Russia vs. Russia: Political Art and Censorship

Victoria Lomasko
April 14, 2015
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During the last discussion at the Russland vs. Russland. Kulturkonflikte forum, the event’s title finally paid off.

Kristina Leko, an artist and teacher at the Berlin Institute of Art, opened the discussion. The organizers had invited her to comment on the forum and the exhibition of Russian “critical art.”

She wondered how much the objets d’art for Marat Guelman’s Perm project (documented at the forum) had cost, whether the money had come from the city’s budget, and if it had, whether the citizens for whose sake this monumental street art had allegedly been made had agreed with this. Leko noted that she had found it unpleasant to listen to the presentation of the project, during which it was stated that the residents of Perm were “insufficiently educated to understand art.” She also said that after carefully viewing the video documentation for MediaImpact, she could not understand where the audience for this sociopolitical art was. Did Russian “critical” artists even want to communicate with the general public? Leko asked whether it was possible to make “critical art” now without taking Russia’s aggression in Ukraine into account, and whether one could be a “critical artist” while ignoring gender and racial discrimination.

Her talk was suddenly interrupted by artist Alexander Brener, who burst into the circle of panelists and yelled, “All of this is shit! We must talk about what matters most!” Brener was not a forum participant. He had come every day to listen to the speakers and several times had expressed his dissatisfaction, but in much more acceptable form.

Brener had interrupted Leko’s talk and continued to shout about shit, but the panelists interpreted his stunt variously. One group sided with Brener, calling him a great Russian artist. This was a performance, a compliment to the forum’s organizer. The talk had been boring: let Brener have his say, they said. The moderator, sociologist Alexander Bikbov, demanded that Leko be allowed to finish her talk. He was backed up by cultural studies scholar Olga Reznikova, who told Brener that there had been many boring and offensive presentations over the past three days and asked him why he had not felt the urge to shout down a high-profile male who had been talking “shit.” The only Ukrainian participant in the forum, Vasily Cherepanin, director of the Visual Culture Research Center in Kyiv and editor of the Ukrainian edition of the journal Krytyka Polityczna, said he felt sorry for us, since we were accustomed to rudeness and could not tell the difference between it and art. As a manager of an institution, he himself kicks out such “performance artists,” no questions asked.

While this was happening, Leko’s hands were shaking. The German audience was shocked. One of the German participants asked perplexedly, “Why is there no solidarity among Russian artists?”

I am certain that the majority of men in Russia who identify themselves as “leftists” are incapable of uniting with women on an equal footing and dealing with our professional work appropriately, without loutishness. Personally, I have no desire to identify with those “leftists” or liberals who try talking down to me or do the same thing with other women. I had had enough of that at the Feminist Pencil show at MediaImpact.

I said that sexism was one of the causes that prevented people from uniting.

Hearing the word sexism, some of the Russian participants began laughing and making faces. They then pointedly left the room altogether when the topic of gender was picked up by Olga Reznikova, Heinrich Böll Foundation coordinator Nuria Fatykhova, and the German audience.

Vasily Cherepanin raised the next topic. He spoke about the war in Ukraine, stressing it was a war of aggression on Russia’s part. At the same time, many Russian socially and politically engaged artists have preferred to remain apolitical on this matter and not make anti-war statements. One of the Germans asked why the Russians were trying to depoliticize the discussion of sexism and the war in Ukraine. After this question, another third of the Russians dashed from the room, while the artist Brener, who had been sitting quietly in the corner, again broke into the circle of panelists, screaming at Cherepanin, “Fuck off!”

Moderator Alexander Bikbov summarized the discussion by noting that too few “critical” artists had stayed for its final part. As soon as the conversation had turned to the things that mattered most—politics within the art scene and the war in Ukraine—many were not prepared to discuss them.

But then at the farewell dinner, the participants who had left the discussion early continued giggling among themselves about gender and feminism.

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Russia vs. Russia: From Censorship to Self-Censorship
New Russian laws—from a ban on swearing to protections for the feelings of religious believers—have made life difficult for artists. But the main obstacle to freedom of creativity has become self-censorship.
Yekaterina Kryzhanovskaya | Berlin
April 13, 2015
Deutsche Welle

lomasko-courtVictoria Lomasko, Prisoners of May 6, from the Drawing Trials project

For several years, Victoria Lomasko has been doing socially engaged graphic art, producing graphic reportages from court hearings and political rallies, and drawing the real stories of juvenile prisoners, migrant workers, rural teachers, and Orthodox activists. But the Russian woman can now longer speak openly about what concerns her through her drawings: now her black-and-white “comics” could be subject to the articles of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.

“My work Cannibal State, in support of political prisoners, today could be regarded as insulting state symbols. Liberate Russia from Putin clearly rocks the boat; it’s a call for rebellion, for revolution, and this is ‘extremism.’ A work from the Pussy Riot trial, Free the Prisoners! Shame on the Russian Orthodox Church!, featuring Patriarch Kirill, no doubt insults the feelings of believers,” the artist recounts.

Could she now, as she did earlier, freely post her political posters in social networks or show them at exhibitions?

“Hardly. But just two years ago several of them were even published in magazines,” notes Lomasko.

From censorship…

At the forum Russia vs. Russia: Cultural Conflicts, held April 10–12 in Berlin, Lomasko was not the only one bewildered about the prospects of protest art.

“In Russia nowadays you cannot do anything,” states Artyom Loskutov, an artist and organizer of the annual May Day Monstration marches in Novosibirsk.

In 2014, the Monstrators took to the streets of Novosibirsk holding a banner that read, “Hell is ours.” When the Russian media were excitedly talking about the virtues of federalizing Ukraine, Loskutov and his allies announced they would be holding a March for the Federalization of Siberia.

“If people in Russia hear every day that separatism in Ukraine turns out to be a good thing, that cannot slip through the cracks. We have simply hastened the next stage, when separatism will be seen as good for our country as well,” Loskutov emphasizes.

Russian federal media watchdog Roskomnadzor responded by sending fourteen letters to various media, including Ukrainian publications and even the BBC, demanding that they delete even mentions of this protest.

…to self-censorship

According to many forum participants, however, censorship was not the worst that was happening to them today.

“The worst thing that infiltrates our heads is self-censorship. It is impossible to know about the new laws and not to think about the consequences if you make a work about something that really concerns you,” argues Lomasko.

A congress of ultra-rightist nationalists was held in March in Petersburg, completely legally. And yet the media could not publish photographs of congress participants in clothes featuring swastikas because they would be fined for extremism.

“I really want to speak out on this subject. But if I were to draw something, I could be accused of spreading fascist ideas. And if I put it on the Web, everyone who reposts the picture automatically becomes my accomplice,” explains Lomasko.

Consequently, she said, there have been almost no artworks openly criticizing the annexation of Crimea or the war in Ukraine. Doubts about the legitimacy of Moscow’s actions are now also subject to the Criminal Code.  A rare exception is the graffiti piece Broads Will Give Birth to New Ones, in which a pregnant woman holding a Molotov cocktail is depicted with an infant soldier in her belly. But it was produced anonymously by members of the Petersburg group Gandhi.

Monumental propaganda

On the other hand, you can express your joy over the actions of Russian politicians without the sanction of officials. Thus, on the eve of the referendum in Crimea, a monumental graffiti proclaiming “Crimea and Russia: Together Forever” suddenly appeared on the wall of a house in Moscow’s Taganka Square where an officially authorized map of the Tagansky District was supposed have been painted.

“The contractor himself decided that the Crimean agenda was more topical and interesting, and he willfully painted what he did, not the map he had been commissioned to paint,” explains Anna Nistratova, an independent curator, researcher, and artist.

0,,18377432_401,00Victoria Lomasko

Later, such monumental propaganda began to appear all over the country, both as commissioned by the authorities, and at the behest of the population, including activist artists, many of whom also believe, according to Lomasko, “Crimea is ours, Donbass is ours, and Ukraine basically doesn’t exist.”

“In matters of propaganda, orders from the top are not obligatory. Our citizens themselves are capable to taking the initiative,” notes Nistratova.

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IMG_5964“Memory” (P = Pamiat’), one of a series of “graffiti” murals produced by the pro-Kremlin youth group Set (“Network”) to celebrate Vladimir Putin’s birthday in October 2014. The five murals, which appeared in different cities, each featured a different letter from the president’s surname; each letter was associated, children’s primer-style, with a different “patriotic” virtue (e.g., such as “memory” of the war). This mural was painted on an apartment block on Petersburg’s Obvodny Canal. Photograph by The Russian Reader

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Lost status

Nistratov points out that there are very few artists involved in political art in Russia. Besides, neither exhibitions nor the very best artworks nor inscriptions on the streets have any effect on society, in her opinion.

“The artist in Russia today is a strange, marginal subject. His status as an intellectual, as a moral exemplar, which existed earlier, has been completely forfeited,” says Nistratova.

Confusion is, perhaps, the feeling that is prevalent throughout the talks given by the participants of the forum Russia vs. Russia: Cultural Conflicts. By and large, the activist artists have no clear strategies for operating under new conditions.

“The only thing that seems to me worthwhile is maintaining one’s own little environment, a bubble inside the shit. Because if this nightmare ever ends, we have to make sure we are not faced with a scorched, absolutely bare field, bereft of political and social art, activism, and civic consciousness,” argues Lomasko.

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This is a real courtyard in my neighborhood, near a playground. Parents stroll around the yard with their children, discussing the news from “fascist” Ukraine.

Do I have the right to draw and show you this landscape featuring a swastika, a landscape that is fairly typical in Russia? During the recent trial of the Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists (BORN), their lawyer argued that the anti-fascists are just another street gang like the fascists. So why not label any denunciation of fascism “propaganda” of fascism itself?

Nationalists freely held an international congress in Petersburg in March. The only people the police arrested were the anti-fascists who protested the congress. Nationalists can walk around sporting neo-fascist symbols, but the authorities will prosecute publications that dare to publish photos of them. Juvenile prisons are filled with skinheads, but nationalist ideas are fomented on television.

Attn: Center “E”. I am opposed to fascism.

fashizm_colourThis yard is not in Ukraine. There are many swastikas in Russia, too. But if Russian citizens try to expose fascism, they can be charged with “extremism.” Inscription on wall: “Russ [sic] is ours!”

The Silence of the Lambs

A New Round in the Crackdown against Adygean Environmentalist Valery Brinikh
Adygea Supreme Court Upholds Decision Declaring Article “The Silence of the Lambs” Extremist
March 22, 2015
Environmental Watch on North Caucasus

On March 20, 2015, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Adygea heard an appeal filed by Valery Brinikh, chair of the Adygean branch of the All-Russian Society for Nature Conversation (VOOP), against a December 17, 2014, decision by the Maykop City Court in which Judge Irina Ramazanova had ruled Brinikh’s article “The Silence of the Lambs” extremist. The Supreme Court rejected Brinikh’s appeal.

f2d0e74c0b73Valery Brinikh

The article, published in August of last year, dealt with the environmental problems caused by Kievo-Zhuraki JSC, a pig-breeding facility located in Adygea’s Teuchezhsky District. Vyacheslav Derev, who represents Karachay-Cherkessia in the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament, founded Kievo-Zhuraki JSC. The publication of “The Silence of the Lambs” served as a spurious pretext for launching a crackdown against Valery Brinikh and stopping his environmental work by any means possible. All of the republic’s law enforcement agencies, working in concert, as if on orders and following a unified plan, started a campaign of persecution against Brinikh. The republic’s FSB office and the Russian Interior Ministry’s Extremism Prevention Department (Center “E”) in Adygea led the investigation. The Adygean Prosecutor’s Office filed the lawsuit requesting that the article be ruled extremist, while the Investigation Department of the Russian Investigative Committee in the Republic of Adygea filed extremism charges against Brinikh under Article 282 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. Only the timely intervention of the Presidential Human Rights Council and its chair, Mikhail Fedotov, who made a special trip for the purpose to Maykop, helped alleviate the attack on Brinikh to some extent. However, the ruling made by the Adygean Supreme Court on March 20 shows that the authorities have decided to proceed with the criminal case against Brinikh.

Judge Vera Meister presided at the first hearing of Brinikh’s appeal on March 10. However, a decision was not rendered in the case. Brinikh managed to sow doubts as to the admissibility of the only piece of the evidence in the case, a certified linguistic analysis of the article “The Silence of the Lambs,” which was produced by the criminal investigation. Brinikh pointed out that according to Russian Federal Constitutional Court Decision No. 18-O, dated February 4, 1999 (“On a Complaint by Citizens M.B. Nikolskaya and M.I. Sapronov That Their Constitutional Rights Had Been Violated by Individual Provisions of the Federal Law ‘On Criminal Investigations'”), the results of a criminal investigation cannot be admitted as evidence in court; they can only be admitted as such only after they have been secured through due process. The judge decided to postpone examination of the appeal for ten days, summoning the expert who conducted the linguistic analysis, Police Lieutenant Colonel Sergei Fedyaev, and questioning him in court. Judge Meister obviously crossed paths with forces that needed a fast and definite decision from the judge. Therefore, at the next hearing, on March 20, Brinikh’s appeal was heard by a new panel of judges. The presiding judge was Olga Kulinchenko, who is deputy chair of the Adygean Supreme Court and chair of the republic’s Council of Judges.

Despite this lofty status, Judge Kulinchenko violated procedural requirements from the outset of the hearing. The expert witness invited to give testimony was not removed from the courtroom prior to being questioned, and he was not made to sign an acknowledgement that he had been warned about criminal liability for perjury. During questioning, the chief expert from the Forensic Center of the Main Directorate of Internal Affairs in Krasnodar Krai was unable to explain why he had been assigned the analysis by the deputy head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in the Republic of Adygea, and not by the head of the Forensic Center, as stipulated by the Law “On State Forensic Expertise in the Russian Federation.” To explain how the package containing the material for linguistic analysis had been delivered to him in Krasnodar by guarded courier post from Maykop in five minutes (a trip that takes between ninety minutes to two hours by car), Fedyaev claimed that his working day began at 7 a.m. (According to the certified linguistic analysis, the work on it was begun at 9:05 a.m. on March 15, on orders, dated March 15, from the deputy head of the Federal Security Service in the Republic of Adygea.) In keeping with this line of argument, when he signed the accompanying letter on March 15 in Maykop, the deputy head of the Federal Security Service’s office in Adygea would have had to have been at work in the wee hours of Monday morning, March 15, as would have his clerk, who registered the letter. Therefore, the method of the ultra-fast delivery from Maykop to Krasnodar of the package containing the publication remains a mystery. These discrepancies did not trouble Judge Kulinchenko, however. During closing arguments, she constantly interrupted Brinikh, preventing him from fully stating his case and hurrying to finish the spectacle, whose ending was predetermined. The two other judges on the panel were flagrantly bored, since, apparently, they knew in advance how it would all turn out.

And that is what happened. The hearing, a shameful episode for the Russian judicial community, ended with the judges rejecting Brinikh’s appeal against the lower court’s ruling. Thus, as of March 20, the article “The Silence of the Lambs” is officially deemed extremist.

Now we should expect an abrupt reactivation of the investigation into the charges filed against Valery Brinikh on December 11, 2014, under Part 1, Article 282 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (“incitement to hatred or hostility, and humiliation of human dignity on the basis of ethnicity”). The investigation can now base its conclusions on the Maykop City Court’s ruling, which is now final and legally binding, something that it previously had critically lacked to legitimize this critical case.

The purpose of all these actions is obvious: to railroad, through the combined efforts of the local offices of the FSB, the Interior Ministry’s Center “E,” the Investigative Committee, the prosecutor’s office, and the courts, one of Russia’s most active conservationists, a man who prevents corrupt officials and unscrupulous businessmen from living peacefully.

For more information, call +7 (918) 425-8435

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“The silence of the lambs”: why the smell of manure must be endured
Elena Borovskaya
December 23, 2014
openrussia.org

How an Adygean environmentalist “fomented hatred” and “incited” locals “to action” in his fight against a Federation Council member’s pig farm

Criminal charges have been filed against Valery Brinikh, head of the Adygean branch of the All-Russian Society for Nature Conversation for an article he published on the Internet, “The Silence of the Lambs.” Brinikh has been accused of inciting hatred and calling for extremist actions under Part 1, Article 282 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. Observers have linked the persecution of the environmentalist to his long campaign against a pig farm owned by Russian Federation Council member Vyacheslav Derev, which has been polluting the surrounding area with manure.

The article “The Silence of the Lambs” was published on the website For Krasnodar! on September 8, 2014. Currently, the article has been deleted from the site and is available only in search engine caches. In the article, Brinikh describes his meetings with residents of the villages of Gabukay and Assokolay in the Teuchezhsky District, who had complained of the stench from the Kievo-Zhuraki JSC pig-breeding facility and other environmental problems. Local authorities made note of the trip there undertaken by Brinikh and his environmentalist colleagues. In Assokolay, they were greeted by prosecutors, policemen, and Center “E” officers instead of villagers. Sharing his impressions in the article, Brinikh criticizes the passivity of local residents in defending their rights and their “fear of tsars,” quoting aphorisms by Voltaire, and Russian and Adyghe proverbs in the process.

On November 20, the Adygea Prosecutor’s Office petitioned the court to rule the article “The Silence of the Lambs” extremist on the basis of an examination performed in conjunction with the local office of the Federal Security Service (FSB).  According to the document, a linguistic analysis performed by the Main Directorate of Internal Affairs in Krasnodar Krai showed that the article contained statements “that could be understood on the basis of ethnicity [and] origin [sic] to promote the degradation of the human dignity” of a group of persons (the Adyghe), as well as statements “that could be understood to incite [the Adyghe] to take actions probably related to violence against a group of persons, [i.e.,] ‘representatives of the local authorities.'”

On December 17, the Maykop City Court satisfied the request by the Adygea Prosecutor’s Office and ruled the article “The Silence of the Lambs” extremist. At the previous court hearing, on December 12, Brikhin became ill and was taken by ambulance to the Republican Hospital. After he underwent medical procedures, Brinikh was taken into custody by police, who informed him that he had been charged under Article 282 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code and took him to his residence to conduct a search. Brinikh was then questioned by the Investigation Department of the Russian Investigative Committee in Adygea and released on his own recognizance. However, investigators attempted to prevent lawyer Ludmila Alexandrova from seeing Brinikh, writes the website Environmental Watch on North Caucasus.

The same day, police investigators arrested Vitaly Isayenko, moderator of the website For Krasnodar! in Krasnodar and took him to Maykop for questioning in the “Silence of the Lambs” case. For a long time, lawyers did not know his whereabouts. According to activist Alexander Yesipyonok, investigators questioned Isayenko through the night, after which he was hospitalized in serious condition due to an aggravation of his diabetes.

Yesipyonok is convinced there are no statements in the article “The Silence of the Lambs” that could be construed as extremist or offensive.

“Rather than supporting Valery Brinikh in his fight to preserve a clean environment, the law enforcement authorities of the Republic of Adygea have organized his criminal prosecution by arbitrarily interpreting the laws, committing numerous procedural violations, and engaging in flagrant psychological pressure,” he wrote in a letter to the editors of Open Russia.

Observers have linked the criminal case against Brinikh to his fight against violations of environmental law by Kievo-Zhuraki Agribusiness JSC, an industrial pig-breeding facility owned by Vyacheslav Derev, Karachay-Cherkessia’s representative in the Federation Council. Brinikh’s confrontation with Kievo-Zhuraki has lasted for several years. According to environmentalists, the facility has caused a permanent stench in the surrounding villages, and discharges of manure have repeatedly killed off fish and seedlings in the fields. After a series of articles by Brinikh, Kievo-Zhuraki management filed a lawsuit to protect its commercial reputation, but the court sided with the environmentalist. In addition to environmental issues, Brinikh has written about corruption: about the ties between Derev and Adygean authorities, and abuses during construction of the pig-breeding facility.

The Presidential Human Rights Council has announced it will be monitoring the Brinikh case. Council chair Mikhail Fedotov and Greenpeace Russia’s executive director Sergei Tsyplenkov studied the situation when they visited Adygea during a field meeting of the council in Krasnodar Krai from December 15 to 17.

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In dealing since 2012 with the problems caused by the illegal operations of Kievo-Zhuraki Agribusiness JSC, I have often met with local residents who complained to me about the stench from the pig sheds. However, despite the increased activism of our organization in the Teuchezhsky District, at present there is not a single member of the All-Russian Society for Nature Conservation in this municipality. It has just so happened that the main core of our organization in the republic is made up of residents of Maykop and the Maykop District, while there are almost no members of the Society in Adygea’s ethnic districts.

To remedy this situation, I had asked my Adyghe friends to organize meetings with local residents in the villages of the Teuchezhsky District. We needed to look for assistants in our environmental work. The negative impact of Kievo-Zhuraki Agribusiness JSC’s pig-breeding facility on the environment and people’s health was a good occasion for such meetings. It would be interesting to hear directly from the people who lived next door to the pig-breeding facility whether they enjoyed having such a neighbor or not. It was also interesting to see whether we could count on the villagers of the Teuchezhsky District in our fight with the polluting pig producers, who had been violating Russian law and people’s right to a healthy environment.

From long years of personal experience I knew how hard it was encourage ordinary folk in our country to engage in more vigorous actions. Since Soviet times, our people have been used to letting off steam in the kitchen, in narrow circles of likeminded people, while in public they approve any moves made by the authorities, however idiotic. Still, I nourished a glimmer of hope that they had not all grown accustomed to the smell of pig manure, that not everyone was happy with the fact that fish were going belly up in the local ponds, and that the authorities would not lift a finger to improve the situation.

But the reality proved harsher, both to me and to my hopes. First, we stopped at Gabukay, which is located literally right next to the buildings of the pig farm. The village was not crowded on that quiet August evening. In the center, right on the square, about a dozen mainly elderly men were relaxing and playing chess on benches. Among them was the man whom my good friend Kasei Khachegogu had brought me to meet. After introducing myself, I asked the villagers how they liked living next to the pig farm. And immediately it was like something in those people exploded. It turned out they felt there was nothing good about having such a neighbor. But they smelled the stench from the fields and sensed the indifference of the authorities, both local and Adygean, in solving the problems of the village of Gabukay. For, as it transpired, the village had many other environmental problems. For example, back in the day the authorities had altered the course of the river Pshish, and now there were problems with the old riverbed. According to local residents, the authorities had skimped on reclamation works. To put it simply, they had stolen part of the funds allotted, so the work was done not to plan but catch-as-catch-can. Consequently, the old riverbed has become overgrown and has not been irrigated. It has thus become a breeding ground for snakes right on the outskirts of the village. And there is plenty of garbage in the vicinity of Gabukay, just as near any rural settlement in Adygea, because the only authorized solid waste landfills are outside of Maykop and Adygeisk.

After chatting with people and handing out application forms for joining the All-Russian Society for Nature Conversation, we hurried on to the village of Assokolay. Frankly, we were hoping we would find more people there. Especially because we had given the residents of Assokolay prior warning through fellow villagers that we would be coming to meet with the people and survey them about pressing environmental problems. However, as soon as they drove into the village, my comrades met a woman they knew hurrying home from the center. She told them that people were already waiting for us near the local House of Culture; only they were not village residents, but police and prosecutors from Adygeisk. And the people who had been there to meet us had simply been dispersed to their homes. The woman advised us not to go there, but to return to Maykop. It was all the same, she said, because we could not talk to anyone but law enforcement officers.

We decided to go all the way to the end: as they say, to drink the cup to the dregs. The square outside the club really was crowded. Waiting for us there were Lieutenant Colonel Ruslan Akhidjak, head of the Adygeisk intermunicipal police department, his deputy, and a dozen of his officers, including several patrol cars. Also in attendance were the Teuchezhsky interdistrict deputy prosecutor, an officer from the extremism prevention department, and several more “men in black.” The local residents were in the minority: around ten to fifteen people in all. As soon as we got out of our vehicles, we were immediately showered with reproaches. Why hadn’t we notified the authorities of our arrival? We tried to explain that we had not been planning any public events, but had only wanted to talk to the villagers, ask them about problems, and suggest that they join the All-Russian Society for Nature Conservation. The fact is that in this case our organization would have a greater chance of defending the rights and interests of local residents, including protecting them from the negative impacts of Kievo-Zhuraki Agribusiness JSC’s pig farm.

In the end, I insisted that, since we had come all the way from Maykop, we would talk to however many people showed up. That is just what we did: under the watchful eye of police officers and prosecutors, and with a female officer from the Adygeisk police department standing next to us with a tape recorder turned on. Basically, the conversation was a repeat of the conversation we had had in Gabukay. The only difference was that there were two elderly men present who had gone with me to the court hearings in Adygeisk when our organization had been in a lawsuit with Kievo-Zhuraki Agribusiness JSC last spring. Thus, the conversation was more heated. We were accused of not having scored any victories in our campaign against the law-breaking pig producers. I had to explain that we have won victories, albeit small ones, and that in conditions of total corruption it would be pointless to expect quick and easy victories in the fight against dirty businessmen. That it would be much easier for me if in the district as a whole and in every village and farm we had active assistance. It is one thing when two or three witnesses come to a court hearing and testify that it stinks where they live, and quite another if hundreds of people would gather in the square outside the court and demand that Kievo-Zhuraki Agribusiness JSC stop poisoning people’s lives. Perhaps the judge, even if he or she had been “inspired” by their superiors, would find it much more difficult morally to hand down an unjust ruling.

And I also said that Kievo-Zhuraki Agribusiness JSC had stocked up on all sorts of certificates and evaluations approving their operations, and that was all the officials who inspected them needed to see. In reality, nobody had really inspected the pig producers and punished them. I see all the violations; I know how to punish the guilty parties and, most importantly, how to remedy the situation. But I am a social activist, and I am not authorized to do this, while those who do have the authority do not wish to use it. The regime despises the people, and the people despise this regime. They despise it and fear it. It is a vicious circle. To paraphrase the famous saying, every people deserves the regime it tolerates.

I was saying all this while secretly mulling over the thought that the authorities in Adygea feared any independent opinion, any unauthorized sigh. Look, a whole flock of them had flown into Assokolay, not even begrudging going to work on a Friday evening, right before the weekend. Apparently, local law enforcement was under strict orders from the Adygean government to prevent the opposition (and all real social activists and environmentalists are always in opposition to any government) from meeting with the local population. I recalled the anti-corruption rallies that had not been held because of the authorities, and the rally we had wanted to hold on June 5, World Environment Day, which had been dispersed by police. They clearly know who butters their bread.

Speaking of fat, I have always wondered why it was decided to place the pigsties amid the Adyghe villages and not somewhere in the Russian-speaking region of Adygea. Why is Kievo-Zhuraki Agribusiness JSC planning to raise cows outside of Maykop while it breeds pigs in the Teuchezhsky District? You find yourself involuntarily wondering whether Adygea’s current authorities have not done this on purpose. Because in practical terms, excuse my use of jargon, the Muslim population has been “punked,” meaning it has been humiliated to the point where people have lost their self-esteem. Humiliated people are easier to manage: you can wrap them round your little finger. And that is what is done to them. As Khazret Bogus, a local farmer and born columnist from the village of Krasnoe, wrote, there is an Adyghe saying: If you have tackled shit, hold on tight, because you have been soiled all the same. The Holy Quran forbids the faithful from eating pork, except in cases when they are forced to eat it. But who or what has forced the Adyghe to breathe manure-polluted air and swim in ponds poisoned by sewage? Nothing but cowardice and a lack of self-esteem. How does living in filth differ from the consumption of pork? For, according to the Quran, the pig is considered a dirty animal, because it lives in filth. But the residents of the Teuchezhsky District also, as a matter of fact, live in filth. It turns out that the stench from Kievo-Zhuraki Agribusiness JSC’s pig farm poisons not only people’s bodies but also their souls.

People used to sing, “No one will grant us deliverance, / Not god, nor tsar, nor hero. / We will win our liberation, / With our very own hands.” Now they sing completely different songs, songs tolerant of the powers that be and the shit they generously reward people for their obedience. And they themselves place their hope in God, fear the tsar, and hope a hero will save them. No hero will save you, my dear fellow countrymen, until you cease being afraid of tsars. And God will not help you until you roll up your sleeves. The Russians have a saying: “God helps those who help themselves.” And the great French thinker Voltaire argued that God helps those battalions that shoot best.

So when are we going to start shooting better, villagers?

The Hipster’s Dream Debased (Portlandia)

A while back, I came across this curious sounding prospectus for a new convenience store in Petrograd.

Portlandia

About the Place:
Portlandia is a new project in the convenience store format.

Project creators: Natalia Davydova and Julia Zenka

The idea to create Portlandia* sprang from a love of fellowship, food, the art of cooking, and shared experiences, as well as an acute shortage of quality products (in the broad sense) in St. Petersburg.

It is very important that our customers are always satisfied with not only the quality of the goods but also the range, which boils down to the basics, but things sufficient for comfort: farm-fresh produce, popular high-end products, household goods, and kitchen utensils.

The first thing we care about is the location of the store. Since many neighborhoods in the city center suffer from a lack of hypermarkets, and there are not enough grocery stores with high quality products, we decided to take up residence in apartment buildings.

* Portland is a city in the state of Oregon in the United States. It is considered the undeclared capital of foodies and hipsters. Authentic and incredible gastro festivals and lots of interesting things happen there. Young creative people bent on healthy eating and self-realization live there. They are always coming up with strange pastimes for themselves and are proud of the result. That, in short, is Portland.

In 2011, the American TV series “Portlandia”, which we could not help but fall in love with, premiered. This series, in fact, is our whole life in a nutshell: para-gastronomical insanity, awe over the topic of bars, as well as sketches about the creativity of the silly Portland hipsters with their passion for music festivals, DJ-ing, and all the things that we in Russia (especially in St. Petersburg) are just beginning to go crazy over.

Founding date: November 11, 2014

It sounded odd but potentially interesting, only the address put me on my guard.

portlandia

That address (Ulitsa Paradnaya 3/Vilensky Pereulok 35) suggested this “hipster’s paradise” was at the heart of a newish high-rise housing estate, Paradny Kvartal, that had been erected a few years ago on the bones of another old neighborhood that should have been wholly protected by city and federal preservation laws and the city’s status as an UNESCO Heritage Site. But this is what went down instead, as reported at the time by Sergey Chernov of the now-defunct St. Petersburg Times, with a little assistance from the now equally defunct Chtodelat News (whose better intentions live on in this blog).

Legality of Demolition of Historic Barracks Contested
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
May 11, 2011

Another planning controversy is developing in the city, as more historic buildings in the center were demolished last week to make way for luxury apartment and office buildings.

Built by architect Fyodor Volkov in the early 19th century, the demolished buildings on the corner of Paradnaya Ulitsa and Vilensky Pereulok are known as the Preobrazhensky Regiment’s Barracks and used to house one of the Russian army’s oldest regiments, formed by Peter the Great in the late 17th century.

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Following a public outcry, Governor Valentina Matviyenko ordered an internal investigation into the legality of a construction permit issued by the St. Petersburg State Construction Supervision and Expertise Service (Gosstroinadzor). The agency is subordinated directly to Matviyenko.

Matviyenko’s orders were based on a memorandum sent to her by City Hall’s Heritage Protection Committee (KGIOP) after the last building was demolished on May 3.

Yulia Minutina, a coordinator of preservationist group Living City, said that Gosstroinadzor issued the construction permit that contradicted the protected zones law.

The local press suggested that the investigation may result in the dismissal of Gosstroinadzor’s head Alexander Ort. Preservationists and public figures such as film director Alexander Sokurov asked Matviyenko to dismiss Ort in a petition in January.

The developer failed to show the demolition permit, according to Minutina.

“Demolition is a separate type of work that requires a separate permit,” Minutina said Tuesday.

“Nevertheless, it was not presented to us, nor have they seen it at the KGIOP and I’m not sure it ever existed. Of course this is a violation.”

“Besides, buildings in the center can only be demolished if they are in a poor condition, but we haven’t seen any document stating that the building was in a poor state and impossible to restore either.”

Minutina said the demolition was one of the issues the preservationists are planning to raise during a planned meeting with Matviyenko on Thursday.

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While the last building was being destroyed during the May Day holidays, the authorities did not react to the appeals of concerned residents. At the same time, police reportedly harassed activists who picketed the demolition site, rather than checking whether the developer had the necessary permits.

“We waited for two hours for the police to arrive,” Living City’s Pyotr Zabirokhin said.

“But instead of stopping the demolition, they started checking our passports, copying our placards into their notebooks and threatening to disperse us if we didn’t go away.”

St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly Deputy Sergei Malkov has written a complaint regarding the police actions to the St. Petersburg police chief Vladislav Piotrovsky.

The tactic of demolishing historic buildings during public holidays was recently used when a large portion of the 19th-century Literary House was destroyed on Nevsky Prospekt during the Russian Christmas holidays in January, Zabirokhin pointed out.

“It has turned into a bad tradition that not entirely legal cases of demolition start during or just before holidays, when people are not ready to get mobilized quickly, and while officials are on holiday and nobody can be reached,” he said.

According to the project’s web site, the area previously occupied by the Preobrazhensky Regiment Barracks will be home to an “exclusive” Paradny Kvartal, an isolated “mini city” of 16 office and residential buildings.

parad_kvartal_stroyka2-1Call Now!

“The true adornment of the quarter’s center will be a square with a fountain, comparable in size with that in front of the Kazan Cathedral,” the web site said.

However, apparently as a result of the controversy, the site was no longer available on Tuesday, redirecting to the web site of the developer, Vozrozhdeniye Peterburga. The original site can be viewed as files cached in Google.

Anna Mironovskaya, the marketing director of Vozrozhdeniye Peterburga, a subsidiary of the LSR Group, said Tuesday her company was only a sub-investor and was not in charge of legal matters and permits, citing the Ministry of Defense as the project’s developer and the Pyotr Veliky Construction Company as the commissioner.

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http://paradny.ru/questions/

— Who acquires real estate in Paradny Kvartal?

One of the main advantages of Paradny Kvartal is the social homogeneity of [one’s neighbors]. Our buyers are people of high social status. That is why we will be able to create “our own world” in which it will be pleasant and comfortable to live.

[…]

— What does the phrase “noblesse oblige,” which is frequently applied to Paradny Kvartal, mean?

The well-known phrase has rightly become not just the slogan but the authentic motto of Paradny Kvartal. It translates as “[one’s] station obliges [one].” For in Paradny Kvartal each detail underscores the project’s elitism, its exclusivity.

Photos courtesy of Zaks.Ru and Chtodelat News.

“‘Noblesse Oblige’ as a Wrecking Ball (Paradny Kvartal, Petersburg),” Chtodelat News, May 13, 2011

____________________

I had not been back to that site of class warfare camouflaged as “redevelopment” since that grey unpleasant day in May four years ago, although whenever I was in the vicinity it had been hard to avoid catching sight of Paradny Kvartal towering on the horizon over its older neighbors. Not only had the elitist high-rises probably been built in violation of the height regulations for the historic center, but the whole estate, I disovered when I revisited it a few weeks ago, has been erected on a one-storey-high pile of landfill, probably to accommodate lots of subterranean parking.

Hipster convenience store Portlandia proved quite hard to find amid the vast pseudo-Petersburgian, semi-ghost town that is Paradny Kvartal.

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Part of the problem was a lack of sensible signage and maps, but mostly it was hard to find anything when many of the first-floor commercial spaces were still awaiting occupants.

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This, by the way, seems to be the “square with a fountain, comparable in size with that in front of the Kazan Cathedral,” mentioned above.

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Since the dubious reign of Valentina Matviyenko, who presided over the destruction of the Preobrazhensky Barracks, as well as much else of architectural merit, the city has been fountanized to the point of bursting, with two of its major Lenin monuments also having been juvenilized as water fun parks of a perverse sort. But Paradny Kvartal’s (perhaps non-functioning) fountain had been wisely boxed up for the winter.

I finally found Portlandia the hipster convenience store. I can say that the picture from the prospectus, above, does it justice. It is as empty and pointless as the picture suggests, and “convenient” only if you have been locked inside this mini city and desperately want to buy local craft beer and designer aprons at a heavy mark-up. That is, if you want stuff readily available elsewhere, probably just outside the gates of this noblesseobligeville, but for many fewer rubles.

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Even at its most gentrified, the real Portland, Oregon, is a delightful, gritty socialist paradise compared to the soulless, Putinesque anti-Petersburg on display inside Paradny Kvartal.

And the connection with Portlandia the TV show I just don’t get at all. Portlandia is often mildly funny and at least slightly in touch with the city it sends up and where it is filmed. I cannot even imagine a comparable program dealing with Petersburg’s foibles and sillinesses being made here nowadays, in this dark-as-pitch and utterly humorless period, although there were such programs in the “lawless” nineties (e.g., Gorodok and Ostorozhno, modern!).

It’s frightening to think that much greater swathes of the inner city would look like Paradny Kvartal now were it not for the spunkiness of the tiny, embattled, and nowadays almost totally extinguished gradozashchitniki (city defenders) movement, which only six or seven years ago set the entire country on its ear by defeating Gazprom and its planned skyscraper.

But the city’s real salvation, such that it has been, has come from timely economic crises and sheer bureaucratic corruption and incompetence.

And yet Putinism in architecture and city planning has managed to do a lot of damage to this fine city, while signally failing to fix almost any real problems, of which there are almost too many to count.

As I happily exited Paradny Kvartal, a sign reminded me I was leaving the “first fashionable quarter in Saint Petersburg.”

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As I dashed down the ramp into the “unfashionable” Petersburg, it was like returning to life after a longish period in cryogenic refrigeration.

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One of the first things I saw there in the real city, warts and all, was a memorial plaque, reminding me that once upon a time people in this city had big ideas, and had dreamt of and fought for better futures.

IMG_6193Vladimir Ilyich Lenin lived in this house from August 31 to early October 1893. This period marked the beginning of his efforts to create a revolutionary Marxist party in Russia.

Of course, we can argue the merits of different political ideas and the methods of realizing them.

But places like Paradny Kvartal are idealess vacuums, pure embodiments of the blackest political reaction and the lack of any vision of the future on the part of Russia’s wildly corrupt ruling classes.

Even the sometimes justly maligned Russian hipster deserves better than Portlandia the inconvenience store and its airless environs.

With a little elbow grease and imagination, the old Preobrazhensky Regiment Barracks could have been transformed into a real hipster’s paradise, into a little village of low-income housing and affordable shops and cafes. Minus the hipsterism, it almost was like that back in the “wild” nineties. At any rate, it was at least as shabbily livable as any other part of the central city back then. Which despite its shabbiness was a hundred times more beautiful than it is now.

Ayder Muzhdabaev: To the Fourteen Percent

To the Fourteen Percent
Ayder Muzhdabaev
April 4, 2015
echo.msk.ru
facebook.com

Governments, international organization, and concerned citizens in different countries have been protesting against the increasing discrimination against the Crimean Tatars. They have demanded an end to the crackdown. Only in one country have no such protests been heard.

Guess what country?

For more than a year, its citizens have pretended not to notice that their government has been behaving towards the Crimean Tatars along the lines of the Third Reich, having cast this people in the role of collective outcast. Moreover, it is not only officials and supporters of the regime who have behaved this way, but its opponents as well.

“Opposition,” “intelligentsia”: it is no longer possible to write these words in Russian without quotation marks. In this entire country of 140 million people you will hardly find ten people who have spoken out publicly in defense of the Crimean Tatars. Almost all my Moscow “friends” have been silent as well. When I appealed specifically to them here on Facebook, telling them in detail about the plight of the Crimean Tatars in Crimea, I got zero likes and zero reposts from those whom I had imagined as my addressees.

It is worth pondering this situation and evaluating it on its merits.

An entire people have been made second-class citizens in their country. People have been deprived of the chance to listen to the radio and watch TV in their own language, and children cannot even watch cartoons in this language! People are intimidated. Some of them have disappeared without a trace, others are in prison. The rest simply sit at home crying from fear, a sense of injustice, and despair. No one can be punished (at least not yet) for expressing sympathy with the Crimean Tatars. So why has the cat got your tongue, citizens?

It is just that no one really cares at all.

I think that even if the Crimean Tatars are shipped from Crimea in cattle wagons, as they were in 1944, I will read two or three posts about it in Russian on Facebook, amidst an account of sluts at a bar and snapshots of beloved doggies.

It is because of this, and not for some other reason, that I do not believe this country can essentially change for the better.

The damned eighty-six percent are to blame for everything? Is that right?

Look who is talking, fourteen percent.

Ayder Muzhdabaev is deputy chief editor of Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper.

Spiral of Silence

Greg Yudin
April 3, 2015

Let me tell you a story about opinion polls.

The so-called spiral of silence has often been recalled recently in Russia in connection with public opinion polls. The idea behind the spiral of silence is simple. As soon as an opinion is conveyed either in the media or those selfsame surveys as having support from the majority, the minority, out of fear, prefers either to keep silent or join the majority. The idea has been used to explain where unanimous opinions, 86% ratings, total approval, etc., come from. Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, the “godmother” of public opinion polling in post-war Germany, coined the term “spiral of silence” in 1980. And so in Russia, it is usually argued that the spiral of silence is an inherent feature of public opinion, because it was discovered in Germany, a proper bourgeois country.

We know that Noelle-Neumann was a Nazi. She did not join the party per se, but she did head a branch of a party student organization, made a considerable stir in the US by actively promoting Nazism, and later worked for two years at Goebbels’s weekly newspaper Das Reich.

But that is not so important. Many people suffered from Nazi fever, including social scientists. What is more interesting is that while many of those people somehow reflected on their Nazi experiences, trying in different ways to explain what had led them to do the things they did, Noelle-Neumann went into total denial. All her life, she maintained that she had done nothing extraordinary, that Hitler was a charming man, and that she had just been forced to denounce Jews, and in fact she had secretly opposed the regime. It is easy to see how she opposed it if you take a gander at the articles she wrote for Das Reich. It is as if a columnist for the current incarnation of Izvestia would say that he had secretly been fighting for peace and harmony in Russia.

Subsequently, the spiral of silence theory was repeatedly tested, and it turned out that it works poorly in multipolar societies. If it explains anything at all, however, it explains the personal experience of Noelle-Neumann herself. It is her own fear that she identifies with the intimidated majority. She tries to justify this fear by arguing that the spiral of silence is something ordinary and inevitable. But this is a bad excuse, because in order to save her conscience, she justifies political repression, not only past repression, but future repression. It is one thing to recognize that no normal person is immune from becoming a beast, and quite another thing to say it is a normal thing when people turn into animals.

In fact, as far back as her 1940 dissertation (which simultaneously functioned as a report to Goebbels’s office on American attitudes to Germany), she writes directly about the difference between the US and the Third Reich.

“In Germany, public opinion figures like the body of the people, which receives orders from the head and ensures their implementation. […] In one case, public opinion holds sway. In others, it is guided.”

All this came to mind after the stunning lecture last week by my colleague Grigory Kertman from the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM). Kertman spoke about the fear of respondents during interviews. It cannot be measured directly. You cannot ask respondents, “Are you afraid of me right now?” But Kertman cleverly got around this by collecting information from the interviewers who conduct the polls. He discovered that they are used to the fact that respondents are afraid: this is the most common cause of insincere responses. A significant part of the interview takes place in circumstances where the respondent’s fear is so strong that it is palpable to the interviewers.

This silence of the lambs is abnormal, and it has nothing to do with the “nature of public opinion.” The insatiable desire to pass human beings off as naturally cowardly creatures and justify those who systematically bully them always comes from those who themselves have been victims of violence. Nothing good will come of it. We definitely do not want to go where this spiral would lead us.

source: Facebook

Greg Yudin is a research fellow and lecturer at The Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

See my previous posts on Russia’s pollocracy.

Release Oleg Sentsov!

Oleg Sentsov first came to the attention of the international film world when he triumphed with his film Gaamer (Gamer) at the 2012 Rotterdam Film Festival. With the cruelty only hindsight can bring, Gaamer screened in the ‘Bright Future’ section of the festival, which aims to draw attention to idiosyncratic and talented newcomers.

The ‘bright future’ that Sentsov is looking at now involves a 20-year stretch in a Russian prison, condemned as traitor and terrorist. Sentsov was arrested by the Russian security services at home in Simferopol on 11 May 2014, and brought to Moscow where he is detained and awaiting trial on charges of terrorism. Though Ukrainian, of Crimean origin, the investigating authorities of the Russian Federation do not recognise Sentsov’s Ukrainian citizenship. In line with the March 2014 law on the assimilation of Crimea, Russia required any permanent resident of Crimea who held Ukrainian citizenship to declare their intentions of maintaining Ukrainian citizenship. The deadline for this process was April 18, after which all Ukrainian passport holders who resided in Crimea were deemed Russian citizens.

So Oleg not only languishes in a Russian jail, he languishes there deprived of his rights as a Ukrainian citizen, deprived of visits from diplomats of his country, and categorised as a Russian national who has betrayed his own country.

Mike Downey, “The ‘bright future’ of Oleg Sentsov,” openDemocracy, February 17, 2015

Sign the petition demanding the release of Oleg Sentsov.

Fish Fingers All in a Line

fishstick8To all the Crimea-is-oursians out there and their fellow travelers in the “we won’t give back Crimea even after Putin goes” camp (e.g., Navalny and other members of the opposition) and their apologists in “the West,” just read the article I have linked to, below, as an April Fool’s joke.

It couldn’t be real, could it? I mean, because after the “return to home port” was accomplished, everything in Crimea has been just PEACHY! Hasn’t it?

And entre nous, the “Crimean Tatars,” who are they anyway? They sound like something you would slather on your fish fingers, not a real people with real rights.

Sorry for the interruption: you can go back to feeling smug about being real white people.

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____________________

Anton Shekhovtsov
March 29, 2015

Speaking about the motives of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the author [of the article “Why did we ‘surrender’ Crimea?”; here, in Russian] makes a common mistake: she deems the Putin regime ideological, as indicated by the fact she mentions ideas of the “Russian world” as a motivation for annexing Crimea and the subsequent aggression.

In reality, however, the Putin regime is a right-wing authoritarian kleptocracy. By default, its kleptocratic essence already presumes the absence of any underlying ideology. This is not to say that the regime’s elite does not espouse any ideas. It does. These ideas include anti-Americanism, anti-Westernism, and anti-liberalism. However, all these ideas are negative (anti-), and even in their totality they do not produce anything that could be called an ideology, i.e., a positive system of beliefs.

However, the authoritarian nature of the Putin regime already highlights the fact that the regime may utilize discrete ideological elements in those cases when it is necessary to consolidate power, Elements of conservatism and Russian nationalism (“the Russian world”) and antagonistic imperialisms are instrumentalized by the regime and planted in Russian society to mobilize it and consolidate the kleptocracy. But these elements of real ideologies are not directly related to the nature of the regime. In other words, “Russian worlds,” “traditional values,” and “our grandfathers fought fascism” are fairy tales for the poor.

1209Vasya Lozhkin, “We’ll Bring It All Back!”

However many Ukrainophobes there are in Russia and among the Putinist elite, the destruction of Ukraine as a state is not an end in itself for the Putin regime. The Russian kleptocracy needs the Russian-Ukrainian war only to maintain its hold on power in Russia.

source: Facebook