Tag Archives: Voina

Arrest Warrant Issued for Pregnant Voina Activist Natalia Sokol

Editor’s Note. In the light of the massive violations and “irregularities” alleged to have been committed in last Sunday’s parliamentary elections, you would think that prosecutors, police investigators, and the courts would have better ways to spend their time than chasing a pregnant woman with a small child, but no — they really have nothing better to do.

en.free-voina.org

07 Dec 2011, 20:42

Arrest warrant issued for pregnant Voina activist Natalia Sokol


Natalia Sokol (Kozlenok) with son Kasper

December 7th, 2011 — St. Petersburg’s Dzerzhinsky District Court decided today to issue an arrest warrant for Voina member Natalia Sokol (Kozlenok). Natalia, who is in her 8th month of pregnancy, has been charged with insulting and using violence against police officers (articles 319 and 318 of the Criminal Code). The charges were first revealed to the defense during a court hearing yesterday. Natalia has been on the federal wanted list since November, and she was placed on the international wanted list last Monday.

Natalia’s attorney Dmitri Dinze has expressed his indignation, saying Natalia’s right to a legal defense was blatantly violated by the Investigation Committee’s failure to inform her of the charges brought against her. He also denied investigator Rud’s claims that Natalia had missed her appointments with the investigator on multiple occasions.

“We have not been notified about any appointments,” Dinze said earlier. “It is claimed that Sokol has contacted the investigator by phone, and there’s now what’s presumed to be her cell phone number on record in the case file. This is despite the fact she never uses cell phones.”

At today’s hearing, attorney Dinze pleaded again for adjournment, citing Natalia’s poor health. Moreover, Natalia had personally contacted Judge Brazhnikova earlier today to explain her inability to attend the hearing. However, Judge Brazhnikova sided with the investigators, ruling to arrest Natalia in absentia.

Attorney Dinze, who calls today’s decision “unlawful” and “baseless,” plans to appeal the ruling.

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Filed under political repression, protests, Russian society

Creative Time: Living as Form (New York City)

creativetime.org

Living as Form is an unprecedented, international project exploring over twenty years of cultural works that blur the forms of art and everyday life, emphasizing participation, dialogue, and community engagement.

Living as Form provides a broad look at a vast array of socially engaged practices that appear with increasing regularity in fields ranging from theater to activism, and urban planning to visual art. The project brings together twenty-five curators, documents over 100 artists’ projects in a large-scale survey exhibition inside the historic Essex Street Market building, features nine new commissions in the surrounding neighborhood, and provides a dynamic online archive of over 350 socially engaged projects.

Living as Form will culminate with a book, co-published by Creative Time Books and MIT Press, that will highlight projects from the exhibition archive, as well as commissioned essays from noted critics and theorists in the field, including Carol Becker, Claire Bishop, Teddy Cruz, Brian Holmes, Maria Lind, and Shannon Jackson. Detailing some of the most important socially engaged projects from the last twenty years, this unique archive will provide key examples, allow insights into methodologies, contextualize the conditions of site, and broaden the range of what constitutes this form. Living as Form: Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011 will be out in January 2012.

Invited artists, organizers, and groups include:
Ai Weiwei; Ala Plástica; Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla; Lara Almarcegui and Begoña Movellán; Alternate ROOTS; Francis Alÿs; Appalshop; Claire Barclay; Barefoot Artists; Basurama; Marilyn Douala Bell and Didier Schaub; BijaRi; Stephen Biko and partners; Bread and Puppet Theatre; CAMP; Cemeti Art House; Mel Chin; Chto delat? (What is to be done?); Colectivo Cambalache; Phil Collins; Complaints Choir; Céline Condorelli and Gavin Wade; Cornerstone Theater Company; Minerva Cuevas; Cybermohalla Ensemble; Decolonizing Architecture; Jeremy Deller; Mark Dion, J. Morgan Puett, and collaborators; Fallen Fruit; Finishing School; Free Class Frankfurt/M.; Frente 3 de Fevereiro; Theaster Gates; Paul Glover; Josh Greene; Federico Guzmán and Alonso Gil; Fritz Haeg; Haha; Harlem (Election Night 2008); Jeanne van Heeswijk; Helena Producciones; Stephen Hobbs and Marcus Neustetter; Fran Ilich; Farid Jahangir and Sassan Nassiri, Bita Fayyazi, Ata Hasheminejad, and Khosrow Hassanzedeh; Kein Mensch Ist Illegal (No One Is Illegal); Amal Kenawy; Suzanne Lacy; Steve Lambert, Andy Bichlbaum of The Yes Men, and collaborators; The Land Foundation; Long March Project; Los Angeles Poverty Department; Rick Lowe; Mammalian Diving; Reflex/Darren O’Donnell; Mardi Gras Indian Community; Eduardo Vázquez Martín; Angela Melitopoulos; Zayd Minty; The Mobile Academy; Mongrel; Anthea Moys and Bronwyn Lace; Mujeres Creando; Vik Muniz; NSK (Neue Slowenische Kunst); Nuts Society; John O’Neal; Oda Projesi; Wendelien van Oldenborgh; Marion von Osten and collaborators; Park Fiction, part of the Right to the City Network Hamburg; Pase Usted; Piratbyrån (The Bureau of Piracy); Platforma 9.81; Public Movement; Pulska Grupa; Navin Rawanchaikul; Pedro Reyes; Laurie Jo Reynolds; Athi-Patra Ruga; The San Francisco Cacophony Society; Katerina Šedá; Chemi Rosado Seijo; Michihiro Shimabuku; Andreas Siekmann and Alice Creischer; Buster Simpson; Slanguage; Apolonija Sustersic; Tahrir Square (2011); Taller Popular de Serigrafía (TPS); Mierle Laderman Ukeles; Ultra-red; United Indian Health Services; Urban Bush Women; The U.S. Social Forum; Voina; Peter Watkins; WikiLeaks; Elin Wikström; WochenKlausur; Women on Waves.

The 15,000 square-foot historic Essex Street Market building in the Lower East Side of Manhattan serves as the hub for Living as Form. An architectural environment designed by the collective Common Room houses the Living as Form archival exhibition, a vast collection of documentation of 100 socially engaged projects from the last twenty years and from locations around the globe. In addition, the exhibition space will be activated by a series of events and performances, and offer dynamic areas for artists and collectives to present new work throughout the show.

September 24–October 16
Thursday–Sunday, 12–8 PM
The historic Essex Street Market
Southeast corner of Essex and Delancey Streets
(entrance on Delancey), NYC

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Filed under activism, art exhibitions, contemporary art, urban movements (right to the city)

Waging War (Sergey Chernov interviews Oleg Vorotnikov)

The St. Petersburg Times
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Waging War
Now in hiding, the award-winning, politically minded Voina art group is preparing a new stunt
By Sergey Chernov

The state’s pressure on the radical art group Voina — famous for its spectacular stunts spoofing the Russian authorities and the police — has increased in recent days, despite the broad recognition the group garnered after winning an important state-sponsored art prize, invitations to high-profile international art events, and the worldwide attention they have attracted.

Late last week, a local Petersburg court confiscated the bail money deposited for the release of Oleg Vorotnikov, the group’s de facto leader. The money (300,000 rubles, or $10,800) had been donated by British street artist Banksy from the proceeds of a special print sale in support of the group’s arrested members. The court ruled that Vorotnikov should be detained and placed in a pre-trial detention center for two months; it also issued an international search warrant for him. A national search warrant for Vorotnikov had been issued in May.

Despite attempts by officials to exclude Voina from the list of nominees, the Innovation Prize was awarded to them for “Dick Captured by the FSB” – a huge image of a penis painted on Liteiny Bridge, near the local headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB), in June 2010. The artists, however, are facing criminal prosecution for another stunt, “Palace Revolution,” which reportedly involved the overturning of one or more police cars in St. Petersburg in September 2010.

According to the artists, the action was a metaphorical demand for reform of the Interior Ministry and an end to police lawlessness.

In November 2010, Voina’s Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev were arrested in a Moscow apartment and taken in a bus, handcuffed and with plastic bags over their heads, to St. Petersburg, where they were charged with criminal mischief motivated by hatred toward a particular social group (in this case, the police) and remanded to a pre-trial detention center for three months. The offence is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

After Vorotnikov and Nikolayev were released on bail in February, the group became seriously involved in civil rights activism by helping prisoners whose sentences or lengthy pre-trial detentions appear to be connected with their political activism.

The artists have used the remainder of Banksy’s donation (4.5 million rubles, or $160,735) to help a number of political prisoners such as Taisia Osipova, a woman from Smolensk, in western Russia, who has been charged with drugs possession. Her supporters claim that police planted the drugs they allegedly found in her apartment during a search. Osipova is in her ninth month of pre-trial detention despite the prosecution’s dubious case, and despite the fact that she suffers from diabetes and has a young daughter.

Human rights organizations see her imprisonment as an attempt to halt the political work of her husband, Sergei Fomchenkov, an activist with The Other Russia opposition party.

Voina members also did a photo session with Osipova’s five-year old daughter Katrina to raise public awareness of the case. They have sent various sums from Banksy’s donation to support other imprisoned activists, including Petersburg anti-fascist Rinat Sultanov, who was sentenced to two years in prison in April for his alleged role in a street brawl with neo-Nazis in November 2008.

Oleg Vorotnikov and Katrina, daughter of the imprisoned Taisia Osipova. Photo by Vladimir Telegin

Earlier this month, Voina donated 400,000 rubles ($14,400), the entire sum of their Innovation Prize money, to the Agora Human Rights Association, a Moscow-based organization whose lawyers have provided legal assistance to the group and other activists.

A new criminal case against Vorotnikov was launched in April after he and his wife, Voina member Natalya “Kozlyonok” Sokol, were arrested during a March 31 opposition rally. He faces up to five years in prison for alleged disorderly conduct, violence against a police officer, and insulting a police officer.

Earlier this month, Sokol was also named as a suspect in the case. Investigators claim she insulted a police officer, an offence punishable by up to one year of correctional labor. Vorotnikov and Sokol have a two-year-old son, Kasper.

Despite this persecution, Vorotnikov — who is now in hiding — said in a recent exclusive interview with The St. Petersburg Times that through its clandestine practices Voina has helped art to stay alive and brought it back into the limelight.

After winning the Innovation Prize, Voina was harshly criticized by sections of the media and the public. What is your reaction?

I don’t expect sympathy toward our art from anybody. And I’m always surprised when people say they like Voina. I then take a closer look at those people. Almost all of them live hard lives, and many have grief, losses, and disappointments in their past. The passions that have injured those people! But they’re still full of hope. These are the most interesting people in the world. It’s their scars and defects that make them lovable. I can imagine how, during sex, they touch and kiss the scars on each other’s bodies. There’s no other reason to love someone in this life. Kasper already has scars from the cops.

Voina’s work and political activities have unexpectedly drawn criticism from some people who see themselves as leftists.

The thing is that Voina reveals certain concealed and, say, reactionary qualities in people. I agree with observers who have noted that, compared to Voina, many leftists are not leftists at all, but rather centrists, maybe even rightward-leaning centrists. Before Voina, they were extremely leftist, leftist radicals, and then suddenly it turned out that they were simply philistines. They’re people who live on grants and write articles, and who imitate real protest work with such activities. So with the emergence of Voina, all of a sudden they’ve moved from the left flank toward reaction.

Yes, we fight the regime, because the powers that be are philistine and narrow-minded in the same way. All their ideals begin and end with a helicopter and a villa. Then they go for two helicopters, four villas. And that’s it: they don’t go any further; their ambitions don’t soar any higher. In that sense, we are against philistines. The philistines are our enemy. The regime is just a particular problem of our war.

So the philistines have taken up arms against us: they’ve seen that we’re against them. There are a lot of philistines: all of society has become philistine; the nation has become almost wholly philistine. In this sense, our struggle is quite an idealistic one. Because everybody sees it as an attack on themselves, an attack on the cozy aspects of their lives.

The critics seem especially annoyed by the fact that you take Kasper to your stunts and protest demos.

They get so hysterical over Kasper because it’s an affront to the cozy aspects of their lives. They’re used to handing their kids over to someone else and going out to make money. For Koza (Sokol) and Kasper, it was a shock when the cops separated them for over twenty-four hours: they had never been apart for so long.

But the public object. They say, “If they’re together all the time, what do they live on? It means they’re not poor. It means they’re well-off people or bohemians.”

They can’t even imagine a different situation. That we stick together not because we have a lot of money, but for different, ideological reasons. So our life is based on that. We’re with Kasper [all the time], and so Kasper makes us bend to his life.

Now many people have begun to realize that our war is endless, that it’s broader than just a war against some absurd criminal, gangster regime. It’s more a struggle against an abnormal attitude to life.

The fact that the prize, founded by the Culture Ministry, went to “Dick Captured by the FSB” did shock and upset many people.

Everybody went into hysterics. How can this be? A dirty dick is getting a prize! It was kind of an insult to them, to their finest petit-bourgeois sensibilities.

It’s wonderful that it happened, really. This is a real slap in the face of public taste! The joke was played out to the end: it didn’t remain on the level of marginal manifestos or underground exhibitions – although we are against officialdom, of course.

The joke is that they [the public] did not see the Dick before [it was awarded the prize]. They could allow themselves to turn a blind eye to it, because it was not approved at the top.

But now it’s like matchsticks have been stuck in their eyes and they just can’t close them. In the shape of the award, of the statuette, the Dick is always before them. They cannot help but see it, even if they would be glad not to. That drives them crazy.

I think art is also didactic and has educational goals. By struggling against the authorities, we’re also educating the people. It’s all very Russian.

Can you explain your method of working illegally?

It’s very important to work outside the institutions. They’re trying now to herd art into institutions, and many leftists such as [artist Anatoly] Osmolovsky welcome it. They simply think that the main problem of contemporary Russian art is the fact that we are not educated, that we have no degree programs in [contemporary] art.

But we show that the opposite is the case: that our salvation lies exactly in the fact that we don’t have these degrees. That we are cut off, not tied down, that we don’t walk like cows or calves on a lead. If we were on a leash, we wouldn’t be able to carry out our actions in the way we have. We would do something pathetic, something “creative” in the worst sense of that word. That’s why art should try as hard as it can to stay independent — even if it’s bad for your health, even if you might wind up with a prison term. Although it might be fraught with hardships for the individual, it’s the only way for art to survive.

The authorities began to persecute artists as early as the Yeltsin years, didn’t they?

Formally, it’s true. They started to persecute Avdei [Ter-Oganyan] for hacking up icons in 1998. But now I think we have recaptured a lot of space, because contemporary art — partly because of us — makes news. Before that news came from political life, public life, war, statements by prime ministers and maybe sports.

But now art is on an equal footing. If you look at the headlines, art makes news [as much as any other topic]. I don’t think there has been anything like this since the days of Leo Tolstoy or Solzhenitsyn. Art hasn’t been a newsmaker for a long time. That is a big achievement.

Your art stunts appear to be firmly linked to a specific city.

Yes, our actions are always linked to a concrete location. It would be wrong to say that they’re universal, that they could be taken to any city and performed there. On the contrary, we arrive at a location and have a look around.

Our Moscow actions were very Moscow-oriented, like “A Cop in a Priest’s Cassock,” where I dressed up as a “priest cop” and shoplifted an expensive supermarket. There are simply no such shops in St. Petersburg, the insanely posh ones. So I went into one of those unbelievably posh supermarkets and shoplifted it. It was a very Moscow thing.

“Dick Captured by the FSB” or “Palace Revolution” could have hardly happened in Moscow.

When we’re [planning our actions], we walk around Petersburg, thinking, “This can be done here, and that can be done there.” Say, the installation in front of the Russian Museum (“Palace Revolution”) was not accidental. It’s very important that it was right in front of the entrance.

Few people have noticed that artistically it’s important that we showed that the main work of art is not inside the museum, but outside, near the entrance. It’s very important, you see? That was also decided on right on the spot.

I can hardly imagine what kind of action I would make in London. A funny thing once happened to us. We had an exhibition in Zagreb. We arrived there, and [the organizers] met us with open arms. They said, “It’s great that you came as a group. We’ve already agreed with the mayor’s office that you can do whatever your hearts desire here.” We said, “What the hell! You’ve robbed us of the chance to do an action here.”

But then I took a walk around and realized that even if they hadn’t robbed us of this chance by making an agreement with the mayor’s office, we would have been out of context there anyway.

It’s a totally different life. Our actions can’t be transplanted [to different cities] because they’re specific. The Petersburg actions are very Petersburg. The Moscow actions are very Moscow. Location is an important factor.

Does the radical form your work takes have something to do with the abnormality of the current political situation in this country?

That’s how they see our work in the West. We get letters from American universities (from students and teachers) all the time. They inform us they’re writing an honor’s thesis about our work, which they find very interesting. Then they tell us how they interpret our actions: the abnormal situation in Russia deprives people of the chance to influence events using standard protest methods like pickets whose goal is to directly identify a problem and insist that it be solved immediately. But these don’t work, and so those American students think that the need for this form — for nonstandard protests — was forced on us. It’s an interesting take, but it’s only one aspect of the problem, and somewhat superficial in my opinion. It’s more of a journalistic viewpoint.

If you go deeper, I think our actions are rooted in Russian culture. Russians are like our actions. Russians are precisely just such a people, with a touch of madness.

Your work has been described as “true Russian folk art.” Do you agree?

That’s probably right. We do try to speak on behalf of the people.

_______

en.free-voina.org/post/6755542565

World Organization Against Torture demands immediate release of Taisia Osipova

Eric Sottas, Director of the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) in Geneva, has submitted an open letter to Russian president Dmitri Medvedev, demanding a prompt medical examination and treatment for Taisia Osipova, as well as her release in the absence of valid legal charges.

OPEN LETTER TO MR. DMITRY ANATOLYEVICH MEDVEDEV
PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION

Geneva, 21 June 2011

Re: Fear for the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Taisia Osipova – Denial of adequate medical treatment

Your Excellency,

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), the largest Network of NGOs fighting against torture, summary executions, enforced disappearances and all other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the world, is writing to you to express its concern about the serious health problems of Ms. Taisia Osipova, 26 years old, who is currently detained in poor conditions in the pre-trial detention centre (SIZO) 1, in Smolensk, province of Smolensk. She has been denied adequate medical treatment since her arrest on 23 November 2010, although she is suffering from multiple chronic diseases.

OMCT has been informed by reliable sources that, on 23 November 2010, around 20 policemen and officers from the Department to Combat Extremism entered violently Ms. Taisia Osipova’s house, in Smolensk. The officers reportedly went from one room to another turning everything upside down while forcing Ms. Taisia Osipova to stay with her daughter in one of the rooms. Ms. Taisia Osipova was arrested and brought to the pre-trial detention centre (SIZO) 1, in Smolensk, after the officers allegedly found five packs of greyish substance among her daughter’s clothes and a marked 500-ruble note. Upon arrival at the detention centre, she was examined by a prison doctor only for bruises on her arms that she sustained during the arrest.

Ms. Taisia Osipova was later charged with illegal distribution of drugs by the Zadneprovskiy district court, in Smolensk, and she was remanded in custody pending investigation. On 3 May 2011, the court refused to release her on bail. The following hearing has been scheduled for 21 June 2011.

Since her arrest, Ms. Taisia Osipova has reportedly suffered pressure by officers of the Department to Combat Extremism in order to obtain a confession to the alleged aforementioned crime and information about her husband, who is a senior member of the political opposition party, Drugaya Russia[1].The pressure has reportedly included threats to remove her parental right over her daughter if she refuses to collaborate; poor conditions of detention (she is held in a tiny cell with six more persons although the cell is meant for four persons, with no running water. Despite the temperature of more than 20 degrees, the windows are tightly shut up with two frames. The official Russian radio is reportedly on the whole day which makes it impossible to have any rest) and denial of adequate medical treatment, although she has been suffering from sugar diabetes, pancreatitis, chronic pyelonephritis and chronic toxic-allergic hepatitis.

According to the same information received, Ms. Taisia Osipova was diagnosed with sugar diabetes type 1 in 2005, at the Hospital of Smolensk. She had been under insulin treatment and she had been controlling her sugar level with a glucometer since then. However, she has been denied adequate medical follow-up, including the use of a glucometer, and she has not been provided a diabetic diet since her arrest. In December 2010, she reportedly suffered a hypoglycemic coma but she was neither hospitalised nor examined by a prison doctor. She was only later in the month examined by a prison doctor who reportedly diagnosed a diabetes type 2, although she had been suffering from diabetes type 1 since 2005. Ms. Taisia Osipova was informed about the result only through her lawyer, who himself got the information from the media.

Ms. Taisia Osipova had also been under medical treatment for chronic pyelonephritis, pancreatitis and chronic toxic-allergic hepatitis, diseases that were diagnosed in 2009, at the Uromed hospital, in Smolensk. Nevertheless, she has also not been provided with adequate medical care for these diseases since her arrest. After several requests to the prison administration, an ultrasound scanning was eventually conducted on Ms. Taisia Ospivoa in March 2011. However, she only received the medical report in May 2011 and it reportedly stated that she did not suffer from any of the aforementioned diseases. It is feared that the report was fabricated. OMCT has also been informed that the prison authorities have threatened Ms. Taisia Osipova with reprisals, including solitary confinement, if she would continue to complain about her conditions of detention and the lack of adequate medical treatment.

At the same time, Ms. Taisia Osipova’s lawyer reportedly presented several requests for a complete medical check-up of Ms. Taisia Osipova on the basis of Article 110, paragraph 1.1 of the Code of Criminal Procedures of the Russian Federation, which allows for the provisional release from pre-trial detention of individuals with serious health conditions (including diabetes type 1), but to no avail. Ms. Taisia Osipova’s lawyer subsequently filed a lawsuit before the Leninskiy district court of Smolensk. On 16 June 2011, the court reportedly ordered the prison administration to ensure a medical examination of Ms. Taisia Osipova. To date, no such medical examination was carried out.

The International Secretariat of OMCT is concerned about the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Taisia Osipova. OMCT has been informed that Ms. Taisia Osipova’s health has deteriorated. She has lost weight and suffers from accrue pain in the kidneys area. She has also reportedly developed allergy to some unidentified source. OMCT fears that adequate medical examination and treatment are being denied to Ms. Taisia Osipova to put pressure on her. OMCT is concern also about her conditions of detention and the circumstances of her arrest.

OMCT recalls that the Russian Federation is legally bound to effectively ensure the physical and psychological integrity of all persons deprived of liberty in accordance with regional and international human rights law, and in particular, the European Convention on Human Rights, the recommendations of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Accordingly, OMCT calls on the competent authorities to ensure that Ms. Taisia Osipova is promptly examined by independent doctors and that she receives adequate medical treatment. OMCT also urges the competent authorities to release her in the absence of valid legal charges and judicial process consistent with international legal standards, or if such charges exist, bring her before an impartial and competent tribunal and guarantee her procedural rights at all times.

OMCT hopes that the concerns expressed in this letter will receive the attention they deserve.

Yours sincerely

Eric Sottas

Secretary General, OMCT

[1] Drugaya Russia is a non-registered party that was created on the basis of the coalition under the same name after it fell apart. The coalition was the moving force of Dissenters’ Marches held in the period of 2006 to 2008.

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Filed under activism, contemporary art, interviews, political repression, Russian society

March to Smolny

Opposition Declares Dissenters’ March a Success
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
Issue #1650 (12), Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Also called the March to Smolny (City Hall), the march — spearheaded by Moscow-based oppositional politician and former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov — was banned by the authorities, but protesters, whose number was estimated at between 1,000 and 2,000, managed to march most of the 4.5-kilometer route despite the police’s attempts to block them.The Dissenters’ March for the Dismissal of Governor Valentina Matviyenko that took place on Thursday was described by the opposition as one of the biggest and most successful protest events during the past three years, despite arrests and intimidation.

Many protesters were eventually stopped on Mytninskaya Ulitsa, where the most arrests were made. But a handful of marchers managed to reach the final destination near City Hall, and were able to chant some slogans before being surrounded and detained by the police.

According to the organizers, the police detained about 150 people near Gostiny Dvor department store on Nevsky Prospekt and alongside the march’s route, including Nemtsov, Moscow activist Ilya Yashin and the local Solidarity and United Civil Front (OGF) leader Olga Kurnosova. The police confirmed that “more than 100” were detained. More than 90 spent the night in police cells.

The authorities deployed a helicopter to follow the protesters and at one point hover over Nevsky Prospekt, drowning out slogans such as “Russia Will Be Free” and “Dismiss Matviyenko” and sending road dust and dirt into people’s faces.

One policeman was hospitalized, having been hit by a car after “trying to save a resident by pushing him off the road,” the police reported.

But a video made available on the Internet showed that the policeman was in fact hit by a passing car while dragging The Other Russia member Igor Chepkasov with two other policemen across Ligovsky Prospekt to a police bus. Fontanka.ru, which published the police report, later published a correction.

An estimated 500 people who arrived late at the march gathered near Gostiny Dvor, where arrests were also made.

At one point, a man in professional climbing gear descended from the roof of Gostiny Dvor and hung a banner from it that read “Free Khodorkovsky, Imprison Putin.” Oleg Ivashko, who does not belong to any political group, was detained and sentenced to three days in prison.

Four members of the Other Russia party who were detained near Gostiny Dvor — one of them, Maxim Gromov, while attempting to recite a poem — were also sentenced to three days in prison.

While most protesters marched along Nevsky Prospekt’s broad sidewalk, a group of anarchists carrying smoke bombs took to the road after the crowd passed the Anichkov Bridge, and when dispersed, were replaced by a group of The Other Russia activists carrying a banner reading “Dismiss Matviyenko!”

Members of art group Voina, two of whom have been released on bail after spending three months in a St. Petersburg prison for an art stunt that involved overturning police cars, marched with anarchists and carried plastic bottles containing urine to counter the police when attacked.

Speaking on Tuesday, Oleg Vorotnikov said he and other Voina activists were deliberately singled out and beaten, while Kasper, the toddler son of Vorotnikov and fellow Voina member Natalya Sokol, was taken from his parents and eventually sent to hospital with a suspected concussion.

Sokol, who is still breastfeeding her son, spent the night in a police cell but managed to escape when the police were preparing to drive her and other activists to court.

Vorotnikov said they took the bottles filled with urine exclusively for self-defense.

“We agreed to use them only if attacked,” he said.

“And we were attacked, but we didn’t use them until they attacked Kasper. When Kasper was attacked, the anarchists couldn’t stand it anymore and used our rather humble biological weapon — our own urine.”

Vorotnikov, who got Kasper back from the hospital with the help of his lawyer late Thursday, said that he, Sokol and their son had evidence of their injuries documented in a hospital. According to Vorotnikov, who described the police’s behavior as “senseless hysteria,” the activists were beaten both during detentions and at a police precinct.

“I am used to clashes with the police,” Vorotnikov said.

I was beaten on March 3; we have collided with them before. I have spent some time in prison, too, but even I did not expect to face such absurd, ungrounded cruelty on that day.”

City Hall refused to authorize the march organized by the OGF, Solidarity, The Other Russia, Rot Front, Oborona and Mikhail Kasyanov’s People’s Democratic Union (RNDS) on the grounds that building facades were being renovated along all of the five suggested routes. Instead, the authorities suggested the would-be marchers hold a standup meeting on Pionerskaya Ploshchad or a march in the remote Polyustrovo Park.

All photos by Sergey Chernov. They are used here with his permission.

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David Riff: Notes on Voina

David Riff
Notes on Voina

There are moments in life that make the fineries of art criticism seem inappropriate. Аesthetic differences are overshadowed by political choice: either yes or no, for or against. The arrest of two key artist-activists from the art group Voina is a case like that. On November 15, 2010, law enforcers detained Oleg Vorotnikov (aka “Vor” or “Thief”) and Leonid Nikolayev (aka “Lyonya the F*cknut”) for an action carried out two months before, in the course of which activists flipped a police car near the Mikhailovsky Castle in Petersburg, ostensibly to retrieve a child’s ball that was stuck under it, as a YouTube video – the actual artwork – shows. Though the damage was small, this was a step too far for the Petersburg police, who sent officers from Center “E” (a task force formed to combat “extremism”) on a special ops mission to Moscow to apprehend the culprits. They have been in custody ever since, on charges of aggravated criminal mischief. If they are convicted and given the maximum sentence, they face up to five years in jail.

No matter how skeptical one might be of Voina’s practices, it is impossible not to demand their immediate release. Russian law enforcers tasked with combating extremism go after artists who flip militia cars and paint phalli on bridges and charge them with hate crimes: “criminal mischief motivated by political, ideological, racist, nationalist or religious hatred or enmity against any social group whatsoever,” the social group, in this case, being the Petersburg police. This interpretation of the law stands in the same line as the application of Article 282 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code, a law designed to stop the “spread of national or religious discord,” but used to persecute curators and artists who broach Russian Orthodox religious taboos. And this while lethal right-wing extremism and national-religious fundamentalism go unchallenged, tolerated if not engineered by the state.

The perverse argument of victimization by representatives of the dominant culture will sound familiar; nationalists often construct their identitarian discourse on the “threat” by people from a “clashing civilization.” For example, when 5,000 neo-Nazi football hooligans held an unsanctioned demonstration in front of the Kremlin, their chief demand was for the state to protect them from people from Dagestan and other distant places, and law enforcers are inclined to concede to that demand to a point. Reviewing the footage of December 11, you can see Russian riot police holding back despite massive provocations and failing to protect migrants from getting beaten up, individual acts of heroism aside. According to one high-ranking law enforcement officer on TV, the police acted “loyally” until physically attacked. That is, they were “loyal” to the neo-Nazi football hooligans…

Another interesting slip of the tongue on the night of December 11 was when the head of the Interior Ministry, Rashid Nurgaliev, explained the violence as an eruption planned and inflamed by the radical left. Indeed, the so-called Centers “E” are known for harassing leftists of all ilk, including antifa activists, anarchists, and free trade unionists, as well as artists and intellectuals, simply because they are easy to raid, frame, and intimidate, though probably a little confusing to monitor. The chief instrument is that of any protection racket: undiscriminating, random violence. That is, masked Interior Ministry troops carrying automatic weapons and riot gear could bust down the door of a seminar held by leftist intellectuals, or confiscate editions of a newspaper where a libretto of a songspiel makes an unfavorable mention of Vladimir Putin. They could also randomly call in activists for questioning, and frame them with possession charges, if they prove uncooperative as in the case of Artem Loskutov in Novosibirsk, who was framed with marijuana possession charges and has been persecuted by law enforcers ever since.

Over the last years, such random violence has had a great effect, bringing home the overall securitization of Russian society (sometimes it seems like more than half of the male population work as security guards) to the art scene; it has produced a top-to-bottom system of self-censorship that runs all the way from printers and technicians, via editors, copywriters, PR specialists, and journalists to curators, critics, and artists, who collectively begin to enforce a system of taboos, if not to pander directly to those “silent majorities” that might potentially feel persecuted. Though there are not so many artists who seek permission from the Moscow Patriarchate to exhibit works with religious themes yet, the majority of Russian art professionals shies away from any politics beyond harmless spectacle, opting instead for a defense of “free art” and “autonomy,” which, under present conditions, can and should be understood as autonomy in a heavily guarded luxury ghetto (if the artist is lucky) or autonomy below the horizon of visibility or on the margins of society (if she or he is not lucky or really lucky, depending on how you see it). The right of artists to “live by their own laws” is predicated on the vast privileges of their patrons, and disappears once artists operate in the outer world in any visible manner.

Thus, it seems very tempting to defend Voina by demanding the impossible and asserting artistically motivated hooliganism’s right to offend. Andrei Erofeev, one of the defendants in the “Forbidden Art” trial and Voina’s principle supporter, makes such an argument, likening the group to firemen who break down the doors of burning buildings. This line of argumentation claims that artists should have a certain immunity from prosecution because they follow their own law, which includes the right to exercise satire and provocation, designed for minimal material damages and maximal social effect. In this argumentation, the action is obviously not motivated by political, social, national or religious hatred but by the experimental drive of the artist (in this case, the collective artist Voina); outrage and material violence (more of a threat and a taunt than a reality) are artistic devices, actor’s ploys, justifiable means subordinated to positive aesthetic and political ends. That is, Voina lays claim to a specific type of aesthetic violence that redefines art from outside its normative shell; it’s an old Dadaist method redeployed again and again throughout the twentieth century, and it only works when the transgression of aesthetic law coincides with that of administrative law, when the threat of violence and sanction are real and become self-evident, when the apparatus reacts with all its overwhelming stupidity. The apparatus’s reaction is a part of the artwork, in other words; the arrest becomes an aesthetic device, not so much a means as an ending.

What disappears, unfortunately, is the possibility to criticize Voina’s actions as art or to see them as art at all; solidarity with political prisoners requires that any discussion of their work be reduced to the level of supportive political commentary. They don’t need analysis, as long as it doesn’t directly serve the cause of vindicating them. As Ilya Budraitskis, one of the organizers of the rally held in support of Voina in Moscow on December 18, put it, “The time for aesthetic discussion about Voina was over once the activists were put in jail,” arguing that any aesthetic criticisms would, at this point, add to their predicament. Artist and theorist Anatoly Osmolovsky takes a diametrically opposed position: he writes that Voina was uninteresting to him until the arrest, and then launches into an attack on the group’s actions as a rehash of actionist strategies that he himself helped to pioneer. Osmolovsky’s article expresses a widespread sentiment that curator Oxana Sarkissian sums up: “I can’t support Voina’s artistic strategies, because they are inappropriate to our time.” Meaning: ten years of “normalization” under Putin have made radical public art impossible, and Voina, effectively, proves it yet again.

Art can only be “political” when it is criticized, attacked and/or endorsed by an art community and a broader audience, but it can only be art when the audience can appreciate, discuss, and criticize it without being held to a question like “do you want them to go to jail or not?” The point is that in the nineties, this was possible: Osmolovsky’s performance of laying out the word khui (“dick”) in human letters could be interpreted precisely because its then-still anonymous authors could successfully evade any punishment, because politics had not been silenced, but, on the contrary, was going up in flames. Moscow Actionism, one could see, was predicated on a strange power vacuum in the period of shock privatization and its political failures, a theater that unfolded in failed pubic space and an as yet uncontrolled no man’s land: it famously took the police over an hour to respond in any way to the barricade Osmolovsky built in 1998 down the road from the Kremlin. The early 2000s changed all that, redefining all the fields of visibility in Russian society, and effectively banishing artists to their autonomy zones.

Voina has flaunted those new conventions, but its actions were only art for as long as they created and exploited those new vacuums that have been arising within what outwardly seems quite forbidding and total, for as long as they evaded arrest. Of course, the risk of arrest was always part of the game; in fact, in one YouTube video, Vorotnikov taunts an employee of Center “E” and admonishes him for shaking down another activist. But arrest does not necessarily mean a cold New Year’s in prison, with the prospect of broken families. Voina was actually famous for caution, for “smart activism,” for flaunting the law without ever actually risking more than a misdemeanor. Many of my students dismiss their work not because it is risky or breaks taboos, but because it seems too calculated, planned as a spectacle with actors playing clearly defined theatrical roles, too close for comfort to the spectacular nature of football hooligan politics under Putin. One student actually said that his contacts on the radical right were big fans of Voina and saw them as brave allies in the battle against the police, obsessed with protecting its own interests (as a minority), instead of the interests of the (equally persecuted) Russian majority.

Such interpretations underscore the importance of art criticism, which suddenly seems more than appropriate, simply to avoid confusion and to keep Russian neo-Nazis from claiming Voina for themselves. Once they are released, we can discuss what might be wrong with Voina’s general pose, whether it is romantic or cynical or crazy or all of the above. We can talk about why the political motives are intentionally vague. We can wonder why Voina (and everyone else) is so clear about anti-authoritarianism but not much else. Why this obsession with the state and the elite? Isn’t it Bakuninist? Power, imagined in overly abstract terms, and countered with overly abstract means? This is typical for post-communist politics, and one of the reasons why Voina’s actions resonate so broadly. There is also a counter-tendency in Voina that seems more promising: one that addresses the dispersed violence in the everyday, as present in a nightclub frequented by neocons as in your average megamall. This could be one point to begin the discussion; another is that a lot of Voina’s work is conscious trash and camped-up kitsch, briefly captivating, but very much calculated for intermedial scandalizing effect. The rather traditional transgressive image of the romantic bohemian commune, having pregnant group sex in a zoological museum, does little to hold up the spread of fascism through the everyday, just as releasing roaches in a courtroom cannot stop yet another biased court from reading its verdict. The court can, however, stop us from ever discussing any of those topics and from seeing Voina’s actions as art, simply because it is unethical to attack them while they are in jail. In Russia, verdicts take a long time to read, and even longer to write.

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Editor’s Note. 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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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It’s a War on War (The Persecution of Voina)

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 about this case, go to Free Voina.

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http://vpered.org.ru/index.php?id=690&category=2

Free Voina!

At 3:00 p.m. on December 18, a demonstration entitled “Free Voina!” will take place on Pushkinskaya Square in central Moscow.

On November 15, Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev, activists of the Voina group, were captured in Moscow, transported to Petersburg, and thrown into prison. At present, they have 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” – in this case, that “social group” is the police). The police continue to apply pressure on Vorotnikov and Nikolayev, including physical coercion.

Over the past two years, the actions of the Voina group have sparked a wide variety of public reactions. Some have admired their audacity and wit; others have doubted whether they what to do rightfully belongs to the realm of art; still others have condemned them for disturbing the peace. One thing cannot be denied: Voina has confronted society with the problem of its own powerlessness in the face of state tyranny and done this in a maximally poignant fashion.

Vorotnikov and Nikolayev are accused of “criminal mischief,” which consisted in causing minor damage to one of the Russian police’s numerous patrol cars. The reaction on their part was not long in coming: an assault team from Petersburg carried out a genuine special-forces operation in Moscow.

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. It is no accident that such an important role in Russian repressive practice is played by various emergency “anti-extremist” laws and “aggravating circumstances” in ordinary cases of disorderly conduct: the exclusivity of such legal practice manifests our society’s formal inequality and stratification.

Law in this case forfeits all signs of universality and becomes the subjective right of a particular group to commit certain acts. 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.

The legal defense of Voina should thus begin with self-determination on the part of each person: what group, community and class you belong to, and what rights you want to receive as a member of that group. Rich people, bureaucrats, and the police have special rights: they have the means to defend these rights and get the message out to everyone else that their rights must be respected. The activists of Voina, the farmers of Kushchevskaya, and the residents of Khimki are part of the huge majority, a majority deprived of any rights whatsoever, even the most elementary. Each of these rights – the right to strike, the right to a clean environment, the right to assemble freely – has to be fought and won. These rights even include the right to offend the police, if there are grounds for giving such offense: in Russia, there is more than sufficient cause to want to do this.

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 rights are being fought over. At the end of the day, one of these rights is the right to speak ever more openly and loudly about our rights without fear of punishment. If Voina is convicted and sent to prison, the space of THEIR rights will become a little bit larger, while the space of OUR rights will shrink by the same amount. If this case falls apart, then it will be the other way round.

The case against Voina concerns each and every one of us.

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The St. Petersburg Times
Issue #1634 (95), Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Banksy, Human Rights Activists Back Voina
By Sergey Chernov, The St. Petersburg Times

Human rights activists have criticized the imprisonment of two members of the radical art group Voina [“War”] as illegal, while British graffiti artist Banksy has joined the international campaign demanding the release of the artists.

Banksy pledged to donate the proceeds from the sale of a limited series of his prints to Voina. The 175 prints in the “Choose Your Weapon” series were sold Monday via the web site Picturesonwalls.com, reportedly generating 4.5 million rubles ($147,000) for the artists and their families.

Artists Leonid Nikolayev and Oleg Vorotnikov were arrested in Moscow last month and taken to St. Petersburg, where they were placed in a pretrial detention center.

Nikolayev and Vorotnikov reportedly took part in a stunt that involved overturning several police cars at night — some of which had police officers inside — and have been charged with criminal mischief motivated by political, racial, national or religious hatred or hostility, or motivated by hatred or hostility toward a particular social group. The offence is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Called “Palace Revolution,” the stunt was meant to demand, “metaphorically, the reform of the Interior Ministry and an end to police arbitrariness,” art critic and philologist Alexei Plutser-Sarno, described as Voina’s “ideologist,” told The St. Petersburg Times late last month. Within days, he fled to Tallinn, Estonia for fear of arrest.

The artists’ lawyer, Anastasia Yekimovskaya, said at a press conference Monday that the charges cannot be proven because the police lack credible sources of information, with the charges mainly based on a video that Voina uploaded onto the Internet.

The imprisoned artists, who have been in custody for more than three weeks, are refusing to speak to investigators, citing the constitutional right of suspects not to give evidence against themselves, Yekimovskaya said.

Analysis presented by the Moscow-based watchdog group Sova Center at the press conference argued that the law being used against Nikolayev and Vorotnikov is poorly formulated and being incorrectly applied, a fact that poses a threat to society.

According to Sova, Voina’s members did not commit a crime that could be qualified as criminal mischief or anything for which they could be persecuted under anti-extremist laws. It also argued that the imprisonment of the artists is not proportionate to their danger to society, pointing out that a suspect in the beating of a Cameroon citizen in St. Petersburg was released earlier this year after pledging not to leave the city before the court hearing.

Stefania Kulayeva of the Memorial rights group described Voina’s case as “political.”

“They expressed their protest — whether artistically or not — and they have been accused of committing a crime for this protest,” Kulayeva said. “It’s a political case. If they are sentenced to prison terms, we will all be guilty and pay with not only their freedom, but with ours too.”

Voina also hit the headlines earlier this year when they painted a giant penis on Liteiny bridge opposite the FSB headquarters in St. Petersburg back in June.

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December 2, 2010
The Art of War
Rose Griffin
Russia Profile
The Arrest of Two St. Petersburg-based Artists Raises Fresh Concerns about Freedom of Expression in Russia

Russian guerilla art group Voina (War) have caused controversy over the last two years with a number of shocking and often grotesque actions aimed at the Russian establishment. But the group suffered a setback this month, when two members were charged over a protest against the police that took place in St. Petersburg in September. Another member of the group is now reportedly hiding in Estonia. With little support from their fellow artists in Russia, does this spell the end for the anarchic collective?

On November 15 Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolaev, both members of Voina, were arrested in connection with the “Palace Revolution” action staged by the group two months earlier. The project involved turning seven police cars upside down in the center of St. Petersburg as a protest against malpractice in the police force.

On November 26 the Web portal Russian News Service reported that Alexei Plucer-Sarno, one of Voina’s ideologists, had fled Russia for Estonia, quoting Plucer-Sarno as saying that he was under threat of investigation by the authorities. “Yes I’m in Tallinn, practically without documents. Some influential Estonian friends got me across the border,” Plucer-Sarno said.

This is a major blow to the coalition, which was founded in 2007 around a core group of philosophy students from Moscow State University. Their sometimes explicit actions have targeted Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, as well as institutions such as the police and the Orthodox Church. It is, therefore, perhaps surprising that members of the group were not arrested earlier. Voina’s anti-Medvedev protest “F**k for the heir, Puppy Bear!” took place on the eve of President Dmitry Medvedev’s election and featured couples, including a heavily pregnant woman, having sex publicly in the Timiryazev Biology Museum in Moscow. “In Memory of the Decembrists – A Present to Yuri Luzhkov,” featured a staged hanging of two homosexuals and three central Asian guest workers, attacking the mayor for his homophobic stance and the dangerous living conditions for migrant workers in the capital.

“Palace Revolution” was not the first time the group attacked the police. In their “Cop in a Priest’s Robe” project, Vorotnikov, dressed in a priest’s cassock and a police hat, went into up-market grocery chain Sedmoy Kontinent, helped himself to food and alcohol, and left without paying, thus protesting against the church and police being above the law.

But although the group has built up a strong reputation and some support for exposing flaws in contemporary Russian society, it has received little help from the artistic community in the last two weeks. This is something which another Russian artist, Lena Hades, is familiar with. “It is rare for artists to support each other in such cases, although there are a few exceptions,” Hades said. “Since the arrests, we have seen nothing like the show of support that Oleg Kashin, for example, received from the journalistic community.” She puts this down to competitiveness and a lack of solidarity. “Each artist sees a rival, a competitor for attention, not a fellow artist,” Hades said.

Hades was convicted in summer of inciting hatred with two of her works, “The Chimera of the Mysterious Russian Soul,” which mocked several Russian institutions, and “Our Russia,” which featured an Orthodox prayer alongside obscenities.

There is a degree of solidarity between Hades and Plucer, however, and she said that when she was on trial, Plucer supported her by writing about her case. Hades is hopeful that the group will continue to operate, but stressed that the arrests and Plucer’s exile will take a huge toll. “At the moment, the group is really without a head, maybe they’ll get a new leader. I hope they’ll be able to continue,” she said.

[Article continued at link above.]

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