Daily Archives: October 18, 2009

Chernov’s Choice (English-Language Media on the Gazprom Tower)


"Beauty Will Kill the World"


Intrepid blogger, music critic, and St. Petersburg Times journalist Sergey Chernov has assembled a list of English-language publications on the Gazprom tower project (Okhta Center) and the scandals, protests, and resistance campaigns around it. You can access the list here.

While he was compiling the list, Chernov noticed something funny, to wit:

It is telling that the press section of the English-language version of Okhta Center’s official site is empty (as accessed on Oct. 18, 2009).

Although Gazprom knows how to deal with the Russian media when placing publicity stories, it looks as if it is largely impotent in the field of international media.

Most of the international publications express critical opinions about the RMJM-designed 400-meter tower project that is supposed to be built close to St. Petersburg’s historical center. Actually, we have found only two articles praising the Okhta Center skyscraper: one by Tony Kettle, UK Managing Director of RMJM and lead architect on the project; and another by a certain Karim Yergaliyev, on the Inhabitat blog.

Complete with RMJM’s colorful CGI images of the tower, the posting, reprinted on a few other blogs, shamelessly praises the tower for its alleged beauty and eco-friendliness, but a quick Google search showed that the “19-year-old Washington resident Karim Yergaliyev” was previously caught planting “phony stories on behalf of marketers.”

You don’t say! Are we to take it that one of the world’s richest corporations is paying an American teenager to plant positive stories about its lousy skyscraper on the Web?

While you’re contemplating how that is even possible, check out Chernov’s own report on the October 10 demonstration in Petersburg against the skyscraper and other diseases of faux-urbanism. Despite our fears that the demo against Tony Kettle’s brainchild would be kettled, the turnout was huge by Russia’s current dismal standards, and the police laid back.

* Photo courtesy of Sergey Chernov. More of his photos from the October 10 demo here, here, and here.

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Filed under activism, protests, Russian society, urban movements (right to the city)

The Bulldozer Exhibition (Saint Petersburg)


This is no longer a metaphor. What which was awaited for, feared but not believed finally happened – the bulldozers of Gazprom assaulted the ruins of Nyenskans (XVII century) and Landskrona (1300) fortresses. They broke into one of the bastions, leaving a 50 square meters pit where an 1.6 meter ancient earthen wall stood. A hole large enough for an armored regiment to break in. A part of Landskrona moat was destroyed as well. 

This is our first unrecoverable loss. 

A report (with photographs) on what is at stake if Gazprom’s bulldozers finish the job:

Photography is forbidden on the territory of the future Okhta Center. Security men from the Gazprom press office allow only a few chosen to come onto the site—journalists, photographers and cameramen who have been vetted ahead of time. And for some reason these people aren’t interested in archaeology. They record in close-up only the infrequent visits of officials from high or low levels of power. And according to the conditions of an agreement with Gazprom, even archaeologists who have been digging here for three years do not have the right to invite in journalists or to publish their findings.

* Photo courtesy of dryorick on Living City’s community Live Journal.


Filed under activism, Russian society, urban movements (right to the city)

Seva Ostapov Case to Go to Court


Seva Ostapov: Dangerous Russian Criminal?

Seva Ostapov: Dangerous Russian Criminal?

 [See our first post on this case.]



The website of the Institute for Collective Action (IKD) reports that Moscow student Vsevolod (“Seva”) Ostapov has been formally charged with assaulting police officers and that his case has been sent to the courts for trial. 

This is the case that grew out of the April 4, 2008, incident at the Sokolniki metro station. The police attacked a group of young people there, beating several of them in the process. Many of these same young people were detained and the beatings continued at the Sokolniki police station. In order to cover up their abuses, right from the beginning the police began to cook up a case against Seva, alleging that he had attacked police officers. Dozens of witnesses have testified that this was not the case, but in our country the powers that be know how to stitch together even such an unpromising case. So now the case has been sent to the Preobrazhensky District Court, which must now set a date for a preliminary hearing within the month. 

Moreover, the case against the policemen who tortured the young people, which was opened in 2008, was quietly sabotaged and closed in August 2009. Protests led investigators to reopen the case on September 14, 2009, but they extended the period of investigation for only one month. That month ran out yesterday [i.e., October 14], and once again we hear nothing about prosecuting the police officers for their crimes.

The Sokolniki case, which began as a brutal beating (cf. my first post on the topic, which was published in the early hours of April 5), inspired a powerful protest campaign. During that campaign, OMON riot police in Moscow dispersed a legally sanctioned picket against police abuse on April 11, 2008. A week later, young protesters carried out a totally unsanctioned march down Tverskaya (Moscow’s main street) from Pushkin Square to the Belorussia Station. (You can see photos of that march here and here; and videos here and here.) 

There were more actions in Moscow in May 2008, and then the wave of solidarity actions spread to other Russian cities. A year later, in summer 2009, when it became known that the authorities were going to try to send Seva to jail rather than the policemen who tortured him and his friends, the campaign in his defense began anew. A hunger strike and several theatrical protest actions took place, as well as a protest concert on September 26, 2009, in Chistye Prudy in Moscow.

Activists have created an omnibus site with all the information on the Sokolniki cases.

I imagine that in the very near future we can expect statements and actions from those who are strongly opposed to the falsifications in both Sokolniki cases.

For now Ostapov’s attorney Yevgeny Chernousov has made the following statement to IKD’s correspondent:

“We disagree with the prosecutor’s decision. Ostapov is not guilty. The prosecutor has ignored the fact that the record contains testimonies from 17 witnesses that show Ostapov’s innocence. Only two witnesses — beat cops — have given testimony that Ostapov committed an assault. A question arises: if the prosecutor has decided that the testimonies of these 17 people are false, then why isn’t he filing charges against them for giving knowingly false testimony? At the very first court hearing we intend to ask the court to make a ruling on whether such charges should be filed.”

According to IKD, Chernousov believes that the Ostapov case marks a precedent: from the very outset, the investigation took the side of police officers. This is an obvious breach of civil rights. The consequence of such cases is that citizens understand that the ‘policeman is always right’ and in any conflict they will prefer to solve the problem by offering a bribe. Which only reinforces corruption in the ranks of the law enforcement authorities.

During the investigation, Investigator Kobzar refused to show Vsevolod Ostapov and his attorney a video provided by the channel REN-TV despite the fact that they have the right to examine material evidence. In all likelihood, the video shows clearly what happened at the metro station. For some reason, this video was filed as evidence in the investigation of the beatings in the police precinct despite the fact that it is a record of the conflict near the entrance to the Sokolniki metro station. All these irregularities have led to the filing of numerous complaints.

Now the case is in the hands of the court system. The witnesses are ready to go to court and confirm their testimonies. These witnesses include not only young “informals” (Seva’s acquaintances), but also random passersby who stopped to look when they heard the screams of the young people as they were being beaten.

“If Ostapov is found guilty, that will signal that there is no hope that the situation with the law enforcement authorities will change,” says Chernousov. “A month has passed since the investigation into the case of the beatings of five young people at the Sokolniki police precinct was reopened, but no steps to investigate the case have been taken. It is obvious that an order has come down not to investigate the case.”

—Vlad Tupikin

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A New Iron Curtain at Saint Petersburg State University?

Recently, the Petersburg-based social issues website Cogita.Ru published a copy of what it alleged was a decree signed by Nikolai Kropachev, the rector of Saint Petersburg State University, and dated October 1, 2009. According to the text of the decree, henceforth all university employees will be obliged to submit grant applications to foreign-based funders, texts of lectures or papers to be delivered abroad, and articles intended for publication in foreign journals to an “export commission” for preliminary vetting. As Cogita.Ru points out, although the decree states that what will be vetted is information that might harm Russia’s defense, is otherwise confidential or top-secret, or harms the university’s “business reputation,” the decree apparently applies to all departments and specializations at the university, whether nuclear physics or Slavic linguistics. 

In a follow-up article, Cogita.Ru asked university researchers and teachers to comment on the decree. One researcher is quoted as saying that he would not be giving the administration information in any case and that the worst that he feared, if caught, was a scolding. Another researcher said, “If they enforce the decree, then I will leave the university for sure. But I have already thought about doing this twice before – one time, for example, when they wanted to cut the pay of employees who got research grants. But they didn’t do this, so maybe things will sort themselves out this time, too.” The article’s author thus concludes: “As strange as it sounds, all that remains is to hope for traditional Russian inconsistency and the mismatch between rules on paper and rules in life. However, the presence of these formal obstacles and the necessity of getting approval for all foreign grants and publications will make it possible to delay or forbid projects that for some reason are regarded unfavorably by the university administration.”

We have received the following commentary on the decree from a source who wishes to remain anonymous:

Although it has tremendous intellectual resources that include longstanding, serious traditions and a multitude of outstanding specialists, the Russian higher education system now finds itself in the midst of a profound crisis. This crisis has been provoked by a number of factors, but one of the most serious is the continuing isolation of Russian scientific and scholarly research, especially in the social sciences and the humanities. On the whole, Russian scholars are poorly acquainted with foreign-language publications in their respective fields (in part because this literature cannot be accessed in Russian libraries), and they have little motivation to publish their own work in leading western journals since, from the viewpoint of the Higher Attestation Commission (VAK), the Bulletin of Saratov State University has the same weight in assessing a scholar’s accomplishments as American Political Science Review, Philosophie or History and Theory.

Unfortunately, Russia’s leading universities are not among the top one hundred world universities in any of the seriously regarded ratings.

This is what President Dmitry Medvedev said during his election campaign:

“It is simply a shame for our country that [our] leading universities – for example, Moscow State and Saint Petersburg State (not to mention Tomsk, Omsk, Ekaterinburg, and Nizhny Novgorod) – are not among the top one hundred or top one thousand universities [in the ratings].”

He emphasized that the quality of Russia’s education system suffered because of the way it positioned itself in the world.

“Is it that our education system is poor? We had a great education system and today it is still quite respectable. But often we don’t know how not only to defend our positions, but also how to present the results [of the work of our scholars].”

As reported by RIA Novosti, Medvedev argued that in the wider world the quality of a university education was not determined by the number of square meters per student, a pleasant campus or dorm, or the salaries of instructors.

“These are all important, of course, but [this quality] is also connected with whether the publications of students and professors are cited [by other scholars]. If their works are published in the leading journals, if they are frequently cited, then a university’s rating immediately grows. And that means more money and more specialists coming to work there.”

Thus the position of the country’s leadership is clear. It is the only correct position: Russian scholarship and science have to be modernized and made part of the international context, and this is done by informing colleagues at home and abroad of the results of one’s research and having access to their research as well. However, at the ground level, in the universities themselves, many deans and rectors are in the process of sabotaging this project of modernization. As a rule, this is not the result of ill will, but of bureaucratic inertia. The consummation of this bureaucratic authoritarian tendency is the decree recently signed by Nikolai Kropachev, rector of Saint Petersburg State University. According to the text of this decree, all foreign publications by university employees and all applications for foreign grants must undergo preliminary vetting, which will establish whether they contain information that might harm the country’s defense capabilities.

That is, on the one hand the country’s leaders call for the universities to provide incentives to stimulate international publications and contacts on the part of their researchers and scholars. On the other hand, the leadership of one of the country’s top two universities decides to make this as difficult as possible and thus rob its researchers of the motivation to publish their works abroad. The reasoning of the rector and his allies is, moreover, absurd: it is obvious that, except for a small number of specialists in nuclear physics and other defense-related disciplines, all other Saint Petersburg State employees are incapable of publishing anything that would harm the country’s safety even if they wished to do so. As it is, there are already laws on the books that limit the export of research information in the “top-secret” disciplines. Publication of top-secret data is a criminally punishable offense.

There is only one explanation: a rage for bureaucracy reminiscent of Saltykov-Shchedrin’s characters that, whether conscious or not, will end up doing more harm than good. If Kropachev’s decree is carried out, then the most professionally minded scholars will quit their jobs at Saint Petersburg State or they will lose their professional edge and end up trapped in the narrow confines of parochial Russian scholarship. By vetting each article submitted for publicaton abroad (and thus delaying publication and, possibly, censoring it altogether), the university will make it much harder for its scholars to work in the international framework, something that is in any case already complicated.

Given that an assistant professor or lecturer at Saint Petersburg State makes on average 500–700 dollars a month (that is, less than the minimum living standard), it is absurd to make it more difficult for her or him to receive international grants. If this decree is ignored by university employees, it will make it possible to fire or arrest them for publishing an article in an international journal on Akhmatova’s poems or the values of contemporary Russians.

This story is doubly strange given that Rector Kropachev is himself in a tough situation in which a large number of students and instructors have begun to protest his policies. What use does he have for this delayed-action bomb? Why issue such a decree at the precise moment when a large group of Russian scientists who now work abroad have written an open letter to the Russian Federation President with their recommendations for reforming Russian science, which has fallen pitifully behind world standards?

Whether they are internationally recognized or would like to be able to attain this recognition for their work someday, the scholars of Saint Petersburg State University are forced to sound the alarm and call on the university to rescind this harmful decree.

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“Where Everything Is Yet to Happen” (Banja Luka)


Judi Werthein
Cosa, 2009 


Where Everything Is Yet to Happen
1st chapter: “Can you speak of this? -Yes, I can”
October 20 – November 15, 2009 

Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina 


Curated by Ivana Bago & Antonia Majaca
@ Institute for Duration, Location and Variables (DeLVe)

Organized by:
Protok – Center for Visual Communication
Veselina Maslese 1/11, Banja Luka, BH

Co-curators of the ‘1st chapter’ exhibition:
Anselm Franke, Vít Havránek & Zbyněk Baladrán, Ana Janevski, Erden Kosova, Nina Möntmann, Jelena Vesić

Participating artists and projects:
A.C.A.B., The Archive of Self-Management, Ziad Antar, Yael Bartana, Lutz Becker, Yane Calovski, Libia Castro & Ólafur Ólafsson, Chto Delat / What is to be done?, Ronen Eidelman, Esra Ersen, Ivan Grubanov, Nicoline van Harskamp (in coll. with Thijs Gadiot), Danilo Kiš, Aydan Murtezaoğlu, Dragan Nikolić, Florian Schneider, Slaven Tolj, Liu Wei, Sharif Waked, Eyal Weizman, Judi Werthein, Arthur Żmijewski, Želimir Žilnik


The title of the multi-faceted project Where Everything is Yet to Happen (WEIYTH) – starting off in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the framework of SpaPort Biennial 2009/10 – contains references to duration, location and variables of an expected event. These ‘uncertain parameters’ are located between a past that does not offer, in Badiou’s terms, an event to which we would bind ourselves to fidelity, and a future from which one expects precisely that – the “miracle” of event.

Although Bosnia-Herzegovina is the starting point of the project – with its perpetuating state of political ‘temporariness‘ resulting from the still unresolved ethnic tensions and war traumas, the lack of consensus on the basic geopolitical ‘constitution’ and the unending protectorate of the ‘international community’ – it is by no means the only ‘place of expectation‘. On the contrary, the project seeks to subvert the view of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Balkans as the an¬tithetical periphery of Europe, and refuses to exoticise it as a ‘space of conflict’. Rather, it establishes it as an originating point of the gaze for reflecting on the urgency to rethink the notions of future, community and co-existence beyond the dominant models of ethnopolitics and of the nation-state, both in ‘transitional’ as well as Western, ‘advanced’ neo-liberal democracies .

The 1st chapter of the project, the exhibition “Can you speak of this? -Yes, I can”, takes its cue from Agamben’s essay “On Potentiality’ and his referece to Anna Akhmatova’s introduction to her poem Requiem, in which she recounts how, while waiting in line in front of the Leningrad jail during the Stalin purges, a woman suddenly asked her if she could “describe this”. To this request to articulate the horror that surrounded them, the poet answered affirmatively. As Agamben notes, “I can” here does not mean a conviction of the posses¬sion of certain capacities that guarantee success in ‘describing’ the indescribable, but a radical acceptance of the experience of potentiality – “[which] is, nevertheless, absolutely demanding”.

By appropriating the question and its explicitly affirmative answer, the first chapter of the project WEIYTH is a way of setting up a stage for potentiality, one where “speech”, but also a refusal to speak can take place – first of all by asking the basic question of what art can, and must, speak about in complex political environments such as BH, specifically the Republic of Srpska, without taking a form of yet another ‘post/pre-emergency’ biennial.

Answering this question emerges on the basis of curatorial ‘complicity’ – by the involvement of a group of co-curators the initial starting points of the project were further articulated, accentuated or questioned, and new ones instigated, evolving into a polyphonic structure that opens up space for several points of departure for the future of the project which is itself in constant mode of becoming.

Can you speak of this? -Yes I can‘ is an elaboration of some of the themes and moments which have come into being gradually through the multidirectional communication among curators and artists, that reinforced its “diagnostic” and ”analytic” capacity, forming the exhibition as an initial projectthe¬saurus comprised of a series of topics and questions related to the issues of complicity, collaboration, politics of language, belonging, culturalization of politics, the potential of non-essentialist forms of community and finally, the audacity of speech as a form of thepolitical.

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication with contributions by the artists, curators and co-curators.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 
Exhibition opening:
Banja Luka Fortress, October 20, 2009, 8 pm
Roundtable discussion with Ivana Bago & Antonia Majaca, Vít Havránek, Ana Janevski, Anselm Franke and Jelena Vesic, October 20, 2009, 4 pm

Locations: Terzic Gallery | Salon of the Museum of Contemporary art | Banja Luka Fortress | Public space 
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 

WEIYTH is a project of the Institute for Duration, Location and Variables (DeLVe), conceived and developed by Ivana Bago & Antonia Majaca 

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