When left wing criticisms supports Stalinism

Category: by sophie engström, movies, russia
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(Läsningstid: 6 minuter)

When I was in Kyiv in January and February I meet several that said they had identified one very important lack in the Ukrainian domestic debate and that is the lack of left wing intellectuals. I must say I agreed fully since we do need a criticisms of liberal values, capitalism as a guarantee of democracy, the concepts like democracy etc. I can’t value wheather it is the recipe on a “good debate climate” but at least I can see the world (Western, Eastern, Northern, Southern, in actually all directions) has been living in a sort of liberal “dictatorship” for far too long. It is possible that I have a very simplistic understanding of what Ukraine needs, but at least I can see that the country need something to make the debate more vivid and productive. Furthermore, when I was in Moscow a couple of months later I heard the same point of view, what Russia need is left wing intellectuals that stands in contrast towards Kremlin and the political establishment.

But it was not until the other week, when somebody wrote on my chat that Ukraine need left wing intellectuals like you have in Europe I started to feel that something was nagging me, because I answered Yeah, yeah. But this is Scandinavia, and tried to forget about it. But I couldn’t since I stumbled over my irritation over and over again. It was not until this morning, when I read a review of Burnt by the sun 2 by Nikita Mikhalkov in the independent, but rather left wing, weekly newspaper Fria Tidning that I understood how I was irritated. The newspaper is not said to be left wing, but most of the articles printed there have a rather left wing approach towards different issues. I think that is a good thing, even though the political consensus in it really can make me feel sick some times.

Back to the review. I must begin with giving the author, Per Leander, credits for making the effort to write a review that is not pointing in the same direction as all other previous reviews of the movie. Mikhalkov has gone from being the Western Europe’s favourite director (by Burnt by the sun in 1994), to become one of the least popular such during the last couple of years. Most critics uses the same kind of words about his latest work, such as a patriot and nationalistic director with simplistic rhetoric that uses the Kremlin to authorize his expensive and vulgar movies. The two first remarks is perhaps indisputable, which is perhaps the reason why it is not mentioned in the review. However, to criticize a Russian director, that was formally exalted hero, can provoke Swedish left wing because he is, yes, Russian and from the Former Soviet Union. The review in Fria Tidning is a very good example on just that.

There has been a debate in Sweden during the last year if we can regard the crimes of Stalin as brutal as those of Hitler. Many on the left wing has said that we can not, all of those on the right wing have said “yes we can”. And of course you can see the traces from this debate in the review about “Burnt by the sun 2” when the author writes that “[…]in the sequel [from ‘Brunt be the sun’], he [Mikhalkov] wants to give the image of the Nazi terror that hit Russia, after all, much worse [than the Stalins terror did]” (my translation). My first remark is actually that he writes “Russia” not “the People of Soviet Union” or something more appropriate. Secondly, we have not yet been able to identify the full scale of the Stalinist terror. We do not even know the figures of those dead. I also suspect it depends a bit on where you stand, if you think the second world war was worse than the Stalinist terror or not. If you are from in example Ukraine you might say that this picture is not entirely true, and it is not easy to tell if some of the sacrifices the people in Ukraine did there during the WW2 was because of, or connected to, Stalin decisions. (The famine, called Holodomor, is like an open wound in Ukraine’s history). I dislike how easy he make it for himself by sweeping away the victims of Stalin’s terror with words that the WW2 was worse. It was horrifying, but it does not make the Stalinist terror less worse! This is the kind of left wing rhetoric’s you often see in Sweden. (Stalin was bad yes, but look at Hitler, he was worse and see what the Americans do in…. etc etc)

Old Soviet style furniture thrown away in Moscow, May 2010.
This things we should keep, though. It is old nomenclature we should get rid of

An other point is that the author criticizes the Western movie critics because they are not able to understand everything in Russian culture history and cannot understand the all paraphrases. It is interesting to see once again that a Swedish left wing movie critics actually uses the exact way of mechanism to exclusion such as Russian nationalists do. “You will never understand this because you are not Russian”. But in what sense does this make it a better movie? In my mind many references does not make a movie better, that’s all. It could actually be very contra-productive!

The last point is perhaps a stupid remark form my side, but I just can’t let it be. It is about Nikita Mikhalkov’s “great knowledge in music”. The author bases on the fact that he is the son of Sergey Mikhalkov that wrote the Soviet Anthem (Eh, I feel lost already). Mikhalkov JR reveals this great knowledge in music in using the titel of a very popular tune from the 1930s, a Polish tango. That is like saying that I have a lot of knowledge in the 1960s because I can sing “She loves me, yeah, yeah”!

This review is merely an example that i wanted to take to illustrate what I find problematic with the stand point that many Swedish left wing intellectuals have. My point is that a left wing intellectual movement or group is perhaps needed, but if it embraces Soviet Union and Stalinism (which is shown in the above mentioned review), just to be on contrast toward liberalism and capitalism, well, then you have a problem. I think it is rather fair to criticizes Mikhalkov and his movies. He is using his power in the Russian Cinematographers’ Union as much as possible, by giving himself money and excluding others. This is not mentioned even by one word in the review, which is very odd since there were a big crisis in April 2010 when many directors and filmmakers left the union in protest against Mikhalkov’s way of ruling the union!

In some odd way many leftist intellectuals in Sweden have found it important to defend old power structures in Russia and countries in the former Soviet Union. I understand it is a way of criticizing liberalism, but from my point of view it is the wrong way!

I would like to conclude by saying that I am pretty sure that Swedish left wing intellectuals will change and stop trying to defend old nomenclatura, when they meet the newly born such movements in Ukraine and Russia. And I do hope this moment will come as soon as possible.

Art? Who cares?

Category: art, by sophie engström, russia
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(Läsningstid: 2 minuter)

The other day the Russian State Prosecutors asked for a three-years sentence for the organizers of the controversial exhibitions “Forbidden Art – 2006” in Moscow. The organizers, Yury Samodurov, the former Director of the Sakharov Museum in Moscow, and Andrey Erofeev, a former curator at the State Tretyakov Gallery, are charged under the Art. 282. The Art. 282 defendants can be facing a sentences to prison for five years! Samodurov and Erofeev claims it is a “fifty-fifty change” that they are convicted and take an example from 2005, when Samodurov and a museum worker Lyudmila Vasilovskaya were found guilty of inciting religious hatred and sentenced to a fine of 100 thousand rubles for another exhibition, “Caution, Religion!”.

On the accusations bench you find the Orthodox nationalists “People’s Cathedral”. They have sued the exhibition and the organizers for “offending religious feelings”. The exhibited pieces at “Forbidden Art – 2006” were such that was not athorized to be shown for the public. Among those works was a work by American artist Vagrich Bakhchanyan that shows a Soviet-era medal of Vladimir Lenin on a cross that should to give the impression that has been crucified.

From the exhibition “Forbidden Art 2006”

So I ask: Art? Who cares about art these days? Well, not many enough, some of you perhaps say. Far too many, the Russian State prosecutors seems to think and feel that they need to be protect us (or themselves?) from it’s force and power! Or is it just that the prosecutors believe that is possible to whatever they like with curators and artists? Since there are very few that protesters anyway?

It is actually high time we show them they are wrong!! We must act on an international level! We cannot let authorities (Russian, Swedish, Ukrainian, German, Italian etc etc) decide what kind of art that should be allowed to be shown. Show your support for the organizers and for the survival of freedom of expression!

Write on your blog about it!

Or join the Facebook-group shows the support for the organizers.


Open letter from The European Cultural Parliament
Rights in Russia
At Russian News Line
At Radio Free Europe

Cops on Fire: The True Story

Category: by sasha pas, guests, music, russia, theatre
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(Läsningstid: 4 minuter)

The Cops on Fire-story started more than a year ago. One evening I met my friend Sasha Kholenko (DZA) in the 16tonns cafe in Moscow, the club where DZA together with how2make-crew made concerts and gigs during the time. He told me about one of his projects, a radio play based on a detective story about cops and killers. The play included more than 30 hip-hop tracks, each track was a short episode in the play. DZA made all the beats and loops for that project called “Cops On Fire”. He asked if I want to meet the other guys in the project, and make this on stage and not only on radio.

So, why did he ask me? At that moment I was working with the theatre group  “Le Cirque de Sharles La Tannes”. In 2005 we staged The Crystal World, a short story by Victor Pelevin. The interesting thing was that all the music for The Crystal World was composed by another member of how2make-crew, the talanted electronic musician Roma Litvinov (Mujuice). It felt like a good chance to make another experiment with how2make-crew on stage. But now with hip-hop.

So we started to work…

We had however no budget. So by the time we had the idea of how it could be on stage, we started search for sponsor. We thought we needed more or less 8000$ for the whole production. (Finally it costed more than 10000$). But we failed to find any sponsor. Probably we didn’t try hard enough. Everyone was eager to start the production and rehearsals as soon as possible, and to search for sponsors are a rather boring work. So we, me and my partner, Jury Kvyatkovsky (the director of “Cops On Fire”) invested our own money. But many helped. One of our friends proposed us a studio for the rehearsals, another found some costumes, another made the decorations on credit. And in September last year we had a call from S:t Petersburg and they invited us to the Sergey Kuryokhin Festival. We agreed and had only two months to finish everything.

The premiere in St.Petersburg was very sucessful. Even though we didn’t like the technical result – the place was a cinema but we prefer a theatre. The audience loved it though. Directly after that we started to work with the Moscow premiere and tried to make it in the best possible way. After several months of working it seemed as everyone finally started to believe in what they were doing. The premiere in Moscow got only one negative comment and that was that we used to much slang and bad language in the play, and we have now cut some of those.

However, the most interesting thing with our project is that we, subconsciously, have made a very social and actual project. In Russia there were several scandals connected to the police last year. There where for instance a shooting at a supermarket by a Major Evsukov and a video message for Medvedev. Our story is opposed to real life with the most fair cop. He is a true social order keeper. He spares no effort to put his vision of what’s right and what’s wrong into practice. Still there are very few comments from theatre audience about this connection.

“Cops on Fire” gives two shows every month in Moscow at the theatre centre “Na Strastnom”. In June it will be the 10th show in Moscow. Each time the house is full. About 3000 people have seen the show so far. In May “Cops On Fire” gave a live show on “TransMusicales” festival, and in September we will take part in international theatre festival GOGOLFEST in Kiev, Ukraine. And we have also started a film project….

…to be continued…

Cops on fire at facebook

Sasha Pas is art-director of Le Cirque de Sharles La Tannes – an independent creative group of actors, directors, musicians and artisits, based in Moscow, Russia. In past recent years – editor and founder of 55 pdf magazine. Now works as a creative producer of Cops On Fire project. recommends: Five-Finger Discount by DZA

Category: by sophie engström, music, recommendations, russia
Tags: , , ,

(Läsningstid: < 1 minut)

I highly recommend the latest release by Sasha DZA at Error Broadcast. (For a regular reader of DZA surely do not need an introduction, but you can refresh your at myspace or read my interview with Dza in May, when he just returned from RBMA in London, or an interview (in Swedish) with Dza and Mujuice from 2008.)

The release at Error Broadcast

Sasha DZA, the how2make frontier, has with Five-Finger Discount created an unique album which unpredictable beats that will accompany a wild, wild summer. At least I will let this beautiful creative madness ring in my ears all summer long… and probably much longer than that! I highly recommend you all to purchase the lossless audio, which you find below the free download. Keep creativity like this live!

Dza – Shifty by DZA

Feminism in Russia? Like a sleeping beauty?

Category: by sophie engström, gender, russia
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(Läsningstid: 5 minuter)

During my stay in Moscow last month, I one night ended up looking at Russian TV at a friends places. My friend and her old mother was zapping through the channels and ending up at the news. While we was sitting there consuming the information (or whatever the TV viewer are expected to do) I started to feel physically sick. Since I never look at TV in Sweden I am probably rather sensitive towards what I see. At first I thought it was because I had too much tasty food to eat, but rather quick I understood it was the news in the box infront of me that was the course of my sickness. And why did I feel like that? Well, it was not the actual news. They look the same as they always have in Russia, so this did not upset me (enough, I should add).

No, it was an other unpleasant aftertaste I could feel. During the 30 minutes or 45 minutes news show there where not even one woman speaking. I could see women crying or walking in the background of some guy being interviewed, but not even one woman had a voice. Coming from a country where the newsrooms and editorial work have, may be not great, but at least an awareness how important representation and diversity actually are, I felt like I was pushed back to some kind of Medieval landscape just in one blow. It is true that women’s representation in Russia in, for instance, the Parliament, sucks but this was just too much! (Check the statistics at Wikigender.) And I might alos add that this is a rather unpleasant change since all my previous stays in Moscow and Russia. I felt an urge to talk to a feminist that could put some light on how it became like this.

I was lucky. The day after I had a meeting with one of the most prominent feminists in Moscow, Nadezhda Azhgikhina, journalist, literary critic, and executive secretary at Russian Union of Journalists. I asked her why women have vanished from Russian TV and why I can’t hear or read any protests. Nadezhda implies that most bosses or executive bosses are men, so basically the newsrooms or editorial are stuck with those. But when it comes to why TV news shows almost no women Nadezhda has a very interesting theory. She denotes that Russian TV should be regarded a theatre play. This play has as a purpose in trying to fool the viewer into believing that the government actually is in charge and can handle all occurring problems in the society.

Nadezhda Azhgikhina

– Men doesn’t show fear and are therefor regarded as the most effective power. So by excluding all women, they try create the picture that Russia is the strongest and best country in the world.

The second part of her theory is that she implies that TV, including all other media, do not want to promote the idea that there exists any gender problems in Russia of today. One explanation could be that it just don’t sell. The younger generations have not interest in feminism or gender issues, basically because they do not want to be influenced by “old” values. By “old” she denotes feminist values from 1990’s and during the Post Soviet Era. The feminist movement back then was very strong, but has drastically declined and today there are almost no feminist movement, she implies.

However, during the 90’s the feminist movement managed to create a good and stable network among those that are working with the questions.

But even so, I urge, while looking at Russia today I can only see stagnated stereotypes and mostly values promoting, for example, macho-masculinities and sticky sexisms when it comes to feminities. From my perspective Russia gender situation appears to be more conservative and obsolete than ever. I point at Ukraine and FEMEN and ask Nadezdha why we can’t see any reactions like that in Russia. Her answer actually surprises me. She claims that Ukraine is 10 years behind Russia., and that Ukraine’s radical feminist movement will also languish away. Her rather fatalistic attitude scares me, however she can be right. In Sweden we have had several strong feministic movements that have subsided. While Russia had a strong feminist during the 90’s, Sweden and many other countries, for instance USA, had a rather heavy backlash on feminists issues. From some perspective I would say that Sweden has never really recovered from that backlash.

FEMEN dressed as policemen protesting against the limitation of democratic liberties and freedom of the press during the first hundred days of Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency commemorated today.

The question we should ask ourself is perhaps how feminism can survive between every intervals of activity. What will for instance happen with an organization such as FEMEN when Ukrainian media has lost their interest in them? What plans do they have to survive the situation? After my meeting with Nadezdha I strongly feel that this is perhaps one of the weakest points of all feminist movements around the world. (And all other activism, I suppose.) When media turns their heads in other directions, too many feminists activists vanishes from the scene. How come? Not all feminists are exhibitionists for sure!!

But hopefully social media could play an important and different role for making campaigns to survive longer. FEMEN has been able to create their own media flow, with twitter, flickr etc etc. And I do hope that they have the strength to go on, even after the Ukrainian establishment has recovered from the chock that FEMEN (still) creates.

From FEMEN’s last campaign “Bloody tits”

“Den ryska bokmarknaden är i en enda röra”

Category: by sophie engström, literature, russia, Uncategorized
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(Läsningstid: 3 minuter)

När jag besökte “Museernas Natt” i Moskva, träffade jag mångsysslaren Nick Ohkotin, initiativtagare till den oberoende bokdistributören Berrounz, ägare av Proekt OGI bookstore och Interbok i Stockholm. Vi pratade en del om situationen för den ryska bokindustrin och om hans arbete med Moscow International Open Book Festival.

– Tanken med “Moscow International Open Book Festival” är att visa besökarna att böcker inte bara har reducerats till kommers. Vi vill istället sätta fokus på litteraturen och författarnas tankar om kreativitet och skapande. Vår avsikten är alltså inte att sälja böcker i mängder, det sker på vanliga bokmässor, utan att fokusera på literaturen och författarna, säger Nick.

Nick Okhotin på Proekt_Fabrika under Museernas natt i Moskva 15 maj 2010.

Ungefär 80% av det som försiggår på “Moscow International Open Book Festival” handlar om litteratur, men för att överleva och locka till sig besökare har man bjudit in andra aktörer. Förra året bjöd de till exempel in den amerikanska anarkisten och filosofen John Zerzan. Det var en verkligt populär programpunkt. Andra populära inslag på festivalen, som inte hade en direkt koppling till litteratur, var en diskussionsduell mellan olika kulturföreträdare. De hade till exempel en duell mellan en filmkritiker och en filmskapare.

Nicks ambition med festivalen är att försöka göra festivalen något mer eklektisk än den varit tidigare, så att bidrag som beskrivits ovan blir mer vanliga. Han ser det som en viktig vitamininjektion för att inspirera det kulturella debattklimatet och likaså bokmarknaden, som han för övrigt anser den vara i stort behov av nya impulser.

Men att vara yrkesverksam på den ryska bokmarknaden är allt annat än riskfritt. För ungefär två år sedan mördades till exempel en förläggare för ett förlag som ger ut skolböcker och det är just där som korruptionen är som störst, menar Nick. Han försätter med att påpeka att hela bokmarknaden är en enda röra. Det verkar som om det finns en avsaknad av mål och visioner, säger han och menar att det finns många exempel på dåliga projekt i bokbranschen.

– “Piramida” är ett sådant exempel. Det var en bokaffärskedja här i Moskva som fanns på många platser. Butikerna låg ofta på exklusiva adresser. Deras hyror måste varit skyhöga. Proekt OGI Bookstore var en av många som engagerade sig och satsade i Piramida. Men problemet var att det inte fanns någon egentlig tanke eller idé bakom affärsidén, så de gick helt enkelt givetvis omkull. Vi förlorade runt 10.000 € vilket är ett enormt belopp för vår verksamhet. Det var nära att vi inte skulle klara det.

Nick hoppas därför på framtiden, men han ser inte särdeles ljust på den.

– Boken som form har svårt att konkurrera mot nya informationsvägar och läsplattan kan ju antingen vara en välsignelse eller det sista dråpslaget mot bokmarknaden. Förutsättningen är ju att folk fortsätter att läsa, men ibland är jag orolig att attityden till litteratur håller på att förändras, menar Nick. Och med den ryska litteraturens stolta tradition i åtanke kan jag inte låta bli att förfäras när en besökare på Fabika instämmer och berättar att det knappt finns något som helst intresse för inhemsk (eller internationell) litteratur bland yngre.

– De spelar dataspel eller surfar och verkar inte ha något intresse alls för att läsa, och Nick är enig med besökare.

Problemet med svikande intresse för litteratur är visserligen ett hyfsat globalt problem. Men för ett land som Ryssland, som ofta hänvisar till sin litterära dignitärer, får det kanske vidare konsekvenser. För hur går det med den ryska själen om den inte har någon kontakt med Dostojevskij eller Pusjkin?

Moskvas alternativa scen är liten, men desto kaxigare

Category: by sophie engström, russia
Tags: , , , ,

(Läsningstid: 2 minuter)

I vimlet på “Black market” på Proekt_Fabrika, sprang jag på Elena Tupyseva. Elena är en av Tsekhs drivkrafter. Tsekh är oberoende dansgrupp som är har sina lokaler i Proekt_Fabrika. Hon driver även Fabrikas konsertsal samt dess trevliga bar . Elena beskriver verksamheten i huset, och snabbt får jag klart för mig att detta är kanske en av de mer intressanta platserna i Moskva just nu, om man intresserar sig för vad som sker på den alternativa scenen. Proekt_Fabrika huserar flera olika aktiviteter, men alla som finns där är kopplat till den alternativa kulturscenen. Ja, förutom självaste fabriken, vill säga.

– Vet du om att fabriken fortfarande fungerar? De tillverkar papper och har upplåtit en del av deras yta till oss.

Elena vill helst inte spekulera i varför, men tror att det kan vara ett försök av företagsledningen att skapa goodwill.

-Eller så har de bara ett genuint intresse för kultur, vad vet jag? säger hon och skrattar.

Interiör från Proekt_Fabrika

Elena menar att Moskvas oberoende kulturscen ser bedrövlig ut. Enligt henne finns det ungefär fyra scener som tar in alternativ musik, teater, dans eller utställningar. Staden växer, men inte intresset för alternativ musik. Ett problem är att hyrorna är odrägligt höga, men en annan viktig och bidragande orsak är att intresset för alternativ kultur inte tilltar ut.

– Efter jobbet vill folk inte titta på modern dans, utan heller gå i köpcentra och köpa meningslösa attribut. Jag tror att intresset för kultur har avtagit totalt, men att alternativ, och kanske lite mer svår tolkad kultur, lider mest av det. Helt obegripligt! Modern dans som är så kul, säger hon och skrattar och påpekar att festivalen IntraDance kan bli lidande av det minskade intresset för kultur.

Elena är en av producenterna för festivalen och hon berättar om vilka problem de ställts inför. För det första är det mycket svårt att hitta lokaler som funkar. De som sysslar med modern dans vill helst ha en scen där publiken kan se rörelserna på golvet något uppifrån. Moskva har mycket få scener som stämmer in på den beskrivningen. För det andra är deras problem liten uppmärksamhet i media. Första gången de körde festivalen hade Afisha, Moskvas främsta city guide, ett fem sidors reportage med bilder. Denna gång har de haft 1/4 sida.

– Det är förstås förödande för oss, säger Elena som ändå hoppas på god uppslutning när festivalen drag igång den 20 maj.

Och det är klart att den blir det, tänker jag, när Elena ångar vidare mellan besökarna på “Black market”. Med den kraften kan inget stoppa dig!