Last May, before the inauguration of Vladimir Putin for yet another term as Russia’s president, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Moscow in protest against the fraudulent election that gave Putin another victory two months before. Police descended on the peaceful demonstration and attacked protests, arresting 400 people.
Since then, Putin’s dictatorial regime has used the May 6 demonstration as a bogeyman to accuse various left-wing leaders of wanting to foment violence — when those truly bent on violence were his own security forces. In this statement, left-wing organizations in Russia — the Russian Socialist Movement, the Left Front and the Russian Anarchists — appeal for international solidarity against the government’s violence and repression.
Demonstrators in the streets of Moscow on May 6 (Sergey Kukota)
TWO MONTHS ago, we, representatives of the Russian left, asked for your solidarity in the face of the coming wave of political repressions in Russia.
Alas, today, this call is even more urgent than before. It is no longer an exaggeration to compare the political trials taking place right now to the prosecution of Russian populists in the late 19th century. The number of possible convictions resulting from the so-called “riots” of May 6, 2012 has steadily climbed over 20, and the majority of the detainees have already spent many months in jail awaiting trial.
Their names are Vladimir Akimenkov, Oleg Arkhipenkov, Andrei Barabanov, Fyodor Bakhov, Yaroslav Belousov, Alexandra Dukhanina, Stepan Zimin, Ilya Gushchin, Nikolai Kavkazsky, Alexander Kamensky, Leonid Kovyazin, Mikhail Kosenko, Sergei Krivov, Konstantin Lebedev, Maxim Luzyanin, Denis Lutskevich, Alexei Polikhovich, Leonid Razvozzhayev, and Artem Savelov.
The aim of the prosecution is self-evident: to break the will for political struggle of those unhappy with the current political regime and to systematically demolish the existing political opposition, a significant portion of which is situated on the political left.
The Investigative Committee — a structure accountable only to President Putin — has constructed the case as a wide-ranging conspiracy, stretching from rank-and-file street protesters to established politicians. Thus, on January 10, 2013, the Committee merged two trials: the May 6th “riots” (with 19 detainees, two people under instructions not to leave, and 10 hiding outside of Russia) and the “organizing of unrest” with which our comrades Konstantin Lebedev, Leonid Razvozzhayev and Sergei Udaltsov have been charged.
THE LIST of detainees continues to grow. On February 7, 24-year-old Ilya Gushchin was arrested and accused of using violence against a policeman during the May 6th “riots.” A little earlier, on January 17, while facing similar charges and imminent deportation from the Netherlands back to Russia, Alexander Dolmatov took his own life.
On February 9, Sergei Udaltsov’s status changed from instructions not to leave to house arrest. This means that his channels of communication with the outside world have been cut off, and that even the tiniest infraction will land him in jail.
In addition, the prosecution and the judges, guided by the Kremlin, keep on placing pressure on the detainees, further risking their health and lives.
Thus, for example, the eyesight of 25-year-old Vladimir Akimenkov has continued to worsen since his arrest on June 10, 2012. Akimenkov, a Left Front activist, suffers from congenital impaired eyesight, which has deteriorated in prison conditions and may soon turn into a permanent loss of vision. Akimenkov’s lawyer, human rights activists and over 3,000 petitioners have asked the authorities to release him. However, the prosecution and the courts have remained firm and extended Akimenkov’s arrest until May 6, 2013.
Another of the accused, 37-year-old Mikhail Kosenko, has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder since his military service. Instead of granting him access to medication or releasing him, the court is preparing to send him to “forced treatment” in a prison hospital.
Leonid Razvozzhayev, 40, a coordinator of the Left Front, was abducted from Ukrainian soil by unknown parties and delivered to Moscow. After the abduction, a confession appears to have been extorted from Razvozzhayev under threat of torture and harm to his family. Once in prison, he renounced his “confessions,” but his words are still being actively used against others. Currently, Razvozzhayev has been transferred to the Siberian city of Irkutsk, where his freedom to communicate with relatives and lawyers is severely limited.
The trial will most likely begin in earnest in March. The prosecutor will claim the existence of a massive anti-state conspiracy in which the accused will be said to have played various roles. We have little doubt that this trial will be biased and unjust. Unless fought against, its probable outcome will be the broken lives of dozens of people (the charges carry imprisonment up to eight years), conspiratorial hysterics in the state-run media, and a carte blanche for new repression.
Your solidarity now is crucial for us. On the eve of this shameful trial, from February 28 to March 3 we ask you to stage protests in front of any consulates of the Russian Federation in your countries, to disseminate information about the political trials and to urge your government and relevant NGOs to act. Please send reports on solidarity action and any other information or questions to RussiaSolidarity@gmail.com.
The Russian Socialist Movement
The Left Front
Why was St Petersburg selected as Host for Manifesta 10?
Manifesta is the only roving biennial in the world, changing locations every two years. Its origin is based on addressing the disbalance in between East and West Europe after the fall of the Wall at the end of the 1980’s. St.Petersburg is the crucial European city to question such a disbalance today. Alexander Pushkin called the former capital of Russia the ‘window to Europe’.
Why are Petersburgers on the point of being essentially banned from protesting in the center of their own city, the ‘window to Europe,’ recently selected by Manifesta, the ultra-progressive European biennial of contemporary art, to host its 2014 event?
Because, unfortunately, some Petersburgers have in the recent past exercised their constitutional right to free speech and freedom of assembly in a provocative, irresponsible way by calling for things vehemently disapproved of by the vast majority of rank-and-file Petersburgers, things like free and fair elections, gay rights, preservation of historic buildings and green spaces, an end to racist assaults and murders, free public health care and education, freedom of assembly, etc. Also, as Russia’s cultural capital, Petersburg has a special duty to ensure that everyone can enjoy its cultural riches and sights: protesters prevent ordinary people and tourists from doing just that by blocking sidewalks and squares, and generally drawing attention to themselves.
Opposition political groups and concerned citizens continue to protest against a new local bill on demonstrations that effectively bans protests in the city center, passed by the Legislative Assembly last week in its third and final reading.
In hopes of preventing Governor Georgy Poltavchenko from signing it, the Yabloko Democratic Party has filed a complaint against the bill, describing it as “outrageous” and “illegal.”
“We are acting to prevent this becoming law, because, once in force, and used even once, the new law will have a devastating impact on the rights of citizens,” said Yabloko’s Nikolai Rybakov in a statement.
Called “On assemblies, rallies, demonstrations, marches and picketing in St. Petersburg,” the bill was passed Feb. 20 by 27 deputies, with 15 voting against.
The bill forbids the holding of rallies on Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s main street, as well as on Palace Square and St. Isaac’s Square, which had previously been used for rallies, including the now-legendary mass protests against the 1991 anti-reformist coup.
Rallies will also be banned from within 50 meters of the entrances of buildings occupied by state authorities, while one-man demonstrations can only be held if there is no other protester within 50 meters.
According to the bill, the restrictions have been imposed “in order to protect the rights and freedoms of man and citizen, the rule of law, order and public safety.”
In his statement, Grigory Yavlinsky, chair of the Yabloko faction in the city’s Legislative Assembly, stressed that by passing the law, the city parliament ignored not only the negative opinion expressed by the public at the Dec. 3 public hearing and an address by the city’s ombudsman Alexander Shishlov, but also the Constitutional Court’s Feb. 14 ruling. Every amendment proposed by opposition deputies was rejected.
Apart from harsh restrictions on rallies, the bill also states that without authorization from the authorities, no more than 200 demonstrators are allowed to assemble at specially designated sites “for the collective discussion of socially important issues and expression of public opinion.” City Hall has designated a small site on the Field of Mars for such a purpose.
Andrei Dmitriyev, local chair of The Other Russia party, said that the law may obstruct the historic May Day demonstration, a massive event featuring a broad range of political parties and movements, from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party to liberals, communists and nationalists.
“It’s even not clear how they will hold a May Day demonstration this year, when everybody always used to walk down Nevsky Prospekt and then rallied on Palace Square and St. Isaac’s Square,” Dmitriyev said Tuesday.
“It’s essential not only for civic activists, but also for every citizen, because people, when they are unhappy about anything, want to come to protest where the authorities sit, be it the Governor, the Legislative Assembly, district administrations or courts.
“These are places where it’s forbidden to protest now, so they lose any meaning. Of course, it’s all illegal, it contradicts the Constitution, and we think that the main thing is not how the authorities act, but how the opposition and city residents will act.”
He said that the small site on the Field of Mars offered by City Hall as an allegedly liberal concession, allowing small groups to protest there without the necessary authorization, should be boycotted.
“No self-respecting opposition [campaigners] can rally there, but both Yabloko and the nationalists have taken the bait and obediently go there to rally. It makes no sense.”
The State Duma passed a national law harshly restricting the freedom of assembly in June 2012, following a wave of protests against the flawed State Duma and presidential elections that were held in late 2011 and early 2012. It imposed a number of restrictions on public assemblies and abruptly raised fines for holding unsanctioned protests. Local laws followed.
Rights groups have criticized the law as violating both the Russian Constitution and international agreements.
What is the deal with Petersburg’s so-called anti-gay law? Why does it have people in Melbourne, Australia, of all places, upset?
People in Melbourne, Australia, should mind their own business. The Petersburg law you mention is not directed against gays, but against the promotion of homosexuality amongst minors. Maybe the people of Melbourne, Australia, are happy to leave their kids at the mercy of predatory faggots, pedophiles, and other sexual and political perverts, but in Petersburg we’re crazy about kids and deeply devoted to Russian Orthodox Christian family values.
LORD mayor Robert Doyle [of Melbourne] has requested an urgent meeting with Russia’s ambassador and a briefing from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to discuss new anti-gay laws in St Petersburg.
The move follows a petition by Carl Katter, half-brother of federal MP Bob Katter, to have Melbourne City Council dump its sister-city relationship with St Petersburg because he said the Russian city had enacted ”horrific” anti-gay laws.
The Russian city has introduced broad laws banning ”homosexual propaganda”.
”It is referred to as the gay propaganda law, but it is all-encompassing,” said Mr Katter, a campaigner for marriage equality.
”Melbourne is one of the most progressive cities of the world … and our mayor and council should be proud of that and stand up to such blatant homophobia,” Mr Katter said.
Cr Doyle said, ”I am very aware of the new laws in St Petersburg.
”I have sought a meeting with the Russian ambassador, I will take advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and once we have had those conversations we will be making further comment,” he said.
”Obviously my first position is, it is always best to continue to talk to try and effect outcomes in a positive way.”
The Italian fashion capital Milan is already believed to have frozen its sister-city relationship with St Petersburg over the gay rights issue.
”The community has been watching what has been happening in St Petersburg and the stories that have been coming out have been pretty devastating – and the fact that we are a sister city with them is not a good look,” Mr Katter said.
The small village of Novosyolki, southwest of St. Petersburg, has become City Hall’s favorite site to send St. Petersburg’s LGBT rights activists to rally, as the organizers of another protest planned this week found out when they were told that 15 sites they had suggested within the city were unavailable for their assembly. Meanwhile, a local court found no violations in City Hall’s continued refusals to let LGBT activists rally in the center.
On Monday, City Hall rejected a permit for the Democratic St. Petersburg movement to rally in the city against the national bill forbidding the “promotion of homosexuality” to minors, which is about to be accepted by the State Duma in its second hearing. It was passed in the first hearing on Jan. 25. Similar local laws have already been enacted in St. Petersburg as well as in ten other regions across Russia.
As the law on public assemblies requires the administration to suggest an alternative site if the one suggested by the organizers is unavailable, the organizers of the protest that had been planned for Sunday, Feb. 24 were told to hold it in Novosyolki.
“I didn’t go there, but I checked it on the map; it’s beyond the Ring Road, and takes two hours to get to from St. Petersburg,” said Natalya Tsymbalova, an activist with Democratic St. Petersburg and the Alliance of Straights for LGBT Equality.
“There is an aerodrome, a dump and a cemetery there. It looks like they have found the most remote location which is still officially part of the city.”
According to Tsymbalova, City Hall first dismissed five suggested sites last week, saying that other events were scheduled to be held at the first four, while large-scale road maintenance works would be held at the fifth. She said the organizers had not been given the reasons for the alleged unavailability of the ten other suggested sites, which include Palace Square and St. Isaac’s Square, as well as smaller locations where other rallies are usually authorized.
Tsymbalova said the third application, containing five other suggested locations, would be submitted to City Hall shortly.
“We’re running out of time and there’s already little hope,” she said.
“They look determined not to let us go anywhere but Novosyolki.”
As the planned date of the rally approaches, chances of the rally eventually being authorized are growing slimmer.
“If they still don’t let us have a rally, we have an idea to hold a kind of flash mob by walking around all the rejected sites to see what is really happening at them on Feb. 24; to see if there are some real events taking place there or if we have been given the runaround, so we could use it in court,” Tsymbalova said.
“We’ll definitely file a complaint about this absolutely insolent and mocking rejection and we hope to win in the city court or the Supreme Court, because it’s obviously unlawful.”
On Monday, the Smolninsky District Court dismissed a complaint by LGBT rights organization Vykhod (Coming Out), which was given Novosyolki as the only available site to hold a protest against the anti-gay law ahead of its first hearing at the State Duma in December.
According to Ksenia Kirichenko, the coordinator of Vykhod’s legal aid program, a representative of City Hall described the village as the most appropriate location for such an event.
“Novosyolki is becoming a favorite tool for effectively banning LGBT rights rallies,” Kirichenko said in a news release.
In 2011, City Hall redirected the organizers of the St. Petersburg Gay Pride event to Novosyolki. Instead, an attempt to hold the rally was undertaken in the city center on Senatskaya Ploshchad, beside the Bronze Horseman monument, and resulted in arrests and fines.
According to Kirichenko, Vykhod will appeal the Vyborgsky District Court’s ruling.
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger
— Yegor Letov, “We’re Getting Stronger”
Until recently, the habit that young left-wing activists have of dreaming up conspiratorial nicknames for themselves seemed mere child’s play, a tribute to a red romanticism long out of fashion. I spoke with Filipp Dolbunov, better known as Filipp Galtsov and whom I’m used to calling just plain Filippok, the day before the latest pogrom-like police search took place in his Moscow apartment. He is nineteen years old, in Kyiv, and in danger. The Russian government wants to put him in jail. He is a revolutionary.
— First of all, I wanted to ask whether you’re safe.
No, I’m not safe now. I’m experiencing unhealthy attention from the Russian and Ukrainian security services. In particular, as I’ve learned, I’ve secretly been put on the wanted list in Russia. My parents are visited once a week by the police, people from Center “E”, and perhaps the FSB. In Ukraine, I am being followed by the SBU.
I also don’t feel safe because the UNHCR does not respond to my requests for asylum.
— Are you afraid you could be deported?
Yes, that possibility exists. After Leonid Razvozzhayev’s abduction in Kyiv and considering that the Ukraine’s statistics for deporting refugees are high, it’s quite possible. And knowing what close friends the SBU are with the FSB and Center “E”, I would raise the likelihood of this several times.
— You say you’re being followed. What does that look like?
On February 6, for example, I was followed from the building of the Ukraine Migration Service right to the place where I’m staying. Three men bearing a strong resemblance to police investigators followed me at a distance of forty meters. They periodically stopped and pretended to talk. In the subway, they got into the car next to mine and glared at me the whole way. They got out at the same station as I did and took the same street as I did. Only when we were approaching the house did I shake them. I saw one of them running after me, but I managed to escape. Kyiv police officers are now periodically staked out near the house.
“Honor the UN convention on the rights of refugees”
— Why do you think the security services are so interested in you?
I think the security services are now paying special attention to people with leftist views. If a person defends his position not only in theory but also in practice, this interest often leads to something unhealthy from their point of view. The economic situation in Russia is now rather dodgy. The government is cutting spending on education, health care and other social needs. Unlike the liberals, who are enthusiastic only about “Russia without Putin,” the left speak loudly about these problems. The authorities are most afraid of a societal explosion. Hence the persecution, crackdowns, and intimidation on the part of the security services.
— What did you personally do to annoy them?
Lately I’ve been active in social movements, for example, the defense of the Khimki and Tsagovsky forests, support for workers’ dormitory residents [facing eviction] in Moscow, and the movement for fair elections. I have also been involved in some unsanctioned protest actions, but of course I didn’t do what they’re charging me with.
— What was your real role in the events of May 6, and what are you accused of doing?
As the lawyers and civil rights advocates tell me, I might be facing the charge of “organizing a riot.” The investigation is seriously basing itself on Leonid Razvozzhayev’s confession of guilt [whose authenticity has been disputed, first of all by Razvozzhayev himself], where I was identified as someone who allegedly led a column of anarchists. In fact, that day I marched in the column of the Russian Socialist Movement, of which I’m a member. I used no violence against police officers, all the more so because there was no “rioting” on Bolotnaya Square.
— You were a witness in the case of another person charged in the Bolotnaya Square case, Stepan Zimin? Have you been pressured in this connection?
Yes, I volunteered to be a witness in Stepan’s case. On October 25, I was abducted from my home by several Center “E” officers, who tried to force me into testifying against Konstantin Lebedev, Razvozzhayev and Sergei Udaltsov [during an interrogation] at the Investigative Committee. My apartment was searched. The same day I was released, with them telling me my procedural status was not clear. That is, it was difficult to understand whether I was a witness or a suspect. A week later, I finally received a [legal, written] summons from Investigator Marukyan. In my testimony, I said that Stepan had not thrown stones, had not used violence against police officers, and had not taken part in any rioting. During the questioning, Markuyan threatened to send me to the army if I didn’t, to borrow his expression, “stop talking nonsense.”
— Why did you decide to leave Russia right at this moment?
They had begun pressuring my relatives — my mother, grandmother, and grandfather. During the October 25 search, the eshniki [Center “E” officers] threatened that if my relatives continued to interfere with their “work,” they would be sent to the Investigative Committee for questioning. I left because too many facts had piled up that pointed to the possibility of my being arrested. From November to early January, people from Center “E” and the FSB came to my house once a week: they would ask where I was and threaten and intimidate my relatives. And recently, on February 12, they dragged my grandmother, who is seventy years old, in for questioning.
— How did you become a leftist? What influenced you?
I once was at a Grazhdanskaya Oborona concert, where I met really interesting people who were wearing hammer and sickle or anarchy patches. Then I gradually started reading, following the news, and looking at what was happening around me, and I realized that it was not even the country that had to be changed, but the whole world, the [entire] system of economic, human and spiritual relations.
— What’s your favorite Yegor Letov song?
Well, I have two favorites: “Sing, Revolution” and “We’re Getting Stronger.”
— You are applying for refugee status? How are things going?
At the moment I’m looking to be resettled in a third country, because I absolutely don’t feel safe here. Things are going badly, because the UNHCR does not react to reports of persecution on the part of the Ukrainian authorities. I don’t know how to explain this. The head of the local UNHCR office has said in the press that Ukraine is not a safe country for refugees. But considering the circumstances that I and other political refugees from Russia find ourselves in, I cannot understand why they can’t provide us with additional protection.
Besides me, Other Russia activist Alexei Devyatkin, journalist Jenny Kurpen, and Solidarity activist Mikhail Maglov are in Ukraine [applying for political asylum]. You can help us in this situation, first of all, by drawing attention to the problem of Russian refugees, especially at the international level.
— What would you wish or advise your comrades in Russia? Both those who are free and those already in prison.
I would like to wish my comrades success in the struggle. I wish a speedy release for the prisoners. You guys are such a big help. I really miss you and hope to see you soon.
Occupy Parnassus!: Kirill Medvedev’s ‘It’s No Good’
By Garth Risk Hallberg
February 19, 2013
In the fall of 2011, as the first protesters began assembling in Zuccotti Park, a different sort of occupation was underway in my apartment. My son had just turned one, and another kid was due in the spring. My life now consisted largely of early-morning adjunct gigs, late-night sessions banging my head against the writing desk, and afternoons measured out in the tiny spoons used to scrape the last bits of Gerber from the jar. Also: NPR. Lots of NPR.
By late September, the top of each hour brought new details about the methods and motives of “Occupy Wall Street.” Here, it seemed, was the cause I’d spent my twenties longing to throw my body behind. But now that it had materialized, there was a catch: mine was no longer the only body I was responsible for. I could take my son with me to the demonstrations, but did I really trust the NYPD to lay off the pepper spray, should he rattle the bars of our protest pen?
Plus who would take care of him if I got carted off to jail? Not his mother, whose nine-to-five job was our primary means of keeping the fridge stocked and the rent paid, and whose sick days would convert to precious maternity leave come the spring. There was always daycare, of course…but, then, as a would-be placard-carrying member of the 99%, I couldn’t even afford the hours of daycare I was already paying for. And here I ran up against the first great fallacy of the mainstream media’s OWS coverage. Of course the occupation as such was heavy on students, the unemployed, and men who looked like a cross between Santa Claus and Wavy Gravy. Stroller-pushing contingent-workers like me were constrained from spending all day and night at Zuccotti by the very conditions that made them want to do so. Thus does insecurity—financial, physical, psychological—become the stick that keeps us on the rutted path of late capitalism. (Consumer electronics being the carrot.)
Then again, another of the things too often glossed over in accounts of Occupy Wall Street is that it wasn’t a top-down program, whose output was a certain number of sleeping bags on the pavement. Rather, it was a piece of tactical hardware designed to execute any app deemed useful by its users—techno-utopian cant made collectivist flesh. This should have been apparent to anyone who spent more than half an hour down at Zuccotti. At first, you’d see the modest size of the occupation, relative to the number of cameras trained on it, and you’d think, Wait: Is this it? Then, out of nowhere, thousands of union electricians would appear, or affordable-housing advocates, or undergraduates, or, more likely, all of the above, and another drive or meeting or march would whir into motion. (As Michael Greenberg has noted in The New York Review of Books, those circuits would be reactivated after Hurricane Sandy to channel vital aid to the Rockaways.)
By October, my son and I had found our own way to take part. With his mother’s blessing, we pursued a sunshine policy, steering clear of martial-sounding or geographically marginal events in favor of those well-publicized enough to ensure my small comrade wouldn’t become another casualty on YouTube. We marched on Citigroup. We marched on JPMorgan Chase. We repaired to Zuccotti for pizza and purée, and then we marched some more. Well, I marched; he rode.
One memorable afternoon, in the company of a whole holy host of freaks and straights, aging lefties and juvie anarchists, friends from other events and perfect strangers—plus, this being a Saturday, my wife—we even took over Times Square. It was the same rainbow coalition I’d observed a decade earlier, marching against the Iraq War. In 2002, though, in the streets of D.C., everyone seemed to recognize that the switches on the war-making machinery had already been thrown. You could sense the inertia in the way the message decayed into calls for the abolition of the WTO and the World Bank, the liberation of Palestine and Mumia. Those chants that managed to break through the discord rang hollow off executive buildings emptied for the weekend.
By contrast, the message of Occupy Wall Street was so clear and so obvious as to subsume any ancillary concerns. Obviousness, in fact, may be why Occupy Wall Street proved such an effective counterweight to the Tea Party movement, with only a fraction of the money and organization and time. It takes great resources of all three to persuade Americans that Keynesian deficit spending is the source of our ills, because it’s total horseshit, whereas it takes very little to remind people of what they’ve already discovered in the most grinding, empirical way to be true: As an allocator of resources, our economic system is needlessly unjust, and getting more so by the day. And when the hoary old cry went up from Times Square—”We are unstoppable; another world is possible”—this, too, felt self-evident, assertion and evocation in a single stroke. For here was a halter-topped woman with frizzy hair leading thousands of people in social democratic chants from atop someone’s shoulders, and here was the commercial center of the world coming disobediently to a halt. Here were tourists taking buttons from engagé tweens and affixing them to jackets that would soon travel back to every corner of America. And here it all was again, up on the giant news screens overhead, the peak of a “high and beautiful wave” (to crib from Hunter S. Thompson). Under all those lights, we seemed to be waking, however briefly, from a long bad dream.
Notwithstanding the Monday-morning harrumphs of the commentariat, that autumn of idealism has left behind consequences of the most solid, realpolitik kind. The ongoing debate over whether creditors—i.e., capital—or borrowers—i.e., you and me—will bear the losses of the Great Recession has been permanently rebalanced, to the great annoyance of the business class. (Last December’s $43-million PR push was not so much about how to “Fix the Debt” as about whom to affix it to.) On its own terms, though, the Occupy project remains incomplete. When we argue over whether to set top marginal tax rates at 35% or 39.6%, or what to do about the sequester, or the class politics of Girls, we have turned from debates about an unjust system to debates within it. And though the possibility of “another world” has been preserved from total eclipse, it now seems hazy again, as if glimpsed from the far side of sleep. We need some outside force to jolt us back awake.
All of which is a very roundabout way of trying to explain why It’s No Good, the first major English-language publication of the writing ofKirill Medvedev, is so necessary, and so timely. Medvedev is a Moscow-based poet in his late 30s, and the book, the latest entry in Ugly Duckling Presse’s redoubtable Eastern European Poets Series (and the first to be published jointly with N+1), assembles English translations of his most important “poems/essays/actions” from over the last fifteen years. This was a period of radicalization for Medvedev, and the work amounts to a guerilla attack on the stagnation of Russian cultural life in the new millennium. By itself, this would make It’s No Good an invaluable document. But for readers beyond the old Iron Curtain, there’s a further twist of the knife: as with the best science fiction, the outrageous world Medvedev brings so vividly to life starts to sound awfully like our own.
An introduction by editor Keith Gessen sets the scene for Medvedev’s evolution. In “the years of mature Putinism, between about 2003 and 2008,” he explains, the atmosphere in Russia was one of “boredom, suffocation, and surrender…”
Nothing happened. No one wanted anything to happen. “Stability” was the word of the day and in service of this stability people were willing to give up a great deal. The liberal opposition that still made appearances in the New York Times not only had no real presence…[but was] also permanently discredited.
In the texts that follow, Medvedev will link this surrender to two mutually reinforcing phenomena, one political, one aesthetic. On one side was a problem of ignorance: Members of his generation, the first to come of age after the fall of Communism, “spent the 1990s not really knowing what politics was,” he writes. “We lived outside it; we never believed it could affect our private lives.” On the other side was a problem of sophistication: literature, which might have enlarged those private lives, had become content merely to reproduce them.
An exemplar here was the poet and impresario Dmitri Kuzmin, who published Medvedev’s early poems in his magazine, Vavilon…and who hovers over It’s No Good as a sort of Oedipal-Hegelian father figure, to be rebelled against and absorbed. A long, valedictory “essay-memoir” two-thirds of the way through the book may put some readers in mind of McSweeney’s circa 2003:
The central literary tendency of Vavilon was the so-called “new sincerity”: the appeal to personal experience (childhood; romantic and sexual encounters; family life) to the exclusion of social and political experience, justifying this by appealing to its authenticity (personal, emotional, etc.)
Of course, Russia’s liberalizing culture industry had no more difficulty assimilating Vavilon’s “authenticity” than the Politburo did assimilating social realism. As Medvedev sees it, this was art as gesture, as narcotic, as commodity, “a series of irresponsible infantile games and so-called independent intellectual proclamations – covering the terrain specifically assigned to such proclamations.”
The poems that make up the bulk of It’s No Good burst out of that terrain like bombshells. Superficially, their debt to Kuzmin is obvious. Medvedev’s voice, as translated by Gessen and others, is resolutely direct, colloquial, and personal. At times, it sounds like a Muscovite Frank O’Hara. “I don’t know why / I decided to work / at the nightclub Sexton / when I was eighteen,” begins one poem. Says another: “I really like when / a series of arches in moscow run /one after the other /creating their own kind of tunnel / out of arches.” As with O’Hara, the specificity of reference almost overwhelms argument; viewed from a certain angle, Medvedev’s poems might seem merely a catalogue of people, buildings, and foodstuffs signifying life for a young cosmopolite. Yet read him at any length (the poems are rarely under three pages, and sometimes swell to dozens), and it becomes impossible to confuse his urbanism with urbanity, or, as he puts it, “dignified aloofness” to the wider world. Medvedev complains, of one Vavilon-affiliated contemporary: “a person in his poems is always / returning from work / moving around the glaring twilit / cityscape / given shape by information streams.” His own Moscow resists such streamlined shapes. It is “glaring” in a different sense, made discontinuous by eruptions of frustration, pessimism, and rage. One moment, it’s true, we may be among the office towers, cruising through a catalogue
of everyone who turned out to be a computer genius
of everyone who became an assistant
or a designer
for major fashion magazines….
But then suddenly, we are hearing
of all the half-drunk and stunted intellectuals
who (unlike me)
matured too early,
then burned out,
of everyone who found work in the morgue
of everyone who did time in jail
then died of an overdose
of everyone who worked at
the politician kirienko’s campaign headquarters
and then joined his permanent team.
The closing descent from threnody back to sarcasm bespeaks the scale of Medvedev’s loss of faith in that distinctly Russian class formation, the “intelligentsia.” These were the people who were supposed to lead his country out of its slumber and instead discovered a taste for Ambien. But the dramatic expansion of the point-of-view, the deepening of emotion, and the Beatnik anaphora holding it all together produce a countervailing movement: One feels the quickening of an almost spiritual belief. Medvedev wants his poetry not only to “appeal to personal experience,” but to transfigure it, to break it open, to disclose what is underneath. And what is underneath, he insists, is always already political. The meticulously name-checked fruits of bourgeois existence—parties, nightclubs, careers, and even much of contemporary art—are underwritten by exploitation, militarism, and a more nebulous brand of postmodern unfreedom. Reader, you are hereby called to consciousness. Or at least deprived of an alibi.
Alongside Medvedev’s messianic streak runs a notable impatience with the formal strictures of Russian lyric poetry—the elegant prosody of Anna Akhmatova or his beloved Joseph Brodsky. Gessen’s introduction presents these tendencies as merely coincident. But really, I think, one compels the other. Trained at Moscow’s famed Gorky Literary Institute, Medvedev has a considerable, if well-disguised, capacity for artifice—for finding Pushkin in the punkish. Still, his conception of poetry is one of vision, rather than of craft. This helps explain the porousness (some might say sameness) of these largely untitled poems, which tend to flow together into a single Poem. It also helps explain their peculiar rhythms, and their general aversion to beauty. They gather force not by rhetorical turns, but by incantation, as Medvedev strains “to see without distortion by one’s social position, without limitations by one’s artistic milieu.” The results are frequently startling:
we dance around others’ misfortunes like mischievous wolves like some sort of lascivious bats in a frenzy we make our way toward them by the light of bonfires on the outskirts of town through desolate fields of garbage we fall on them swoop down throw ourselves at them with all of our might oozing the syrupy poison of empathy.
Which isn’t to say that the artist-monk can’t be funny, because Medvedev’s puckish streak runs deep. It surfaces sometimes at the expense of others (“as a janitor / I was always beyond suspicion”), but more often at the expense of his own ambitions. One of my favorite poems in the collection concludes on a note of perfectly serious ridiculousness, or ridiculous seriousness:
misha is going to do everything right
in this life,
whereas I’m going to continue sitting here
deep in shit
with my principles.
In 2004, Medvedev’s principles led him to make an unusual move: he renounced copyright to his own oeuvre. Henceforth, he declared in his “Manifesto on Copyright,” his poems would cease to be grist for the culture industry. They would appear on his website, and on facebook and LiveJournal, but reprinting them “in any anthologies, collections, or other kinds of publications” would be “consider[ed]…a disgusting manipulative action by one or another cultural force.” They were to be published
ONLY AS A SEPARATE BOOK, collected and edited according to the desires of the publisher, released in a PIRATE EDITION, that is to say, WITHOUT THE PERMISSION OF THE AUTHOR, WITHOUT ANY CONTRACTS OR AGREEMENTS.
The “Manifesto on Copyright” marks a hinge moment in the book, and in Medvedev’s career. Immediately before comes the longest, finest poem in the book (“Europe”) and an incendiary essay called “My Fascism.” The poems that follow the manifesto are thinner—at times they feel like Medvedev doing Medvedev—but the critical essays, by way of compensation, grow richer and more prophetic.
In the piece on Kuzmin and especially in “Literature Will Be Tested,” from 2007, Medvedev begins to articulate a dialectical vision of a new global humanism. Its acolytes, he argues, must preserve “postmodernism’s irrepressible critical outlook.” At the same time, Medvedev departs from the main body of post-’68 critical thought by insisting on the value of “grand narratives and global concepts.” To forego them, he says, is to accede to “an idealized consensus between the goals of ‘diversity’ and the interests of the global marketplace.”
And as he pursues the links between the stagnation he’s been confronting in Moscow and the larger, global situation, parallels that have heretofore been sub rosa become explicit. For Russia isn’t the only place where the notion of a life beyond politics gained traction after the collapse of Communism. “The end of history,” we called this period in the U.S. And what were the results? Open-ended war, accelerated environmental destruction, and the further consolidation of class power. History, history, and more history. Meanwhile, “the idea of ‘contemporary art’” grew ever more attenuated, as every imaginable gesture of “authenticity,” literary or otherwise, became a fungible commodity—one whose sale or purchase gets broadcast to your social network. “You can’t change the world that way,” Medvedev reminds us. “You can’t rise to the next level of existence that way.”
After the bracing cynicism of some of the poems, this formulation might sound preachy. But as a craftsman and as a human being, Medvedev knows he must make the political personal, even as the arrow also runs the other way. Taken as a whole, then, It’s No Good is less a sermon on change than a narrative enactment of it. In aesthetic terms, the distinctions among poems and essays and actions come to seem as provisional as those subtitular backslashes suggest; there’s criticism in the poetry, poetry in the criticism, and action in all of it. And in political terms, we get a portrait of the poet’s awakening to futility where he’d thought there was power, and vice versa. The thing might as well be a Bolaño novel…albeit one with a happier ending.
In another of his more unguarded moments, Medvedev confesses
I think it was genuine contact–
when two completely different people
begin to understand one another
in my opinion this
is a real event
in art and
It’s No Good is just such an event. It awakens us to the contingency of contemporary reality’s ceaseless argument for itself, and to what might still be possible outside it. Archimedes famously said something like, Give me a place to stand, and a long enough lever, and I’ll move the world. Kirill Medvedev and his translators have given American readers another place to stand, a kind of Zuccotti of the mind. Now if only we can keep our grip on the lever.
The Psychopathologies of Cognitive Capitalism: Part 2
Thursday, March 7, to Saturday, March 9, 2013
An international array of philosophers, critical theorists, media theorists, art historians, architects, and artists will discuss the state of the mind and brain under the conditions of contemporary capitalism, in which these cognitive apparati have become the new focus of labouring. Like its predecessor, The Psychopathologies of Cognitive Capitalism: Part 1, this conference will investigate how the conditions of Semiocapitalism and Cognitive Capitalism have transformed the conditions of labour – specifically the fact that so much contemporary labour is immaterial, affective, and cognitive – and as a result detourned the role of emancipatory politics, art/architecture and education today. Might these new conditions also have lasting material ramifications for the brain and mind?
This conference elaborates upon many of the questions left unattended in Part 1. Questions such as: What is the future of mind in Cognitive Capitalism? Can a term such as Plastic Materialism describe the substantive changes in neural architectures instigated by this contingent cultural habitus? Is there such a thing as Cognitive Communism? Is designed space an agent or platform in the production of subjectivity and is parametrics complicit with its devices? How does artistic research create new emancipatory possibilities in opposition to the overwhelming instrumentalization of the general intellect in Semiocapitalism?
Participating contributors include: Armen Avanessian, Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Ina Blum, Yann Moulier Boutang, Arne De Boever, Pascal Gielen, Deborah Hauptmann, Tom Holert, Sanford Kwinter, Maurizio Lazzarato, Abdul Karim Mustapha, Matteo Pasquinelli, Alexei Penzin, Sarah Rifky, John Roberts, Kerstin Stakemeier, Hito Steyerl, Liss C. Werner, Charles Wolfe
Yale University to Train U.S. Special Forces in Interrogation Techniques by Practicing on Immigrants
by Rania Khalek on February 18, 2013
The Department of Defense and Yale University have partnered up to train U.S. soldiers in the art of interrogation techniques with the local immigrant community acting as test subjects, reports the Yale Daily News.
As early as this April, Yale plans to welcome a training center for interrogators to its campus.
The center’s primary goal would be to coach U.S. Special Forces on interviewing tactics designed to detect lies. Charles Morgan III, a professor of psychiatry who will head the project, calls these tactics “people skills.” These techniques would be honed using New Haven’s immigrant community as subjects. Morgan hopes that by having soldiers practice their newly acquired techniques on “someone they can’t necessarily identify with” (read: someone who is not white), they’ll be better prepared to do ‘the real thing’ abroad.
The authors of the article, Nathalie Batraville and Alex Law, provide many reasons for why this training center is a terrible idea, one of which includes a lack of transparency. Apparently, students didn’t learn about the new program until now, just two months before the center opens. As Batraville and Law point out:
There was no conversation with the city about how this might impact its immigrant community. There was no conversation with students and faculty about how it might impact campus culture. And there was no conversation at all about the ethics of a project like this. It’s hard to understand where this project came from; the university’s motivations are wholly opaque.
They also argue that Yale could be indirectly involving itself in immoral practices by training soldiers whose skills could be used to, for example, determine whose name is added to President Obama’s kill list.
Most importantly, the authors offer some insight into the racist aspect of this program:
Morgan’s research and, by extension, this proposed center target people of color — brown people exclusively. According to a Yale Herald article, Morgan listed “Moroccans, Columbians, Nepalese, Ecuadorians and others.” Is there an assumption in Morgan’s desire to use more ‘authentic,’ brown interviewees as test subjects, that brown people lie differently from whites — and even more insidiously, that all brown people must belong to the same “category” of liar?
How might training on lie detection be perceived if it targeted blacks, or if it aimed to answer the question, “How do Jews lie?” That Morgan’s test subjects are compensated does not resolve the ethical questions his project raises. In fact, their participation highlights the structural inequality that this research capitalizes on and that the center would ultimately exploit.
As Nathalie was working on this piece, her phone rang. At the other end of the line was her 7-year-old nephew Rocco, who wanted to wish her a happy Valentine’s Day and send her many loud kisses. He now lives in Montreal, where Nathalie is from, but until about a year ago, he lived in Haiti.
The U.S.’ involvement in Haiti, from its occupation between 1915 and 1934 to its support — financial, logistical (and “moral”) — of François and later Jean-Claude Duvalier’s brutal dictatorships in the 60s and 70s, informs much of her outrage surrounding the establishment of this center, and her understanding that people often lie to protect their lives, their families, their country and the very freedom that Americans so dearly cherish.
Well said! But even without the the sickening immigrants-as-test-subjects aspect, the training center is still unsettling because it further solidifies the unholyalliance between physicians and the US war machine given that a professor of psychiatry is running the project. This should come as no surprise since we mostly ignored revelations that psychologists and medical doctors helped run the torture program at Guantanamo Bay (look forward, not backward!).
So congratulations Yale! You officially suck! Fortunately not all of your students do and they’re making noise about this program. Anybody interested following in their lead in halting the development of “Ivy League Interrogation Techniques Inc.” should add their name to this petition.
UPDATE: Investigative journalist and friend Steve Horn tells me he’s not at all surprised about Yale’s latest project given the university’s involvement in the Grand Strategy Programs (GSP), which Horn and Allen Ruff reported on in 2011 for Truthout.
A matrix of closely tied university-based strategic studies ventures, the so-called Grand Strategy Programs (GSP), have cropped up on a number of elite campuses around the country, where they function to serve the national security warfare state.
In tandem with allied institutes and think tanks across the country, these programs, centered at Yale University, Duke University, the University of Texas at Austin, Columbia University, Temple University and, until recently, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, illustrate the increasingly influential role of a new breed of warrior academics in the post-9/11 United States. The network marks the ascent and influence of what might be called the “Long War University.”
Ostensibly created to train an up-and-coming elite to see a global “big picture,” this grand strategy network has brought together scores of foreign policy wonks heavily invested – literally and figuratively – in an unending quest to maintain US global supremacy, a campaign which they increasingly refer to as the Long War.
This is the first I’ve heard of this program and I’m appalled (and super creeped out). I highly recommend reading the entire piece as well as a follow-up report here.
Editor’s Note.Thanks to various comrades for the heads-up.
Excerpt from the documentary American Revolution 2. This segment showcases Black Panther Bobby Lee helping comrades in the Young Patriots (a Chicago Urban Appalachian civil rights group in similar vein to the Panthers) organize a group of working class Whites to demand for radical change in their neighborhood (which has been victimized by police brutality and economic disenfranchisement) and/or take it into their own hands. This took place in 1968 Chicago, some time after the riots that had happened after the Democratic National Convention.
Human rights organizations in Russia, Tajikistan and Georgia on Tuesday protested mass arrests and reported harassment and beatings of mostly Central Asian and North Caucasus migrant workers during Friday’s raid on a marketplace in central St. Petersburg.
They are demanding a thorough investigation by Russian and Tajik authorities into the actions of law-enforcement officers who raided Apraksin Dvor, the marketplace in downtown St. Petersburg, during a service at a mosque on the market’s territory.
The Investigative Committee put the number of those detained at 271, but Fontanka.ru reported that “no less than 700” had been arrested, while human rights activists say that the number of arrests could be as high as 1,000.
Officially, the raid was part of a criminal investigation into “public incitement to terrorist activities or public justification of terrorism” and “inciting hatred or hostility as well as humiliation of human dignity” and was conducted jointly by several law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Security Service (FSB) and counter-extremism Center E. Smaller raids were held elsewhere in the city.
But only one person of the hundreds who were arrested is a suspect in that case.
Mass beatings were reported to have taken place during the raid at Apraksin Dvor.
“People who were victims of the mosque raid there and their relatives keep approaching us since the raid took place,” said Anna Udyarova, a lawyer with the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center, on Tuesday.
“For instance, one citizen of Uzbekistan said he had gone there with his sons, the youngest of whom was 10, and security service officers had used force against him, had beaten him as well as his adult sons, and all this had happened before the eyes of his 10-year-old son.
“Witnesses who work nearby in Apraksin Dvor said about 200 people were beaten, and some sustained injuries as serious as broken arms and legs, but they refuse to file official complaints or document their injuries because they’re afraid of how the authorities will respond. But in conversation with us, they say that all the men who were at the mosque during the service were beaten.”
The only person detained as a suspect within the investigation, according to the Investigative Committee, was Murat Sarbyshev, born in Kabardino-Balkaria (a republic in the south of the Russian Federation) in 1988. He is suspected of having uploaded “extremist literature and videos depicting terrorist attacks on the Internet in a period between October 2010 and April 2011,” the Investigative Committee said in a statement Saturday.
“We are trying to understand why such a large-scale special operation was held to detain just one person — who turned out to be a citizen of Russia — and with such a large number of people suffering as the result of harassment and beatings,” Udyarova said.
“It had an intimidating effect not only on those who were at the mosque at the time, but also on all the foreign citizens, mainly of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, who are based in St. Petersburg and Russia, who learned about this incident and perceived it as a threat to themselves.”
According to Udyarova, up to 1,000 people may have been detained in the city on Friday.
“We were told that about 1,000 were detained, because this special operation took place not only in Apraksin Dvor, but in other places in the city simultaneously,” she said.
“Differences in numbers can be explained by the fact that not everybody who was detained was taken to a police precinct; only those who had problems regarding their immigration documents.
“Even if, as the Interior Ministry’s representative claimed, the objective of this campaign was not to expose illegal migrants and they were in fact looking for suspects in a criminal investigation, as usual, innocent people — foreigners — who were there are the ones who suffered.”
She said the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center will provide legal support if at least one person who is not intimidated enough to file a complaint is found.
According to the Investigative Committee, those detained included citizens of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and the regions of the North Caucasus, as well as one citizen of Egypt and one citizen of Afghanistan. Ten had personal documents showing signs of forgery, and twenty had no documents at all, the agency said in a statement Saturday.
Of those detained, seven were deported and one more was awaiting deportation in a detention center for foreigners, Interfax news agency reported Monday, citing a source in the police.
With the exception of them and the suspect Sarbyshev, all those detained during the raid were released with no charges pressed, it said.
Late on Tuesday, Interfax quoted a source with the FSB who claimed that the deported seven had links to an “international terrorist organization.”
The polarisation of Russian nightlife is undoubtedly tied to the polarisation of wealth in Russian society. Is the arrival of places like Dom Byta [in Petersburg] — that shun the glitzy veneer that has been the hallmark aesthetic of Russian affluence since the Nineties — evidence of the emergence of a new middle class? Burtsev certainly thinks so. “A new generation has arrived that can travel, that can do projects, and the people remaining from the old generation are also willing to give things a go. They’ve made it possible to create this sort of good community.” For Burtsev, this change is starting to have a real impact on city life. “This young generation has already created its own space online,” he says. “They work in jobs like design, in a space beyond the reach of the government. And now we’re seeing people moving gradually, very gradually, to doing projects in real, concrete spaces.”
The transformation of Russia’s entertainment scene is dependent on two factors: time and travel. During the Soviet period, isolation, centralisation and a certain puritanism pushed Russian food culture to the brink of extinction: as a result foreign imports, like the ubiquitous sushi, have dominated the restaurant scene for the past two decades. But open borders have also allowed young Russian chefs, barmen and entrepreneurs to pick up best practice in Europe and America. Frequent trips to Paris, Madrid and Rome have also educated their potential audience. Along with new infrastructure such as better farms, catering schools and supply networks, which all take time to bear fruit, it’s this cosmopolitanism that has laid the foundation for the current renaissance in Russian food and drink.
An avowed Anglophile — Dom Byta has English beer on tap — Burtsev, who is just shy of 40, exemplifies the impact of Russia’s new-found wanderlust. “When we opened Solyanka six or seven years ago we were really influenced by places in London, in Shoreditch,” he says. “We would look at the people, at little details, at the general atmosphere.” His establishments meet the needs of a more educated audience: “The more people travel the more they get used to things: in London or elsewhere in Europe you can just pop in somewhere nice and get a bite to eat, or sit down and work with your laptop and feel relaxed about it.”
How would you, dear readers, read these two stories together? Send us your answer (500 words or less) to our email address (chtodelatnews [at] googlemail [dot] com) or in the comments, below. We’ll post the most convincing entry on this blog as a separate, headlined posting. We’ll also mail the winner a complete set of the Chto Delat group’s popular, award-winning songspiel films on DVD. And, as if that weren’t enough, we’ll treat the winner to a night on the town in Russia’s stunning cultural capital, Petersburg, including dinner at a restaurant featuring the cuisine of one of the city’s beloved ethnic minorities, followed by all the English tap beer they can drink at Dom Byta. (If “face control” lets us in, that is, and provided, of course, that the winner makes their own way to Petersburg.) The deadline for entries is next Friday at midnight Petersburg time (GMT + 0400).