Daily Archives: December 17, 2011

Me-gration (Moscow) // “Conspiracy” (Olga Zhitlina)

Me-gration

A video presentation and roundtable discussion (“How to Work with Migrants? Ethics and the Politics of the Image”)

Olga Chernysheva, Ekaterina Lazareva, Haim Sokol, Olga Zhitlina, and Chto Delat

with Activist Film Studio 

December 18, 2011, 2:00 PM 

Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Center

Ul. Zemlyanoy Val, 57, Str. 6

Moscow, Russia, 105120

The participants will present their works dealing with the theme of migration and human rights in today’s Russia, and discuss ethnic and political aspects of their engagement. The title Me-gration contains an intended error, alluding to the pronunciation of the word “migration” common to both native Russian speakers and the country’s multilingual population. It also emphasizes the artists’ personal relation to the issue and migrant status of some of them.

The organizers state:

We artists usually work with images. Should we leave the territory of visual arts and cross into politics? Can we make images become political tools? We do not have much practical experience yet, as Russian art has turned to the theme of migrant rights relatively recently. The artists who have started raising this issue—Alexey Kallima, Irina Korina, Olga Chernysheva, and the Chto Delat collective—were recently joined by a younger generation: Sasha Auerbach, Ekaterina Lazareva, Vika Lomasko, Haim Sokol, and Olga Zhitlina. 

Migration issues seem to be yet another territory of life that art is trying to seize. Migrants receive an entry visa into the art world only as a labor force, or as the Other, having to undergo aesthetic disinfection first. But, we ask, perhaps it is time to unlock the bunkers of galleries and museums and come out to face reality? It is especially important now, when Russia’s political situation is so threatening: the recent nationalist riots on Manezh Square in Moscow, the so-called Russian Marches with thousands of supporters, politicians’ calls to “vote for Russians,” and official statements of Russia’s Ministry of Health authorities on “hygiene politics” all contain echoes of the Warsaw Ghetto. 

We are joining Immigrant Movement International, led by Tania Bruguera, in solidarity with December 18, International Migrants Day. For us, this is a first step toward bringing our collective efforts together. We are artists, cultural critics, activists, representatives of migrant organizations in Moscow, and all those who care about the issue.

Me-gration is organized by the Moscow-based artists Ekaterina Lazareva and Haim Sokol in parallel with the exhibition Haim Sokol: Barter at PROEKT_FABRIKA, December 15—25, 2011.

Me-gration is part of the December 18th International Migrants Day Action:

http://immigrant-movement.us/december18/

Both events are concurrent with December 18, International Migrants Day, a project launched by Immigrant Movement International, Queens Museum of Art, and Creative Time in New York.

Contact: Anya Pantuyeva, me.gration@gmail.com

Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Center: http://www.sakharov-center.ru/ 

Free and open to the public. 

Participating Artists and Works 

Olga Chernysheva is one of the first artists in Russia who turned to the image of migrant worker, for example, in her photographic series Highway Number 8 (2007) featuring workers from Central Asia, and in her recent film, Garbage Man (2011).

Ekaterina Lazareva in her video Migrants (2011) deals with migration but incorporates lyrical and poetic components in her work. She structured her video shown in this project using the soundtrack from a popular French film, Le Peuple Migrateur.

Haim Sokol’s video Oath of Loyalty (2011) problematizes the interaction between artist and migrant worker: workers swear an oath of loyalty on the “Bible of the avant-garde,” Kazimir Malevich’s Manifesto, without understanding their act and remaining a labor force to be used by the artist.

Olga Zhitlina’s recorded performance Conspiracy (2011) stages an exchange of clothes between migrants and local youth in Saint Petersburg.

The Chto Delat collective, in collaboration with Activist Film Studio, will present “The Voice of Power” episode from their film Russian Sounds (2011). The artists create an image of Russian politicians that is simultaneously grotesque and naturalistic.

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For those readers not able to attend tomorrow’s event in Moscow, here is a brief sneak preview Olga Zhitlina’s Conspiracy, a performance presented in the garden of the Anna Akhmatova Museum this past summer in Petersburg.

Recently, a new trend has emerged in St. Petersburg. In the morning, young men wearing the latest fashions, mostly natives of the town, members of the creative professions, meet with migrant workers at secret locations. They swap clothes with each other and then part ways, each going about his own business. Every day, their ranks are growing.

Initially, this idea arose in response to the threat of nationalist attacks, flagrant racism and the corruption of police officers who check documents ten times a day to extort bribes from migrants, who are often poorly informed of their rights. The young men dress in each other’s clothes in order to scramble the visual codes that make it easy to tell “Russians” from “non-Russians,” “locals” from “newcomers,” and “workers” from “intellectuals.”

By dressing in worker’s clothes, the members of what is now customarily called the creative class reject the enunciation of their identity through consumption and declare their intention to produce a culture without class and racial divisions, thus overcoming the opposition between creative and physical labor.
This is something like a tacit conspiracy among migrant workers and designers, artists, and ad agency employees — the people who produce visual culture (fashion, brands, labels — the window dressing of our reality) — against this system of organizing the environment. Those who produce design — this powerful tool for labeling and dividing — who devise the shape of buildings, objects, and clothes, have decided to steal it and use it in common with those engaged in the material realization of all these projects.

These clothes swaps began in one district of Petersburg, but they have quickly spread throughout the city. If there is no such group in your neighborhood yet, no one is stopping from you from organizing one yourself.

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Filed under contemporary art, film and video, immigration, racism, nationalism, fascism, Russian society

Kazakhstan: Stop police violence against strikers!

www.labourstart.org

Kazakhstan: Stop police violence against strikers

Police attack strikers.On Friday December 16th a celebration of Independence Day in the Western Kazakhstan city of Zhanaozen ended up with violent clashes between police and protesting oil workers who have been striking since May, demanding wage increases. It has been reported that oil workers planned to have a peaceful rally on Zhanaozen’s main square but were attacked. According to report we have received, armed police were sent against the demonstrators. Some reports say the police used their weapons and some protestors were killed or injured.

Please send a message to the Kazakhstan authorities calling on them to cease violence against their own people.

Suggested message:

I call upon the government of Kazakhstan to immediately cease violence against peacefully protesting oil workers and their families in the city of Zhanaozen. I believe that no government should ever use weapons against its own people. Violence against workers exercising their fundamental right to strike is absolutely unacceptable. This situation might have grave social and humanitarian consequences. Therefore I urge you to use all your power to to resolve this situation it in a peaceful and just manner.

Please go here to send this message or your own message to Kazakh authorities.

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blog.platformlondon.org

December 16, 2011

London listed oil company at centre of Kazakh crackdowns

 

Today The Guardian reports that at least 10 people have been killed in violent clashes between police and oil workers in Zhanaozen, a small city in western Kazakhstan. Local oil workers have been protesting for higher wages and better working conditions throughout 2011. The oil and gas companies, among them KMG, (KazMunaiGaz) which is 39% owned by investors on the London stock exchange, and Ersai Caspian Contractor, a joint venture owned by Italian firm ENI, have sacked hundreds of workers for striking. Police have responded with arbitrary arrests, detention and shootings. The Financial Times suggests the number of recent casualties could be much higher:

An independent source in Astana put the death count as high as 70, with more than 500 wounded, when police fired on protesters.

In this guest blog, journalist Peter Salmon explores the background and root causes of the strikes and the repression that has rocked the Kazakhstan throughout 2011.

Repression intensifies against Kazakh oil workers’ uprising

by Peter Salmon

The Kazakh authorities have responded to the oil workers’ revolt with arrests, jailings and police attacks on demonstrations, while company managements have sacked hundreds for striking. Despite the repression, the unprecedented wave of protests, which erupted in the oil-producing province of Mangistau in mid-May, was continuing at the time of writing in late August. At the movement’s height in early June, labour movement sources reported that 12-18,000 workers were on strike, demanding pay rises and recognition of independent trade unions.

The protests started on 9 May at Karazhanbasmunai, a joint venture owned by Kazmunaigaz, the main state-controlled national oil company, and CITIC, a Chinese holding company. The immediate spark was Karazhanbasmunai’s refusal to recognise the results of a trade union election that had gone against a collaborationist official. On 9 May, 1400 workers refused to eat lunches and dinners, and on 17 May 4500 walked out. They demanded pay parity with workers at OzenMunaiGaz, KazMunaiGaz’s largest production subsidiary – who themselves had won a substantial increase in basic wages, and torpedoed company plans for a greater element of production-linked pay, with a 19-day wildcat stoppage in March 2010.[i]

On 11 May, activists called for a general strike across Mangistau region. Kazakh workers employed by Ersai Caspian Contractor, a joint venture owned by ENI, the Italian-based multinational oil company, and ERC Holdings of Kazakhstan, joined the protests. They demanded pay parity with foreign employees doing the same jobs, who they said were paid twice as much. Ersai refused to negotiate with the strikers, ten of whom went on hunger strike, and retaliated with sackings, according to a news agency.[ii]

In late May the action spread to the larger workforce at OzenMunaiGaz, where workers – including transport drivers and those conducting well servicing and well workover operations – demanded pay rises to make up for rapid inflation since their increase last year and the slashing of bonus payments. On 24 May a local court declared strike action at the company illegal, but on 26 May there was a mass walkout nonetheless.

The strikers in the three companies advanced various demands. The principle concern at Ozenmunaigaz was for a recalculation of the coefficients (i.e. regional weighting, industry premia, etc) on which pay depends, Kazakhstan’s main business newspaper reported. Other demands reported by the Association of Human Rights for Central Asia included: the right for independent trade unions (the Karakiyak union and others) to function; revision of collective agreements “on the principle of equality of parties”; a 100% wage increase to bring workers’ living standards up to minimum; and for wages and conditions to meet International Labour Organisation standards.[iii]

The strike now turned into a grand battle between the workforce on one side, and the companies and authorities on the other. KazMunaiGaz Exploration and Production (KMG EP), which owns all of OzenMunaiGaz and half of Karazhanbasmunai – and is itself state-controlled but with 39% owned by investors via a London stock exchange listing – announced that it now expected to lose 540,000 tonnes of oil production, 4% of its previously projected total of 13.5 million tonnes in 2011, due to the dispute. Ozenmunaigaz’s output had already fallen by 2% in 2010, mainly due to the strike in that year.[iv]

On 1 June, Natalia Sokolova, a lawyer who had advised the workers, was arrested and both OzenMunaiGaz and Karazhanbasmunai began sacking strikers. Tensions were heightened further when Sabit Kenzhebaev, a transport department manager at Karazhanbasmunai who had been instructed to sack strikers against his will, died of a heart attack. On 5 June, 500 Karazhanbasmunai workers gathered in Aktau, the capital of the Mangistau region, intending to march to the akimat (regional authority) building to protest – but were dispersed violently by police. Three strikers, including the prominent trade union activist Kuanysh Sisenbaev, were admitted to hospital with knife wounds after harming themselves as a protest. Local authority employees were instructed to go to work as strikebreakers, and threatened with sackings if they refused, according to labour movement information networks.[v]

During June, some strikers returned to work, but those who remained out grew more determined. Workers established a “tent city” in Zhanaozen, and on 8 July it was broken up by baton-wielding police – to which about 60 responded by pouring petrol on themselves and threatening to set themselves alight. Another thousand demonstrators were encircled by police outside the OzenMunaiGaz headquarters. There were repeated confrontations between police and a crowd of several thousand in the days that followed.[vi]

The movement has a political aspect. Not only was it first sparked by a row over union representation, and featured demands for the right to organise independent unions, but it has also led to mass resignations from Nur-Otan, Kazakhstan’s ruling political party. Workers at state-controlled enterprises are encouraged to join it, in a manner reminiscent of Communist Party recruitment in the Soviet period – and on 11 August a large group marched to the Nur-Otan regional headquarters in Zhanaozen to hand in their resignations. A spokesman told reporters that 3000 of them had quit, since they had been forced to join anyway, and their demands had not been met. The Nur-Otan regional leader, Koshbai Qyzanbaev, acknowledged only 1089 resignations.[vii]

As the summer wore on, the Kazakh courts and police stepped up repression against activists. Natalia Sokolova, the lawyer assisting the strikers, was on 8 August sentenced to six years in jail for “inciting social discord”; Akzhanat Aminov, a trade union leader at OzenMunaiGaz, and Natalia Azhigalieva, an activist, have been arrested and charged with the same crime, while Kuanysh Sisinbaev has been sentenced to 200 hours’ community service. On 16 August, Zhanbolat Mamay, a 23-year-old activist in an opposition political group, Rukh Pen Til, was arrested as he returned from Moscow – where he addressed a press conference and civil society meetings about the oil industry dispute – and sentenced to 10 days’ administrative detention. According to company statements, 373 OzenMunaizGaz employees and 160 from Karazhanbasmunai have been dismissed for “illegal” strike action. One activist, Zhaksylyk Turbaev, has been murdered by unidentified thugs.[viii]

The oilfield conflict makes a mockery of Kazakhstan’s long-standing efforts to present itself in the west as a democratic state, and human rights organisations in western Europe have not lost the opportunity to point this out. On 6 July, with encouragement from Amnesty International, the rock singer Sting cancelled a planned appearance in Astana at a $700-per-ticket concert, stating that he had “no intention” of crossing “a virtual picket line”. The legal persecution of labour movement activists has been denounced in the European parliament by Paul Murphy, a Socialist Party/United Left Alliance member of the parliament from Ireland visited Mangistau, and others.[ix]

The Kazakh oil workers’ struggle bears out the proposition of the labour historian Beverly Silver that “where capital goes, conflict goes”.[x] Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, western capital has made greater inroads into the oil sector in Kazakhstan than in Russia, where it has been somewhat constrained by statist and nationalist policies. In the last decade it has been joined by a gigantic inflow of Chinese capital. The Kazakh elite, who have been immensely enriched by the oil boom of the last decade, is the third part of the unholy trinity that workers face.

In Mangistau region, oil production has expanded at a healthy pace. But the riches have been divided unequally: while billionaires flourish, and living standards have risen in the new and old capitals, Astana and Almaty, Mangistau has in terms of the UN’s development indicators only been lifted to the national average, from below it. And, staggeringly, although Mangistau produces more oil than any other Kazakh region, in 2008 it had the highest proportion of people living below the poverty line (32.4%) and the worst poverty by the UN’s measures.[xi] The immediacy of this injustice, the stark chasm between rich and poor, and a tradition of worker activism that has resurged in recent years, is a potent mixture that has now exploded.


[i] “V Zhanaozene zakonchilas’ zabastovka neftianikov”, Ak Zhaiyk (Atyrau), 19 March 2010; “V Kazakhstane zavershilas’ dvukhnedel’naia zabastovka neftianikov”, Deutsche Welle web site, 21 March 2010, http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,5376521,00.html; Linksunten, “Kazakhstan: Mass strikes and protest action”, http://linksunten.indymedia.org/de/node/41875.

[ii] Almaz Rysaliev, “Kazakstan’s Unhappy Oil Workers”, Institute for War & Peace Reporting web site, 24 June 2011, http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4e0b2a552.html; Central Asia Newswire, “Kazakh oil workers begin hunger strike”, 24 May 2011.

[iii] “Bastuiushchie udarili po RD KMG”, Kursiv, 30 June 2011; Nadejda Atayeva, “Kazakhstan: vlast’ massovo raspravliaetsia s bastuiushchimi neftianikami”, http://nadejda-atayeva.blogspot.com/2011/07/blog-post_12.html.

[iv] KMG EP press release, 28 June 2011; KMG EP annual report 2010, p. 26. The 2% fall was in comparison to 2009 output.

[v] “Krovavyi razgon demonstratsii rabochikh v Aktau”, IKD, 5 June 2011, http://www.ikd.ru/node/17048; “V Moskve proidet aktsiia solidarnosti”, IKD, 6 June 2011, http://www.ikd.ru/node/17053; Nadejda Atayeva, “Kazakhstan: bezdeistvie vlastei”, http://nadejda-atayeva.blogspot.com/2011/06/blog-post_5744.html.

[vi] Nadejda Atayeva, “Kazakhstan: vlast’ massovo raspravliaetsia”, op. cit.

[vii] “Striking Kazakh Oil Workers Quit Ruling Party”, 11 August 2011,  Radio Free Europe, http://www.rferl.org/content/striking_kazakh_oil_workers_quit_ruling_party/24294248.html.

[viii] Nadejda Atayeva, “Kazakhstan: bespretsedentnoe davlenie na uchastnikov zabastovki”, http://nadejda-atayeva.blogspot.com/2011/08/blog-post_18.html; “Lider zabastovki neftianikov osuzhden”, Kursiv, 18 August 2011; KMG EP press release, 27 July 2011; “Bolee 400 bastovavshikh uvoleny”, Kursiv, 7 July 2011.

[ix] “Sting nakazal Kazakhstan”, Kommersant, 4 July 2011; the web sites of Sting Symphonicity and Paul Murphy MEP. Sting, who was touring the whole former Soviet Union and did not cancel dates in e.g. Belarus or Uzbekistan, was criticised for being selective in his protest.

[x] Beverley Silver, Forces of Labor: workers’ movements and globalization since 1870 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 41).

[xi] UNDP Kazakhstan, National Human Development Report 2009, pp. 103-109.

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