Tag Archives: Politics

Art as hostage

 

A couple of decades ago, a petty communist bureaucrat managed to carve himself a hefty helping of the Russian oil industry. People who say he stole it are instantly reminded that any great fortune has a similarly disputed origin, “and see how noble it came out in the end for the Rockefellers”.

Many years later, or, to be more specific, yesterday, a long-awaited Chagall exhibition in Sweden was cancelled a week before its scheduled opening.

chagall

You may wonder how Chagall’s getting the finger and the young communist’s turning oligarch are related. What’s the connection?

The bureaucrat, you see, was none other than Khodorkovsky, who, after a brief confrontation with another ex-communist, then (and now) the President of Russia, lost his assets, his freedom, and ultimately became a man of the world with liberal views and a villa in Switzerland.

It’s the doubly stolen oil assets that are the problem now. While anyone can have their own opinion about the original theft two decades ago without so much as a thread of evidence, the late confiscation is there for everyone to see as a bank robber’s face after a dye pack explosion.

dyepack

So, international courts say Russia owes Khodorkovsy’s partners some USD 50bn, and if the money’s not paid, Russian assets will be arrested.

And this is why Chagall can’t travel anymore. Obviously, the State Russian Museum that was planning to loan the paintings fears they may not come back.

shagall

This is Chagall’s Promenade of 1918, but in its modified form it explains the connection.

Now, my question is, why has no one thought to exclude art from court decisions on state asset seizure? Yeah, I know, lawyers don’t care about anything except their share of the winnings, but still. Should state-owned art be hostage to claims made against the respective state and lead to cultural cut-offs?

The Russian manifesto on crisis avoidance

Ideas have immense power over people.

I know an antique dealer who’d kill a customer for saying, “Oh, what a great baroque piece!” while pointing at a gothic chest of drawers. The guy believes dating is sacred. No wonder he’s single: his attempts at the other kind of dating failed because women he met were attributing themselves to a different epoch. You don’t discount 42 to 35 in front of a man whose profession is about pinning a proper age tag onto the object he is about to acquire.

I also know a president, who believes his country is surrounded by enemies, which can’t sleep properly until his motherland is destroyed. Wolves of evil circle the clearing, waiting for the lonely pilgrim to nod off. So he sets fire around his camp torching up all the surrounding countries, and shoots at the firemen coming to the rescue, taking them for the Hounds of Hell that lurk in the fiery darkness.

You’d say it is not rational, and hence unlikely. One of the firemen would shout out for the pilgrim to stop shooting. I am sure one of them will. But if you are certain they are the proverbial Hounds of Hell, you’d just murmur, “No, you devilish creatures, I can see through your foul tricks!” and keep shooting. It is not about what’s real or true and what’s not. It is all about beliefs. Irrational behaviour in otherwise normal people is just as common as rational actions of complete psychos.

If you are convinced that Anglo-Saxons and Zionists conspire to turn Russia into a failed state (which is the prevalent theory in Russia right now), Russian politics start making sense.

The problem is that Russian politics are represented by very real tanks, soldiers, and nukes.

Today, we witness the Russian belief in a global conspiracy against it materialising into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even if originally it was a figment of Putin’s imagination, it becomes real as the world watches Putin’s actions. Other nations start thinking they indeed would be better off with Russia in a restraint jacket.

Is there a way out of it? No one wants a war, bloodshed, shelling, refugees, and sanctioned poverty. Surely, everyone has good intentions, including the Russian President.

In a situation like that, good intentions help as much as a bullet-proof vest on board of a sinking ship.

That’s how it works.

Ivan Shishkin, Konstantin Savitsky, Morning in a Pine Forest, 1889

Ivan Shishkin, Konstantin Savitsky, Morning in a Pine Forest, 1889

Imagine a bear wanders into a hunter’s lodge in search for food.

A half-naked hunter barely escapes, slipping out through a small window at the back. He picks up his rifle at the last moment. He then buttresses the door from the outside with a log, and makes a 911 call.

The call is received by an operator who is incidentally a PETA activist, and before she calls a team from the nearest zoo, she makes sure a group of her fellow PETA members is on site to prevent any harm that may come the bear’s way.

The bear is barricaded inside the lodge, and PETA activists create a shield around the hut, waiting for the arrival of a suitable transport to take the bear to a safe location in the forest.

peta-not-bear-skinThe bear sees a crowd of people outside. They are very loud and aggressive, chanting something about bears, hunters, and fur hats (here the bear shudders) in hysterical voices. The bear’s best guess is that it is going to be killed. Hunters are known to have killed bears before, you know, so in human terms, it is an educated guess. The bear wants to find a way out of the wooden hut and run, run, run back to the forest: any bear knows it is dumb to confront an army.

After an hour of thrashing around, the bear is seconds away from ripping the door off its hinges and storming outside.

There’s no gun with a sedative bullet yet, just a regular one.

The hunter wants to train his rifle on the door to catch the bear disoriented when it emerges from the lodge. He knows there would be no second chance to create the first impression with a bear that size.

PETA activists shout that a pointed rifle may provoke the bear to assault people, and that it is better to throw out the gun altogether, because the bear would simply run off to the woods.

121713_PETA

Now, add to the scene a bear cub that was discovered by PETA activists outside the lodge. It is a cute fluffy ball of fur, and very hungry. One of the activists takes a bottle of milk to feed the poor creature. The father-bear sees a human grabbing the cub and realises one of the cubs has been following its father to the lodge. The scary thought “They gonna take my son!” flashes through the bear’s mind.

The bear doubles up its efforts to break out.

The hunter cocks up his rifle.

PETA activists keep shouting at the hunter to lower the gun.

They all, including the bear, mean frigging well and are behaving noble-mindedly, god after all being on their side.

As the bear comes out with the door turned into flying shrapnel splinters, the hunter pulls the trigger, trying not to hurt a PETA activist, and… just wounds the animal. Wounded bear massacres activists, with the first to be ripped open being the one feeding the cub. Then the bear goes for the hunter. No one can outrun a wounded bear.

When the police arrive at the scene (which they see as a massacre site), they aim for the head and finish the bear with a dozen accurate shots.

That’s when they see a zoo van pulling in.

Oh, the important detail: the hunter was out there in the forest on a fishing trip, originally.

You may think it is now irrelevant, until you realise it was the surviving fish that benefited in this conflict, ultimately.


Now think of the bear cub as Ukraine.

Think of PETA activists, protesting that the gun is trained on the door, as Western “lefties” (that’s not difficult to imagine at all).

Think of the hunter as Western “righties”.

The bear itself is, well, Russia.

There’s no police within a thousand light-years.

The fish is somewhere in China.

The time is now.

What are the chances that the zoo van pulls in before the bear is out of the lodge?

Slim.


Could the whole mess be avoided?

Yes, and here’s my manifesto on crisis avoidance strategy:

a) Avoid people who want to impose their ideas on others. They are well-meaning bears.

If (a) fails:

(b) Make sure your bear is fed, whatever or whoever it is. If it is not your bear, install electric fence.

(c) Do not allow liberally-minded and well-meaning people to manage a crisis

(d) Shoot to solve the problem, not aggravate it

(e) If you can’t solve the problem, hide to not become a part of it

If (b) to (e) failed, RUN or put on a Justin Bieber song, or find its equivalent.

P.S. No bears, hunters, or PETA activists suffered while this post was being written, but some people actually died in Ukraine, Iraq, and Syria, which means the bear is not necessarily Russia, and the fish is not always in China. And no, I am not feeling light-hearted about it.

An open question to David Duchovny

David,

I write, generally, about art, its values, and, occasionally, its value, and how the latter was changing throughout history. Right now, I am working on Giotto’s Kiss of Judas, and as I love to show how art of the past can be relevant today, I need to calculate the current value of a Tyrian shekel (Judas sold out Christ for 30 of those, you know). I know how much silver costs, but I need to know the symbolic value of those 30 coins. I am sure you can help me out, and it will take a moment of your time.

You are starring in a TV advert for a Russian brand of beer (owned by a Belgian holding company) that talks about the pride of being Russian. It went live a few days ago and became an instant hit.

You are very sincere in this ad, talking of how proud you would be if you lived in Russia. You talk about Russia’s expanses, its space ships, satellites, bath houses, hunting trips, and ballet.

It should come as no surprise to you that Russian television went crazy over this short film, rotating it non-stop in its news programs as a proof that Americans support Russia at the time when Russia and the US seem to be edging closer towards a new Cold War. The part with the beer was tenderly removed, because beer advertising is prohibited on TV in Russia.

You are now a new Putin’s hero, I guess: a celebrity American who stands for Russia at this difficult time of a covert war with Ukraine.

And please, don’t tell me you didn’t know you were being filmed for a propaganda clip.

This nicely nationalistic advert was filmed in May this year: media cannons of war had been firing their deadly terabytes of lies and twisted truths for half a year by that time.

I am not challenging your convictions. it’s just that your granddad wasn’t even Russian.

He was a Jew from Ukrainian Kiev, who fled from the massacre of Jews tacitly organized by the Russian Czar to draw people’s energy away from the Revolution.

But you’ve known it since April, right? Before filming the advert. You were so convincing you were half-Russian, oscar-quality acting that was!

Рисунок1

I need help to understand how you can be proud now to be a prized spokesperson for the new Russian Czar.

Or, rather, I simply want to know, how much.

How much did it take, before taxes, to tell the world you would be proud to be Russian, descending from a Ukrainian Jew who fled an ethnic Pogrom? I mean, doing all this at a time when Russian media is successfully selling the idea of an armed Crusade against the “Fascist band of Kiev Jews and Ukrainian nationalists”?

Your answer would help my research immensely.

I don’t have much (at least as much as the Belgian beer group) to offer you for your generosity, except, perhaps, an insight into what really your life could be, were you born in Russia.

You imagine yourself to be an astronaut, a rock star, a hockey player, an actor or a ballet director (or at least someone who has unrestricted access to teenage girls training to become ballerinas).

Рисунок2

These famous Hollywood actors can testify that a copy-paste operation on a human soul does not work as smoothly as on a computer, when Russia is the final destination:

With your family name, Duchovny, meaning in Russian “soulful”, you need to take extra care to avoid exchanging “ful” for “less”.

Hope it helps.

PS If this post gets shared, the handshake rule of Facebook may help the real David read the rumblings 😉

Keep Feeling Sorry and Carry On

Angela Merkel believes the Russian President has lost any connection with reality and is currently living in his own world of grandeur delusions. He aspires to ascend to a historical figure of such proportion that would warrant a burial alongside Russian Tsars in a tomb similar to that of Napoleon. Marble, bronze, a raised pedestal, and an annual military parade to commemorate his birthday.

i_had_a_dream.jpg

To my readers from Ukraine: I am sorry I won’t go campaigning against the atrocity of Russia’s invading Ukraine. Russia is a state where freedom of expressing opinion does not exist. That is, one can whisper what one thinks but please refrain from shouting out loud. The borders are open (yet), but I happen to live on the inside. So, I have to respect the prison rules, or emigrate and enjoy civil rights. I have obligations towards a lot of people to live and work in Russia for now.

Were I living elsewhere, I’d be in front of the Russian Embassy protesting against the invasion.

For the time being, I’ll have to keep feeling sorry and carry on.

Sorry.

*****

The above does not mean I see Ukraine all white and fluffy in this conflict. Nationalistic frenzy of the first few days with complete disregard of the fear that some of the Ukraine’s East felt about nationalists “occupying” the Parliament (Rada) and invading executive branches is responsible for much of the unrest.

And of course the nationalism card has been played by the Russian propaganda machine, which still remembers how to make Goebbels go green with envy.

This is what I’ve taken from a Russian news site a moment ago.

Women complained that as soon as a group of citizens started collecting signatures in support of Victor Yanukovich, they began receiving threats. Representatives of the new powers in Ukraine are also engaged in extortion.

“Odessa citizens (a town in the South of Ukraine) are crying! The city is flooded with proclamations saying that the new commandant (appointed from Kiev) requests people to list all their property and give 50% of it to him. He also requested people to make duplicates of their house keys, for their flats would be given over to fighters with Russia (coming over from the Western Ukraine) to use for living, storing ammunition, and hospitals. The flyers claim those people who support Russia will be prosecuted.”

It is amazing how much this kind of propaganda resembles North Korea: this poster shows what American imperialists were doing to communist fighters during the war:

propaganda_013

I am sure Mr Putin encourages and uses this propaganda, but he doesn’t believe it. Unfortunately, a lot of people seem to trust it unconditionally.

Having said that, it is important to remember that even a passing reference to Ukrainian nationalism scares Russian Ukrainians into action: whenever a nationalist force came to power, it was massacring Russians, Jews, or Polish with equal pleasure. One of the new leaders of Ukraine (and the leading nationalist) is famous for using exactly the same lexicon as Hitler’s media about Jews and Russians, so it is really awkward to say Ukrainian nationalism poses no threat to the Russian-speaking population.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Kyiv (Kiev) in the last few years. My encounters with people with nationalist mindset were always reminding me of the fact my granddad was a Jew. My encounters with people brandishing their Russian imperialistic banners were just as horrid.

So it was stupid to put these people on the front page of New Ukraine (revised edition) without balancing it off with an equal measure of respect towards the needs and wants of Eastern Ukrainians. It was even more stupid in a position of weakness: their new state was just emerging from the ruin!

Mr Putin is never the one to pass an unconscious beautiful woman without taking her with all his judoistic might. The fact that her barely conscious husband is lying beside her does not even begin to represent a moral dilemma. 

He is certain that if he doesn’t take the woman, the US will. And they will beget children who one day would descent onto Russia and make it a slave resource supplier for American capitalists.

It may sound a bit bizarre, but that’s his mindset. You may joke about it, support it, hate it – BUT IT IS SUICIDAL NOT TO TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION THE MINDSET OF A POWERFUL BRUTE WHO OWNS THE NEIGHBOURING FLAT WHEN YOU DECIDE TO COMPLETELY REBUILD YOUR OWN. 

It is not clever, isn’t it? Not practical, not strategic, not politically wise: there are many things it is not. Suicidal, is the only thing it is.

The clash of a band of unarmed idiots (with at least one known nazi in their group) with a fully armed Mr Putin is very likely to lead to a war.

My only hope is that Ukrainians and Russians are so much more clever and so much less trigger-happy than their leaders, respectively. Against all odds

P.S. Good news: Russia’s leading (and Kremlin-affiliated) public opinion agency reports ca.75% of Russians don’t want their army to go into Ukraine. 

Should he stay or should he go?

Today’s Daily Prompt makes me deviate from the art scene for a bit. It says,

“Pick a divisive issue currently in the news. Write a two-part post in which you take on two personas and approach the topic from both sides”

Edward Snowden. Should he stay or should he go?

Media says Obama called Putin to talk it through. Here is the transcript.

Obama (what his aides hear)

Barack Obama

Vlad, hello. How’s your fishing? Good, good. Twenty one kilograms?

(covering the handset: can anyone tell me what’s that in pounds? Anyone? Just tell me if it’s big or small, he’s waiting for my reaction, for god’s sake! Big?)

WOW, Vlad, that’s huge! 

Now, there’s another huge issue we need to talk about. 

No, I don’t hang out with pretty girls right now. No, it’s not about you joining the party. This is Barak, not Silvio!

It’s that American guy in your Moscow airport. We want him back.

Because everything the little jerk exposed was a perfectly legal activity and he was bound by whatever oath he took when he accepted the job. The US Congress clandestinely approved a classified act on secret info gathering. You may scoff at it, but you can’t take it to court.

I can hear your snickering, and I know this is not bad connection. Even Khruschev couldn’t fool Kennedy with it, and they used an undersea cable to talk!

This guy Snowden is a theif of information, without any modicum of legality on the Russian territory and thus HE SHOULD BE SENT to the country that claims him to be its citizen. People have been kicked out of Russia for less, is it so difficult to put him on a plane? You have small-scale presidents flying in and out, choose some Zhurididistanian airline and we’ll tug him over in no time!

Putin (what his aides now hear)

putin-n--300x0

Barak, were you wiggling your finger at me while talking, honest? I was imagining you doing that, you know. Very funny. I’ve just missed a chance to catch a 25 kilos catfish. One hand busy holding the phone, you know. It was one-third of Snowden’s weight already. But it is not why I can’t give him back.

When he was taking the oath it didn’t say he should follow the Goverment when that government moves away from the Constitution so much the founding fathers turn in their graves like sync swimmers at Olympics.

He is a patriot of his country who is going to be prosecuted by people who betrayed everything that country stood for. And because of that he should stay for he can’t expect fair treatment back home.

Of course I am joking. I just love teaching a smug democrat a lesson or two.

Barak, you know I’ve been doing the same PRISM stuff since the time I learnt it had been done in Russia since electricity was invented. Yes, I know I am a lucky tyrannical bastard (I wish that would work for fishing too!), but I still can’t give him back.

The most undemocratic enemy of the most democratic state! You know, I’ve just realised I can enjoy it both ways. Like, having you put on the spit and being turned. This is actually what I am doing right now with the fish. You want a photo? My prime minister can send you a link, he’s the iPhone guy on board here. Oh, yes. Yes. I see. You already have it from the NSA.

You mean you have all the party photos from Silvio’s Facebook page too? (aside: Silvio thought Facebook was private!) When who was visiting? Are you sure that “who” looks like the Vlad we both know? I mean there were a dozen men with bodies like Apollo. What do you mean there’s only one Apollo in his 50s? I thought it was illegal in the States to look at stuff like that. Oh, presidential immunity. So you can watch it. Well. Don’t. Just don’t.

You know, I think I have a solution. We’ll grant Snowden asylum. In Siberia. And you can tell anyone who would want to follow in his steps that those steps will take them all the way to where Snowden went. He’s got a fitting name. Snowden from Siberia. Frosted and iced.

Do we have a deal? Good!

And, by the way, Angela is mad. And the French guy with the Dutch name. Holland, yes. You know why Europeans get mad? 5% ’cause they got rabies,  10% ’cause their cell battery is dead, and 85% ’cause you spied on them. No, it is funny.

Beep-beep-beep.

Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeep. Beeeeeeep.

Silvio?! Just calling to tell you you’re a f***ing idiot. Literally and Instagramically. What? Sentenced? Congratulations! You know the Russian saying, “the sooner you get behind bars, the sooner you get out”? Well, you know now, old chap, exactly when you need it – that’s what friends are for. Yeah, keep in touch. Ciao!

Russia’s Rewind

The Daily Post today asks a question I keep asking myself lately: 

Do you belong in this day and age? Do you feel comfortable being a citizen of the 21st-century?

Oh, I was not questioning what’s the year today. My sanity is still in my pocket.

My problem is that I have a strange feeling that while I live in the 21st century Moscow, I am being forced back towards the 1930s, Germany.

Some people say if the word “problem” is substituted with “adventure”, life becomes oh-so-much-more interesting. Rubbish.

Lately, the State Duma of Russia introduced bans on propaganda of homosexuality, insult of religious beliefs, and smoking. A smoking homosexual atheist is now in trouble. Or should I say, “a homosexual smoking atheist”? Anyway, guys like Francis Bacon would have to be executed on the spot were they to visit Russia today. Not only for their sexual orientation, beliefs or health-damaging habits. Bul also because they are artists who don’t celebrate the achievements of the people, but address society ills and vices

WARNING: You are about to see official, approved, and highly skilled propaganda showing the strength of Russian spirit:

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Between Love and Hate, there’s Indifference

I once read that London was a melting pot of cultures, the multicultural capital of the world. Well, I have a real-estate kind of question. How can cultures melt if they are segregated into city blocks or areas, price differentiated, and closely guarded?

For instance, this quiet area of London is loved by white upper middle class (and higher) representatives who happen to have very liberal and tolerant views on other cultures, but pay about 30 to 50% more for their flats to stay away from the next-door area populated by Muslims. A tiny flat in a townhouse here starts from $1m.

It’s the intolerant lower classes that have to actually melt with the immigrants from Pakistan. It’s the intolerant lower classes that produce BNP stormtroopers that the higher liberal classes do not approve and even are ashamed of.

I find it somewhat hypocritical and an obvious proof that behind those walls racism is in full bloom, regardless of what the media or politicians say. Politicians also happen to favour this area, by the way. 

Impoverished people often turn to loathing other impoverished people who differ by their race, culture or religion. Frankly, I blame them less than those empowered snobs who camouflage their hatred by albums of Muslim art they “collect” and monologues about tolerance.

When I say that I don’t like certain art coming from certain cultures, my British upper-class contacts react in an indignant, almost offended way. Come on. If I don’t like something, it doesn’t mean I hate it. I just don’t like it. There’s indifference between love and hate, that famous indifference that is encapsulated in the “Live and let live” principle Britain is so proud of.

If I admit I am indifferent, I am honest about one important thing: I don’t harbor any hatred. If I start lying about loving other cultures, I start hating myself for lying and then I blame this guilt on those other cultures that made me start lying. And then I start hating them.

And, OK, that was a preface. Unlike European co-existence of religions, Mexico offers an interesting example of cultural fusion, and a Sunday market in Mexico is the place I will take you to in my next post. Goths, indians, a pagan take on Christianity, human sacrifice – you’ll see it all, and that’s where I am going to take you next!

PS Human sacrifice is symbolic nowadays.