading the Russian non-movement, people from Moscow and Petersburg, overidentify with “the west” and regard their cities, wrongly or rightly, as European cities, not “eastern” cities?

Wrongly or rightly, and unlike Applebaum, they overidentify so strong with the nonexistent west that they almost never show any sign they have anything to learn from “the east.” Maybe I have the wrong friends and follow the wrong people and groups on Russian social media, but I have not seen anyone talking about the lessons Russian protesters can learn from people in Hong Kong or, say, Puerto Rico. Forgive me if I don’t spell out, for the thousandth time, the darker side of the disdain many members of the Russian liberal and left intelligentsia have for “non-westerners,” especially “non-westerners” who make them look bad by fighting more fiercely and in much greater numbers for their freedom.

It is only possible to learn a real lesson when our teacher has all her facts straight. Unfortunately, when it comes to Russia and its “western” discourse police officers, including Applebaum, complexity, subtlety, and a basic grasp of facts go straight out the window. For reasons I have never been able to fathom, normally decent editors fall asleep at the wheel when their reporters and op-ed contributors write about Russia, especially when they have the cachet of someone like Applebaum.

It seemingly never occurs to anyone in “the west” or “the east” (i.e., Russia) that this bizarre mixture of total indifference, willful ignorance masked as insider knowledge, and desperate cheerleading does nothing for the minority of people in Russia who have the courage to confront their country’s criminal regime. // TRR

Thanks to Boycott Russia Today for the heads-up and Vadim F. Lurie for the fabulous photograph.

More and More Russians

hongkong.jpgAccording to organizers, at least 1.7 million people attended a pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong today, August 18, 2019. Photo courtesy of HKFP

More and more Russians seem to be breaking free of the old habit of trying to guess the party line. Increasingly, they just do what they deem important, and the authorities deal with the consequences. We are all much more used to the reverse relationship, which is why Russia’s new situation is hard to grasp. People in Russia are only now learning to peer into themselves, not into their television sets, searching for clues to what will happen next.

This does not mean that the Kremlin has suddenly become more transparent or less authoritarian. It only means that Russian society has started to realize that it may, in fact, be an originator of political and societal change, not just on the receiving end.

For how long this new situation—or an impression of it—will last is unclear. The Kremlin is at war and wants everyone in Russia to be at war too. Russians seem to be drifting away from this belligerence. The question is whose pull, the Kremlin’s or Russian society’s, is stronger. I am afraid the Kremlin’s is stronger but will be happy to be mistaken.
—Maxim Trudolyubov, “Ask Not What Will the Kremlin Do Next,” The Russia File, 16 August 2019

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What does the phrase “more and more Russians” mean, in the essay quoted above? How does Maxim Trudolyubov know they are doing anything at all, much more “breaking free of the old habit of trying to guess the party line” and doing “what they deem important” (whatever that means)?

If its organizers are to be believed, a pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong was attended by 1.7 million people today, August 18. According to Worldometers, Hong Kong’s population, as of today, was almost 7.5 million people, meaning that nearly 23% of Hong Kong’s residents marched today in support of the city’s autonomy and democratic rights.

In Moscow, “up to 60,000 people” attended an “authorized” pro-democracy rally on August 10. It was, apparently, the biggest opposition rally in Russia since the fair election protests of 2011–2012.

World Population Review estimates Moscow’s population as slightly over 12 million people.

If the figures for the August 10 rally and Moscow’s population are to be credited, then, 0.005% of the city’s populace came out for an “authorized” rally—meaning an event where they had much less reason to fear a police crackdown than at the “unauthorized” rallies at which riot police and Russian National Guardsmen detained thousands of protests over the last month or so.

When you are trying to get your collective point across to an authoritarian government, the numbers do matter, just as they matter in non-authoritarian countries.

As I have argued in many different ways many different times, the Russian opposition, especially its self-declared leaders in Moscow, is woefully bad at two things: mobilizing ordinary pro-democratic Russians to make their numbers know to the regime, and meaningfully allying itself with the grassroots pro-democracy movement beyond Moscow.

In fact, at the very same time as a tiny minority of brave, smart Muscovites have been doing battle with the Moscow City Elections Commission and the security forces to defend their constitutional right to vote and run for office, an even tinier and, perhaps, braver minority of Petersburgers have been fighting to get a small slate of independent candidates onto the ballot for elections to the city’s municipal district councils, chronically underfunded entities with almost no power to do anything more than making cosmetic improvements to the neighborhoods they represent. Just as in Moscow, the would-be candidates themselves have been harassed, beaten, and arrested, along with some of their supporters.

Typically, when the Petersburg pro-democratic opposition held an authorized rally on August 3, only two thousand people showed up. Sadly and hilariously, Deutsche Welle described it as an “event in support of candidates not allowed to run in the elections to the Moscow City Duma.” In reality, Petersburgers rallied in support of their own beleaguered opposition candidates, in solidarity with Muscovites, and against the upcoming pro forma election of acting Governor Alexander Beglov, the Kremlin’s third satrap in the city, on September 8.

But the real story was too complicated for Deutsche Welle. It was, apparently, too gnarly for the vast majority of Petersburgers as well. World Population Review estimates Petersburg’s population as nearly 5.5 million. (I suspect it is actually much higher than this, but that is another conversation.) So, proportionately, even fewer people in Russia’s “cultural capital” are worried about their rapidly vanishing constitutionally guaranteed rights than their comrades in Moscow and their Chinese frenemies in Hong Kong: 0.0003%, to be exact.

In the face of these real numbers, which he signally fails to mention, Trudolyubov cites public opinion polls, notoriously unreliable indicators in a highly manipulated authoritarian society like Russia, and his own vague “impressions.”

He also makes an assertion that is debatable and a promise he probably has no intention of keeping, to wit:

“Russian society is turning into a much more active player in Russia’s public life. Importantly, it is not limited to the political protests that have been taking place in Moscow for the past several weeks. The protests are just the most visible part of the change. There is exciting new art, there is a new wave of independent journalism, there is an entire universe of YouTube and other social media channels that are completely free of both pro-Kremlin and strictly oppositional politics (all of those trends deserve a special take, which we will provide).”

I will have been reporting on these “other Russias,” as I have dubbed them, for twelve years come this October. I know them as well any “outsider” can know them. I will keep writing about them and translating dispatches from these other Russias as long as I am able.

Despite my interest in the other Russias and Russians, however, and my endless admiration for the sheer courage, tenacity, and intelligence of many of the real-life heroines and heroes who have made appearances on this website over the years, I knew the fair elections movement of 2011–2012 was a non-starter almost as soon as it kicked off, even though it was a nationwide grassroots movement, unlike the 2019 fair elections movement, which has been practically limited to Moscow.

I knew that for two reasons. First, the numbers of anti-Putinists showing their faces in public at protest rallies, “authorized” and “unauthorized,” were also minuscule as percentages of the general populace. Second, the “movement” was managed lackadaisically, with huge gaps between “authorized” rallies.

In Moscow, at least, there does seem to be a greater sense of urgency and intensity this time around, but the numbers of people showing up for rallies have been halved. Paradoxically, however, those people have been more willing to face police crackdowns, but I am not sure this is necessarily a good thing, politically and strategically.

Like Trudolyubov, I am happy to be mistaken. Unlike Trudolyubov, I have no sense that Russian society has become a bigger player than it was seven years ago. There was also a lot of new art, independent journalism, and social media savvy on the margins then as now.

The sad truth is that, unlike countries and territories populated by people of color, such as Hong Kong and Puerto Rico, Russia gets way more credit for every tiny gesture towards democracy, autonomy, and independence made by its supposedly “white” people, even though Russian society punches way below its weight when it comes to every possible measure of official and popular support for democracy, minorities, civil and human rights, progressive environmental policies, engaged art, cutting-edge education, grassroots-driven urban planning, you name it.

What Russia does have a lot of is flag twirlers who have ensconced themselves in plum jobs at western news outlets and think thanks, places where, correspondingly, you will not find a lot of people of color and people from the formerly colonized parts of the world. So, even though the Kremlin has made xenophobia, anti-Americanism, rampant homophobia, Islamophobic, anti-westernism, anti-liberalism, Russian Orthodox obscurantism, and aggressive covert and overt interventions into the affairs of other countries planks in its unwritten ideological platform, and Russia’s opposition has said almost nothing about any of it, much less organized protests against, say, the Kremlin’s criminal military involvement in the brutal ongoing murder of Syria’s pro-democracy movement, the so-called west, at least as represented by places like the Kennan Institute and media organizations like the BBC, has way more time and sympathy for all things Russian than it has for anything happening in countries and places dominated by people of color.

It would be strange of me, of all people, to argue for less interest in grassroots politics and culture in Russia, but a genuine curiosity should also involve being able to tell the fibbers and crypto-nationalists from the truth-tellers and democrats. // TRR

Thanks to the fabulous Mark Teeter for the heads-up. I am nearly certain he would have a different take on Trudolyubov’s essay, but in my Facebook newsfeed it ended up cheek by jowl with an article about today’s truly massive protests in Hong Kong.

The Damage

ovd-damage

As of 5:00 a.m., today, July 28, 2019, OVD Info reported that 1,373 people were detained at yesterday’s protest rally in Moscow in support of the independent candidates whose applications to stand in the September 8 elections to the Moscow City Duma were recently rejected on spurious grounds by the Moscow City Elections Commission, sparking a series of protest rallies and marches, including yesterday’s “unauthorized” rally.

Police violently dispersed yesterday’s protesters. Baza reported that 77 people were badly beaten, while OVD Info compiled a list of 25 people who were badly beaten.

At least 10 journalists were subjected to the use of force by the police, while at least 18 journalists were detained along with protesters.

There were at 42 minors among yesterday’s detainees.

At least 152 detainees were kept in holding at police stations overnight.

The detainees were taken to at least 70 different police precincts for processing.

The detainees were not given water or food. They were not allowed to take medicine with them if they were locked up. They were forcibly fingerprinted. They were not given access to lawyers and social defenders. They were kept in paddy wagons for a long time before being taken into precinct stations: the temperature in one paddy wagon was 40 degrees Celsius.

Source: OVD Info. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up.

 

938

ovd info-938

According to OVD Info, as of 9:00 p.m. Moscow Time today, July 27, 2019, 938 people had been detained in Moscow for taking part in an “unauthorized” grassroots protest against the disqualification of independent candidates who had registered to stand in the September 8, 2019, election to the Moscow City Duma.

Opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who called for this protest at last week’s “authorized” rally, which drew over 22,000 people, was arrested and sentenced to thirty days in jail earlier in the week. Several of the disqualified candidates and people associated with the opposition had their homes searched by police this past week as well. Several of them were also summoned for questioning to the Moscow office of the Russian Investigative Committee, which announced it had launched a criminal investigation of the opposition protests under Article 141 of the Russian Criminal Code, which criminalizes the “obstruction of voting rights or the work of electoral commissions.”

 

#PutinKillsChildren

putinkillschilren.JPGPoster at a rally in support of Idlib, 15 June 2019, Pariser Platz, Berlin. Photo by the Russian Reader

As the extraordinarily eloquent photographs a friend of mine took six days ago in Moscow show, another “look at us revolution” has been taking place there.

Like the previous “look at us revolution” of 2011–2012, staged almost exclusively for social media and international media consumption, the implicit message has been, “W are smart white people and we deserve better. Marvel at our clever placards. Look deeply into our educated white faces. In every single way that matters, we are just like you Herrenvolk in Europe and the US. The fact we live under a vicious tyranny is an unhappy accident for which we bear almost no responsibility.”

Beyond that, apparently, there is no plan, program or coordination, so it would be a mistake to imagine the detention of these protesters by the hundreds means the Putin regime is afraid of them. No, the regime is discouraging the protesters and potential protesters and, more importantly, it is gathering information on the detainees, information it can use in future crackdowns.

There will be a real revolution in Moscow when the super smart “white people” there not only learn how to get much larger numbers of people on the street, coordinate their movements, push back against the police’s attempts to detain them, and make real political demands but also discover the existence of the rest of the world and Moscow’s increasingly baleful effect on it.

If a hundred thousand people marched in the streets of Moscow demanding Putin immediately withdraw all Russian troops and mercenaries from Syria, this would not only signal the beginning of the end of Putin’s long reign but it would also mean anti-regime Russians had realized solidarity is a two-way street.

You cannot expect people in other parts of the world to empathize with your struggle for democracy and justice when your country’s armed forces, internet trolls, mercenaries, spies, and military proxies are fighting and fueling armed conflicts and political crises in dozens of other countries.

Russia might have more natural resources than any other country in the world, but the reserves of goodwill toward the country and its people will eventually dry up.

It has been said before by hundreds of activists and commentators, but if the US had allied itself with Assad to bomb the hell out of his opponents in Syria, the whole world, especially the leftist part, would be up in arms.

Russia has been bombing the hell out of Syria and doing lots of other nasty stuff elsewhere, including poisoning people in broad daylight and shooting down airliners, but it troubles almost no one, relatively speaking.

What is more, no one bothers to ask why it does not bother all the nice “white people” in Moscow, who would never think to demonstrate en masse against their country’s attacks on lesser folk in third-world countries. {TRR}

#PutinKillsChildren

An Islamophobic Witch Trial in Moscow Ends with Hefty Sentences for Swarthy Men Who Read Banned Books

KMO_169609_00017_1_t218_222045Defendants in the trial holding up a homemade placard that reads, “Oh people! Wake up. We’re not tourists.” Photo courtesy of Kristina Kormilitsyna and Kommersant. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up

In Moscow, Hizb ut-Tahrir Defendants Sentenced to 11 to 16 Years in Prison
OVD Info
February 15, 2019

The Moscow District Military Court has sentenced defendants in the so-called Hizb ut-Tahrir case to eleven to sixteen years in medium security penal colonies, reports Moscow News Agency.

The men were found guilty of violating either Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 205.5 Part 1 or Part 2, which criminalizes involvement in the work of an organization deemed a terrorist organization. According to investigators, the accused men read “banned literature, including religious and ideological texts” in a rented apartment in Moscow from October 7, 2016.

The prosecutor had originally asked the court to sentence the accused men to thirteen to seventeen years in prison.

Interfax reports that Zafar Nodirov, the cell’s alleged leader, Farhod Nodirov, and Hamid Igamberdyev received the maximum sentences.

Sobirjon Burhoniddini, Alijon Odinayev, Muradjon Sattorov, Otabek Isomadinov, and Aziz Hidirbayev were sentenced to eleven to twelve years in maximum security penal colonies.

Four of them did not deny their involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. They claimed the organization was a political party whose members did not engage in prohibited activities.

The twelve natives [sic] of Central Asia were arrested in December 2016. Three defendants in the case pleaded guilty and were sentenced to ten to twelve years in maximum security penal colonies.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is an international pan-Islamist political organization. It is banned in a number of Muslim countries and Russia. It is also banned in Germany for not recognizing the state of Israel. The SOVA Center for Information and Analysis has argued the party has been wrongfully deemed a “terrorist” organization in Russia.

Thanks to Elena Zaharova for the heads-up and for caring. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Why Ban Hizb Ut-Tahrir? They’re Not Isis—They’re Isis’s Whipping Boys
William Scates Frances
The Guardian
February 12, 2015

Another day, another Islamic State (Isis) meme. This one is a rather well done mimicry of the pamphlet style of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Its title reads “Hizb ut-Ta’khir”—translated roughly as the “party of delay”—and its bold headline reads, “Establishing the Khilafah since 1953.”

Beneath, the disclaimer reads: “I know, we have got nowhere so far, but we have lots of conferences and heaps of flags and are really good at sitting in cafes.”

This is not the first meme about Hizb ut-Tahrir to be spread around the oft deleted and resurrected pro-Isis Twitter handles. The Dawlah twittersphere (Dawlah meaning “state,” shorthand for Islamic State) is full of them, all of a similar theme, all targeting Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Reading much of the commentary in recent months, you would not expect Hizb ut-Tahrir to be the target of Isis supporters’ mockery. However, contrary to the common equivalency made between the two groups, the gap between Isis and the Hizb has never been wider. They are not only very different, but for some time have been in active opposition.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is a nonviolent political group that imagines itself as speaking truth to power from within the belly of the beast. Isis is a violent utopian movement that views staying in the west as inherently suspect. Hizb ut-Tahrir’s membership are generally inclined towards the classical Islamic sciences, while Isis affiliates are “Salafi-Jihadi” in approach.

Hizb ut-Tahrir has a party structure, with defined roles and official party lines. Isis is scattered, with isolated spokespeople of varied authority and rhetorical skill. The primary similarity between the two is their religion, but when their membership, approach, rhetoric and demographics are so utterly distinct, the comparison stops there.

In Australia, Hizb ut-Tahrir is something like the Muslim equivalent of a socialist student movement. Its prominent members are mostly tertiary-educated and imagine themselves as a sort of Muslim consulate to the west. They are avowedly nonviolent in their approach, but do not shy away from supporting specific “mujahedeen” groups in current conflicts, though this support has rarely been found to go beyond the rhetorical and is confined to wars within the Muslim world.

Like the aforementioned socialist student groups, their main form of communication comes through pamphlets and fiery speeches delivered by a small cadre of speakers from within their party structure.

Isis, on the other hand, is nothing like this. While in Raqqa and Mosul the group has something approaching a governance structure, in Australia the supporters of the group have no coherent hierarchy. Rather, “Dawlah fanboys,” as they are known to some, are scattered individuals confined to hidden Facebook groups, anonymous Twitter accounts and the occasional coy “spokesperson.”

They imagine the Islamic State as a sort of Muslim utopia, a land “free of humiliation.” They view themselves as destined to fight the good fight against the tyranny and disbelief which defines a postcolonial Muslim world. That they use memes is telling; they are a wholly different demographic from Hizb ut-Tahrir. Much of their membership seems to be both less educated and of a lower socioeconomic status. They deride the Hizb as all talk, and say as much often and publicly.

On the other side, Hizb ut-Tahrir has, in the few media releases in which they address Baghdadi directly, invoked verses of the Qur’an regarding the curse of God upon tyrants and their servants. This rhetoric has only increased since a senior member of the group was reportedly executed in Aleppo for “questioning Baghdadi’s self-proclaimed Caliphate.” Hizb ut-Tahrir called dibs on the Caliphate, and they view Baghdadi’s group and his title as wholly illegitimate.

Much was made of Wassim Dourehi’s refusal to denounce Isis during his Dateline interview with Emma Albarici. This was no show of support; Dourehi’s refusal was Hizb ut-Tahrir exposing the media’s ignorance of their movement. Further, it only takes a cursory look at Hizb ut-Tahrir’s website to see that they are embroiled in a bitter and ongoing feud with Isis.

While Tony Abbott has not confirmed whether the federal government will attempt to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir, it would be foolish to do so. Hizb ut-Tahrir thrives on bans. It is banned in a large number of the regimes of “taghout”—tyrants, as their language describes it—and they wear these bans as a mark of honor, as a sign of their legitimacy and the fear their truths inspire. Indeed, the lack of a ban is used by some Isis supporters to prop up a persistent rumor that Hizb ut-Tahrir is a government front.

As it stands, Hizb ut-Tahrir is a whipping boy. Whenever Isis does something bad, they are dragged out in public to get a flogging. The idea that banning the Hizb will somehow reign in Isis or stop the spread of their rhetoric shows just how much this ignorance pervades discussions of public policy.