Who Is Artem Loskutov?
Artem Loskutov (pronounced ahr-TYOHM LOHS-koo-tahf) is a 22-year-old Novosibirsk artist, video cameraman, university student, and cultural activist. As a member of the art groups CAT (Contemporary Art Terrorism) and its successor, Babushka Posle Pokhoron (“Grandma After the Funeral”) or BPP, Artem has organized, participated in and inspired a number of exhibitions, projects, happenings, and film festivals. The most well-known of these are the annual flash-mob street parties known as Monstrations, which have taken place annually on May Day in Novosibirsk since 2004. During the Monstrations, the young people of Novosibirsk take to the streets with homemade banners and placards sporting aburdist, non-political slogans. These street parties have always been well attended, thus underscoring the need many young Russians feel to reclaim the streets while also avoiding capture by the ideological wreckage of the past and the empty consumerist populism of the hypercapitalist, proto-fascist current powers that be.
It is Artem’s association with the Monstrations that apparently led to his arrest on May 15. These events have caused consternation amongst law enforcement officials ever since their inception, but this year the authorities were determined to prevent the Monstration from happening. The Novosibirsk office of the Interior Ministry’s newly formed Center for Extremism Prevention (aka Center “E”) summoned Artem for a “discussion” in April, and city authorities refused to give a permit for the event. Officials from Center “E” also called Artem’s parents to inform them that Artem is a member of a sect and that he “sets fire to cats and dogs.” Artem would later make a public statement on the BPP blog explaining that, in view of the fact that the Monstration was seen as a manifestation of “extremism” (which under the current regime can mean anything from overt, active dissent to any form of thought and action that does not have the explicit imprimatur and support of the authorities), the Monstrations had outlived their usefulness.
Nevertheless, on April 27, BPP held an exhibition at Novosibirsk’s White Cube Gallery entitled “Plan of the Monstration.” The show consisted of a series of posters that outlined an absurd scheme in which “monstrators” would gather around the Novosibirsk city hall on May 1 and, employing shamanistic techniques, levitate the building “100 to 500 meters into the air.” This was obviously a joke, but half an hour after the exhibition opened, the police showed up in force. Organizers immediately closed down the show, but Konstantin Skotnikov, a member of the world-famous Blue Noses art group and a teacher at the local art academy, was detained by police and taken to a precinct house for a “discussion.” Skotnikov was given to understand by his interlocutor that it would be better were no such “youth initiatives” to took place at all.
The Monstration did happen on May 1, although Artem was not among the monstrators: he spent much of the day in yet another discussion with the sensitive souls at Center “E.” But the fact that the Monstration went ahead despite the Center’s best efforts (which, as it transpired during Artem’s first pre-trial custody hearing, had included wiretapping his phone for the past six months) seems to have inspired them to find more effective means of intimidating Artem and his allies.
Chronicle of a Political Frame Up
On the morning of May 15, Artem got a call from the head of the Novosibirsk Center “E,” who asked him to come to their offices for yet another “discussion.” Because he already spent all of May 1 in a “discussion” with this same person, and because he was busy both with work and preparations for his thesis defense at the Novosibirsk State Technical University, scheduled for June, Artem reasonably asked that he be sent an official written summons, as required by Russian law. This angered the “E” commander (identified on the BPP blog as “Sergei Alexandrovich”), who threatened to send a squad car “with a dog” to Artem’s workplace.
In the last posting he made on the BPP blog, just hours before his eventual arrest, Artem wondered aloud: A ‘discussion’—what is that? An interrogation? Then be so good as to send a summons indicating the nature of the case and my status in it. A ‘discussion’ and a ‘verbal explanation’ are not legal bases for a summons. Just like a summons over telephone without a written notification. I don’t want to be an accomplice to the illegal activity of the Center for Extremism Prevention. They promised to come to my workplace, but for some reason they haven’t shown up. Maybe something has happened? I’m worried.
On the evening of May 15, Artem met his girlfriend and BPP comrade Lyuba Belyatskaya outside her office. They were planning to move things from their “HQ” (an apartment on Gogol Street), and for this purpose Artem had placed a number of plastic bags in his own backpack. At some point, Lyuba transferred some of these to her own backpack. As she would write on the BPP blog a few days later, this is an important point because the state’s case against Artem is based on what they allegedly found in his bag—eleven grams of marijuana. Lyuba thus claims that, as she rummaged through Artem’s backpack in search of the plastic bags, she found no such damning evidence.
A few minutes later, they were surrounded by several men in plainclothes who handcuffed Artem and informed him that he had been accused of committing a crime. Lyuba tried to find out from them what this crime was and where they planned to take Artem, as well as their own identities, all to no avail. As Lyuba frantically called the police to inform them that Artem had been kidnapped, the unidentified men drove Artem to a quiet courtyard a mere hundred meters away from the spot where they had arrested him; they asked him questions about the Monstrations and about his dreadlocks. After official witnesses (s0-called понятые, whose presence is required by law during searches) arrived in another car, the plainclothes officers performed a search of his belongings. For some reason this search was carried out in the trunk of their car. It is there that they allegedly found the eleven grams of marijuana that forms the basis of the state’s case against Artem. Artem’s defenders contend that in fact the men planted the marijuana in his bag themselves. (It should be pointed out that, according to Russian law, possession of more than ten grams of marijuana is a criminal (rather than an administrative) offence. That is, the police knew what they were doing when they planted eleven grams on Artem—if that is what they did.)
Artem was taken to the Dzerzhinsky district police precinct. The following day he was transferred to a temporary detention facility, where he is being held to this day. At Artem’s first pre-trial custody hearing, on May 17, his lawyer was able to postpone the hearing for forty-eight hours so that he and Lyuba would have more time to assemble evidence that Artem was not a flight risk, that he could be released on bail or after having signed a pledge not leave town. According to Lyuba’s account, the authorities tried to conduct this first hearing before the lawyer arrived. They also intimidated her, trying to drive her out of the courtroom.
At the first official pre-trial detention hearing, on May 20, Artem’s lawyer asked that Artem be released on a written pledge not to leave Novosibirsk. In support of his case, he presented guarantees and character statements signed by various public figures; he also argued that because Artem is productively busy with work and school he presents no flight risk. In turn, although law enforcement authorities claimed at the hearing that Artem’s arrest was not politically motivated—that he was only being accused of unlawful acquisition and possession of a narcotic substance (Article 228 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code, punishable by up to three years in prison)—they were unable to present either the transcripts of the six-month wiretap of Artem and his friends that they claimed to have conducted or results of a fingerprint analysis that would show he had actually touched the packet of marijuana they had allegedly found in his bag. Their main argument for leaving Artem in custody was that, allegedly, he does not live at his registered address (his parents’ house), but in a rented apartment. Artem explained that three days before his arrest he had in fact moved back to his registered address. (If living at an address other than the one where you are registered were such a threat to public safety, the authorities would have to lock up half the population of Russia.)
Despite the flimsy case made by the prosecutors, Judge Elena Devyataikina remanded Artem to custody pending the completion of the criminal investigation. If he were released on a written pledge, he might, she concluded, “continue to distribute narcotics, engage in socially dangerous behavior, and go into hiding.”
On May 25, Artem was presented with the official written indictment. That same day, his lawyer, Valentin Demidenko, filed an appeal against the Dzerzhinsky court’s custody ruling with the Novosibirsk Regional Court. In this appeal, Demidenko pointed out several irregularities in the state’s handling of the case. One of their arguments for keeping Artem in custody was that he would otherwise “continue to distribute narcotic substances at the Novosibirsk State Institute on Marx Prospect.” Unfortunately, no such institute exists at that address. It is also unclear which of Artem’s neighbors signed the undated written testimony to the effect that he did not leave at his registered address; Artem’s actual neighbors have testified in writing that he has been living there since the beginning of May. Finally, at the custody hearing Judge Devyataikina refused Demidenko’s request to call his witnesses to the stand although they were present in the courtroom.
In the meantime, Center “E” began intimidating the defense’s witnesses—Lyuba, Artem’s coworker Marina, and Konstantin Skotnikov—by summoning their mothers for “conversations.” Lyuba’s mother was told by her interlocutor, “We want to show you what kind of person your daughter is dating.” He proceeded to show her a selection of BBP’s video clips, which have been screened at various festivals, where many of them have won prizes. According to Lyuba, her mother told the investigator: “Crowds of murderers and real extremists roam the streets and you’re showing me humorous videos shots three years ago? Don’t ruin the boy’s life.”
According to lawyer Demidenko, he has been receiving anonymous phone calls. One such caller asked him whether he had any “joy.” When Demidenko asked the caller to identify himself, he hung up.
On June 3, a judge in the Novosibirsk Regional Court postponed the appeal hearing until June 10, informing all present in the courtroom that “there is no delivery” (i.e., Artem had not been transported to the courthouse). Earlier, the court had scheduled the hearing for June 10, before suddenly moving it up to the 3rd.
Clearly, like so many other cases before it, the state’s campaign against Artem is an improvised affair, conducted in defiance of accepted legal norms, civil rights, and common evidentiary sense. Their goal, apparently, is to wear down and intidimate Artem’s defenders and force him to confess to a crime he didn’t commit.
Artem’s case has inspired a vigorous and creative solidarity campaign across Russia and abroad. Uniting artists, activists, students, and ordinary people, this campaign is taking place both in Russia’s increasingly threatened public and artistic spaces, as well as in the blogosphere.
On May 21, Alexei Grishchenko and London artist Kimbal Bumstead did a performance entitled “Arrest Me, I’m an Artist” at White Cube Gallery in Novosibirsk.
On May 23, activists and artists in Tula constructed cardboard barricades in front of the city administration building. Their action was performed in solidarity with Artem and to protest the “liberal” enforcement of Article 282 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code, which lumps together both incitement of racial and religious hatred and “extremism.” As they point out in their press release, Russian Federation Interior Minister (i.e., head cop) Rashid Nurgaliev said in an interview in April that flash mobs planted the seeds of extremism and that his ministry would be developing tactics to counter this threat to society.
On May 24, the Street University in Petersburg dedicated its discussion of the utility of art to Artem. The following day, May 25, members of the Street University carried out an action entitled “Art Is Extremism,” in which they pasted cartoon bubbles on monuments to Sergei Esenin, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Alexander Pushkin. These three great Russian poets were thus made to confess in verse to their own extremism. In a press release, the Street University activists write: “Considering Petersburg’s persistent literature-centrism, we decided to remind Petersburgers and guests of the city that they are located in a site historically populated by extremist writers. Pushkin, Nekrasov, Gorky, Esenin, Mayakovsky—all of them could have been accused of leaving behind the ghetto reserved for belles lettres and intervening directly in the life of the society.”
On May 25, the Vpered Socialist Movement organized a solidarity picket outside the building of the Investigative Committee in Moscow. The picket was attended by political activists, artists, and people who just wanted to show their support for Artem. Speakers reminded those gathered that in recent months the state has intensified its persecution of dissident activists and artists. They pointed to such recent examples as the raid on a leftist art seminar in Nizhny Novgorod and the ongoing trial of curator Andrei Erofeev and museum director Yuri Samodurov, who are accused of inciting religious hatred by organizing the show Forbidden Art 2006, held at the Sakharov Museum in March 2007.
On May 28, a group of artists and activists began a “plein air” hunger strike in the park next to the Smolny Institute in Petersburg. (The Smolny was the headquarters of the Bolsheviks during the October Revolution and is the current home of the city administration.) In addition to not eating, they are making a series of paintings and drawings on the theme of the current police tyranny in Russia. They have called on the city authorities to open a criminal investigation into the actions of the local law enforcement officials who, on May 1 of this year, arrested over a hundred participants of a “Pirate Street Party,” whose organizers had received official written permission to march as one of the columns in the city’s May Day demonstrations. These young people were rounded up by OMON riot police, herded into buses, and transported to police precincts all over the city, where they were charged with “jaywalking.” In some cases, police illegally photographed, fingerprinted, and interrogated them. The hunger strikers have also called on the federal authorities to create a public commission to monitor and supervise the activities of the Center for Extremism Prevention and to drop the case against Artem Loskutov given the lack of evidence that he has committed a crime.
Although the hunger strikers have endured regular visits by policemen, they remain in the park and continue their defiant art making. They have set up a blog on which they post daily dispatches and other relevant news.
On May 29, between 300 and 400 people gathered in front of the City Library on Pimenov Square in Novosibirsk to show their support for Artem.
On May 29, the Pyotr Alexeev Resistance Movement (DSPA), in Petersburg, hung a banner declaring “Down with Cop Lawlessness!” on a rooftop on Nevsky Prospect during the official Day of the City parade and scattered leaflets onto streets packed with parade goers and their numerous minders from the security forces. The following day, May 30, DSPA performed an action entitled “Extremist” in the square next to Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral. In the guise of two policemen and a judge, the DSPAistas arrested a young man seated on nearby park bench. To the delight of the numerous folk in the square enjoying the glorious weather and the city day festivities, they convicted him of extremism. They also handed the onlookers leaflets containing a questionnaire that enabled to them determine whether they themselves are extremists.
On May 30, a group of musicians, artists, and young people organized a picket in Artem’s defense in Murmansk. In March of this year, Artem had visited the city as a participant in the Dialogue of Cultures festival. On May 31, a punk rock concert held in support of Artem was attacked by a group of thirty to thirty-five right-wing soccer hooligans. Concertgoers and musicians barricaded themselves in the garage where the concert was taking place. The hooligans then smoked their enemies out with tear gas, after which they began beating and kicking them, injuring many of their victims. Police arrived only forty minutes after they were summoned, managing to catch only one or two of the attackers. A local TV station taped a report on the incident, but officials from Center “E” asked them not to broadcast the story.
On June 4, Daniil Poltoratsky, an aide to State Duma Deputy Ilya Ponomarev and a Left Front activist, began a hunger strike at noon in front of the regional administration in Barnaul to protest the arrest of Artem Loskutov and to encourage the prosecutor’s office to open an investigation into the activities of the Center for Extremism Prevention, who have also been intimidating Left Front activists in Daniil’s native Altai Region. Contacted by phone three hours into his strike, Daniil reported that, while regular police were leaving him alone, a certain Center “E” officer named Maltsev has been in the vicinity the entire time, making mocking offers of food to Daniil.
Why Is This Happening?
Sad as it to say, the case against Artem Loskutov is probably not personal: to invoke a mafia cliché, it’s just business. But what is this business? Narrowly speaking, the Center for Extremism Prevention, which was formed from Interior Ministry units previously charged with combating organized crime (the so-called UBOP), has to justify its own existence. Since its mission is to prevent extremism (whatever that means), it has to find, interrogate, and intimidate “extremists,” even if there are no real extremists to be found. Whenever possible and using whatever means are necessary, it tries to bring criminal and administrative charges against its victims. Thus, young anarchists who want to advocate the free distribution of information are charged with jaywalking (on a street crowded with police and other May Day demonstrators). Likewise, in order to show free-spirited young people in Novosibirsk that their Monstrations are a nuisance to “public order,” Center “E” arrests one of the people associated with this terrible nuisance and charges him with narcotics possession, a crime that is not even in their remit.
More broadly, the quasi-terroristic methods of Center “E” (including a computerized blacklist) serve a greater purpose—to discourage public dissent, dissident thought, and open discussion, whatever forms these might take. Regular readers of this blog will know that in recent months activists from a broad array of movements and professions—antifascists, anarchists, environmentalists, housing rights and historic preservation advocates, human rights activists, LGBN activists, leftists, unionists, militant liberals, journalists, archivists, and artists—have faced a concerted campaign of beatings, raids, arrests, interrogations, confiscations, trials, and (even) murders. Representing the interests of a tiny capitalist class grown fat on oil, gas, and construction business revenues, the current regime has a lot to lose. Hence it has engaged in a steady war of attrition against political, civil, and social rights since it took power ten years ago. It is aided in this task by a coalition of compliant media and cultural producers, members of the so-called Russian intelligentsia. Once upon a time, members of the intelligentsia created great art, music, and literature, and joined with workers and peasants in making three revolutions. Nowadays, with few exceptions, this class has joined with the regime to guarantee that Russia will face a future of tyranny, cultural, economic, and social backwardness, rampant bureaucratic corruption, and police violence.
What Can You Do to Help Artem?
There is probably not much that you can do to solve this long list of woes. But you can help Artem right now. Here are some suggestions.
1. You can contribute to Artem’s legal defense fund.
Contributions in US Dollars
Correspondent bank of beneficiary’s bank: Bank of New York, New York, One Wall Street, New York, NY 10286, USA
SWIFT code: IRVTUS3N
Account number with correspondent bank: 890-0570-822
Beneficiary’s bank: Alfa-Bank Moscow
SWIFT code: ALFARUMM
Beneficiary’s bank account number: 40817840708110001957
Beneficiary: Chesnokov Ulyan Mihaylovich
Contributions in Euros
As above, except for the benificiary’s account number: 40817978808110002061
2. You can mail, call in, fax or e-mail your protest to the Novosibirsk Regional Court, which will next hear Artem’s case on June 10.
Novosibirsk Regional Court
ul. Pisareva, 35
Russian Federation 630091 Novosibirsk
Telephone: +7 (383) 221-17-72; Fax: +7 (383) 221-95-30
3. You can publicize Artem’s case in blogs, e-mail lists, and in the non-Russian language press.
There are two principal, constantly updated sources of information on Artem’s case:
The first site is Russian-language only, while the second contains articles in English, German, and French.
Feel free to copy/paste and otherwise use anything in this post.
If you need more information or would like us to translate or interpret any articles from the Russian media, please contact us by writing in the comments section.
4. You can organize your own performances and protest actions.
Take your inspiration from the tremendously creative and brave public actions we’ve described above. Poetry, music, art, and performance are powerful instruments of knowledge and political action. Use them!
If you do decide to organize a public protest, do it outside a Russian consulate or embassy, or the venue of a Russian concert, ballet, art exhibition, theater performance or other public event. While Artem sits in jail there should be no peace for Russia’s ruling, creative and thinking classes. Their actions and inaction are responsible for the present dismal state of affairs in Russia, one of whose victims is Artem.
Artem is our comrade. To know him is to love him, but even if you don’t know him or even if the dubious lads at Center “E” don’t love him, that it is no reason why Artem should waste the best years of his life facing down criminal charges or a prison sentence. Artem should be out in the world making art.
The action you take now to publicize his case, support his defense, and inform the Russian authorities that the whole world is watching, will make a difference.
An injury to one is an injury to all! Free Artem Loskutov now!