Monthly Archives: April 2013

Valentin Urusov Wins Arthur Svensson Prize for Trade Union Rights

The Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights 2013 is awarded to the Russian Valentin Urusov  

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Falsely imprisoned for leading a strike in Russia

The Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights for 2013 is awarded to Russian trade union leader Valentin Urusov. He was falsely imprisoned after leading a strike against dangerous working conditions in the diamond industry.

“Urusov has become symbolic of the struggle for workers’ rights and freedom of association in Russia,” says Leif Sande, committee chair and head of the LO trade union Industri Energi.

The Arthur Svensson prize is a prize from a broad Norwegian trade union movement. This year’s prize goes to fearless trade union leader Valentin Urusov, who has been falsely imprisoned for many years. As the leader of the trade union Profsvoboda at Alrosa, the world’s second largest diamond mining company, he led a hunger strike with more than one thousand workers against inhumane working conditions and low pay.

The prize committee:

Leif Sande, Committee Chair (Industri Energi), former LO presidents Gerd-Liv Valla and Yngve Hågensen, Randi Bjørgen (former President of the Confederation of Vocational Unions), Helga Hjetland (former President of the Union of Education Norway), Finn Erik Thoresen (Board Leader of Norwegian People’s Aid) and Liv Tørres (General Secretary of Norwegian People’s Aid).

A forced confession

After the strike, Urusov was arrested, beaten up and his life was threatened. He was forced to sign a confession admitting possession of drugs. The police had brought an executive from Alrosa along as a witness, an example of how the company controls courts and the police in the republic.

“He was imprisoned on what were clearly false accusations, and both the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Russian and international trade union organisations have been involved in trying to get him released,” says Leif Sande, committee chair and head of the LO trade union Industri Energi, which took the initiative for the prize.

Released, but not free

Urusov was released in March of this year after it became known that he had been nominated for the Svensson prize. The rest of his five year prison sentence has been converted into a fine demanding 15% of his income throughout the remainder of his sentence. In addition, he is not permitted to leave the country.

The imprisonment and harassment of Urusov has become symbolic of the struggle for workers’ rights and freedom of association in Russia.

The committee alludes to the fact that he has full support from all the Russian trade unions, and that he was nominated for the prize by a number of trade union organisations throughout Europe. The international trade union movement, led by the International Trade Union Confederation, has been highly involved in his case.

“The Arthur Svensson international prize is first and foremost a helping hand – and an acknowledgment – to union officials and trade unionists around the world fighting for workers’ rights under dangerous conditions,” says Sande. We thank this year’s recipient of the prize, Valentin Urusov, for his courage in the fight against poor working conditions in the Russian diamond industry.

The committee expresses concern

In their citation, the committee write that they are concerned about the workers’ rights situation in Russia. The right of free association, right to collective bargaining and right to strike have long been under pressure, and it may appear that conditions are deteriorating further under Putin’s current regime. Thus, the prize is also being awarded to bring these conditions into focus, and in support of Russian workers.

For more information about the prize: www.svenssonprize.com

The Arthur Svensson International Prize

The Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights is awarded to individuals who, or organisations which, have made noteworthy efforts to promote the work of trade unions and workers’ rights nationally and internationally. Last year’s prize went to the Cambodian trade union the Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers Democratic Union, C.CAWDU. The prize is NOK 500,000 and is awarded annually. The prize is named for the former leader of the Norwegian Union of Chemical Industry Workers, Arthur Svensson, who was especially engaged in international solidarity.

This year, the prize will be awarded during a formal ceremony held at Folkets Hus on 19 June.

Photo by Aleskey Maishev

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Alexei Gaskarov. Bolotnaya Square, Moscow. May 6, 2012

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This is what our comrade Alexei Gaskarov looked like after riot cops got done with him on May 6, 2012, on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow. Yesterday, almost a year after the ominous events that took place there and the arrests, persecution and, in some cases, exile of several dozen opposition activists and ordinary citizens who were also there that day (and some who weren’t), Gaskarov was arrested while out buying food for his cat, transported to the Investigative Committee for questioning, charged with “rioting” and “violence against authorities,” and jailed. A Moscow district court will hear his case today and decide whether he will remain in police custody.

Thanks to an anonymous Facebook comrade for the photo.

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www.rferl.org

April 23, 2013
Russian Commission Blames Authorities For Bolotnaya Protest Violence
by RFE/RL’s Russian Service

MOSCOW — An independent investigation has blamed the Russian authorities and police for the violence that erupted at an opposition protest on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square last year.

The investigative commission, composed of leading public figures and rights advocates, released its findings late on April 22 at a public event in Moscow.

The report blames riot police for “excessive use of force” against demonstrators on May 6, 2012, resulting in numerous injuries.

Authorities have only recognized injuries sustained by police officers.

More than 20 demonstrators have been charged with participating in “mass unrest” and assaulting police.

Fifteen remain in pretrial detention and four are under house arrest. All face prison if convicted.

Georgy Satarov, the head of the INDEM think tank in Moscow and a former aide to Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, co-authored the report.

He told RFE/RL that the demonstrators’ reactions were understandable.

“They defended themselves and they defended others. Many of those who were not arrested and are now free would have done the same,” Satarov said.

The report says riot-police officers beat up “helpless, unarmed people,” including women and elderly people.

It blames police for deliberately creating bottlenecks by blocking the protesters’ path, contributing to tensions.

‘Agents Provacateurs’

It also accuses the authorities of sending a “significant number of provocateurs” into the crowd to spark clashes — a claim backed by witnesses as well as the Kremlin’s human rights council.

Satarov said the pieces of asphalt that some the defendants are accused of throwing at police had been placed on the square ahead of the rally.

“Bolotnaya Square was cordoned off overnight, it was surrounded by a tight fence inside which the asphalt was cut into pieces,” Satarov said.

“This circumstance was fully used by provocateurs. There are a multitude of other signs that indicate a planned provocation by authorities.”

One of the defendants in the so-called Bolotnaya case, Maksim Luzyanin, has already been sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison after pleading guilty and cooperating with investigators.

Authorities say their probe into the other defendants is nearing completion.

Investigators are still tracking down some 70 other protesters they suspect of disruptive behavior at the rally.

The investigative commission plans to send its report to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Parliament, and the United Nations.

It was formed by the opposition party RPR-PARNAS, the December 12 Roundtable civil group, and the May 6 Committee. It includes top rights activists like Lyudmila Alekseyeva and a number of prominent public figures such as economist and former Economy Minister Yevgeny Yasin.

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Statement by the Zhukovsky People’s Council on Alexei Gaskarov’s Arrest

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On April 28 in Moscow, Alexei Gaskarov, a member of the Zhukovsky People’s Council, was arrested on the street. After being questioned as a witness at the Investigative Committee, his status was changed to that of a suspect and he was charged with violation of Article 212, Part 2 (involvement in riots) and Article 318, Part 1 of the Criminal Code (use of violence against the authorities) as part of the criminal case surrounding the events on May 6, 2012, on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow.

During elections to the Zhukovsky People’s Council, over a thousand residents of Zhukovsky (Moscow Region) showed their confidence in Alexei Gaskarov. And that was quite natural, as Alexei has consistently spoken out for justice and defended the interests of its citizens over the years. He has been a defender of the Tsagovsky Forest, a grassroots observer of elections at all levels of government, and an opponent of infill construction in the town of Zhukovsky.

Gaskarov has been actively involved in the work of the Zhukovsky People’s Council, initiating new projects for developing the town. He was directly involved in shaping the concept for the “Zhukdor” movement for renovating the town’s residential courtyards and adjacent territories. Gaskarov is also one of the authors of a white paper on urban development in Zhukovsky that has been submitted to the town administration. Gaskarov has also been actively engaged in programs encouraging the personal development of young people in the town of Zhukovsky. In particular, he has organized a series of free seminars that featured screenings of documentaries on topical social issues.

We, the members of Zhukovsky People’s Council, earnestly declare that Alexei Gaskarov is a sober-minded, law-abiding person and an advocate of the peaceful reform of our country’s social and political system.

We believe there is no justification for remanding Gaskarov to police custody and are willing to vouch for the fact that, if released, he will not conceal himself from investigators or hinder the investigation.

We are outraged by the charges, and believe they discredit law enforcement agencies in the eyes of the public and have nothing to do with the observance of the law in a state governed by the rule of law.

People like Alexei Gaskarov are the best part of civil society, a society based on justice and decent lives for its citizens, a society that will surely be created in our country.

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Russian Anti-Fascist Alexei Gaskarov Arrested

avtonom.org

Well-Known Russian Anti-Fascist Alexei Gaskarov Arrested

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On Sunday, April 28, 2013, the well-known Russian anti-fascist Alexei Gaskarov was arrested in Moscow. He is an elected member of the Russian opposition’s Coordinating Council. The Russian Investigative Committee has accused him of involvement in riots and violence against officials on May 6, 2012, when OMON (Russian riot police) attacked a peaceful, authorized demonstration in Moscow.

May 6 was the day before Putin’s inauguration, and a mass demonstration had been called by the opposition. The winter and spring of 2011-2012 saw the biggest wave of political demonstrations in Russia in almost twenty years, as tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest election fraud. May 6 was also the first time authorities had moved to crush these protests. According to the opposition, more than 600 people were arrested that day, and 28 people have subsequently been charged in connection with these events, remanded to police custody, placed under house arrest or forced to emigrate.

On May 6, 2012, OMON officers beat Alexei Gaskarov with batons and boots. He filed a complaint against the officers who beat him up, but no one was charged. Now, a year later, and just a few days before the anniversary of the May 6 demonstration, as Gaskarov was preparing to lead a left-wing and anti-fascist column at May Day demonstrations, he has had a set of absurd charges brought against him and been arrested.

Alexei Gaskarov was born on June 18, 1985, and has been politically active since his school days.

Gaskarov gained fame in summer 2010, when, during the protest campaign against the destruction of the Khimki Forest, he was  arrested along with Maxim Solopov and accused of orchestrating an attack by 300 to 400 young anti-fascists, who supported the environmentalists, on the Khimki city administration building. In autumn 2010,  Gaskarov and Solopov were released from prison, thanks to a massive international campaign on behalf of the “Khimki Hostages.” In summer 2011, Gaskarov was acquitted of all charges.

Gaskarov has been actively involved in the mass demonstrations against electoral fraud in Russia since they began in December 2011. He was one of the speakers at the largest of the demonstrations, on December 24, 2011, on Sakharov Boulevard in Moscow. He was in charge of the security for that rally, where he had to stop neo-Nazi provocations.

Gaskarov is being held in the police jail at Petrovka, 38, awaiting a court hearing, scheduled for 11 am, April 29, 2013 at the Basmanny district courthouse in Moscow. Pending the court’s decision, Gaskarov will be remanded or released.

Additional information:
gaskarov.info@gmail.com
https://twitter.com/gaskarov_info
Svetlana Sidorkina (Gaskarov’s lawyer): +7 (926) 557-9016

Editor’s Note. We have slightly edited the original article to make it more readable.

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August 1, 2012

MOSCOW, August 1 – RAPSI. Opposition activist Alexei Gaskarov has filed an application with the investigative authorities, claiming that he was beaten up by riot police officers during the March of Millions, the Agora human rights organization told the Russian Legal Information Agency on Wednesday.

Gaskarov has also provided a video of the beating to the investigators.

Agora reported that Gaskarov went to the Interior Ministry’s Internal Security Department to speak with investigators about the Bolotnaya Square riots. During the questioning, he gave the investigators a four minute video demonstrating how he was beaten by police officers.

According to Gaskarov, the investigators said they would look into his statement within a month.

Gaskarov sent a statement about his beating to Moscow Investigative Department head Vadim Yakovenko.

Clashes with the police flared up on May 6 during an opposition march across Moscow, which had been granted official permission. Tens of protesters and police officers were injured. The police detained over 400 rally participants.

After May 6, the opposition continued its protests in the form of “people’s promenades.”

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Marxism Today (or, The Soft Power Approach to Changing Perceptions of Russia)

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Join us for the first stage of Sarajevo-born artist Nada Prlja’s new commission Subversion to Red, a performative round-table discussion reflecting upon the relevance and application of socialist and Marxist ideals today.

Speakers include: Dave Beech, Hannah Black, Gail Day, Mark Fisher and Nina Power. Chaired by Vlad Morariu

As part of First Thursdays the gallery will be open until 9pm.

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In March 2011 the London arts foundation Calvert 22 and the Russian investment company VTB Capital have announced a strategic partnership designed to showcase cutting-edge Russian artists in London and widen the exposure of the British public to creative Russian culture as part of a wider artistic programme that presents culture from Russia, Central and Eastern Europe.

VTB Capital is positioned as Calvert 22’s primary strategic partner, providing support for the artistic vision and core activities of the organization. Calvert 22 and VTB Capital are committed to promoting global co-operation through cultural understanding. 

VTB Capital is the recognized leader in Russian investment banking, and one of the company’s key objectives is to promote Russian culture throughout the world. VTB Capital’s partnership with Calvert 22 provides a unique opportunity to engage an open dialogue with the British audience.

Working together, VTB Capital and Calvert 22 are committed to promoting and developing new possibilities for global cooperation through cross-cultural understanding and exchange by implementing an ambitious artistic programme that is part of the company’s soft power approach to the global community.

Nonna Materkova, Founder/Director of Calvert 22, comments:
“I am delighted to announce VTB Capital as our primary strategic partner and proud to be associated with such a highly regarded, trailblazing organisation. This partnership marks a truly exciting and significant new phase in Calvert 22’s development and one that will ensure the foundation continues to present the very best of contemporary Russian, Central and Eastern European art as well as supporting new artists and cultural practice from these regions so as to genuinely introduce fresh and original perspectives to the UK. We are immensely grateful for their support and look forward to working together.”

Olga Podoinitsyna, Member of the Board at VTB Capital, comments:
“Throughout the nearly 3 years of partnership between VTB Capital and Calvert 22 Foundation, we have made a considerable contribution to the showcasing of Russian art in London, and also promoting the understanding of Russia as part of the global community. We support Calvert 22 as a unique vehicle for bringing contemporary Russian culture to Britain, putting people in touch with the actual trends in the country and offering them a new perspective on Russia. Our company plays an important role in strengthening ties between the Russian and British business communities and the partnership with Calvert 22 is a key part of VTB Capital’s soft power approach to changing perceptions of Russia.

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VTB Bank (Russian: ОАО Банк ВТБ, former Vneshtorgbank) is one of the leading universal banks of Russia. VTB Bank and its subsidiaries form a leading Russian financial group – VTB Group, offering a wide range of banking services and products in Russia, CIS, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the U.S. The Group’s largest subsidiaries in Russia are VTB24, Bank of Moscow, and TransCreditBank.

VTB was ranked 236th on the FT Global 500 2011, The Financial Times’ annual snapshot of the world’s largest companies. It climbed to 82nd in the ranking of the 500 largest companies in Europe, the FT Europe 500 2011, and to 38th in the FT Emerging 500 2011, the list of the 500 largest companies on the world’s emerging markets. The Moscow-based bank is registered in St. Petersburg and came 65th in the British magazine The Banker’s Top 1000 World Banks in terms of capital in 2010.

[…]

The main shareholder of VTB is the Russian Government, which owns 75.5% of the lender through its Federal Agency for State Property Management. The remaining shares are split between holders of its Global Depository Receipts and minority shareholders, both individuals and companies.

In February 2011, the Government floated an additional 10% minus two shares of VTB Bank. The private investors, who paid a total of 95.7 billion roubles ($3.1 billion) for the assets, included the investment funds Generali, TPG Capital, China Investment Corp, a sovereign wealth fund responsible for managing China’s foreign exchange reserves, and companies affiliated with businessman Suleiman Kerimov.

[…]

As of September 2009, the Supervisory Council of VTB Bank consist[ed] of Alexei Kudrin (Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance of the Russian Federation), Arkady Dvorkovich (Aide to the President of the Russian Federation), Anton Drozdov (Chairman of the Management Board, Russian Pension Fund), Andrey Kostin (President and Chairman of the Management Board, JSC VTB Bank), Alexey Savatyugin (Head of Financial Policy Department of the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation), Vitaly Saveliev (CEO, JSC Aeroflot-Russian Airlines), Alexei Ulyukaev (First Deputy Chairman of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation), Grigory Glazkov (Independent Consultant), Matthias Warnig (Managing Director, Nord Stream AG), Nikolai Kropachev (Rector of the St. Petersburg State University) and Muhadin Eskindarov (Rector of Finance Academy under the Government of the Russian Federation).

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CALVERT 22 FOUNDATION

Founder and Director
Nonna Materkova

Board of Trustees
Nonna Materkova (Chair)
Alexey Kudrin
Margarita Gluzberg
Innokenty Alekseev
Dominic Sanders
Nigel Nicholson

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From 1990 to 1996, Kudrin worked in the Saint Petersburg Saint Petersburg City Administration under the liberal mayor and reformer Anatoly Sobchak. His first position was Vice Chairman of the Committee for Economic Reform. Until 1993, he worked in various financial positions in the city administration, before he was promoted to Deputy Mayor, in which position he served from 1993 to 1996. Future President Vladimir Putin was the other top Deputy Mayor of Saint Petersburg at the time. Kudrin was also Chairman of the City Administration’s Economic and Finance Committee.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin jokingly called former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin a “slacker” on Thursday [April 25, 2013] for refusing to rejoin his government, as the two jousted on live television over how to revive a weakening economy.

“I offered – he refused,” Putin told a live call-in show after Kudrin took the microphone to criticise his administration’s economic policies. Smiling, Putin added: “He’s a slacker and doesn’t want to work.”

The good-natured exchange indicated that, although Putin remains on good personal terms with Kudrin, who served as finance minister for 11 years before resigning in September 2011, their economic views remain far apart.

Since quitting, Kudrin has publicly sympathised with opposition protests over alleged ballot fraud in the ensuing parliamentary and presidential elections that secured Putin’s return for a third Kremlin term.

His presence in the audience of Putin’s annual question-and-answer session and his tough questions were probably stage-managed to show that Putin could tolerate hard questioning.

Kudrin, a fiscal hawk and economic liberal, told Putin it was important to find political consensus and take into account the concerns of people who want to invest money and create jobs.

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The Argument Nadezhda Tolokonnikova Wasn’t Allowed to Make at Her Parole Hearing

[Originally published by The Russian Reader]

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Yesterday, April 26, 2013, a district court in Zubova Polyana, Mordovia, denied imprisoned Pussy Riot activist Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s request for parole. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Judge Lidiya Yakovleva agreed with arguments made by prison authorities that it would be “premature” to release Tolokonnikova given that she “had been cited for prison rules violations and expressed no remorse,” and had not participated in such prison activities as the “Miss Charm Prison Camp 14 beauty contest.” Judge Yakovleva made her ruling without allowing the defense to make a closing argument, thus allegedly violating the Criminal Procedure Code. Tolokonnikova had written her statement out in advance. The translation below is of the Russian original as published in full on the web site of RFE/RL’s Russian Service (Radio Svoboda). Photos courtesy of the Free Pussy Riot Facebook page.

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“Has the convict started down the road to rehabilitation?” This is the question asked when a request for parole is reviewed. I would also like us to ask the following question today: What is  this “road to rehabilitation”?

I am absolutely convinced that the only correct road is one on which a person is honest with others and with herself. I have stayed on this road and will not stray from it wherever life takes me. I insisted on this road while I was still on the outside, and I didn’t retreat from it in the Moscow pretrial detention facility. Nothing, not even the camps of Mordovia, where the Soviet-era authorities liked to send political prisoners, can teach me to betray the principle of honesty.

So I have not admitted and will not admit the guilt imputed to me by the Khamovniki district court’s verdict, which was illegal and rendered with an indecent number of procedural violations. At the moment, I am in the process of appealing this verdict in the higher courts. By coercing me into admitting guilt for the sake of parole, the correctional system is pushing me to incriminate myself, and, therefore, to lie. Is the ability to lie a sign that a person has started down the road to rehabilitation?

It states in my sentence that I am a feminist and, therefore, must feel hatred towards religion. Yes, after a year and two months in prison, I am still a feminist, and I am still opposed to the people in charge of the state, but then as now there is no hatred in me. The dozens of women prisoners with whom I attend the Orthodox church at Penal Colony No. 14 cannot see this hatred, either.

What else do I do in the colony? I work: soon after I arrived at Penal Colony No. 14, they put me behind a sewing machine, and now I am a sewing machine operator. Some believe that making political-art actions is easy, that it requires no deliberation or preparation. Based on my years of experience in actionism, I can say that carrying out an action and thinking through the artistic end-product is laborious and often exhausting work. So I know how to work and I love to work. I’m no stranger to the Protestant work ethic. Physically, I don’t find it hard to be a seamstress. And that is what I am. I do everything required of me. But, of course, I cannot help thinking about things while I’m at the sewing machine (including the road to rehabilitation) and, therefore, asking myself questions. For example: why can convicts not be given a choice as to the socially useful work they perform while serving their sentences? [Why can they not chose work] in keeping with their education and interests? Since I have experience teaching in the philosophy department at Moscow State University, I would gladly and enthusiastically put together educational programs and lectures using the books in the library and books sent to me. And by the way, I would unquestioningly do such work for more than the eight hours [a day] stipulated by the Russian Federation Labor Code; I would do this work during all the time left over from scheduled prison activities. Instead, I sew police pants, which of course is also useful, but in this work I’m obviously not as productive as I could be were I conducting educational programs.

In Cancer Ward, Solzhenitsyn describes how a prison camp detective stops one convict from teaching another convict Latin. Unfortunately, the overall attitude to education hasn’t changed much since then.

I often fantasize: what if the correctional system made its priority not the production of police pants or production quotas, but the education, training, and rehabilitation of convicts, as required by the Correctional Code? Then, in order to get parole, you would not have to sew 16 hours a day in the industrial section of the colony, trying to achieve 150% output, but successfully pass several exams after broadening your horizons and knowledge of the world, and getting a general humanities education, which nurtures the ability to adequately assess contemporary reality. I would very much like to see this state of affairs in the colony.

Why not establish courses on contemporary art in the colony?

Would that work were not a debt, but activity that was spiritual and useful in a poetic sense. Would that the organizational constraints and inertia of the old system were overcome, and values like individuality could be instilled in the workplace. The prison camp is the face of the country, and if we managed to get beyond the old conservative and totally unifying categories even in the prison camp, then throughout Russia we would see the growth of intellectual, high-tech manufacturing, something we would all like to see in order to break out of the natural resources trap. Then something like Silicon Valley could be born in Russia, a haven for risky and talented people. All this would be possible if the panic experienced in Russia at the state level towards human experimentation and creativity would give way to an attentive and respectful attitude towards the individual’s creative and critical potential. Tolerance towards others and respect for diversity provide an environment conducive to the development and productive use of the talent inherent in citizens (even if these citizens are convicts). Repressive conservation and rigidity in the legal, correctional, and other state systems of the Russian Federation, laws on registration [of one’s residence] and promotion of homosexuality lead to stagnation and a “brain drain.”

However, I am convinced that this senseless reaction in which we now forced to live is temporary. It is mortal, and this mortality is immediate. I am also certain that all of us—including the prisoners of Bolotnaya Square, my brave comrade in arms Maria Alyokhina, and Alexei Navalny—have the strength, commitment, and tenacity to survive this reaction and emerge victorious.

I am truly grateful to the people I have encountered in my life behind barbed wire. Thanks to some of them, I will never call my time in prison time lost. During the year and two months of my imprisonment, I have not had a single conflict, either in the pretrial detention facility or in prison. Not a single one. In my opinion, this shows that I am perfectly safe for any society. And also the fact that people do not buy into state media propaganda and are not willing to hate me just because a federal channel said that I’m a bad person. Lying does not always lead to victory.

Recently, I got a letter containing a parable that has become important to me. What happens to things different in nature when they are placed in boiling water? Brittle things, like eggs, become hard. Hard things, like carrots, become soft. Coffee dissolves and permeates everything. The point of the parable was this: be like coffee. In prison, I am like that coffee.

I want the people who have put me and dozens of other political activists behind bars to understand one simple thing: there are no insurmountable obstacles for a person whose values  consist, first, of her principles and, second, of work and creativity based on these principles. If you strongly believe in something, this faith will help you survive and remain a human being anywhere.

I will surely use my experience in Mordovia in my future work and, although this will not happen until completion of my sentence, I will implement it in projects that will be stronger and politically larger in scale than everything that has happened to me before.

Despite the fact that imprisonment is a quite daunting experience, as a result of having it we political prisoners only become stronger, braver, and more tenacious. And so I ask the last question for today: what, then, is the point of keeping us here?

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Chto Delat, To Negate Negation (Wrocław)

www.bwa.wroc.pl


 Nikolay Oleynikov, mural at the show Chto Delat, The Urgent Need to Struggle, ICA, London, 2010. Photo  courtesy of Chto Delat

CHTO DELAT
To Negate Negation
April 29–June 16, 2013

April 29, 2013 (Monday):
5 p.m. – Discussion (in English) with Chto Delat (Dmitry Vilensky, Olga Egorova, Nikolay Oleynikov), Jan Sowa, and Jakub Szreder

7 pm. – exhibition opening 
Awangarda Gallery (Wita Stwosza Street, 32, Wrocław)

Curators: Alicja Klimczak-Dobrzaniecka and Patrycja Sikora

Download press materials here


Chto Delat, The Russian Woods. Installation at the show Lessons of Dis-Consent, Stadliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, 2011. Photo courtesy of Chto Delat

TO NEGATE NEGATION

Philosopher Georg Lukács once said that orthodox Marxists should not believe in this or that thesis, nor in the exegesis of a sacred book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to method. By method, Lukács meant dialectics as a means of analyzing and representing the whole of society as a totality of struggling contradictions.

To speak about dialectics makes particular sense at BWA Wrocław. Its architecture confronts the ruin of an old palace with a new modernist intervention, facing us with obvious conflicts between the classics and modernism, between the old functions of exclusive noble privacy and the modern public institution. The current exhibition responds to this living contradiction by presenting a survey of many old and newer Chto Delat projects in a specially developed dialectical display whose main point is to “negate the negation.”

All graduates of socialist schools and universities will remember this negation of negation as the third principle of dialectics, culled from Friedrich Engels’ Dialectics of Nature. What could this principle mean in art today? Confronted with a simple dumbly positive postulate of an artwork, the viewer reacts with a very basic question: why should I care? It looks like the artists are trying to brainwash me but for what reason? I won’t believe it, I’m not that simple; the characters are so conditional, it must be a Brechtian device. Why are they constructed in such a way? And why do they still give me aesthetic pleasure? Perhaps there is something beyond this simplicity? It is with such questions that the negation of negation begins.

We invite the visitor to a tour through a show where art works only communicate by calling one another into question, making complex things simple and simple things complex, as the work of negativity turns into the play of its own negation. But make no mistake. Art is never just a self-referential game. It always suggests further implementations and resolutions outside the gallery space in real life. As Mao once wittily remarked, “Theory (read also art) is the negation of practice while the opposite of practice is of course non-practice. In turn, only when theory is further negated in practical activity is a higher development of man’s knowledge of the world achieved.”

Dmitry Vilensky and David Riff (Chto Delat)

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The Dialetical Play of Opposite: About Chto Delat in the Institutional Framework

Chto Delat have embarked on a quest for a currently attractive, emancipatory potential of leftist ideas. Chto Delat strongly criticize the reality of contemporary political and social life in Russia, art institutions, and Western capitalism. Chto Delat flourish in the international institutional art market, operating in the convenient framework of the capitalist system. Chto Delat embody the dream of engaged Russian art in the Putin era, dreamed of by curators from the West. At the same time they rarely show up in the official salons in Russia. Each of the above statements is true: this is a conclusion one can draw upon a close inspection of the exhibition in Wroclaw, reading the numerous descriptions, theoretical and polemical texts, or studying the performances and documentation of actions published on the collective’s website.

To Negate Negation is a unique exhibition, as it is the first presentation of contemporary Russian art in the Wrocław gallery Awangarda after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is also the first exhibition of the group Chto Delat in Poland, presenting the whole panorama of its activity. As part of the show, we will find all themes characteristic of the artistic practice of Chto Delat, including, in particular, references to the Hegelian and Marxist dialectical struggle of opposites, inevitably driving social change. The title To Negate Negation already contains direct references to the terminology originally borrowed from the idealist dialectic of classical German philosophy, and specifically to one of the three universal laws formulated by Hegel’s dialectic – negation of the negation. In turn, individual projects of the collective shown in the exhibition relate to the dialectical principle of testing the reality which involves the disclosure of its existing contradictions, the study of the clash of these contradictions and the resulting changes, that is, in short, to the principle underlying the methodology of Marxism.

At the core of the exhibition lie projects commenting on the current situation, social and political events in various countries (Russia, Serbia, the Netherlands), petrified by allegorical methods and visualized primarily in film productions, the so-called Songspiels. The actors embody various sections of the society, represent various (age, professional, political) groups and their aspirations, interests and visions, as well as the existing opposition between them, building tension and conflict. Both these projects and other documentary and para-documentary recordings reveal interest in “classic” leftist work – the epic theatre of Brecht and Godard’s New Wave cinema. Apart from film showings, the arsenal of devices employed by Chto Delat consists of a few simple methods. Institutional space, annexed by the group in various parts of the world, is usually organized in a similar manner – by means of simple elements of stage design, reminiscent of home-made banners or mock-ups, as well as prints, murals, flags, posters and publications. These elements are often accompanied by on-site actions, meetings and discussions. Each of these devices is invariably associated with the language of propaganda and agitation, a message addressed to the widest possible audience. In each case, an institution turns into such a propaganda mouthpiece, becoming at the same time the (knowing) object of the collective’s genuine contempt. Yet the collective declares the aim of protecting the institution against the “economization, and subordination to the populist logic of the culture industry,” only to say: “That is why we believe that right now it would be wrong to refuse to work in any way with cultural and academic institutions despite the fact that the majority of these institutions throughout the world are engaged in the flagrant propaganda of commodity fetishism and servile knowledge. The political propaganda of all other forms of human vocation either provokes the system’s harsh rejection or the system co-opts it into its spectacle. At the same time, however, the system is not homogeneous – it is greedy, stupid, and dependent. Today, this leaves us room to use these institutions to advance and promote our knowledge. We can bring this knowledge to a wide audience without succumbing to its distortion.” Institutions inviting Chto Delat decide to play this game. This is the case this time as well. In Wroclaw, the game with the institution takes on another dimension – the game with the potential inherent in the relationship with the audience and with the surrounding reality. Thanks to Chto Delat the monumental windows of the Awangarda Gallery, overlooking a busy street, become stands. The gallery turns into the audience, and the street turns into a performance. There is a clear reversal of the viewer-institution relationship, ascribed to the building by the very architectural device of unveiling and glazing the top coat of the facade of the historic palace ruined during WWII – and, in this way, opening up its institutional interior to constant public view. The metaphor of game and the play of opposing forces present inside and beyond the institutional framework does not merely serve the purpose of turning the set relationship between an art gallery and the external world inside out, but rather of evoking a critical reflection on the observed reality, seen as a potential that can be offered to the viewer.

Patrycja Sikora

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CHTO DELAT (WHAT IS TO BE DONE)?

What is Chto Delat?

The Russian group Chto Delat is a platform that unites representatives of various areas of artistic and intellectual life: artists, philosophers, writers, activists, and social scientists. The group is guided by the principles of collectivism and self-realization. As described by its members, the core of the group is formed by a team of coordinators who cooperate closely with grassroots workgroups that share the principles of internationalism, feminism, and equality. Their activity represents the entire platform and provides a common context for interpreting their projects. Permanent activists of the collective include: Olga Egorova aka Tsaplya (artist, Petersburg), Artemy Magun (philosopher, Petersburg), Nikolay Oleynikov (artist, Moscow), Natalia Pershina aka Gluklya (artist, Petersburg), Alexei Penzin (philosopher, Moscow), David Riff (art critic, Moscow), Alexander Skidan (poet, critic, Petersburg), Oxana Timofeeva (philosopher, Moscow), Dmitri Vilensky (artist, Petersburg), and Nina Gasteva (choreographer).

Where did they come from?

Chto Delat was established on May 24, 2003, in the action “The Refoundation of Petersburg,” during which a group of artists, architects, and critics symbolically founded a new city centre on the city’s outskirts. Inspired by the pompous celebrations of the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg, the event was seen by the police as a disruption of the ceremony. Shortly afterwards, still unnamed, the group began to publish the newspaper Chto Delat, targeting the international audience. The name of the newspaper, and later of the collective, was borrowed from Nikolai Chernyshevsky (1828–1889), a philosopher, journalist, writer, and socialist, who in 1863 published the novel Chto Delat, one of the creative harbingers of the Russian Revolution. In 1902, Vladimir Lenin referred to the novel in his pamphlet bearing the same title, in which he presented a new look on the problems of self-organization of work groups. In this context, the artists and intellectuals working in the collective see themselves, by way of analogy, as a self-organizing group of “cultural workers.”

What do they do?

Chto Delat actions integrate different fields of intellectual activity: visual arts, literature, journalism, film, theatre, philosophy, and political thought. Created with a variety of tools, their work is a collective action, which means that it has a common context and stems from a deep theoretical reflection. The group realises its principles issuing a newspaper, creating movies, theatre, plays, installations, prints, murals, performing actions.

Program

Chto Delat are preoccupied with the issue of cultural autonomy, considered from the point of view of the artists who can’t perform in the post-Soviet Russia and create outside the mainstream, but also who are active in Europe. The group expresses its concern about art, today often perceived as a commodity or an element supposed to provide entertainment to the audience, a part of a system in which museums and galleries are instruments of power having monopolised presentation of art, while they should be institutions that help art search for truth about the world. The essence of art is to create the viewer’s awareness, to develop forms of critical perception of reality, and to be a tool for independent functioning in the world. This is a public activity, so that no authorities or institutions should have a monopoly over its “distribution.” In their projects Chto Delat discuss how culture functions in the machinery of western and post-Soviet capitalism, showing the culture’s dependence on the money, state, and ideology. Thus the emancipation of art guarantees human emancipation as such, and the role of artists and intellectuals is to expose the current situation and try to define the optimal conditions for the development of free creativity. For them a way to achieve these goals is to return to the original ideas of ​​the Left and fulfil them in a fresh combination of actions from the sphere of art, radical thought and politics.

Where do they work?

Defying the Russian cultural establishment and politics in general, the group operates outside the mainstream of the art world at home, on its outskirts. At the same time, Chto Delat is a very active group, constantly present and performing in the countries of Western Europe, the USA, or Australia. However, the “activity” and “existence” of the group can and should also be seen in a non-material way. Theoretical work, publishing an online newspaper, online meetings and lectures are just as important as the institutional dimension of their activity. The group’s projects have been shown in numerous group and individual exhibitions, including Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki (2004), Museum of the History of St. Petersburg (2004), Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel (2005), Centre for Contemporary Art in Moscow (2006), the 3rd Prague Biennale (2007), 11th Istanbul Biennial (2009), the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London (2010), the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden (2011), Smart Project Space, Amsterdam (2011), Gallery 21, St. Petersburg (2012). The collective’s works are exhibited in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade, National Museum Reina Sofia in Madrid, Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, KIASMA Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki, the Library of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Chto Delat has participated in many conferences, seminars, open discussions, meetings, lectures, e.g., Documenta 12 in Kassel (2007),  Working Title: Archives at the Lodz Museum of Art (2009), and Former West in Berlin (2010, 2012).

Alicja Klimczak-Dobrzaniecka

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