Daily Archives: April 27, 2013

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.

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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.

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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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Filed under contemporary art, critical thought, international affairs, Russian society

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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Filed under contemporary art, critical thought, feminism, gay rights, open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, Russian society