Daily Archives: September 27, 2010

Sao Paulo Is Burning: The Spectre of Politics at the Biennial

Sao Paulo is Burning: The Spectre of Politics at the Biennial

“The 29th Sao Paulo Biennial is anchored in the idea that it is impossible to separate art and politics.” In view of the events of the past 48 hours, there are serious reasons to doubt the honesty of this statement.

The work that is shaping up to become the most interesting at the Sao Paulo Biennial has not been made by any artist, but by the institution itself, when it issued the order to cover some imposing panels with plain paper, to prevent visitors from seeing two large photographs: the friendly, attractive face of Dilma Rousseff opposite the sour expression of José Serra, her Social Democratic rival in Brazil’s presidential elections.

The Argentinean artist Roberto Jacoby’s work for the biennial consisted of socialising his space and allowing it to be managed by the Argentinean Brigade for Dilma, which openly proceeded to spread propaganda in favour of the Workers’ Party (PT) candidate as Lula’s successor, choosing to be part of an exceptional historic moment of unity, solidarity, redistribution and democracy that is opening up in Latin America.

According to the – not very convincing – justification that has been issued by the Sao Paulo Biennial Foundation, a report by the Electoral Attorney General’s office has decreed that the work qualifies as an “electoral offense” in that breaks the law that prohibits the “transmission of propaganda of any nature” in spaces that are run by public authorities. However, the Biennial itself had contacted the legal authorities in the first place to report the work that they had invited.

In a statement to the press, one of the curators of the Biennial, Agnaldo Farias, declared that “we can not contest the court ruling, because we even run the risk of going to jail. If we had known in advance that the work dealt with Dilma, we would have warned the artist, because we’d have known there would be problems.” The curators’ arguments that they had been “taken unawares” by the evolution of the work does not stand up to scrutiny, given that the censured photograph is included in the Biennial’s catalogue and web site.

The only possible response to this cowardly statement is a question: what does an established art curator think he is asking for when he invokes the word “politics”? Aside from this specific case, it is not unusual to see curatorial projects that use the link between “art and politics” to exhibit documentary cemeteries or portraits of faraway strange or poor people. Jacoby’s political artwork at this Biennial effectively opposes the disempowerment of political art that is currently exercised in the institutional mainstream.

So what happens when an artist is serious about the need to turn an artistic space into a public space, in order to generate political confrontation – rather than false consensus – in real time, and in the very belly of the art system? El alma nunca piensa sin imagen / The soul never thinks without images – which is the title of the work – does not just consist of electoral propaganda in favour of Dilma: the section of the exhibition allocated to Jacoby was also transformed into a machine for producing antagonism between different opinions, taking sides and forcing the art establishment to become involved in a discussion on the verifiable fact that, today, in a geopolitical space like Latin America, there is more experimentation, more creativity and – ultimately – more hope in the realm of politics – from institutions to social movements – than in the contemporary art system.

Jacoby is participating in the Biennial on two counts, given that he is also part of the collective of artists, sociologists and militants from several Argentinean cities who produced the historic exhibition Tucumán Arde (Tucumán is Burning) in 1968, a project that is mistakenly documented on the Biennial web site – and this is a serious and telling symptom – as a work by the Grupo de Arte de Vanguardia of the city of Rosario. Tucumán Arde was closed down at the labour union headquarters in Buenos Aires, due to pressure from the army during the dictatorship of General Onganía: its provocation consisted in overflowing the art system in order to embrace the social protest against the existing system. The other way round, El alma nunca piensa sin imagen seems to have been censured for having brought into the centre of the art system an activity in favour of a non-artistic process that takes place in the political institution. The Argentinean Brigade for Dilma exhibits it as something much more real – in that it is more imperfect and ultimately complex – than the immaculate halo that usually surrounds the word “politics” in curatorial texts.

Buenos Aires / Sao Paulo, September 23rd , 2010

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Members of the Argentinean Brigade for Dilma:

Adriana Minoliti, Alejandro Ros, Ana Longoni, Alina  Perkins, Cecilia Sainz, Cecilia Szalkowicz, Daniel Joglar, Fernanda Laguna, Francisco Garamona, Florencia Hipolitti, Paula Bugni, Hernán Paganini, Javier Barilaro, José Fernández Vega, Julia Ramírez, Kiwi Sainz, Laura Escobar, Lidia Aufgang, Lucas Rubinich, Mariano Andrade, Mariela Scafati, Mariela Bond, María Granillo, Nacho Marciano, Roberto Jacoby, Santiago Villanueva, Syd Krochmalny, Tomás Espina, Víctor Florido, Victoria Colmegna.

Supporting this declaration (updated: 25/9/2010)

Marcelo Expósito (Barcelona/Buenos Aires), Gachi Hasper (Buenos Aires), Diana Aisenberg (Buenos Aires), Cecilia Sainz (Buenos Aires), Federico Geller (Buenos Aires), Helena Chávez (México), Fernanda Nogueira (Sao Paulo), Miguel López (Lima), Francisco Reyes Palma (México), Marina de Caro (Buenos Aires), Octaviano Moniz Barreto (Bahia), Damián Ríos, Inés Patricio (Rio de Janeiro), Hugo Salas, Guadalupe Maradei (Buenos Aires), Federico Brollo (Buenos Aires), Hugo Vidal (Buenos Aires), Leo Ramos (Resistencia), Ramiro Larraín (Buenos Aires), Inés Martino (Rosario), Compartiendo Capital (Rosario), David Gutiérrez Castañeda (México/Bogotá), Hernán Rodolfo Ulm (Argentina), Beba Eguía (Buenos Aires), Ricardo Piglia (Buenos Aires), Mariana Serbent (Mendoza), Laura García Hernàndez, Magdalena Jitrik (Buenos Aires), José Curia, Leandro Katz (Buenos Aires), Adrián Pérez (Buenos Aires), Eduardo Grüner (Buenos Aires), Carolina Senmartín (Còrdoba), Mariana Botey (México), Carlos Aranda (México), Daniel Duchowney (Argentina), Aldo Ambrozio (Brasil), Carlos Banzi (Argentina), José Luis Meirás (Buenos Aires), Gabriela Nouzeilles (Princeton), Lía  Colombino (Asunción), Museo del Barro (Asunción), Taller Crìtica (Asunción), Fernando Davis (Buenos Aires), William López (Bogotá), José Ignacio Otero (Buenos Aires), Leonardo Retamoso Palma (Santa María), Emilio Tarazona (Lima), Ricardo Resende (Sao Paulo), María Cristina Pérez (Rosario), Gustavo López (Bahía Blanca), Marcelo Diaz (Argentina), José Luis Tuñón (Comodoro Rivadavia), Carlos Dias (Brasil), Claudia del Río (Argentina), Juan Manuel Burgos (Còrdoba), Marcos Ferreira de Paula (Sao Paulo), Amalia Gieschen (Argentina), Suely Rolnik (Sao Paulo), Cristina Ribas (Rio de Janeiro), André Mesquita (Sao Paulo).


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Khimki: The Town Where You’re Guilty until Proven Innocent

Alexei Gaskarov, August 2010 (courtesy of "Zhukovskie vesti")


Judge Galanova Has Revoked the Presumption of Innocence

This morning, Judge Svetlana B. Galanova, the temporary acting chair of the Khimki Municipal Court, ruled that social activist Alexei Gaskarov should be kept in police custody for another two months. Alexei has been charged with disorderly conduct (the maximum prison term for which is seven years) for his alleged involvement in a demonstration on July 28, 2010, outside the Khimki town hall. The other person charged in the case, Maxim Solopov, is also still in police custody, and the court hearing that will decide whether to extend his arrest is scheduled for 2 p.m. tomorrow in Khimki.

According to Anya, Alexei Gaskarov’s girlfriend, today’s hearing was semi-closed to the public: only lawyer Georgy Semyonovsky, Alexei’s mother Irina, and Kommersant journalist Alexander Chernykh were allowed into the courtroom.  The approximately fifteen people who came for the hearing – including Alexei’s friends, Anya herself, and other journalists – were forced to wait in the hallway. According to one of them, Alexander Malinovsky, Alexei appeared grim but held up like a champ. His supporters only had a few seconds to look at Alexei as he was led by guards down the hallway.

When I write that Judge Galanova has revoked the presumption of innocence, I have in mind not only her decision today to extend the police custody of Alexei Gaskarov, in relation to whom no investigative actions have been conducted for a month already (that is, he has not been interrogated, summoned to meet with the investigators, etc.)

I also have in mind the amazing document that Spanish trade unionists from the CNT-AIT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo) received from Judge Galanova in reply to their inquiry about the fate of Alexei Gaskarov.

In a letter dated September 15, 2010, and marked No. k-9, temporary acting chair Galanova writes as follows:

“As a result of the criminal case materials presented by the investigative organs, the court ruled that he be remanded to police custody. Suspect Gaskarov can be freed from criminal prosecution if evidence is presented of his lack of complicity in the circumstances that served as the basis for the opening of the criminal case.”

You can view the entire letter at the web site of the AIT’s Russian section: http://aitrus.info/sites/default/files/!!.doc

Judge Galanova's Letter to Spanish Trade Unionists

For all intents and purposes, temporary acting chair Galanova declared that Alexei Gaskarov would remain in prison until his innocence is proven.

According to the presumption of innocence – the fundamental legal principle on which the criminal investigative and judicial system is based throughout the world, including the Russian Federation – suspects are not required to prove their innocence. On the contrary, police investigators and prosecutors must present evidence of a suspect’s guilt.

So it would appear that Svetlana B. Galanova, temporary acting chair of the Khimki Municipal Court, is simply ignorant of the law.

How then is she able to chair a municipal court, to work as a judge, to make judicial rulings that affect the lives of other people?

Galanova, however, does serve as a judge. Today she extended the term of Alexei Gaskarov’s confinement in police custody.

This means that the Campaign for the Release of the Khimki Hostages will contiune its work. We’ve held approximately 40 protest actions in 33 countries and 12 countries. We’ve sent thousands of messages and appeals to the court, the prosecutor, and the Russian president. Do they need more? We’ll give them more.

The disgraceful behavior of the Russian judicial system will become a matter of public record the world over.

Vlad Tupikin
September 27, 2010

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International Solidarity with the Khimki Hostages: The Campaign Continues

We were about to publish a summary of the recent international days of action in solidarity with Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov issued by the Campaign for the Release of Khimki Hostages, when we received word that this morning the court in Khimki extended the police custody of Alexei Gaskarov for another two months. The web site of the Russian edition of Newsweek has the details (our comments are in square brackets):

A Kommersant correspondent has informed Newsweek that antifascist Alexei Gaskarov’s term in a pretrial detention facility [in Mozhaisk] has been extended by two months. The court hearing was held in open chamber. However, a small room was chosen for the hearing, and therefore only one journalist and Alexei Gaskarov’s mother were admitted inside.

Gaskarov’s lawyer told Judge Svetlana Galanova that his client had only been summoned for questioning on three occasions over the course of his time in police custody. [Gaskarov has been in police custody since July 29.] He also noted that over the past [two] months no investigative actions had been conducted [with his client], although over 100 people have already been questioned. [Our sources in the campaign say that this figure is closer to 200]. There is therefore no need for Gaskarov’s continued confinement.

He also noted that three State Duma deputies and three public figures had vouched for Alexei Gaskarov’s good character — the first time this had happened in his practice as a lawyer.

Gaskarov said that he does not consider himself guilty as charged, and that he was in Khimki during the time of the events as a correspondent for the Institute for Collective Action. He requested that the judge order him released from the pretrial detention facility because of the onset of cold weather.

The prosecution justified its request for Gaskarov’s continued confinement to police custody by arguing that Gaskarov had acted as part of a group of persons whose identities had not been established. He could not be released from the pretrial detention facility because this might impede further investigation of the incident.

The hearing in Maxim Solopov’s case will take place tomorrow.

So our campaign continues. Swedish activist Tord Björk reminds us what it’s all about:

Go to khimkibattle.org for updates on the case and the campaign, and to find out what you can do to help.


International Days of Action in Solidarity with the Khimki Hostages: Results and Lessons

September 17 marked the start of four international days of action in solidarity with Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov, which were initiated by the Campaign for the Release of the Khimki Hostages, an independent coalition of antifascist and non-authoritarian leftist activists and groups. The campaign was organized in response to the arrest of two young activists and antifascist spokespeople, Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov after a spontaneous act of mass civil disobedience on July 28 in the Moscow suburb of Khimki. Practically speaking, Alexei and Maxim have been taken hostage by the authorities in revenge for this demonstration. Hence the main slogans of the international solidarity were and remain Freedom for Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov! and End the Persecution of Forest Defenders and Antifascists!

The geographic scope of the solidarity actions has been extremely wide. The destruction of the Khimki Forest has become an event in our new, globalized world. The Khimki municipal administration, the French construction company Vinci, its Russian business partners, and Russian federal ministries and agencies have all been seen to be pursuing narrow commercial interests in this case. When the social and environmental rights of local residents are regularly violated in this globalized world, and national law enforcement agencies take revenge for acts of civil disobedience with the implicit consent of international companies, the response is civic action that is no less global in scale. The days of international solidarity in defense of Gaskarov and Solopov were a vivid confirmation of this: from September 17 to September 20, activists and concerned citizens carried out thirty-six solidarity actions in thirty-two cities and twelve countries around the world, including Saloniki (Greece); Berlin, Hamburg, Bochum, and Düsseldorf (Germany); Seattle (USA); Kraków (Poland); Kyiv, Kharkiv, Ternopil, and Zaporozhye (Ukraine); Lucerne (Switzerland); Istanbul (Turkey); London (Great Britain); Stockholm (Sweden); Rome (Italy), and Copenhagen (Denmark). Paris (France), Athens (Greece) and New York (USA) hosted two actions each. In Russia, protests took place in Izhevsk, Irkutsk, Kazan, Saratov, Cheboksary, Moscow, Petrozavodsk, Petersburg, Omsk, Tiumen, and Yaroslavl, and in some of these cities, two protests took place. We also have heard of three other protests – in Mexico City, Budapest, and Ufa (Russia) – but we have not yet received photos or written accounts of them. We should also note that in late August and early September, before the official launch of our campaign, spontaneous actions in support of Gaskarov and Solopov took place in Tel Aviv, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Kyiv, Minsk, Petersburg, and Izhevsk.

How and why we protested. The key feature of these international days of action was the fact that protesters combined two kinds of demands: against environmental destruction and against police repression. The French construction giant Vinci, which is involved in the destruction of the Khimki Forest and the planned construction of a toll highway through it, became the target of a pressure campaign: in Bochum and Düsseldorf, protests took place outside the offices of its subsidiaries and business partners. In other cities, Russian embassies and consulates were picketed. In Athens, several activists from the Greek Social Forum and a Greek MP picketed the Russian embassy. They succeeded in meeting with an embassy official, to whom they explained that “forests have no boundaries,” that their destruction leads to the degradation of the quality of life in cities all over the world, and that the arrest of the two activists is an outrage. In Kyiv, activists performed a political play outside the Russian embassy. In Paris, activists took their protest to a Russian film festival. Around 150 people attended a demonstration in Petersburg, while between 300 and 400 people came to a rally the same day in Moscow. Moscow protesters were addressed by spokespeople for a variety of different social movements and organizations. They also had the chance to sign a petition urging the authorities to build the Moscow-Petersburg toll highway along a different route and to fill out postcards demanding that the Russian authorities release Gaskarov and Solopov. In all the cities where protests took place, environmentalists, public and cultural figures, antifascists, journalists, leftist activists, civil rights activists, and concerned citizens joined together to call for the release of the two young men.

Another important feature of the international days of action was the fact that information about the case was distributed to the public and published in the national media of the countries that took part in the campaign. This can be gauged not only by the thousands of leaflets handed out during protest actions and the banners hung throughout the participating cities, but also by the large number of media publications that appeared during the course of the week. If before this moment, manifestations of solidarity with the Khimki hostages came mainly from other activists, then September 17–20 saw the start of a wave of publicity about the case in the popular press and responses from the general public. The scope of the solidarity campaign and the variety of people involved in it show that the case of the Khimki hostages is regarded throughout the world as matter of international and public concern.

Observers and activists around the world have been particularly outraged by the repressive actions taken by local authorities and Russian law enforcement officers, who have employed physical torture and mental coercion against activists, sent thugs and ultra-nationalists to attack Khimki Forest defenders, and have thus as a whole destroyed the foundations of civil society and the possibility of dialogue between local residents and state officials. In essence, the crude actions of the Khimki municipal administration and Russian law enforcement have once again reinforced the image of Russia as a harshly authoritarian and repressive country, an image that it had managed to overcome with great difficulty only a relatively short time ago. International observers, journalists, activists, and protesters have made it clear that the taking of hostages by the authorities and their repressive style of dealing with activists are a blight on contemporary Russia’s image. But they are also a reason to seek sanctions against both the Russian authorities and the international companies who are participating in this violent game. In their communiqués, the participants in the international solidarity actions emphasized that it is unacceptable for the Russian authorities to respond to civic protests with repressive measures, for local and federal officials to sanction violence against activists.

The worldwide wave of solidarity and media attention will continue to grow until Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov are released and the false charges against them dropped.

Other highlights of the campaign. Dozens of faxed messages were sent to the Khimki municipal court, the Moscow Region prosecutor’s office, and the president of the Russian Federation from cities around the world. Russian state and international organizations received hundreds of emails pointing out the collapse of the rule of law in Khimki and calling on the addressees to stop these repressions and free Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov.

During protest actions in Russia itself, campaigners collected more than 700 postcards addressed to the Russian president: the signatories asked him to release the Khimki hostages. On September 23, campaigners delivered these postcards to the public reception office of the presidential administration in central Moscow.

Open letters. September 7 saw the publication of an open letter of support for the Khimki hostages signed by representatives of fifteen leading environmental and civil rights organizations from a number of countries: Patrick Bond, Centre for Civil Society Environmental Justice Project, Durban, South Africa; Mark Barrett, Climate Justice Action London, UK; Mark Brown, Art Not Oil/Rising Tide, UK; Carmen Buerba de Comite de Defensa Ecologica Michoacana, Mexico; Nicola Bullard, Focus on the Global South, Thailand; Ellie Cijvat, Friends of the Earth Sweden; Joshua Kahn Russell, Ruckus Society, USA; Tom Kucharz, Ecologistas en Acción, Spain; Maduresh Kumar, National Alliance of People’s Movements, India; Marea Creciente Mexico; Adriana Matalonga, Miguel Valencia and Mauricio Villegas, Ecomunidades and Klimaforum10, Mexico; Tannie Nyböe, Climate Justice Action, Denmark; Uddhab Pyakurel, South Asian Dialogue on Ecological Democracy, India; Josie Riffaud, Via Campesina, France; Marko Ulvila, Friends of the Earth Finland; Thomas Wallgren, Democracy Forum Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, Finland.

On September 20, more than fifty Russian public figures and human rights activists signed an open letter to the Russian president. Its authors pointed out to the president that “this kind of lawlessness has no place in a democratic state based on the rule of law.” They called on the president to protect “two socially conscious and publicly active young people from reprisal and to stop the terror against journalists and social activists.” The signatories include Ludmila Alexeeva (chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group), Lev Ponomaryov (For Human Rights), Boris Strugatsky (writer), Oleg Orlov (chair, Memorial Human Rights Centre), Yuri Samodurov (curator), and Gleb Yakunin (Public Committee for the Defense of Freedom of Conscience).

What we should not forget. Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov were arrested on July 29, a day after a spontaneous protest involving hundreds of young antifascists took place in the town of Khimki. This was not a pre-announced, pre-planned or “permitted” action, but a demonstration of civil disobedience. No one was arrested during the action itself. Its aftermath has been twofold. On the one hand, the controversy surrounding the destruction of the Khimki Forest received much more attention from society, the media, and high-ranking Russian state officials. As a result of this attention, the Russian president ordered a temporary halt to the project to build a toll highway through the forest. On the other hand, local officials and law enforcement agencies launched a campaign of intimidation against activists the very next day. Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov were summoned by the police for “discussions” and arrested. Police and prosecutors have falsified their arrest protocols and fabricated eyewitness testimony and other evidence in the case. Over the following month and a half, more than 200 young people were detained and interrogated in Moscow and the Moscow Region, as well as in Nizhniy Novgorod, Kostroma, and Samara. These interrogations involved systematic, extremely crude violations of the detainees’ rights on the part of the police and physical violence, although in the majority of cases these violations and acts of violence have not been documented. However, thanks to the courage of three detained activists – Alexander Pakhotin, Emil Baluyev, and Nikita Chernobayev – we have eyewitness accounts of these crimes. After their interrogations, they sought medical attention (to document their injuries) and filed formal complaints against the illegal actions of law enforcement officials.

The disproportionate, violent response of Russian officials to this act of civil disobedience, whose goal was to criticize the Khimki town administration, continues. Over the past three years, Khimki officials have used repressive police methods against activists and residents and given their implicit consent to violent criminal attacks against forest defenders. As our international days of action have shown, the response to the illegal coercion employed by the authorities will be growing international support for Russian activists, the return of Russia’s negative image, and international sanctions against Russian government agencies and organizations.

You can find full information about the Campaign for the Release of the Khimki Hostages on our web site: http://khimkibattle.org/. Call us at +7 (915) 053-5912 or write to us at info@khimkibattle.org.

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