Tag Archives: Andrei Loshak

Free Voina!

FREE VOINA!

When, during the course of an act of civil disobedience in September of this year, the art group Voina (“War”) overturned several police cars in Saint Petersburg, the Russian people’s unhappiness with the actions of law enforcement agencies acquired not only a verbal but also a visible expression.

Approximately two months later, on November 15, Voina activists Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev were seized by police in Moscow, transported to Petersburg, and tossed into a pre-trial detention facility. They have now been charged under Paragraph b, Part 1, Article 213 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code (“criminal mischief motivated by hatred or hostility toward a social group”).

The authorities are attempting to pin the motives of hatred or hostility towards a nonexistent social group (in this case, the police) on the two activists in order to increase the potential term of imprisonment to five years. The activists have been subjected to physical coercion while in detention. We thus see that the power of the law enforcement system is being used outside the limits and aims of the law; it is being used arbitrarily and in order to squash protest. Vorotnikov and Nikolyaev are charged with “criminal mischief” only because several of the Russian police’s innumerable cars were lightly damaged. The people who took part in the riot on Manege Square in Moscow on December 11, who fought with the OMON and beat up dozens of people in the Moscow subway, were released from police custody the very same day. Why, then, it is the two Voina activists, who caused no physical harm to any human being with their action, who have been charged with “criminal mischief”?

Today, the Russian state does not try to convince anyone that its laws apply equally to everyone. Notorious “cases” like the one against Voina should in fact prove that the reverse is true: they are meant to show everyone else not WHAT actions are unacceptable, but rather WHO is not permitted to commit such actions. To have the right to overturn cars or beat people, for example, one has to be a member of the group that Voina has now been charged with inciting hatred towards. Each case like the criminal case brought against Voina has nothing to do with obeying the laws: no one has given a damn about these laws for a long while, especially the people who draft them.  The case against Voina is a battlefield where our freedoms are being fought over. If Voina is convicted and sent to prison, the space of THEIR freedom will become a little bit larger, while the space of OUR freedom will shrink. If this “case” falls apart, then it will be the other way round.

We appeal for solidarity with all those who have suffered in this battle: Seva Ostapov, who was given a one-year suspended sentence for being beaten up by police at the Sokolniki precinct station in Moscow; passerby Sergei Makhnatkin, who was sentenced to two and half years in prison because he defended a 72-year-old woman who was being roughed up by the police at a demonstration in Moscow; Left Front activist Grigory Torbeev, who is now threatened with ten years in prison for lighting a flare at the last Day of Rage protest in Moscow; artist Artem Loskutov, who “insulted” police officers in Novosibirsk by making critical remarks about their methods when they attempted to drag him and two female friends into a police truck; Belarusian anarchists, one of whom was practically kidnapped in Moscow and delivered to the Belarusian KGB, in violation of all extradition procedures; and the victims of police major Denis Yevsyukov and their loved ones.

1. We demand the immediate release of the Voina activists from pre-trial detention.

2. We demand that the court regard the act they committed not as criminal mischief, but as a public statement meant to draw society’s attention to the situation that has arisen around the country’s law enforcement agencies, as a desperate attempt to remind society of the police lawlessness that has become a fact of everyday life, lawlessness against which no one is safe.

3.  We call for an open trial in this case and demand that it and all other cases involving lawlessness and violence committed by police officers be tried before juries.

By securing the freedom of the Voina activists, we secure our own freedom from this lawlessness!

At the demonstration anyone who wishes can join Voina!

We likewise invite everyone to bring along their own artworks on the theme of War – that very same War in which everyone is involved, even if everyone doesn’t admit it. In addition, we will be collecting money at the demonstration o support the arrested activists.

The officially permitted demonstration in support of Voina will take place at 3:00 p.m., December 18, on Pushkinskaya Square in Moscow.

Free Voina! Initiative Group

__________

In this video, various well-known Russian cultural figures express their support for Voina. Here is a very concise summary of their remarks.

  • Artemy Troitsky (music critic, journalist). If the majority of young people in Russia joined Voina, then the most peaceful cultural revolution in human history would ensue. Even if you don’t join Voina, you can support them virtually, via the Internet, or by going to the demonstration in Moscow on December 18.

  • Andrei Erofeev (curator). Voina allowed themselves to commit minor acts of vandalism, but in fact society is filled with useful professions that involve “vandalism” as well: firefighter, policeman, forester, surgeon. All these professions involve a certain amount of destruction, but this destruction is useful to society, nature or the life of the individual. The profession of public artist also involves this sort of positive destruction, and the trial against the Voina activists should take this into account.

  • Alexander Ivanov (publisher). Voina should be released and reunited with their families. Only then can a discussion of the group’s artistic and other merits begin. Voina is reminiscent of the Belgrade students who brought down the regime of Slobodan Milošević in the nineties: an attempt to carnivalize political history in order to deal with painful social issues and show that the “king” (certain politicians and institutions) is naked. We live in a shell of words, and Voina’s carnivalization is a way of breaking through this verbal shell. The attempt made by many cultural commentators and art world figures to discuss whether what Voina does is contemporary art is quite unproductive because most of these people do not ask whether what they do themselves is art.

  • Boris Kuprianov (bookseller). When we talk about Voina, this discussion should not involve our own aesthetic preferences. The case of Voina is an important test for society: will it stand for such things (as the arrest of the group)? Everyone should go to the demonstration on December 18 because everyone is vulnerable to such persecution.

  • Andrei Kovalyov (art critic). Voina is one of the most progressive phenomena in contemporary Russian art, which to a large extent has given itself over to pseudo-formalist experiments. Voina, which has nothing to do with the market and art institutions, is thus a positive example. Most of the great art projects of the past also had nothing to do with commercial considerations.

  • Alexander Kosolapov (artist). Voina’s work is reminiscent of the work of American artist Chris Burden, who (despite obvious differences owing to geography and period) also used the artistic means at his disposal to protest social ills, in his case, the US war in Vietnam.

  • Andrei Loshak (journalist). Voina is not simply an art group; it is a civic resistance society. They are not the ones who declared war; it was the regime that declared war on us. It is not Voina who race down the roads in cars with flashing lights, killed peaceful, law-abiding citizens. It is not Voina who accepts bribes and protects criminals, like the Russian police do. Voina is simply an emotional reaction to injustice, but this emotionalism only speaks to the level of injustice in Russian society. Voina expresses the public’s indignation, as shown by the popularity enjoyed by videos of their recent actions on the Internet.

  • Sergei Pakhomov (artist). Remarks of a humorous nature that cannot be summarized, much less translated.

  • Oleg Kulik (artist). Real art is always a matter of individual responsibility, and Voina consciously bears full responsibility for their actions. These actions might seem infantile, but it is precisely this creative “infantilism” – this desire to match words with deeds, even in the most extreme and egoistic way – that Russian society lacks. In this sense, Voina might be the only honest people left in Russia. If the authorities want to make Voina famous, they should sentence them. If they want to make trouble for the rest of the art world, they should let them go.

__________
To find out more about the work and history of the Voina group, the story of their arrest and updates in this case, and how you can help the arrested activists with their legal defense and in spreading the word, go to Free Voina.

1 Comment

Filed under activism, contemporary art, film and video, open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, protests, Russian society

Andrei Loshak: Why I’ll Be Marching on January 19th

After they initially had their request for permission to march on January 19 turned down by Moscow city authorities, the January 19 Committee have reached a compromise that will allow both parties to have their cake and eat it too: two standing demos or pickets (at Petrovsky Bulvar, 4, and Chistye Prudy, next to the monument to Griboyedov) with start times staggered an hour apart and with guaranteed safe passage down the boulevards between points A and B. The start time at Petrovsky Bulvar is 19.01; at Chistye Prudy, 20.00. Here is the map of the planned route. If you’re in Moscow on the 19th, join the march! If you’re not, make your way to the nearest Russian embassy or consulate and make your voice heard in memory of Stanislav Markelov, Anastasia Baburova, and all the other hundreds of people who have been killed and injured by neo-Nazis in Russia over the past several years. Basta!

The January 19 protest action has been publicly endorsed by such folks as writers Boris Strugatsky and Linor Goralik, filmmakers Alexander Mitta and Boris Khlebnikov, musician Andrei Makarevich, artist Vladimir Dubossarsky, and many others.

One of the people who will be marching on January 19 is well-known TV and print journalist Andrei Loshak. He published the following column on the arts and culture website OpenSpace.Ru the other day explaining why he’ll be there.

On the nineteenth of January I plan to take part in a march (which has been curtailed by the mayor’s office to a picket) for the first time in my life. If I’d been at marches in the past, it was only in my capacity as a reporter. I might have been sympathetic to the demonstrators or, on the contrary, felt disgust towards them, but one way or another there was always a distance between them and me, a distance that for various reasons I didn’t want to reduce. But here there is no distance. You walk with a crowd of strangers, and that is the whole purpose.

Of course when “dissenters” [i.e., as at the oppositional Marches of Dissenters] get beaten up [by the police], I feel like intervening and stopping the injustice, because clubbing unarmed elderly people is at very least mean. But I have no urge to embrace the cause of their leaders. I’ll never be able to believe [ex-prime minister Mikhail] Kasyanov with his buttery eyes. I can’t even believe in Khodorkovsky, although I have a lot of sympathy for him. I don’t believe him because he once screwed over a friend of me on a business deal. So I can’t believe in him as the future Saviour, however much I’d like to sometimes. For me, if the imprisoned oligarch is the conscience of the age, then that status comes with some major reservations.

But there are things that aren’t relative. That is, things that are absolute, Nazism among them. It is racially pure, unadulterated, one hundred percent evil. It probably isn’t worth explaining what I mean because it is natural for people to think this way. Anyone who approaches this issue from a relativistic stance by that fact alone arouses serious suspicions. It was possible to doubt until 1933. After twelve years of Nazism in practice, how it is possible to make any concessions to it?

I have a friend named Alem. He was born in Moscow twenty-seven years ago. He went to an ordinary school on the outskirts of the city, and he was different from the rest of the kids in that his skin was slightly darker. His mother is Russian, his dad an Ethiopian. Alem turned out great: a tall man with luxurious dreadlocks, fine features, a toothy smile, and inexhaustible joie de vivre.  Alem was a genuine skateboarding virtuoso, an undisputed authority in this field. In April 2004, neo-Nazis jumped him in the metro. There were two of them. They were decently dressed young men, in white sneakers and jeans, not some sweaty-smelling Nazi skinhead lowlifes. When the train pulled up, these neat young men knocked Alem off his feet and for half a minute smashed his head against the granite platform. Then they ran (or maybe even walked) through the closing doors of the train and disappeared.  It all worked out quite neatly for them.

Alem was in a coma for five weeks. He had suffered a close craniocerebral injury and two cerebral hemorrhages. But he survived and for the past almost six years he has been learning to walk and speak again. On the inside he hasn’t changed at all: he is still the same fun-loving guy. He calls his wheelchair a “board” and he has covered it with skating stickers. Only the famous slogan “Skateboarding is not a crime” now looks a bit ominous. Sometimes he and I go to concerts of his favorite groups — Slipknot, Korn, Cypress Hill. At one of those concerts he leaned over to me and said, “The audience probably thinks I’m such a wild fan, but it’s just this tremor I have!” This is a typical example of Alem’s sarcasm, which is very much in the spirit of his favorite TV series, House.

He has likewise changed little on the outside. He still wears the same brands of clothing and has the same infectious smile, although he was forced to get rid of his dreadlocks. Over the past six years they had become seriously thin, and when his girlfriend left him there was no one to braid them. He is quite strong: from morning to night he walks from one end to the other of his one-bedroom apartment (which he shares with his mom and brother) with a walker, does exercises, and works to improve his diction. I can’t remember him ever once complaining.

Alem is a living verdict against the neo-Nazis. They ordinarily finish off their victims, but he miraculously survived and is thus a flagrant piece of evidence, irrefutable testimony to the reality of their evil deeds. In any other country he would have become a symbol of the struggle against neo-Nazism, but not in Russia, where no one has any use for him. Alem needs constant, expensive therapy, but the state has never given him any money for it, despite the dozens of letters written by Alem’s brother. Naturally, the criminals were also never found.

I sometimes try and imagine them. I guess that they’ve long ago forgotten about this incident — six years have passed, after all. They have changed, too. They have settled down, had kids, and grown beer bellies. Maybe they have even covered their swastika tattoos with Celtic patterns so that they can go to the beach when they’re abroad. Now they’re “oldsters,” and ordinary values — home, family, work — are in first place. They’re just like other people. Except for the fact that sometimes they do the Sieg Heil at a football match just for fun or over beers, amongst their kind, recall past exploits. Maybe, lowering their voices so the kids won’t hear, they recount how they crippled a “monkey” at Borovitskaya metro station.

My dream is that these Übermenschen would stop feeling like honorable family men. That they would tremble in fear because they’d been driven into the underground, a deep, stinking underground. That instead of going to the multiplexes and the Ashan hypermarkets on the weekends, they would have to move from apartment to apartment, use fake passports, and live every second with the animal fear that they could be captured at any moment. They would be made to understand that Valhalla is cancelled, that they face a perpetual Nuremberg Trial that begins in this world and continues in the next.

On January 19 of last year, they murdered Anastasia Baburova and Stanislav Markelov. Nastya and Stas were heroes. However sacrilegious it might sound, to be white and be killed by the fascists you have to earn it. They kill people who have fought evil long and fearlessly, who have tried to make its existence unbearable. The neo-Nazis usually lie in wait for such people with knives and guns. They kill so that other people, people who are a bit less bold and bit less committed, will stay at home and enjoy their tiny private joys and won’t venture out to where they’re not invited.

On January 19, Alem and I are going to the march in memory of Nastya and Stas, no matter how the mayor’s office might try to hamper it. To be more precise, I will be walking in the march and Alem will be riding alongside me on his “board.” Being apolitical in our society is considered good form. But this isn’t about politics. It’s pure ethics. Evil or good? Fascism or antifascism? Unfortunately, there is no such comfortable option as “neutrality.” Whose side are you on?

1 Comment

Filed under activism, anti-racism, anti-fascism, open letters, manifestos, appeals, racism, nationalism, fascism, Russian society