Monthly Archives: May 2010

The Tower: A Songspiel

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The Tower: A Songspiel, 2010

A film by Chto Delat

This film is the final part in a trilogy of socially engaged musicals that the Chto Delat collective began work on in 2008. This cycle includes the video films Perestroika Songspiel: Victory over the Coup (2008) and Partisan Songspiel: A Belgrade Story (2009).

Filmed in April 2010, The Tower: A Songspiel is based on real documents of Russian social and political life and on an analysis of the conflict that has developed around the planned Okhta Center development in Petersburg, where the Gazprom corporation intends to house the headquarters of its locally-based subsidiaries in a 403-meter-high skyscraper designed by the UK-based architectural firm RMJM. The proposed skyscraper has provoked one of the fiercest confrontations between the authorities and society in recent Russian political history. Despite resistance on the part of various groups who believe that construction of the building would have a catastrophic impact on the appearance of the city, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Gazprom has so far managed to secure all the necessary permissions and has practically begun the first phase of construction. (Although recent oblique signals from the Russian president may have thrown an insurmountable wrench into the works.)

The Gazprom tower is promoted by the authorities as a symbol of a new, modernized Russia. How are such symbols produced? How does the ideological apparatus of power function? How are projects like this pushed through despite the resistance of ordinary citizens? These are the principal questions raised by this film.

The film is structured as a confrontation between two worlds. On the one hand, we see the world of power, which is represented by a group of people working to create the new symbol: a PR manager (the head of the corporation’s branding project for the skyscraper), a local politician, the company’s security chief, a representative of the Orthodox Church, a gallery owner (who is in line to become director of the corporation’s contemporary art museum), and a fashionable artist. On the other hand, we see a chorus comprised of people from various social groups: the intelligentsia, workers, pensioners, unemployed office clerks, migrants, young women, a homeless boy, and a leftist radical.

The film is set in a corporate boardroom, where a meeting has been called to discuss the rebranding campaign for the Gazprom tower. The participants converse frankly among themselves and from time to time rehearse speeches addressed as it were to the public. They get up from the conference table, situated atop a podium, walk to the edge of this platform, and make speeches in which they attempt to persuade society at large of the need to build the skyscraper and the benefits it will bring the city and its people.

The chorus reacts to the proceedings “on high” by singing Brechtian songs and performing choreographic tableaux that illustrate their standing in society and their attitude to what is happening. These dialectical choruses, whose performers constantly contradict one another, are as it were the symbolic manifestation of debates in society about power and violence, love and beauty, and urban planning and the right to the city.

Director: Tsaplya (Olga Egorova)
Screenplay: Chto Delat
Composer: Mikhail Krutik
Set: Dmitry Vilensky and Gluklya (Natalya Pershina)
Choreography: Nina Gasteva, Mikhail Ivanov and Tsaplya
Editing: Vilensky and Tsaplya
Director of Photography: Artyom Ignatov
Sound: Alexander Dudarev

This video film was made possible with the kind support of Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (Spain), Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Germany, and Sociedad Estatal para la Acción Cultural Exterior, Spain, as part of the project The Potosí Principle; and BAK (basis voor actuele kunst), Utrecht, as part of the project Vectors of the Possible. With additional support from the research project Creating Worlds, financed by Wiener Wissenschafts, Forschungs- und Technologiefonds; Vienna Science and Technology Fund, and ar/ge kunst Galleria Museo, Bolzano, Italy.

This film was produced with support from the Chto Delat Fund.


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Filed under film and video, protests, Russian society, urban movements (right to the city)

“Who Would Ever Learn Philosophy to Make Money?”: Boycott Middlesex U Now!

Courtesy of Infinite Thought, here is a video, entitled “This is a movement now” and featuring a recent speech by Tariq Ali, about the protest campaign against the announced closure of the Middlesex University philosophy program. This is the first of seven parts. You can view the rest by clicking on the “View on YouTube” icon in the viewing window.

In the light of the Middlesex administration’s unresponsiveness to protests and its escalating thuggishness, a total boycott of the university has been called.

On April 26 Middlesex University announced the closure of its highly-ranked and well-respected philosophy program. This closure has no philosophical or pedagogical rationale, and in fact it has no economic justification either: far from losing money, after covering its salary and administrative costs the program contributes more than 50% of its revenue to the central management of the university. But the management unilaterally decided that it could make more money by investing its funds elsewhere. (For an overview of the situation see http://savemdxphil.com/about/).

Despite widespread international protest of the closure in the form of thousands of letters and petition signatures, the management has shown no signs of reconsidering its decision. Instead it seems dedicated to censoring all dissent: on May 21 it suspended three faculty members and several students for the ‘crime’ of campaigning to save their own courses and jobs.

It is time, then, for supporters of Middlesex Philosophy to take a more active stance.

Petition:

We the undersigned therefore commit ourselves to an academic boycott of Middlesex University until it shows evidence of full reinstatement and continued support for its philosophy program.

Prior to such reinstatement, we will refuse to act as external examiners or to deliver talks at the school. We will encourage colleagues to reject job offers at Middlesex. We will refuse to visit campus for any reason other than to protest the decision to close the philosophy program. We will, in short, cease to engage with Middlesex as a legitimate academic institution.

Go here to sign the petition.

In response to the Middlesex administration’s suspension of several teachers and students who participated in the recent occupation, the Save Middlesex Philosophy campaign has produced this helpful visual all-points bulletin to aid management in identifying and punishing the remaining miscreants. This fellow, for example, looks especially dangerous:

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Letters from Tehran

Our comrade Vahid Valizadeh, writing in Vertigo on Tehran’s visual culture (in this case, a BMW ad on the city’s Hemmat highway):

We think we are spoken to. Today’s god hails me. ‘I’ am invited to feel power, to experience pleasure. Obviously this god knows that his slaves are without power, without pleasure. But what does the duo of power and pleasure contain in its hidden layers?

As featured in the film No One Knows about Persian Cats, rapper Hichkas provides a kind of audiovisual commentary to Vahid’s essay (thanks to Louis Proyect for the heads-up):

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Middlesex U: The “Crime” of Protest

This just in from Infinite Thought:

Four students were suspended on Friday 21 May: Ali Alizadeh, Nicola Goodchild, Johann Hoiby, and Hoi Yen Voong. The suspension blocks them ‘from entering any part of the University’s premises without written permission’ from management. The students have been informed by the Head of Student Services Fiona Fall (F.Fall@mdx.ac.uk) that ‘we are writing to only a few of you so far but will write to others similarly involved when they can be identified.’

Three members of staff were also suspended on Friday afternoon: Professors Peter Osborne (head of the CRMEP) and Peter Hallward (programme leader for the Middlesex Philosophy MA programmes), and senior lecturer Dr. Christian Kerslake (who learned about his suspension over the weekend), pending investigation into their involvement in the occupations. This means that half of the Philosophy staff have now been suspended from duty.

There are a number of striking things about the staff suspension notices. First of all, staff have been suspended in anticipation of (rather than following) ‘an investigation surrounding the occupations’ at Trent Park. The notices do not refer to any specific allegation of wrong-doing, and do not indicate a timetable for the investigation.

Second, the notices do not formulate a ‘proportionate’ response to the circumstances. For instance, they do not simply prevent staff from communicating with colleagues and students about further occupations or ‘disruption’ at Middlesex. Instead, they command staff to ‘refrain from contacting in any way any University employee, student or any University contractor or supplier without the prior agreement of the Dean or a member of Executive.’ It is hard to see how this command respects basic rights of association and contact. In order now to conduct a routine supervisory meeting with a research student, for instance, staff must now request permission from their Dean and provide him with details of when any supervisory meetings will take place, so that (as a recent management instruction puts it) ‘arrangements can be made for their attendance at the University.’

Third, the notices indicate that ‘the suspension is not a disciplinary penalty in itself and does not imply any decision about the merits of the case’. They instruct staff to continue to ‘ carry out all reasonable duties specified by the University in relation to the delivery of your role’ (in other words, they simultaneously suspend us from duty and instruct us to carry on working more or less as normal). Osborne and Hallward, however, have now specifically been denied permission to attend a regular once-a-term meeting of the University-wide Professors Group, scheduled for Friday 28 May. This is a group constituted and organised by academic (as distinct from managerial) Professors themselves several years ago, originally in opposition to a previous round of management cuts. The great majority of the University’s academic professors already signed a strongly-worded letter condemning the closure of Philosophy, and they are unlikely to appreciate this extraordinary and unprecedented managerial intervention in the operations of their group.

Savemdxphil@gmail.com has already received scores of outraged letters about the suspensions from academics all over the world. We will post a few more of these later today.

The implications of these suspensions extend far beyond the fate of the Philosophy programmes at Middlesex. Students and staff have been suspended for the ‘crime’ of campaigning to save their own courses and jobs. Since it is hard to imagine a more innocuous occasion for student protest than a library sit-in designed to mount a symbolic defence of endangered books and programmes, it is hard to escape the conclusion that what is at stake here is nothing less than the right to protest itself – or at least, the right to protest in ways that might have some actual impact. When he was informed of his suspension shortly after the sit-in ended on Friday, one of the students was told by management that he was indeed entitled to protest the closure of his programme by ordinary, ‘legitimate’ means, e.g. by writing letters, organising petitions, and so on. But he was also told that when thousands of people sign a petition or ‘push a button on Facebook’, this doesn’t indicate a meaningful expression of support.

It looks, then, as if the Campaign will have to continue to provide alternative opportunities for such expression. The issues at stake in this struggle are matters of urgent and far-reaching principle. If you oppose the closures and their implications for humanities teaching, if you oppose the suspensions and their implications for academic freedom and the rights of association and protest, then please attend a rally at on Thursday 27 May, from 4pm onwards, at Middlesex University’s Hendon campus.


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La Huelga de la UPR (Videos)

Here are some lovely videos from the ongoing strike at the University of Puerto Rico, courtesy of the comrades at MRZine and Occupy California.

Alberto Bartolomei, 2 horas en la Huelga de la UPR

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Raymond O’Brien1 Universidad : 1 Pueblo

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For more details on the reasons behind the strike, see this recent interview on Democracy Now! with striking UPR student Giovanni Roberto and UPR professor Christopher Powers, and this article by Yarimar Bonilla.

You should also check out these three recent articles by Firuzeh Shokooh Valle in MRZine.

You can support the strikers by sending messages to the following addresses (these include UPR administration officials as well as advocacy organizations that are collecting copies of support and solidarity messages):

sindicos@upr.edu
presidente@upr.edu
anlupe@degi.uprrp.edu
webmaster@ogp.gobierno.pr
aipuertorico@gmail.com
plazadelmercado@gmail.com

You can use the following sample letter, addressed to the president of UPR’s Board of Regents (thanks to a comrade at the Edu-Factory mailing list for all this information):

Lcda. Ygri Rivera
President, Board of Regents
Universidad de Puerto Rico

I wish to express my deep concern over the means by which the administration of the Universidad de Puerto Rico (UPR) is handling the current student strike.

I believe that the students are making fair demands through democratic steps, practicing their free speech rights, and using channels that they have collectively vetted, and which in the past have been deemed acceptable by the institution itself.

I demand that the UPR guarantee the rights of students who are negotiating fairly, transparently, and openly without violence or intimidation. These three areas must be respected: security for the students, equal participation of all interested parties, and procedural transparency. Any alternative outside such parameters would be deemed unacceptable.

Thus, I add my voice to the chorus that demands the following:
1. Remove riot police from the immediate surroundings of university campuses.
2. Allow the provision of food and water for students inside university grounds.
3. Restart negotiations immediately.

An institution of higher learning must inherently be committed to social justice and shall not facilitate human rights violations, such as the blockade of food and water, nor the current excessive display of force on its grounds and their vicinity.

I hope that the UPR can uphold its primary education mission to its students—the hope in and for the future—rather than fall prey to any lopsided interests of faculty, administration, regents, or elected officials. I urge the administration to reconsider its position and resist the temptation to impose its will through violent force. Instead, I urge the administration to facilitate an open dialog to decide the future of the university of the people of Puerto Rico.

[Spanish version of letter]

Lcda. Ygri Rivera
Presidenta Junta de Síndicos
Universidad de Puerto Rico

Quiero dejar constancia de mi preocupación sobre la forma en que la Administración de la Universidad de Puerto Rico (UPR) está lidiando con la huelga de los estudiantes.

Entendiendo que los estudiantes están realizando un reclamo justo y mediante un mecanismo democráticamente avalado y aceptado tantos por el cuerpo estudiantil como por la propia institución educativa.

Exigimos se garantice la seguridad de nuestros estudiantes y que la administración de la Universidad de Puerto Ricobase su estrategia de negociación en la transparencia y la apertura al diálogo y no en la fuerza y la intimidación. Estas soluciones deben estar contempladas en tres aspectos; seguridad de los estudiantes, transparencia de los procesos y participación en integral de las partes interesadas.

Cualquier alternativa ajena a esto debe considerarse inaceptable.

Es por esto que hago los siguientes reclamos:

1. Retirar la fuerza de choque de las inmediaciones de la Universidad
2. Permitir el acceso de agua y alimento a los manifestantes dentro de las facilidades universitarias.
3. Restaurar el servicio de agua en las facilidades.
4. Reanudar los procesos de negociación de forma abierta y transparente.

La Universidad tiene un compromiso de responsabilidad social y no debe avalar una violación crasa de Derechos Humanos como el negar el acceso de agua y alimentos a las y los estudiantes; así como, la exhortación y despliegue de fuerzas policiacas excesivas en sus alrededores.

La universidad no existe para sí misma, ni para sus profesores, ni para sus empleados administrativos, ni para su junta de síndicos ni para el gobernador, sino para educar a la nueva cepa de estudiantes, que es la base de nuestro futuro. Exhorto a la administración de la Universidad de Puerto Rico que reconsidere su posición y resista a la tentación de imponer su criterio a través de la fuerza de una macana, y permitan que sea la fuerza del diálogo y la transparencia la que decida el futuro de la Universidad del pueblo de Puerto Rico.

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No, no, no, no, no, no, Mr. Suit! (More on the Middlesex Philosophy Closure)

Sarah Amsler, “Saving Philosophy from the Suits”:

However, the anaesthetized method of this closure is also a purifying and perhaps transformative revelation: the emperor has finally admitted there are no clothes. It is not about education or research or knowledge after all. The decision did not need to be convincing in academic, professional or pedagogical terms. It was, as the dean said, ‘simply financial’. We knew it all along, but now it is confirmed: no philosophy, no matter how good, can be evaluated according to what Max Weber once called the ‘sheer market principle’. And in a world of capitalist realism, nothing that is beyond the value of profit can have recognisable public value at all. There. Perhaps now we can liberate ourselves from the temptation to valorise intellectual work by squeezing it into the narrow, instrumentalist criteria of what Alex Callinicos has called the ‘Orwellian’ inspired Research Excellence Framework, in the hope that we will find spaces there to create critical possibilities. Perhaps we will finally realise that there are — as yet — no ears to receive arguments about the importance of humanizing education, the power of ideas and research to transform the world, or the necessity of critical capacity in a frighteningly possibility-limiting social system. These should not be revelations at this very late stage in the long march of capital through our cultural institutions. Yet we remain incredulous.

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“In the Middle of a Reactionary Crowd”: Attacks on Journalists in the Moscow Region

Better late than never, we guess: the New York Times on the wave of assaults on opposition and muckracking journalists in the Moscow Region, including Mikhail Beketov and Yuri Grachev, in 2008–2009, and the “failure” of law enforcement officials to make headway in the investigations of these crimes. Especially touching is the story of Pyotr Lipatov:

Farther up the M-10 Highway is Klin, where an opposition rally was held in March 2009 to protest corruption and increases in utility rates.

As Pyotr Lipatov, editor of an opposition newspaper called Consensus and Truth, was leaving the rally, three men pushed him to the ground and punched him repeatedly on the head. “Even when I was unconscious, they didn’t let me go,” Mr. Lipatov said.

This beating was recorded on video by protesters. Mr. Lipatov’s colleagues used the video to track down the men who beat him. They were police officers.

While Mr. Lipatov, 28, was recovering in the hospital, he said two other police officers visited and urged him to sign a statement saying that he had provoked the attack. He refused. The police then issued a statement.

“According to Lipatov, filming the meeting with his camera, he found himself in the middle of a reactionary crowd, was pushed and fell to the ground,” the statement said. Two videos of the demonstration show a different sequence of events.

Officials later acknowledged that police officers had been involved in the attack, but they still brought no charges. Instead, they raided Mr. Lipatov’s offices, seized computers and brought a criminal extremism suit against him. They asserted that he had sought to foment “negative stereotypes and negative images of members of the security forces.”

Fearing for his safety and more criminal charges, he quit.

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