Monthly Archives: July 2011

Waging War (Sergey Chernov interviews Oleg Vorotnikov)

The St. Petersburg Times
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Waging War
Now in hiding, the award-winning, politically minded Voina art group is preparing a new stunt
By Sergey Chernov

The state’s pressure on the radical art group Voina — famous for its spectacular stunts spoofing the Russian authorities and the police — has increased in recent days, despite the broad recognition the group garnered after winning an important state-sponsored art prize, invitations to high-profile international art events, and the worldwide attention they have attracted.

Late last week, a local Petersburg court confiscated the bail money deposited for the release of Oleg Vorotnikov, the group’s de facto leader. The money (300,000 rubles, or $10,800) had been donated by British street artist Banksy from the proceeds of a special print sale in support of the group’s arrested members. The court ruled that Vorotnikov should be detained and placed in a pre-trial detention center for two months; it also issued an international search warrant for him. A national search warrant for Vorotnikov had been issued in May.

Despite attempts by officials to exclude Voina from the list of nominees, the Innovation Prize was awarded to them for “Dick Captured by the FSB” – a huge image of a penis painted on Liteiny Bridge, near the local headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB), in June 2010. The artists, however, are facing criminal prosecution for another stunt, “Palace Revolution,” which reportedly involved the overturning of one or more police cars in St. Petersburg in September 2010.

According to the artists, the action was a metaphorical demand for reform of the Interior Ministry and an end to police lawlessness.

In November 2010, Voina’s Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev were arrested in a Moscow apartment and taken in a bus, handcuffed and with plastic bags over their heads, to St. Petersburg, where they were charged with criminal mischief motivated by hatred toward a particular social group (in this case, the police) and remanded to a pre-trial detention center for three months. The offence is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

After Vorotnikov and Nikolayev were released on bail in February, the group became seriously involved in civil rights activism by helping prisoners whose sentences or lengthy pre-trial detentions appear to be connected with their political activism.

The artists have used the remainder of Banksy’s donation (4.5 million rubles, or $160,735) to help a number of political prisoners such as Taisia Osipova, a woman from Smolensk, in western Russia, who has been charged with drugs possession. Her supporters claim that police planted the drugs they allegedly found in her apartment during a search. Osipova is in her ninth month of pre-trial detention despite the prosecution’s dubious case, and despite the fact that she suffers from diabetes and has a young daughter.

Human rights organizations see her imprisonment as an attempt to halt the political work of her husband, Sergei Fomchenkov, an activist with The Other Russia opposition party.

Voina members also did a photo session with Osipova’s five-year old daughter Katrina to raise public awareness of the case. They have sent various sums from Banksy’s donation to support other imprisoned activists, including Petersburg anti-fascist Rinat Sultanov, who was sentenced to two years in prison in April for his alleged role in a street brawl with neo-Nazis in November 2008.

Oleg Vorotnikov and Katrina, daughter of the imprisoned Taisia Osipova. Photo by Vladimir Telegin

Earlier this month, Voina donated 400,000 rubles ($14,400), the entire sum of their Innovation Prize money, to the Agora Human Rights Association, a Moscow-based organization whose lawyers have provided legal assistance to the group and other activists.

A new criminal case against Vorotnikov was launched in April after he and his wife, Voina member Natalya “Kozlyonok” Sokol, were arrested during a March 31 opposition rally. He faces up to five years in prison for alleged disorderly conduct, violence against a police officer, and insulting a police officer.

Earlier this month, Sokol was also named as a suspect in the case. Investigators claim she insulted a police officer, an offence punishable by up to one year of correctional labor. Vorotnikov and Sokol have a two-year-old son, Kasper.

Despite this persecution, Vorotnikov — who is now in hiding — said in a recent exclusive interview with The St. Petersburg Times that through its clandestine practices Voina has helped art to stay alive and brought it back into the limelight.

After winning the Innovation Prize, Voina was harshly criticized by sections of the media and the public. What is your reaction?

I don’t expect sympathy toward our art from anybody. And I’m always surprised when people say they like Voina. I then take a closer look at those people. Almost all of them live hard lives, and many have grief, losses, and disappointments in their past. The passions that have injured those people! But they’re still full of hope. These are the most interesting people in the world. It’s their scars and defects that make them lovable. I can imagine how, during sex, they touch and kiss the scars on each other’s bodies. There’s no other reason to love someone in this life. Kasper already has scars from the cops.

Voina’s work and political activities have unexpectedly drawn criticism from some people who see themselves as leftists.

The thing is that Voina reveals certain concealed and, say, reactionary qualities in people. I agree with observers who have noted that, compared to Voina, many leftists are not leftists at all, but rather centrists, maybe even rightward-leaning centrists. Before Voina, they were extremely leftist, leftist radicals, and then suddenly it turned out that they were simply philistines. They’re people who live on grants and write articles, and who imitate real protest work with such activities. So with the emergence of Voina, all of a sudden they’ve moved from the left flank toward reaction.

Yes, we fight the regime, because the powers that be are philistine and narrow-minded in the same way. All their ideals begin and end with a helicopter and a villa. Then they go for two helicopters, four villas. And that’s it: they don’t go any further; their ambitions don’t soar any higher. In that sense, we are against philistines. The philistines are our enemy. The regime is just a particular problem of our war.

So the philistines have taken up arms against us: they’ve seen that we’re against them. There are a lot of philistines: all of society has become philistine; the nation has become almost wholly philistine. In this sense, our struggle is quite an idealistic one. Because everybody sees it as an attack on themselves, an attack on the cozy aspects of their lives.

The critics seem especially annoyed by the fact that you take Kasper to your stunts and protest demos.

They get so hysterical over Kasper because it’s an affront to the cozy aspects of their lives. They’re used to handing their kids over to someone else and going out to make money. For Koza (Sokol) and Kasper, it was a shock when the cops separated them for over twenty-four hours: they had never been apart for so long.

But the public object. They say, “If they’re together all the time, what do they live on? It means they’re not poor. It means they’re well-off people or bohemians.”

They can’t even imagine a different situation. That we stick together not because we have a lot of money, but for different, ideological reasons. So our life is based on that. We’re with Kasper [all the time], and so Kasper makes us bend to his life.

Now many people have begun to realize that our war is endless, that it’s broader than just a war against some absurd criminal, gangster regime. It’s more a struggle against an abnormal attitude to life.

The fact that the prize, founded by the Culture Ministry, went to “Dick Captured by the FSB” did shock and upset many people.

Everybody went into hysterics. How can this be? A dirty dick is getting a prize! It was kind of an insult to them, to their finest petit-bourgeois sensibilities.

It’s wonderful that it happened, really. This is a real slap in the face of public taste! The joke was played out to the end: it didn’t remain on the level of marginal manifestos or underground exhibitions – although we are against officialdom, of course.

The joke is that they [the public] did not see the Dick before [it was awarded the prize]. They could allow themselves to turn a blind eye to it, because it was not approved at the top.

But now it’s like matchsticks have been stuck in their eyes and they just can’t close them. In the shape of the award, of the statuette, the Dick is always before them. They cannot help but see it, even if they would be glad not to. That drives them crazy.

I think art is also didactic and has educational goals. By struggling against the authorities, we’re also educating the people. It’s all very Russian.

Can you explain your method of working illegally?

It’s very important to work outside the institutions. They’re trying now to herd art into institutions, and many leftists such as [artist Anatoly] Osmolovsky welcome it. They simply think that the main problem of contemporary Russian art is the fact that we are not educated, that we have no degree programs in [contemporary] art.

But we show that the opposite is the case: that our salvation lies exactly in the fact that we don’t have these degrees. That we are cut off, not tied down, that we don’t walk like cows or calves on a lead. If we were on a leash, we wouldn’t be able to carry out our actions in the way we have. We would do something pathetic, something “creative” in the worst sense of that word. That’s why art should try as hard as it can to stay independent — even if it’s bad for your health, even if you might wind up with a prison term. Although it might be fraught with hardships for the individual, it’s the only way for art to survive.

The authorities began to persecute artists as early as the Yeltsin years, didn’t they?

Formally, it’s true. They started to persecute Avdei [Ter-Oganyan] for hacking up icons in 1998. But now I think we have recaptured a lot of space, because contemporary art — partly because of us — makes news. Before that news came from political life, public life, war, statements by prime ministers and maybe sports.

But now art is on an equal footing. If you look at the headlines, art makes news [as much as any other topic]. I don’t think there has been anything like this since the days of Leo Tolstoy or Solzhenitsyn. Art hasn’t been a newsmaker for a long time. That is a big achievement.

Your art stunts appear to be firmly linked to a specific city.

Yes, our actions are always linked to a concrete location. It would be wrong to say that they’re universal, that they could be taken to any city and performed there. On the contrary, we arrive at a location and have a look around.

Our Moscow actions were very Moscow-oriented, like “A Cop in a Priest’s Cassock,” where I dressed up as a “priest cop” and shoplifted an expensive supermarket. There are simply no such shops in St. Petersburg, the insanely posh ones. So I went into one of those unbelievably posh supermarkets and shoplifted it. It was a very Moscow thing.

“Dick Captured by the FSB” or “Palace Revolution” could have hardly happened in Moscow.

When we’re [planning our actions], we walk around Petersburg, thinking, “This can be done here, and that can be done there.” Say, the installation in front of the Russian Museum (“Palace Revolution”) was not accidental. It’s very important that it was right in front of the entrance.

Few people have noticed that artistically it’s important that we showed that the main work of art is not inside the museum, but outside, near the entrance. It’s very important, you see? That was also decided on right on the spot.

I can hardly imagine what kind of action I would make in London. A funny thing once happened to us. We had an exhibition in Zagreb. We arrived there, and [the organizers] met us with open arms. They said, “It’s great that you came as a group. We’ve already agreed with the mayor’s office that you can do whatever your hearts desire here.” We said, “What the hell! You’ve robbed us of the chance to do an action here.”

But then I took a walk around and realized that even if they hadn’t robbed us of this chance by making an agreement with the mayor’s office, we would have been out of context there anyway.

It’s a totally different life. Our actions can’t be transplanted [to different cities] because they’re specific. The Petersburg actions are very Petersburg. The Moscow actions are very Moscow. Location is an important factor.

Does the radical form your work takes have something to do with the abnormality of the current political situation in this country?

That’s how they see our work in the West. We get letters from American universities (from students and teachers) all the time. They inform us they’re writing an honor’s thesis about our work, which they find very interesting. Then they tell us how they interpret our actions: the abnormal situation in Russia deprives people of the chance to influence events using standard protest methods like pickets whose goal is to directly identify a problem and insist that it be solved immediately. But these don’t work, and so those American students think that the need for this form — for nonstandard protests — was forced on us. It’s an interesting take, but it’s only one aspect of the problem, and somewhat superficial in my opinion. It’s more of a journalistic viewpoint.

If you go deeper, I think our actions are rooted in Russian culture. Russians are like our actions. Russians are precisely just such a people, with a touch of madness.

Your work has been described as “true Russian folk art.” Do you agree?

That’s probably right. We do try to speak on behalf of the people.

_______

en.free-voina.org/post/6755542565

World Organization Against Torture demands immediate release of Taisia Osipova

Eric Sottas, Director of the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) in Geneva, has submitted an open letter to Russian president Dmitri Medvedev, demanding a prompt medical examination and treatment for Taisia Osipova, as well as her release in the absence of valid legal charges.

OPEN LETTER TO MR. DMITRY ANATOLYEVICH MEDVEDEV
PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION

Geneva, 21 June 2011

Re: Fear for the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Taisia Osipova – Denial of adequate medical treatment

Your Excellency,

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), the largest Network of NGOs fighting against torture, summary executions, enforced disappearances and all other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the world, is writing to you to express its concern about the serious health problems of Ms. Taisia Osipova, 26 years old, who is currently detained in poor conditions in the pre-trial detention centre (SIZO) 1, in Smolensk, province of Smolensk. She has been denied adequate medical treatment since her arrest on 23 November 2010, although she is suffering from multiple chronic diseases.

OMCT has been informed by reliable sources that, on 23 November 2010, around 20 policemen and officers from the Department to Combat Extremism entered violently Ms. Taisia Osipova’s house, in Smolensk. The officers reportedly went from one room to another turning everything upside down while forcing Ms. Taisia Osipova to stay with her daughter in one of the rooms. Ms. Taisia Osipova was arrested and brought to the pre-trial detention centre (SIZO) 1, in Smolensk, after the officers allegedly found five packs of greyish substance among her daughter’s clothes and a marked 500-ruble note. Upon arrival at the detention centre, she was examined by a prison doctor only for bruises on her arms that she sustained during the arrest.

Ms. Taisia Osipova was later charged with illegal distribution of drugs by the Zadneprovskiy district court, in Smolensk, and she was remanded in custody pending investigation. On 3 May 2011, the court refused to release her on bail. The following hearing has been scheduled for 21 June 2011.

Since her arrest, Ms. Taisia Osipova has reportedly suffered pressure by officers of the Department to Combat Extremism in order to obtain a confession to the alleged aforementioned crime and information about her husband, who is a senior member of the political opposition party, Drugaya Russia[1].The pressure has reportedly included threats to remove her parental right over her daughter if she refuses to collaborate; poor conditions of detention (she is held in a tiny cell with six more persons although the cell is meant for four persons, with no running water. Despite the temperature of more than 20 degrees, the windows are tightly shut up with two frames. The official Russian radio is reportedly on the whole day which makes it impossible to have any rest) and denial of adequate medical treatment, although she has been suffering from sugar diabetes, pancreatitis, chronic pyelonephritis and chronic toxic-allergic hepatitis.

According to the same information received, Ms. Taisia Osipova was diagnosed with sugar diabetes type 1 in 2005, at the Hospital of Smolensk. She had been under insulin treatment and she had been controlling her sugar level with a glucometer since then. However, she has been denied adequate medical follow-up, including the use of a glucometer, and she has not been provided a diabetic diet since her arrest. In December 2010, she reportedly suffered a hypoglycemic coma but she was neither hospitalised nor examined by a prison doctor. She was only later in the month examined by a prison doctor who reportedly diagnosed a diabetes type 2, although she had been suffering from diabetes type 1 since 2005. Ms. Taisia Osipova was informed about the result only through her lawyer, who himself got the information from the media.

Ms. Taisia Osipova had also been under medical treatment for chronic pyelonephritis, pancreatitis and chronic toxic-allergic hepatitis, diseases that were diagnosed in 2009, at the Uromed hospital, in Smolensk. Nevertheless, she has also not been provided with adequate medical care for these diseases since her arrest. After several requests to the prison administration, an ultrasound scanning was eventually conducted on Ms. Taisia Ospivoa in March 2011. However, she only received the medical report in May 2011 and it reportedly stated that she did not suffer from any of the aforementioned diseases. It is feared that the report was fabricated. OMCT has also been informed that the prison authorities have threatened Ms. Taisia Osipova with reprisals, including solitary confinement, if she would continue to complain about her conditions of detention and the lack of adequate medical treatment.

At the same time, Ms. Taisia Osipova’s lawyer reportedly presented several requests for a complete medical check-up of Ms. Taisia Osipova on the basis of Article 110, paragraph 1.1 of the Code of Criminal Procedures of the Russian Federation, which allows for the provisional release from pre-trial detention of individuals with serious health conditions (including diabetes type 1), but to no avail. Ms. Taisia Osipova’s lawyer subsequently filed a lawsuit before the Leninskiy district court of Smolensk. On 16 June 2011, the court reportedly ordered the prison administration to ensure a medical examination of Ms. Taisia Osipova. To date, no such medical examination was carried out.

The International Secretariat of OMCT is concerned about the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Taisia Osipova. OMCT has been informed that Ms. Taisia Osipova’s health has deteriorated. She has lost weight and suffers from accrue pain in the kidneys area. She has also reportedly developed allergy to some unidentified source. OMCT fears that adequate medical examination and treatment are being denied to Ms. Taisia Osipova to put pressure on her. OMCT is concern also about her conditions of detention and the circumstances of her arrest.

OMCT recalls that the Russian Federation is legally bound to effectively ensure the physical and psychological integrity of all persons deprived of liberty in accordance with regional and international human rights law, and in particular, the European Convention on Human Rights, the recommendations of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Accordingly, OMCT calls on the competent authorities to ensure that Ms. Taisia Osipova is promptly examined by independent doctors and that she receives adequate medical treatment. OMCT also urges the competent authorities to release her in the absence of valid legal charges and judicial process consistent with international legal standards, or if such charges exist, bring her before an impartial and competent tribunal and guarantee her procedural rights at all times.

OMCT hopes that the concerns expressed in this letter will receive the attention they deserve.

Yours sincerely

Eric Sottas

Secretary General, OMCT

[1] Drugaya Russia is a non-registered party that was created on the basis of the coalition under the same name after it fell apart. The coalition was the moving force of Dissenters’ Marches held in the period of 2006 to 2008.

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Museum Songspiel: The Netherlands 20XX

Sadly, this seems like an appropriate time to post this video…

Museum Songspiel: The Netherlands 20XX

A film by Chto Delat, 2011

This video film, whose narrative takes place against the background of Dutch politics in the year 20XX, tells the story of a group of illegal immigrants who try to evade deportation by the national authorities and seek refuge in a museum. The work is a co-production of the Van Abbemuseum, SMART Project Space and Chto Delat.

Distribution and inquiries: SMART Project Space, Amsterdam

In memory of Zoya Sitnikova, the mother of Olga Egorova

Produced by:  Tsaplya (Olga Egorova), Dmitry Vilensky, Gluklya (Natalia Pershina) and Nina Gasteva

Directed by: Tsaplya (Olga Egorova)

Screenplay: Tsaplya (Olga Egorova), Dmitry Vilensky

Music: Mikhail Krutik

Choreography: Nina Gasteva

Director of Photography: Artyom Ignatov

Set: Dmitry Vilensky

Concept costumes and props: Gluklya (Natalia Pershina)

With support from Van Abbemuseum, SMART Circle Trust, and SKOR.

_____

What Are Deportees Doing in a Museum?

 Chto Delat’s Museum Songspiel: The Netherlands 20XX is a scary film, not least because it coldly and blithely illustrates how the current democracies (whether “social,” “liberal” or “sovereign”) disappear the undesirables in their midst, the refugees/asylum seekers, illegal immigrants, and “lawbreakers.” In this sense, the film – despite its flimsy gesture toward a dystopian future as its setting (“20XX,” “European National League,” “euthanasia” experiments carried out by scientists, etc.) – is not science fiction. It is firmly situated in the present: this happens nearly everywhere almost every day, however much we would rather not know about it. (And the scary part, as the film shows, is how conveniently we forget that we do know.) What makes it “science fiction,” however, is not these stock elements from a threadbare genre, but its resort to a wholly fantastical plot premise: the deportees seek to claim asylum, of all places, in a contemporary art museum. What are the deportees doing in a museum?

The answer they give in the film (via the intermediary of the guard) is: because they have heard that “art is on the side of the oppressed.” Although the details, as hinted at by the museum staff, are sketchy, we are led to imagine that the establishment of “national democracy” in Holland and other parts of (what can only be Northern and Western) Europe is so brutal that the escapees have nowhere else to turn but the museum. But what they find there is an identification with the oppressed, with the revolutionary and critical potentials of art, that is literally canned, contained, archived, monitored, and rationed. The museum has an extensive collection of “revolutionary” art, but the chorus acknowledges what this art’s fate has been in our world: as a paragon of “timelessness” (although revolutions are only timely, or they’re not revolutions), and as a source of that most counter-revolutionary of genres – reconstructions of historical avant-garde performances and installations. The characters deliver many of their lines against a backdrop of Black Panther newspapers – neatly framed and lined up on a wall and thus not likely to provoke any nice white person’s “fear of a black planet.” “Street art” is relegated to a panopticon-like space known as The Eye, which now serves as a jail cell-cum-theatrical stage for the ever-silent immigrants. Finally, contemporary art’s “critical” mission (“our job is to wake society up”) is so precious that any soft-pedaling of “criticality” is warranted to avoid closure or budget cuts.

The impromptu performance of Victory over the Sun (refashioned as Towards the Light) is, after all, not meant to save the immigrants, but to save the museum and its staff from the untoward consequences of their intrusion. But it inadvertently shows how contemporary art and its handmaiden “critical theory” often function vis-à-vis the oppressed. These acquire legitimacy as “performers,” as “actors,” as data points in the artist’s “solo show mapping the deportations of immigrants,” as colorful clowns in an avant-garde pantomime. As soon, however, as the powers that be – the media, the “Center for Extremism Prevention” (which, by the way, is the name of a quite real branch of the police in the filmmakers’ homeland) – have tagged (and bagged) them as “criminals,” they disappear entirely from view – and from the minds of the art-loving public. The empty Eye at film’s end is a fitting symbol of the void at the heart of the liberal/social-democratic project and the blind spot in the eyes of its thinking (and leisure) classes. Art is not life, goddamn it!

In the real world, the “immigrants” have names: Derkan, Dorgija, Aurel, Salomee, Daniel, Asya. Since they’re identified in the credits, we’ll hope that everything is alright with them. In that same real world, however, “deportees” (as Woody Guthrie once reminded us) have, as often as not, no names (by definition). Museum Songspiel is thus an almost perfect little piece of art, set in an impeccable (real) museum, that tells us: Life is not art. Life is not just a matter of names, but of the people behind those names, the stories they could tell us, and the things we could do together. Leave the museum.

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Breivik: Perfect Product of the Axis of Islamophobia (Mondoweiss)

Anders Behring Breivik, a perfect product of the Axis of Islamophobia
by Max Blumenthal

When I wrote my analysis last December on the “Axis of Islamophobia,” laying out a new international political network of right-wing ultra-Zionists, Christian evangelicals, Tea Party activists and racist British soccer hooligans, I did not foresee a terrorist like Anders Behring Breivik emerging from the movement’s ranks. At the same time, I am not surprised that he did. The rhetoric of the characters who inspired Breivik, from Pam Geller to Robert Spencer to Daniel Pipes, was so eliminationist in its nature that it was perhaps only a matter of time before someone put words into action.

As horrific as Breivik’s actions were, he can not be dismissed as a “madman.” His writings contain the same themes and language as more prominent right-wing Islamophobes (or those who style themselves as “counter-Jihadists”) and many conservatives in general. What’s more, Breivik was articulate and coherent enough to offer a clear snapshot of his ideological motives. Ali Abunimah and Alex Kane have posted excellent summaries of Breivik’s writings here and here and a full English translation is here. It is also worth sitting through at least a portion of Breivik’s tedious video manifesto to get a sense of his thinking.

From a tactical perspective, Breivik was not a “lone wolf” terrorist. Instead, Breivik appeared to operate under a leaderless resistance model much like the Christian anti-abortion terrorists Scott Roeder and Eric Rudolph. Waagner and Rudolph organized around the Army of God, a nebulous group that was known only by its website and the pamphlets its members passed around in truck stops and private meetings. If they received material or tactical support, it occurred spontaneously. For the most part, they found encouragement from like-minded people and organizations like Operation Rescue, but rarely accepted direct assistance. Breivik, who emerged from the anti-immigrant Norwegian Progress Party (which built links with America’s Tea Party) and drifted into the English/Norwegian Defense League sphere of extremism, but who appeared to act without formal organizational support, reflects the same leaderless resistance style as America’s anti-abortion terrorists.

While in many ways Breivik shares core similarities with other right-wing anti-government terrorists, he is the product of a movement that is relatively new, increasingly dangerous, and poorly understood. I described the movement in detail in my “Axis of Islamophobia” piece, noting its simultaneous projection of anti-Semitic themes on Muslim immigrants and the appeal of Israel as a Fort Apache on the front lines of the war on terror, holding the line against the Eastern barbarian hordes. Breivik’s writings embody this seemingly novel fusion, particularly in his obsession with “Cultural Marxism,” an increasingly popular far-right concept that positions the (mostly Jewish) Frankfurt School as the originators of multiculturalism, combined with his call to “influence other cultural conservatives to come to our…pro-Israel line.”

Breivik and other members of Europe’s new extreme right are fixated on the fear of the “demographic Jihad,” or being out-populated by overly fertile Muslim immigrants. They see themselves as Crusader warriors fighting a racial/religious holy war to preserve Western Civilization. Thus they turn for inspiration to Israel, the only ethnocracy in the world, a country that substantially bases its policies towards the Palestinians on what its leaders call “demographic considerations.” This is why Israeli flags invariably fly above black-masked English Defense League mobs, and why Geert Wilders, the most prominent Islamophobic politician in the world, routinely travels to Israel to demand the forced transfer of Palestinians.

Judging from Breivik’s writings, his hysterical hatred of the Labor Party’s immigration policies and tolerance of Muslim immigrants likely led him target the government-operated summer camp at Utoya. For years, the far-right has singled Norway out as a special hotbed of pro-Islam, pro-Palestinian sentiment, thanks largely to its ruling Labor Party. In 2010, for instance, the English Defense League called Norway a future site of “Islamohell,” “where unadulterated political correctness has ruled the roost, with sharp talons, for decades.” Yesterday, when the Wall Street Journal editorial page rushed to blame Muslim terrorists for what turned out to be Breivik’s killing spree, it slammed the Norwegian government for pulling troops from Afghanistan and demanding that Israel end its siege of Gaza. For his part, Breivik branded the Labor Party as “traitors.”

There is no clear evidence that Breivik’s support for the Israeli right played any part in his killing spree. Nor does he appear to have any connection with the Israeli government. However, it is worth noting that in November 2010, the Israeli government joined the right-wing pile on, accusing the Norwegian government of “anti-Israel incitement” for funding a trip for students to New York to see the “Gaza Monologues” play. Then, the day before Breivik’s terror attack, which he planned long in advance, Norway’s Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stor visited the Labor Youth camp at Utoya. There, he was met with demands to support the global BDS movement and to support the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral statehood bid. “The Palestinians must have their own state, the occupation must end, the wall must be demolished and it must happen now,” the Foreign Minister declared, earning cheers from the audience.

Breivik’s writings offer much more than a window into the motives that led him to commit terror. They can also be read as an embodiment of the mentality of a new and internationalized far-right movement that not only mobilizes hatred against Muslims, but is also able to produce figures who will kill innocent non-Muslims to save the Western way of life.

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Oliver Ressler: Resist to Exist

Resist to Exist

A project in public space in Copenhagen
by Oliver Ressler

The project Resist to Exist consists of two elements, which are presented next to each other within sight of the S-train station Bispebjerg in Copenhagen.

The first element of the intervention is a freestanding billboard of 366 x 244 cm that shows a photographic image with fenced-in containers of the shipping and oil conglomerate Maersk—the largest Danish corporation and the world’s largest container-shipping corporation. Containers are the most important means of transportation for goods around the globe and therefore essential for the continuation of the world-market. Major parts of the fence on the image are destroyed, as if they were taken down in an uprising.

This billboard is accompanied by 12 meters of fence placed on the lawn next to the billboard. It appears to be pieces from the extracted fence on the billboard. Concrete panels are beneath the fence, so that it is slightly above the ground. This metal structure can be used as a grill for a huge barbecue freely available to the public. The fence, which previously formed a barrier between a transnational corporation and the public, has been transformed into a “commons”—into something joyful, practical and meaningful where people can meet. It creates an image for the dispossession of the “republic of property” through the “multitude of the poor” that emerges “at the center of the project for revolutionary transformation” (1).

According to the social theorist David Harvey, the main achievement of neoliberalization has been to redistribute, rather than generate, wealth and income. In this “accumulation by dispossession”, existing wealth is extracted by transnational corporations from areas all around the world, usually from the poor or the public sector, through legal or illegal means, and most often in situations where the limits of legality are unclear. (2) The billboard imagines the reclaiming of this previously expropriated wealth, the attempt of the people to win it back.

The project Resist to Exist is a re-appropriation of activities that protagonists of social movements such as the Piqueteros practiced in the uprising during the crisis in Argentina in 2001. For them, destroying fences and re-using them as tools to prepare a meal, became an act of survival. In order to exist, boundaries between what appeared to be immovable were dismantled.

The project in Copenhagen takes place in an old railroad area, which residents from 2002 to 2007 tried to transform into a park (with barbecue areas) and cultural facilities according to their needs. The municipal officials finally forced out the residents. The project is also within view of the Føtex shopping center, one of many subsidiaries of Maersk.

Resist to Exist pursues the question whether an activist practice—which was performed in a specific historical situation—can gain a new relevance in this current situation, where not a single state, but the capitalist system as a whole is in crisis.

The project will open with a free barbecue for everyone at 3:00 pm on July 30 and remain in place until August 21, 2011. During this period, it is open to everyone to use for meetings and barbecues at any time.

The project was done during a residency at ANA – Astrid Noack’s Atelier (www.astrid-noack.dk) in Copenhagen in July 2011, supported by Statens Kunstråd, Nørrebro Lokaludvalg and BM:UKK.

Credits: Kirsten Dufour (ANA, YNKB), Katrine Skovgaard (ANA), Biba Fibiger, Andreas Lykke Jensen, John Jordan, Bjørn O., Katarzyna Winiecka.

(1) Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt: Commonwealth, Cambridge, 2009, p. 55
(2) Ibid., p. 230 – 231

For a German text please visit: http://www.ressler.at/de/resist_to_exist/

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Norway: Terror in the Eye of the Beholder? (Left Flank)

Editor’s note. We couldn’t have said it any better than “Dr_Tad,” writing at the Australian blog Left Flank.

Terror in the eye of the beholder? Norway, the far Right & the state-media complex

This weekend was a salutary lesson in how terrorism is treated by the media and political establishment. The lesson may surprise you, because there are two narratives constructed:

Firstly, with outrage, linking of associations on the basis of zero evidence, calls for continued military action and tightening of domestic security (read: curtailing civil liberties) to fight the terrorists, and defence of the liberal freedoms that make “them” hate “us”.

Secondly, with sober reportage, calls for reflection rather than “politicised” reaction, with careful examination of the terrorist’s motives, sensible collateral information from family members and experts, and even sympathy for his grievances.

These two approaches just hours apart. Cognitive dissonance, anyone?

The first approach is simply the set response to Islamist terrorism, especially since the events of 9/11, almost exactly 10 years ago now. And it was on display in the hours after the atrocities in Oslo and the island of Utoya. Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun, as if his editor didn’t realise how much trouble he was having currently, immediately seized on the attacks as a Jihadist plot with this front page:

Neo-con opinion makers in the US, like the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, immediately jumped on the same bandwagon, quoting security “experts” on the Islamist nature of the attacks and using the opportunity to demand a freeze on any cuts to defence spending, reminding Americans that this would mean “curbing our ability to defend the United States and our allies in a very dangerous world”.

As Think Progress points out, Murdoch’s flagship Wall Street Journal was equally brazen:

The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, rushed up an editorial Friday, blaming “jihadists” for the attacks and exclaiming, “Norway is targeted for being true to Western norms”:

… in jihadist eyes, [Norway] will always remain guilty of being what it is: a liberal nation committed to freedom of speech and conscience, equality between the sexes, representative democracy, and every other freedom that defines the West. For being true to those ideals, Norwegians have now been asked to pay a terrible price.

As more information came out about the attacks and the attacker, the WSJ rewrote the online version of the editorial, albeit by removing any trace of the above paragraph. Instead, it mentioned that it had falsely attributed the attacks to jihadists and called the attacker an al Qaeda “copycat.” [Emphasis added]

The same logic was at play locally in Andrew Bolt’s blog: “Once the identity of the attackers becomes known, the consequences for Norway’s immigration policies could be profound.” It’s now been edited in retrospect including this justification:

(UPDATE: i’ve removed here an excerpt from the first report I linked to spelling out the earlier Islamic threats and attacks that led many, including the Guardian and New York Times, to initially suspect an Islamic attack. I had left it up so as to explain the context of my original reaction, and so not to seem I was trying to cover up my original suspicions. Now I find that leaving it up is being interpreted as my insisting on a gratuitous point instead.)

The focus on Islamist terrorism has always been part of the general climate of Islamophobia whipped up in the “War on Terror” than any facts on the ground. As Juan Cole has pointed out, Europol has repeatedly recorded that Islamists are a tiny part of the mix of terrorist threats and actions across the continent.

Sympathy with the oppressors

Now the facts are in, the media is suddenly hard at work downplaying the hysteria. So we’re treated to carefully reconstructed accounts of the killer’s childhood and political views. His motives in attacking the youth wing of a Left of centre political party are detailed as part of a “calculated” (if horrific) plan.

Andrew Bolt now claims Breivik is not a real Christian because of what he’s done, in a complete reversal of his repeated linking of Islam with violence. We should “look not as his creed but his wounds”, descending into pop psychology about his traumatic upbringing. Bolt reminds us, “[E]xtremes of the Right and Left are indistinguishable,” just in case you thought we were talking about a right-wing terrorist here.

The Guardian can see fit to reprint commentary by a former member of Sweden’s far-right New Democrats, which minimises its racist policies while suggesting the real problem was that too many hate-filled people were allowed to run riot in its ranks — as if the two are so easily disconnected.

There are two things we learned on Friday afternoon. One: extremists are found in all groups, and all are at least as dangerous. Two: hatred breeds hate. Never help to spread it unless you are ready to take the consequences.

More insidiously, the coverage has expressed some agreement with the motivations that drove Breivik to his crimes. The New York Times, in its detailed dissection of the rise of far Right sentiment across Europe, writes:

A combination of increased migration from abroad and largely unrestricted movement of people within an enlarged European Union, such as the persecuted Roma minority, helped lay the groundwork for a nationalist, at times starkly chauvinist, revival.

Such an analysis could easily have come from Breivik’s own mouth. It is the ultimate in sympathy with the oppressor, justifying anti-immigrant racism on the basis of the immigrants themselves. Recall the hysteria when people pointed to the grievances that drove Islamist terrorists — Western military occupation of Muslim countries, support for brutal dictatorships — we were told that this was outrageous and that it was all about “them” hating “us” for our way of life. Yet those grievances had a basis in reality rather than febrile racist ideology, even if the terrorists’ methods were a disaster for the struggle against oppression.

A little more anger, please

One response to the media’s astounding ability to jump to conclusions and whip up prejudice has been an understandable desire to see this is a chance to more soberly assess and reflect on what has happened, to understand political violence rather than engage with a left-wing mirror image of the Right’s hysteria. This was the position put by Mark Bahnisch at Larvatus Prodeo yesterday, and while I am sympathetic to the argument I think it doesn’t deal with the reality of how this is playing out.

I’m not advocating that we get all Chicken Little about this, but the problem the Left now faces is precisely the cold, measured approach the media and political establishment are taking to the issue of far Right extremism. Because, in its own way, that is just as seductive a narrative as the exaggerations, lies and racialist paranoia driven around Islamist terrorism. Its function is to settle fears, to isolate “extremists” as “lone gunmen” divorced from wider political developments, to paint a picture of a healthy society whose only internal threats are aberrations.

It is vital for the media, the political class and the state to create a particular narrative here because to shine the spotlight on liberal democratic societies that could produce such reactions would be a bridge too far. Yet if one thing has been true of modern societies it is that when profound social polarisation occurs, so the fringe voices of the extreme Right can gain a hearing. Those voices articulate not a class solution to the social problems that sharpen in periods of crisis, but a national one built on scapegoating and authoritarianism.

That ideological framework doesn’t simply arise spontaneously at the fringes; it is conditioned by the reality of how states operate to manage social divisions within national boundaries (see here for Left Flank on nationalism in the era of neoliberalism). My prediction is that it will not be long before mainstream politicians seek to assuage the “rising tide” of racism in Europe by pandering to it, talking of “understandable” grievances and the need to “manage” multiculturalism more closely. The far Right is a small but very serious danger in a Europe increasingly racked by economic turmoil. But it is the official discourse, frequently peppered with pronouncements about the “failure” of multiculturalism, which is a key part of the problem. What’s more, states have the power (which they frequently exercise) to actually repress, control and expel migrants.

If his writings are to be believed, Breivik seized upon a common point of anger expressed by right-wing extremists: The failure of governments to act against “Islamicisation” and multiculturalism. This is a signal feature of fascism, the need to act outside the state when it won’t go far enough in the national interest. Indeed, in language similar to Nazism’s rantings against the ever-present menace of “Bolshevism”, Breivik railed against the “cultural Marxism” of the very mainstream Norwegian Labour Party. That the language is not so different to repeated accusations by leading Australian right-wingers of Julia Gillard’s “socialism” or the Greens’ “environmental Marxism” should give pause for thought about the forces they may be legitimating.

It is therefore important to not accept that the media’s softly-softly approach here as a sign of a new maturity. It is precisely because the media is so deeply implicated in the last decade of state-sanctioned Islamophobia and diminution of civil liberties that it is rushing to frame a story that perpetuates a lack of comprehension about the links between the extreme Right and how governments have managed social polarisation with the media’s collusion. Indeed, they will do so alongside a continuation of the very anti-immigrant tropes that fostered the current climate.

If they were being truly reflective, they would be angrily going after the “mainstream” political system (of which they are a key part) that encourages extremists’ paranoia, hatred and violence. I’m not holding my breath.

________

In support of Left Flank’s argument, we couldn’t help notice that even after Norwegian police had Breivik in custody, the formidable Voice of Russia continued to toe the anti-Muslim line:

The head of the Centre of Northern Europe of the Institute of Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Yuri Deryabin, shared his opinion of possible motives for the double terrorist act in Oslo with The Voice of Russia.

“This is undoubtedly a terrorist act but not against a certain politician. It was meant to intimidate the public and to prove that al-Qaeda is alive even after Bin Laden has died. Why Norway? Because it is taking an active part in the NATO operation in Afghanistan. As for the incident at the youth camp outside Oslo, the reasons are not so obvious. The suspect has been arrested and is answering police questions. I do not rule out that he has links with an international terrorist organization like al-Qaeda. Not all Islamists are Muslim nationals.  The second version is that the suspect who is an ethnic Norwegian is a mentally unbalanced person. In any case this is a terrible tragedy which proves that the world community should close its ranks in the face of the terrorist threat”.

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Louis Proyect: Chto Delat and Ostalgia

Our favorite unrepentant Marxist, Louis Proyect, has just posted a tremendously kind and positive review of our contribution to Ostalgia, a group exhibition of art from and about the former Eastern Bloc that is currently on view at New York’s New Museum. The review also features his footage from a recent discussion at 16 Beaver led by our own Nikolay Oleynikov and Dmitry Vilensky in connection with the exhibition.

Thanks a billion, Louis!

Now read his blog.

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Kazakhstan: Authorities Crack Down on Striking Oil Workers

[Editor’s note: the following press release has been lightly edited to make it more readable.]

13 July 2011

Kazakhstan: authorities engage in violent reprisals against striking oil workers

In Kazakhstan’s Mangistau province, a real threat has emerged to the security and safety of thousands of oil workers participating in a collective action – a strike – which they started on 11 May 2011. Taking part in the strike are oil workers at OzenMunayGaz, Karazhanbasmunay, and Ersay Caspian Contractor (the latter is part of the Italian holding ENI). The workers are continuing a protest action of indefinite duration. The workers on strike are being joined by more and more employees of auxiliary production units and relatives. According to observers, over the past months, eight to fifteen people have taken part. During the strike, some 900 workers have been fired. We have already written about this in the press release “Kazakhstan: inactivity of the authorities pushes oil industry workers to suicide!” (14 June 2011).

This collective action was a response to the inaction of employers – the foreign owners of oil deposits and local authorities. None of these parties has reacted to workers’ demands.

The demands of the industrial action remain unchanged:

  • To allow the creation and functioning of independent trade unions and their structures including the Karakiyak trade union;
  • To revise the collective agreement so that is based on the principle of equality of parties and takes into consideration the interests and rights of the workers;
  • To raise the wages of the workers by 100%, as the current agreement does not provide for actual minimum living standards;
  • To bring wages and other working conditions in accordance with International Labour Standards.

In recent days, alarming events are unfolding in the cities where the enterprises are located and where employees have gone on strike.

At about 16:00 on 8 July 2011, a unit of fully armed special police landed and attacked peaceful citizens in the city of Zhanaozen unexpectedly and without explanation or warnings.

Without entering into negotiations or making demands, policemen started to disperse the gathered people, beating them with clubs. They overturned woks with food prepared by relatives and tore the roof off a makeshift tent where people were sitting. According to witnesses, the police officers’ behavior was aggressive: they were doing this on purpose in order to provoke confrontation. Men and women taking part in the strike tried to stop the police officers but were severely beaten up.  About thirty people were forcibly taken to local hospitals. As of 12 July, a number of the arrested persons have managed to escape from the hospitals.

Realizing that they were outmatched, a group of sixty oil workers on hunger strike poured petrol over their bodies and announced that they were ready to burn themselves up as a sign of protest against the lawlessness and violence of the police.

Over a thousand protesting oil workers were rounded up by the police on the premises of OzenMunayGaz. A special police unit is hindering their communication with the outside world. More than 4,000 people gathered in the main square in Zhanaozen to express their solidarity with the protesting oil workers.

On 9-10 July 2011, after a violent action against the fired employees of OzenMunayGaz (now on hunger strike), a mass meeting followed in the city of Mangistau. Following the violent dispersal of hunger strike participants and sympathizing colleagues, who all this time had been gathering at OzenMunayGaz, city residents started spontaneously flowing into the square in front of the local akimat (city administration) including elderly people, women and children. A fully equipped special police unit brought there on several coaches observed the crowd from a short distance away.

According to striking workers, the reason for the mass discontent was the behavior of the special police unit, which tried to obstruct the traditional “sadaqa” ceremony at the No.5 Oil Wells Directorate No.5 (UOS-5). This was where policemen overturned woks with food and began dispersing people present at the ceremony with clubs.

On 11 July 2011, the crowds of people gathered in the square in front of the Zhanaozen administration building consisted of families including elderly people and children. At the same time, special police units with special equipment were stationed at nearby schools Nos. 9, 18, and 19. According to our information, a water cannon, eighteen firefighting trucks, three military KamAZ trucks, and four coaches with special policemen are hidden in the Kazakhstan gas processing plant (KazGPZ) and ready to start reprisals at any moment.

The unfolding situation poses a threat to the health and safety of active strike participants:

  • Since 25 May 2011, Natalya Sokolova, lawyer of the trade union at Karazhanbasmunay, has been detained under Article 164 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan for “inciting social discord.” There is no information about her condition: she is being denied access to lawyers, relatives and her husband.
  • Kuanysh Sisenbaev, leader of the trade unions of the workers at Karazhanbasmunay, has been subject to the pressure from authorities since 1 July 2011 in the city of Aktau. He is being blamed for organizing a protest march of oil workers that took place in Aktau on 5 June 2011. During the violent reprisals, several demonstrators were arrested by the police. Sisenbaev and two colleagues were driven to suicide, as a result of which they were taken to a hospital. Sisenbaev has been charged under Article 373 of the Administrative Delinquency Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan: “Violation of laws on organizing and conducting peaceful gatherings, meetings, marches, pickets and demonstrations.”
  • On 3 July, Akzhanat Aminov, a leader of the trade union at OzenMunayGaz, was arrested under Article 164 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan “for inciting social discord.” Aminov suffers from diabetes and is in constant need of medical care. Currently, he is being held in a pretrial detention facility. He is being denied medical care, meetings with relatives and a lawyer, which is a form of cruel treatment whose aim is to pressure striking workers.
  • Natalya Azhigalieva, activist of the striking OzenMunayGaz workers and a fifth-class operator at the oil-and-gas production directorate (NGDU) of OzenMunayGaz, has been fired. She was among the thirty detained oil workers who went on hunger strike and who were forcibly taken to a hospital on 8 July in Zhanaozen. On the morning of 11 July, she managed to escape from the hospital, which is under the surveillance of a special police unit. Criminal charges are being fabricated against her under Article 164 of the Kazakh Criminal Code “for inciting social discord.”

According to our observations, in breach of its international obligations, the Republic of Kazakhstan has taken the side of the employer in the industrial dispute and is using law enforcement bodies against trade union activists and striking workers, as well as engaging in violent reprisals against strikes and peaceful protests.

According to our information, during the strike the oil workers offered to start negotiations on peaceful settlement of the dispute. However, Kazakh authorities are ignoring the demands of the workers on strike despite the obligations assumed by the state.

The provisions of international agreements violated by Kazakhstan are as follows:

  • Article 19 (the right to express one’s opinion), Article 21 (freedom of peaceful assembly), Article 22 (freedom of association) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

  • Nineteen conventions of the International Labor Organization including the fundamental ones:

– Convention 81 (Labor Inspection, 1947), pursuant to which the state in the person of the state labor inspectorate shall undertake relevant measures in case the human rights at work are violated;

– Convention 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, 1948), pursuant to which the state shall allow the organization of trade unions of workers created for the protection of their lawful interests and shall recognize them;

– Convention 98 (Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949), pursuant to which employers shall conduct negotiations with workers’ representatives and the state shall be the guarantor of the consultative process;

– Convention 111 (Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958), pursuant to which it shall be prohibited to discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin, which has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation.

There is well-founded concern that striking oil workers will be driven to despair and to extreme measures inflicting harm to their health, and the authorities will bring violent reprisals against them, thus ignoring their lawful and reasonable demands.

We earnestly ask for your help in urging national human rights protection bodies to respond to this situation to the full extent.

Respectfully,

Lyudmila Kozlovska, Open Dialog Foundation
lyudmylakozlovska@odfoundation.eu

Nadejda Atayeva, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia
n.atayeva@gmail.com

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