It turns out that for the past five years, at least, we’ve been looking at things the wrong way round. Distinguished Ghanaian-British writer and journalist Ekow Eshun and The Guardian have finally set us straight:
Two decades after the fall of communism, Russia remains a mystery to many foreigners. And from a distance, the country’s most visible aspects – showy oligarchs and an overbearing political system – hardly seem alluring.
But scratch the surface and a different story emerges. For the past year, I’ve been working with a London-based gallery to develop the Calvert Journal, an online guide to creative Russia. The journal is inspired by a generation of creative talent who are starting to remake the country in their own image.
You can feel their influence in Moscow and St Petersburg, where chic bars and restaurants and dynamic cultural centres are springing to life . . .
—Ekow Eshun, “How Russia’s creative revolution is changing the cultural landscape: Moscow, St Petersburg, and cities across Russia, are enjoying a creative boom that features design hubs, hotels, cafes and bars,” The Guardian, April 5, 2013
“Overbearing” is undoubtedly how political prisoner Artyom Savyolov, one of the twenty-seven people charged so far in connection with the so-called Bolotnaya Square Case, would describe the Russian political system:
There is nothing all much that is interesting [behind bars in the pretrial detention facility]. After the new year, I began reviewing “the case.” I do this five days a week, like I’m going to work. In the morning, I get up and drink tea, and then I’m taken to the case review. If I’m lead straight into the police investigator’s office, but he is late getting there, then I have a chance to read a book a little along with my fellow prisoners. Or first I might be taken to “assembly” (the place where prisoners are gathered before being sent to court, to investigators, etc.), and that’s also not bad.
What is interesting is that despite ethnicity, what crimes people have been charged with, and age, people somehow support each other. Someone gives someone else advice about their case or makes a suggestion. If someone’s low on smokes or matches, people share theirs. Someone tells jokes and pokes fun, and everyone laughs. People get to know each other.
Until lunch, I review “the case.” It’s been a week since I managed to make them take me for a lunch break [every day]. Then it’s back to the reviewing. By evening, I’m usually exhausted. There’s only time left to have tea with the lads, wash clothes or do some other small things, and in the morning it all starts over again.
Weekends, on the other hand, are like a holiday: I get to go for a stroll [in the prison yard] and chat with the lads with a clear head. We play dominoes with each other, with the losers paying in push-ups, and so on.
Sometimes I wish I were on a desert island. (The rules here prohibit leaving prisoners alone, and except for the cooler, it rarely, rarely happens that one gets to be alone.)
I wish I were alone on an island with a box of soap and a case of vodka. I’d get washed up, belt out crazy wild songs, and walk for miles. I realize that’s not a very elegant wish, but it is a sincere one. Otherwise, my wishes are the most ordinary: to see loved ones and friends without prison bars between us, see how my apple trees are doing at the dacha without me, and lots of other, completely ordinary things.
They feed us okay: it’s just the ticket for Lent (laughs).
Communication [with the other prisoners] is normal: there are very few real evildoers here. Some have ended up here out of foolishness, while life somehow or another pushed others here. I like how at “assembly” one bloke compared the “our country is a prison” situation with a line. You walk and walk the line, but sooner or later you stumble. If you’re lucky, you step to the right—and you stay on the outside. If you’re not lucky, you stumble or are pushed to the left—and you go to prison.
I’ve talked with lots of [other inmates], and many of them had thought, “I’m not planning on killing or stealing, so I’m the last person they’d send to jail.”
I want to close on a positive note. Everything that hasn’t killed us has only made us stronger. I’m alive and filled with cheerful anger, and that means we’ll battle our way through and everything will be okay!
“And only up high, next to the Royal gate, / Privy to mysteries, a child was crying / That homecoming is no one’s fate.” I read that somewhere and liked it.
P.S. This letter isn’t very cheerful, but in the future I promise to improve.
March 16, 2013
Artyom Savyolov Day
April 7, 2013
A campaign in support of the “prisoners of Bolotnaya Square” has kicked off in Moscow. On April 6, a rally took place in Pushkin Square. Starting on April 7, each subsequent day will be dedicated to one of the twenty-seven people accused in the case. The campaign will culminate in a large-scale protest action on the anniversary of the [May 6, 2012] events on Bolotnaya.
April 7 was dedicated to Artyom Savyolov. Activists told metro passengers and passersby about him.
“The May 6 Case Is the Disgrace of the Putin Regime”
Artyom Savyolov was arrested on June 9. Like most of the “Bolotnaya prisoners,” he has been charged under two articles of the Criminal Code: Article 212 (rioting) and Article 318 (violence against a government official). According to investigators, Savyolov shouted the slogan “Down with the police state!” and others, and grabbed a police officer by his arm and his bulletproof vest. A video recording clearly shows that Artyom was on Bolotnaya Square for a mere three minutes. After being unwillingly pushed by the crowd past the police cordon, he was almost immediately detained.
Artyom has a severe stutter and is almost unable to speak. However, the claim that he was shouting slogans, recorded in the charge sheet of his administrative arrest [on May 6], has found its way into the criminal case against him.
Photos of Artyom Savyolov and Artyom Savyolov Day courtesy of Grani.ru and Dmitry Borko. Thanks to Comrades Larry and Ilya for the respective heads-up.