Category Archives: censorship

International Women’s Day Special: Victoria Lomasko on Women’s Lives in Small-Town Russia

March 8 marked the hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day celebrations in Russia. This is the third in a series of posts focusing on the work and plight of several different women involved in political and social activism in Russia today.

Below, artist Victoria Lomasko reflects in words and pictures on the lives of women in small Russian towns and cities like the one where she grew up, a hundred kilometers south of Moscow.

Lomasko’s series Feminine is featured in a special Eighth of March/feminist issue of Volya (Liberty), the newspaper edited by our friend and comrade Vlad Tupikin. Yesterday, during an authorized opposition rally to mark International Women’s Day, Tupikin was detained by Moscow police for the “criminal” act of attempting to distribute this newspaper.

A special thanks to Victoria Lomasko for permission to reproduce her work here.


Victoria Lomasko



“When I was young, I had a date lined up on every corner.”


In the series Feminine, all the characters are drawn from life, and their remarks are recorded verbatim. However, I tried to move away from reportage and towards symbolism—to generalize specific situations in images expressing my feelings.

The portraits here are less images of specific people and more archetypes: the faded, lonely woman, the “sluttish” boozer, the rigid old Soviet woman, and so on.


“There are no factories in this town and no blokes.”

 tetay Luda

“He just couldn’t put on slippers and become a domesticated bloke.”


Each drawing adds its own tint (of sadness, irony, and anger) to the overall picture—the life of women in the Russian provinces.


“I’ve been feeling slutty since December.”


I was born in Serpukhov, a town in the Moscow Region. The women and girls around me talked about men: acquaintances and strangers, exes, current husbands and boyfriends, and future husbands and boyfriends. We believed that love would change the monotonous course of our lives.


“I’m not a boozer. I’m a saint.”


I had one other belief—in my calling as an artist. Only my dad, a self-taught artist, supported my plan to study in Moscow and then work as an artist. Some of my girlfriends’ moms tried to force their daughters to spend less time with me, believing such nonsense as I was spouting communicable and a hindrance to finding a husband. They were right: I’m still not married and have no children.

 v bory

“We’re used to having blokes pay for everything.”


I have lived in Moscow for over ten years. When I travel to the provinces, the pictures I see and the conversations I hear are familiar to me. Even divorced girlfriends sympathize with my “plight.”

I became an artist, but I do not feel like a winner. In this country, their life strategies and mine turn into a loss. I look at the “heroines” in Feminine and find a part of myself in all of them.


“Where can I get hold of a machine gun to kill Putin?”

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On the Urgency of Launching the ArtLeaks Gazette (London)

Presentation of the international platform ArtLeaks
On the Urgency of Launching the ArtLeaks Gazette

Wednesday, 7 November 2012
Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies), University of London

This is part of the 9th Annual Historical Materialism Conference ‘Weighs Like a Nightmare’, London, November 7th-12th, 2012

ArtLeaks is an international platform for cultural workers where instances of abuse, corruption and exploitation are exposed and submitted for public inquiry. ArtLeaks’ mission is to create a space where one could engage directly with actual conditions of cultural work internationally – conditions that affect those working in cultural production as well as those from traditionally creative fields. Furthermore, ArtLeaks is developing in the direction of creating transversal alliances between local activist and cultural workers groups, through which we may collectively tackle repression and inequality.

While building on previous models that emerged in the highly politicized milieus of the 1970s and 1980s, such as the institutional critique practice of left-wing collectives, ArtLeaks seeks to expand the scope of these historical precedents towards international geopolitical engagement. One of the outcomes of ArtLeaks working assemblies and workshops was the establishment of alliances with international groups such as W.A.G.E. (NYC), Occupy Museums (NYC), Arts & Labor (NYC), Haben und Brauchen (Berlin), the Precarious Workers Brigade (London), Carrotworkers’ Collective (London), Critical Practice (London), and The May Congress of Creative Workers (Moscow). It is our strong belief that only an internationally coordinated movement would be able to expose and denounce exploitation and censorship in contemporary culture, and collectively imagine new types of organizational articulations.

For the 2012 Historical Materialism Conference, members of ArtLeaks will present the outcome of their previous working assemblies which took place this year in Berlin, Moscow and Belgrade, and bring up for discussion the urgent need to establish the ArtLeaks Gazette (forthcoming 2013). This regular, online publication aims to be a tool for empowerment in the face of the systemic abuse of cultural workers’ basic labor rights, repression or even blatant censorship, and the growing corporatization of culture that we face today.

After these brief introductions, we will break into four working groups, each focused on a different theme outlined in our Gazette. These will be:

1) Critique of cultural dominance apparatuses

Here we will address methodological issues in analyzing the condition of cultural production and the system that allows for the facile exploitation of the cultural labor force. We will try to relate methodology with concrete case studies of conflicts, exploitation, dissent across various regions of the world, drawing comparisons and providing local context for understanding them.

2) The struggle of narrations

This working group will develop and practice artistic forms of narration which cannot be fully articulated through direct “leaking”. Our focus will be finding new languages for narration of systemic dysfunctions. We expect these elaborations to take different forms of artistic contributions, such as comics, poems, drawings, short stories, librettos, etc.

3) Education and its discontents

The conflicts and struggles in the field of creative education are at the core of determining what kind of subjectivities will shape the culture(s) of future generations. It is important therefore to analyze what is currently at the stake in these specific fields of educational processes and how they are linked with what is happening outside academies and universities. Here we will discuss possible emancipatory approaches to education that are possible today, which resist pressing commercial demands for flexible and “creative” subjectivities. Can we imagine an alternative system of values based of a different meaning of progress?

4) Best practices and useful resources

In this working group we invite people to play out their fantasies of new, just forms of organization of creative life. Developing the tradition of different visionaries of the past we hope will trigger many speculations which might help us collect modest proposals for the future and thus counter the shabby reality of the present. This also includes practices which demonstrate alternative ethical guidelines, and stimulate the creation of a common cultural sphere.

At the end of the working group session, we will present our findings to each other and come together for some final conclusions and future common aims.

Facilitators of the event: Corina L. Apostol, Vlad Morariu

The editorial board for the first issue of the Gazette will consist of Corina L. Apostol, Vladan Jeremić, Vlad Morariu, David Riff and Dmitry Vilensky.

More about the ArtLeaks Gazette:

More about Historical Materialism:

Thanks to Historical Materialism for hosting us!

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Petersburg “Cossacks” Force Cancellation of One-Man Show Based on Nabokov’s “Lolita”

‎”Cossacks” in Petersburg have forced the cancellation of a one-man show based on Nabokov’s novel Lolita and starring well-known local actor Leonid Mozgovoy. The show was scheduled for today (October 21) at Erarta, a contemporary art center in the city’s Vasilievsky Island district. In a threatening letter addressed to Erarta management, subsequently published by several local media outlets, the so-called Cossacks claimed that Nabokov “commits the sex act with a 12-year-old girl several times during the course of his work”; that Mozgovoy himself was “not afraid to portray Hitler as a positive character” (in Alexander Sokurov’s film Moloch); that Sokurov himself is “a well-known promoter of sodomy and a homosexualist”; and that the event’s organizer (Artyom Suslov) is “known for sodomy and anti-ecclesiastical actions, has been convicted several times, and is a drug addict.” The “Cossacks” then cited Petersburg’s newly minted “law” against the “promotion of pedophilia and homosexuality” amongst minors and hinted that the show’s organizers had already violated said law by advertising the show. According to Internet Russian-language newspaper Bumaga, these arguments were enough to persuade Mozgovoy and Suslov. Mozgovoy is quoted as saying one that one cannot argue with “scum” (bydlo), that “they tried to argue with them in 1917” (and what?); while Suslov is quoted as saying that Mozgovoy “respects their opinion” (i.e., the opinion of the “scum”) and therefore decided to cancel the show. (!) A quite unbelievable turn of events considering that, as far as we can tell, no one even knows who these “Cossacks” are. More details, including a reproduction of the threatening letter, here (in Russian):

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All That Is Banned Is Desired: A World Conference on Artistic Freedom of Expression (Oslo)

All That Is Banned Is Desired: A World Conference on Artistic Freedom of Expression
The Opera House, Oslo, Norway, October 25—26, 2012


Over the two days of All That is Banned is Desired: A World Conference on Artistic Freedom of Expression, artists, journalists, activists, scholars, curators and others will respond to censorship of the arts around the world.

We will discuss and investigate why, where, and how artistic expressions is condemned, banned and persecuted. In particular, we will focus on the three principal agents of censorship — religion, state and market.

Although the effects of censorship can be easily identified in cases where artists are imprisoned or killed, the social and economic repercussions of censorship are more difficult to measure. A culture deprived of its artistic creations and cultural heritage clearly loses an important link to its history and identity.

Cultural artefacts carry with them the power to influence the minds and motivations of the masses and with it, the power to divert people from an awareness of and compliance with the normative behaviours of a society, as dictated by religious and political ideologies. The control of culture is thus a major concern for both clerics and politicians.

But where religion and state decline in importance in the control of artistic expression, another censor appears quite ready to step in to fill the censorial void — namely the market. And there is no guarantee that it will prove to be any less censorious than its religious and political predecessors.

Censorship is characterized by the contradictory fact that by imposing limits it provokes reactions to those limits. By limiting freedom it helps fuels the desire for even greater freedom, as the title of the conference evokes: ‘All that is banned is desired’.

In many ways, the power of nation-states to carry out censorship is being undermined as global communication networks expand and international trade barriers crumble. This means that it is becoming increasingly difficult for governments to control what their citizens have access to; however, history suggests that nation-states will be reluctant to relinquish control.

Conference participants will be invited to debate these and other concerns in relation to specific cases. These cases will be drawn from a wide range of conditions and contexts and will include some that are well known and others that are known to only a few. In addition to deepening our understanding of the fundamental propositions of freedom of expression, the conference will also work toward proposals for monitoring censorship globally, and organising to advance freedom of expression for artists around the world.



09:00: Registration – 09:40: Doors open – 10:00: Doors close

ZARGANAR, Comedian, Actor and Film Director [Burma]
Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, Poet and Filmmaker [Burma]
WIN MAW, Musician and Composer [Burma]

Moderator: FRANCES HARRISON, Journalist [UK]


SVETLANA MINTCHEVA, Director of Programmes, National Coalition Against Censorship [USA]
GURPREET KAUR BHATTI, Playwright and Screenwriter [UK]
AZHAR USMAN, Comedian, Activist and Lawyer [USA]

Moderator: KENAN MALIK, Writer, Lecturer and Broadcaster [UK]


ZANELE MUHOLI, Visual Artist [South Africa]
PANG KHEE TEIK, Arts Consultant and Human Rights Activist [Malaysia]

Moderator: ROBERT SEMBER, Artist and Researcher [South Africa/USA]

12:30: LUNCH


LARISSA SANSOUR, Visual Artist [Palestine/UK]
NADIA PLESNER, Visual Artist [Denmark]
FREDRIK GERTTEN, Film Director [Sweden]


ADAM FISCHER, Chief Conductor [Hungary]
YNGVE ANDRE SØBERG, Soloist at The Norwegian National Opera & Ballet [Norway]


MUSTAPHA BENFODIL, Writer and Visual Artist [Algeria]
LARS Ø RAMBERG, Artist [Norway/Germany]

Moderator: ALESSANDRO PETTI, Architect and Researcher [Italy/Palestine]



TENZING RIGDOL, Visual Artist and Poet [Tibet]
TENZIN GÖNPO, Musician [Tibet/France]

Moderator: FRANCES HARRISON, Journalist [UK]


SI HAN, Curator [China/Sweden]

Moderator: FRANCES HARRISON, Journalist [UK]




08:45: Doors open – 09:00: Doors close


SHERINE AMR, Singer [Egypt]
SONDOS SHABAYEK, Writer, Theatre Director and Actress [Egypt]

Moderator: PETR LOM, Filmmaker [Czech Republic/Canada]


DEEYAH, Music Producer [Norway/UK]
ARSHAD HUSSAIN, Actor and Culture Activist [Pakistan]

OLE REITOV, Program Manager, Freemuse


GEORGE GITTOES, Painter, Photographer and Filmmaker [Australia]

Moderator: FRANCES HARRISON, Journalist [UK]

10:30: RUSSIA

NIKOLAY OLEYNIKOV, Visual Artist [Russia/Chto Delat]



RACHIDA TRIKI, Film Director and Researcher [Tunisia]
ORWA AL MOKDAD, Actor [Syria]

Moderator: DONATELLA DELLA RATTA, PhD Fellow [Italy]


JONATHAN STANCZAK, Co-Founder and Administrative Manager of the The Freedom Theatre [Sweden/Palestine]

12:20: CUBA (tbc)

13:00: LUNCH


Moderator: SIGRUN SLAPGARD, Writer, Foreign Correspondent and Board Member of Fritt Ord


WILLIAM NYGAARD, Publisher and Defender of Freedom of Expression [Norway]

14:30: TURKEY

ASLI ERDOĞAN, Writer [Turkey/Austria]
PELIN BAŞARAN, Researcher [Turkey]

Moderator: KENAN MALIK, Writer, Lecturer and Broadcaster [UK]


MARAN TURNER, Executive Director, Freedom Now [USA]


ALEXANDER CHEPARUKHIN, Music Producer, Promoter and Founder and Director of GreenWave Music [Russia]


OUTSPOKEN, Artist and Community Activist [Zimbabwe]

The conference is organised by Fritt Ord and Freemuse, and is generously supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and PostkodLotteriet, Sweden.

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Nadezhda Tolokonnikova: Closing Statement at the Pussy Riot Trial

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova
Closing Statement
8 August 2012, Khamovnichesky Courthouse, Moscow

Essentially, it is not three singers from Pussy Riot who are on trial here. If that were the case, what’s happening would be totally insignificant. It is the entire state system of the Russian Federation which is on trial and which, unfortunately for itself, thoroughly enjoys advertising its cruelty towards human beings, its indifference to their honour and dignity, the very worst that has happened in Russian history to date. To my deepest regret, this mock trial is close to the standards of the Stalinist troikas. Thus, we have our investigator, lawyer and judge. And then, what’s more, what all three of them do and say and decide is determined by a political demand for repression. Who is to blame for the performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and for our being put on trial after the concert? The authoritarian political system is to blame. What Pussy Riot does is oppositional art or politics that draws upon the forms art has established. In any event, it is a form of civil action in circumstances where basic human rights, civil and political freedoms are suppressed by the corporate state system.

Many people, relentlessly and methodically flayed alive by the destruction of liberties since the turn of the century, have rebelled.

We were looking for authentic genuineness and simplicity and we found them in our punk performances. Passion, openness and naivety are superior to hypocrisy, cunning and a contrived decency that conceals crimes. The state’s leaders stand with saintly expressions in church, but their sins are far greater than ours. We’ve put on our political punk concerts because the Russian state system is dominated by rigidity, closedness and caste. Аnd the policies pursued serve only narrow corporate interests to the extent that even the air of Russia makes us ill.

We are absolutely not happy with—and have been forced into living politically by—the use of coercive, strong-arm measures to handle social processes, a situation in which the most important political institutions are the disciplinary structures of the state—the security agencies, the army, the police, the special forces and the accompanying means of ensuring political stability: prisons, preventive detention and mechanisms to closely control public behaviour. Nor are we happy with the enforced civic passivity of the bulk of the population or the complete domination of executive structures over the legislature and judiciary. Moreover, we are genuinely angered by the fear-based and scandalously low standard of political culture, which is constantly and knowingly maintained by the state system and its accomplices. Look at what Patriarch Kirill has to say: “The Orthodox don’t go to rallies.” We are angered by the appalling weakness of horizontal relationships within society. We don’t like the way in which the state system easily manipulates public opinion through its tight control of the overwhelming majority of media outlets. A perfect example is the unprecedentedly shameless campaign against Pussy Riot, based on the distortion of facts and words, which has appeared in nearly all the Russian media, apart from the few independent media there are in this political system.

Even so, I can now state—despite the fact that we currently have an authoritarian political situation—that I am seeing this political system collapse to a certain extent when it comes to the three members of Pussy Riot, because what the system was counting on, unfortunately for that system, has not come to pass. Russia as a whole does not condemn us. Every day more and more people believe us and believe in us, and think we should be free rather than behind bars. I can see this from the people I meet. I meet people who represent the system, who work for the relevant agencies. I see people who are in prison. And every day there are more and more people who support us, who hope for our success and especially for our release, who say our political act was justified. People tell us, “To start with, we weren’t sure you could have done this,” but every day there are more and more people who say, “Time is proving to us that your political gesture was correct. You have exposed the cancer in this political system and dealt a blow to a nest of vipers, who then turned on you.” These people are trying to make life easier for us in whatever way they can and we are very grateful to them for that…

We are grateful to all those who, free themselves, speak out in our support. There are a vast number, I know. I know that a huge number of Orthodox people are standing up for us. They are praying for us outside the courtroom, for the members of Pussy Riot who are incarcerated. We’ve seen the little booklets Orthodox people are handing out with prayers for those in prison. This shows that there isn’t a unified social group of Orthodox believers as the prosecution is endeavouring to say. No such thing exists. More and more believers are starting to defend Pussy Riot. They don’t think what we did deserves even five months in detention, much less the three years in prison the prosecutor would like. And every day, more and more people realize that if this political system has ganged up to this extent against three girls for a 30-second performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, it means the system is afraid of the truth and afraid of our sincerity and directness. We haven’t dissembled, not for a second, not for a minute during this trial, but the other side is dissembling too much and people can sense it. People can sense the truth. Truth really does have some kind of ontological, existential superiority over lies and this is written in the Bible, in the Old Testament in particular. In the end, the ways of truth always triumph over the ways of wickedness, guile and lies. And with each day that passes, the ways of truth are more and more triumphant even though we are still behind bars and are likely to be here a lot longer yet.

Madonna performed yesterday (7 August). She appeared with Pussy Riot written on her back. More and more people can see that we are being held here unlawfully and on a completely false charge—I’m overwhelmed by this. I am overwhelmed that truth really does triumph over lies even though physically we are here in a cage. We are freer than the people sitting opposite us for the prosecution because we can say everything we like, and we do, but those people sitting there say only what political censorship allows them to say. They can’t speak words like “punk prayer” or “Virgin Mary, Banish Putin!” They can’t say the lines from our punk prayer that have to do with the political system. Perhaps they think it wouldn’t be a bad thing to send us to jail because we are rising up against Putin and his system as well but they can’t say so because that’s not allowed either. Their mouths are sewn shut. Unfortunately, they are mere puppets. I hope they realize this and also take the road to freedom, truth and sincerity because these are superior to stasis, contrived decency and hypocrisy. Stasis and the search for truth are always in opposition to one another and, in this case, at this trial, we can see people who are trying to find the truth and people who are trying to enslave those who want to find the truth.

Humans are beings who always make mistakes. They are not perfect. They strive for wisdom but never actually have it. That’s precisely why philosophy came into being, precisely because philosophers are people who love wisdom and strive for it, but never actually possess it, and it is what makes them act and think and, ultimately, to live the way they do. This is what made us go into the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, and I think that Christianity, as I’ve understood it from studying the Old and New Testaments, supports the search for truth and a constant overcoming of the self, overcoming what you used to be. Christ didn’t associate with prostitutes for nothing. He said, ‘I help those who have gone astray and forgive them’ but for some reason I can’t see any of that at our trial, which is taking place under the banner of Christianity. I think the prosecutor is defying Christianity. The lawyer wants nothing to do with the injured parties. Here’s how I understand this: Two days ago, Lawyer Taratukhin made a speech in which he wanted everyone to understand that he had no sympathy with the people he is representing. This means he’s not ethically comfortable representing people who want to send the three members of Pussy Riot to jail. Why they want to do this, I don’t know. Perhaps it is their right. The lawyer was embarrassed, the shouts of “Shame! Executioners!” had got to him, which goes to show that truth and goodness always triumph over lies and evil.

I think some higher powers are guiding the speeches of the lawyers for the other side when, time after time, they make mistakes in what they say and call us the “injured parties”. Almost all the lawyers are doing it, including Lawyer Pavlova who is very negatively disposed towards us. Nevertheless, some higher powers are causing her to say “the injured parties” about us rather than the people she’s defending. I wouldn’t give people labels. I don’t think there are winners or losers here, injured parties or accused. We just need to make contact, to establish a dialogue and a joint search for truth, to seek wisdom together, to be philosophers together, rather than stigmatizing and labelling people. This is one of the worst things people can do and Christ condemned it.

We have been subjected to abuse during this trial. Who would have thought that a person and the state system he controls would be repeatedly capable of entirely wanton evil? Who would have thought that history and Stalin’s fairly recent Great Terror, in particular, not so very long ago, would not be taught at all? It makes you want to weep to see how the methods of the medieval inquisition are brought out by the law-enforcement and judicial system of the Russian Federation, which is our country. Since the time of our arrest, however, we can no longer weep. We’ve forgotten how to cry. At our punk concerts we used to shout as best we could about the iniquities of the authorities and now we’ve been robbed of our voice.

This whole trial refuses to hear us and I mean hear us, which involves understanding and, moreover, thinking. I think every individual wants to attain wisdom, to be a philosopher, not just people who happen to have studied philosophy. That’s nothing. Formal education is nothing in itself and Lawyer Pavlova is constantly accusing us of not being sufficiently well-educated. I think though that the most important thing is the desire to know and to understand, and that’s something people can do for themselves outside of educational establishments, and the trappings of academic degrees don’t mean anything in this instance. Someone can have a vast fund of knowledge and for all that not be human. Pythagoras said that ‘the learning of many things does not teach understanding’. Unfortunately, that’s something we are forced to observe here. It’s just a stage setting and bits of the natural world, bodies brought into the courtroom. If, after many days of asking, talking and doing battle our petitions are examined, they are inevitably rejected.

The court, on the other hand—and unfortunately for us and for our country—listens to the prosecutor who repeatedly distorts our comments and statements with impunity in a bid to neutralize them. There is no attempt to conceal this breach in an adversarial system. They even seem to be showing it off. On 30th July, the first day of the trial, we presented our response to the accusations. Prior to that we were in prison, in confinement. We can’t do anything there. We can’t make statements. We can’t make films. We don’t have the internet in there. We can’t even give our lawyer a bit of paper because that’s banned too. Our first chance to speak came on 30th July. The document we’d written was read out by defence lawyer Volkova because the court refused outright to let the defendants speak. We called for contact and dialogue rather than conflict and opposition. We reached out a hand to those who, for some reason, assume we are their enemies. In response they laughed at us and spat in our outstretched hands. “You’re disingenuous,” they told us. But they needn’t have bothered. Don’t judge others by your own standards. We were always sincere in what we said, saying exactly what we thought, out of childish naïvety, sure, but we don’t regret anything we said, even on that day. We are reviled but we do not intend to speak evil in return. We are in desperate straits but do not despair. We are persecuted but not forsaken. It’s easy to humiliate and crush people who are open, but when I am weak, then I am strong.

Listen to us rather than to Arkady Mamontov talking about us. Don’t twist and distort everything we say. Let us enter into dialogue and contact with the country, which is ours too, not just Putin’s and the Patriarch’s. Like Solzhenitsyn, I believe that in the end, words will crush concrete. Solzhenitsyn wrote, “the word is more sincere than concrete, so words are not trifles. Once noble people mobilize, their words will crush concrete.”

Katya, Masha and I are in jail but I don’t consider that we’ve been defeated. Just as the dissidents weren’t defeated. When they disappeared into psychiatric hospitals and prisons, they passed judgement on the country. The era’s art of creating an image knew no winners or losers. The Oberiu poets remained artists to the very end, something impossible to explain or understand since they were purged in 1937. Vvedensky wrote: “We like what can’t be understood, What can’t be explained is our friend.” According to the official report, Aleksandr Vvedensky died on 20 December 1941. We don’t know the cause, whether it was dysentery in the train after his arrest or a bullet from a guard. It was somewhere on the railway line between Voronezh and Kazan. Pussy Riot are Vvedensky’s disciples and his heirs. His principle of ‘bad rhythm’ is our own. He wrote: “It happens that two rhythms will come into your head, a good one and a bad one and I choose the bad one. It will be the right one.” What can’t be explained is our friend. The elitist, sophisticated occupations of the Oberiu poets, their search for meaning at the edge of sense was ultimately realized at the cost of their lives, swept away in the senseless Great Terror that’s impossible to explain. At the cost of their own lives, the Oberiu poets unintentionally demonstrated that the feeling of meaninglessness and alogism, like a pain in the backside, was correct, but at the same time led art into the realm of history. The cost of taking part in creating history is always staggeringly high for people. But that taking part is the very spice of human life. Being poor while bestowing riches on many, having nothing but possessing everything. It is believed that the Oberiu dissidents are dead, but they live on. They are persecuted but they do not die.

Do you remember why the young Dostoyevsky was given the death sentence? All he had done was to spend all his time with Socialists—and at the Friday meetings of a friendly circle of free thinkers at Petrushevsky’s, he became acquainted with Charles Fourier and George Sand. At one of the last meetings, he read out Gogol’s letter to Belinsky, which was packed, according to the court, and, please note, “with childish utterances against the Orthodox Church and the supreme authorities”. After all his preparations for the death penalty and ten dreadful, impossibly frightening minutes waiting to die, as Dostoyevsky himself put it, the announcement came that his sentence had been commuted to four years hard labour followed by military service.

Socrates was accused of corrupting youth through his philosophical discourses and of not recognizing the gods of Athens. Socrates had a connection to a divine inner voice and was by no means a theomachist, something he often said himself. What did that matter, however, when he had angered the city with his critical, dialectical and unprejudiced thinking? Socrates was sentenced to death and, refusing to run away, although he was given that option, he drank down a cup of poison in cold blood, hemlock.

Have you forgotten the circumstances under which Stephen, follower of the Apostles, ended his earthly life? “Then they secretly induced men to say, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.’ And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and dragged him away, and brought him before the Council. And they put forward false witnesses who said, ‘This man incessantly speaks against this holy place, and the Law.’” He was found guilty and stoned to death.

And I hope everyone remembers what the Jews said to Jesus: “We’re stoning you not for any good work, but for blasphemy.” And finally it would be well worth remembering this description of Christ: “He is possessed of a demon and out of his mind.”

I believe that if leaders, tsars, elders, presidents and prime ministers, the people and the judges really understood what “I desire mercy not sacrifice” meant, they would not condemn the innocent. Our leaders are currently in a hurry only to condemn and not at all to show mercy. Incidentally, we thank Dmitry Anatolievich Medvedev for his latest wonderful aphorism. If Medvedev gave his presidency the slogan: “Freedom is better than non-freedom”, then, thanks to Medvedev’s felicitous saying, Putin’s third term has a good chance of being known by a new aphorism: “Prison is better than stoning.”

I would like you to think carefully about the following reflection by Montaigne from his Essays written in the 16th century. He wrote: “You are holding your opinions in too high a regard if you burn people alive for them.” Is it worth accusing people and putting them in jail on the basis of totally unfounded conjectures by the prosecution?

Since in actual fact we never were, and are not, motivated by religious hatred and hostility, there is nothing left for our accusers to do other than to draw on the aid of false witnesses. One of them, Motilda Ivashchenko, was ashamed and didn’t show up in court. That left the false witness of the expert examination by [Vsevolod] Troitsky, [Igor] Ponkin and Mrs [Vera] Abramenkova. And there is no evidence of any hatred or enmity on our part other than this expert examination. For this reason, if it is honourable and just, the court must rule the evidence inadmissible because it is not a strictly scientific or objective text but a filthy, lying bit of paper from the medieval days of the inquisition. There is no other evidence that remotely hints at a motive.

The prosecution is reluctant to produce excerpts from the texts of Pussy Riot interviews because they are primary evidence of this lack of motive. For the umpteenth time, I will quote this excerpt. I think it’s important. It was from an interview with “Russky Reporter”, given the day after the concert at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour: “Our attitude toward religion, and toward Orthodoxy in particular, is one of respect, and for this very reason we are distressed that the great and luminous Christian philosophy is being used so shabbily. We are very angry that something beautiful is being spoiled.” It still makes us angry and we find it very painful to watch.

The lack on our part of any show of hatred or enmity has been attested by all the witnesses examined by the defence. And by the evidence of our characters. In addition to all the other character statements, I’d like you to consider the findings of the psychiatric and psychological tests the investigator ordered me to undergo in detention. The expert’s findings were as follows: the values to which I am committed in my life are justice, mutual respect, humanity, equality and freedom. That’s what the expert said, someone who doesn’t know me and Investigator Ranchenko would probably have very much liked him to write something different. It would appear, however, that there are more people who live and value the truth, and the Bible’s right about that.

Finally, I’d like to quote a Pussy Riot song because, strange as it may seem, all our songs have turned out to be prophetic, including the one that says: “The KGB chief, their number one saint, will escort protestors off to jail”—that’s us. What I’d like to quote now, however, is the next line: “Open the doors, off with the military insignia, join us in a taste of freedom.”

(Agnes Parker: translation/Eja Werner: coordination)

Editor’s Note. We’d like to express our gratitude to the translators for sending this to us and permission to reprint it here.


Filed under activism, censorship, feminism, gay rights, international affairs, open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, protests, Russian society

Moscow Police: Prose Is Allowed (But Not Blank Verse?)

Welcome to Moscow, where it is illegal to sing a couple songs outside a courthouse in defense of people (in this case, the three arrested alleged members of Pussy Riot, whose pretrial detention was extended for another two months yesterday by the Tagansky court) you think have been unjustly accused and imprisoned.

Slon.Ru’s reporter on the scene relates this interesting exchange with one of the arresting police officers:

When I asked the officer supervising the arrests on what grounds the musicians [Nikolay Oleynikov and Kirill Medvedev, two members of the revolutionary folk ensemble Arkady Kots] were being detained, he explained that any organized actions are interpreted as [unsanctioned protests], and that outside a court house they are prohibited by law.

So you’d detain [people for reciting] poems?”
“For [reciting] poems as well — for any unsanctioned actions.”
Is it permitted to converse in prose?”
“Prose is allowed.”
 “What about unrhymed blank verse?”

The officer thought hard but gave no reply. But some activists standing nearby suggested that, given the political situation, blank verse was doubly forbidden.


P.S. Arkady Kots continued their performance as they were being transported to a police station along with other lovers of blank verse:

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January 18: Strike against Internet Censorship!



[from e-flux]


The US Congress is about to pass an internet censorship bill written by the copyright and corporate music and film lobbies, claiming that this bill is written in your name to “protect creativity.” The law would allow the government or corporations to censor entire sites—they just have to convince a judge that the site is “dedicated to copyright infringement.”

In fact, PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) are backed and largely written by the Hollywood film industry, namely the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which is trying to sell goods and ideas that are already free. Similar to its most well-known President, Jack Valenti, who represented Hollywood interests in Washington, and vice-versa, the current chairman and CEO of the MPAA is Chris Dodd, a prominent member of the Democratic Party and US Senator from Connecticut for 30 years.

Artists, musicians, actors, writers, and media-makers need to sign. Your statement is powerful because the corporate music and film lobbies push these laws to censor the internet in your name.

In solidarity, the e-flux and art-agenda websites will feature a block out banner from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST today, January 18. For the same reason, we have decided to cancel our announcements for the day.


Major sites all over the internet have gone on strike due to SOPA and PIPA, the hot-button anti-piracy legislation. Experts expect strike to last 150 seconds, and agree this is a “near eternity” in internet time.

Congress is about to pass what has been called the internet censorship bill, even though the vast majority of Americans are opposed. The Senate is scheduled to vote on its version of the internet censorship bill on Tuesday, January 24th, and unless there are 41 senators to voice their opposition to allowing the bill to proceed, it is expected to pass.

Legislation called the PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House are purported to be a way to crack down on online copyright infringement. In reality the bill is much broader. It would empower governments and corporations to take down virtually any website, create new liabilities and uncertainties for web innovators, and make the web less safe. According to the varied and multitudinous reasons large numbers of sites and individuals are opposed to the bill, it betrays basic American tenets, such as free speech, prosperity, and national security. On top of all that, cybersecurity experts say it wouldn’t stop copyright infringement.

The legislation is backed and largely written by the MPAA, as they have said in media reports. They have also spent millions in lobbying dollars to pass this legislation. and

To see the bills, go here:

CALL (202) 224-3121


SOPA and PIPA – Learn more

What exactly is Wikipedia doing?

Wikipedia is protesting against SOPA and PIPA by blacking out the English Wikipedia for 24 hours, beginning at midnight January 18, Eastern Time. Readers who come to English Wikipedia during the blackout will not be able to read the encyclopedia: instead, they will see messages intended to raise awareness about SOPA and PIPA, and encouraging them to share their views with their elected representatives, and via social media.

What are SOPA and PIPA?

SOPA and PIPA represent two bills in the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate respectively. SOPA is short for the “Stop Online Piracy Act,” and PIPA is an acronym for the “Protect IP Act.” (“IP” stands for “intellectual property.”) In short, these bills are efforts to stop copyright infringement committed by foreign web sites, but, in our opinion, they do so in a way that actually infringes free expression while harming the Internet. Detailed information about these bills can be found in the Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act articles on Wikipedia, which are available during the blackout. You can also follow them through the legislative process here and here. The EFF has summarized why these bills are simply unacceptable in a world that values an open, secure, and free Internet.

Why is this happening?

Nothing like this has ever happened before on the English Wikipedia. Wikipedians have chosen to black out the English Wikipedia for the first time ever, because we are concerned that SOPA and PIPA will severely inhibit people’s access to online information. This is not a problem that will solely affect people in the United States: it will affect everyone around the world.

Why? SOPA and PIPA are badly drafted legislation that won’t be effective in their main goal (to stop copyright infringement), and will cause serious damage to the free and open Internet. They put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. Small sites won’t have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors, even if copyright isn’t being infringed. Foreign sites will be blacklisted, which means they won’t show up in major search engines. And, SOPA and PIPA build a framework for future restrictions and suppression.

Do you care about infringement?

Yes. Wikipedians spend thousands of hours every week working tirelessly in reviewing and removing infringing content. Wikipedia talk pages show tremendous care about protecting copyright and sophisticated study on the many nuances of what constitutes infringement as opposed to legitimate speech. Wikipedia is based on a model of free licenses. Every Wikipedian is a rights owner, licensing their work under free licenses. Infringement harms our mission; free licenses do not work with infringement. Wikipedia has a mission of sharing knowledge around the world, and that is not possible when the knowledge is tainted with infringement. So, yes, Wikipedians care deeply about protecting the rights of others and ensuring against infringement.

But this does not mean Wikipedians are willing to trample on free expression like SOPA and PIPA. The proposed legislation seeks to take down sites entirely, because courts and others simply don’t have time to worry about the nuances of copyright law and free expression. That is what is troubling. When the remedies are bludgeons, when entire sites are taken down, when everyone assumes that all content is infringing because some is, we lose something important. We lose the nuances of copyright about which our community cares, we lose our values based on protecting free speech, we lose what we represent. The Internet cannot turn into a world where free expression is ignored to accommodate overly simple solutions that gratify powerful rightowners who spend lots of money to promote the regulation of expression. There are better ways, like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, to find the right approach to legitimate copyright enforcement without trampling on free expression. SOPA and PIPA don’t represent these values, and for that reason we ask you to oppose these bills.

Isn’t SOPA dead? Wasn’t the bill shelved, and didn’t the White House declare that it won’t sign anything that resembles the current bill?

No, neither SOPA nor PIPA are dead. On January 17th, SOPA’s sponsor said the bill will be discussed in early February. There are signs PIPA may be debated on the Senate floor next week. Moreover, SOPA and PIPA are just indicators of a much broader problem. We are already seeing big media calling us names. In many jurisdictions around the world, we’re seeing the development of legislation that prioritizes overly-broad copyright enforcement laws, laws promoted by power players, over the preservation of individual civil liberties. We want the Internet to be free and open, everywhere, for everyone.

Aren’t SOPA/PIPA as they stand not even really a threat to Wikipedia? Won’t the DNS provisions be removed?

SOPA and PIPA are still alive, and they’re still a threat to the free and open web, which means they are a threat to Wikipedia. For example, in its current form, SOPA would require U.S. sites to take on the heavy burden of actively policing third-party links for infringing content. And even with the DNS provisions removed, the bill would give the U.S. government extraordinary, ambiguous, and loosely-defined powers to take control over content and information on the free web. Taking one bad provision out doesn’t make the bills okay, and regardless, Internet experts agree they won’t even be effective in their main goal: halting copyright infringement. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a really great post about some of the more dangerous SOPA and PIPA provisions.

What can users outside of the U.S. do to support this effort?

Readers who don’t live in the United States can contact their local State Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or similar branch of government. Tell them that you oppose the draft U.S. SOPA and PIPA legislation, and all similar legislation. SOPA and PIPA will have a global effect – websites outside of the U.S. would be impacted by legislation that hurts the free and open web. And, other jurisdictions are grappling with similar issues, and may choose paths similar to SOPA and PIPA.

Is it still possible to access Wikipedia in any way?

The Wikipedia community, as part of their request to the Wikimedia Foundation to carry out this protest, asked us to ensure that we make English Wikipedia accessible in some way during an emergency. The English Wikipedia will be accessible on mobile devices and smart phones. You can also view Wikipedia normally by completely disabling JavaScript in your browser, as explained on this Technical FAQ page.

I keep hearing that this is a fight between Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Is that true?

No. Some people are characterizing it that way, probably in an effort to imply all the participants are motivated by commercial self-interest. But you can know it’s not that simple, because Wikipedia has no financial self-interest here: we are not trying to monetize your eyeballs or sell you products. We are protesting to raise awareness about SOPA and PIPA solely because we think they will hurt the Internet, and your ability to access information. We are doing this for you.

In carrying out this protest, is Wikipedia abandoning neutrality?

We hope you continue to trust Wikipedia to be a neutral informational resource. We are staging this blackout because, although Wikipedia’s articles are neutral, its existence actually is not. For over a decade, Wikipedians have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Wikipedia’s existence depends on a free, open and uncensored Internet. We are shutting Wikipedia down for you, our readers. We support your right to freedom of thought and freedom of expression. We think everyone should have access to educational material on a wide range of subjects, even if they can’t pay for it. We believe people should be able to share information without impediment. We believe that new proposed laws like SOPA and PIPA (and other similar laws under discussion inside and outside the United States) don’t advance the interests of the general public. That’s why we’re doing this.

What can I read to get more information?

Try these links:

As of midnight PT, January 18, Google has 3,740 articles about the blackout. Here are a few:

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“Without Limits”: “Anti-Putin” Installation Censored at Petersburg Contemporary Art Forum

In the contemporary cultural landscape panorama [sic], when conventional forms and aspects of art coexist with completely new art practices, the priorities get diametrically split [sic] and often impervious to each other [sic]. Meanwhile, we affirm the possibility to [sic] work out mutually acceptable and clear criteria in the evaluation of both a [sic] whole process and individual events in arts [sic].

Art & Reality Annual International Forum, “About the Forum”

Exhibition “Without Limits” Had Its Limits
November 30, 2011

“The Stars Speak,” an interactive installation by artist Vasily Klenov presented at the exhibition “Without Limits” as part of the parallel program of the first Art & Reality Annual International Forum, was censored on November 26 and removed from the exhibition hall along with its creator after Klenov refused to remove from the installation words insulting Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that a visitor had typed in.

As stated on its official site, the Art & Reality Forum was organized by the Petr Konchalovsky Foundation “to discuss the burning issues in the world of fine arts, its imaginative ideas, practices, institutions, social functioning patterns, experiments, including the most radical ones.”

The forum, which took place in the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library November 25–27, was attended by Russian and foreign artists, critics, art historians, experts, gallerists, and patrons. Its theme was contemporary art criticism.

The first exhibition of the “Without Limits” project took place as part of the forum. It featured pieces by young artists and students working in a wide variety of genres and tendencies. According to organizers, the experimental convergence of different formats within a single art space would help address the forum’s major objectives — to comprehend the state of contemporary visual art and analyze the potential of modern technologies for the presentation of different kinds of creativity.

The exhibition included “The Stars Speak,” an interactive installation by Vasily Klenov, a student at the Rodchenko Moscow School of Photography and Multimedia. The installation contained images of Russian stars — Maxim Galkin, Filipp Kirkorov, Andrei Makarevich, and Andrei Malakhov — alongside a display panel in the shape of comic-strip speech balloons. Visitors could type a message in these balloons using a special keyboard.

After one visitor typed in the phrase, “Putin must be castrated, just as he castrated democracy,” exhibition organizers demanded that the message defaming the prime minister be deleted. However, Vasily Klenov refused, explaining that, first, it was technically impossible, and second, that the idea of the installation had been precisely to give viewers the opportunity to freely express their thoughts.

The artist and his work were then quickly expelled from the exhibition.

Forum organizers did their best to hush up the scandal. When one of the artists participating in the exhibition, Sofia Gavrilova, tried to publicly announce what had happened, her microphone was turned off, and the live broadcast of the proceedings was preempted by a splash screen featuring the forum’s logo. Organizers explained all this as the result of technical difficulties and continued the forum.

Source: Fontanka.Ru
Art & Reality Annual International Forum Advisory Board: Alexander Zhukov, Vice Prime Minister of Russia; Alexander Avdeev, Minister of Culture of Russia; Vladimir Kozhin, Head of the Presidential Property Management Department; Andrei Konchalovsky, Chairman of Council of Petr Konchalovsky Foundation; Nikita Mikhalkov, Со-Founder of Petr Konchalovsky Foundation; Alexey Miller, Chairman of Council of ОАО Gazprom.

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Kommersant, Flagship of the Russian Liberal Press: “Insignificant Gatherings of Sodomites”

Editor’s Note. In the following, the emphasis is ours.

[Kommersant founder Vladimir] Yakovlev and his colleagues were the first to introduce the Western principle of information presentation, “the principle of the overturned pyramid”: the essence of the information, what, where, and when, was compressed into the first three sentences. That was how lead stories appeared. (Since then it has become an indispensable attribute of every article in every edition of Kommersant). The details сame only after this lead. There was one more principle: just the facts — no evaluations, no moralizing, and especially no “personal author’s or civic positions.” Brevity, discretion in evaluations, a cool aloof tone, and irony.

Kommersant Saint Petersburg, No. 212, Supplement (4752), 14.11.2011
Public Morality as an Electoral Resource
The Legislative Assembly Plans to Ban Gay Parades

While United Russia’s faction in the State Duma adopts one outrageous bill after another, causing mass protests and hunger strikes throughout Russia, [Petersburg] city legislators are trying to save the party’s face at the regional level. Last Friday, United Russia deputy Vitaly Milonov promised to introduce to the Legislative Assembly a regional law banning promotion of sexual perversion. ANDREI TSYGANOV has the details.

According to the Legislative Assembly’s web site, deputies of the city’s parliament plan, “at one of [its] upcoming sessions,” to consider the draft law “On Amendments to the Law of Saint Petersburg ‘On Administrative Offenses in Saint Petersburg,'” which would add a clause making “public actions to promote sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, [and] transgenderism amongst minors” an administrative offense. The [proposed] law also introduces penalties for “public actions aimed at promoting pedophilia.” The penalty [for violating this law], however, would be fairly nominal: in both cases it would range from one to three thousand rubles for individuals, while officials would be fined from three to five thousand rubles, and organizations, from ten to fifty thousand rubles.

The bill does not specify what is meant by “public actions.” However, there is reason to believe that the law, if adopted, may be sufficiently broad in scope. Cause for optimism is given by comments made by the author of the bill, United Russia deputy Vitaly Milonov: “Calls from the public to stop the flow of immoral information which is dumped on children and young people have recently become louder and louder. Over the centuries in our country, family values ​​were at the forefront. Today, attempts are being made to change basic social guidelines. Parents and schools sometimes are unable to c0unter the powerful show business industry, which promotes immorality and permissiveness. The purpose of this bill is to protect morals and morality as the foundation of a healthy society.”

The current initiative of Petersburg’s United Russia faction is not original: regional laws on the protection of morality exist in many regions of Russia (for instance, the Ryazan Region law on the protection of the morals and health of children, passed on March 22, 2006, and the law of the Arkhangelsk Region, “On Separate Measures to Protect the Morals and Health of Children,” passed in September 2011, etc.) and were adopted there long before the elections. Petersburg, on the contrary, was until recently a “pioneer” in the promotion of perversion, as well as in programs of “sex education” for children, which are linked [to perversion] and implemented via western grants: it suffices to say that during Valentina Matvyienko’s administration, Petersburg was the first and only Russian city in which several officially sanctioned “public actions aimed at promoting” sodomy took place.

The context in which the adoption of the first document in defense of morality in the city’s modern history is taking place is worth noting. A week ago, the State Duma, backed by the United Russia majority, adopted in the third reading the scandalous law “On Protection of the Health of Citizens in the Russian Federation,” which legalizes donation of children’s organs and provides for forced sterilization of the disabled and medical intervention, including abortions, without parental consent from the age of fifteen.  This law has caused unprecedented protest by citizens — tens of thousands of letters, telegrams, and even mass hunger strikes by indignant parents across Russia, something completely ignored by both the Duma and the Federation Council, which subsequently ratified the law. In the same mode, despite strong public opposition, the Duma majority has attempted in the past few months to push through the law “On Education,” which in its current form undermines national traditions of education, reducing the latter to the “provision of (in most cases, paid) educational services.” However, unlike the law “On Health,” adoption of this document has at present been postponed.

It is clear that this legislative activity at the federal level hardly adds any votes for United Russia. In this regard, Vitaly Milonov’s obviously necessary and useful bill is only an attempt to reassure Petersburg’s concerned public by throwing it a “bone” in the form of a promised ban on insignificant (in the electoral sense) gatherings of sodomites.


Editor’s Note. You can send your comments to Kommersant at: Happily (for “Andrei Tsyganov,” apparently), the Petersburg Legislative Assembly voted for the bill during its first reading yesterday. Kommersant “has the details”:

Kommersant Saint Petersburg, No. 215 (4755), 17.11.2011
Promoters of Sexual Perversion Will Be Punished in Their Wallets

Yesterday, as [Kommersant] predicted, the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly approved the first reading of a bill that establishes administrative responsibility for the promotion of homosexuality, pedophilia and other forms of sexual perversion amongst minors. Thirty-seven of the thirty-nine deputies present at the meeting voted for the bill (there was one vote against the bill, and one absention). The bill proposes punishing the promotion of perversion with fines: from one to three thousand rubles for individuals, and from three to five thousand for officials. Such insignificant penalties outraged some deputies. Thus, Elena Babich, a deputy from the LDPR faction, said that in her opinion, “The hidden promotion of homosexuality and pedophilia is under way throughout the city.” “What is a fine of one or three thousand rubles for a pedophile, when they [sic] are supported by international circles?” the deputy complained. According to Elena Babich, penalties for such actions should be very palpable, and personal punishment in some cases might include severe prison sentences.

In turn, the author of the bill, United Russia member Vitaly Milonov, would not rule out that in the future the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly would go to the State Duma with a proposal to impose more stringent measures against pedophiles on the federal level. Deputies from the Motherland faction in the State Duma had previously made such proposals, including the introduction of criminal responsibility for promoting perversion, but these attempts were blocked by the United Russia majority.


Here, Sergey Chernov gives a little lesson in what actual fact-based reporting on this story should look like:

‘Homophobic’ Bill Attracts Protests
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
November 16, 2011

LGBT activists and human rights organizations are protesting in St. Petersburg with petitions against what they say is a homophobic draft law proposed by Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party in an attempt to gather more votes from conservatives ahead of the Dec. 4 State Duma elections.

On Friday, the Legislative Assembly’s legislation committee introduced a draft amendment to the local law “On Administrative Offences in St. Petersburg” that would outlaw “public actions directed at promoting sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism to minors” if approved by the Legislative Assembly.

According to the draft law, violators will be fined. The fines would be from 1,000 to 3,000 rubles (about $33 to $100) for individuals, 3,000 to 5,000 rubles ($100 to $160) for officials and 10,000 to 50,000 ($325 to $3,630) rubles for legal entities.

“The objective of this draft law is to protect morals as the foundation of a healthy society,” said Vitaly Milonov, chair of the legislative committee and a United Russia deputy, on the Legislative Assembly’s web site.

According to Milonov, the draft law is designed to assist parents and schools in opposing the “powerful showbiz industry that promotes immorality and permissiveness.”

Speaking Tuesday, Igor Kochetkov, director of the LGBT rights group Vykhod (Coming Out), drew attention to mistakes in the draft law, which misspells some key terms in Russian in its title.

“The total illiteracy of the definitions is striking, you can’t find such words in a dictionary, which shows that the authors were very much in a hurry,” he said.

“They didn’t even bother to show it to people who know Russian.”

Kochetkov said that the draft law “was introduced unexpectedly on Nov. 11, and they want its first hearing to be pretty soon — as early as on Nov. 16.”

“This indicates that they want it to pass before the elections — that it is a move in their election campaign, definitely. I think that if they fail to get it passed before the elections, it will not be of interest to them once the elections are over.”

On Tuesday, LGBT activists held a series of one-man demos, which do not require preliminary authorization under Russian law, in central St. Petersburg. Activists set up a scarecrow with a poster reading “Don’t let democracy slip away” and stood next to it, one by one, distributing leaflets.

Their posters read “I’m not a scarecrow! Don’t scare kids with me,” “Those under 18 aren’t allowed to look at me” and “Don’t take kids to the ballet — men wear pantyhose there.”

According to Coming Out, more than 1,000 residents have signed the petition against the draft law in person during the past three days, while more than 6,500 have signed it on the Internet.

In a statement, Coming Out said that if passed, the law would put restrictions on the activities of LGBT rights organizations.

“Consequently, any information campaigns directed at lowering xenophobia and preventing hate crimes based on homophobia would become impossible.”

Although Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, Ryazan and Arkhangelsk outlawed “promoting homosexuality” in the 2000s by passing laws similar to the United Russia bill in St. Petersburg.

Kochetkov described the laws as “unconstitutional,” saying they “limit rights and freedoms, while the constitution states clearly that rights and freedoms can be limited only by a federal law, rather than by regional ones.”

“If such a law is passed in St. Petersburg, we will go to the city court and will take it to the Supreme Court no matter what.”

The Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center asked the Legislative Assembly to reject the bill as “contradicting Russian and international legal norms” in a letter Tuesday.

“The passing [of the law] would lead to mass violations of human rights on the territory of St. Petersburg,” it said.

Coming Out’s activists said they would continue to protest and picket the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday, when the draft law is due to be heard.

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Free Ai Weiwei (petition)


Dear friends,

World-famous and beloved Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has been “disappeared” by China’s state security forces. Every trace of Ai’s life and art has been erased from the Chinese internet, and his only hope may be a global outcry for his release.

Fearful of the pro-democracy protests sweeping the world, the government has cracked down on hundreds of free-thinking Chinese artists, intellectuals, students and citizens. But across the world, artists and art-lovers have begun to speak out in solidarity with Ai.

Chinese elites are major buyers of contemporary art, and are now planning a huge art fair in Beijing. If international galleries and artists stay away from China until Ai is freed, they’ll send shockwaves through the regime. Let’s build a massive global wave of support for top gallerists and artists to stop exhibiting in China until Ai Weiwei is released. We’ll deliver it at the upcoming Venice Biennale exhibition:

Dozens of galleries and artists from over 15 countries are now gearing up for the Beijing International Art Expo and other shows. We’ll present our petition to all the prominent galleries and artists, and log their responses on our website, mobilizing the art world to take a strong stand on behalf of Ai and all the free-thinking citizens who have been jailed.

China sometimes seems immune to international pressure, but art-activism could work. When sports stars stayed away from South Africa they got the attention of the brutal apartheid regime, hastening Nelson Mandela’s release. Together with international artists and dealers we may now be able to achieve the same effect.

Ai Weiwei’s crime has been to speak out against corruption and injustice in China. He resigned on principle from the team designing the ‘Bird’s Nest’ Olympic stadium, criticized corruption behind poorly built schools that killed children in the Sichuan earthquake, and expressed hope the democratic revolutions in the Middle East might lead to change in China. Now noone knows where he is being held or why. Let’s call on artists and galleries to come together to free Ai Wei Wei:

Ai Wei Wei’s parents spent 16 years in a prison labour camp for their principles. At that time China was isolated from the world, but now times have changed. Our voices count — let’s use them now for Ai and China’s free-thinking artists, and the new China they’re striving to create.

With hope,

Alex, Ricken, Maria Paz, Morgan and the whole Avaaz team


BBC — Chinese Artist Held for Economic Crimes

NYTimes — China Takes Dissident Artist Into Custody

The Guardian — Cultural Revolutionary

CNN — A Dangerous mix of art and politics

The Atlantic — The Art of Bubbles: How Sotheby’s Predicts the World Economy

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