Category Archives: arts/letters

EDITORIAL: Neo-Soviet Russia Abolishes Art


Neo-Soviet Russia Abolishes Art

Once again, Russia has proven beyond any shadow of doubt that it is a barbaric, uncivilized country.  And that it is utterly bereft of shame.

Last Monday, a Russian court handed down criminal convictions against a pair of artists for doing nothing more than displaying art. The AP reports:  “Art expert Andrei Yerofeyev and former museum director Yury Samodurov were fined respectively 200,000 rubles ($6,483) and 150,000 rubles ($4,862) but escaped jail sentences.”

That’s right: They’re lucky, because while they were fined nearly a year’s average wages they didn’t actually have to go to jail.

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EDITORIAL: Mr. Putin and his “Extremists”

"Chimera, mystery of the Russian Soul" by Lena Hades


Mr. Putin and his “Extremists”

We’re guilty, and we admit it.  If Vladimir Putin has any guts at all, he’ll indict us.  We’ll be happy to pay our own way to Moscow to face his charges of “extremism.”  In fact, in just today’s issue, we’re guilty of at least two different acts of extremism.  Take us away!

Today in this issue we publish our own original translation of an article that appeared in the Russian newspaper Vedomosti, the Russian equivalent of the Wall Street Journal, this past April, authored by Maya Kucherskaya.  Two months later, the Putin regime declared it to be “extremism” and forced the paper to remove the article from its website.  One more such designation and Vedemosti is subject to being shut down by the Kremlin.

Kucherskaya is a highly trained scholar and writer and the recipient of two of Russia’s most prestigious awards for writing.  But not in the eyes of the Kremlin, she’s not. Because she dared to analyze the recent spate of terrorist acts against Russia critically, in the Kremlin’s eyes she’s no different than Shamil Basayev and one of Russia’s most respected newspapers is on the verge of closure.

She’s not alone.

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Russia’s Secret Life

The Washington Post reports:

Soviet Russia’s missiles and soldiers snaking through Red Square made chilling images, but one Russian-American filmmaker is casting a new light on this time to show there was life beneath the ice.

Semyon Pinkhasov, an emigre to the United States at the height of the cold war has made documentary films about prominent Soviet-era artisan and sport figures, who not only survived but thrived during communism’s repressive rule.

“When the temperatures sink and snow is on the ground there is still life under the ice. It is the same for society under a dictatorship,” said Pinkhasov.

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Annals of the Neo-Soviet Crackdown on Art

The Economist reports:

It was bad enough that an art exhibition attracted the attention of Russia’s criminal-justice authorities. It was worse that the exhibition was in Moscow’s Sakharov centre and museum, one of the few institutions in Russia that stands squarely behind the tradition of human rights, exemplified by the saintly physicist and dissident for whom it is named. Now prosecutors have said that they want the organisers of the 2007 “Forbidden Art” exhibition, the director of the centre, Yuri Samodurov, and Andrei Yerofeev, an art historian (both pictured), to be sentenced to a three-year jail term for “debasing the religious beliefs of citizens and inciting religious hatred”. Many say that the exhibition’s real crime was to highlight the overlap between official orthodoxy and the religious version.

The prosecutors’ move has aroused a furious reaction from the dwindling ranks of Russia’s intelligentsia, and in the non-Kremlin media. In an open letter to the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Mr Yerofeev apologises (link in Russian) for unintentionally hurting believers’ feelings, but also blasts the church for teaming up with hardline officials and rightwing extremists. Which, of course, was one of the messages of the exhibition.

A leading Russian intellectual and professor of Russian at Oxford Universiry, Andrei Zorin, has sent the following comment to Eastern Approaches. (The full Russian version is here.)

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Russia Abandons its Poets

In a story that could not be more timely in the wake of Vladimir Putin not recognizing Yuri Shevchuk, the New York Times reports:

Since the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991, Russian poetry has begun to resemble American poetry in ways that are both fascinating and sad. What’s fascinating is how talented, and how different from one another, Russia’s young poets are. What’s sad is how little they are read, and how little they matter. Whatever reach contemporary poetry had in Russian society has vanished like wood smoke.

The death on Tuesday of Andrei Voznesensky, a stirring poet of the post-Stalin “thaw era” in the 1950s and early 1960s, caused many to recall a time when that reach was enormous. Voznesensky’s generation of poets, which included Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Bella Akhmadulina, declaimed their work in sports stadiums to overflow crowds. A moment presented itself — the relative artistic freedom of the early Khrushchev era — and these poets pounced on the microphone. As Mr. Voznesensky put it, with a punk lip curl: “The times spat at me. I spit back at the times.”

The poets of the thaw era were liberating figures, and have frequently been likened to the West’s most word-drunk rockers and singer-songwriters: Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen. They were political, sexy, a bit louche and sometimes ridiculous. They squabbled. Mr. Yevtushenko seemed to be alluding to poets too, when he asked, “Why is it that right-wing bastards always stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity, while liberals fall out among themselves?”

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Crime and Punishment, Russian Style

Raskolnikov and the Money-lender

The Moscow Times reports:

The opening of a Moscow metro station dedicated to 19th-century writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, notorious for the gloomy atmosphere of his novels, has been postponed indefinitely amid a flap over its violent murals.

One marble mural in the Dostoyevskaya station, which was to open Saturday on the north end of the Light Green Line, depicts a young man killing two women with an ax, while another shows a man holding a gun to his temple.

Pictures of the murals, which illustrate the plots of Dostoevsky’s novels and are made from black and gray marble, have ignited a storm of controversy after first being posted on a LiveJournal blog on April 29.

“There have been observations that the murals are too gloomy and aggressive,” a Moscow metro official said Thursday, explaining the decision to delay the station’s opening, RIA-Novosti reported.

A leading Moscow psychologist, Mikhail Vinogradov, warned that the murals could make the station a popular place to commit suicide, Rosbalt reported.

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Russian Rappers fight back Against Putin

The Moscow Times reports:

Russian rap has shown its social conscience in recent weeks, highlighting how local performers are willing to deal with local problems rather than parade the babes and in-your-face oligarchic bling of the likes of Timati.

Following from rapper Noize MC’s song “Mercedes 666,” (see video embedded below) which damned LUKoil vice president Anatoly Barkov to hell after he was involved in a car crash that left two women dead, there comes Dino MC 47’s “Song About Explosions in the Metro,” which criticizes government elite for hypocrisy over the two bombings that killed 40 people late last month.

“Arrogant, overfed faces, with blue lights and security / telling us fr om TV that we won’t be threatened / their kids are in London and their money in the Caymans / what are we supposed to do? Wh ere do we hide?” Dino raps.

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