Category Archives: activism

Breaking the Silence on the Art World: ArtLeaks Gazette Launch @ Brecht Forum (May 4th, NYC)

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546092_490420224358441_679844155_nCredit: Zampa di Leone

We are happy to share with you the details of the official public launch of our ArtLeaks Gazette which will take place at the Brecht Forum in NYC on Saturday, May 4th from 7 PM!  Hope to see many of you there – we promise it will be  an exciting evening! Please help us spread the word by sharing this announcement!

ArtLeaks members would like to initiate an open discussion at the Brecht Forum in NYC on May 4th from 7 PM, around our upcoming ArtLeaks Gazette, focused on establishing a politics of truth by breaking the silence on the art world. This will be the official public launch of our gazette, which will be available online and in print at the beginning of May 2013, and will be followed by a series of debates in the near future.

Artleaks was founded in 2011 as an international platform for cultural workers where instances of abuse, corruption and exploitation are exposed and submitted for public inquiry. After almost two years of activity, some members of ArtLeaks felt an urgent need to establish a regular online publication as a tool for empowerment, reflection and solidarity. (More about us here: http://art-leaks.org/about.)

Recently, this spectrum of urgencies and the necessity to address them has come sharply into the focus of fundamental discussions in communities involved in cultural production and leftist activist initiatives. Among these, we share the concerns of groups such as the Radical Education Collective (Ljubljana), Precarious Workers’ Brigade (PWB) (London), W.A.G.E. (NYC), Arts &Labor (NYC), the May Congress of Creative Workers (Moscow), Critical Practice (London) and others.

Eager to share our accumulated knowledge and facilitate a critical examination of the current conditions of the cultural field from a global perspective, we are equally interested in questioning, with the help of the participants in the event, the particular context of New York City with its cultural institutions, scenes and markets.

The event will be divided in two parts. In the first, we will announce and present the forthcoming ArtLeaks Gazette. Focusing on the theme “Breaking the Silence – Towards Justice, Solidarity and Mobilization,” the structure of the publication comprises six major sections: A. Critique of cultural dominance apparatuses; B. Forms of organization and history of struggles; C. The struggle of narrations; D. Glossary of terms; E. Education and its discontents; and F. Best practices and useful resources (More here http://art-leaks.org/artleaks-gazette.) This publication gathers contributions from different parts of the globe, highlighting both historical initiatives and emerging movements that engage issues related to cultural workers rights, censorship, repression and systemic exploitation under conditions of neoliberal capitalism.

This also becomes an opportunity to bring up for discussion a series of questions that have defined ArtLeaks’ activity and that we would like to tackle anew in conjunction with local cultural producers in the second part of the event: What are the conditions of the possibility of leaking information concerning institutional exploitation, censorship, and corruption in the art world? What does it mean to speak the truth in the art field and to whom may it be addressed? What analogies and what models can we use in order to describe and operate within the conditions in which cultural workers pursue their activities? We aim to bestow a greater level of concreteness to these questions by inviting the participants to share its own concerns and experiences related to inequality of chances, structural injustice and forced self-censorship within the context of their work. We are also interested in discussing current collaborations and future alliances and projects that unite common struggles across international locales. Visual and scriptural material which documents the evening will be uploaded on the ArtLeaks platform.

Gazette Contributors: Mykola Ridnyi, Gregory Sholette, Marsha Bradfield & Kuba Szreder (Critical Practice), Fokus Grupa, Amber Hickey, Lauren van Haaften-Schick, Organ kritischer Kunst, Veda Popovici, Milena Placentile, Jonas Staal & Evgenia Abramova

Gazette Editors: Corina L. ApostolVladan Jeremić, Vlad Morariu, David Riff & Dmitry Vilensky

Editing Assistance: Jasmina Tumbas

Graphic Intervetions: Zampa di Leone

Facilitators of the event @ Brecht Forum: Corina Apostol & Dmitry Vilensky

The Brecht Forum has a  donation sliding scale of $6 to $15. We recommend registering for this event in advance here. Even if you are unable to make a donation, we still encourage you to come – we will not turn away anyone that wishes to participate in the discussions.

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Disobedience Archive (The Republic), Castello di Rivoli


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Disobedience Archive (The Republic), 2005–ongoing. Installation view, Céline Condorelli, “The Parliament,” 2012. Photo courtesy Bildmuseet, Umeå, and Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rivoli-Turin.

Disobedience Archive (The Republic)
April 23–June 30, 2013

Press preview: Tuesday April 16, 2013, 11am
Frigoriferi Milanesi – Open Care
Via Piranesi 10
Milan

Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art
Opening: April 22, 2013 at 7pm
Piazza Mafalda di Savoia
10098 Rivoli (Turin), Italy

www.castellodirivoli.org
www.castellodirivoli.tv

Curator: Marco Scotini

After Van Abbemuseum (Eindhoven), Nottingham Contemporary, Raven Row (London), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Boston) and Bildmuseet (Umeå), Disobedience Archive is presented at Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea within a format especially planned for the Museum.

The curatorial project dates from 2005, when Marco Scotini planned a travelling exhibition of videos, graphic materials and ephemera whilst in Berlin. The exhibition-archive explores the links between contemporary art practices, cinema, tactile media and political activism. Planned as a heterogeneous, evolving archive of video images, the project aims to be a ‘user’s guide’ to four decades of social disobedience seen through history and geography: from the revolt in Italy in 1977 to the global protests before and after Seattle and on to the current insurrections in the Middle East and Arab world. From the historic videotapes of Alberto Grifi to the films of Harun Farocki, from the performances of the American Critical Art Ensemble to those of the Russian collective Chto Delat, and from the investigations of Hito Steyerl to those of Eyal Sivan, the Disobedience archive has over the years gathered hundreds of documentary elements.

The exhibition, which will be hosted in the rooms of the third floor in the Castello di Rivoli, aims to offer a wide-ranging synthesis of the earlier editions. With the new title of Disobedience Archive (The Republic), the exhibition will include the production of a large Parliament-shaped structure and the publication of “La Costituzione” (The Constitution) as a concluding phase to the entire project. The archive takes place in The Parliament by Céline Condorelli (b. 1974), with a contribution by Martino Gamper (b. 1971), while the wall paintings accompanying it are by Mexican artist Erick Beltran (b. 1972). Aside from The Parliament, two rooms serve as thematic antechambers: the first, dedicated to the 1970s in Italy, amongst others, presents works by Joseph Beuys, Mario Merz, Gianfranco Baruchello, Laboratorio di Comunicazione Militante, Enzo Mari, Nanni Balestrini and Living Theatre beside documents by Carla Accardi, Carla Lonzi and Felix Guattari; the second, which considers the first decade of the 21st century, houses works by Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas, Superflex, Chto Delat, Journal of Aesthetics & Protest, Oliver Ressler, Arseniy Zhilyaev, Critical Art Ensemble, Rene Gabri and Ayreen Anastas, among others. Technical instruments, props and published materials produced by the antagonist culture of those years are also displayed in these two rooms.

Disobedience Archive (The Republic) is a work in progress reflecting on the various events as they unfolded, in which form and content vary with each venue. In this sense, the exhibition constitutes a sort of atlas of the different contemporary antagonist tactics: from direct action to counter-information, from constituent practices to forms of bio-resistance, which emerged after the end of modernism, inaugurating new methods of being, saying and doing. The archive is divided into nine sections: “1977 The Italian Exit,” “Protesting Capitalist Globalization,” “Reclaim the Streets,” “Bioresistence and Society of Control,” “Argentina Fabrica Social,” “Disobedience East,” “Disobedience University,” “The Arab Dissent” and “Gender Politics,” which joins the other sections for the Castello di Rivoli exhibition.

The archive includes materials by 16 beaver, Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée (AAA), Mitra Azar, Gianfranco Baruchello, Petra Bauer, Pauline Boudry, Brigitta Kuster and Renate Korenz, Bernadette Corporation, Black Audio Film Collective, Ursula Biemann, Collettivo femminista di cinema, Copenhagen Free University, Critical Art Ensemble, Dodo Brothers, Marcelo Expósito, Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujica, Rene Gabri and Ayreen Anastas, Grupo de Arte Callejero, Etcétera, Alberto Grifi, Ashley Hunt, Kanal B, Khaled Jarrar, John Jordan and Isabelle Fremeaux, Laboratorio di Comunicazione Militante, Silvia Maglioni and Graeme Thomson, Angela Melitopoulos, Mosireen, Carlos Motta, Non Governamental Control Commission, Wael Noureddine, Margit Czencki/Park Fiction, R.E.P. Group, Oliver Ressler and Zanny Begg, Joanne Richardson, Roy Samaha, Eyal Sivan, Hito Steyerl, The Department of Space and Land Reclamation, Mariette Schiltz and Bert Theis, Ultra-red, Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas, Trampolin House (Morten Goll and Tone O. Nielsen), Dmitry Vilensky and Chto Delat, James Wentzy.

The exhibition has been realised thanks to the collaboration of Open Care Servizi per l’Arte, Milan and NABA Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti, Milan together with the Biennio di Arti Visive e Studi Curatoriali.

Media Partner: La Stampa, Turin

Press Office – Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea
Silvano Bertalot – Manuela Vasco
T +39 011 9565209 – 211
C +39 33 87865367
press@castellodirivoli.orgs.bertalot@castellodirivoli.org

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Dolly Bellefleur, “Stop, Stop, Stop, Putin!”

On April 8, 2013, thousands of people protested in Amsterdam against President Putin’s homopobic laws and the general lack of human rights and free speech in Russia. “Beauty with Brains” Dolly Bellefleur made a protest song especially for this occasion

Thanks to the Free Pussy Riot! Facebook page for the heads-up.

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Hello, Amsterdam!

Amsterdam welcomes the Russian president:

Thanks to Comrades Alexander and Elena for the heads-up. This posting was edited on April 14, 2013, after the Vimeo video originally featured here was removed.

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Ragpickers Assembly (open call)

http://ragpickers.tumblr.com/

Open Call

RAGPICKERS GANG invites current interns, volunteers and casual workers to participate in RAGPICKERS ASSEMBLY, a collective project that is dedicated to the problems of unpaid labour and exploitation in the contemporary art field.

RAGPICKERS ASSEMBLY aims to blur the difference between the artistic and forensic by taking the format of a quasi-exhibition. As such it is meant to display ‘artefacts’—be it material traces, residues or recorded testimonies—supplied by unpaid interns that testify to the tasks they have to undertake within art organisations. All the materials in the exhibition will be shown in a manner similar to a typical gallery display and are ‘curated’ by the participants.

Employing the strategy ‘fight-enemy-with-its-own-weapon’, the project aims to raise a wider public awareness and draw media attention to the exploitation and discrepancies that lie at the core of the current state of the art system. Simultaneously, it would become a space of exchange of personal experience, ideas, and knowledge between art world participants united by a desire to fight for their own rights and to dissent from what has become a modus operandi.

We look forward to receiving your submissions that may include both physical items and information, which are intended to be shown under traditional categories such as art objects, video/sound art, installation, artistic research, documentary, etc.:

1. Forensic evidence:  anything left from (de)installation of a gallery show or a private view: crumbled walls, empty bottles, etc.

2. Testimonies of immaterial labour: photocopies, shredded papers, files, CVs, schedules press-releases, artists files, databases, invoices, etc.

3. Audio, visual, photo or written documentation of day-to-day assistance in running a gallery space.

4. Art ‘gossip’: anything ‘important’ that you might hear at an opening or in the office.

5. You can also fill our mock application forms where you can state your real qualification, experience and goals.

Please send us an email indicating what material you would like to show and we would arrange a meeting to collect it or record your testimony. If you have any ideas or questions, please, do not hesitate to contact Ragpickers at this e-mail: 
ragpickersgroup@gmail.com

Ragpickers Gang is a London-based collective platform that unites people who share a strong feeling of dissent and dissatisfaction with the exploitation, hypocrisy and corruption in the contemporary art sector. We name ourselves ‘ragpickers’ because it represents our social and professional position: a multitude of recent unemployed graduates. We are ‘drop-outs’ and ‘outcasts’ of the art world who have to do some unpaid though ungrateful job during our free time and find money to sustain our living.

We are a unanimous group and we are open to new participants who sympathize with our ideas.

_____

Mark Knopfler, “Ragpicker’s Dream”

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Mark Knopfler Is a True Friend of the Russian People

This is what everyone who is in Mark Knopfler’s position should do. Not “try and talk some sense” into fascist homophobes like Vitaly Milonov, as the otherwise admirable Stephen Fry recently did. Or “stand in solidarity” with political prisoners Pussy Riot on a Moscow concert stage, as Madonna did, all the while raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in concert fees. The first tack violates the old anti-fascist “no platform” rule, while the second does that, too, while also generating tons of buzz for the Milonovites. More important, it rewards the relatively well-off strata of the Russian urban populace, the people who can afford tickets to Madonna and Knopfler concerts and the like, who are in fact the real bulwark of Putinism (rather than some imaginary post-Soviet “conservative” provincial “grassroots” post-proletariat), at least (but only at least) insofar as these people have been mostly absent from the fight against Putinism or any of its manifestations. In fact, if nothing else, Knopfler’s one-man boycott of their cities might alert otherwise “blissfully” unaware Petersburgers and Muscovites to the recent prosecutorial raids against NGOs in the country, which have included not only (as Knopfler mentions in his statement) Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, but hundreds of lesser organizations like the Finnish Institute in St. Petersburg, the Caritas Catholic charity’s support center for disabled children in the city, the Petersburg rights organizations Citizens Watch and Coming Out (Vykhod), as well as the NGO Development Center, the German-Russian Exchange, the Centre for Independent Social Research, the Institute for Information Freedom Development and the offices of the LGBT film festival Side by Side (to mention only a few), as well as branches of Alliance Française in several other major Russian cities.

We recently reflected, so to speak, on the odd news that Manifesta, the ultra-progressive European biennial of contemporary art, had chosen Petersburg—once the “cradle of three revolutions,” now a depressive semi-fascist dump ruled over by dreary officially titled bandits in bad suits who think that legislative homophobia and “Cossacks” are a terrific way of preventing their subject population from noticing the really obvious drawbacks in their continuing “governance” of the city—for its super-serious high-brow art hootenanny next year. Upon hearing this same news, Russian contemporary art curatorial doyenne Olga Sviblova commented, “[T]here’s no reason to get all stirred up about it being in St Petersburg. We have already spent 20 years living in a normal, free country, just the same as any others.” This is manifestly not the case, and it is only by pulling (temporarily, we hope) the plug on their supply of entertainment and cultural labor that people outside Russia who are in a position to do so can show real solidarity with Russian political prisoners, local NGOs, and other people and groups targeted by the Putinist police state.

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www.markknopfler.com

Russia dates cancelled

Thursday – Apr 04, 2013

Mark’s June 7 show in Moscow and June 8 date in St. Petersburg have been cancelled. Ticket holders should contact their point of purchase for refunds.

Please see Mark’s official statement below:

Given the crackdown by Russian authorities on groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, I have regretfully decided to cancel my upcoming concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg in June. I have always loved playing in Russia and have great affection for the country and the people. I hope the current climate will change soon.

MK

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Mattia Gallo: Interview with a Russian Comrade

The following interview with our comrade Ilya Matveev was made by Mattia Gallo and originally published in Italian as “La Russia ai tempi di Occupy.” Our thanks to her and Ilya for their permission to republish it in English here.

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

What is the Russian Socialist Movement? When were you founded? Who are its members?

The Russian Socialist Movement (RSM) is the product of a merger between two far-left groups: Vpered (Forward) and Socialist Resistance. It was founded in March 2011. Both groups were heirs to the Trotskyist tradition. Vpered was affiliated with the Mandelist USFI. However, the RSM is not explicitly Trotskyist: it was modeled as a broad leftist force capable of uniting the non-sectarian far left into the nucleus of a future radical mass party. In part, it was modeled on the French Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA), although obviously on a smaller scale.

Currently, we have several organizations in different Russian cities. The largest RSM groups are in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Kaluga. We have a smaller presence in Novosibirsk, Samara, and other places, as well as an affiliated group in Perm. Overall, we have some two hundred to three hundred members.

The Kaluga group is probably the strongest and most coherent. There is an industrial cluster in this city, and it harbors a rare thing in Russia, an independent trade union, in this case, a local of the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (the ITUA, which is also present in Petersburg and the Petersburg area). Our members in Kaluga are union organizers, autoworkers, and radical youth. The RSM have taken part in strikes and in worker self-organization in Kaluga. In Petersburg, RSM also consists of union workers and activists, but its ranks also include radical intellectuals and artists. In Moscow, the RSM is mostly made up of intellectuals, and it has become increasingly popular in radical artistic circles.

Generally, despite some internal problems, RSM is slowly becoming a rallying point for the radical left in Russia, due to its open, non-sectarian character and strong intellectual foundations. We try and play a role in the trade union movement and various social movements, to bring radical politics into these milieux, not, however in typical sectarian “entryist” fashion, but by really working with people, talking to them, getting to know them. We are also working on developing a coherent leftist theory for our situation. Obviously, our success is limited, but at least that is what we recognize as our goal.

In today’s very difficult circumstances, the RSM is very much focused on defending political prisoners in Russia. One of them, Konstantin Lebedev, is a member of our organization. Another RSM member, Filipp Dolbunov (Galtsov), is currently seeking political asylum in Ukraine. The RSM is a driving force behind the international solidarity campaign against political persecution in Russia.

Apart from that major concern, we also work with independent unions and social movements, especially against neoliberal policies in education and health care, and in the environmental and feminist movements, as well as the anti-fascist movement. We organize various cultural activities, in part through our affiliated independent publisher, the Free Marxist Press. We publish a newspaper called the Socialist, and run a web site

When and how did Occupy Moscow begin? What things happened in Moscow? What demands did its activists make, and what difficulties did they face?

On May 6, 2012, a mass opposition rally in Moscow was brutally dispersed by riot police. The police violence was unprecedented, and in a twisted Stalinist move our government afterwards started arresting people for taking part in a “riot,” thus setting the stage for a latter political show trial. Still, after the events at the rally, a minority of the marchers, around a thousand people, refused to go home and began a game of “catch me if you can” with the police on the streets of Moscow. This group of protesters moved around the city, trying to outmaneuver the police. This lasted for two or three days. Finally, the group settled in a kind of permanent camp near the monument to the Kazakh poet Abay on a small square in downtown Moscow. People kept coming, and the police didn’t disperse the camp, probably because the new protest tactics disoriented them. That is how Occupy Moscow or Occupy Abay began.

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It should be noted that some leftist activists had tried to import Occupy tactics before these events, organizing small “assemblies.” The Spanish Indignados and the American OWS were of course important and inspiring for us. However, we didn’t really believe something like that could happen in Moscow—and yet it happened.

Occupy Abay was an OWS-style camp on a small square, with a thousand to two thousand people in attendance daily, and some fifty to a hundred people staying on site in sleeping bags overnight. It was such a fresh experience of self-organization beyond traditional leftist and social scenes! Leftists, including RSM members, and anarchists were truly energized by what was happening right before their eyes. Leftist activists grouped in a European-style “info point” on the square with literature and leaflets. We organized a series of workshops for camp participants on unions, social movements, and leftist politics. The RSM began publishing a daily Occupy Abay leaflet, which quickly became a kind of official newspaper for the camp. Other self-organized activities included a kitchen and cleaning shifts. The square was so immaculately clean that the authorities had to fabricate evidence to present the camp as a nuisance to the neighborhood. However, the most important self-organized activity was the general assembly.

From the beginning, there was tension in the camp (just as in the Russian protest movement as a whole) between rank-and-file participants and self-proclaimed “leaders.” Some established opposition personalities tried to name one person “governor” of the camp, but of course the people ignored them. The left presented an alternative—participatory democracy in the form of the general assembly. The process was very difficult in the beginning, but eventually the assembly became the real voice of the camp. The climax of this self-governing process was, perhaps, an episode during the final hours of the camp’s existence, when the police ordered people to go home. Opposition leaders asked to speak to the crowd. But they had to wait their turn in a queue, just like other regular participants. When their turn came, they made their case—to comply with police orders—but the assembly rejected their proposal. In retrospect, it was the correct decision, since the police didn’t disperse the camp for another day.

The whole history of Occupy Abay/Occupy Barrikadnaya/Occupy Arbat (the last two are subsequent names for Occupy Moscow, reflecting the sites it briefly occupied after Abay was broken up) didn’t last more than several days, but it was an incredibly rich period of improvisation, self-organization, political struggle, and agitation. It injected the ideas of participatory democracy and horizontal structures into the protest movement, which had almost completely lacked such ideas before. We are still reflecting on the political and social significance of this event.

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The major difference between Occupy Moscow and OWS, the Indignados, etc., is that the Moscow camp was not leftist as a whole. It wasn’t organized around social issues; rather, it was the temporary form that the opposition movement in Russia, mostly liberal, took in Moscow in May 2012. Therefore, the participants were not only leftists, but also liberals, even people from the far right (which was rather humble and didn’t cause trouble, being in a weak political position). However, only the left in Russia practices self-organization, self-government, and participatory democracy. Therefore, the left quickly became an essential force driving the camp and its activities.

Talking about civil liberties in Russia, the Pussy Riot case and the anti-gay laws enacted in several Russian regions and now proposed in the national parliament are emblematic in the eyes of the world. You wrote an article last November, “A Police Story (What Happened to Filipp Dolbunov),” about a Russian student abducted by the police. Can you tell us what happened? What is your analysis of civil liberties in Russia?

Well, I wrote about a specific case of police repression against one activist. Currently Filipp, who is my comrade, is seeking political asylum. He is in Ukraine, but this country isn’t safe for him, as the case of another activist, Leonid Razvozzhayev, shows: Leonid was kidnapped in Kyiv by Russian security forces, tortured, and brought back to Moscow.

The situation with civil liberties in Russia is outrageous and rapidly becoming more and more catastrophic. More than twenty people are awaiting trial for taking part in the May 6 “riot” (i.e., the brutal attack on a legal, sanctioned rally by riot police). Most of them are in jail. Hundreds of detectives are working day and night to conjure a case out of nothing. One of the arrested confessed and was sent to prison for four and half years. On January 17, while facing similar charges and imminent deportation from the Netherlands back to Russia, Alexander Dolmatov took his own life.

The police have merged the May 6 “riot” case with the Sergei Udaltsov case. Udaltsov is one of the few public opposition leaders from the left. He has been charged with “organizing the unrest” on ”evidence” presented to the entire country during a special broadcast on Russian state-controlled TV. Udaltsov and two other people, one of them, Konstantin Lebedev, an RSM member, are now accused of being the “organizers” of the “riot” that took place on May 6. There is an endless chain of fabricated evidence and trumped-up charges that is directed against the Russian opposition, but mainly the left.

elena rostunova-march 8-moscow-picket

I was on Bolotnaya: arrest me!

Another group that suffers disproportionately from state repression are anti-fascists. Some of them have been sentenced to prison, while others have been arrested and awaiting trial for months on end.

Please read our appeal for solidarity to learn the details about the recent crackdown in Russia. The RSM and other left groups are in desperate need of solidarity, so any actions of support are most welcome.

Another article of yours, “The ‘Welfare’ State Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This,” talks about the situation of the “welfare state,” a term that in Italian and Russian translates to the “social state.” What is your analysis in this article? What are the social and economic problems in your country?

My basic point in this article is that Russia is not a welfare state, despite the fact that it’s called a “social state” in the Constitution. It lacks a minimum wage (which is set below official subsistence level, i.e., this minimum wage is not enough to avoid dying from starvation). Strikes are almost completely prohibited. The situation with housing, education, health care, childcare, science, and cultural institutions is scandalous, and it’s getting worse day by day.

Even though we now have more than 130 dollar billionaires and one of the world’s largest money reserves, teachers and university professors in some Russian regions are paid the equivalent of 150-250 euros a month, just like doctors and other public employees. Wealth inequality, according to some sources, is the greatest in the world.

Oil and gas-driven growth has not brought prosperity or a meaningful economic future to Russia. It is a country ruled by a parasitic, uncontrollable elite. And their answer to all problems is more neoliberalism, more deregulation. They are currently implementing neoliberal reforms in education, health care, and science and culture, just like in Europe. For example, schoolteachers are forced to compete for wage bonuses, just as schools are forced to compete for pupils. This deliberate introduction of market logic in fields completely alien to it, such as education, health care, and culture, is a basic sign of neoliberalism. And the result is European-style “budget cuts” in a situation where there’s nothing to cut to begin with. The social, scientific, and cultural institutions of the Soviet state are in shambles, and now they are being terrorized yet again by this new neoliberal assault.

What are the problems of universities in Russia? Is the education system under attack by neoliberal policies undertaken by the Putin government? What are the main changes and differences between the education systems in USSR and Russia today?

University teachers have been underpaid for decades in Russia. Average wages are 200-500 euros per month even for those who have degrees. In general, the share of educational spending in the federal budget is very low both in absolute and relative terms. Education amounts to about 4.5 percent of Russian GDP, lower than the OECD average—despite the fact that it needs to be rebuilt, not just maintained.

Another problem is university bureaucracy. The institutions of collegial self-government and university autonomy do not function. Both professors and students are subjugated to the will of the administration.

Some problems, such as the lack of autonomy, are inherited from the USSR; some are new.

For example, the authorities have embarked on a program of university reform. It is basically a neoliberal policy, which identifies “ineffective” institutions of higher learning and closes them or merges them with others. Students, professors, and society as a whole have no say in this.

Still, there are some encouraging signs. The atmosphere in Russia has changed since the protests began in 2011. It is not such an apathetic, depoliticized society as before. And university staff are becoming angry, too: when the education minister blamed them, in an interview, for their incompetence (which, he said, explained their low salaries), more than a thousand professors signed a letter of protest. A new independent university teachers’ union is being created. Just a few days ago, an activist at Moscow State University, Mikhail Lobanov, successfully avoided being fired after a strong campaign of solidarity on his behalf. This might be a small success, but it inspires hope: students are becoming more aware of their potential, and professors are, too. There is an incredible amount of work to be done, but it is much easier now to believe in our eventual success.

Photos taken from the Facebook pages European Revolution, OccupyAbay, and Elena Rostunova without permission but with much gratitude.

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