In June, the prosecutor’s office asked the court to sentence the artist Yulia Tsvetkova to three years and two months in a penal colony for “distributing pornography.” She was charged with this crime for posting drawings of vulvas on the Russian social media website VKontakte.
If I had to make a list of the methods used by the Russian state to make the life of grassroots activists unbearable, the list would be long. It would include such dirty tricks as endlessly postponing court hearings, delaying investigations, forensic examinations, and official inquiries, and encouraging right-wing “morality watchdogs” to persecute activists by telephoning them, threatening them, and intimidating them. And then the police throw up their hands, because, allegedly, they do not see anything criminal in the actions of these pseudo-Orthodox (but in fact criminal) figures.
All these methods also nicely illustrate the fact that the authorities are not content with merely complicating, or even paralyzing, the work of civil society in Russia.
The current Russian regime also finds it vital to avoid responsibility. Rather than punishing people directly for dissent, it seeks = far-fetched grounds to punish them. Rather than imprisoning them immediately and for a long time, it draws out investigations as much as possible, so that, on paper, the number of political prisoners is not too large, but their persecution considerably discourages other activists.
Even if I listed all these methods, the list would not be long enough to describe everything that the artist and activist Yulia Tsvetkova from Komsomolsk-on-Amur has faced. Children from her theater workshop were summoned for questioning, her home was searched, she was under house arrest, her lawyers were not admitted into the courtroom to defend her, and recently she was declared a “foreign agent,” although it is completely unclear how an activist from a small provincial town could work as a “foreign agent” and in the interests of which foreign countries she could do this work. This campaign of political persecution has been going on for three and a half years, and Yulia has been accused of violating several laws, including “promoting LGBT” among minors and “distributing pornography” by posting schematic drawings of genitals on a educational outreach community page on Vkontakte.
It is quite difficult to believe that all this has been happening in reality, that it is really for her work in a children’s theater workshop and for body-positive and educational pictures that Tsvetkova has faced such an unprecedented onslaught. I cannot get my head around the fact that an entire army of civil servants (police officers, forensics experts, judges, prosecutors, social workers, etc.) have spent so much time trying to find evidence of the artist’s guilt. At this point, of course, it is a pity that we don’t have access to the files in the government accounting office. How interesting it would be to find out how many man-hours have been spent on this “job.” How much paper has been wasted on all the absurd paperwork? What are the salaries of all the officials involved in this political case, and how have they directly benefited from it? Who got a promotion? Who got an apartment? A new office? A bonus?
No one can give back the most valuable thing that the artist and her mother have lost — time. Three and a half years spent in endless court hearings, under house arrest, under travel restrictions, under relentless pressure — it is impossible to compensate them for this time lost by making apologies or giving them money.
But the most terrible thing is that this story has not ended and the court has not yet made a decision. The prosecutor’s office has asked it to sentence Tsvetkova to three years in prison.
It is a wildly inappropriate sentence for pictures that no one would label pornography.
Everyone who has ever heard about the Yulia Tsvetkova has has probably asked themselves: why her? And why have the authorities pursued the case with such cruelty? How has it happened that a huge repressive apparatus has dispatched so many forces to persecute a female activist from a distant provincial town?
It is very important to closely examine the work of Yulia Tsvetkova, because this is a rare case when the authorities have been extremely honest. The Russian government does not like what feminist activists do, because their work is aimed at emancipating women and sexually educating young people, so that the country’s culture of violence weakens, and respect, tolerance, and acceptance of different people within the same community becomes the new cultural norm.
The state-sponsored system of patriarchy opposes sex education, because it does not want young people to grow up independent and capable of making decisions about their sexuality and choosing whether to become parents or not.
But the most important point is that the modern Russian government is against any form of self-organization, because it sees self-organization as a threat to its legitimacy. Free, educated people naturally want the authorities to represent their interests and share their values. The Putin regime does not like independent people, and it opposes grassroots initiatives and diversity.
So, the question of why the Russian authorities targeted Yulia Tsvetkova to demoralize and frighten the grassroots community is useful for thinking about what exactly we can oppose to the Russia’s self-reproducing system of state violence. Feminism, LGBT activism, sex education, and outreach work with teenagers — this is what the state patriarchate fears and this is what will enable us to defeat it.
Source: Darya Apahonchich, “‘The State Is Afraid of Feminism and Sex Education’: Why a Female Artist from Komsomolsk-on-Amur Has Been Targeted for Persecution,” Moscow Times, 17 July 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader. Ms. Apahonchich is an artist and feminist activist who was herself declareda “foreign agent” by the Russian Justice Ministry in December 2020. She has lived in exile since the summer of 2021.
😡The ArtPlay Design Center in Moscow has reneged on its agreement to provide a venue for a performance in support of Yulia Tsvetkova.
Over the last month, negotiations had been underway with an ArtPlay staffer about staging a performance as part of the Naked Truth project. The performance’s organizers provided a press release, all the information requested by the venue, and layouts and diagrams of the upcoming performance. The venue agreed to host the event, and the performance was to be held in ArtPlay’s small auditorium on [July] 14. Performances about female physicality had previously been staged at this site, and ArtPlay is known in art circles as one of the most creatively liberal spaces.
However, today, an organizer of the performance was [told that ArtPlay would not host the performance], since, according to the ArtPlay staffer, they “do not hold events with a political bent.”
This is not the first time that a major contemporary art center, well known for its liberal views, has turned down requests by artists to host events in support of Tsvetkova, most often by citing “political” motives and the “dangerousness” of her case.
The Naked Truth project has been in existence for a year. As part of the project, performances in support of Yulia Tsvetkova have been staged by respected and significant male and female artists from Moscow and Petersburg.
Hello, my name is Darya Apahonchich, and the Russian Justice Ministry obliges me to start any video and story that I publish online with the phrase:
THIS MESSAGE (MATERIAL) HAS BEEN CREATED AND (OR) DISSEMINATED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA OUTLET PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT, AND (OR) A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY, PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT.
Since I have become not just a foreign agent, but a foreign agent media outlet, I decided to take advantage of this unexpected status and record a trial internet video, as if I had my own TV channel. So, this is my first video, and it deals with the case of Yulia Tsvetkova and issues surrounding the female body.
This program is about what the vulva is. I’ll explain why I’ve chosen this topic. The fact is that my apartment was searched by the police. During the search, one of the officers found a lot of posters protesting the Yulia Tsvetkova case. At some point he asked me, “What’s a vulva?”
At that moment, the search had been going on for a long time. I didn’t feel like talking and said that, in keeping with Article 51 of the Russian Constitution, I wished to exercise my right not to incriminate myself. I wouldn’t be telling the officer what a vulva was.
Almost three months have passed since then, and I thought it was unfair that there was a cop walking around who didn’t know what a vulva was, so I decided to record this video so that he and others could fill in this gap in their knowledge.
Now I shall fantasize what I would have said at that moment in reply to the officer’s question.
So, the policeman would ask me, “And what is a vulva?”
And I would answer him, “Unfortunately, I can’t answer your question quickly. I can only answer by resorting to a fairy tale.”
And he would say, “Well, you have so much junk in your home that we’ll be searching it for a long time. Let’s hear your story.”
And I would say, “Good, because your question reminded me of a question that a dinosaur asked a sea cow. The fact is that this tyrannosaur ran out of friends suspiciously often. He would invite them to dinner, and by the end of the dinner they would all be gone. So, he asked the sea cow for advice.
“‘Listen, sea cow, you have so many friends. How do you manage to be an equal among equals? I’d like to do the same.’
“‘Yes, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s my advice: start reading about the world and its problems, about injustices, have a look at theory, and make friends who are also interested in these things. And yes: you need to completely abandon meat and eating living creatures,’ the sea cow answered.
“The dinosaur took this advice, and when he and the sea cow met a year later, he was quite different.
“‘Listen, I did everything as you taught me. Now I read books with other former predators. We get together to discuss the global cold snap and the violence that we generate. But I’m very sad, and so are all my friends – we are really grieving. It seems that this isn’t what I wanted,’ he said to the sea cow.
“‘Yes, but you wanted to be an equal among equals, didn’t you?’ the sea cow asked.
“‘Yes, but not like this. I’ve achieved my goal, but not in the way I thought.”
“‘You know, tyrannosaurus, this happens quite often. For example, I recall the story of a jellyfish who quarreled with everyone.’
“‘What’s the story? Tell me!’
“So, the sea cow told the dinosaur the story.
“‘Once upon a time there was a scyphozoan jellyfish who quarreled with everyone. She couldn’t help it when she heard something about motherhood or the rights of females:
“Well,” she would grumble, “They used to give birth to jellyfishlets in the sea, and there were no female rights, and everything was normal.” But no one wanted to be friends with her, and so she asked a moon jellyfish for advice.
‘“How do you not quarrel with anyone? What’s your secret?”
‘“You know, I have a magic spring in the sea, and as soon as I want to say something about the rights of females, I swim to it, take in a mouthful of water and count to a thousand, and then let it out. And that’s it. I don’t quarrel with anyone.”
‘The scyphozoan took the advice and began doing the same. It helped her, and then she asked the moon jellyfish another question.
‘“Look, it’s a great method: I’ve made up with family. But magic water isn’t scientific, is it?”
‘“Well, yes, but you had to learn a new way of interacting with your loved ones, so you did it. You’ll change your mindset later on.”
‘“That’s great, of course, but I still prefer knowing what I’m doing, not just doing it. This story reminds me of the story of the doubting bee.”
‘“What’s the story? Tell me!”
‘And the scyphozoan told her the story of the bee.’
‘“Well, there was once a little bee who doubted whether she really needed to spend the whole summer gathering nectar.”’
And that’s when the policeman would have interrupted me.
“Look, I already got the point about the sea cow, the jellyfish, and the dinosaur, but what does that have to do with the vulva?”
“Look, you’ve come to search my home because I might have seen someone jaywalking,” I would have told him, “but you’ve been looking at my vulva posters for the past six hours. What’s the connection there?”
“All right, go ahead,” he would say.
And I would go on.
“So, the bee doubted that she really needed to collect nectar, flying from flower to flower every day: the work made her tired. She shared her thoughts with a stick caterpillar, and the stick caterpillar decided to play a nasty joke on the bee.
“‘Listen, honey bee,’ she said, ‘there is a magic flower called the elecampane. It is difficult to find, but as soon as you find it, you bring the pollen from it home, and you shall always have food for all your brothers and sisters.’
“And the bee flew off to look for this flower. When she met the stick caterpillar in the autumn, she was reproachful.
“‘Caterpillar, did you deceive me?” I spent the whole summer looking for the elecampane, but I couldn’t find it.’
“‘Yes, I deceived you because I wanted you to keep pollinating the flowers while thinking that you were looking for elecampane. Because your work is very important: without you, the flowers would not be able to reproduce, and the whole green world would die, and we would die with it. That’s why I lied to you.’
“‘Look, maybe your method worked,’ the bee said, ‘and I have been pollinating flowers all summer, but it’s wrong. I’m a rational being and I understand how important my work is, but it’s better to have a theory than not having one, to know what I’m doing than not knowing.’”
“Yes, I understand,” the policeman would then say. “So you mean that in all these stories, the characters achieved their goal, thinking that they were doing something different, but they were disappointed because it is better to have a theory than not having one?”
“Yes, you’ve got it quite right, comrade policeman,” I would say, “and that brings you closer to the question of what the vulva is. The vulva is a sexual organ, and many organisms have one. But feeling shame over the vulva is the starting point of our misogynous culture, while the movement towards respect, towards understanding that the vulva is an organ of a living person who has the right to know about their anatomy is a process. Therefore, the vulva is the path from shame to respect.”
And now I will draw a picture of how I told this story.
First, I told you about my conversation with the policeman. This was the first narrative frame. Inside it was the second frame, about the dinosaur and the sea cow, followed by the story about the jellyfish, and, at the very center, the story about the bee. The structure of my story will also help you to think about what the vulva is.
Second, don’t hesitate to ask questions about the female body. It is very important, even for young women.
Thanks for listening!
Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for providing me with a slightly abridged Russian text of the story she tells in her video, above. Images courtesy of Wikipedia. Translated by the Russian Reader. UPDATE (1.21.2022). Ms. Apahonchich has magicked her original text and my translation into a proper illustrated book, which can be viewed here.
“First, Petrovka 38 got an anonymous call, and then the local police precinct was informed about the call. The precinct commander came to Flacon and said that things looked bad. We told him about the movie. He said that while he understood everything, he couldn’t help us because since Petrovka 38 had received the call, a detachment would be dispatched in any case and they would shut down the screening. The only solution, he said, was to give the local police a screening copy of the film so they could that could look at it and make sure it checked out, but he still could not promise anything. We said, Okay, we’ll give you a screening copy, and we’ll postpone the screening,” Parshikov said.
Subsequently, around twenty Russian National Guardsmen arrived at Flacon. They are patrolling the premises and making it impossible to screen the film.
UPDATE (8:24 p.m.)
The screening of the film has been canceled for today, curator Andrey Parshikov has informed MBKh Media. According to him, the Russian National Guardsmen are still at Flacon. Parshikov added that the film would be sent for a forensic examination tomorrow.
Yulia Tsvetkova is an activist from Komsomolsk-on-Amur. In November 2019, she was charged with “distributing pornography”(under Article 242.3.b of the Russian Criminal Code) over body-positive drawings she published on Vagina Monologues, a social media group page that she moderated. Due to pressure and harassment, she had to close the Merak Children’s Theater [which she ran with her mother].
Law enforcement authorities began their criminal inquiry into Tsvetkova after two criminal complaints were filed against her by Timur Bulatov, who runs the homophobic social media group page Moral Jihad, which mostly publishes threats, insults, and Bulatov’s own derogatory monologues about gays. [Bulatov] informed the police that Tsvetkova was distributing pornography.
La activista feminista rusa Yulia Tsvetkova. Foto: Cedida por Yulia Tsvetkova.
Yulia Tsvetkova: “Cuando empezamos a tocar temas relacionados con el feminismo o LGBT inició un tsunami de odio y amenazas”
Jose Ángel Sánchez Rocamora y Alona Malakhaeva El Salto
11 septembre 2020
Yulia Tsvetkova, profesora de arte, feminista y defensora del colectivo LGBTI de una ciudad pequeña de Rusia ha sido acusada de delitos penales al publicar dibujos reivindicativos calificados de “pornografía y propaganda de relaciones sexuales no tradicionales entre menores”. Su caso es un ejemplo mas de la represión y los constantes montajes jurídicos del gobierno ruso contra las activistas. Actualmente se encuentra a la espera de distintos juicios por los que la acusación pública le pide más de siete años de prisión.
Mientras la entrevistamos nos cuenta que le han obligado ha firmar una clausura de no divulgación de información sobre el desarrollo de la investigación judicial por lo que no hemos podido hacerle más preguntas al respecto.
Te han abierto diligencias penales por “distribución de material pornográfico” sobre tu grupo de la red social VK “Los monólogos de la vagina”, pero realmente, ¿qué contenido tenía el grupo?
Toda la historia alrededor de este grupo está llena de mitos. En el grupo publicaba imágenes artísticas con alusiones a órganos femeninos, además no son mis dibujos: son obras de diferentes artistas, en su mayoría mujeres, a veces muy famosas, de todo el mundo. El grupo existió durante un año y medio y tenía 100 suscriptoras, lo había creado después de leer la obra de teatro, me sentí muy identificada porque también he sido víctima de violencia sexual. Así que decidí sacarlo a nivel informativo para compartir con los demás.
Ahora tus dibujos del proyecto “La mujer no es una muñeca” se han vuelto famosos, incluso fuera del país, ¿pensabas que iban a provocar tanta reacción en Rusia?
Sinceramente era un proyecto muy pasajero, ni siquiera lo consideraba como tal. Son una serie de bocetos rápidos sobre el tema body positive, movimiento para la aceptación del cuerpo, que publiqué en mi perfil de VK. ¿Por qué provocaron tanta reacción en Rusia? No lo sé. Los han enviado dos veces al peritaje para confirmar que contenían elementos pornográficos.
El peritaje oficial es un proceso muy complejo, burocráticamente complicado y costoso. El dinero para realizar este peritaje proviene del presupuesto estatal, de nuestros impuestos. Y todo por seis dibujos tan simples. Tengo otros proyectos artísticos mucho más importantes. Así que tanta atención hacia estos dibujos significa que es un tema muy sensible ahora en Rusia. Yo lo relaciono con la educación cultural y social en Rusia. Si una persona conoce por lo menos algo de historia de arte, ha visto algunos cuadros, ha visitado museos, es difícil que le indigne que el cuerpo humano esté desnudo o no, porque el arte se basa en él, aparte de otras cosas. Pero si uno vive en Komsomolsk del Amur, donde sólo tenemos un museo dedicado a los exploradores y colonos de la taiga, ¿de dónde va a sacar esta visión de la belleza y normalización del cuerpo?
Los investigadores, los policías, los jueces, los administradores en su mayoría son hombres que están acostumbrados a la percepción sexualizada del cuerpo femenino. Vas por la calle y ves un montón de publicidad con mujeres semidesnudas, con eslóganes sexistas, una publicidad que están prohibiendo ya en muchos países, pero en Rusia no. Para ellos es algo “normal” ya que están acostumbrados a ver el cuerpo de esta manera. Luego ven mis dibujos y ven un cuerpo que no está para su consumo entonces lo entienden como un desafío contra su normalidad, por eso lo ven como pornografía. Otro objetivo podría consistir en incriminarme un delito vergonzoso para darme una mala imagen a pesar de que saben perfectamente que mis dibujos no contienen pornografía.
Actualmente, ¿qué investigaciones hay en contra tuyo y qué delitos supondrían?
Una investigación penal sobre “pornografía” y varias investigaciones administrativas por propaganda de valores no tradicionales entre menores de edad. Algunos de los dibujos son de apoyo a familias diversas, incluso varios de estos no son míos, es por publicarlos en mi perfil de VK. Ya he pagado dos multas de 100.000 rublos en total, aproximadamente 1.200 euros. Aunque creo que las administrativas sirven más para alimentar la acusación penal porque cuentan como agravante para el juez, o sea para atestiguar que soy reincidente múltiple. En realidad, debería de haber más investigaciones contra mí, porque hubo más denuncias, tres o cuatro sobre extremismo, propaganda y pornografía, pero menos mal no han prosperado.
“Las mujeres no son muñecas”, dibujos de Yulia denunciados por contener pornografía.
Komsomolsk del Amur es una ciudad pequeña de 270.000 habitantes donde promover iniciativas sociales es muy distinto en comparación con Moscú o San Petersburgo, a parte del activismo en redes sociales ¿realizabas otro tipo de actividades sociales donde también hubo represión?
Sí, principalmente en el arte comunitario y mi objetivo siempre fue hacer algo al respecto en mi ciudad. Es verdad que hay mucha diferencia entre Moscú y Komsomolsk del Amur: ésta es una cuidad lejana, aislada, rodeada de taiga donde sólo hay una carretera que acaba en Komsomolsk y tardas seis horas para llegar hasta el aeropuerto mas cercano. Aquí no hay ninguna organización social ni activismo de ningún tipo. El principal problema es la fuga de la juventud, es decir, los que pueden irse, se van, la juventud, la gente que tiene un pensamiento más crítico o que tiene ideas más allá de lo tradicional. La mayoría vive pensando que en Komsomolsk no se puede hacer nada. Es el pensamiento que yo quise cambiar, así es como surgieron talleres feministas, el teatro activista “Merak” y el centro social comunitario. Es decir todo lo que hicimos tenia implícito el mensaje de “¿por qué no?”. ¿Quién dijo que por ser una ciudad pequeña no se necesita un espacio comunitario? Al revés, es muy necesario.
Estos proyectos sociales los montaba yo sola o con la ayuda de mi madre y con un colectivo de niñas, niños y adolescentes de unos 12-17 años. Eran actividades teatrales, de ecología o de urbanismo social, por ejemplo, hicimos unas esculturas que llamaban la atención al problema de la contaminación en la ciudad, casi todo era educativo, era el único espacio social que había. También teníamos programas dirigidos a la orientación laboral. Dedicábamos mucho tiempo al arte, exposiciones, ferias, expresión artística, todo por supuesto desde una lógica asamblearia y autogestionada, el centro funcionó durante casi dos años incluso un par de meses después de la apertura de las investigaciones penales contra mí.
¿Cómo fue recibida la iniciativa de crear el centro social?
La primera reacción fue muy positiva porque tenía el apoyo de mi madre que llevaba más de 20 años trabajando en un centro educativo. Es decir, tenía personas que me apoyaban y que tenían una visión más abierta. El teatro, por ejemplo, arrancó muy rápido, enseguida hicimos espectáculos en el teatro municipal, el mayor escenario de la ciudad. Los medios de comunicación hablaban muy bien de nosotras, como la ciudad es muy pequeña, cualquier actividad distinta llama mucho la atención, así que en un par de meses empezó a seguirnos mucha gente.
Más tarde empezamos a tocar temas relacionados con el feminismo o LGBTI, esto provocó un tsunami de odio y amenazas tanto en redes sociales como en persona, un ejemplo fue cuando intentamos hacer la primera cafeta feminista no mixta, sobre todo por el anuncio que ponía que la entrada era únicamente para mujeres, que es lógico en este tipo de eventos.
Las principales dificultades comenzaron con el festival de teatro “Flor de Azafrán” que organizaste, en concreto por uno de los espectáculos llamado “Rosas y Azules”. ¿Qué es lo que sucedió?
Es cierto que los problemas empezaron por el festival, a pesar de que no sabemos exactamente qué sirvió de detonador para todo el escándalo, ya que teníamos varios espectáculos que tocaban temas sociales como la obra sobre los estereotipos de género que por casualidad se llamaba “Rosas y Azules” (en ruso estos colores aparte de ser colores esteriotípicos de los dos géneros son eufemismos para las palabras “lesbiana” y “gay”), o el que tenía un mensaje antimilitarista donde se dejaba claro que el eslogan oficial “¡Podemos repetir!” del día de la Victoria en la segunda guerra mundial (una de las fiestas principales en Rusia) es totalmente nefasto ya que representa la guerra como algo deseable.
El antimilitarismo siempre era y sigue siendo uno de los temas principales del centro social comunitario.
Komsomolsk fue la capital del Gulag en el Lejano Oriente. Es la mayor parte de la historia de toda la ciudad, pero respecto a esto hay un problema con la memoria histórica, todos fingen que aquí no ha pasado nada. Entonces me sigo preguntando ¿cuál es la obra que les pareció más peligrosa? ¿Una conversación sobre el autoconocimiento o una reflexión sobre la paz y la no violencia? A lo mejor las dos cosas juntas. Puede ser que les haya asustado el hecho de que hubiéramos tenido esta iniciativa, incluso en la administración cuando me reprendieron sobre lo ocurrido, me preguntaron justo eso, ¿para qué había que organizar nada? Pero sí, puedo afirmar que este ha sido el punto de no retorno, a partir de aquel momento me llaman para que acuda a la comisaría cada dos por tres aunque lo que más me ha indignado fue cuando los policías empezaron a hacer preguntas a las y los niños del teatro.
Después de todo lo ocurrido aún hay personas que todavía me siguen apoyando mucho pero también hay otras que repiten la opinión de la mayoría y si la sociedad nos juzga por lo que hacemos ellas también estarán en contra. Por otro lado la censura es muy fuerte y la opinión pública se somete mucho a la opinión del gobierno.
Un día entraron al instituto, sacaron a una niña de su clase y la interrogaron entre cinco personas durante tres horas, amenazando con qué no iba a acabar la secundaria, le preguntaron sobre LGBT y feminismo, a los demás niños les pasó lo mismo.
¿Cómo interrogaron a menores de edad?
Sin ninguna denuncia, sin orden judicial, fue completamente ilegal, ni siquiera tenían el consentimiento de los padres. Un día entraron al instituto, sacaron a una niña de su clase y la interrogaron entre cinco personas durante tres horas, la tenían sin comida, sin poder llamar a sus padres, amenazando con qué no iba a acabar la secundaria, le preguntaron sobre LGBT y feminismo, a los demás niños les pasó lo mismo, la mitad de ellos escucharon por primera vez esta abreviatura. Al final hicimos el festival cerrado para los padres donde grabamos un vídeo y luego lo mostrábamos en otros festivales o centros sociales de Rusia. A pesar de que lo hicimos así, la policía apareció en las presentaciones por las denuncias de los homófobos, para buscar a menores de edad, a pesar de que los eventos eran para mayores de 18 años.
¿Quienes te han amenazado?
Muchas veces Timur Bulatov (uno de los mayores activistas homofóbos de Rusia que trabaja en la creación de denuncias falsas y montajes judiciales, autoproclamado “yihadista moral” y creador de la página “LGBT CRIMINAL” donde publica datos personales de activistas), SERB (colectivo de ideología nazi ruso-ucraniano), PILA, (organización de “cazadores” LGBT, presuntos asesinos de la activista Yelena Grigórieva) y el Estado Masculino (organización nacionalista y misógina).
¿Has tenido apoyos en Rusia?
Sí, he tenido muchos, sobre todo del Centro Social LGBT de Moscú, la Red LGBT Rusa, la organización social Costillas de Eva y la de memoria histórica, “Memorial”, me ha reconocido como presa política. También Amnistía Internacional me ha dado mucho apoyo mediático y me han concedido el premio Freedom of Expression de Index on Censorship, cuando estaba bajo arresto domiciliario, esto tuvo mucho significado porque la otra vez que lo dieron en Rusia fue a la periodista asesinada Anna Politkóvskaya. Aunque para mí el más importante ha sido el de activistas independientes, ya que en Rusia manifestarte sola es muy peligroso a pesar de que es legal, de hecho, la única forma legal de manifestarse es individualmente.
Otra de las formas de solidaridad han sido las campañas mediáticas en redes sociales, algo totalmente nuevo para Rusia, en donde he podido ver no sólo como me apoyaban, sino como repetían mis ideas sobre body positive, feminismo o LGTB. Hace dos años no me habría podido imaginar que se hablara a nivel nacional tanto sobre esos temas y que no fuera para juzgarlo o condenarlo. Hay que tener mucho coraje para organizarlo porque pronunciarse a favor es muy peligroso, durante la manifestaciones en contra de mi proceso judicial aparecieron miembros del grupo homófobo ultraortodoxo “Sórok sorokov” y atacaron e insultaron a las feministas, la policía en vez de detenerlos o impedir la violencia detuvo a todas las mujeres que se estaban manifestando. La violencia policial aquel día sorprendió hasta a las activistas más experimentadas.
¿Cuáles son tus expectativas de cara al futuro?
Todos esperan algo de mí, pero yo ya no espero nada. En este sentido me siento muy pragmática ahora, estoy preparando mi defensa en el juicio, intentando mantener las emociones al margen. Sé que es importante seguir hablando de mi situación para demostrar cuánto falta hacer todavía respecto a la aceptación del cuerpo femenino y a la libertad de sexualidad de las mujeres. Es importante que se sepa que un país que se supone que es democrático, está dispuesto a encarcelar a una mujer por aceptar su cuerpo. Ésta ya es una pequeña pero gran victoria, sobre todo que la gente entienda que no son temas vergonzosos y sucios, que el cuerpo de una no es pornografía.
Gracias a Maria Mila por publicar este artículo en Facebook. // TRR
So, here is a more detailed account of my arrest and trial.
Yesterday, I was stopped by police officers on the street near work. They would not let me pass, grabbing my scooter and saying that I should go with them, because they had “material” on me. I said I wasn’t going anywhere, so they just forced me into a vehicle.
In the vehicle, they refused to tell me what the reason was for detaining me. We drove to the first police precinct for a very long time, and the car broke down along the way. All the way, I scolded them, appealing to their conscience and reason. There were four of them and a vehicle, they had spent the whole day on me (probably more than one): did they have nothing more important to do? Later, I found out that they had been waiting for me since 5:30 in the morning, but I had left the house only at 2:00 in the afternoon. (So many resources wasted on me! Whatever for?) By the way, it’s funny that they were waiting for me near my house, but they only arrested me near my work, because I when I left the house I immediately jumped on my scooter, so they probably didn’t have time to grab me there. I can imagine how annoyed they were.
Varya Mikhailova and Darya Apahonchich waiting for her hearing at the October District Court in Petersburg, August 4, 2020. Photo courtesy of Ms. Mikhailova’s Facebook page
Around six o’clock, I was taken to court and tried on the two charges at once. It was there that I had a gander at my case files. They were quite hilarious. There was a touching insert from Center “E” [the “anti-extremism” police] where you could see the photos from all my old [internal] passports, in which I was fifteen, twenty-one, and so on. Then there were screenshots of videos, and disks containing these same videos. In short, it was a cool folder, better than my pathetic portfolio. Another funny thing was that all the performances had been taken from a page on the MBKh Media Northwest website. They also wrote in my file how many likes and comments there were. There were very few likes.
I was found guilty (under Article 20.2, Part 5 of the Administrative Offenses Code of the Russian Federation [“violation by a participant of a public event of the established procedure for holding an assembly, rally, demonstration, march or picket”] and was sentenced to pay two fines of 10,000 rubles each [approx. 230 euros]. We will appeal the fines, of course, and I think we will also file a complaint against police officers for unlawful arrest.
I am upset, of course. (My “joking” program clicks on in such situations, but then when I get home, the “get scared” program turns on.) I don’t like living in a world where people in uniform grab you on the street and shove you into a paddy wagon. (I told them, “Don’t touch my scooter!” They said, “We’re not touching it!”—and then they grabbed the scooter.) I’m also sorry, of course, that I said I worked at the Red Cross. In the past, I usually didn’t tell them where I worked, but I didn’t get picked up on the street like this in the past. It’s an important lesson for everyone who has a “civilian” job: don’t tell the police about it.
I’m also upset that I have to constantly be ready for violence from all directions. Today, I have again been getting messages containing insults from strangers. Thank you for only sending messages. I categorically don’t like that, in this world, I constantly have to prove I have the right to voice my opinion. You see, the system thinks that if you are a teacher, a mother, then okay, that is a normal job, a normal life, you have the right to be (a little) dissatisfied, to engage in a little activism. (Moms cannot be held overnight at police stations on administrative charges.) But employers rarely like it when you are an activist. This system is very complicated and stifling.)
But I cannot help doing what I do. My support for Yulia Tsvetkova, for Angelina, Maria, and Krestina Khachaturyan is a very important part of my life. It is my freedom, my fight for the safety of all women, and my contribution to my children’s future. (I am really, really worried that my daughter is growing up in an unsafe world, that my son is growing up in an unsafe world, that society imposes places on them in the hierarchical meat grinder.) I am still going to be involved in activism: I cannot do it any other way.
(I had a year in my life when I worked at a college and was quite afraid that my name would be googled at work and I would be fired. Consequently, I tried not to do performances, and then I was fired anyway, because the college was shuttered, and my students were deported to boot.)
I want to say a huge thank you for your support. Yesterday, I got calls and emails, and my wonderful friends came to the courthouse. (No one was allowed inside, but we met outside when it was all over.) I am very glad for this a world of solidarity, thank you.
My public defender suggested that I should immediately announce that I was soliciting donations to pay the fines. I decided this was probably reasonable. There is hope that we will be able to get the fines reversed. In this case, I will transfer all money donated to Yulia Tsvetkova and Mediazona.
What would the flowers say if they could? They would demand the release of Yulia Tsvetkova, of course! The reproductive organs of all living beings are important and worthy of respect, and disseminating information about them is not a crime. This is clear to everyone, from the youngest begonia tubers to the huge redwoods. The time has come for people to understand this. And if, instead of persecuting female activists, the law enforcement agencies of the Russian Federation would take up gardening, how pretty the world would be! Elect a Scotch marigold president and begonias to parliament! Grow your own gardens! Leave others alone! Free Yulia Tsvetkova!
Caution! Your children could see the sexual organs of these French marigolds!
These daisies demand an end to the persecution of Yulia Tsvetkova!
These nettles support sex education for children, adults, and police officers.
You can use the stamens and pistils of these lilies explain to children where they came from and not go to prison for it.
These smart violets know that a schematic drawing of a vulva is not pornography.
These Scotch marigolds insist that you should plant flowers, not jail female artists.
These petunias permit you to seek and disseminate information about the female reproductive system.
Yulia Tsvetkova’s surname is based on the Russian word for “flower,” tsvet. You can read more about the Putinist state’s case against her and join the international solidarity campaign that has arisen in her defense at Free Yulia Tsvetkova. Thanks to Darya Apahonchich. Translated by the Russian Reader
SPREAD THE WORD. MAKE POSTS, SHARE, PUBLICIZE Yulia’s case. Yulia and her mother believe that publicity about their case will help them. Please share this information far and wide, especially with media outlets. When making posts on social media, use hashtags:
Yulia Tsvetkova is a 27-year-old artist from the city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur (far Eastern Russia). Yulia has been formally charged with illegally producing and distributing pornographic materials on the Internet (Paragraph “b”, Part 3 of Article 242 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, punishable by up to six years of prison). These charges stem from her role as administrator of a feminist body-positive online community through social media. The page is called “The Vagina Monologues,” and features abstract depictions of female sexual organs and educational drawings women’s bodies. Pornography charges also stem from a series of body-positive drawings she made as part of a series entitled “A Woman is not a Doll.” Until recently, she was also the director of the Merak activist youth theater, which produced 9 plays under her direction.
Yulia was arrested on November 20, 2019 after which searches were carried out at home and at work. She was under house arrest from November 23, 2019 until March 16, 2020. She and her mother have been questioned over 30 times. While under house arrest, Yulia was denied access to necessary medical care. She and her mother have experienced months of harassment and death threats.
It is worth noting that the criminal investigation against Yulia was not the result of any complaints from youth or parents in her local community. Rather, she was targeted by St. Petersburg-based homophobic activist Timur Bulatov, who has a past criminal record and in his own words is engaged in a “moral jihad” against LGBT people and their allies by making complaints about them to law enforcement agencies. Bulatov has continued to harass Yulia and her mother, publish their home address, and call on his supporters to kill them.
According the Coalition to Free the Kremlin’s Political Prisoners, “art materials in Tsvetkova’s case cannot be recognized as pornographic. From our point of view and based on expertise of various experts who have examined the works, these materials are no more pornography than images of the genitals in the school anatomy textbook.” International human rights organizations have called for her release, and many individuals around the world are demonstrating on her behalf.
Yulia’s case will be tried in early July 2020. There is an urgent need for publicity of her case. All charges against Yulia Tsvetkova should be dropped and her case dismissed immediately.
Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up and Nicole Garneau for this fantastic video and act of solidarity. You can read more about Yulia Tsvetkova on this ebsite. \\ TRR
Yulia Tsvetkova, “A Family Is Where There’s Love” (courtesy of artist and RFE/RL)
Yulia Tsvetkova. Photo by Maria Nyakina. Courtesy of ONA
Russian Feminist Association ONA Facebook
November 20, 2019
Yulia Tsvetkova Named a Suspect in Alleged Distribution of Pornography
The police are again playing hard ball with our colleague and comrade Yulia Tsvetkova. Yulia returned to her native Komsomolsk-on-Amur via Khabarovsk from Petersburg, where she appeared at the Eve’s Ribs festival. She was met by law enforcement officers right at the train station. They told her that a criminal investigation into distribution of pornography had been launched, and she was a witness. They took Yulia to the police station to interrogate her. Yulia refused to testify in the case. The police immediately made her a suspect. She had to sign a non-disclosure agreement and an undertaking not to leave the city, after which nine police officers (!) searched her apartment and the premises of her children’s theater studio. Among other things, they confiscated equipment and brochures on gender issues. They accused Yulia of “promoting” something or other, calling her a “lesbian” and “sex coach.”
We fully support our colleague in this situation and express our solidarity. We demand an end to the political prosecution of the feminist activist!
Photo by Maria Nyakina (St. Petersburg)
Thanks to Darya Aponchich for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. See our post from earlier this year, “Yulia Tsvetkova: Blues and Pinks,” a translation of an interview with Tsvetkova about her work with a children’s theater in Komsomolsk-on-Amur and the crackdown against the theater by local officials.
“He Threatened to Kill Us for Perverting Children” A Feminist Staged a Children’s Play. She Has Been Accused of Extremism and Interrogated by Police
Larisa Zhukova Lenta.ru
March 15, 2019
The police department in Komsomolsk-on-Amur has been investigating the work of feminist Yulia Tsvetkova, producer of the activist comedy theater Merak. The ostensible cause of the investigation is her production of a children’s play about gender stereotypes, Blues and Pinks, which the people who denounced Tsvetkova to the police regarded as promotion of homosexual relations among minors. The suspicions of the authorities have also been piqued by the anti-militarist dance productions Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition and Prague Spring, and the VK community page Komsomolka. Lenta.ru recorded Tsvetkova’s account of why regional activists have grown accustomed to threats of real violence and how the local extremism prevention center (Center “E”) inspects children’s dances and drawings.
“Are You Against the Soviet Union?”
Everyone who has known us for a long time agrees that something completely insane has been happening. We have pupils who have been working with us for almost sixteen years, starting with my mom’s early development workshop.
Our theater is me, the actors, and my mom, our manager. We are a tiny theater company in a really small city and the only young people’s theater of its kind. We are not a classic theater company, but a horizontal (egalitarian) and activist theater. We highlight societal problems and look for ways of solving them. We established the theater a year ago. We decided to call it Merak, with the stress on the first syllable. In Serbian, mérak means a buzz, a high, life’s little pleasures.
The actors are twenty-one children aged six and up. They write poems, contribute to the scripts, build scenery, and choreograph the dance numbers. As director, I supply the overall outline, but then I leave the creativity to them. How do you feel in this scene? I ask them. What should it be like? How should the dialogue sound? What words would you use to say that? How would you dance it? Some find it odd I deal with children as equals, but I believe it has to be this way. We use improvisation, forum theater, gags, and free dance.
Everything was fine until February, until we decided to stage four danced-based plays, which we had been rehearsing for six months. Two plays are staged one day, while the other two plays are staged the next day. We came up with the idea of calling them a festival by way of combining them. It would have been the first activist art festival in the region. A week before the first performance we got a phone call from city hall. The next day, the Youth Center, a venue we had already confirmed, told us they were booked up on the dates we needed, and there were no openings for the next six months.
The telephone conversation with city hall lasted over an our. City officials went over our poster point by point. Why was our play called Blues and Pinks? We wrote, “We can do it again”: were we against the Soviet Union or something? We were asked what we meant by the word “individual.” Obviously, there was something about what we were doing they didn’t like. We also suddenly got the cold shoulder at other venues.
Detail of a poster for The Color of Saffron Festival of Activist Art. The inscription reads “We can do it again. We can ban it!”
After the news that the festival had been shut down was published, city hall called us and said we had misunderstood them. Actually, they supported our undertaking. They invited us to a meeting at which they made it understood that if we denied the news reports, they would help us find a venue. Since I don’t like having my arm twisted, and I didn’t think I had done anything wrong by talking about the connection between their first phone call and the sudden refusals to give us a venue, I was not about to refute any of the reports. That was when they interrogated the kids.
“The Kids Are Feared like Terrible Dissidents”
To be honest, I thought we would be called on the carpet for our anti-militarist production Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition. It is a translation of a song by Serj Tankian, lead singer of System of a Down. He often voices his opposition to war and the arms industry. The big dance number in the play is set to his song. It’s an urgent problem for us, because all the boys who attend our workshop, which has been functioning for over twenty years, try to smuggle in toy pistols at first. But we have a ban on weapons, even toy weapons. Why? We are trying to make sense of things. During the big dance number, one dancer acquires a “pistol.” Then another gets one, too, as a means of defense. A third dance gets hold of a machine gun, and the atmosphere heats up. It is satirical and exaggerated, of course, but it is a quite dramatic play as well.
Merak Theater’s poster for its four-play, two-day festival, The Color of Saffron. Originally scheduled for March 16 and 17, it was to have featured (in descending order) Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition, Spring [sic], Untouchables, and Blues and Pinks.
But when we came up with the play, the shooting at the college in Kerch occurred. The kids were scared: the shooting affected them greatly. We talked a lot about what they thought about the incident and how it could have been avoided. No one at school discussed the incident with the children at all, although it should be said adults generally avoid discussing really important things with teenagers. The kids came up with the play’s finale on their own: it showed how the situation could have been avoided.
Prague Spring is a production based on Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. We pay homage to Vaslav Nijinsky’s original choreography and Maurice Béjart’s 1955 choreography, using music by John Cage. Coincidentally, I got the idea during the fiftieth anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet troops: the two “springs” came together in my mind around the subject of human rights and resisting oppression. It’s a simple, obvious subject, but when you grow up in a small city like Komsomolsk, it can seem quite remote and forbidden. But this is just what I read into it, inner thoughts not meant for viewers. The kids simply dance spring. That’s it. Six-year-olds hop up and down and run around in circles, making up half of it as they go along.
Our fifteen-minute play Untouchables focuses on bullying at school and kindergarten. A lot of what the kids told us themselves about their own experiences went into the play. The more we talk things through, the easier it is for them to deal with them.
Photo from the Merak Activist Comedy Theater’s page on VK
Blues and Pinks is a play that illustrates stereotypes about girls and boys. According to the script, we run through the list of clichés: girls like pink, boys like blue; boys are messy, girls clean up after them; boy are defenders and warriors and shouldn’t cry, while girls are future mothers who dream only of getting married; girls and boys can never understand each other. This is presented on stage as a lighthearted dance. We try and show the notion that if a boy pulls your pigtail, it means he likes you is a step away from the idea that if a man beats a woman he must love her.
We continue by suggesting a solution. One of the boys dances, releasing his pent-up feelings as it were. The other boys follow his example, realizing that, whether they dance or not, it does not make any more or less guys. The girls share their dreams. One of them wants to be a businesswoman, while another wants to be a director. They recite the names of great women: the first woman to climb Everest, the first woman to win an Oscar, and so on.
Sophisticated audiences in the western half of Russia would probably find it quite naive, but in our city it is timely and relevant. For example, the other day, a local radio presenter, Tatyana Zhemerenetskaya, announced she planned to run for mayor. She was fired: her bosses were outraged by her excessively “unfeminine ambitions.” Women are supposed to stay home and make soup. In the final scene of our play, the kids say they are individuals. They have dreams and passions.
The funny thing is I didn’t even think about the connotation of the play’s title, which the police caught. One of our pupils came up with it. I have hung out with female LGBT activists, and none of them ever call themselves “blues” or “pinks.” They are just colors to me. Honestly, if I had had doubts, I would not have bothered using the words in the title.
Our actors are between six and seventeen, but the authorities fear us as if we were terrible dissidents. Miraculously, we found a woman interested in contemporary young people’s theater who was not afraid to provide us with a venue. We intend to hold the festival there as planned, on March 16 and 17. But we have nowhere to seat viewers: we cannot find people who will give us chairs. One person said yes, but later he was scared off, apparently.
“She Drew the Rainbow of Her Own Free Will”
The policewoman who came to my office could not say out loud the reason for the investigation. The complaint read that we were promoting homosexuality among minors. She showed me the complaint and blushed.
During my interrogation, I was told I was at the local department for extremism and terrorism prevention (Center “E”). Three complaints had been filed against me: for promoting homosexual relations among minors, for inciting hatred towards men, and for “extremism,” I think.
The interrogation lasted nearly four hours.
First, the officers gave me screenshots of various posts and photos from my personal social media page and the community page Dandelion Field, where I write about really simple things like contraception, HIV, and condoms, things that, unfortunately, not all teenagers know about. There was also stuff from Komsomolka, which deals with feminism. By the way, there I don’t write at all about men: it’s a community page about women.
One of the screenshots showed a workshop from last year at which a girl had drawn a picture, and there was a rainbow in her picture. I was forced to write two paragraphs explains that my underage female pupil had drawn the rainbow of her own free will. No one had pressured and coerced her to draw it.
Next, we got hung up on the phrase “gender stereotypes.” The police officer thought gender had something to do with transgenders. I explained to him what gender stereotypes were, what I meant by the term, and gave examples of stereotypes, as if I were sitting for an exam at school.
Then I was shown a screenshot of a post in which I had negatively assessed the “gay propaganda law,” and I had described the persecution of the lesbians in Chechnya and the “corrective” rapes to which they had been subjected.
The detective asked whether I engaged in propaganda. He asked was sex education was, and who needed it and why. He asked what feminism was. He asked what intersectional feminism was. Ultimately, I had to describe to him how I imagined traditional family values, what I thought about families. I wrote that I wasn’t against traditional family values like love, acceptance, and warmth. This ridiculous testimony took up four pages.
This was followed by the persecution of our children and personal attacks on them. There is no other way of putting it.
“The Police Have Come for You. Let’s Go”
The police officers running the investigation are clueless about the questions they have been asking, and this incompetence has only exacerbated the circumstances.
On March 10, they came for one of boys and one of our girls. It is not clear why they were chosen. There are seventeen teenagers in our theater, and they attend different schools. The police did not pick on our oldest and youngest pupils.
The 15-year-old girl was summoned after school from her house and grilled for two hours by five adults: two police officers and three female school employees. They put the screws on her and descended into semi-insults. They quizzed her about LGBT. Did she know what it meant? they asked. How had she found out? Was I promoting homosexuality? Did I encourage girls to sleep with girls, and boys with boys? The subjects they discussed were such that they would have earned an 18+ rating, but the interrogation took place without the girl’s parents present.
Photo from the Merak Activist Comedy Theater’s page on VK
The 13-year-old boy was kept after school. He was summoned to the headmaster’s office. “The police have come for you. Let’s go,” he was told. No one had the presence of mind to call his parents. The police officers showed him the likes I had awarded a post I no longer remembered, but they were showing this to a child! The absurdity was off the charts. They asked the boy and the girl about each other. Maybe they had picked the through the list of numbers in their telephones.
When, the next day, they came for another of our boys, we warned him to call his parents immediately. He called his dad, who works as a beat cop, so he was not grilled for two hours, but twenty minutes, and the conversation was more polite and less biased.
Everyone is scared. Naturally, it is frightening when you’re interrogated for two hours. For now, no one wants to quit the theater, because everyone is aware of my work. They know I am opposed to violence, and I treat boys and girls equally. But, first of all, the subject itself scares the kids, because they are still kids and not tuned into all these issues. Second, they feel the pressure: they are afraid to say something wrong and inadvertently throw me under the bus.
Their parents and I have now been trying to understand the legal grounds of why we have been persecuted. We have been poring over the laws.
“Rewind to Fifty Years Ago”
Until recently, everyone really loved our theater and told us how cool we were. We did two productions wholly in English about the history of the English language, which were unprecedented in our city. At the Drama Theater, we did a dance performance about the problems of teenagers entitled Evolution. It was about how society puts pressure on carefree kids, but ultimately their friends help them and their problems are solved. This was all performed to poems written by one of the girls involved in the production. The show was a benefit for disabled children and the local organization Lighthouse of Hope. Not a bad track record for a single year!
Children grow up, and the problems they face get more complicated. First of all, they deal with domestic violence. I have had whole black months when it was one story after another, and I cried because I felt so helpless. It’s really scary: dad’s beating mom, dad’s beating me, dad’s beating my brother. Gender stereotypes are also something our kids deal with up close and personal. My fifteen-year-old female pupils are already pestered now with questions of when they are getting married and having kids, and why they should bother with careers. Homophobia is also a force. I know there are LGBT teenagers out there, and I cannot imagine how hard it is for them to cope alone. The streets in Komsomolsk are a really dangerous place, just as in most typical provincial towns, I would guess.
Komsomolsk is one half a factory town, and one half a gangster town. When you hear about us, rewind to fifty years ago. It is not the twenty-first century here, but the twentieth century. I think what really spooked the police was that I had been talking about activism and feminism. These words scare people.
Our local feminist community consists of two volunteers and me. I have an audience of a thousand some subscribers on our community page, but between two and twenty people in Komsomolsk itself. That is the number of people who come to our events. Unfortunately, that is our audience for the time being. It is a infantile scale.
But there have always been plenty of haters. When I decided to do a lecture on abuse, there were threats: we will come and show you what real violence is like, I was warned. Instead, a group of women showed up who sabotaged the lecture by insisting victims had only themselves to blame or something of the sort.
Even our women’s tea party was disrupted. We wanted to make it women-only, without men, so we could talk about our problems. Men wrote to us that they would come and show us what feminism was. There were so many threats that even the young women themselves got scared, along with the venue where we had scheduled the tea party. They asked us not to come.
I have stopped responding to death threats. Now, as we have been chatting, I have received three messages from a young man. The only word in the messages you can print is the word “you.” Yesterday, a man wrote on the community page of our theater workshop threatening to kill us for “perverting children.” This the general background.
After I was interrogated for four hours by the police about feminism and sex education, I felt I had a claim to the hashtag #FeminismIsNotExtremism. Six months ago, I would insert in posts in connection with the case of Lyubov Kalugina, when I was not even remotely in harm’s way. It is one thing to read about persecuted activists, but it is another thing to become one of them. People keep asking why I do it. What is the point? My run-in with the police makes me think hard about the kind of country we live in. But I can name at least twenty-one people for whom what I do is not pointless. I can name even more people, actually.
Photo from the Merak Activist Comedy Theater’s page on VK
What scares me most is the kids think they did something wrong. I ask them, You believe in what we do? Yes, they reply. Do you see anything bad about it? No, they answer. But the whole situation puts them under psychological pressure. It is a really terrible precedent, because the kids have been rapped on the knuckles as it were. They really work their butts off staging our plays. They invest a tremendous amount of energy in them. They are sincerely looking for ways to change the world for the better. These kids are really delicate and sensitive, and they are close to each other as group. They volunteer their time, they visit orphanages, they support other social projects. They are totally maxed out: they try and get straight A’s at school, and they are involved in academic competitions. In the midst of all their activities, they manage to come to four-hour-long, physically draining rehearsals.
But then adults tell them activism is bad, activism is evil, without even fully understand what activism is. And when these adults show up a week before our festival and tell us to get lost, both the kids and I are stressed out. They are really worried.
I have not slept or eaten for three days. I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I have been summoned again to the extremism prevention department. The phone is tapped, and calls with my lawyer are cut off. But I dream of opening a women’s crisis center in our city and an alternative independent school where the children would be not be bullied and hounded, and continuing to move the theater forward. In late spring, we are doing a production based on Svetlana Alexievich’s book Last Witnesses, about children during the Second World War, and in the summer we are staging a new English-language production.
UPDATE. DVHab.rureports that, despite the fact the local authorities ostensibly canceled Merak Theater’s Color of Saffron Festival, the festival went ahead way anyway at “closed” venues. DVHab.ru included a full video of Merak’s performance of Blues and Pinks in its article. I have reproduced it below.