The Grateful Dead

stropov-1Max Stropov on his way to September 9, 2018, anti-pension reform demonstration in Petersburg. His placard reads, “Life is hard, but happily it’s short.” Photo courtesy of his Facebook page

Max Stropov
Facebook
September 10, 2018

Today [September 9], I was detained at a protest rally for the first time. I had lucked out at previous demos. The protest rally was against the pension reform, and it took place at Lenin Square [in Petersburg]. The event had been authorized by the authorities, but by a happy coincidence, a pipe near the square had burst a couple of days before the rally. Who knows whether it burst under its own power in such a timely fashion or not.

Whatever the case, it would have been a waste not take advantage of it, and so the entire square was cordoned off. The rally on the square was thus still authorized, but it was now impossible to hold it on the square. Antinomy is the modus operandi of the current Russian regime. What is permitted is impossible, and vice versa.

As I rode the escalator up from the subway, I met a colleague from my previous, academic life, Georgy Chernavin. We stood for a while and had a nice chat.

I was one of the first protesters detained since I was made up like a dead man and holding a placard that read, “Life is hard, but happily it’s short.” That is a title of a song by the band Communism, by the way, but the title is also a quotation, attributed to Varlam Shalamov and Yuri Nikolayev. Basically, the quotation is communist. It belongs to everyone.

Communism, “Life Is Hard, But Happily It’s Short”

I did not see the rest of the rally. There were a total of seventeen people in the first group of detainees, including one dead man (ho-ho-ho). We were put on a large articulated bus. It was spacious inside.

In the paddy wagon, a forgettable looking Center “E” or NKVD officer was in our faces the whole time filming us with a video camera. It was hard to say what secret service he was from. The police could not tell us who he was, and the forgettable looking guy pretended he was not there. When we spoke to him directly, he kept on filming us.

There was also a rather burly major, who never did tell us his name. We later learned from our administrative offense reports that his surname was Golodnyi [“Hungry”].

We cruised around town for a long time. Finally, we were delivered to Dybenko Street. First, the women and children who had been detained were left at one police precinct, and then six of us were taken to another precinct. The rest of the detainees were taken somewhere else, but I don’t know anything about them.

Our group included three young men from the Navalny Team, an older dude carrying a “Putin, resign!” placard, and an elderly man who had lost his telephone and glasses at the rally.

At the police precinct, we hung out in the hallway the whole time. The police told us that we had not been arrested, as it were, but at the same time, they would not let us go.

Antinomy is the modus operandi of the current Russian regime.

Varya Mikhaylova came to the precinct bearing care packages for vegans. At first, the police did not want to take any of the things she had brought for us, arguing we were not locked up in cells. She chewed them out, and they threatened to charge her with disobeying police officers, but finally and suddenly they took all the packages she had brought.

It was a really joyous moment. Everyone wanted to join the Party of the Dead. The old dude drank Agusha fruit puree, saying it was “Agusha from the next life.”

stropov-2Max Stropov and his fellow detainees. The young man on the right holds a placard that reads, “Putin, resign!” Photo courtesy of Max Stropov’s Facebook page

We had hung out in the hallway for around three hours when the police set about writing us up for our alleged offenses. Everyone’s arrest report was worded exactly the same. It was apparently a boilerplate arrest report issued by police brass. In particular, there was a bit claiming the crowd had yelled, “Putin, skis, Magadan,” as if the boilerplate report had been drafted back in 2012.

The police threatened to keep me at the precinct until my court hearing because I would not sign a paper obliging me to appear in court at ten in the morning, but then I signed it, noting in writing I had done it “under threat of continued detention.” In fact, I had read the form is innocuous and does not oblige anyone to do anything.

The court hearing is tomorrow. The Nevsky District Court is located on Olga Bergholz Street.

Translated by the Russian Reader. According to Mediazona, more than five hundred protesters were detained by police at yesterday’s anti-pension reform rally in Petersburg. At the link, above, you will find a stunning photo reportage of the showdown between protesters and police, produced by photographer David Frenkel.

UPDATE. Petersburg news website Fontanka.ru, which can often be believed when it comes to these things because it is published and edited by former cops, reports that 603 protesters were detained by police during an anti-pension reform protest rally in the vicinity of the Finland Station and Lenin Square in Petersburg yesterday afternoon. Today, many or all of these protesters will be tried in the city’s district courts for their alleged administrative offenses. The calls for help coming over social media from members of the Aid to Detainees Group suggest that many of these people will have no legal representation, neither lawyers nor so-called social defenders, so they will have to fend for themselves. In any case, whether they get the book thrown at them or not will most likely have already been decided elsewhere.

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Yuri Krasev, 1960-2018

krasev01
Yuri Krasev, Self-Portrait, 1983. Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Image courtesy of Cultobzor

Very few people in the world know it, but the most progressive Russian rock band of all time were Leningrad-Petersburg’s Virtuosi of the Universe (Virtuozy vselennoi).

This recording (“Beauty Queen”) was produced by Sergei “Shaggy” Vasilyev at his studio on Nevsky Prospect in 1990. It features the late, unforgettable Vladimir Sorokin on vocals, Mr. Vasilyev himself on guitar, Andrei “Slim” Vasilyev of DDT, the late Ovchinnikov brothers (Vadim and Alexander), and Igor Rjatov, among others.

Virtuosi of the Universe, “Beauty Queen” (1990)

The film that accompanies the song was shot by the incomparably brilliant filmmaker Yevgeny Kondratiev, long resident in Berlin, and edited by the lovely sound wizard Georgy Baranov, who fortunately has not gone anywhere and is very much alive and well.

Thanks to our friend Ksenia Astafiyeva for the heads-up and so much else.

Ms. Astafiyeva dedicated her original post of the song to our friend Yuri “Compass” Krasev, who died on January 28. An actor, artist, and showman, Mr. Krasev played a key role in musician, composer and band leader Sergei Kuryokhin’s legendary Pop Mechanics performances and in the parallel cinema and necrorealist film movements, especially the films of the late Yevgeny Yufit, as well as in nearly everything else that happened in the endlessly various, continuously unfolding and intermingling of art and life known collectively as the New Artists (Novye khudozhniki), whose aftershocks continue to define the Petersburg art scene well into the nineteen-nineties.

In the mid nineties, Mr. Krasev and I once gave a performance at Gallery 103, in the old artists’ squat аt Pushkinskaya 10 in downtown Petersburg. The performance featured me, dressed in a old Soviet men’s dress suit I found in the flat on Italianskaya where I was living. Mr. Krasev helped me picked out my outfit.

During the performance itself, Mr. Krasev picked me up off the ground and literally held me above his head for several minutes while reciting a poem or text of some kind. He was such a strong man that at no time did I fear he would drop me, and indeed he did not drop me, gently lowering me to the ground when he had finished his recitation.

Mr. Krasev will be sorely missed by his many friends and acquaintances. Without absolutely unique artists, musicians, and eccentrics like him, Mr. Yufit, Mr. Sorokin, the Messieurs Ovchinnikov, and many others, Petersburg has turned into a place that seems alien to those of us who still remember what a joyous, free, and truly creative city it was not so long ago, a city that belonged to people who dared to imagine it as the center of universe and a place where literally everyone was or should be a virtuoso. TRR