I will come to Moscow on the May 12. I have been invited to hold a seminar about “Social Media and Gender” at a workshop, that belongs to a joint venture project between IREX and FOJO. The workshop is funded by SIDA.
Moscow sky by me.
[Part II of Olga Karach’s adventures in the local election in Belarus]
‘Off with her head!’ the Red Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved. ‘Who cares for you?’ said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time.) ‘You’re nothing but a pack of cards!’ At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her.
Two cards from two different packs… Sorry, two members from two different commissions called me on Tuesday and informed me that they cancelled my registration for the coming elections to the City Council. The pretext they found was the distributing of green balloons to children. The balloons were given out outside my election precincts, and naturally they did not carry my name or any other names. Apparently, the commissions were running out of time (the elections are due in five days), so they were ready to declare a violation any action of mine. If not balloons, I could have been banned from the elections for a green scarf.
Vitebsk from 1912. From wiki commons.
The three persons who signed the petitions urging to punish me are not from my precincts. I also strongly doubt that they wrote the petitions themselves, not just signed the ready-made text. One of them is the Chief Manager of Municipality Branch #9 in Vitebsk.The second is a woman named Tatiana Tadeushevna Andreieva living at 68-4 Pravdy Street. As for the third person, we know only the last name (Starikovich) and partially the residence address (76 Moskovski Prospekt). However, in the court we will surely learn the full information about the signers and will publish it.
So now authorities consider me not eligible for the elections. But how much ‘elective’ the elections have become, how much of fair elections is left in this staged cricket game? The pro-governmental candidate, Mr. Bashmetov, has shamelessly been making use of his administrative position. Being the Rector of a government-controlled university, he used its premises for meetings and its faculty for organizing the meetings. The students were forced to go to the meetings, sometimes instead of classes. For high-school graduates Mr. Bashmetov was promising almost free admission to the university, if only he becomes one of the ‘deputies’. To crown it all, with the term exams coming many female students were ‘strongly advised’ to take part in concerts and cheer actions for Mr. Bashmetov’s promotion.
The government-staffed commissions reviewed his slanderous complaints against me practically immediately. At the same time only one out of my six complaints of April 14-20 was reviewed. The resolution signed by Mr. Miadelets, the Chair, read ‘a number of solutions have been found which now satisfy all the parties involved’. Besides the fact that no real solution was found, the resolution definitely implied that I am not a party involved. Needless to mention, the other five complaints of mine have never been reviewed.
‘That’s not a regular rule’, Alice remarked, ‘you invented it just now.’
‘It’s the oldest rule in the book!’ cried the Red Queen.
‘Then it ought to be Number One,’ said Alice.
The Red Queen turned pale, and shut her note-book hastily.
Why the officials are changing even their own rules so hastily? What are they scared of? I have no doubts the reason was the number of my representatives. Suddenly the packs (sorry again, the Commissions) got it right that our team will do everything necessary to properly monitor the counting of votes. Their hopes to reach their own goal set from the top were suddenly jeopardized. Fair elections would definitely mean failures of pro-government candidates.
I am addressing to all citizens who were going to support me: show your attitude to this staged game which officials call ‘elections’. You can do it in two ways:
1. You can just ignore the game. Do not come to the election precinct. Why waste time, if the result is fixed and forged anyway? To give officials an opportunity to give their decisions a label of ‘working people’s will’? To let them reduce social security, to raise taxes and utilities, to do nothing about real needs, and call it ‘fulfilling the working people’s orders’?
2. You can come to the election precinct and cross out all the names, then write ‘For Karach’, and put your ballot into the ballot-box. This way you will show the Red Queen and her packs that you are not a pawn in their games, where rules are being changed at will (maybe even as a result of a schizophrenic reaction). You will show that you are a human, and you demand the right to choice. Both ways are good, though they differ in openness, of course.
‘Curiouser and curiouser!’
I love quests. Otherwise I would have never become a politician. At the same time I never play computer quests, because I am very positive they are quite dull if compared with real political life in contemporary Belarus. Can you get a puzzle to solve just at the very beginning, when you are just registering for the game? Unlikely. In most cases, for introduction you get a long text of the License of Agreement, written in regular Legalese.
Unlike in computer gaming, my quest for becoming a People’s Representative in the City Council started with a whole range of puzzling tasks even before I could get the official registration. When I was registering for candidacy, I was solemnly given a letter from the Tax Inspection office. Why at that very moment? Why only me? Why not via regular mail, but via personal delivery of the Election Commission Chair? The most plausible answer coming to my mind is that the authorities are trying to put pressure on me and the Election Commission members. However, a quest is a quest, so I also sent an official request to the Tax Inspection office and asked them the same questions. They are still keeping silent about their own official motives though. Evidently they are not so experienced in questing…
Just like Alice in Wonderland, I can only say that subsequent events are getting ‘curiouser and curiouser’. Now, Vitebsk region has the one and only independent newspaper, that of VITEBSKI KURIER (Vitebsk Courier), and the newspaper has never been in favour with the authorities. Actually, we will probably soon have to re-brand it as ‘Vitebsk Phoenix’, because the newspaper team now has a lot of skills in ‘rising from the ashes’ (is there a skill like this in WORLD OF WARCRAFT?). So the authorities never liked the newspaper, but with my registration as a candidate the repressions just rocketed up. The newspaper team has violated no law, from the Election Code or any other, but now it is being considered ‘enemy #1’, and the number of enforcers from the local police who are hunting it down can definitely make a bystander think that the police are dealing with nothing less like Professor Moriarty, Vitebsk City level. Why so? Again, the most plausible answer is that in the official scenario for the coming elections there is no place for independent sources of information. But what can be explanations from the police and the authorities? Anyway, VITEBSKI KURIER will be published and will be delivered to the readers no matter what. Just like before, we will outplay the authorities in this quest as well.
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean— neither more nor less.’
Last week the cars my relatives own turned out to be included in the Road Police list of vehicles reported stolen. How come? Another puzzle to solve. Apparently, when enforcers from Vitebsk police see a car, it becomes just what they choose it to become. Humpty Dumpty did the same with words, but never with private property. The culmination of this logic was the case when on April 7 the car officially owned by my husband was arrested and delivered to a Police precinct on the suspicion that it had been stolen. The fact that I myself was sitting in the car and the owner was personally driving it definitely was not enough to clear the suspicion. The sad thing is that while a police platoon was hunting down, arresting, and escorting my husband’s car, some real criminals could be stealing cars at will.
This new type of logic invented by Vitebsk police is sometimes incomprehensible even for their colleagues. When Mogilev Region police officers found a car from the official list of vehicles reported stolen, they also had their piece of quest. They could not figure out why there were 10 000 copies of an officially registered newspaper in there, neatly packed and ready for distribution. They had seen many things in stolen cars, but a complete circulation of a newspaper issue was really something very new. When they called Vitebsk police, Vitebsk enforcers solved their problem immediately. The ‘stolen’ car presented no interest for them, they just asked to confiscate the newspaper copies. Have you already guessed that the newspaper title was VITEBSKI KURIER? If yes, you are also beginning to collect points in this quest.
By the way, the issue reached the readers anyway. The newspaper team fulfilled the civil duty, is spite of the hindrances developed by the authorities and their enforcers. We never forget about our main quest and its mission: to provide people with free unbiased information.
‘Now, I give you fair warning,’ shouted the Red Queen, stamping on the ground as she spoke; ‘either you or your head must be off, and that in about half no time! Take your choice!’
Arranging a meeting with my voters was a whole new part of my quest, and there I had to use a lot of my ‘skills and points’. On April 10 my representative sent an official letter to the Administration of Oktiabrski District of Vitebsk notifying them that on April 12-14 I was going to hold meetings with my voters on the territories near their apartment houses. Knowing how ‘creative’ the Red Queen can be in putting obstacles for people who want fair representation, we also sent another copy by registered mail. The royal reaction was fast and furious. The official reply #01-19/19В signed by Mr. V. A. Galanov, the first deputy of the Administration Head, read that ‘… based on the information above, you are not allowed to hold meetings with information and entertainment elements on the territories near the apartment houses of Klinicheski Election District #51… the only place you can use is the open-air scene located at 63-1 Pravdy Street.’
In my election precinct there are a lot of places fully suitable for an open talk with voters. Why didn’t the authorities mention them? Another puzzle… Anyway, I am a law-abiding citizen, so I answered that if it is ‘the open-air scene located at 63-1 Pravdy Street’, let it be so. Let us play there, and let us play fair.
My election precinct is special, because there are four candidates. In most precincts throughout Belarus there is just one. To make the election quest simpler? Well, I and my activists are sure that ‘no selection—no election’. The citizens’ choice must be educated, people must know their candidates, their backgrounds, their programs. The candidates must meet in fair verbal battles, so that people will see who is who now and who is going to be who after the elections. That is why on April 14 I personally called all my rivals and invited them to come to the meeting in the evening to the one and only ‘open-air scene located at 63-1 Pravdy Street’. All the other candidates confirmed receiving the information, and none of them said that they were organizing their own events at the time.
However, the Red Queen had her own views on how candidates must compete for votes. At about 6pm, just one hour before my arranged meeting with voters, I got a call to my mobile phone. A male introduced himself as ‘A. K. Kondratovich, a deputy head of Oktiabrski District Administration’, and then immediately revealed his true nature of being just a playing card in the authority pack. He said that they banned my meeting with voters because another candidate earlier applied for the same place and time, and the candidate does not want my presence there. I felt just like Alice again—I had to be off, and that in about half no time. Needless to say that the candidate was one of those whom I was calling at noon, and he said not a single word about his own ‘planned’ meeting. Had the Red Queen turned him into a zombie? Or was he a zombie from the very beginning?
Melody for a Street Organ (2009) by Kira Muratova compensates for the 20 years-long absence of social cinema in Ukraine in a strikingly unexpected way. To capture the social reality of Ukrainian society is not an easy task, since, like any other post-Soviet society, it avoids a direct look at its basic manifestations (like marginalization of large social segments and dissolution of interpersonal links) by rendering them invisible for the mass media apparatuses. In order to assemble the mosaic of unrepresented society, Muratova has chosen the vantage point that is generally repressed in contemporary Ukraine. Her latest film is set in public spaces where taking pictures is usually prohibited for reasons that are neither explained nor questioned, in spite of availability of those spaces for the general public: the train station and the supermarket.
The first part of the film follows a couple of homeless kids through a railway station, where they are confronted with a series of unfavourable circumstances, while the second part takes them to a supermarket, where the penniless protagonists, hallucinating from hunger, are trying to get some food. Still, those areas – the railway station and the supermarket – are only seemingly excluded from democratic representation, since they are subjected to numerous surveillance apparatuses that not only passively collect information but also actively constitute the social relations at the observed territory, producing the subjectivities of those under surveillance. By entering this domain of monopolized representation with her camera, Muratova gets an opportunity to spy at the members of contemporary society reduced to their purely functional, mechanical identities – those of the train passengers or supermarket clients.
This reduction is obvious in numerous film scenes where the kids appeal to occasional strangers with a cry for help only to get a standardized, artificial, ‘cinematic’ reaction from the people who cannot transcend their prescribed social roles. In a crucial episode of the film, the kids occasionally witness the extrinsic child beggar telling their own numerously repeated story verbatim to a stranger and getting a generous reward. The shock that children experience in the course of the scene is quite similar to a shock of the viewer confronted with Muratova’s numerous episodic characters that despite of their constructed, unnatural behaviour (or, maybe, precisely owing to these features) are strikingly recognizable in their representation of post-Soviet social identities. Rather than reproduce “reality as it is”, Muratova focuses on fiction underlying the reality itself, a fiction that is deconstructed from an ‘impossible’ viewpoint of the camera sneaking after the people who unconsciously perform their prescribed identities.
Oleksiy Radynski is an essayist, editor and scholar of film theory. He is a postgraduate student at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and collaborator at Visual Culture Research Center at the same university.