Victoria Lomasko: Truckers, Torfyanka, and Dubki

Victoria Lomasko
Truckers, Torfyanka, and Dubki: Grassroots Protests in Russia, 2015–2016

In late February 2015, politician Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the Russian opposition, was gunned down near the Kremlin.

Grassroots activists immediately set up a people’s memorial, made up of bouquets, photos, drawings, and candles, at the scene of the crime, on Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge. For over a year, they have been taking shifts guarding the memorial from members of various nationalist movements and bridge maintenance workers, who routinely haul away the flowers and photos as if they were trash.

Slogan on man’s t-shirt: “Navalny didn’t steal the timber.” May 24, 2016

“The assaults on the memorial occur like pogroms in a Jewish shtetl: it’s the luck of the draw,” these two people on vigil at the memorial told me. “They pick a time when the people on duty have let down their guard, like three or four in the morning.”

Woman: “People will take to the barricades only when food runs out in the stores.” Slogan on her shirt: “The ‘Russian world’ has no use for science and education.’” Rally in defense of science and education, June 6, 2015

Headed by opposition leaders and attended by thousands of people, the 2012 rallies and marches for fair elections and a “Russia without Putin!” ended with the show trials of 2013 and 2014 against opposition leaders (Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov) and rank-and-file protesters (the so-called prisoners of May 6).

In 2015 and 2016, the Marches of the Millions have given way to small-scale rallies and protests. People far removed from politics have tried to defend their own concrete rights.

I made these drawings at a rally in defense of the Dynasty Foundation. An NGO founded to support scientific research and science education in Russia, it had been declared a “foreign agent” by the Justice Ministry.

“Today, they killed Nemtsov. Tomorrow, they’ll kill a nationalist leader.” Rally in defense of science and education

Torfyanka

In June 2015, residents of Moscow’s Losiny Ostrov (Moose Island) District came together to stop construction of a church in their local park, Torfyanka. The building had been planned as part of the Russian Orthodox Church’s 200 Churches Program.

“People need hospitals and kindergartens more than another church on the site of our park.” Torfyanka Park, July 1, 2015
“People need hospitals and kindergartens more than another church on the site of our park.” Torfyanka Park, July 1, 2015

Residents set up a tent camp in the park and stood watch in shifts to keep construction equipment from entering the site. They also filed a lawsuit, asking the court to declare the public impact hearing on the construction project null and void. The hearing had been held without their involvement. Continue reading “Victoria Lomasko: Truckers, Torfyanka, and Dubki”

Contemporary Art Killed My Dog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Was God’s Will

Dmitry Enteo
August 28, 2014
vk.com

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

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

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

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

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

vYtGtrvxh_E

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eduard Gladkov: “What Sidur Feared Has Happened”

Eduard Gladkov
August 15, 2015
Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday Vespers

IMG_9558

The course of history screams to us that Russian Orthodoxy is either a form of dementia or a form of permissiveness, a mandate for “therapeutic” violence. It is not clear to me how this leaky boat has not drowned in the waters of our time, and what causes people to get into it and go to the bottom, while also returning fire. A specter haunts Russia, only the specter of what? It’s obviously a stinking, rotting fleshy corpse.

Sofiya Yakimova

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Moscow art smashed as Orthodox activists denounce blasphemy
Anna Malpas
August 15, 2015
AFP

Moscow (AFP) – Sculptures by a renowned Soviet artist on show in central Moscow were smashed after being denounced by Orthodox activists as “blasphemous.”

“Delusional people came to the exhibition who broke several works belonging to the Manege collection, by Vadim Sidur,” said a spokeswoman for the Manege art centre by the Kremlin walls, Yelena Karneyeva, referring to the activists.

“Several sculptures are completely smashed,” she told AFP, adding that police had come and led away the activists. The works were made of plaster and linoleum.

A police spokesman told AFP that he could “confirm the incident happened and that currently all the participants of the conflict have been taken to the station to write statements.”

A well-known Orthodox activist Dmitry Tsorionov, known by the nickname Dmitry Enteo, earlier said he was at the Manege exhibition centre.

“We called the police,” he said. “They will close the exhibition for offending believers.”

Enteo, quoted by Interfax news agency, had said the exhibition included an “indecent” depiction of Jesus Christ and was “dirty, harsh mockery of Jesus Christ and the saints.”

The head of the nationalist God’s Will group is a prominent conservative activist. He cites Orthodox values while picketing and heckling at arts events and protests, sometimes with a television camera crew in tow. This year he attempted to stop a gay pride rally in Moscow.

The exhibition called “Sculptures that We Don’t See,” showed works by Soviet sculptors that did not see the light of day during the Soviet period because they were non-conformist.

The show, which opened to the public Friday, included some works with religious themes including a crucifixion bas-relief.

Sidur was an avant-garde artist unable to show his non-conformist works publicly in the Soviet era. He died in 1986. A museum in Moscow is now dedicated to his work and his art has been sold at international auction houses such as Sotheby’s.

Friday’s attack on his works swiftly prompted condemnation.

“Now Orthodox warriors are smashing a sculpture exhibition in the centre of Moscow. Hail the Russian IS,” Vladimir Varfomoleyev, a journalist at popular Echo of Moscow radio station, wrote in a Tweet.

‘Warning, religion!’

Artist Alexei Knedlyakovsky, whose installation about the Russian protest movement was damaged by Enteo last year, wrote in a Tweet: “Maybe after this Enteo will finally get jailed?”

An Orthodox Church spokesman, Vladimir Legoida told RIA Novosti news agency there must be a “legal assessment” of the attack, while stressing that believers “undoubtedly have the right to protest.”

In recent years, religious fundamentalist activists have targeted a number of exhibitions in Moscow and forced them to shut down, while organisers have been fined for inciting hatred.

In 2007, activists attacked an exhibition at Moscow’s Sakharov Centre called “Warning, Religion!,” complaining it insulted believers.

The exhibition included a print of Jesus with the head of Mickey Mouse and a spoof ad for Coca-Cola with the slogan “This is my Blood.”

Russia in 2010 convicted the organisers of inciting religious hatred and fined them.

The Sakharov Centre’s director was earlier fined in 2005 for inciting religious hatred with another exhibition called “Warning, Religion!”

Activists had poured red paint on the walls and paintings and smashed windows at the 2003 exhibition.

Such attacks on exhibitions carry echoes of brutal Soviet-era treatment of contemporary artists seen at the time as being ideologically unsound.

The Manege exhibition centre was the scene of one of the most famous Soviet-era crackdowns on contemporary art.

In 1962, then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev visited an exhibition of abstract painting at the gallery and angrily denounced the artists as “fags” and “bastards.”

In 1974, the authorities sent in a bulldozer to destroy an improvised exhibition in a park in southwestern Moscow by avant-garde artists.

Photo by the Russian Reader