Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Bologna Process and Struggles in the Transnational Space (Paris)

The Bologna Process, Transformations of the University, and Struggles in the Transnational Space
Paris meeting: Thursday, May 4 – 4pm – Paris 1-Tolbiac (Amphi K)


Gigi Roggero (edu-factory)

Alexei Penzin (Institute of Philosophy of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow; Chto Delat)

Carlo Vercellone (Université Paris 1)

Judith Revel (Université Paris 1)

militants of Sud étudiant

militants of Italian university movement

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The Potosí Principle (Madrid)

How can we sing the song of the Lord in an alien land? / The Potosí Principle

May 12 – September 6, 2010

Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid

The Potosí Principle (Principio Potosí in Spanish) can have two meanings. The first of these is temporal in the sense of an origin or beginning. On the other hand, the “Potosí Principle” can describe in a rather technical way a mechanical function that follows the principle of repetition.

But the Potosí Principle is also the name of a contemporary art project that will be presented in an exhibition and a series of talks in and around the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid.

In the beginning of the 17th century Potosí was one of the largest cities in the world – comparable to London or Paris. It is said that all the the silver mined there would be enough to build a bridge from the Andes over the Atlantic Ocean that reached Cadiz – the harbour in Spain where the silver arrived. The work in the mines, the treasures of gold and silver which were shipped to Europe initiated such a tremendous increase of accumulation that it can be seen as the birth of the modern capitalist system. Marx analyzed the principle of “primitive accumulation” in England which took place at the same time: the “disposal” of human beings from a feudal system, just to liberate and at once eliminate them in the process of exploitation. We think that this “primitive accumulation” is not a historical case. It happens virtually everywhere in the globalized world, now, at the same time and in all historical shapes. So one of the main questions of the project is to reflect on the fact that the roots of modernity and its art production do not lie in Enlightenment and rationalism, but in the process of colonialization, which has not yet come to an end.

The colonialization and proselytization of South America was a laboratory of the tremendous ideological function which – under the Counter-Reformation’s compulsion to act – was imposed on images after the Council of Trent. We claim that there are quite obvious parallels and interrelations between this ideological function of colonial painting and the function that art now takes on to vest the new elites of globalization with legitimacy. These connections form no linear, historical narrative. One can perhaps retrace a straight line drawn from the Conquista to the dominance of Euro-American corporations in South America and the persisting subordination of colonial/ex-colonial culture. But there is also a simultaneity and an unfinished aspect of history, allowing one to raise questions as to present artistic production using this painting. If parallels exist between the wealth and magnificence, as surplus value of meaning, in the 17th-century boomtown of Potosí and the current hotspots of accumulation of totalitarian capitalism and its biennales, then this also affects our own involvement in them.

The Exhibition: About 20 paintings of the Potosí painting school from the 17th–18th century have been answered by contemporary artists from La Paz, Beijing, Moscow, Madrid, Berlin, Huelva, Sevilla and London, taking into account the different political conditions in the surroundings their day-to-day, labour, and productions are located.

The Curators and the Correspondents: A team of curating artists-researchers, relying on an informal network of friendships, collaborations, correspondents, and travels. So-called correspondents were invited to transfuse the “Potosí Principle” into their local context and own political experience.

The Project is an ongoing process, which is not finished with the first exhibition in Madrid. After Madrid, the show will be presented at Haus der Kulturen der Welt / Berlin (October 2010), and Museo Nacional de Arte and MUSEF / La Paz (April 2011).

Artists and collaborators: Sonia Abian (Barcelona); Anna Artaker (Vienna); Christian von Borries/Alice Creischer/Andreas Siekmann (Berlin); Matthijs de Bruijne (Amsterdam/Beijing); Chto Delat (Moscow/St Petersburg); Stefan Dillemuth/Konstanze Schmitt/Territorio Doméstico (Munich/Berlin/Madrid); Ines Doujak (Vienna); Elvira Espejo (La Paz); Marcelo Esposito (Barcelona/Buenos Aires); Harun Farocki (Berlin); León Ferrari (Buenos Aires); Maria Galindo/Mujeres Creando (La Paz); Isaias Griñolo (Huelva); Dmitry Gutov/David Riff (Moscow); Rogélio Lopez Cuenca (Barcelona); Eduardo Molinari (Buenos Aires); Migrant Workers Museum Beijing (Beijing); PRPC Plataforma de Reflexión sobre Políticas Culturales (Seville); TIPPA (London); Zhao Liang (Beijing) + guests (Monika Baer, Quirin Bäumler, Luis Guaraní, Sally Gutierez Dewar).

Correspondents:  David Riff (author and art critic, Moscow); Matthijs de Bruijne (artist, Beijing/Amsterdam); Anthony Davies (author and cultural critic, London).

Curators: Alice Creischer (artist, Berlin); Max Jorge Hinderer (author and art critic, Berlin/Santa Cruz de la Sierra); and Andreas Siekmann (artist, Berlin).

Opening: May 11, 2010

Exhibition: May 12 – September 6, 2010, Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid


May 7–8, 7:00 p.m. Traficantes de Sueños

May 10, 7:00 p.m. Eskalera Karakola

May 12, 6:00 p.m. Museo Reina Sofía, Edificio Nouvel, Auditorio 200. Debate with the artists and exhibition presentation

September 2, 7:30 p.m. Museo Reina Sofía, Edificio Nouvel, Auditorio 200. Catalogue presentation

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We Don’t Need No Education (Middlesex University)

Middlesex University in the UK has decided to close its stellar philosophy department. Nina Power is one of the folks leading the charge to reverse this pathetic decision.

Now you know what you have to do. Sign the Save Middlesex Philosophy petition. Join the campaign’s Facebook group. E-mail Dean Edward Esche at, and send a copy and any reply to

UPDATE. Nina Power in Comment Is Free (The Guardian):

Interest in philosophy has in fact grown massively in recent years. This is, in part, due to the increased numbers of students taking A-level philosophy, but is also the result of the widespread desire for critical thought and analysis in the face of an increasingly disorienting world. Closure at Middlesex would be a step back to the bad old days when philosophy meant a few young, white and almost entirely male students at privileged institutions discussing the finer points of formal logic over sherry. Middlesex University must be prevented from dismantling one of the finest philosophy departments in the country: fight to keep philosophy alive.

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Ainur Kurmanov: The State of the Unions in Kazakhstan

In our previous post, we wrote about the recent arrest and jailing of Kazakh social activist and journalist Ainur Kurmanov, and the international solidarity campaign that has sprung up in his defense. We thus have decided it is a good time to publish a report written by Ainur late last year on the recent history of the labor movement in Kazakhstan and the prospects for militancy and consolidation within this movement. The successful strike in March of this year by KazMunayGas workers in Zhanaozen seems to prove many of the points Ainur makes in the following article.

The Current State of the Trade Union Movement in Kazakhstan

The situation in the trade union movement in Kazakhstan is complex and quite difficult. The processes under way within the organizations and amongst the working masses are in many ways reminiscent of the changes taking place in Russia. In essence, there is no unified labor movement in the country. The old Soviet-era trade unions have collapsed, turning into an aging, parasitic bureaucratic caste. Likewise, the free trade unions that emerged in the early 1990s have seriously deteriorated and thus do not offer a real alternative for union activists who want to engage in genuine struggle. At the same time, the economic crisis, which has staggered many sectors of the economy, has stimulated the growth of a new trade union movement. The signs of this new movement have begun to emerge everywhere and are a cause for optimism. Continue reading

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Free Ainur Kurmanov!

On April 27, Ainur Kurmanov, leader of Socialist Resistance Kazakhstan and the public association Talmas (“Tireless”) was sentenced to fifteen days in jail by a court in Almaty.

The reason for Kurmanov’s arrest and illegal detention was the fact that, during an officially permitted demonstration held by the Kazakhstan 2012 movement, he read aloud the text of a petition addressed to the Kazakh authorities which stated that if they did not meet the demands of protesters, protest actions would be carried out all over Kazakhstan.

The response of the authorities was not long in coming. At approximately 11:30 a.m. on April 27, policemen detained Ainur Kurmanov without explanation in the offices of the organization Leave Housing to the People. During the so-called trial against Kurmanov, judge Arman Turgunbayev and prosecutor Dauletbayev fabricated a case against him (committing crude legal violations in the process), and Kurmanov was thus sentenced to fifteen days in jail. During the trial the most elementary democratic norms were not observed. The authorities have also promised to subject other members of Kazakhstan 2012 to such kangaroo courts. This is an obvious case of political repression. And all this is happening in a country that currently holds the chair of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE).

Socialist Resistance Kazakhstan, Talmas, Kazakhstan 2012, Zhastar 2012, and the organizing committee of initiative groups call on all democratic and progressive forces within Kazakhstan and around the world to show their solidarity with Kurmanov and put pressure on the dictatorial Kazakh regime, which “puts people in prison for the mere fact that they speak out, speak the truth, and dare to demand that the authorities do what they are obliged to do.”

In their communiqué, the organizers of the Kurmanov solidarity campaign write: “Don’t stand on the sidelines! Today it is Ainur Kurmanov, but tomorrow other people will be illegally jailed in Kazakhstan. We will defend freedom together! Say no to the dictatorial regime!”


Here is more information on this case from our comrades at the Vpered Socialist Movement:

Ainur does not deny his participation in the demonstration. He emphasized, however, that the demonstration was permitted by the authorities and that he attended it in the capacity of a moderator, not an organizer. As for the picket at Temir Bank, Kurmanov was there n his capacity as a journalist: armed with a dictaphone and camera, he stood along with other members of the press corps. This did not interest the court, however. It is worth noting that only a month ago, Ainur was convicted by a court for similar actions – his performance of his duties as a journalist – at a picket by workers from the May First Machine Shop held outside the offices of ATF Bank. True, he was then fined the equivalent of 200 USD. This time, however, the court has decided that fifteen days in jail is the appropriate punishment.


During the hearing, the court summoned no witnesses for the defense and refused to admit as evidence video recordings that prove Ainur’s innocence. It is quite likely that the political authorities ordered his arrest. The annual Eurasia Media Forum took place April 27–28 in Almaty. OSCE representatives and President Nazarbayev were scheduled to attend, and the authorities thus had no desire to see superfluous protest actions. Moreover, May Day is approaching. Depriving the city’s labor and social movements of one of their recognized leaders is an excellent way for Kazakh authorities to ease tensions and intimidate needlessly active oppositionists.


You can get more background on the case and the general situation with civil and labor rights in Kazakhstan on the website of the Committee for a Workers’s International (SocialistWorld.Net):


After his sentence was announced, Ainur declared a hunger strike to protest this miscarriage of justice. You can support him by sending protest letters to the Kazakh authorities.

Here is a sample of a letter you can send to the akim (mayor) of Almaty, Akhmatzhan Esimov, and his deputy, Serik Seidumanov:

Mr. Esimov:

I was shocked to learn that journalist and civil rights activist Ainur Kurmanov, leader of Social Resistance Kazakhstan and Talmas, was illegally arrested and unlawfully sentenced to fifteen days in jail on April 27.

At approximately 11:30 a.m. on April 27, four policemen burst into the offices of the Leave Housing to People organization, where Ainur Kurmanov was at that moment. The police officers seized Kurmanov, smashed his mobile phone, and arrested him without explanation. Later that same day, the Bostandyksk district administrative court in Almaty sentenced him to fifteen days in jail. The sentence was based on two incidents: Kurmanov’s proclamation of a resolution adopted at a legally sanctioned demonstration of the Kazakhstan 2012 movement (the resolution stated that if the protesters’ demands were not met, similar protests would take place throughout Kazakhstan) and his alleged involvement in organizing an unsanctioned picket of Temir Bank on April 22, which Kurmanov attended in his capacity as a journalist. Kurmanov’s innocence is corroborated by video recordings and eyewitness testimony, evidence that was not admitted by the court.

To protest this miscarriage of justice, Kurmanov declared a hunger strike immediately after his sentence was read out.

Kurmanov is constantly subjected to pressure, perscution, and intimidation on the part of law enforcement and the authorities.

This case is especially outrageous in light of the fact that Kazakhstan currently holds the chair of the OSCE, an organization that guarantees democratic freedoms and civil rights.

I ask you to do everything in your power to put an end to the persecution of opposition activists in Almaty and to defend the lives, safety, and freedom of expression of all citizens of Kazakhstan.

You can fax your letter to the Akimat of Almaty at +7 (727) 271-65-79 or sent it by e-mail:

Here is a sample of a letter you can send to the Almaty prosecutor’s office and the Kazakhstan prosecutor general’s office:

Mr. Prosecutor (General):

I was shocked to learn that journalist and civil rights activist Ainur Kurmanov, leader of Social Resistance Kazakhstan and Talmas, was illegally arrested and unlawfully sentenced to fifteen days in jail on April 27.

At approximately 11:30 a.m. on April 27, four policemen burst into the offices of the Leave Housing to People organization, where Ainur Kurmanov was at that moment. The police officers seized Kurmanov, smashed his mobile phone, and arrested him without explanation. Later that same day, the Bostandyksk district administrative court in Almaty sentenced him to fifteen days in jail. The sentence was based on two incidents: Kurmanov’s proclamation of a resolution adopted at a legally sanctioned demonstration of the Kazakhstan 2012 movement (the resolution stated that if the protesters’ demands were not met, similar protests would take place throughout Kazakhstan) and his alleged involvement in organizing an unsanctioned picket of Temirbank on April 22, which Kurmanov attended in his capacity as a journalist. Kurmanov’s innocence is corroborated by video recordings and eyewitness testimony, evidence that was not admitted by the court.

To protest this miscarriage of justice, Kurmanov declared a hunger strike immediately after his sentence was read out.

Kurmanov is constantly subjected to pressure, perscution, and intimidation on the part of law enforcement and the authorities.

This case is especially outrageous in light of the fact that Kazakhstan currently holds the chair of the OSCE, an organization that guarantees democratic freedoms and civil rights.

I ask you to do everything in your power to put an end to the persecution of opposition activists in Almaty and to defend the lives, safety, and freedom of expression of all citizens of Kazakhstan.

I also ask you to investigate the legality of Kurmanov’s sentence and the actions of the police officers who arrested him on April 27.

Send your letters to:

Kazakh Prosecutor General’s Office

Fax: +7 (727) 263-05-68; E-mail: or

Almaty Prosecutor’s Office


Ainur’s legal representatives can deliver messages in person. Please send copies of your protests to: and

Please also send your protests to the Secretariat of the OSCE via their online e-mail or by fax: +43 1 514 36 6996.

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Solidarity with Priama Dija (Kyiv)

[Adapted from the solidarity appeal originally published at]

Dear Comrades!

We are an independent student union, Priama Dija (“Direct Action”) and we ask for your support.

The case is that for over the last six months, the union has been under unprecedented pressure. Everything started with our series of successful actions (together with other youth organizations) against the establishment of fees for previously free services in the universities, against cutting funds for scholars and against plans to suspend scholarships for students who received even a single grade of “3” (C). Ever since then, the intelligence services, together with the administration of the National Taras Shevchenko University of Kiev, have been carrying out a campaign of pressure against the union’s activists. All available measures are used against them, including intimidation and repression.

During this period:

1) pressure has been used against activists by threatening to sack their parents from work;
2) activists were expelled from the university;
3) intimidation and face-to-face “talks” have been held with anyone who somehow helped us;
4) the intelligence services have engaged in a deterrence campaign against us.

It is worth mentioning that a number of administrators in private conversations made it absolutely clear that they were being “pressured from above.” Some officials have directly called it a “war.” There are those, however, who won’t stop at anything just to keep their positions. Thus, the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy, Mr. A.E. Konverskii, stated outright  that he would “crush anyone who would challenge his career into the pavement.” Soon afterwards, even such an insignificant project as the film club in the faculty was closed for no particular reason and without explanation.

The administration also distinguished itself by instructing security guards to prohibit activists from entering the Red (main) corpus of the university, regardless of the legitimate right of free entry for union members.

In general, an atmosphere of total control has been established in “the best university in the country.” Any signs of dissatisfaction are rooted out immediately. Thus the very flickering of a protest against a rise in dormitory fees was brutally suppressed, and the students who initiated this campaign were expelled.

The present state of affairs is connected to an appalling fact. The Kiev National University is virtually run by Vice-Rector V.A. Bugrov, who has also been, according to our information, an SBU officer since 1989. (The SBU, the Ukrainian Security Service, was previously known as the KGB.)

“Vladimir Bugrov: Have a ‘Prophylactic Talk’ with Your Wife!”

We should also mention that the former chief of the SBU, Volodymyr Nalyvaichenko, swore that he had recalled all the agents from institutions of higher education during the “de-KGBization” campaign.

The facts enumerated above constitue a disgraceful precedent for both the University and Ukraine as a whole. The University should stand for the free development of the individual and not for the totalitarian production of security service agents.

We call for your solidarity!

We ask you to send letters of protest to the Ukraine minister of education, the Ukraine parliament’s human rights ombudsman, and the administration of Kyiv University. You may use the following sample letter:

We ask you to intervene in the situation with the student union Priama Dija (“Direct Action”). According to the information we have received, for over six months now pressure has being used against the union by the administration of the Kyiv National University and the SBU (Ukraine Security Service).

Regardless of the official status of the union, representatives of the SBU and the University have taken repressive actions against activists and intimidated all those who are somehow connected to the union. These actions violate the Ukraine  law “On Unions, Their Rights and Guarantees for Activity.” They also violate the Criminal Code of Ukraine (Article 170).

We appeal to you to take action in this situation.

Please mail, fax or telephone your protests to the following officials:

Minister Dmytro Volodymyrovych Tabachnyk
Ukraine Ministry of Education and Science
10, Prospekt Pobedy
01135 Kyiv, Ukraine
Telephone: +380 (44) 486-24-42
Fax: +380 (44) 236-10-49

Rector Leonid Vasiliovich Hubersky
Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv
64, Volodymyrs’ka St.
01601 Kyiv, Ukraine
Fax: +380 (44) 239-33-88

Nina Ivanivna Karpachova
Ukraine Parliament Ombudsman for Human Rights
21/8, Instytutska St.
01008 Kyiv, Ukraine
Telephone: +380 (44) 253-22-03

For more information or to tell us about your solidarity actions (including letters), write to:

Kyiv: Priama Dija Pickets SBU Headquarters

On April 21, the Priama Dija student union picketed the headquarters of the Ukraine Security Service (SBU). Around fifty union activists demanded an end to repressions against students, their parents, and their comrades.

The young people submitted “case files” with information about themselves. They announced that they had decided to make the work of SBU agents easier by submitting a detailed dossier on each activist.

Union activists claim that the SBU agents have engaged in a campaign of coercion against Priama Dija, its members, their parents, and mere sympathizers for over six months. This campaign has been especially intense in the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, where the administration has joined with SBU agents in a campaign against the student union, openly calling it a “war.”

Union activists say that the most underhanded methods have been employed against them. Aside from threatening and expelling students themselves, the university administration has practically taken parents hostage by promising to cause them “problems” and threatening that they will be fired from their jobs.

The protesters demanded an end to all repressions against union activists, their families, and friends, and an internal investigation into the collaboration of SBU agents with the administration of the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv in its repression of the student union.

Actions in support of Priama Dija also took place in Germany, Poland, Portugal, Russia, and a number of other Ukrainian cities. Earlier, the International Workers Association, trade union organizations in Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Germany, and Venezuela, the International Youth Human Rights Movement, Ukrainian civil rights activists, and a number of Ukrainian student and youth organizations expressed their support for Priama Dija.


On April 22, members of the Committee for Academic Solidarity and the Street University held a series of solo pickets in support of Priama Dija outside the Ukrainian Consulate in Saint Petersburg.

On April 21, two solidarity rallies took place outside the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow. These were organized, respectively, by Autonomous Action, with support from the Vpered Socialist Movement, Left Front, and the All-Russian Confederation of Labor (VKT); and by the Confederation of Revolutionary Anarcho-Syndicalists (KRAS).

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Communism’s Afterlives (Brussels/Paris)


The seminar will take place in Brussels and Paris, in both cases at The Public School.

Brussels, April 23rd, 3-6pm
Participants: Agency, Dessislava Dimova, Albert Heta, Olga Kisseleva
For more information:

Paris, April 24th, 3-6pm
Participants: Pietro Bianchi, Renata Poljak, Société Réaliste, Oxana Timofeeva
For more information:

Organized by Elena Sorokina and Natasa Petresin-Bachelez

After the collapse of the Soviet bloc, communism as idea, image or problem has been regarded as “outmoded, absurd, deplorable or criminal, depending on the case.” Today, it is often presented by the mainstream media as a parenthesis of history, an aberration of the 20th century, as “a completely forgotten word, only to be identified with a lost experience.” Although the communist hypotheses of previous eras may no longer be valid, their histories, narratives and key notions have never ceased to spark attention and inform recent discussions such as the communal versus the common, and material versus immaterial property, to name just a few. Perceived from a greater distance today, communism has re-emerged as a topic for investigation in artistic and exhibition production, that reflects it in diverse ways, addressing the relevance of the term today or inviting provocative comparisons with the present.

This seminar aims at presenting various works that recast ideas related to communism and revisit it as a complex and diverse arena of political and aesthetic attitudes, which varied between nations, communities and historical periods. By no means does the seminar intend to take a nostalgic tour through the past decades, but rather seeks to address the topic through concrete art and exhibition projects realized recently. All of them are trying to deconstruct the idea of monolith, still very present in today’s reception, and to recuperate various episodes, stories and notably, the “communist apocrypha” – texts, music, visual production – which have never been part of the established ideological canon, and whose intellectual patterns shed new light on what the contemporary uses of the notion of communism might be. Instead of treating communism as pure political abstraction, the projects presented by the seminar deal with concepts, events and/or particular personalities related to communism and its history which have survived the Bildersturm of the recent past and can be artistically reactivated.

Facebook event:!/event.php?eid=101896426520537&ref=mf


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May Day Congress-Commune of Creative Workers (Moscow)

First Open 48-Hour May Day Congress-Commune of Creative Workers. Moscow, April 29–30, 2010

Over the course of the two days, artists, researchers, translators, teachers, curators, union activists, journalists, writers and musicians from all over Russia will take part in round-table discussions, talk-marathons, poetry readings, and concerts. In recent years, the participants have been involved in many artistic and research initiatives that address the social and economic situation of creative workers in contemporary Russian society.

As neoliberalism continues to establish its hold, its ugly manifestations have become a daily reality for all of us. Not only have exploitation and lack of freedom taken on increasingly elaborate forms, but the very resourcefulness and creative potential of artists and researchers are also appropriated and capitalized by employers. It is against this backdrop that the issues raised by the phenomenon of precarious labor have become ever more pressing. It is our conviction that a reassessment of the precarious worker’s position in today’s economic structure calls for joint action in search of a new cultural space and an alternative educational platform outside of and beyond the fraudulent logic of the neoliberal market economy. Alongside the struggle against injustice at the workplace, collective defense of rights within militant trade unions, and street politics, we are now making another crucial step towards a re-examination of our position and, therefore, towards change.

he May Congress builds on and develops the experience of such earlier projects as Drift. Narvskaya Zastava (St. Petersburg—Moscow, 2004–2005), Self-Education(s) (exhibition, Moscow, 2006), 68.08. Street Politics (exhibition, Moscow, 2008), and Leftist Art. Leftist History. Leftist Philosophy. Leftist Poetry (seminar, Nizhny Novgorod, 2009).

The Congress will be organized around two main thematic clusters: LABOR and SELF-ORGANIZATION. The third, practice-oriented section of the congress will take place on the morning of May 1, International Workers’ Day, which celebrates unity and solidarity. Congress participants will take to the streets of Moscow to form their own joyful and creative column.

The Congress will provide modest dorm-like accommodations for its participants on the premises of Proekt-Fabrika (Moscow, Perevedenovsky pereulok, 18).

Scheduled participants/projects: Vpered Socialist Movement; Chto Delat; Translit Almanac; Seminar Group; Street University; From Community to Union; Educational Film Group; Megazine.Biz; Kinote.Info; Keti Chukhrov/Mobile Theater of the Communist; Free Marxist Press; Liberated Marxist Food; Here and Everywhere Studio; Everything That’s Filmed; Institute for Collective Action; Verkhotura and Friends.

You can read texts that have inspired congress participants here (in Russian and English).

If you wish to make a donation to the congress, you may do so in the following ways:

US Dollars: Alfa-Bank Account No. 40817840704190003607
Euros: Alfa-Bank Account No. 40817978104980006548
Yandex Money Account No. 41001516866888

For more information, write to:


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Finlandization: Maximum-Security Tikkurila (Saint Petersburg)

“We are good corporate citizens in our communities.”


“We care for our employees and their well-being and put a strong emphasis on occupational health and safety issues.”


Maximum-Security Tikkurila

Tikkurila, which owns two production facilities in Saint Petersburg, is a characteristic example of how a corporate carrot can easily turn into a corporate stick.

Built in the late nineties by Finns using Finnish technology, the company’s water-based paints manufacturing plant in Petersburg (the so-called old Tikkurila plant) was long considered an oasis of humane euro-capitalism in the city. As one worker recalls, “In 1997, our salary was 500 dollars a month, and until 2007 we got annual 20-30% pay raises. Moreover, wages were automatically indexed for inflation. There was also the annual bonus. Even during the [1998 ruble] default, when there were no raw materials and sales fell, Tikkurila didn’t lay off workers, but instead shortened the workday. There were lots of different benefits – for example, company-paid medical insurance, wonderful working conditions, polite management. In short, we were absolutely satisfied and naturally didn’t think about [organizing] a trade union.”

In 2007, when Tikkurila acquired another Petersburg plant, TEKS, everything changed. For workers at the “old” Tikkurila plant, it appeared as if the “gangster-like” TEKS had squashed their peaceful communist oasis. Soon after the merger, management began introducing so-called lean manufacturing methods at the plant. As one senior manager noted with satisfaction, the company saved 35 million rubles as a result of this “breakthrough.”

The new management, which came to the Tikkurila plant from TEKS, immediately began establishing their own rules. They started to squeeze out the old managers and, later, workers, telling them to their face that they had been living high on the hog. They instituted a twelve-hour workday in place of the previous seven-hour workday, and yet wages fell approximately from 27 to 32 thousand rubles a month to 16 to 20 thousand rubles a month. They did away with inflationary indexing and extra pay for work in hazardous conditions, began paying workers by the hour, and introduced a draconian system of fines.

Working conditions at TEKS recall those described by Friedrich Engels in The Condition of the Working Class in England, the only difference being that this is happening now, not in the 1840s. The video secretly shot by workers on one TEKS shop floor makes an unforgettable impression: people and equipment are literally drowning in silicate dust. (For handling such materials as talc and Finntalc, bags of which are clearly visible in the video, workers are supposed to get a four-percent pay bonus – which, of course, is not paid to them.) Instead of the maximum 435 kg that a worker is allowed to move from the floor over the course of an hour [under Russian workplace regulations], Tikkurila workers are obliged to lift around 1100 kg in ten minutes, and completely for free. For the working conditions at Tikkurila are considered neither difficult nor hazardous, and that means that people are not supposed to get extra pay for such work.

Naturally, quality suffers as well. The equipment at the TEKS plant is old, often dating back to Soviet times. Production methods are similarly dated, and after the merger they were also introduced at the “old” Tikkurila plant. According to workers, cheaper substitutes are now used more and more often instead of more expensive, high-quality raw materials. In the production of whitewashes, for example, Scandinavian-made microdol-5 is no longer used. Instead, a cheaper, Turkish-made analogue is used, which makes the paints whiter, but severely reduces their covering capacity. This is “lean manufacturing” in all senses of the word.

Intimidation and Struggle

In July 2008, when management began forcing workers to sign additional clauses to their work contracts that would significantly lower wages and cut benefits, part of the workforce at the “old” Tikkurila formed an oppositional local of the Russian Chemical Workers Union (Roskhimprofsoiuz), an affiliate of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR). However, this attempt to defend their labor rights was vigorously resisted by management. Here is an abridged chronicle of what the trade union local went through during its brief albeit stormy history:

July–December 2008. Membership in the local grows to forty members.

April–May 2009. The union asks the corporate fraud investigation department to audit the company. Union leaders are subjected to baseless disciplinary sanctions and fines.

22 September 2009. As a result of the audit, Tikkurila general director Yevgeny Shupik is dismissed. Finnish manager Simo Laitala is appointed the new general director.

25 September 2009. Management attempts to force workers to provide written explanations as to why they met with union chair Sergei Kruglov and his deputy during a routine break. Workers collectively refuse to submit written statements. “Overseers” from company security are assigned to union activists.

October–November 2009. Union membership grows: 120 TEKS workers join workers from the “old” Tikkurila plant.

28 October 2009. The union begins collecting signatures on a petition in which they express their lack of confidence in company personnel director Tsinchenko and security director Kalinin. The petition is signed by seventy workers.

31 November 2009. The union is informed of the impending layoffs of fifteen workers in connection with a restructuring of production. Among the workers scheduled to be laid off, ten are trade union members.

28 January 2010. After a complaint is filed by union members Vakulenko, Abrosimov, Ramko, and Makeev, the Federal Consumer Protection Service inspects safety conditions at the TEKS plant.

30 January 2010. The electronic passes of Vakulenko, Abrosimov, Ramko, and Makeev are deactivated by company security. In order to work their shifts, the men are forced to trick their way into the plant.

February 2010. Ten of the fifteen workers scheduled for redundancy are laid off: all of them are union local members. The five non-union members are all assigned new jobs by management. By April, the union files twelve cases with the courts asking that the workers be reinstated and that disciplinary measures taken against them be rescinded. The union has already won three of these cases.

11 February 2010. Company security director Kalinin asks the police to investigate whether a criminal case should be opened against union activist Igor Ramko. He is accused of providing a counterfeited medical slip when he applied for a job at the company two and a half years earlier.

25 February 2010. The trade union committee asks the prosecutor’s office to open a criminal case against personnel director Tsinchenko for his attempt to illegally fire Ramko and Makeev retroactively “at their own behest,” although they did not in fact submit written resignations.

January–March 2010. The trade union committee initiates ten inspections by various monitoring agencies. Recertification of positions in a number of shop floors is ordered. The illegal firing of two workers (citizens of Belarus) is rescinded. Company officials are fined.

18 March 2010. The first recertification of positions in ten years is carried out at the “January 9” shop floor. Although activists of the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (ITUA) lobbied for this inspection, they are not admitted to the inspection commission, which casts serious doubts on the objectivity of its findings.

Treason and Solidarity

Having realized that it would not be able to deal with the trade union using purely repressive measures, Tikkurila management decided to split the obstreperous union local with help from in-house strikebreakers and Roskhimprofsoiuz bureaucrats. After a stormy trade union conference on March 12, the most militant workers resigned from the FNPR-affiliated local and formed an ITUA-affiliated local at Tikkurila. A new wave of repressions immediately rained down on the “troublemakers.”

On March 24, Tikkurila general director Simo Laitala met with workers to announce the latest increase in production norms. Igor Ramko and Andrei Makeev asked Mr. Laitala how this would affect the health of workers, given that they were already subject to colossal speed-ups, leading to fainting, workplace injuries, and occupational illnesses. Three hours after this meeting, Igor Ramko was visited on the shop floor by Nikolai Cherkasov, an investigator with the Krasnogvardeisky District Economic Crimes Department. In the presence of Ramko’s coworkers, Cherkasov handed him a summons to an interrogation based on allegations that he had forged a medical permission slip. It is worth nothing that Cherkasov arrived at the Tikkurila plant in the personal car of Andrei Kiryanov, an employee of the company’s security department.

Unlike Roskhimprofsoiuz leaders, however, the ITUA does not abandon its comrades when they are in trouble. Literally the day after the new trade union local joined the ITUA, the trade union center unleashed an information campaign designed to force Tikkurila to end its coercion of activists, recognize the union, and enter into negotiations. All violations of worker rights at the company now immediately become a matter of public record. Articles about the conflict have been published in a number of online and print mass media, including the influential Russian daily Kommersant. The video about working conditions at Tikkurila is viewed by hundreds of people daily. The myth of the kind-hearted Finnish company that produces high-quality paints is collapsing like a house of cards, despite the fact that Mr. Laitala signed an order forbidding workers from having any contact with the press.

Dozens of trade union and political organizations in Russia and abroad have voiced their solidarity with Tikkurila workers. ITUA chair Alexei Etmanov and All-Russia Confederation of Labor (VKT) president Boris Kravchenko have sent official protests against management’s anti-union policies. In late April, Petersburg activists will take part in a press conference organized by Finnish trade unions. By refusing to enter into a dialogue with its own workers, Tikkurila risks finding itself in the middle of an international scandal.

However, the trade unions are capable of more than polite scolding when it comes to dialoguing with employers who have gone too far. Thus, Mr. Tsinchenko, Tikkurila’s personnel director, whose attitude to workers is particularly cynical, one evening received hundreds of text messages demanding that he cease intimidating Ramko and Makeev. Meanwhile, Mr. Levin, the company’s head lawyer, who had left a number of spiteful remarks on the trade union’s page on the Vktontatke social website, will no longer risk poking up his head there.

Maximum-Security Tikkurila

On April 9, the ITUA picketed the front gates of the TEKS facility at Utkin Prospekt. Aside from plant workers, the picket was attended by activists from ProfTEK, Socialist Resistance (SocSopr), the Pyotr Alexeev Resistance Movement (DSPA), the Revolutionary Communist Youth League (Bolsheviks), and other trade union and leftist organizations. As numerous agents of management, led by security department director Kalinin, looked on, the picketers unfurled banners that read “Tikkurila, what have you smoked?” [Тиккурила, что ты курила?], “Hands off Ramko and Makeev,” “Tikkurila: All the Colors of Exploitation,” and so forth. To the deafening accompaniment of whistles and improvised tam-tams, the picketers chanted such slogans as “No matter how Tikkurila pressures workers, our strength is in solidarity,” “We are capable of moving mountains: sit down to the negotiating table, TEKS!,” “Hands off the trade union if you want to avoid a scandal!,” “No to abuse by employers! A workers’ trade union for every enterprise!,” and so forth. Simultaneously, activists handed out leaflets at the nearby K-Rauta store asking shoppers not to buy Tikkurila paints.

Except for the unfriendly Mr. Kalinin, none of the other company managers had the guts to come out and talk with the picketers. According to workers inside the plant, they were threatened with fines if they left their shop floors to view the picket. On the other hand, large numbers of police officers and Krasnogvardeisky District officials were on hand from the very beginning to observe this legally permitted picket. They made absurd demands of picket organizer and trade union committee chair Sergei Kruglov and ITUA organizer and Socialist Resistance activist Ivan Ovsyannikov. The upshot of these demands was that the protesters should conduct the picket in silence. Because they knew that the arguments advanced by law enforcement officials that their plastic whistles were “amplification devices” directly contradicted the law, the protesters refused to submit to these threats. After the picket was over, Kruglov and Ovsyannikov were taken to a police precinct, where they were charged with an administrative violation. Three hours later, they were released.

The trade union has no doubts that the provocation at the picket was ordered by Tikkurila management, which enjoys especially cordial relations with law enforcement agencies.  Such actions, however, only discredit the company, and it goes without saying that they frighten no one. The struggle continues.


Show your solidarity with workers at the Tikkurila facilities in Saint Petersburg by signing the petition (addressed to general director Timo Laitala) here (in Russian and English). You will be asked to provide your name [Имя], location [Город, страна] and e-mail address [адрес электронной почты]. When you have filled in this information, please hit the button marked Oтправить [send].

Please also let Tikkurila corporate management know what you think. You can contact them here.

You can also let FinnWatch, a Finnish organization dedicated to monitoring the activities of Finnish companies abroad and ensuring that they comply with the highest international standards of labor rights and other good practices, know how you feel about Tikkurila’s treatment of its Petersburg workers. Contact them here.


Filed under activism, film and video, international affairs, trade unions

“Put Away Your Bubbles”

Bubble-Blowing Youths Attacked
The St. Petersburg Times
Issue #1556 (27), Tuesday, April 20, 2010
By Sergey Chernov

Young people who gathered to celebrate spring with an annual bubble-blowing flash mob in St. Petersburg were attacked by an organized gang of men, thought to be neo-Nazis, and then dispersed by the police Sunday. Organizers believe the attackers mistook the flash mob for a gay pride event.

It was the third year running that the event, known as both “Dream Flash” and “Soapy Piter,” was held in the city. It presents itself as “non-political,” and mostly attracts teenagers.

“It has nothing to do with the gay community, or with any political, ideological or any other organization,” said Yulia, Dream Flash’s organizer, by phone on Monday. She requested that her last name be withheld from publication.

“It’s simply a celebration of spring, with the idea that a group of people come together and walk around the city center blowing bubbles and enjoying spring. There was also supposed to be an amateur photography competition, so there were two goals — to have a good time and take pictures of bubbles.”

As an estimated 500 stood blowing bubbles on the steps of Gorkovskaya metro station and in the surrounding Alexandrovsky Park at about 4 p.m. — the agreed time for the start of the flash mob, a flare was thrown into the crowd as an organized group of more than 30 men ran toward the participants and started attacking them. Several people had fallen to the ground before the attackers retreated at the sight of the OMON riot police approaching. At least one of the attackers was arrested.

Later reports said that at least one person was suffering from a concussion and another had been wounded by a rubber bullet from an attacker’s gun, but these remained unconfirmed on Monday evening.

During preparations for the event, a gay activist began advertising a gay pride event within Dream Flash several days before the planned event.

“These are two different events; they are not connected to each other at all,” Yulia said.

“When I found out about it, I started to correspond with them, asking them to separate the two events, but they refused, because they thought our event was very suitable for them, and that we were ‘gay friendly.’ We corresponded for three days but it led to nothing.”

Valery Sozayev, the chair of the gay rights organization Vykhod, described the actions of the gay activists behind the promotion of their event as a “provocation.”

“Soap bubbles are rainbow-like and iridescent, and that’s why people use a lot of rainbow symbolism at [bubble-blowing] events, but it has nothing to do with the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender) community,” Sozayev said.

“Obviously, part of the LGBT community joins the event in every city where it takes place, but they do so as everybody else does, without positioning it as an LGBT event.”

Organizers and participants believe that neo-Nazis were behind the attack.

“I suspect that it was representatives of ultra-right organizations who found out that gays were going to come to the event and decided to stop it,” Yulia said, adding that she came across a group called “Stop the Gay Parade” on Vkontakte, the Russian Facebook-like social networking site.

“I wrote to one of the organizers, gave him my phone number and asked him to contact me, explaining that innocent people might suffer because of their initiative, but the organizer didn’t reply,” Yulia said.

Several minutes after the attack, the OMON police declared the event an “illegal meeting” and started to drive the participants, many of whom continued to blow bubbles, away from the metro and then out of the park, with the help of two police vehicles.

“Put away your bubbles,” one police officer commanded through a megaphone.

“I said to them that we had talked to a representative of City Hall, who said that our event was not subject to any law, because — and I quote — ‘We can’t forbid you to walk around the city.’

“Unfortunately, I was not provided with any written confirmation of this conversation, and the only thing I could do in the situation that arose yesterday was to agree with the police’s actions and ask everybody to leave.”

According to Yulia, she and two other organizers were among about 30 participants who ended up in a police precinct and were released after about five hours, after being charged with walking on the grass (a charge denied by the organizers). At least three people who filmed the event were detained, two of whom later complained of police aggression and violence.

The police spokesman did not answer his phone when called repeatedly Monday.

All photos by Sergey Chernov. See his complete photo reportage of the bubble-blowing riot here.

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Filed under feminism, gay rights, Russian society