Russia’s ‘uncivil society’

Credit: Sakharov Center

Credit: Sakharov Center

On Wednesday evening, Anton Belikov, an artist and lecturer at Moscow’s Surikov Academy of Arts, walked through an exhibition of photographs documenting the war in eastern Ukraine, and threw paint over them, notes Mikhail Kaluzhsky, the lead Russian-Language Editor at oDR. Having ruined and torn up the pictures as “war propaganda”, Belikov then turned to one of the photographers and the curator to say: “You wanted civil society? Well, now you’ve got it,” he writes for Open Democracy:

These photographs by photographer Alexander Vasukovich and journalist Sergei Loiko were exhibited in Moscow’s Sakharov Center as part of the Direct Look photography prize. As a result of this attack, the Sakharov Center decided not to close the exhibition, but instead to hang posters detailing what took place on 28 September in place of the damaged works. 

That wasn’t the end of it, though. On Thursday morning, “Cossacks”, veterans from the Donbas conflict and a municipal deputy occupied the exhibition centre and destroyed these posters, too. They also presented the Sakharov Center with a jar of fake blood, “to symbolise the blood of children who had died in the conflict”. 

Such conservative “uncivil society” activists are present in every corner of the country, Kaluzhsky says:

The well-known Dmitry Enteo, Cossacks and “Orthodox activists” harass museums, theatres, the contemporary arts centre Vinzavod, and, of course, Moscow’s Sakharov Center. They’ve had other successes: from the banning of the opera “Tannhäuser” in Novosibirsk to the cancellation of concerts by the Polish rock band Behemoth in Krasnodar and Vladivostok. There are dozens of similar cases across the country. 

“Conservative activists benefit from the indifference of that section of society which prioritises “stability” above all, and renounces its own political interests,” he adds. “They triumph thanks to a lack of solidarity between liberals and leftists working in the arts and media. They go after the most vulnerable institutions of freedom of expression — modern art and those NGOs which the government has declared ‘foreign agents’”. RTWT

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