Monthly Archives: October 2010

Global Action Days 2.0 in Solidarity with Gaskarov and Solopov

November 12–15, 2010: New International Days of Action
We Demand that the Russian Authorities Close the Khimki Case and Drop All Charges against Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov

In late October 2010, Russian social activists Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov were released from police custody on their own recognizance by the Khimki Municipal Court. They had been arrested a day after a protest in defense of the Khimki Forest on July 28, 2010. Now they are free pending trial, but the criminal case against them has not been closed. They have been formally charged with disorderly conduct, and if convicted, they could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison. The dates of their trials have not been set, but meanwhile prosecutors are demanding that Alexei and Maxim be returned to police custody. Aside from Alexei and Maxim, there are two other people who have been charged in the case, and prosecutors might bring charges against even more people in the very new future. Since Alexei and Maxim were arrested in late July, police investigators have been stubbornly fabricating arrest protocols, evidence, and eyewitness testimony and using force to extract statements from the hundreds of people they have hunted down and detained. What will happen to all these thick case files filled with fabrications? They will form the basis of the prosecution’s case in court. And so the fact that Alexei and Maxim have now been released from jail is not the end of the battle but a signal that we must continue to act decisively on their behalf. We will not allow the authorities to cover up the illegal destruction of the forest and the persecution of its defenders with the soiled robes of counterfeit justice. We will force the authorities to close the Khimki Case and drop charges against all activists!

Alexei Gaskarov

Why do the Russian authorities insist on turning activists into criminals and demanding prison sentences for them? For the same reason that they have either not launched or halted investigations into the near-fatal beating of journalist Mikhail Beketov, the murder of newspaper worker Sergei Protazanov, and the numerous attacks on Khimki residents. The policemen who beat up environmentalists defending the forest and arrested people participating in legal pickets have not been punished. The police investigators who tortured witnesses in the Khimki Case have not been punished. Can we expect fair trials for Alexei and Maxim when we have witnessed lawlessness and injustice so many times? Khimki judges have on numerous occasions shown all of us that we cannot count on their respect for the law and common sense. We demand that the case be closed!

Maxim Solopov

The protest action that took place in Khimki on July 28, 2010, was a response to the lawlessness and violence perpetrated against local residents, journalists, and activists. It was a highly emotional response to the fact that all previous protests had not just been ignored by the authorities but had been cruelly suppressed. As a result of this protest, the Russian authorities began heeding the voice of the forest’s defenders. The campaign to defend the forest caught this gust of hot July wind and continued to act using other means. The authorities must end their persecution of the people who took part in this protest and the forest defenders. All charges against Alexei Gaskarov, Maxim Solopov, and other activists must be dropped.

What You Can Do

1. During the international days of action on November 12–15, 2010, hold eye-catching protest actions in your cities at official political and cultural events organized by the Russian authorities as well as outside Russian Federation embassies and consulates. Demand to meet with official Russian representatives and give them your petitions. Any Russian company, product or event can be a successful occasion for your protests.

2. Send faxes to the Khimki Municipal Court (+7-495-572-8314), the Moscow Region Prosecutor’s Office (+7-495-621-5006) and the President of the Russian Federation (+7-495-606-2464), demanding that the case be closed and all charges against Alexei Gaskarov, Maxim Solopov, and other activists dropped.

3. Continue to send letters to such international organizations as the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, and the UN, asking them to investigate the abuses by Russian authorities and intervene in the case. You can find contact information for these organizations here:

4. Work to get articles published in your local and national media that will inform the broader public about the case of the Khimki hostages and the new threats to civil liberties and the rule of law in Russia. Invite neighbors, friends, and colleagues to your solidarity actions in support of Alexei and Maxim, and ask them to join you in demanding that this fabricated criminal case be closed.

Send information about your solidarity actions as well as copies of letters, faxes, and media publications to our e-mail address:

Campaign for the Release of the Khimki Hostages
Telephone: +7 (915) 053-5912

*Photos courtesy of Anna Artemieva (Novaya Gazeta), via Vlad Tupikin.

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Filed under activism, anti-racism, anti-fascism, open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, protests, Russian society

Socialism Failed, Capitalism Is Bankrupt. What Comes Next? (Oliver Ressler)

A project by Oliver Ressler

The project “Socialism Failed, Capitalism Is Bankrupt. What Comes Next?” focuses on the political and economic situation in the Republic of Armenia, one of the successor states of the Soviet Union. The project materializes in two different formats: a short film, “Socialism Failed, Capitalism is Bankrupt. What comes Next?” (19 min., 2010), and a 2-channel video installation that will be accomplished by a photo-based floor piece.

The film “Socialism Failed, Capitalism is Bankrupt. What comes Next?” was recorded in summer 2010 in Yerevan’s largest bazaar, called “Bangladesh.” Every day more than 1000 people try to survive as traders in the “Bangladesh” bazaar, where an average vendor does not earn more than 100 to 250 Euros per month. In the film, the market’s traders talk about their struggles to survive during crises in a post-socialist state that closed most Soviet-era factories and dissolved social safety nets. The market’s traders, primarily former factory-workers, describe how their living conditions worsened after the end of the Soviet Union; they speak about their hopes and expectations for social change. While they live in misery, a small but highly influential class of corrupt politicians and super-rich oligarchs team up with international corporations in order to fill their pockets with profits from transferring state property and licenses for mining.

A former mathematics professor Levon Yeremyan, who now survives by trading in the “Bangladesh” bazaar, notes, “95 per cent of people work and get the minimum wage, which is ridiculously low by European standards, and 5 per cent live like Arab sheikhs.” Most people would definitely agree with his description of the wide gap between the impoverished masses and the oligarchs in Armenia. This deep divide contradicts the official flattering data. The project also produced a photo-based floor piece with three-meter diameter in the shape of Armenia; the floor piece provides an illustration of this extremely uneven distribution of wealth.

In the 2-channel video installation, the “Bangladesh” video is combined with a (silent) video, which focuses on former Soviet factories in Yerevan that were shut down or produce at reduced capacity or were transformed into something else. Each factory was filmed with a single shot of 20 seconds, followed by information that includes the factory’s name, what it produced, when it closed, the current owner and the new utilization.

Concept, camera, sound recording, video editing and production: Oliver Ressler
Interviews, translation and editing assistance: Arpineh Galfayan
Audio mix and color correction: Rudi Gottsberger
Research on factories: Nora Galfayan, Vahe Budumyan

The project was done during a residency in Yerevan as part of the project “Eat and Work” by Utopiana, supported by BM:UKK.

First film screening:

Museum on the Seam, Jerusalem (IL),, as part of a presentation by Oliver Ressler at the exhibition “The Right to Protest,” November 2, 2010, at 7 pm.

Check out the film online at

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Filed under art exhibitions, contemporary art, critical thought, film and video

Turn Off the News: Tikkurila Is Lying

Turn Off the News: Tikkurila Is Lying

What would you think if you saw a news report on TV claiming that Citizen A. was engaged in a “dirty campaign” against Citizen B., who in turn was presented as an utterly honest man, but the evidence against Citizen A. took the form of quotations from anonymous sources? If a report like that were shown on Russian TV, any viewer with an ounce of common sense would deem it the product of the “black PR” techniques common in our country and would suspect that the journalists who filed it had sold out. Although they rightly do not trust their own mass media, Russian citizens customarily believe that the mass media in western countries are independent. Reporters at the Finnish channel MTV3 have managed to discredit that opinion.

“A Strange War”

On October 13, viewers of the MTV3 news and analysis program 45 minuuttia (“45 Minutes”) were told about a “strange war” being carried about “by a tiny group of [Russian] activists” against the Finnish company Tikkurila. According to the report, Tikkurila management is perplexed by the “dirty campaign” that has been organized against it and informs the Finnish audience that other Finnish firms have been “attacked” in this same strange manner. Viewers are told that that fourteen lawsuits are currently under review in the courts in connection with this campaign, a video detailing the horrible working conditions at the company’s Petersburg facilities has been uploaded to the Internet, and numerous negative articles have been published in newspapers. However, “according to Tikkurila management, the unpleasant video is for the most part fabricated. The shop floor [in question] was shut down half a year ago, and now it looks like this [we are shown a pleasant picture].” Sergei Kruglov, chair of the trade union committee at Tikkurila Petersburg, tells viewers that management is pressuring the union. Tikkurila Petersburg’s managing director, Simo Laitala, comments on Kruglov’s remarks: “It would be interesting to know what pressure he’s talking about. At our company, one can freely join a trade union or leave it.” This is followed by a brief prehistory of the conflict as interpreted by management: “The problems began when Tikkurila purchased TEKS [a similar paint-manufacturing plant in Petersburg] in 2006. A portion of the jobs at the plant was eliminated after production was automated. Later, problems began with a small local of the ITUA [Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers], which complains of harsh working conditions, bad wages, and bad management.”

All that the Finnish audience is told about the trade union is that it is small and “marginal,” but that it has a “large leadership”: “When it was founded, all ten members were appointed either chairs or vice chairs.” “In practice, this means they’re all protected by the law, that none of them can be fired,” comments Mr. Laitala. In its protests, the trade union “has gone surprisingly far,” says Mirja Tiri of the Finnish-Russian Chamber of Commerce: “Trade union activists have carried out actions against Tikkurila products at retail outlets. This is not normal trade union activity, but something else… The motives for such actions are not clear; we do not know who is behind them and on what principles this trade union operates. It is not known who is financing them.” Simo Laitala again comments: “I first learned about their demands through the media. They’re constantly demanding the dismissal of two people – the personnel manager and the head of security. And that the pressure against them be stopped. But outsiders cannot hire or fine anyone… There has been no pressure [on the union] on the part of company management.”

Viewers are then treated to excerpts from comments given by anonymous “experts,” “who did not consent to appear on camera.”

A representative of the Finnish Foreign Ministry: “There have been protests at certain foreign firms [operating in Russia], but there are no clear demands for improvements. The organizers [of these protests] might come from the outside or this activity might have been commissioned from outside ‘consulting companies.’”

General director of a Finnish company: “I’ve also heard that when the protesters were asked why they were participating in pickets, they replied that they didn’t know, that they’d been paid to do it.”

An employee of a Finnish company who is in charge of operations in Russia: “In Russia, there are two types of trade union organizations – those that sincerely try to improve working conditions, and those that create the problems themselves and then offer to solve them.”

Potemkin Villages

Before we evaluate this report, we have to discuss how it was filmed. In late September, ITUA activists were contacted by a group of Finnish TV journalists interested in the conflict at Tikkurila’s Petersburg facilities. The reporters simultaneously asked company management permission to film at the company’s plants. On September 28 and 30, a TV crew visited the production facilities in Obukhovo (the “old” Tikkurila plant) and on Utkin Prospect (the former TEKS plant). However, Sergei Kruglov, chair of the ITUA Tikkurila local, was able to accompany the TV crew only at the Obukhovo facility. None of the trade union’s activists was admitted into the former TEKS facility along with the TV crew. In fact, there were no other workers at the plant, either, because an inventory check had been (accidentally?) scheduled for the day shooting took place. Journalists were shown empty, ideally clean shop floors.

At the Obukhovo facility, Ms. Rennblad, director for production, proudly demonstrated to her guests a showcase shop floor that had been outfitted with recently purchased, up-to-date equipment. However, the toxic warning labels on the containers used to store harmful raw materials had been removed beforehand. Sergei Kruglov’s attempts to lead the “tourists” away from the management-approved route were peremptorily nipped in the bud. Ms. Rennblad thus categorically refused to show the journalists Shop Floor No. 1, where, according to the trade union, occupational safety rules are crudely violated (the quantity of hazardous substances present there surpasses all imaginable norms, there are no exhaust fans, etc.)

Along with detailed commentary, trade union activists supplied the journalists with a number of documents backing their accusations against Tikkurila. However, as the broadcast report shows us, all this evidence was ignored.

Lie No. 1: “A Conspiracy against Finnish Companies”

Tikkurila management declares that not only has it fallen victim to a “strange attack,” but “other Finnish firms” have been attacked as well. The anonymous spokesman for the Finnish Foreign Ministry claims that “there have been protests at certain foreign firms” without clear demands; moreover, “this activity” has been commissioned by outside forces. That is, there is a certain conspiracy against Finnish or foreign entrepreneurs in Saint Petersburg, and the ITUA’s campaign at Tikkurila is part of this conspiracy.

In reality, these claims are absolutely groundless. Tikkurila is the only Finnish company in Saint Petersburg (and, as far as we known, in all of Russia) that has sparked protests this year in connection with its violations of labor rights. The pickets held this past summer at the building supply supermarkets in the K-Rauta chain (a subsidiary of the Finnish concern Kesko) were meant to inform consumers about the exploitation of workers at Tikkurila’s Petersburg facilities and the persecution of the trade union local at the plants. It goes without saying that no complaints were directed against K-Rauta or Kesko. We requested only thing from the management of these supermarkets: that they express their displeasure over what is happening at the plants to Tikkurila management. We held exactly the same pickets outside supermarkets in the French chain Leroy Merlin. Whether a company is Finnish- or foreign-owned has never made any difference to us. We do not divide workers by nationality or race, nor do we divide employers in this way either.

When we held pickets outside the Finnish consulate in Saint Petersburg and the local office of the Finnish-Russian Chamber of Commerce, we submitted written appeals in which we asked them to put pressure on Tikkurila management. In these letters, we invariably underscored the fact that the vicious practice of repressing trade unionists harmed the reputation in Russia of the Finnish business community, which has traditionally been considered socially responsible.

Aside from Tikkurila, the ITUA has a local only at one other Finnish production facility in Saint Petersburg, Nokian Tires. In addition, there is an independent trade union at Fazer Amico (which operates cafeterias); like the ITUA, this trade union is a member of the Russian Labor Confederation (KTR). It would be wrong to say that the situation with the observance of trade right union rights is trouble-free at either of these companies, but neither the ITUA or anyone else is engaged in protest or informational campaigns against management there. Or could it be that Mr. Laitala and the anonymous commentators who support him view the very fact of a trade union being organized as a declaration of war? If that is so, then in Finland itself, with its strong, massive trade union movement, this “strange war” has already been going on for many decades.

Lie No. 2: The “Fabricated Video”

Mr. Laitala claims that the video showing the horrible working conditions in the No. 2 water-based paints manufacturing shop floor at the Utkin Prospect facility is “for the most part fabricated, [and] the shop floor was shut down half a year ago.” Tikkurila Petersburg’s managing director is lying; moreover, his lie is amateurish. As he accuses the ITUA of fabricating the video, he does not explain to a curious TV audience what exactly was fabricated and what he means by “for the most part.” Perhaps the “unpleasant video” was shot at some other company’s production facility, not at Tikkurila? Perhaps it is not Shop Floor No. 2 we see in the video, but something else? Then why does Mr. Laitala try to justify himself by claiming that the shop floor was closed half a year ago? Or are we dealing here with a clever editing job in which real footage has been mixed with faked footage? We would not advise Mr. Laitala to make such a claim, because the ITUA has the original footage in its possession and we are prepared to hand it over to independent experts for verification. Or, when he says that the shop floor was closed, is Mr. Laitala trying to accuse us of covering up certain facts?

The facts, however, are as follows: a trade union activist shot the video in question on a mobile phone on January 29. At that moment, the ITUA was fighting to have a workplace safety inspection carried out at the plant and conditions there declared hazardous; it had asked the State Labor Inspectorate and other monitoring agencies to inspect the company’s facilities. This, apparently, was the main reason why Shop Floor No. 2 was closed in February 2010. The video was edited in March, when the ITUA had launched a campaign to get fired activists reinstated to their jobs. (This is when subtitles and music were added to the documentary footage.) This is quite easy to verify because the text accompanying the video ends with the following phrase: “Since February 2010, the shop floor has been closed, and the equipment shut down […] but not disassembled. Operations in the shop floor can be resumed at any moment […] and the modern, hi-tech production process at the plant will start up once more.” That is, what Mr. Laitala claims in the given instance was something we never questioned. However, the head of Tikkurila Petersburg is merely trying to pass off one of the ITUA’s victories as evidence of the humaneness of his company, which allegedly improves the conditions of its workers of its own free will. And he tries to use this fact to discredit his opponents. Very clever!

If we had been in the shoes of the Finnish journalists, we would have asked Mr. Laitala tougher questions. For example, is it true that Tikkurila employees work with ethylene glycol, a substance that can cause severe poisoning whose symptoms include loss of consciousness, respiratory problems, and convulsions? And what about the other toxic materials used at the Petersburg facilities, such as dibutyl phthalate (whose fumes damage the mucous membranes in the gastrointestinal tract and the liver), preventol (headache, stomach pains, nausea, vomiting, rapid pulse), Dowanol (headache, dizziness, weakness, palpitations, eye irritation, watery eyes), and Varsol 40 (which, besides causing dizziness, a feeling of intoxication, weakness, eye irritation, coughing, and itchiness, is also potentially explosive)? Do workers at Tikkurila receive the required extra pay for hazardous work? Have work-safety inspections been carried out at the plants? Are workers informed about risk factors?

The most amazing thing is that the Finnish TV journalists could have asked all these questions: ITUA activists presented them with the draft of an occupational safety instruction manual that was compiled in 2008 by V.K. Vasilenko, head of the laboratory at Tikkurila, but which company management did not sign off on. However, for some reason the journalists did not ask these questions. Why didn’t they?

Lie No. 3: “Freedom”

“It would be interesting to know what pressure he’s talking about. At our company, one can freely join a trade union or leave it,” Simo Laitala cynically declares. In this case, why has practically the entire core of ITUA activists at Tikkurila been thrown out on the street, while those who remain employed at the company are being blackmailed by management into quitting the ITUA? Why has trade union committee chair Sergei Kruglov been on forced downtime since February and making only two thirds of his normal wage? Why was Igor Ramko fired as the result of a criminal investigation that began with a “tip-off” from Tikkurila and reinstated to his job (by court order) only four months later? Why is management trying to instigate a similar case (involving an allegedly faked medical certificate) against another union member, Nikolai Chuvilin? Why have five of the six disciplinary actions taken against members of the trade union committee been thrown out by the courts as unfounded? Why was Igor Tyabin forced to quit the trade union after management threatened to hold him liable for damages in the amount of 300,000 rubles? Why was Alexander Kalnyuk, a top-grade specialist and presidential medal winner who has trained more than one generation of young workers, among those who were laid off? We could continue this list of questions ad infinitum.

Of course, Tikkurila dreams up the most varied excuses to rid itself of undesirable employees. However, Mr. Laitala amusingly lets the cat out of the bag when he says, “When [the ITUA Tikkurila local] was founded, all ten members were appointed either chairs or vice chairs. […] In practice, this means they’re all protected by the law, that none of them can be fired.” Actually, if you were to take on faith Laitala’s assertion that trade union members at Tikkurila are in no way threatened, then such precautions would seem utterly superfluous. But then why have all those members except for local chair Sergei Kruglov been fired? The answer is simple: because the precautions taken by the trade union committee were not superfluous but too late. Amendments introduced late last year to the Russian Labor Code have abolished the “immunity” of elected trade union officers. Employers are now required to get approval from senior trade union officials only when they want to fire chairs of local trade union committees.

How things stand with “rights and freedoms” at Tikkurila is vividly demonstrated by an order that Mr. Laitala issued on March 22, a photocopy of which is in our possession. It reads as follows: “I hereby order that: 1.  Operating procedure (no. 2) for employees be followed in cases where requests are made to publicly comment in the mass media on events/news at the company. 2. All employees must promptly (within one working day) report requests made by journalists/media representatives to the communications director of Tikkurila, Ltd., at his work phone/mobile phone, as well as by e-mail. 3. It be considered inadmissible for employees to make public comments on corporate events/news (that have not been approved by the communications director).” Mr. Laitala might also call this document a fabrication, of course. But should we believe people who instigate fabricated criminal cases against trade union activists?

Lie No. 4: “The Trade Union Doesn’t Want Dialogue”

Simo Laitala has on more than occasion stated that he found out about the trade union’s demands from the mass media, that the trade union rejects dialogue with management, etc. Our Pinocchio is lying once again. The ITUA issued its first request for negotiations on March 30. In his reply, dated April 12, Mr. Laitala thanked the trade union and apologized for the delay in replying due to a business trip abroad. He also informed the ITUA that he would “read [our] letter and tender a reply in the near future.” Unfortunately, we never got that reply. On April 16, Boris Kravchenko, president of the All-Russia Confederation of Labor, sent an official letter to Tikkurila management, but this was likewise met with no response. On August 6, after Mr. Laitala stated in an interview with a Finnish business publication that the ITUA showed no desire to deal with company management, we sent him another appeal for negotiations. Our copy of the letter contains a notation that the letter was received at 3:20 p.m. on August 9, and recorded in the registry under No. 78 by a secretary, Ms. Suldina. Are you not ashamed, Mr. LIEtala?

Lie No. 5: “Non-Trade Union Methods”

“Trade union activists have carried out actions against Tikkurila products at retail outlets. This is not normal trade union activity, but something else,” says Mirja Tiri from the Finnish-Russian Chamber of Commerce. Ms. Tiri’s comments might make one think that she is talking about “terrorist strikes” organized by the trade union or deliberate damage inflicted on the company’s products. In reality, the “actions against Tikkurila products” were peaceful, officially permitted pickets outside shopping centers during which activists handed leaflets to shoppers asking them to boycott Tikkurila paint products until the demands of workers were met. In order to express their solidarity with the trade union’s struggle, leftist youth groups drew graffiti and distributed stickers criticizing Tikkurila. Commenting on these actions, the ITUA has invariably stated that it uses only legal methods.

If Ms. Tiri believes that pickets outside retail outlets are “not normal trade union activity, but something else,” then she is either deliberately distorting reality or she does not know what she is talking about. Trade unions all over the world resort to public boycotts against the products of companies that crudely violate the rights of workers. Examples include the boycotts against Coca Cola, Unilever, Nestle, and many other transnational corporations initiated by global trade unions. Nor is it a secret that many trade unions, including in Western Europe, resort to the radical methods of civil disobedience, which often escalate into violent confrontations with the police. It suffices to look at French and Greek trade unionists, whose radicalism the ITUA still has a very long way to go to match. But Ms. Tiri has apparently been transformed into a lowbrow Russian bureaucrat and thus approves only the style of trade union activity exemplified by “yellow,” management-run pseudo trade unions.

Lie No. 6: “Someone Is Behind” the ITUA

Ms. Tiri’s complaints to the effect that the Finnish-Russian Chamber of Commerce does not know “who is behind” the ITUA, what principles it operates on, and who finances it are hypocritical, to say the least. If the leadership of the Finnish-Russian Chamber of Commerce wanted to find out more about the work and principles of the ITUA, then there was nothing preventing them from contacting us: the trade union’s contact information is a matter of public record. However, the Chamber has done everything possible to insure that such contact has not taken place. On September 8, we held a picket outside the Petersburg office of this organization in order to draw the attention of the Finnish business community to the problems at Tikkurila. Before the picket, we sent a letter addressed to the head of this organization, Mr. Tiirikainen, requesting that he meet with the picketers, consider our appeal, and bring his influence to bear on Tikkurila management. Instead of this, however, we were confronted with the Chamber’s pointed unwillingness to engage in any dialogue whatsoever. A day before the picket, the ITUA was informed that the Chamber “cannot intervene in the activities of other commercial entities” and “is not empowered to receive official petitions” (which directly contradicted the information posted on the Chamber’s official web site). By a strange coincidence, the directors of the Petersburg office had gone on holiday the day before the picket, and we arrived to find the doors firmly locked during the height of a working day. Only after lengthy negotiations by telephone with Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly deputy Vladimir Fyodorov did Mr. Garevsky, the chamber’s legal consultant, come out to meet with the picketers. He took our letter and promised to pass it on to his superiors.

It is telling how Ms. Tiri frames the question: “We do not know who is behind [the trade union].” Apparently, she has no doubt that, aside from its dues-paying members, there is someone else behind the ITUA. In polite society, it is customary to provide proof for such claims. But because there is no proof whatsoever, the libelous accusation is disguised as hypocritical bewilderment.

The anonymous commentators from Finnish companies and the Finnish Foreign Ministry continue the relay race of brazen insinuations. One of them claims that activists from the ITUA and organizations in solidarity with it are paid for their participation in pickets. Another commentator suggests that the ITUA local at Tikkurila “create[s] the problems [itself] and then offer[s] to solve them,” while a third alludes to certain “consulting companies” who, allegedly, were commissioned to organize the “war” against Tikkurila. It is beneath our dignity to refute such insinuations. We will ask our anonymous commentators only one question: what are you afraid of? Is the ITUA really such an ominous organization that you fear for your life or your wallet? Or maybe it is a lot simpler, and you hid your faces so that you could lie with impunity?

Unprofessionalism or Corruption?

So let us summarize. On October 13, MTV3 broadcast a flagrantly biased report based wholly on statements made by Simo Laitala, Tikkurila Petersburg’s managing director; Mirja Tiri, a spokesperson for the Finnish-Russian Chamber of Commerce (which serves the interests of Finnish companies); two anonymous businessmen; and an anonymous bureaucrat from the Finnish Foreign Ministry. What guided the journalist who filed this report, Mirja Sipinen, in her choice of experts? Why didn’t she include the leaders of the ITUA and other independent trade unions, independent analysts, and, finally, rank-and-file workers? What was the decisive factor here? The absence of elementary notions of journalistic ethics? Unprofessionalism? Gullibility? Class prejudices? Or was it something else, say, a direct payoff from Tikkurila?

We are no longer surprised when we see “socially responsible” European employers adopting the worst traits of “wild” Russian capitalism. But when the democratic Finnish mass media begin adopting the mores of the corrupt and subordinated Russian press, it is shocking. However, isn’t information really just a commodity like paint? Doesn’t freedom of speech just boil down to free trade? You paint one person black, the other person, white. Everything is done to please the client – the portly gentleman puffing a cigar and wearing a top hat marked with a dollar sign.

Editor’s Note. The original Russian text of this article was provided to us by the ITUA. We have translated  and published it in solidarity with their campaign.

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Engineers of the Soul (New York City)

Инженеры человеческих душ

October 23 – December 4, 2010

Postmasters Gallery
459 West 19th Street, NYC

Opening reception: Saturday, October 23,  6-8 pm

A show about communism and artists’ relationship to power with:

Chto Delat? (What is to be Done?)
Yevgeniy Fiks
Rainer Ganahl
Lu Xiangyou
Yuri Shalamoff
Wang Jianwei

This time it’s personal.

For better or worse Tamas Banovich and I are children of Communism, having grown up in Hungary and Poland respectively. We have always wanted to organize an exhibition that brings together Communism’s past, present, and future and shows artists’ ongoing relationships to power and ideology as they negotiate the treacherous zones of propaganda and dissent.

The moment seems right. With growing political extremism at both ends of the spectrum, Communism is on our collective radar. Since the fall of the Soviet block in the early nineties, we have thought of Communism as the past, yet there are millions of people who are still living under communist regimes and many more who live with its consequences and legacies.

“Engineers of the Soul” is a cross-generational show of artists from Russia and China and a citizen of the world, Rainer Ganahl.

At the beginning of the twentieth century the emerging communist system recognized the power and usefulness of the arts to disseminate the new ideology. Lenin assigned a central role to the creative avant-garde; artists and intellectuals were granted a privileged position within the social order—as long as they obeyed, of course.

The phrase “Engineers of the Soul” was originally used by Stalin during his meeting with the Soviet writers:“The production of souls is more important than the production of tanks…. And therefore I raise my glass to you, writers, the engineers of the human soul.” (Joseph Stalin, Speech at home of Maxim Gorky, 26 October 1932). It was then taken up by Andrei Zhdanov and developed into the idea of ‘Socialist realism.’ The term is still used extensively in the People’s Republic of China to refer to the teaching profession.

the past

Two groups of historical photographs by Lu Xiangyou and Yuri Shalamoff form a symmetrical base for the exhibition. The trenches of propaganda were always located in the media (newspapers and film); photographers were deployed at the front lines of war and peace to deliver a message through their images. The photographs in the show are the real deal—rare, authentic documents, representing the leaders of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. Both photographers are unique documentarists operating in close proximity to the “party elite” (an oxymoron if there ever was one!) from the era of “humanization” of the leaders.

Both Yuri Shalamoff and Lu Xiangyou were thrown into the whirlwind of history at a young age. Yuri, a teenage veteran of Second World War, started his career in Leningrad (St Petersburg) and by 1960 worked for the Soviet daily Komsomolskaya Pravda. His photographs became the public image of the leaders of the regime, symbols of the state’s power, and the official chronicle of history (or the chronicle of official history). These were modern times: successive air-brushings of out-of-favor-politicians were replaced with the daily barrage of carefully manicured information delivered via the image. Most of Shalamoff’s negatives were confiscated by the KBG when he immigrated to the US in 1974. The ones that survived are poignant documents of this time.

Lu Xiangyou, who died in 2007, was born into an illiterate peasant family in 1928. By the age of 20 he was an important war correspondent for the People’s Liberation Army and, a few years later, the photographer for the People’s Daily and Chinese News Service. He was assigned as the official photographer of Mao Zedong, Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai and later Deng Xiaoping and Chen Yun. The images you see in the show ARE the true representation of the times. In Mr. Lu’s pictures, the transition from the cult of personality into the era of  ‘humanized’ collective leadership is apparent, particularly in the shifting representations of Mao, Deng, and others.

the present (three versions)

Yevgeniy Fiks is deeply involved in researching communist threads present in our contemporary environment. One of communism’s achievements was to make the absurd seem normal. Every year on February 16, the birthday of the “Dear Leader” of North Korea Kim Jong Il, there is a “Kimjongilia Festival” dedicated to a specially bred red begonia that flowers on this important day. According to North Korean sources, the flower symbolizes wisdom, love, justice, and peace. Fiks’s series of paintings of Kimjongilia celebrate the flower itself to focus attention on the extreme manifestations of the personal cult.

Addressing the repression of the history of the Left, Fiks will present a one time lecture/performance “Communist Tour of MoMA (the off-site lecture)” at Postmasters on November 20, at 6.30 pm. Yevgeniy will guide us through the revered temple of bourgeois art and paint the rooms pink. Fiks augments the MoMA tour-map with a layer revealing a historical aspect not usually represented on museum tours: the influence of Marxist ideology on progressive artists of the early twentieth century and their communist affiliations. Does it change our view of these works? Should it?

Wang Jianwei is a conceptual and performance artist known for his large-scale multimedia installations and videos. Wang’s recent project, “Hostage,” plugs into contemporary Chinese reality with a grand staged spectacle rooted in Chinese SocReal opera. In the choreographed, almost silent performance, the video unfolds a story of harmonious, isolated community – a perfect mechanism suddenly being shaken and destroyed by progress. We don’t know where it will end or what will replace it – the question is not answered. The camera alternately surveils the “walled” community and acts as the eye of a narrator/referee intent not to miss the nuances of the action.

“The Tower: a Songspiel” is the latest in a series of ‘”songspiels” — Brechtian musical theater video projects — by Chto Delat? (What is to be Done?), an artists collective based in St. Petersburg and Moscow. The singing video performance – a sort of “spectacle of the people for the people” — wrestles with the reality of contemporary, post-communist Russia. It tells the story of a bitter wrangling over the energy giant Gasprom’s plan to build a skyscraper into the otherwise carefully managed horizontal cityscape of St. Petersburg. The actors representing the powerful—the businessman, the Mafioso, the politician, the orthodox priest, the art dealer, and the favorite artist—are in a dialogue with the choir of ordinary people. Meant to be a straightforward, painfully accurate representation of the contemporary Russian condition, it sometimes sounds surprisingly familiar to, say, our Ground Zero saga? The script is based on research into public documents and media material about the actual ongoing debate.

the future

The tenets of communist doctrine and Diamat (dialectic materialism) are not widely understood today. In the US, the word communism is used almost as loosely as Nazism. People’s ignorance is exploited as the word is used as an insult or to instill fear. Rainer Ganahl’s video “I hate You Karl Marx” projects the current China-phobia into the future. It is 2045, Berlin…. Berlin, China. The strangely endearing rant of a young Chinese-speaking German woman directed at a statue of Marx induces a nervous smile: you want to laugh but you don’t want to appear nervous and scared. It even makes Rainer nervous.

Enjoy the show.
Magdalena Sawon and Tamas Banovich

Postmasters Gallery, located at 459 West 19th Street between 9th Avenue and 10th Avenue, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 – 6 pm.

Please contact Magdalena Sawon or Paulina Bebecka with questions and image requests:

Photo credits: Yuri Shamaloff, Nikita and Castro, 1963/2010, black and white print, 20 x 24.5 inches; Lu Xiangyou, Deng Xiaoping swimming in Dalian Bangzhui Island, 1983/2006, color photograph, 20 x 24 inches; Yevgeniy Fiks, Kimjonlilias a.k.a. “Flower Paintings” no.6, 2008, oil on canvas, 48x 48 inches; Rainer Ganahl, I Hate Karl Marx, 2010, video, 5 min 43 sec, video still.

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Happens Every Day

By Galina Stolyarova, The St. Petersburg Times

A 28-year-old suspect was beaten to death by local police who were torturing the man to get a confession from him.

The identities of the police officers who tortured the man are yet to be established. However, the local branch of the Investigative Committee of the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office has admitted the fact of “intentional grave physical injury leading to death” and said the policemen “exceeded their authority.”

Around 8 p.m. on Oct. 1, the man and his 27-year-old civil spouse — both suspected of fraud — were seized by Moskovsky district police officers and taken to a police station located at 95 Moskovsky Prospekt. Then, according to the report posted on the Investigative Committee web site, the policemen “demanded a confession from the suspect, and hit the woman at least ten times on the head. The man sustained multiple blows — inflicted with the use of both hands and feet — and was tortured by being strung up by his arms. Around 2 a.m. the following morning the man was moved to Police Station No. 12, from where he was sent to Hospital No. 26.”

The victim died at the hospital on Oct. 10 from multiple injuries, which included blood clots, brain edema, broken arms, intoxication and pneumonia.

An investigation into what the prosecutors have described as a case of “involuntary manslaughter” is now in progress.

The statement of the Investigative Committee did not use the word torture, which human rights advocates find alarming.

The definition of the word torture in Russia’s Criminal Code is different from the phrasing used by the UN Committee Against Torture.

In international law, “torture” means “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for obtaining information or a confession, punishing them for an act they have committed or are suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing them.”

By contrast, the Russian penal code defines torture simply as a form of inflicting pain. The UN committee has on several occasions advised Russia to amend its law and introduce a definition consistent with international legal practice as well as incorporate a separate article on the use of torture by law enforcement agencies, but as yet such changes have not been made.

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Resist the EDL in Amsterdam (October 30)

Amsterdam anti-fascists call for resistance to pro-Wilders EDL demonstration

‘Defence leagues’ plan Amsterdam show of support for Geert Wilders

The English Defence League and other European far-right groups modelled on the EDL are planning to demonstrate in Amsterdam in support of Geert Wilders at the conclusion of his trial for inciting racism.

On the 30th of October, the notorious racist hooligans from the English Defence League (EDL) are planning a demonstrative gathering on the Museumplein in Amsterdam.

They are doing this to express their support for Geert Wilders as he awaits the verdict in his trial on charges of incitement to hatred and discrimination. They also want to use this event to launch a pan-European movement with new divisions formed in the Netherlands and France.

The EDL are a mixed collection of racists, neo-Nazis and hefty hooligans who in Great Britain organise regular demonstrations that most of the time end in brutal violence against random members of the public, cops and counter protestors.

Only last weekend, 1500 cops in Leicester couldn’t prevent boozed up and drugged out EDL members from breaking out of their [“kettled”] demonstration and vandalising multiple shops, attempting to storm a mosque, attacking journalists and assaulting migrants.

At a previous solidarity demonstration with Wilders, masked EDL members repeatedly chanted racist abuse.

Prominent figures in the EDL include several members of the fascist BNP party, a number of hooligans convicted for serious violence, and the notorious Northern Irish terrorist Johnny “Mad Dog” Adair.

You can also find very controversial figures within the recently launched Dutch branch, the “Dutch Defence League.” A prominent role seems to be reserved for the extreme-rightwing professional activist Ben van der Kooi, a regular participant of everything from Pim Fortuijn remembrances to all-out neo-Nazi demonstrations, who in 2006 was cleared of committing arson in an Rotterdam mosque only on a technicality.

Like Wilders, the EDL/DDL offer no solution to the very real problems facing our society, but only spread their poison of hate and intolerance.

It is for this reason that Antifa!-Amsterdam and AFA (AntiFascist Action)-Netherlands call on everyone to come to the Museumplein on the 30th of October to resist this racist scum.

They appeal to anyone fed up with the tsunami of hate, discrimination and intolerance that is engulfing the Netherlands at the moment, to anyone who no longer wants to see how people are oppressed and pitted against each other. They also call on everybody to show on this day, each in their own way but loudly and clearly, that enough is more than enough.

Because as someone recently said at an information evening organised by AFA, “If the EDL are an indication of what awaits us if Wilders gets his wish for paramilitaries, then broad but uncompromising resistance is a bitter necessity.”


Editor’s Note. We have lightly edited the preceding action call to make it more readable.

As always, we are grateful for receipt of this information from the Reclaiming Spaces mailing list:

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Filed under activism, anti-racism, anti-fascism, international affairs, open letters, manifestos, appeals, racism, nationalism, fascism

São Paulo Is Burning: A Response

Editor’s note. On September 27, we posted an open declaration, entitled São Paulo Is Burning: The Spectre of Politics at the Biennial, in which the so-called Argentinean Brigade for Dilma and its supporters alleged that curators at the 29th São Paulo Biennial censored a work by the artist Roberto Jacoby. We have just received a response to this declaration from Moacir dos Anjos and Agnaldo Farias, the chief curators of the biennial, and at their request have reproduced it here in full, in Portuguese and English.


Em resposta ao texto São Paulo Arde: o espectro da polítca na Bienal, divulgado pelo artista Roberto Jacoby em seguida à solicitação de retirada ou encobrimento de parte da obra El alma nunca piensa sin imagen, exibida na 29ª Bienal de São Paulo, os curadores-chefes da exposição vêm a público declarar o seguinte:

1. Ao contrário do que o texto afirma, em momento algum o projeto apresentado à curadoria da 29ª Bienal de São Paulo pelo Sr. Roberto Jacoby fazia referência direta à campanha presidencial no Brasil. Em todas as inúmeras comunicações feitas (por email, skype e telefone), o artista afirmou querer refletir sobre processos eleitorais a partir de uma campanha fictícia e hipotética. O conteúdo das informações fornecidas pelo artista está expresso no texto que apresenta sua obra, publicado no catálogo e no site da exposição.

2. O fato de as imagens dos candidatos Dilma Roussef (PT) e José Serra (PSDB) estarem publicadas no catálogo e no site da 29ª Bienal de São Paulo não atesta, em absoluto, o conhecimento prévio da curadoria sobreo conteúdo do trabalho tal como apresentado no espaço expositivo. As imagens foram entregues pelo artista apenas ao final do prazo de fechamento da edição do catálogo, com o objetivo suposto (nenhuma informação específica ou diferente daquelas anteriormentes fornecidas foi oferecida pelo artista) de simbolizar a referida campanha fictícia e hipotética, dada a fácil identificação das imagens com o tema do trabalho. Não aceitá-las significaria deixar as páginas do catálogo em branco e não confiar na palavra do artista sobre o conteúdo de sua participação na 29ª Bienal de São Paulo. Presunção que se mostrou, como o desenrolar dos fatos iria provar, pouco prudente.

3.  Ao iniciar a montagem do trabalho, o artista e demais membros de sua equipe vestiam camisetas em apoio à candidata Dilma Roussef e passaram a desenrolar e a exibir partes das fotografias dos candidatos que afixariam em seguida nas paredes (registre-se que tais fotografias foram produzidas sem controle e sem qualquer conhecimento da instituição, por decisão do artista). Simultaneamente, foi publicada matéria no jornal O Estado de São Paulo sobre o suposto conteúdo do trabalho do artista para a 29ª Bienal de São Paulo, a partir de entrevista feita com Roberto Jacoby: estabelecer um comitê de campanha para Dilma Roussef no interior da 29ª Bienal de São Paulo, chamado “Brigada Argentina por Dilma”.

4. A curadoria imediatamente alertou o artista para os possíveis problemas que esse projeto poderia causar, por estar infrigindo Lei Federal que proíbe a realização de propaganda eleitoral em prédios públicos (o pavilhão da Bienal é propriedade da Prefeitura de São Paulo) durante o período de campanha política. Essa infração seria ainda acompanhada por uma outra igualmente grave: fazer campanha eleitoral com recursos públicos (a 29ª Bienal de São Paulo é majoritariamente financiada com recursos públicos provenientes da Lei Rouanet). O Sr. Roberto Jacoby tranquilizou os curadores, afirmando que não descumpriria nenhuma lei brasileira, e que não nos preocupássemos.  Segundo nos garantiu, os jornalistas teriam interpretado mal o que havia dito. Uma vez mais, confiamos e acreditamos no artista. Recorremos na imprudência.

5. Na noite de abertura da 29ª Bienal de São Paulo para convidados (21 de setembro), o Sr. Roberto Jacoby e os demais membros da “Brigada Argentina por Dilma” distribuíram ao público, ao contrário do que o artista havia afirmado, farta propaganda eleitoral em favor de Dilma Roussef, além de difundirem, em monitor posto na sala de exposição, depoimentos gravados de várias pessoas em apoio à candidata.

6. Alertados por membros do próprio Governo Lula (preocupados com a possível repercussão negativa que o uso de recursos liberados pelo Ministério da Cultura fossem utilizados para fazer campanha ilegal de sua candidata) e por juristas consultados informamente, a Presidência da Fundação Bienal de São Paulo decidiu consultar formalmente a justiça eleitoral sobre a situação. A resposta foi bastante clara: o trabalho do Sr. Roberto Jacoby configurava crime eleitoral e poderia, se autuado e julgado como tal, comprometer a capacidade da instituição em estabelecer convênios com órgãos públicos no futuro . A Presidência da Fundação Bienal de São Paulo e a curadoria da 29ª Bienal de São Paulo decidiram não incorrer em riscos que, causados pela má-fé do Sr. Roberto Jacoby, pudessem comprometer o processo de recuperação da instituição, que há menos de dois anos era dada como falida. Como gestores públicos, seria ato de injustificável irresponsabilidade com um bem público que ora é devolvido à sociedade brasileira.

7. Ao contrário do que o texto divulgado pelo Sr. Roberto Jacoby afirma, o alerta de um dos curadores a respeito dos riscos de penalização pessoal da situação se referia ao próprio artista, e não aos curadores. Se a instituição Fundação Bienal de São Paulo era, perante a justiça, certamente co-responsável pela situação, do ponto de vista pessoal era o artista quem estava infrigindo a lei eleitoral do país. Esperamos, contudo, que essa falsa informação contida no texto tenha sido devida a um problema de “desentendimento línguístico” e não a mais um ato de má-fe do artista.

8. Deixe-se aqui claro que a postura da curadoria da 29ª Bienal de São Paulo é a de defender toda e qualquer proposta artística desde que não esteja transgredindo normas legais. Pode-se discordar dessa postura (“covarde”, diria o Sr. Roberto Jacoby), mas acreditamos que é uma postura responsável e ética quando se está trabalhando com recursos públicos, arrecadados e distribuídos também sob preceitos estabelecidos em lei em um regime democrático. É por essa razão que a curadoria está defendendo a permanência de outras obras que também têm se mostrado polêmicas na 29ª Bienal de São Paulo ao mesmo tempo em que solicitou ao Sr. Roberto Jacoby o encobrimento ou retirada unicamente dos itens de sua obra que configuravam propaganda eleitoral em favor da candidata Dilma Roussef. Enquanto as primeiras não estão infrigindo qualquer lei acordada por princípios democráticos (ainda que pessoas ou grupos sociais se sintam ofendidos por elas e se manifestem ativa e livremente contra a permanência dessas obras na mostra dentro e fora do espaço da Bienal), o trabalho do Sr. Roberto Jacoby desafia a lei brasileira que regula campanhas eleitorais no país.

9. Ao contrário do que o documento divulgado pelo Sr. Roberto Jacoby sugere, todo elemento discursivo e participativo que seu projeto continha (debates, oficinas, etc) foi mantido, inclusive com críticas diretas e com frequência ofensivas aos curadores da 29ª Bienal de São Paulo, à instituição e ao sistema da arte em geral. A idéia de que o artista e sua “Brigada Argentina por Dilma” redigissem o texto aqui comentado (São Paulo Arde: o espectro da polítca na Bienal) e o afixasse no espaço expositivo foi, ademais, uma sugestão da própria curadoria, como o próprio Sr. Roberto Jacoby certamente pode atestar. A lastimar apenas a inclusão não-autorizada dos nomes de respeitadas pesquisadoras brasileiras como signatárias desse documento, que, em correspondência privada aos curadores e também aos responsáveis pela divulgação do texto do Sr. Roberto Jacoby, afirmaram não ter concordado nem com o conteúdo nem com os termos do texto escrito pelo artista e que não haviam autorizado a inclusão de seus nomes na lista de seus apoiadores, levando-as a ir pessoalmente ao espaço expositivo para retirar o seu nome da mesma. É lamentável que, mesmo após a manifestação das pesquisadoras, a lista continue a ser divulgada em diversos sítios da internet com suas assinaturas, induzindo os leitores a grave erro. Também ficou acertado entre curadoria e artista, sob o testemunho de diversos outros membros da “Brigada Argentina por Dilma” e da Bienal de São Paulo, que o presente texto, esclarecendo os motivos da curadoria, seria redigido e afixado junto ao texto do artista no espaço expositivo. Assim, em momento algum, a sua “máquina de produzir antagonismos”, como ele mesmo a designa, foi desativada. Os únicos elementos dela retirados foram aqueles que configuravam crime eleitoral no Brasil, conforme dito acima.

10. A posição de vítima em que o Sr. Roberto Jacoby se coloca não condiz com a natureza de seus atos durante todo o processo que antecedeu a abertura da 29ª Bienal de São Paulo. Além dos fatos já relatados acima, o artista e demais membros da “Brigada Argentina por Dilma” criaram, ao longo da montagem da mostra, situações que visaram tão somente acirrar os ânimos entre o grupo e a instituição, em prática que desnuda as práticas políticas que o Sr. Roberto Jacoby realmente preza. O mais grave é que tais práticas tiveram como alvo preferencial o trabalho de outros artistas presentes na mostra, que em dois casos foram literalmente escalados por membros da “Brigada Argentina por Dilma”, colocando em risco a sua integridade (fatos lamentáveis presenciados por dezenas de pessoas que trabalhavam no prédio incluindo, em uma das ocasiões, um dos curadores-chefes). O desrespeito explícito pelo trabalho alheio (também expresso em provocações verbais durante todo o processo de montagem) diz muito do grau de autoritarismo que a prática do Sr. Roberto Jacoby embute, ainda quando travestida de correção política.

11. Por essas razões, é razoável supor que o Sr. Roberto Jacoby não se importe nem um pouco com os desdobramentos negativos que seu trabalho viesse a provocar sobre a inserção da Bienal de São Paulo no corpo social brasileiro, posto que parece basear sua prática em uma oposição simplista e retrógada entre artista e instituição. Menos que um real comprometimento com as mudanças sociais que uma eventual vitória da candidata Dilma Roussef possa representar para o Brasil e o continente latino-americano, o que parece de fato lhe interessar é a criação de um embate artificial entre o seu trabalho e os limites do meio artístico, causando o máximo de efeito midiático em proveito próprio. Não temos quaisquer problemas em admitir que, no presente caso, chegamos aos limites da instituição, e que tal admissão permita que o trabalho do artista “funcione” a contento. Não surpreendentemente, o Sr. Roberto Jacoby afirmou, durante a reunião em que comunicamos a impossibilidade da permanência dos elementos da propaganda eleitoral na obra, que documentaria todo o processo de retirada/encobrimento desses elementos para inclui-lo como parte de projeto para a próxima Bienal de Veneza. O texto supra-referido, acreditamos, certamente também será parte desse trabalho, e desde já autorizamos este nosso texto a também ser integrado ao projeto do Sr. Roberto Jacoby, caso ele assim o deseje e desde que o inclua na íntegra. Nossa contribuição à sua prática.

12. Quanto à referência à inclusão do Tucumán Arde na 29ª Bienal de São Paulo sob o título Grupo de Arte de Vanguardia, em que o Sr. Roberto Jacoby afirma tratar-se de mais uma prova da falta de comprometimento da curadoria com a radicalidade do fato político, temos a declarar o seguinte:  1. São amplamente conhecidas as divergências que existem, entre pesquisadores do tema (inclusive entre alguns dos signatários do documento escrito pelo artista), sobre as formas de apresentação e de nomeação desse complexo evento ocorrido na Argentina em 1968; 2. Optamos por adotar o formato e a maneira de titular em diálogo com pesquisadores e curadores do Museu de Arte Contemporánea de Barcelona (MACBA), proprietário do acervo documental que foi emprestado para exibição na 29ª Bienal de São Paulo. Chega a ser constrangedora, contudo, a aproximação, sugerida no texto divulgado pelo Sr. Jacoby, entre o evento Tucumán Arde e o projeto por ele apresentado na 29ª Bienal de São Paulo em termos de sua relevância politica. Este, sim, é um fato que diz muito a respeito dos abusos que a palavra “política” é hoje submetida no campo da arte.

Moacir dos Anjos  e Agnaldo Farias, curadores-chefes da 29ª Bienal de São Paulo


In response to the text São Paulo Arde: o espectro da política na Bienal (São Paulo Is Burning: The Spectre of Politics at the Biennial), made public by the artist Roberto Jacoby as a riposte to the demand that part of his work El alma nunca piensa sin imagen, featured at the 29th São Paulo Bienal, be removed or covered over, the chief curators of the exhibition wish to declare the following:

1. Contrary to affirmations in the abovementioned text, at no time did the project for the work submitted to the curators of the 29th São Paulo Biennial make any direct reference to the 2010 presidential elections in Brazil. Throughout the extensive communication maintained with Mr. Jacoby (by e-mail, Skype and telephone), the artist asserted that he intended to use a fictitious and hypothetical campaign as a platform for reflection upon electoral processes in general. The information supplied by the artist can be seen in the text presenting his work in the exhibition catalogue and on the Biennial website.

2. The fact that the photographs of the candidates Dilma Roussef (PT) and José Serra (PSDB) were published in the 29th São Paulo Biennial catalogue and website in absolutely no way attests to any prior knowledge of the final content of the work on the part of the curators. The pictures were delivered by the artist at the very last moment before the publication went to print, with the supposed objective (the artist gave us no reason to think otherwise) of merely symbolizing the abovementioned fictitious and hypothetical campaign, given the ready identification between the images and the theme of the work. To not have accepted them would have meant leaving catalogue pages blank and not taking the artist at his word. As the subsequent facts would categorically show, our trust was misplaced.

3.  During the installation of the work, the artist and his team wore T-shirts in support of Dilma Roussef and began to unfold and display the photographs of the candidates that were then fixed to the walls (note that these photographs were produced, at the artist’s behest, without the knowledge of, or input from, the institution). In tandem with this, an article based on an interview with Roberto Jacoby appeared in the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo discussing the alleged intent behind the artist’s work: to set up a Dilma Roussef campaign post, under the title “Argentinean Brigade for Dilma,” inside the 29th São Paulo Biennial.

4. The curators immediately notified the artist of the possible problems this project could cause, as it constituted an infringement of Brazilian electoral law, which prohibits political propaganda in public buildings during electoral campaigns (the Biennial Pavilion belongs to the municipality of São Paulo). On top of this infraction was another ­− no less grave − that concerned the use of public funds for campaign purposes (the 29th Biennial derives most of its funding from government-sponsored tax rebates through the Rouanet Law). Alleging that he had been misinterpreted by the journalists, Mr. Jacoby assured the curators that his work would not be in breach of any Brazilian legislation and that there was no need to worry. Once again, our trust was misguided.

5. On the opening night of the 29th São Paulo Biennial (September 21), contrary to the assurances made to the curators, Mr. Roberto Jacoby and the rest of his “Argentinean Brigade for Dilma” not only distributed campaign pamphlets in favor of Dilma Roussef, but ran video footage featuring declarations of support for the candidate.

6. Alerted by members of the Lula government (concerned with the repercussions of Culture Ministry funds being used to campaign illegally for their candidate) and by jurists consulted informally, the Presidency of the São Paulo Biennial Foundation decided to consult the electoral tribunal as to the legality of the situation. The response was unequivocal: Mr. Roberto Jacoby’s work constituted an electoral crime that, if prosecuted, could disqualify the institution from receiving public funds in the future. The Presidency and curatorship of the 29th São Paulo Biennial decided not to take any risks that might – by Mr. Jacoby’s willful deception – compromise the drive to restore the image of an institution considered practically defunct only two years earlier. As public administrators, to have run such a risk would have been an unjustifiable irresponsibility toward a public asset and Brazilian society.

7. Contrary to assertions in Mr. Jacoby’s text, the warning made by one of the curators concerning the possible penalization referred specifically to Mr. Jacoby and not to the curators. While the São Paulo Biennial Foundation was certainly co-responsible for the contravention, personal responsibility for infringing the nation’s electoral legislation lay with Mr. Jacoby alone. We hope that this disinformation was due to some “linguistic misunderstanding” on the part of Mr. Jacoby, rather than another attempt to deceive.

8. Let it be made clear that the curatorial policy of the 29th São Paulo Biennial is to defend all artistic projects so long as they abide by the legal norms. Some may disagree with this policy (deemed “cowardly” by Mr. Jacoby), but we believe that there is no other responsible or ethical position to assume when handling public resources raised and disbursed according to precepts established under democratic law. In line with this posture, the curators have defended the permanence of other works considered controversial at the 29th São Paulo Biennial and requested that Mr. Jacoby cover or remove only those aspects of his work that constituted pro-Dilma Roussef propaganda. The difference between these other much-criticized works (considered offensive by certain individuals and social groups that demonstrated freely, both inside and outside the Biennial, against their presence in the exhibition) and Mr. Jacoby’s is that while the latter infringes upon the legislation that regulates electoral campaigning in Brazil, the former break no laws.

9. Contrary to what the text released by Mr. Jacoby suggests, every single discursive and participative element in his work was maintained (debates, workshops, etc.), including those with direct criticisms of and frequent offences against the curators of the Biennial, the institution itself and the art system in general. The idea that the artist and his “Argentinean Brigade for Dilma” should write the text mentioned here (“São Paulo Is Burning: The Spectre of Politics at the Biennial”) and post it on the wall in the exhibition space was, in fact, a suggestion from the curators, as Mr. Jacoby could surely confirm. However, we deplore the unauthorized use of the names of respected Brazilian researchers as signatories of this document, who, in private correspondence with the curators and those responsible for publicizing Mr. Jacoby’s text, stated that they did not agree with either the content or the tone of the text and that they had not authorized the inclusion of their names on the list. As a result, they felt compelled to come to the Biennial Pavilion personally to remove their names from the petition. It is lamentable that this list continues to circulate unchanged on websites, inducing the reader to serious error. It was also agreed between the curators and the artist, as witnessed by members of his “Argentinean Brigade for Dilma” and members of the São Paulo Biennial, that the present text, clarifying the position of the curators, would be posted alongside the artist’s in that same exhibition space.  At no time, therefore, was his self-styled “Machine for producing antagonisms” shut down. The only elements removed were those that constituted an electoral crime under Brazilian law.

10. The role of victim Mr. Roberto Jacoby has assumed is not borne out by his conduct throughout the whole process that preceded the opening of the 29th São Paulo Biennial. In addition to the facts related above, the artist and fellow members of the “Argentinean Brigade for Dilma” went out of their way to sour relations between the group and the institution, unmasking exactly the kinds of political practice Mr. Jacoby really upholds. Gravest of all is that the group’s preferred targets were the exhibits of other artists, two of which were literally climbed upon by the “Argentinean Brigade for Dilma,” placing their integrity at risk (lamentable turns of events witnessed by dozens of people working in the building, including, on one occasion, one of the chief curators). This explicit disrespect for the work of others (also expressed through verbal provocations during the installation of the exhibition) says a lot about the level of authoritarianism in Mr. Jacoby’s behavior, albeit dressed up as political correctness.

11. It is therefore reasonable to assume that Mr. Jacoby is not remotely concerned with the negative impact his work could have had on the Biennial’s insertion within the Brazilian social corpus, seeing as he seems to base his practice upon a simplistic and retrograde opposition between the artist and the institution. Rather than a real commitment to the social change that a potential victory of Dilma Roussef might represent for Brazil and Latin America, Mr. Jacoby’s actions betray a desire to engineer a conflict between his work and the limits of the artistic milieu, purely in the interests of media exposure and self-promotion. We have no problem whatsoever in admitting that, in this particular situation, we have come to the limits of the institution, and that, in this sense, Mr. Jacoby’s work “achieved” its desired goal. Not surprisingly, during the meeting at which he was informed of the need to remove elements of electoral propaganda from his work, Mr. Roberto Jacoby said he would document the whole covering/removal of said elements in order to include the footage in the work he is preparing for the next Venice Biennale. We believe that the abovementioned text will also be a part of this work and make a point of authorizing the inclusion of the present text as well, should Mr. Jacoby so wish, and on condition that it be reproduced in full.  Consider it our contribution to his process.

12. As for the reference to the inclusion of Tucumán Arde in the 29th São Paulo Biennial under the title Grupo de Arte de Vanguardia, which Mr. Jacoby takes as further proof of the curators’ lack of commitment to the radical nature of the political fact, we would like to declare the following: 1. there is no secret as to the ranging divergences that exist among researchers (including some of the signatories to the artist’s text) concerning how this complex event that took place in Argentina in 1968 should be presented and designated; 2. The adopted format and designation was established through dialogue with researchers and curators from the Museu de Arte Contemporánea de Barcelona (MACBA), the owners of the documental material lent to the 29th São Biennial for exhibition. Mr. Jacoby’s attempt to liken his work presented at the Biennial with Tucumán Arde in terms of political relevance, however, borders on the embarrassing and says a lot about the abuses to which the word “political” is subjected in the art field today.

Moacir dos Anjos and Agnaldo Farias, chief curators of the 29th São Paulo Biennial

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Court Experiment (Kyiv)

Visual Culture Research Center, the Center for Social Research, and Hudrada Curatorial Union in cooperation with

12 October – 12 November 2010, Kyiv

Court Experiment

Court Experiment is a statement against the judicial prosecution of Ukrainian activists for expressing disagreement with existing injustices. It is an action of solidarity with prosecuted activists Yevgenia Belorusets, Andriy Movchan, Serhiy Movchan and Olexandr Wolodarsky, whose trials have been going on for years. The project started with visits to the court hearings by people who wanted to express their support for the accused activists. Among them were activists, journalists, academics, and artists.

Court Experiment is an attempt to attract public attention both to these concrete cases of prosecution and more generally to the judicial system, which as part of the capitalist economy is an instrument of violence and injustice. The second important goal of the exhibition is to reveal the real things against which the activists protested – the destructive expansion of capital in the social sphere and the increase of moral censorship as an authoritarian symptom – framing them in the wider context of the political, cultural, and social circumstances inherent to post-Soviet society.

The exhibition consists of works by artists and documentation of the court hearings, which has been made collectively. Only documentary materials will be presented at the opening; later, the space will gradually fill with individual works by artists. The process of filling the space will be accompanied by discussions, screenings, performances, and seminars. Court Experiment is an installation-in-process, which by imitating the cyclical unfolding of the trials against the activists addresses the subjects of political action within the field of articulation between art, knowledge, and politics.

The exhibition presents works by Yevgeniya Belorusets, David Chichkan, Ksenia Hnylytska, Nikita Kadan, Yulia Kostereva, Yuriy Kruchak, Vasyl Lozynskyy, Lada Nakonechna, Mykola Ridniy, Oleksiy Salmanov, Oleksandr Wolodarsky, and Anna Zvyagintseva. The court drawings, photos, and installation of documentary material have been produced by Anatoliy Belov, Yevgeniya Belorusets, Oleksandr Burlaka, Nikita Kadan, Dmytro Myronchuk, Viktor Wolodarsky, and Anna Zvyagintseva. The exhibition is organized by the Hudrada Curatorial Union.

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No Borders Activists Arrested and Tortured in Belgium

7 October 2010

This is an urgent Pluto  Press action mail. It includes shocking details of police brutality towards one of our authors and others during the No Borders Camp in Brussels. We ask those who feel that the actions of the police are unacceptable to email the Belgian Ambassador in their territory.

Pluto author arrested and tortured in Belgium

Shocking news reaches us via Red Pepper about police brutality towards our author and other activists during the No Borders Camp in Brussels. Last Friday, October 1 2010, during the No Border Camp, a convergence of struggles aiming to end the system of borders that divide us all, Marianne Maeckelbergh (US citizen and professor at the University of Leiden, Netherlands), a former Red Pepper worker, current contributor and a long-time global justice activist and the author of The Will of the Many: How the Alterglobalisation Movement Is Changing the Face of Democracy, was arrested for taking pictures while police were making arrests in Brussels, Belgium.

Having just entered Belgium some two hours earlier, she witnessed violent arrests on the street. When Marianne began taking pictures, she was arrested. She was taken into police custody where she was violently dragged by her hair, chained to a radiator, hit, kicked, spat upon, called a whore, and threatened with sexual assault by the police. She also witnessed the torture of another prisoner also chained to a radiator.

This did not take place not in a dark corner of the police station but out in the open, directly witnessed by police station authorities, who gave the impression that this was standard practice. Police removed her ID card, USB stick, the camera with the photos on it, as well as 25 euros in cash – to date they have refused to return her property.

Roughly 500 people were arrested, many preemptively, including people involved in the No Borders Camp and other protest activities including an alleged attack on a police station. Marianne has now been released, but as of Wednesday 6 October, 2010 at least four people are still incarcerated.

Your help is needed to secure the release of the remaining prisoners and to demand that the police are held accountable.


  • If you are in the UK, call, email or fax Belgium’s UK Ambassador, H.E. Ambassador Johan Verbeke to demand the immediate release of all prisoners and express your outrage at the torture, abuse, and unjust incarceration of Marianne and others.
  • Ambassador’s Secretariat Tel: 020 7470 3700,
  • If you are based elsewhere, contact the Belgiam Ambassador for your country. A list of ambassadors can be found on Wikipedia, but please cross-check with another source before using, as it appears to be incomplete and out of date in some cases.
  • For more information, contact Adam


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Etats de l’Artifice (Paris)

Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris / ARC


Victor Alimpiev, Olga Chernysheva, Chto Delat, FFC, Nikolay Oleynikov

Press preview:  October 7th, 11am – 2pm.

Preview:  October 7th, 6pm9pm. Entrance upon presentation of this announcement.

Salle 18

8 October 2010 – 2 January 2011

Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris presents Etats de l’Artifice, curated by Elena Sorokina, running from October 8th 2010 through January 2nd 2011. This exhibition is organized in the framework of the l’Année France-Russie 2010.

This exhibition presents four artists and collectives who regularly employ theatrical situations in their videos and films. Some works explicitly revive filmed theater or dance, while others utilize the technique of “performance trouvé” —  scenes discovered by the camera in a documentary situation and used as a constitutive element of the film. A blend of theatrical devices and formal reflexivity carried out in diverse ways characterizes the work of the show, all produced from mid 2000 on. If the 90s celebrated violent self-expression in radical performances reacting to new freedoms and their illusions, today many artists employ reflective strategies marked by formal experimentation, often incorporating references to the styles or events of the Soviet past.

Rather then following a specific theme, this exhibition unfolds along two broadly defined leitmotifs. One focuses on the artists’ self-conscious engagement with the specific elements — stories, films, imagery — from the Soviet realist canon, exploring its conflicts and correspondences and making the spectator experience old debates and events as new encounters. The other takes up art’s current fascination with theater’s transformative power and its ability to speak about the present, sometimes described as “the present as fiction” or l’artifice du present.

The exhibition will change over time following a specific timeline and involves the projection of different groupings of films selected.

The videos by Chto Delat, founded in 2003, are realized by: Tsaplya (Olga Egorova); Nikolay Oleynikov, Gluklya (Natalya Pershina-Yakimanskaya), Nina Gasteva, Dmitry Vilensky. Composer: Mikhail Krutik.

FFC (Factory of Found Clothes), founded in 1995, consists of Tsaplya (Olga Egorova) and Gluklya (Natalya Pershina-Yakimanskaya)

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