Watching the third season of my favorite crime thriller, The Blacklist, starring the scintillating James Spader, I was surprised when the show’s other star, Megan Boone, launched into a briefing for her FBI colleagues about the real-life Russian human rights lawyer and antifascist Stanislav Markelov, murdered by Russian neo-Nazis in broad daylight in downtown Moscow on January 19, 2009.
The show’s Wiki reinforces this revisionist history by describing the sinister Karakurt as follows.
“Known in the intelligence community as ‘the Left Hand of the SVR,’ Karakurt (Turkic languages: kara (black) and kurt (wolf)), whose real name remains unknown, is an assassin employed to silence Russian dissidents and known high-profile critics of the Russian regime. He specializes in making his murders look like non-criminal causes, such as accidents, suicides, or the actions of other criminals. He has at least [two] assassinations to his name. The first was Stanislav Markelov, a human rights lawyer who was shot to death in Moscow in January of 2009. The murder was blamed on a Neo-Nazi youth group. The second is Boris Berezovsky, another critic of the Russian regime, who died in a staged suicide in 2013. Karakurt is also known to have lent his skills to the Cabal.”
I don’t know how teachable this odd plot twist in The Blacklist‘s lethal fairytale spy-versus-spy kingdom is, but it is worth recalling the real life and death of Stanislav Markelov, as reflected on this website and its predecessor, Chtodelat News.
Although it sounds fun on TV, it’s ludicrous to suggest the SVR would have had anything to do with Markelov’s murder. It is not, however, ludicrous to suppose his real killers, the neo-Nazi group BORN (Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists), had ties with high-ranking government officials.
As artist Victoria Lomasko wrote in her graphic reportage of their 2015 murder trial, “Only one thing was forbidden in [presiding Judge Alexander] Kozlov’s courtroom: mentioning that the criminal case had obvious political overtones, that the ultra-rightists had been communicating with people from the presidential administration through a series of intermediaries, and that BORN itself was a project that could not have been conceived without their involvement. Kozlov ruthlessly barred all attempts to discuss this.”
So, The Blacklist is not as far from the truth as we might have imagined at first. TRR
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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”→
I have it on good authority that today is International Translator’s Day. Since this blog consists mostly of things I’ve read in Russian and felt like sharing with you all in English, every day that I post something here is translator’s day to me.
But there are things that I get more pleasure from translating and thus dispatching back to the world of my native language. One of those things has been the unique graphic reportage work of Russian artist Victoria Lomasko. And over the past four or five years I’ve been translating Ms. Lomasko’s work, the piece that has touched me most has been “Feminine” (2013), which I’d like to reintroduce to you today in a slightly shinier version. TRR
“When I was young, I had a date lined up on every corner.”
In the series Feminine, all the characters are drawn from life, and their remarks are recorded verbatim. However, I have tried to move away from reportage and towards symbolism—to generalize specific situations in images that express my feelings and experiences.
The portraits here are not so much images of specific people as they are archetypes: the faded, lonely woman; the slutty boozer; the rigid old Soviet woman, etc.
“There are no factories in this town and no dudes.”
“He just couldn’t put on slippers and become a domesticated dude.”
Each drawing adds its own tint (of sadness, irony, and anger) to the overall picture—the life of women in the Russian provinces.
“I’ve been feeling slutty since December.”
I was born in Serpukhov, a town in the Moscow Region.
The women and girls I knew talked about men: acquaintances and strangers, exes, current husbands and boyfriends, future husbands and boyfriends. We believed that love would change the monotonous course of our lives.
“I’m not sloshed. I’m a saint.”
I had one other belief—in my calling as an artist. Only my dad, a self-taught artist, supported my plan to study in Moscow and then work as an artist. Believing the nonsense I was spouting was infectious and a hindrance to finding a husband, some of my girlfriends’ moms tried to force their daughters to spend less time with me. They were right: I’m still not married, and I don’t have any children.
“We’re used to the fellas paying for everything.”
I have lived in Moscow for over ten years. When I travel to the provinces, the scenes I see and the conversations I hear are familiar to me. Even divorced girlfriends sympathize with my “bitter plight.”
I became an artist, but I do not feel like a winner. In this country, their life strategies and mine are transformed into losses. I look at the “heroines” in Feminine and find a part of myself in all of them.
“Where can I get hold of a machine gun to kill Putin?”
Translated by the Russian Reader. Originally published by Chtodelat News. Victoria Lomasko’s book Other Russias will be published by n+1 in December.
Victoria Lomasko Chronicle of a Troubled Time The Khimki Truckers’ Camp Readies Itself for Nationwide Strike
Sergei Vladimirov, a coordinator at the Khimki truckers’ camp: “In the early days, we pushed everybody away and were suspicious of each other. We didn’t know each other yet.”
Andrei Bazhutin, another coordinator at the camp: “In the early days, chaos prevailed, but now the guys are like soldiers. We have figured out what ‘newsworthy’ means and how to give interviews, but the demand on us has been such it is like we’ve been doing this for several years.”
Over the past two and a half months, the truckers have also learned to hold rallies, organize alliances, and produce visual propaganda.
Truckers have been coming from other cities to see the camp firsthand. Two truckers from Kursk were impressed.
“In Russia, people always look up to the big cities. We’re going to tell our people back home, ‘Boys, the whole country is rising!’”
Russian truckers will hold a nationwide strike from February 20 to March 1.
The protesting truckers are convinced that toll roads for trucks are just the tip of the iceberg. The new tariff will disrupt the cargo transportation system as it now exists, leaving it to the monopolists.
Many drivers have first heard about the truckers’ protest and the fact they could join it from the Khimki activists. They rarely use the Internet and don’t know any reliable news websites, while the protest has not covered by TV news channels.
Those who have not visited the camp believe the truckers’ protest will peter out. But how can it be expanded if the truckers are unable to appear on TV regularly? The truckers have given us an example of how not to be afraid of speaking out against lawless decisions by the authorities. Don’t they deserve our help publicizing their cause?
Activists from the Khimki camp have held meetings in many cities at which they shared their self-organizational know-how.
“In the regions, they want to see truckers from Khimki, because they trust us,” say the activists.
Money is needed for additional organizing trips. If you are able to support this important cause, you can find the details of the activists’ bank account here.
Nadezhda, who is from the Vologda Region, used to work as a manager in the housing management system, but left “because the whole business is dishonest.” She owns two trucks. She has been at the camp since day one.
“I’m grateful to Plato for helping me meet such a variety of people here,” says Nadezhda.
Rustam Mallamagomedov became the interim head of the Union of Dagestan Truckers. Truckers’ unions are now being formed in many Russian regions.
Sergei, a trucker from Dagestan, told me this story in late January. I met him again the other at the Khimki camp. He was cheerless.
“My boss is selling the truck tomorrow. It’s become unprofitable. The Internet is awash with ads for trucks for sale.”
Sergei doesn’t know how he’ll survive. The country is in the midst of an economic crisis and there are no jobs to be had.
The camp gets visitors every day. Some folks bring the activists hot food, while others bring them diesel for their trucks. Still other people give lectures and stage improvised concerts. Khimki residents invite the protesters to their houses to take showers and wash their clothes. The majority of those who come to meet the truckers later become regular visitors.
How do you feel about the truckers’ protest? It would be interesting to know your opinion. If you support them, then how do you show your support? If you don’t support them, then why not? What would have to change for you to support them? And what could inspire you to travel to the Khimki camp and meet the truckers?
Mostly homebound folks like me learn a lot by going on illustrated and narrated trips to various parts of Russia and the former Soviet Union with graphic reportage artist extraordinaire Victoria Lomasko. Her recent “Trip to Dagestan,” now published in English in Drawing the Times, is no exception. In fact, it will blow your socks off if you read it all the way through.
Tamara Eidelman How I Gave a Lecture to Truckers echo.msk.ru
December 26, 2015
When I informed my near and dear that I had been asked to give truckers a lecture on civil disobedience, their reactions were basically the same.
“They won’t understand a thing.”
“They support Putin and won’t give you the time of day.”
“Update your vocabulary,” someone even said to me.
“Haven’t they left yet?” asked a woman who knows her way around politics quite well.
All these statements were not very encouraging, and in any case I was badly dithering. I knew I was capable of giving interesting lectures, just not to truckers. I pictured burly men who yawned as they listened to my arguments and might even, for all I knew, shout, “Why are we listening to this? We are not interested.”
But it turned out they were interested.
My friend, who had dreamed up this whole thing, and I slowly and painfully made our way to Khimki. The shuttle bus dropped us off on the wrong side of the Mega shopping center, so we had to walk through it. Holiday lights were shining, people were hurrying to do their New Year’s shopping, but no one wondered about the big rigs parked in the parking lot.
And we still had to find the parking lot. We walked a long way through enormous spaces crammed with the cars of happy Mega and Ikea customers. Finally we saw the trucks: the word “lonely” came to mind. They were parked in the back of beyond. True, they had to be visible from the road, not far from the anti-tank obstacles, but who would see them there?
The trucks sported homemade placards reminding Rotenberg that the tire iron was under the seat. There was a New Year’s fir tree with only a few decorations on it. We were looking for Viktor with whom we had arranged the lecture. We were told Viktor was in the “cafeteria.” Oh, they had a cafeteria? The cafeteria was yet another truck, where you could have tea. We discovered only two or three fellows there. The rest had gone off to have lunch, obviously, to a more suitable place for such things. Were they really going into Mega? What did they think about the happily occupied shoppers, who had arrived as it were from another world?
We stood and chatted. It transpired we were not the only guests there. There was a bus driver who had brought a load of passengers to Mega and in the meantime had stopped by to see how things were going. It seemed it was not his first visit. He talked about how much money people who drive buses had to shell out for no reason at all.
Young women who wanted to draw what was happening at the truckers’ camp and post the drawings on Facebook showed up, as well as a woman with a camera. They said it was not their first visit, either, and that there were even old women who brought the lads borscht.
Meanwhile, the guys had started to gather. They really were big and strapping, and I found it hard to picture them listening to the lecture. But as soon as Viktor said the lecturer had arrived, they immediately happily formed a circle round me and listened.
I told them about Parnell and the first boycott in the world, against Captain Boycott, about how the landlords in Ireland had pitilessly raised the rents and complaining was useless.
“It conjures up certain associations,” commented one of the listeners. “Only there is no point in boycotting Rotenberg.”
“Hang on and let us listen. This is interesting,” the others said, stopping him short.
I looked around and could see they really were interested.
I saw I was surrounded not by ferocious wild men, but by attentive listeners with intelligent faces. I continued.
We moved on to Gandhi. The interest grew. The slogan “fill the prisons” provoked healthy mirth. One of the men was told he would be their Gandhi and would go to prison first. Another man asked whether there was not a difference between Russia and India: in Russia, where so many people had perished in Stalin’s camps, it would hardly be possible to fill the prisons. He was told that no one was forcing him to go to prison: he was just being told how things had been in the past. Someone immediately said they did not have to repeat what had already been done, but could come up with something of their own.
We had an intense discussion of what exactly they could come up with. This was the problem. So far they had not come up with anything than blocking the road to Moscow, and even then far from everyone agreed with this plan. The drivers gathered in Khimki were supposedly supported by their comrades in dozens of regions, but the majority was inclined to “wait and see.”
Discussions broke out after almost every sentence. Meanwhile, Shamil, an intelligent-looking Dagestani, and Sergei, a short, energetic man, had joined us. Everyone had his or her say. Someone said it was a pity that his schoolteacher, Raisa Demyanovna, had not talked about things as emotionally as I was.
The conversation became more and more relaxed. When I said that Gandhi had called on his supporters to refrain from sex, everyone gleefully hooted that I was talking about them, that they had long refrained from sex. All of them had very unhappy wives waiting at home, some of whom had threatened divorce. They had no money and their husbands were away from home, so of course you could understand them. Some of the men had gone home, while others said they could not, because “what would the guys say.”
We segued to Martin Luther King. The story of the busy boycott by Montgomery’s Negro population elicited cheers of approval.
“That’s great! They hit them in their wallets!”
Sergei commenced on a fairly coherent account of Gandhi, but he was interrupted and told the “speaker” had just told them about Gandhi.
The questions rained down one after the other. Of course they mainly boiled down to the famous “What is to be done?” We tried to discuss how to break through the media blackout. Some said we had to establish a public television channel.
Everyone unanimously chewed out Channel One. Everyone wanted more lectures. Everyone was interested.
An hour later we said goodbye. We were asked to come back again, and we promised to do it.
We headed back home, our emotions overflowing. What a joy it had been to converse with completely sane, intelligent, energetic people, to establish a rapport with them, to see the look in their eyes, and hear their questions.
I would love for them to get an answer to the question “What is to be done?” I would love it if as many people as possible went to see them, if they did not feel worthless and abandoned on New Year’s Day, if they won.
By the by, as for the issue of “updating my vocabulary,” not a single truck driver swore even once when I was there.
And the man who asked about Stalin’s camps also asked me why I thought that, unlike in Europe, each new Russian regime wanted to “bend” us. I said there was a really long answer, but I would give the short answer: because we put up with it. Everyone applauded.
Tamara Eidelman is an Honored Teacher of the Russian Federation and a historian.
Yura, Mikhail, Anatoly, Andrei, and Vitya are all truckers and arrived in Moscow from different cities almost a month ago. After an unsuccessful attempt to paralyze the Moscow Ring Road, they are stuck in a parking lot in Khimki. They can leave if they like, but the police will not let them back. In Khimki, almost all the protesters against the Plato toll payment system are individual entrepreneurs. After making all the various deductions, their take-home income is around 20,000 rubles a month [approx. 250 euros]. If they earn even less, they won’t have enough to feed their families, and some of them have three or even four children. This is their first large-scale protest and coordinating with their brother and sister drivers has not been so easy, because it is a big country and very few of them know each other personally. There were many provocateurs at the beginning, and the know-how of cooperating accumulates only gradually in a new protest arena. “The economy must be changed” is a phrase that you hear them saying along with disappointed remarks about the government and those commentators who depict them as savages. In fact, it is very pleasant and interesting to converse with the truckers in Khimki. They are interested in lots of things and are open to communication. And they need support. In addition to information support they mainly need diesel fuel, 300 liters a day. One Moscow activist showed up with his own canister. Everyone can do this: you don’t have to have your own car. So let’s support the truckers both emotionally and materially!
Compared to A Chronicle of Resistance, which I compiled in 2011-2012, this is a more modest series. I have neither the drive nor the resources to regularly document protests, nor are there inspiring scenes of rallies attended by hundreds of thousands of people, but there are certain kinds of pressure groups I still want to sketch.
What do they have in common?
The people involved are self-organized and there is a lack of obvious leaders.
The people involved constantly emphasize they are “normal, ordinary people, remote from politics.”
They have specific social demands, caused by a violation of their rights.
Boomfest founder Dmitry Yakovlev said to Rosbalt that museum staff had told him problems might arise with the show because of the nudity while it was still being mounted. A compromise was therefore reached. The European artists’ nude characters were dressed in paper underwear.
“We agreed to a compromise. The guests at the show’s opening even thought the underwear was supposed to be there. The artists were probably also not willing to have their show closed. But this variation with the underpants was found. Naturally, before opening the show, we discussed it with the museum. We promised there would no flagrant eroticism or pornography. Yet when you walk around the city there are naked bodies all over the place,” said Yakovlev.
The exhibition was open three days. It was dismantled personally by staff at the Nabokov Museum. Boomfest organizers have no plans to find a new venue for the show. Its layout was quite complicated, as it was embedded into the museum’s interior. The works will soon be sent back to Goblet in Brussels, and Pfeiffer in Berlin.
According to Yakovlev, this was the first time an exhibition had been shut down in Boomfest’s nearly decade-long history. However, festival organizers have experience organizing even more complex projects in terms of message and graphic content. For example, in 2011, artists Anton Nikolayev and Victoria Lomasko presented the book Forbidden Art, a graphic reportage documenting the trial of the curators of the exhibition Forbidden Art 2006.
“I am extremely saddened by what has happened, but I am especially sadden by the fact that we don’t know the exact cause of the show’s closure,” said Yakovlev.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Images courtesy of Boomfest
Victoria Lomasko, We Won, 2015. Pen and ink on A4 colored paper
Victory Day 2015 was celebrated in Russian with great fanfare. Nearly all the veterans and witnesses of the war are dead, and now people who had nothing to do with it can privatize “the Victory.”
People from all the Soviet republics fought on the front lines or worked in the rear on behalf of the soldiers at the front, but now the victory has become the victory of ethnic Russians alone. Atheists fought for their communist homeland, but now they are dubbed “agents of Russian Orthodox civilization,” and Patriarch Kirill says a “divine miracle” played the decisive role in the victory. Soviet soldiers bore red flags emblazoned with hammers and sickles as they scrapped their way toward victory over fascism, but now Soviet symbols have been replaced by orange-and-black striped ribbons that originated in the tsarist era.
To be eligible to celebrate “the Victory” you have tie to St. George’s Ribbons to your clothing, your backpacks, your rearview mirrors, and your car antennae, adorn yourself with crucifixes, oppose Ukrainian independence, and be a flagrant homophobe.
This has been the route to public renown taken by the Night Wolves bike gang leader nicknamed The Surgeon, a Putin favorite who organized the To Berlin! “patriotic” motorcycle rally, and had the full support of Russian state media in this dubious and potentially offensive endeavor.
To find yourself labeled an “enemy” and a “Nazi,” however, it suffices to point openly to the way history has been distorted and to remind people that war is primarily an act of mass slaughter. This was the route taken by the Oleg Basov and Pyotr Voys, the artist and the curator who organized an exhibition entitled We Won, which police and the FSB shut down on May 8, a day after it had opened for a private viewing, and one day before Victory Day, May 9.
The art community did not discuss what happened, because what happened was too frightening for them to discuss.
* * * * *
Here is a translation of the statement the organizers of We Won posted on the exhibition’s Facebook page on May 7, 2015.
The country is celebrating a great victory.
The St. George’s Ribbon, portraits of Stalin, the red flag, and the word fascist are vigorously being replicated again nowadays, becoming a part of everyday life.
But we should clarify the situation. The St. George’s Ribbon is orange and black. It was awarded for military valor, and during the Second World War itself it was a decoration awarded in Vlasov’s Army, which fought on the side of the German Wehrmacht.
As a symbol of victory in the Great Patriotic War [the Soviet name for the Second World War], it was suggested by RIA Novosti news agency in 2006, and the government supported this proposal. The St. George’s Ribbon is now tied to backpacks, dogs, and Mercedes-Benz cars. It has become something commonplace, as if the rank of general or medals for heroism were handed out to everyone.
When heroism becomes a cult, and its symbols are reproduced en masse, its meaning is emasculated. The St. George’s Ribbon is today an identifying mark of the pro-Putin regime fans of Russian TV Channel One.
We won! Let’s take a look back at what this meant.
When counting the numbers of the dead, the margin of error amounts to millions of people.
The beheading of the Red Army’s command on the eve of the war, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that divided Poland between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and the shameful Winter War, which undermined the army’s authority, were only a prelude.
The illusion that the Soviet Union had unlimited human resources led to terrifying losses: seven Soviet soldiers for every German soldier.
In the postwar years, the military-industrial complex accounted for two thirds of the Soviet Union’s GDP.
These years also witnessed total poverty and devastation, a deformed civil society, an epidemic of fatherless children, concealment of the disabled from the general public, widespread reprisals against war veterans who had been in Europe during the war, and Stalinism’s postwar apogee. The list could go on.
The victory was seen as a justification of the Stalinist terror. Declaring ourselves victors blocks our chances to humanize and evolve our society today as well.
Cultural trauma and post-traumatic amnesia distort our identities. This is expressed in the brain drain of talented people to other countries, widespread alcoholism and drug addiction, and the monstrous lives led by the elderly and the disabled.
We won, and today the outcome of this discourse is a restoration of totalitarianism with an admixture of Orthodox fundamentalism.
Our exhibition does not question the heroism of the people, that is, the men and women who stood in muddy trenches and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
But we question the chimera of the great imperial past, which today is manufactured as the one and only indisputable core of Russian identity.
The Second World War was a monstrous bloodletting by the nations of Europe. A day of mourning is not an occasion for congratulation.
Well, it’s a respectable cause. Especially in a normal country, where the main features and properties of Nazism itself have been clearly defined, articulated and, more importantly, grasped by public opinion.
In a country where, on the contrary, the president of another country is referred to as a “black monkey” quite openly and with impunity, in a country where state TV facilely reports that the people of a neighboring country are a historical misunderstanding, and their language a parody, in a country where a classified newspaper ad that reads, “Apartment available for rent to Slavs,” is considered quite normal and natural, this talk about “rehabilitation” is rather strange, because there is nothing in particular to rehabilitate. And if anyone is going to be tried for such a crime, there aren’t enough judges for the job.