It’s a War on War (The Persecution of Voina)

To find out more about the work and history of the Voina group, the story of their arrest and updates in this case, and how you can help the arrested activists with their legal defense and in spreading the word about this case, go to Free Voina.

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http://vpered.org.ru/index.php?id=690&category=2

Free Voina!

At 3:00 p.m. on December 18, a demonstration entitled “Free Voina!” will take place on Pushkinskaya Square in central Moscow.

On November 15, Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev, activists of the Voina group, were captured in Moscow, transported to Petersburg, and thrown into prison. At present, they have been charged under Paragraph b, Part 1, Article 213 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code (“criminal mischief motivated by hatred or hostility toward a social group” – in this case, that “social group” is the police). The police continue to apply pressure on Vorotnikov and Nikolayev, including physical coercion.

Over the past two years, the actions of the Voina group have sparked a wide variety of public reactions. Some have admired their audacity and wit; others have doubted whether they what to do rightfully belongs to the realm of art; still others have condemned them for disturbing the peace. One thing cannot be denied: Voina has confronted society with the problem of its own powerlessness in the face of state tyranny and done this in a maximally poignant fashion.

Vorotnikov and Nikolayev are accused of “criminal mischief,” which consisted in causing minor damage to one of the Russian police’s numerous patrol cars. The reaction on their part was not long in coming: an assault team from Petersburg carried out a genuine special-forces operation in Moscow.

Today, the Russian state does not try to convince anyone that its laws apply equally to everyone. Notorious “cases” like the one against Voina should in fact prove that the reverse is true: they are meant to show everyone else not WHAT actions are unacceptable, but rather WHO is not permitted to commit such actions. It is no accident that such an important role in Russian repressive practice is played by various emergency “anti-extremist” laws and “aggravating circumstances” in ordinary cases of disorderly conduct: the exclusivity of such legal practice manifests our society’s formal inequality and stratification.

Law in this case forfeits all signs of universality and becomes the subjective right of a particular group to commit certain acts. To have the right to overturn cars or beat people, for example, one has to be a member of the group that Voina has now been charged with inciting hatred towards.

The legal defense of Voina should thus begin with self-determination on the part of each person: what group, community and class you belong to, and what rights you want to receive as a member of that group. Rich people, bureaucrats, and the police have special rights: they have the means to defend these rights and get the message out to everyone else that their rights must be respected. The activists of Voina, the farmers of Kushchevskaya, and the residents of Khimki are part of the huge majority, a majority deprived of any rights whatsoever, even the most elementary. Each of these rights – the right to strike, the right to a clean environment, the right to assemble freely – has to be fought and won. These rights even include the right to offend the police, if there are grounds for giving such offense: in Russia, there is more than sufficient cause to want to do this.

Each case like the criminal case brought against Voina has nothing to do with obeying the laws: no one has given a damn about these laws for a long while, especially the people who draft them.  The case against Voina is a battlefield where our rights are being fought over. At the end of the day, one of these rights is the right to speak ever more openly and loudly about our rights without fear of punishment. If Voina is convicted and sent to prison, the space of THEIR rights will become a little bit larger, while the space of OUR rights will shrink by the same amount. If this case falls apart, then it will be the other way round.

The case against Voina concerns each and every one of us.

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The St. Petersburg Times
Issue #1634 (95), Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Banksy, Human Rights Activists Back Voina
By Sergey Chernov, The St. Petersburg Times

Human rights activists have criticized the imprisonment of two members of the radical art group Voina [“War”] as illegal, while British graffiti artist Banksy has joined the international campaign demanding the release of the artists.

Banksy pledged to donate the proceeds from the sale of a limited series of his prints to Voina. The 175 prints in the “Choose Your Weapon” series were sold Monday via the web site Picturesonwalls.com, reportedly generating 4.5 million rubles ($147,000) for the artists and their families.

Artists Leonid Nikolayev and Oleg Vorotnikov were arrested in Moscow last month and taken to St. Petersburg, where they were placed in a pretrial detention center.

Nikolayev and Vorotnikov reportedly took part in a stunt that involved overturning several police cars at night — some of which had police officers inside — and have been charged with criminal mischief motivated by political, racial, national or religious hatred or hostility, or motivated by hatred or hostility toward a particular social group. The offence is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Called “Palace Revolution,” the stunt was meant to demand, “metaphorically, the reform of the Interior Ministry and an end to police arbitrariness,” art critic and philologist Alexei Plutser-Sarno, described as Voina’s “ideologist,” told The St. Petersburg Times late last month. Within days, he fled to Tallinn, Estonia for fear of arrest.

The artists’ lawyer, Anastasia Yekimovskaya, said at a press conference Monday that the charges cannot be proven because the police lack credible sources of information, with the charges mainly based on a video that Voina uploaded onto the Internet.

The imprisoned artists, who have been in custody for more than three weeks, are refusing to speak to investigators, citing the constitutional right of suspects not to give evidence against themselves, Yekimovskaya said.

Analysis presented by the Moscow-based watchdog group Sova Center at the press conference argued that the law being used against Nikolayev and Vorotnikov is poorly formulated and being incorrectly applied, a fact that poses a threat to society.

According to Sova, Voina’s members did not commit a crime that could be qualified as criminal mischief or anything for which they could be persecuted under anti-extremist laws. It also argued that the imprisonment of the artists is not proportionate to their danger to society, pointing out that a suspect in the beating of a Cameroon citizen in St. Petersburg was released earlier this year after pledging not to leave the city before the court hearing.

Stefania Kulayeva of the Memorial rights group described Voina’s case as “political.”

“They expressed their protest — whether artistically or not — and they have been accused of committing a crime for this protest,” Kulayeva said. “It’s a political case. If they are sentenced to prison terms, we will all be guilty and pay with not only their freedom, but with ours too.”

Voina also hit the headlines earlier this year when they painted a giant penis on Liteiny bridge opposite the FSB headquarters in St. Petersburg back in June.

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December 2, 2010
The Art of War
Rose Griffin
Russia Profile
The Arrest of Two St. Petersburg-based Artists Raises Fresh Concerns about Freedom of Expression in Russia

Russian guerilla art group Voina (War) have caused controversy over the last two years with a number of shocking and often grotesque actions aimed at the Russian establishment. But the group suffered a setback this month, when two members were charged over a protest against the police that took place in St. Petersburg in September. Another member of the group is now reportedly hiding in Estonia. With little support from their fellow artists in Russia, does this spell the end for the anarchic collective?

On November 15 Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolaev, both members of Voina, were arrested in connection with the “Palace Revolution” action staged by the group two months earlier. The project involved turning seven police cars upside down in the center of St. Petersburg as a protest against malpractice in the police force.

On November 26 the Web portal Russian News Service reported that Alexei Plucer-Sarno, one of Voina’s ideologists, had fled Russia for Estonia, quoting Plucer-Sarno as saying that he was under threat of investigation by the authorities. “Yes I’m in Tallinn, practically without documents. Some influential Estonian friends got me across the border,” Plucer-Sarno said.

This is a major blow to the coalition, which was founded in 2007 around a core group of philosophy students from Moscow State University. Their sometimes explicit actions have targeted Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, as well as institutions such as the police and the Orthodox Church. It is, therefore, perhaps surprising that members of the group were not arrested earlier. Voina’s anti-Medvedev protest “F**k for the heir, Puppy Bear!” took place on the eve of President Dmitry Medvedev’s election and featured couples, including a heavily pregnant woman, having sex publicly in the Timiryazev Biology Museum in Moscow. “In Memory of the Decembrists – A Present to Yuri Luzhkov,” featured a staged hanging of two homosexuals and three central Asian guest workers, attacking the mayor for his homophobic stance and the dangerous living conditions for migrant workers in the capital.

“Palace Revolution” was not the first time the group attacked the police. In their “Cop in a Priest’s Robe” project, Vorotnikov, dressed in a priest’s cassock and a police hat, went into up-market grocery chain Sedmoy Kontinent, helped himself to food and alcohol, and left without paying, thus protesting against the church and police being above the law.

But although the group has built up a strong reputation and some support for exposing flaws in contemporary Russian society, it has received little help from the artistic community in the last two weeks. This is something which another Russian artist, Lena Hades, is familiar with. “It is rare for artists to support each other in such cases, although there are a few exceptions,” Hades said. “Since the arrests, we have seen nothing like the show of support that Oleg Kashin, for example, received from the journalistic community.” She puts this down to competitiveness and a lack of solidarity. “Each artist sees a rival, a competitor for attention, not a fellow artist,” Hades said.

Hades was convicted in summer of inciting hatred with two of her works, “The Chimera of the Mysterious Russian Soul,” which mocked several Russian institutions, and “Our Russia,” which featured an Orthodox prayer alongside obscenities.

There is a degree of solidarity between Hades and Plucer, however, and she said that when she was on trial, Plucer supported her by writing about her case. Hades is hopeful that the group will continue to operate, but stressed that the arrests and Plucer’s exile will take a huge toll. “At the moment, the group is really without a head, maybe they’ll get a new leader. I hope they’ll be able to continue,” she said.

[Article continued at link above.]

1 Comment

Filed under activism, contemporary art, open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, protests, Russian society

One response to “It’s a War on War (The Persecution of Voina)

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