A Night at the Opera

Final Scene of Wagner’s Tannhäuser

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Alexander Novopashin, prior of Novosibirsk’s Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, has been awarded an Extremism Prevention pin and a Service to the Motherland medal, second degree, as reported on the cathedral’s site and an official legal information website.

According to the text of the March 23 decree, signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Novopashin received the Service to the Motherland medal, second degree, for “successes achieved in his career, many years of diligent work, and active involvement in public life.”

Earlier, on March 21, the archpriest was awarded the pin of the Main Directorate for Extremism Prevention. As reported on the site of Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the priest has worked on the problem of totalitarian sects for over twenty years. He argues that contemporary sectarianism is one form of the extremist movement.

novopashin-04Archpriest Alexander Novopashin

As the noted on the cathedral’s site, “The priest stresses that extremism has many faces. Today it is manifested not only in the form of totalitarian sects but also in the increasing aggression of ultraliberals, sexual perverts marching with flags in the streets of our cities, illegal pseudo-cultural stunts in the form of exhibitions, theater performances, etc., designed not only to shock the audience but also to humiliate and insult the human dignity and religious sentiments of believers.”

According to online publication Taiga.info, Novopashin has appealed to parishioners to attend a rally in downtown Novosibirsk on March 29 and demand the banning of the opera Tannhäuser at the local opera theater. The official theme of the rally is “responsibility of the authorities for offending the feelings of believers.” The declared number of participants is three thousand people.

source: fontanka.ru; photo courtesy of k-istine.ru

“Anti-Extremist” Police Crack Down on Unionized Autoworkers in Kaluga

Automotive Industry Checked for Extremism
Center “E” Officers Detain Independent Trade Union Activists in Kaluga
Anatoly Karavayev and Daniil Lomakin
March 23, 2015
Gazeta.Ru

Kaluga police conducted a raid against independent trade union activists who had gathered to discuss layoffs at local car factories. Due to the decline of the auto market, 750 people might be fired in the very near future. After being detained on a technicality, the detainees talked to officers from Center “E”, the Center for Extremism Prevention. The trade union movement considers such actions a preventive measure by the authorities.

A scandal has erupted in Kaluga over the detention of fifteen activists from the Interregional Trade Union Workers Association (ITUWA). (Police claim that twelve activists were detained.) At the weekend, workers from local automotive factories had gathered at the offices of the ITUWA’s Kaluga local to discuss future personnel reductions in the region.

For example, there are plans to lay off 150 people at the local Volkswagen plant in the near future.

In addition, the Peugeot-Citroen plant in Kaluga could dismiss as many as 40% of its workers, around 600 people, without compensation after March 31. Unlike Volkswagen, the French automaker has not yet made an official announcement.

As the ITUWA local informed Gazeta.Ru, they are planning this week to negotiate with plant management. If an agreement to save jobs is not reached, the trade union intends to hold protest rallies and file a series of lawsuits.

The local security forces also took notice of the Kaluga trade union’s activism. Over the weekend, police conducted mass arrests of its members. Moreover, officers from Center “E”, which specializes in combating various forms of extremism, dealt with the activists.

As activists recounted, they had begun gathering for the meeting when police suddenly entered the ITUWA office in Kaluga and arrested everyone present. Ultimately, 15 people were taken to the police station. ITUWA local chair Dmitry Trudovoi is certain the detention of the activists was occasioned by the trade union’s increased activism.

“Layoffs are planned at Peugeot-Citroen and Volkswagen. All this has lead the trade union to ratchet things up. Strikes and all that are possible. Basically, this was an act of intimidation,” Trudovoi said of the incident.

“This was a ridiculous police provocation,” Dmitry Kozhnev, who was among the detainees, told Gazeta.Ru.

“First, a beat cop entered the office. He asked about two people who had committed a robbery nearby and had, allegedly, dashed into the building where the ITUWA meeting was taking place. Some time later, the ‘bigwigs’ arrived (around forty ranking officers), people in uniform and plainclothes who systematically arrested us and took us to the station.”

“At first, they told us that the arrests were linked, allegedly, to the robbery. But that doesn’t seem to be true, given that people were detained for an hour. Center “E” officers conducted the interrogations. They were trying to figure out what our organization was doing, what events were planned. But none of the detained ITUWA members answered their questions.”

According to Kozhnev, the ITUWA regarded the arrests as an attempt to intimidate members of the trade union.

“Center “E” officers told us we were agents of the West and wanted to destabilize the situation in the country,” said Kozhnev.

“But ultimately they didn’t achieve their objective; they only discredited themselves. On the contrary, the situation has united all ITUWA workers even more,” he added.

The Kaluga Region Interior Ministry office denied the arrests of the ITUWA members occurred during an investigation of their activity.

As Svetlana Somova, head of the press center at the regional Interior Ministry office told Gazeta.Ru that a robbery had occurred near where the trade unionists were meeting. Two unidentified men had attacked a third man and stolen his belongings.

“According to the victim, [the robbers] escaped into the building where the meeting was taking place,” explained Somova. “A group of people, some of whom had no documents, was in the room. They were unable to explain anything about the men who had entered the building. Therefore, they were taken to Police Precinct No. 2. And there it transpired that an out-of-town trade union movement leader was among them. Naturally, the desk sergeant summoned Counter-Extremism Center officers to avoid provocations.”

As Somova explained, no more than ten officers had been dispatched to the site where the ITUWA members were detained: an extra-departmental security squad, a patrol squad, and police investigators.

“There were no riot police, as has been previously reported in the media,” said the press spokesperson. “If citizens believe their rights have been violated, they can complain to the prosecutor about the police’s actions. ITUWA activists had earlier accused the police of illegal actions, but no violations were uncovered during the course of probes.”

According to the press service spokesperson, police did not suspect they were detaining trade union members because the building sported a large “Barbershop” sign.

“A signal had to be sent”

ITUWA chair and well-known trade unionist Alexei Etmanov deems the incident in Kaluga unacceptable.

“It’s an absolutely abnormal situation when workers gathered for a trade union meeting are raided by the police. These are the methods not even of the 1990s, but of the 1930s,” Etmanov told Gazeta.Ru.

According to Etmanov, the detainees had gathered on a weekend day at the Kaluga ITUWA office to discuss the situation at the region’s automotive plants.

“There were members from Volkswagen and Peugeot-Citroen and other plants,” said Etmanov. “A beat cop showed up under false pretenses, then a SWAT team. At the precinct, they tried to fingerprint people.  Those who were more experienced were able to wriggle out of it, but some had their fingerprints taken. No one filed any charges, of course, but it was a very heavy hint about not fighting so vigorously for one’s rights. I am certain that 90% of this was at the behest of the regional government. There are many foreign-owned plants here. A clear signal had to be sent that there was no need to defend one’s rights too vigorously.”

According to Etmanov, the ITUWA plans to send a letter about the incident to Russian Federal Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev via the All-Russian Confederation of Labor (VKT).

In turn, the Kaluga Region media relations office told Gazeta.Ru it was planning no statements regarding the incident.

“If there are any questions, we are happy to answer them upon written request,” said Anastasia Davydkina, head of the office.

Layoffs at Auto Factories in Kaluga Region

As Kaluga ITUWA organizer Dmitry Kozhnev explained to Gazeta.Ru, around 40% of the workers at the Peugeot-Citroen are on fixed-term contracts that expire on March 31 and, according to the union’s information, will not be renewed.

“The problem with this arrangement existed long ago and was a ticking time bomb. A fixed-term contract allows the employer to fire a worker without paying out any compensation,” explained Kozhnev. “At the same time, it is illegal to hire workers on such conditions. A fixed-term contract may be concluded only when it is impossible to hire an employee under an open-end contract.

“But in the case of the Kaluga plant, there were no such obstacles. Moreover, we already have won favorable court rulings for several plant employees. The court ordered the plant to sign open-ended contracts with them.”

But employees will be offered to transfer to the Volkswagen engine plant, whose launch in Kaluga is planned for the second half of the year. Volkswagen does not rule out the possibility that a portion of the downsized workers might be dismissed by mutual consent. They would be offered a compensation package.

“The packages include financial compensation and medical insurance valid until the end of 2015. In addition, those employees who leave the company by mutual agreement will be the first to be asked to return to the factory when the car market starts to recover,” Volkswagen spokesperson Natalya Kostyukovich told Gazeta.Ru.

In February of this year, the Volvo truck factory in the Kaluga Region shut down completely.  Due to the collapse of the auto market, demand for cars had slumped. About 200 people lost their jobs.

Richard Diebenkorn & Vadim Ovchinnikov: 10 Rules for Painting

“Notes to myself on beginning a painting” by Richard Diebenkorn

1. Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.

2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued – except as a stimulus for further moves.

3. DO search.

4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.

5. Don’t “discover” a subject – of any kind.

6. Somehow don’t be bored but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.

7. Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position.

8. Keep thinking about Pollyanna.

9. Tolerate chaos.

10. Be careful only in a perverse way.

Richard Diebenkorn is in The Sackler Wing at the Royal Academy in London from March 14 to June 7, 2015.

source

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Painter!

1. The viewer is your friend, comrade, and brother.

2. Vary your intimate relations with the painting.

3. Before you begin to sketch on the canvas, sharpen your pencil properly.

4. Do not forget that there are also artists in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Chukotka, and other regions.

5. By placing the surname of the portrait subject beneath his portrait, you will increase the likeness approximately sevenfold.

6. Be sensible: get into your painting, but get out as soon your session ends.

7. You should not ponder the idea of your next work nor is it recommended that you think about it.

8. Make the viewer your accomplice; incline him to think that you are right.

9. Art requires sacrifices, sacrificiality, self-sacrifice, and ritual sacrifice

10. Skillfully using pattern, color, texture, color temperature, tone, varnish, and Chinese and Indian philosophy, tell the viewer everything, but do not give away any secrets.

— Vadim Ovchinnikov (1951–1996)

Originally published in English at The Russian Schizorevolution: An Exhibition That Might Have Been, March 1–May 31, 2009, Marres Centre for Contemporary Culture, Maastricht; subsequently published in Brushstroke: The New Artists and Necrorealists, 1982–1991, exhibition catalogue (Saint Petersburg: Palace Editions:  2010)

Thanks to Comrade EF for the heads-up.

Last Address

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Felix Franzevich Baginski was a senior communications engineer services on the Kirov Railroad. He was shot in Leningrad on January 5, 1938, at the age of 33. He was rehabilitated in 1962.

Rudolf Petrovich Ruben was an employee of the Urania sewing cooperative. He was shot on January 8, 1938, aged 45, and was rehabilitated in 1989.

Anatoly Eleazarovich Gadzevich led a design team at the State Water Transportation Planning and Surveying Institute (Giprovodtrans). He was shot on November 27, 1937, at the age of 41, and was rehabilitated in 1964.

They had two things in common. Article 58 [of the RSFSR Criminal Code], under which they were convicted. And house number 19 on Pushkinskaya Street in Leningrad, which was their last address.

Sergei Parkhomenko (Facebook)

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One can find more epithets in praise of this article than Turgenev once assembled to praise the Russian language, or Nekrasov to praise Mother Russia: great, powerful, abundant, highly ramified, multiform, wide sweeping 58, which summed up the world not so much through the exact terms of its sections as in their extended dialectical interpretation.

Who among us has not experienced its all-encompassing embrace? In all truth, there is no step, thought, action, or lack of action under the heavens which could not be punished by the heavy hand of Article 58.

—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (NY: Harper & Row, First Edition, 1973), p. 60

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You can read more about the Last Address project here, here, and here.

Rikhard Vasmi: Counting the Ships as They Sail Past

Counting the Ships as They Sail Past: Rikhard Vasmi at K Gallery
Pavel Gerasimenko
March 11, 2015
Kommersant

Over the last few years, Petersburg’s K Gallery has been closely focused on late twentieth century art. The newly opened Rikhard Vasmi retrospective ranks among these exhibitions. It is the first representative, monographic show of the artist’s work since his death in 1998. Featuring around 200 paintings and drawings, mostly from private collections, the show would hardly have been possible to mount during Vasmi’s lifetime.

KMO_090981_07289_1_t218_224208Rikhard Vasmi. Photo courtesy of K Gallery

Vasmi was notorious for the fact that even when he was already counted among the greats of contemporary art, he was reluctant to sell his work and had an extremely negative take on all forms of public permitted activity, regarding exhibitions as a fall from grace for artists, whose job was to paint pictures and work without interruption. Neither then, during his lifetime, nor now has there been anyone else in Leningrad-Petersburg art who thus imagined the artist’s vocation and place in the world. And yet Vasmi was not a sociophobe in the modern sense of the word. He combined a certain standoffishness with a sense of humor and noble manners. It was just that the man had a firm understanding of what mattered most and what was secondary. He knew his worth and did not want to waste his time.

The universally familiar and still encountered type of the landscape painter, easel in tow, might be dubbed a “cold” artist. Rikhard Vasmi was literally such an artist. For the greater part of his life, he earned money through physical labor, was very poor, and was used to getting by with the simplest things. He was one of those who had earned his right to a consistent nonconformism pushed to the limit.

At the turn of the 1950s, Vasmi and several other very young artists —Alexander Arefiev, Vladimir Shagin, Valentin Gromov, and Sholom Shvarts—formed a group they called the Order of Unsellable Painters. The group was bound by close friendship, joint sketching trips, flânerie, and conversations about art. Another member was their mutual friend the poet Roald Mandelstam, who died in 1961. Mandelstam’s poetic images are literally reprised in Vasmi’s paintings: “The evening air is plangent and clean, / The whole city is stone and glass, / Through the blue, blue lane / The sky has flowed into the plaza.”

vasmi-tram circleRikhard Vasmi, Tram Turning Loop, 1954. Image courtesy of art-spb.info

A decade after the Nazi Siege of 1941–1944, Leningrad was still a postwar city. The facades of buildings were chipped, the central districts still had wood sheds to complement the stove heating in the houses, and a completely rural way of life reigned in the outskirts. And even later, when urban renewal came into its own, and new large stone houses emerged, they would still be interspersed for a long while to come with barracks and allotment gardens in outlying areas like Rzhevka and Piskaryovka.

Along with the inner Petersburg district of Kolomna, these were Vasmi’s stomping grounds. It was in these places that the artist produced landscapes that beg the epithet “metaphysical.” But they bear only a superficial resemblance to Giorgio de Chirico’s paintings as they were the product of natural observations made outdoors.

You will not find a work larger than half a meter in Vasmi’s oeuvre. Small formats were a clear token of the period’s unofficial art, but while in Moscow a painting had to be made to fit into the suitcase of a departing diplomat or journalist, in Leningrad it was just hard to secure art supplies without being a member of the official Union of Artists. Vasmi painted in tempera on cardboard and plywood; later, in the 1970s, he often used oil paints.

Vasmi cannot be confused with anyone else, but the significance of his utterly simple visual language changed over the years. The naive manner of the novice painter in the 1950s, who sought maximal contact with reality, has a different meaning than the absolute artistic freedom that ensued in the mid 1970s, when Vasmi produced his pictorial formulation of Petersburg space. The dense surface of his paintings, the way the paints are applied, always leave one with a “house painterly” feeling.

One of the most famous and impressively sized canvases at the show is Canal, dated 1956. The artist has depicted the Griboyedov Canal from a viewpoint unimaginable in reality: the cityscape is seen through the eyes of someone floating in the air, apparently, near the domes of St. Nicholas Cathedral. The painting is heavily cracked, but this is not craquelure, attesting to the piece’s age and thus somehow elegant; here, large chunks of the paint layer resemble cracked sheets of ice, rendering the work even more monumental.

art_0000109_06Rikhard Vasmi, Canal, 1956. Image courtesy of art-spb.info

Like his work, Rikhard Vasmi was unhurried, taciturn, laconic, and monumental. All his life he loved watching the ships, and his art conveys the feeling of Petersburg as a maritime city, a feeling found in the work of Leningrad artists of the 1930s, who had reimagined the work of Albert Marquet in their own way. What does the juxtaposition of red-brown and dark blue colors, so frequent in Vasmi’s works, mean? For a Petersburger, it is a rusted ship’s hull in the waters of the Neva, the blank firewalls of houses in Kolomna at sunset—everything that Vasmi’s paintings so clearly and simply depict.

Editor’s Note. Rikhard Vasmi: Paintings and Drawings runs until March 29 at K Gallery in Petersburg.

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Vasmi006Rikhard Vasmi, We Work in the Port (Mitkilibris, 1994)

Vasmi000

On May 16 (27), 1703, on Hare Island, known to the Swedes as Lust Land (Pleasure Land), a “fortress was founded and called Sankt Pieterburch.” (From the Encyclopedia)

Vasmi001The little tug does a big job. In the shallow water, crowded with all sorts of ships, it is indispensable.

Vasmi002 The excellent crew of skillful sailors has no time for chitchat. Meeting and seeing off giant ocean liners is all in a day’s work.

Vasmi003

Without help from the tug, the huge ship would run aground on a sand bar or crash into a dock. The tug is like a guide dog for a blind man.

Vasmi004

In the heat and in rough weather, from morning till night, the little tug crisscrosses the waves.

Vasmi005

We Work in the Port, written and illustrated by Rikhard Vasmi, was printed in an edition of one hundred copies by Mitkilibris in Saint Petersburg in 1994. Translated by The Russian Reader.

An Apology for Fascism

Editor’s Note. Confused readers might imagine that the following (excerpted) screed from the hilariously named website The Saker (for the ornithologically challenged, the saker is a falcon used in falconry) is an apology for fascism. Actually, they’d be right.

* * * * *

“There are no separate Russia or Ukraine, but one Holy Rus” – Elder Iona of Odessa

The year 2014 saw an unprecedented surge of patriotism in contemporary Russia, which resulted in popularizing the notion of the Russian World. One reason for increased patriotic sentiment was Crimea’s return to the home port after the overwhelmingly positive vote by its majority-Russian residents in a referendum one year ago. The onset of the liberation war in Donbass from the West-backed Kiev regime was the other. This war truly delineated the stakes for the existence of the Russian World. The latter is not an ethnic, but a civilizational concept that encompasses shared culture, history, and language in the Eurasian space within a traditionalist framework. To a certain extent and despite the obvious ideological differences, the Russian Empire and the USSR embodied the same geopolitical entity. A particularly noteworthy aspect of the ongoing crisis in Donbass is the symbolism—religious and historic—that surpasses the commonly used, but outdated Left-Right political spectrum. In the Russian context, this also means overcoming the Red-White divide of the Communist Revolution. That this war pushed Russians to examine their country’s raison d’être is somewhat remarkable: for two decades its citizens did not have an official ideology, prohibited by the Constitution that is based on Western models. The emergence of a new way of thinking in Russia will become clearer once we refer to the meaning of religious insignia, wars—Russian Civil and Great Patriotic, as well as the question of ideology in the Postmodern world.

mandylion-combined

[…]

In fact, post-Liberal ideology is one of the factors that blinds many Westerners to the realities of the liberation war in Donbass. The current Western model of citizenship is an abstract one: it centers around a set of principles in which individuals are interchangeable—as long as they adopt “European values” or the “American way of life”—instead of the more traditional notions of rootedness in the landscape, cultural and linguistic ties, and ancestral bonds. Thus, those who subscribe to this abstraction have difficulties understanding how belonging to the same people (narod) overrides living in two different states—contemporary Russia and Ukraine—haphazardly formed at the time of the Soviet collapse, and why they seem so attached to their language, culture, religion, history, and land that they are willing to die for them. But even for those Russians that lean toward more traditionalist thought, it took this war—the war that was meant to separate—to ideologically and spiritually unite them with others like them across the border, to begin questioning who they really are, uncertain, but hopeful, forging the idea of the Russian World. Beyond Left and Right, Beyond Red and White.

—Nina Kouprianova, “Beyond Left and Right, Beyond Red and White: Framing the Liberation War in Donbass,” The Saker, March 18, 2015

You would be right in asking, Who the heck is Nina Kouprianova? What does it matter what she thinks? But what this guy thinks does matter and he seems quite on message with Ms. Kouprianova:

Putin also addressed Ukraine’s struggles, saying “extreme nationalism is always harmful and dangerous,” and implied that Ukrainian voters would hold the parliament and the Poroshenko Administration responsible the country’s current mess. “I, for one, have always thought of Russians and Ukrainians as a single people,” he added.

His intentions could not be plainer.

Thanks to Comrade NT for the heads-up on this depressing new website.